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March 15, 2012

Preseason Value Picks

Starting Pitchers for 3/15/12

by Mike Petriello

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With another week of camp under our belts, we’re beginning to see some data from Florida and Arizona. As always, the results themselves are all but meaningless, though the way in which they were achieved can sometimes bring up interesting discussion points. Here are four starting pitchers who may be intriguing for various reasons on Draft Day….

Chris Volstad | SP | Chicago Cubs
Mixed: $-9 | NL-only: $-1 |
PECOTA SP Rank: 148 | SP ADP: 141

IP

W

ERA

WHIP

K

SV

137

6

4.87

1.82

70

0

We’re going to start off today by digging deep. Really, really deep... down into the Chris Narveson/Bruce Chen/Philip Humber” level of “if you’re still drafting pitchers here, you’ve probably waited too long.” As you can see, neither PECOTA nor drafters have much love for Chris Volstad, and it’s not hard to see why, since he’s coming off a 5-13, 4.89 campaign that saw him shipped back to Triple-A for a few starts in July. It was an ugly season for Volstad, and all we’ve learned about him in his four years in the bigs is that he gets a lot of ground balls and is never going to strike a lot of people out.

Maybe that makes him waiver wire fodder. Maybe it makes him less. It almost certainly won’t make him more than the last man on your roster, but there are enough small signs of hope here that you can almost wonder if he’s a guy who can finally put it together in his new home. After all, he’s still only 25.

To begin with, ignore the atrocious 5-13 mark for a 90-loss Marlins club. Volstad set career highs in both K/9 and swinging-strike percentage while also lowering his walk rate below three per nine for the first time in his career; the resulting 2.39 K/BB, while hardly elite, was also the best of his career and helped give him a more reasonable 4.32 FIP. Upon returning from Triple-A in August, he was effective, allowing a .684 OPS against with a 36/13 K/BB over his final eight starts of the season, though he did not receive credit for a single win.

After the season (but before the trade to Chicago), our own Kevin Goldstein still saw hope in Volstad, ranking him fifth in the Marlins list of “Top 10 Talents 25 And Under”, saying, "Volstad is a fantastic sleeper selection for 2012 as he learns how to be a groundball pitcher. His ERA was up in 2011, but his walks were down, his strikeouts were up, and there is still a ceiling there."

Not to put any undue importance on spring training stats, but Volstad is off to a good start with his new club, allowing just three hits over six scoreless innings in his first two outings as a Cub. Taking all of this as a whole, in addition to the fact that he’s still so young, there’s reason to believe that Volstad is a worthwhile flier in the late rounds. Keep in mind, of course, that even his career-best K/9 was still only 6.4, so it’s not like he’s going to help you top the league in strikeouts. But then again, how many guys are you picking up for a dollar at the end of the draft who will?

Ryan Dempster | SP | Chicago Cubs
Mixed: $3 | NL-only: $8 |
PECOTA SP Rank: 56 | SP ADP: 90

IP

W

ERA

WHIP

K

SV

192

11

3.92

1.29

158

0

Staying on the North Side of Chicago for a moment, check out the difference between Ryan Dempster’s PECOTA rank among starters and his ADP rank—a difference of 34 pitchers. That’s down in the Josh Collmenter and Henderson Alvarez range, which just isn’t right considering how reliably solid Dempster has been since the Cubs turned him back into a starter following the 2007 season.

The problem here is one of perception, one that’s as simple as looking at the linear progression of the box score. Dempster suffered through an awful April, allowing 33 earned runs in just 31 innings. That kind of hit to your ERA is hard to overcome, and so even though Dempster was his normal effective self from then on—3.94 ERA in 28 starts from May through September—the damage to his stat line was such that he didn’t get his ERA below five for good until close to the end of July. That means for nearly four full months, people were seeing television graphics or reading box scores that had an ugly number next to Dempster’s name, assuming that he’d completely lost it. (You can see the inverse of this effect with those who think that Ryan Roberts was the next big thing, since his fantastic April 2011 helped to obscure how lousy he was the rest of the year.)

Despite the unattractive ERA that settled at 4.80 and a losing record on a bad Cubs squad, we can see that Dempster was basically the same pitcher he was in 2010, when he went 15-12 with a 3.85 ERA:

 

IP

K/9

BB/9

K/BB

HR/9

2010

215.1

8.7

3.6

2.42

1.0

2011

202.1

8.5

3.6

2.33

1.0

PECOTA expects more of the same from the 35-year-old Canadian, albeit with slightly fewer strikeouts. Dempster’s off to a decent enough start this spring—one run allowed in five innings—and would be well worth the dollar amounts the PFM forecasts. If you can get him for less in leagues where people are put off by that 4.80 ERA, all the better.

Derek Holland | SP | Texas Rangers
Mixed: $-2 | AL-only: $7 |
PECOTA SP Rank: 95 | SP ADP: 44

IP

W

ERA

WHIP

K

SV

174

11

4.59

1.39

141

0

I have to admit, I’m pretty surprised at how PECOTA projects Holland, coming off a season in which he threw four shutouts and established himself as one of the better left-handed pitchers in the league. To be fair, he came into 2011 with a 5.52 ERA over 195.2 career innings, so perhaps it’s not too surprising that the system views him with some slight trepidation. (Or perhaps it’s dinging him for his ridiculous mustache or offseason turn as a weatherman. PECOTA works in mysterious ways.)

BP2012 was effusive in praising the young lefty:

Derek Holland really grew up in 2011, taking a huge developmental step forward and emerging as one of the best young lefties in the American League. The 25 year-old southpaw has a lively plus-plus fastball, a pitch that works in the 93-95 range with some arm-side movement, a slider with tilt that still has room for improvement, a change-of-pace curve, and a true changeup that he is still trying to command. As he refined his stuff and grew more comfortable with the big-league stage, Holland became a candidate for dominance with each start; Holland was particularly sharp in the second-half of the season, with an increased strikeout rate to go along with decreased walk and hit rates. Holland’s star is on the rise, and if he manages another developmental step in the right direction in 2012, the ceiling he owns will join hands with his floor.

Despite a rough August, the step forward over the second half was impressive, upping his K/9 from 6.7 to 8.2 while simultaneously cutting his OPS against from .774 to.658. Looking at the Mock Draft Central ADP reports, Holland is lingering behind Ervin Santana and Jeremy Hellickson, neither of whom I’d pick above Holland. Like Dempster and Volstad, Holland has been effective in his initial spring outings, though as always, that should be pretty far down the list of “reasons why I like this guy.” If Holland does manage to make improvement on that changeup—a stated goal of his this spring—there’s easily room for even more value here.

Homer Bailey | SP | Cincinnati Reds
Mixed: $-3 | NL-only: $2 |
PECOTA SP Rank: 106 | SP ADP: 97

IP

W

ERA

WHIP

K

SV

156

9

4.44

1.37

112

0

I’m pretty sure that every year, I expect a breakout from Bailey, and every year, I’m disappointed. After missing 72 games in 2010 with right shoulder inflammation, he missed 57 more last year thanks to two separate shoulder-related stints on the disabled list. When able to pitch, Bailey was merely okay, putting up a 4.43 ERA that nicely matched his 4.46 and 4.53 marks from the previous two years. And as you can see, PECOTA doesn’t really expect much of a different result in 2012.

So why should I expect anything else? Well, there’s the very real possibility that I’m just a sucker. But there were also some signs of improvement, giving us some hope that if he can just manage to stay healthy, Bailey’s age-26 campaign could be the one we’ve been waiting for. (I know, I know; that’s a Juan Uribe-sized “if”.)

Let’s start with the good things that came out of 2011: Bailey lowered his walk rate to 2.3 per nine, the lowest of his career by a full man per game. While his K/9 decreased, his swinging-strike percentage of 9.3 was a career-high and would have ranked in the top 30 across MLB if he’d had enough innings to qualify. That works out to 3.21 strikeouts for every walk, which is solid, and a 4.06 FIP looks a lot nicer than that 4.43 ERA. After dealing with injury for most of the first half, Bailey flashed signs of life as he regained his health down the stretch; in August and September, he had a nice 62/15 K/BB in 66 2/3 innings spread over 11 starts.

Bailey came into the spring needing to hold off Aroldis Chapman for the fifth spot in the rotation, though that competition may have eased somewhat as Chapman is reportedly being considered for bullpen duty once again. I’ve been burned by Bailey in the past, so feel free to steer clear of him, but the potential upside here is worthy of a late-round flyer.

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

Related Content:  The Who,  Derek Holland

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