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May 24, 2012

Value Picks

Starting Pitching for 5/24/12

by Paul Sporer

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Last Chance: Time to get on board with these arms before they are snapped up in your league.  These entries are becoming less available with each passing start and find themselves on rosters in 30-plus percent of the leagues at two of the three outlets and over 50 percent at one or more of them. We won’t necessarily have options in this field each week.

Look, I understand he is in his mid-30s and came literally out of nowhere last year having not pitched in the majors for four years, but what does Ryan Vogelsong (Yahoo! 54%, ESPN 40%, CBS 67%) have to do to get some love?  Yes, his skills are a tick below last year’s level with the walks up more than the strikeouts are down, but he has given up just three runs in four May starts.  That’s three total runs, not three apiece.  At the very least, he seems like an above average home-only spot starter, but I think there is a case for letting him fly anyway.

In Case You Missed It: These pitchers were profiled in this very space recently, usually within the last week or two. While they have continued to excel, their availability remains high.  With six-to-nine names mentioned each week, some can fall through the cracks, so this is an opportunity to highlight someone a second time so you can get the jump on your leaguemates. 

I’m a big fan of Anthony Bass (Yahoo! 30%, ESPN 20%, CBS 54%). I did a full breakdown of the Padres hurler Tuesday at my blog with the conclusion being that he is legit—very much so.  He has a true strikeout pitch, marked improvement from 2011, and the most favorable home park aiding him in half his starts.  Usually Padres pitchers are on the radar specifically because of Petco Park, but Bass isn’t just a home ballpark byproduct.  He has real talent that is playing well everywhere. 

Widely Available: These arms are sparsely-rostered at most outlets despite possessing the talent and statistics worthy of a spot.  Because of the league type each outlet predominantly caters to, you will often see these guys more available at ESPN and Yahoo! than CBS, but roughly 35-45 percent availability at CBS qualifies as widely available.  We should have three-to-six arms in this category in a given week.

Do you know what happens when you remove the worst starts in baseball history from A.J. Burnett’s (Yahoo! 17%, ESPN 7%, CBS 42%) line?  He goes from a 4.78 ERA to a 2.06 ERA in a heartbeat.  His 7.9 K/9 and 3.3 K/BB include the start against St. Louis and stand up on their own.  Sure, cherry-picking the best starts (or removing the worst) from a pitcher’s line does skew things, but I’m comfortable doing so for Value Picks because you’ll be plucking him off the wire now. Your team won’t suffer that abomination of a start, and removing an outlier gives a clearer picture of the asset.

While this kind of talk does nothing to console the unlucky owner who tanked from second to sixth in the standings, but Burnett’s stock unnecessarily plummeted with one freakishly bad start.  I am not sure why he is being ignored after subsequently posting three strong starts on the heels of the disaster. 

Baltimore’s surge to the top of the AL East has surprised many, and while it is hard to believe they will stick around, there are aspects of the start that suggest there is real improvement.  One is that some of their young starters have taken a step or two forward skills-wise.  One such hurler is Jake Arrieta (Yahoo! 12%, ESPN 8%, CBS 46%), and while his ERA (4.87 after Wednesday afternoon’s outing) screams “waiver wire fodder!!”, his base skills are markedly better than ever before, yielding a 3.30 xFIP.

His strikeout rate is up to 7.8 K/9 while his walk rate is just 2.4 BB/9, nearly half of last year’s 4.6 BB/9.  He has already run through a host of his tougher starts for the season with two against New York and one each against Tampa Bay, Texas, and Boston already out of the way.  He has paid for them with the high ERA, but greener pastures are ahead.  After starts in Toronto and Boston in early June, he and his O’s avoid the AL Beast until the end of July when the team goes to Yankee Stadium. 

Alex Cobb (Yahoo! 3%, ESPN 1%, CBS 17%) is another in the long line of highly skilled pitchers to come through the system in Tampa Bay. No, he may not be on the level of David Price, Matt Moore, or (perhaps) Jeremy Hellickson, but a lot of teams would have had him as their fourth and maybe third starter on their Opening Day roster. Of course, on the Rays, he was ostensibly their sixth man until the Jeff Niemann injury prompted him to be summoned from Triple-A Durham.

Cobb has seen his strikeout rate surge in the high minors, posting more than a strikeout per inning in 230 innings between Double-A and Triple-A over the last three years.  That is based more on an ability to pitch than it is on pure stuff, though, so he may be a mere above-average strikeout pitcher in the majors.  I would project him more for something in the 6.5-7.0 range, which is still more than usable. 

AL-only VP
Proceed with extreme caution when it comes to P.J. Walters (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 0%, CBS 6%); he is a home run machine (2.1 HR/9 rate in his 72 MLB innings) who tends to pound the zone with stuff that is a bit too hittable at times.  That said, he won’t walk many and he misses enough bats to be useful.  I would look to spot start him only at home and at other spacious ballparks, and only if you are desperate for some pitching help. 

NL-only VP
Speaking of home run machines, J.A. Happ (Yahoo! 3%, ESPN 1%, CBS 12%) gives up more than you would like to see a pitcher allow (1.6 HR/9), but he has an 8.4 K/9 that stands out, and there are enough matchups in the NL (in the Central, specifically) where he could have some value.  Use sparingly.

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

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