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February 2, 2012

The Keeper Reaper

Starting Pitchers for 2/2/12

by Mike Petriello

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It’s just three weeks until camps open (finally, a reason to get out of bed in the morning!), and we still don’t know where Edwin Jackson or Roy Oswalt are going to end up. I can understand Oswalt because he’s coming off back woes and is known to be very particular about where in the country he pitches, but who did Jackson tick off? Clearly he’s not getting the long-term deal he’d hoped for—and who can blame him after how often he’s moved—but someone’s going to end up with a solid pitcher for what could be a pretty decent deal.

Johnny Cueto | Cincinnati Reds
Shallow: NO
Medium: NO
Deep: NO
NL-only: YES
Super Deep: YES

I have a feeling that Johnny Cueto is going to be one of the most overvalued players in drafts this spring, and it’s no surprise why, considering that he’s coming off a season in which his sparkling 2.31 ERA had him mentioned in the same breath as the upper echelon of starters in the league. Add that to a Reds team which is generating buzz thanks to the addition of Mat Latos while their main competitors in St. Louis and Milwaukee have suffered serious losses, and it’s the perfect storm for a player who is going to get drafted quite a bit higher than he ought to be.

That’s not to suggest that Cueto isn’t valuable, because despite what’s about to follow here, he did put up that 2.31 ERA, while also continuing his positive trend of reducing his FIP in each of his four MLB seasons. That’s certainly a quality pitcher, but the underlying stats don’t quite show the ace-level performance that you might expect from that kind of ERA. Though his FIP has come down in each year of his career, his K/9 has gone down as well, sinking to last year’s mediocre 6.0 mark.  As Cueto has missed fewer bats, he’s gotten by becoming more of a groundball pitcher, and that’s worked for him in large part because the Reds topped the league in Defensive Efficiency last season.

While the Reds should still have a solid fielding crew in 2012, it’s hard to think that Cueto can repeat his .249 BABIP, and that’s why the advanced run-scoring metrics don’t quite love him; among pitchers who threw at least 150 innings last year, only Jeremy Hellickson and Ricky Romero outperformed their FIP by as much. Cueto also missed roughly two months with two separate shoulder issues, and it suddenly becomes clear that while he’s a good pitcher—one worthy of a keeper spot in deeper leagues—he’s nowhere near on par with elites like Roy Halladay and Clayton Kershaw.

Stephen Strasburg | Washington Nationals
Shallow:
YES
Medium: YES
Deep: YES
NL-only: YES
Super Deep: YES

I’d like to pretend that I can suggest caution with Stephen Strasburg heading into 2012. He’s got just 92 big league innings under his belt! He’s still less than two years out from Tommy John surgery! The Nationals will probably hold him to no more than 160 innings next year! (Okay, that last one is legitimate.)

I’d like to rein in your expectations, but let’s be honest with ourselves here, right? Strasburg is everything the hype said he’d be and more. Even with the lowered expectations that a quick return from Tommy John can bring, Strasburg was somehow better than ever in five late-season starts, tossing out a 24/2 K/BB in 24 innings. You could perhaps knock him slightly just because of the innings limit, since who knows if he’ll still be going when the fantasy playoffs start next year, but even if that’s the case, you can hardly ignore a guy who could potentially take you there by himself.  You keep Strasburg, and you thank the fates that allowed you to even have that choice to make.

Gavin Floyd | Chicago White Sox
Shallow:
NO
Medium: NO
Deep: NO
AL-only: NO
Super Deep: BORDERLINE

Floyd’s still a member of the White Sox, right? Seems like we can’t go more than two days without another Floyd trade rumor, including the fun kind perpetrated by people claiming to be extended family. Assuming that Floyd does stay on the South Side next year, he is what he is, which is a solid-enough-though-hardly-exciting starting pitcher. Floyd is coming off three nearly identical seasons, and as he heads into his age-30 season, there’s not a whole lot of reason to think there’s more there. In each of the last three years, he’s struck out around seven per nine, walked between two and three per nine, and had a FIP between 3.46 and 3.81. In each of those three years, his ERA hasn’t quite been able to match his FIP, coming in over 4.00 each time, so it’s possible that he’s a bit undervalued (especially with a mediocre 33-37 record over that period) but probably not so much as to matter. Floyd was never really as good as his breakout 17-8 2008 campaign made it seem—he benefited from a career-low .256 BABIP and a Chicago club which won 89 games—and as the 2012 edition of the Sox looks like it could be pretty poor, I wouldn’t count on a repeat of that success. Expect Floyd’s 2012 to look a lot like his 2009-11, which is to say a usable member of your team but hardly someone you lose any sleep over trying to hang onto.

Doug Fister | Detroit Tigers
Shallow:
NO
Medium: NO
Deep: NO
AL-only: BORDERLINE
Super Deep: YES

I’ve already looked at Fister previously this winter, so I won’t rehash his entire story again, but it’s worth noting that he (along with Rick Porcello) should be re-evaluated if the Tigers really go through with the plan of moving Miguel Cabrera to third base. Though Fister’s excellent control and ability to limit the longball should make him successful regardless, he was almost certainly already in line for regression from last year’s  1.79 ERA with the Tigers,  and the potential of pitching in front of what may now be a historically poor defensive infield would only exacerbate the issue. The tradeoff could be an extra win or two thanks to Prince Fielder joining Cabrera to bash out some extra runs, but no one should be surprised when Fister’s ERA ends up in (at least) the mid-to-high-3.00s next year.

Mike Petriello is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Mike's other articles. You can contact Mike by clicking here

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