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June 7, 2012

Value Picks

Starting Pitchers for 6/7/12

by Paul Sporer

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With a big wave of interleague on the horizon, pitcher values vary in a way we haven’t seen yet this year as they face new teams in new venues.  For example, the Angels and Athletics have featured some useful starting pitchers this year, the former more so than the latter, but as they each head into Coors Field to face the Rockies over the next week, there could be some trouble on the horizon.  This could be especially problemsome for Ervin Santana, Bartolo Colon, and Tom Milone given their home run rates.

Meanwhile, a trip into San Diego will enhance the back end of the Seattle rotation should their turns fall during that trip.  Jason Vargas has a great composite line, but he has built it on his home performance (1.91 ERA at home; 4.53 ERA on the road) and this is a nice spot to get him a road start in your lineup if he gets a shot in PETCO Park. 

Last Chance
Edwin Jackson (Yahoo! 60%, ESPN 69%, CBS 82%)
is an inning shy of six straight quality starts, but he did notch his fourth straight QS on Wednesday night and hasn’t given up a single home run during that run.  His ERA is down to 3.11 while his WHIP is just 1.02, yet he is available in more than 30 percent of Yahoo! and ESPN leagues somehow.

This isn’t some flash-in-the-pan, out-of-nowhere performer. Jackson has been getting better yearly since 2009, incrementally improving his skills, leading to this year’s 3.1 K/BB built on a solid 7.3 K/9 and a career-best 2.4 BB/9.  Despite this, he is just 2-3, partially because his team is giving him a measly 3.7 runs per game of support, which is second-worst among 118 qualified starting pitchers (poor Edison Volquez gets a full run less at 2.8 R/G).  I’m not sure what it is going to take for his rates to be at 90 percent or better at all outlets. 

A disastrous outing against the Angels on May 28 broke up Phil Hughes(Yahoo! 14%, ESPN 9%, CBS 53%) run of four straight quality starts, but he bounced back with a complete game against the Tigers during which he allowed just a run on four hits with three walks and eight strikeouts.  His ERA is still sky-high, however, despite solid outings in five of his last six, which probably explains his availability.  He has a career-best strikeout rate (as a starter) of 8.3 K/9, and his walk rate is an overall career-best of 2.3 per nine. 

The problem is that Hughes remains a heavy flyball pitcher, which has left him prone to the long ball, as evidenced by his 1.9 HR/9.  In fact, he has given up at least one home run in every one of his 11 starts, five of which have come on the road, so you can’t just blame it on Yankee Stadium.  The homers are a concern, but I think the skills and the win potential on this team give him more value than the fantasy community is currently seeing from him. 

Given the penchant of the fantasy community to overrate youngsters on the whole, I am surprised that Drew Hutchison (Yahoo! 5%, ESPN 1%, CBS 22%) has been overlooked.  The 21 year old is more widely available than teammate Henderson Alvarez and his utterly worthless 2.6 K/9.  Sorry folks, that is a failing on the part of the fantasy community.  Hutchison’s 20 extra strikeouts and three extra wins are worth more than Alvarez’s ERA and WHIP edges, especially if you play in a league with any sort of starts or innings cap.  In these leagues, Alvarez has wasted 11 starts and 72 innings with that poor strikeout rate, since those are essentially K/9 leagues.

Hutchison is our focus here, though.  Not only does he have some appealing skills, but he also traversed his way through the AL East in his last four starts with only the Rays getting the best of him (they tagged him for six runs in four innings).  The remaining three divisional foes managed a whopping two runs in 20 innings, giving Hutchison a 3.00 ERA across 24 innings with a 3-1 record.   Impressive work from the 21 year old.

Also looking sharp of late is Mike Leake (Yahoo! 8%, ESPN 2%, CBS 25%), posting a 2.19 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 8.0 K/9, and 3.1 K/BB in 24 2/3 innings of work.  His composite numbers are still pretty ugly, though, as his ERA was 7.11 before the four start stretch.  He put together a nice sophomore season last year after a solid rookie campaign (made more solid by the fact that he had zero minor league experience), and this year has been a blend of the two, skills-wise.  His 2.1 K/BB won’t knock anyone over, and home runs have always been an issue, but his 3.91 xFIP is more than a full run lower than his 4.95 ERA, suggesting even more good work is on the horizon. 

Dillon Gee (Yahoo! 8%, ESPN 6%, CBS 37%)
made last week’s VP piece, and he isn’t going anywhere this week.  He has seen an uptick in ownership, including a 15 percent boost at CBS, on the heels of a great start against the St. Louis Cardinals during which he went seven innings, allowing two earned runs on six hits with a pair of walks and eight strikeouts.  All of the Mets starters got the best of the Cardinals, but that doesn’t make it any less impressive, especially since Gee isn’t exactly Johan Santana.  The next big stop is stifling home runs on a consistent basis so he can get closer and closer to his 3.17 xFIP. 

It is hard to recommend a Rockies starter as anything more than an NL-only or deep mixed league option unless they have excellent skills.  Not even Christian Friedrich (Yahoo! 6%, ESPN 3%, CBS 35%) and his gaudy skill set (9.0 K/9, 3.6 K/BB) can tamp down the scoring in Coors Field, as evidenced by his vomit-inducing 10.64 ERA there.  Meanwhile, he is 3-0 with a 1.80 ERA and 1.08 WHIP on the road in 25 of his 36 innings.  This blue chip prospect had plenty of ups and downs (mostly downs) on his way to the majors, but he appears to be back on track, even though it has been just 66 innings this year between MLB and AAA. 

Garrett Richards (Yahoo! 2%, ESPN 1%, CBS 16%)
didn’t have great numbers in the PCL, but very few pitchers do, so it isn’t that alarming.  The fire-balling righty (95 mph fastball) made Kevin Goldstein’s Top 11 and even cracked the top 100 overall for Baseball America coming into the season.  He looked great in his first start of the season against the Mariners, fanning eight in seven innings while walking just two.  He won’t do that every start, and he won’t face the Mariners every start, but he is worth taking a look at while he gets a shot in Jered Weaver’s absence.  He could eventually oust Jerome Williams for the fifth spot on a permanent basis as the season wears on.


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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