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June 22, 2012

Resident Fantasy Genius

Starting Pitchers to Target

by Derek Carty

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When it comes to making trades in fantasy baseball, impressions are everything.  It doesn’t matter if R.A. Dickey throws 41 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings and two straight one-hitters; if his owner thinks Dickey’s knuckler is being guided by a ghost named Thaddeus who stormed off after Dickey’s last start, upset that Dickey hasn’t credited him for his help yet and swearing he’ll never help Dickey again, well, that owner is going to be selling Dickey mighty low before the pitcher takes the mound again.  Perception is everything.

While you’ll be hard-pressed to find an owner who believes Dickey is being helped by a potentially egotistical ghost named Thaddeus (and has a cynical view of friendship and forgiveness to boot), there are other forms of perception that can impact a player’s trade value.  One of the biggest ones I like to be on the lookout for is slow starters who have begun to turn a corner.

A terrible first month or two can impact a player’s ratio stats so much that even a hot stretch won’t make his overall numbers look palatable.  If you’re dealing with a player who has a strong history to begin with, though, this recent hot stretch might be all you need to make a move on him.  If an owner has seen his pitcher put up enough four-inning, five-ER starts, a few good recent ones might not be enough to shake his perception that this guy is an ERA killer.  With that in mind, here are a few pitchers who might be worth targeting.

Max Scherzer
April ERA/xFIP: 7.77/4.65
Last 30 Days ERA/xFIP: 4.25/2.79
2012 ERA: 5.17

Scherzer is a perfect target in that both his early-season ERA and his recent one are poor, culminating in a terrible cumulative mark of 5.17.  He has mostly just experienced bad luck recently, though, as his 11.2 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 over the past 30 days are excellent.  Scherzer has excellent stuff and has always posted good peripherals, and there’s little reason to believe he won’t be a great pitcher over the rest of the 2012 season.

Mat Latos
April ERA/xFIP: 5.97/4.76
Last 30 Days ERA/xFIP: 3.90/3.74
2012 ERA: 5.20

My dislike for Latos this year is well documented, but he’s not nearly as bad as that ERA indicates.  Swapping Petco for Great American has done him no favors, but his peripherals are about where you’d expect them to be, and he’s begun to turn this around on the surface of late.  If you can acquire him for the price of a 4.00-ERA pitcher, that’s going to be even value.  And if you’re in a league where you can pick and choose your starts, all the better.

J.A. Happ
April ERA/xFIP: 4.70/3.90
Last 30 Days ERA/xFIP: 5.40/3.61
2012 ERA: 5.15

Happ’s peripherals have been very good all year, although he hasn’t managed to translate them into run prevention.  Given this fact and his less-than-stellar track record, he could come at a discount despite the peripherals (which include a 10.0 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9 over the last 30 days).  Happ has a solid pedigree, a deep repertoire, and decent-enough stuff that he’s getting hitters to chase out of the zone far more often this year than in the past (32 percent 2012 versus 25 percent career).  Given the gains he’s made, he makes for a quality target in a deep league where you can afford to take a bit of an upside gamble.

Clay Buchholz
April ERA/xFIP: 8.69/5.25
Last 30 Days ERA/xFIP: 2.43/3.60
2012 ERA: 5.53

The American League equivalent of Happ, Buchholz comes with a better pedigree but a much worse start to the season.  His April ERA, in fact, was the worst among all major league starters this year, and he didn’t have the underlying peripherals Happ did to suggest better things lay ahead.  Despite lots of hype and good stuff, Buchholz has never really managed to make good on the promise he offered as a prospect.  His 7.5 K/9 and 1.7 BB/9 over his past five starts hint at the potential that lies with Buchholz, but his most recent start (6 IP, 5 ER, 3 K at Miami) hints at the kind of disaster that could follow should you gamble on him.  At least that most recent start will serve to drive down the perception of any owner who was getting comfortable watching him succeed.  Buchholz is as high-risk/high-reward as they come.

Related Content:  Max Scherzer,  Mat Latos,  Clay Buchholz,  JA Happ

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