September 7, 2012
Starting Pitching for 9/7/12
Can you believe we officially have less than a month of the regular season left? That depresses me. I like football just fin; I just love baseball two billion times more. Okay, chin up, no need for tears. We’ve still got a month plus the playoffs, which are shaping up to be fantastic. More importantly, you have got your fantasy playoffs (or at least a stretch run for you roto folks) to worry about right now. The September roster expansion deepens the pool of potential Value Picks, but pitchers running up against inning limits, wearing down, or outright being shutdown cuts into that depth a bit.
Exhibit A of the shutdown phenomenon comes from the Brewers as Mark Rogers (Yahoo! 2%, ESPN 1%, CBS 7%) drops out this week. Rogers landed in the NL VP arena twice thanks to quality peripherals powered by a 9.5 K/9, but the Brewers aren’t interested in tempting fate with the oft-injured righty, deciding to shut him down after 134 1/3 combined innings across Triple-A and the bigs. That is a career-high as a professional for Rogers and qualifies as a minor miracle when you consider his injury history. He has missed two entire seasons (2007 and 2008) and parts of five others, with innings maxes ranging from 27 to 99.
Playing time crunches usually have a way of working themselves out in the majors. Unfortunately, it’s usually because someone gets hurt, but in other instances someone underperforms and it makes more sense to switch him out with the higher upside player. In short, rarely does a deserving player sit idly by in a role smaller than his talent. A.J. Griffin (Yahoo! 15%, ESPN 11%, CBS 49%) was pitching masterfully when he got hurt back in early August. The already-crowded rotation had Brett Anderson on the way back, so Griffin was pushed to the backburner. Then Bartolo Colon was popped for testosterone a couple of weeks later, opening up another rotation spot.
The A’s were never really in dire need with Griffin out, but the depth was eaten into a bit even while Travis Blackley filled in admirably. Griffin returned on September 1 and picked up right where he left off, hurling seven innings of one run ball while yielding just three hits and striking out five. Then on Wednesday afternoon, Brandon McCarthy was unfortunately struck with a comeback liner, which is obviously terribly, but now the A’s can once again turn to Blackley or bring Dan Straily back into the fray. In other words, they will be fine.
More on the guy we are here to talk about, though. Griffin’s composite line with near-equal 50-something-inning samples at Double-A, Triple-A, and MLB comes out to a 2.64 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 7.7 K/9, and 4.7 K/BB in 153 2/3 innings of work. That isn’t just inflated by the minors either; he has a 2.26 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 7.0 K/9, and 4.0 K/BB in 51 2/3 major league innings.
I’m probably not the only one who gives any new San Diego Padre pitcher a look just because that home park is so insanely favorable. Obviously a guy still has to have talent, but it is very forgiving and it seems to even give some confidence to guys closer to the marginal side of the talent spectrum, aiding them in some success on the road too. Andrew Werner (Yahoo! 1%, ESPN 1%, CBS 6%) spent 2009 and 2010 in the independent leagues before latching on with the Padres last year. He pitched well in 136 1/3 innings between Single- and High-A, but at 24 years old, he wasn’t really considered a prospect. His peripherals showed a tick of degradation as he moved up to Double- and Triple-A this year but nothing more than you’d expect from a pitcher moving to a tougher league.
He isn’t a hard-throwing lefty, working in the 86-89 mph area, but he has shown solid control and has missed quite a few bats in his tiny 18-inning sample. He has had three straight six-inning, two-ER outings with two strikeouts and four walks in the first but then 15 strikeouts and just one walk over the next two. At the very least, he seems like a worthy Petco play down the stretch, but his latest outing was on the road and he fared quite well, so I’d give him a look anywhere but extreme hitter’s parks, especially if I wasn’t protecting tenuous ERA and WHIP leads and chasing wins or strikeouts.
Corey Kluber (Yahoo! 0%, ESPN 0%, CBS 2%) was knocked around pretty hard in two of his first three starts, which has inflated his numbers over a mere 35 2/3 innings, but the composite peripherals are noteworthy: 7.6 K/9 and 3.0 K/BB. They are even better in his last three starts (against the Yankees, A’s, and Tigers) with 17 strikeouts and just three walks in 17 innings of work. He’s only thrown six more innings than he did a year ago, so he should be able to finish out the season without being shelved to protect his arm.
Expectations were pretty high for Shelby Miller (Yahoo! 2%, ESPN 0%, CBS 24%) coming into the season, but he didn’t exactly live up to them thanks in large part to a 1.6 HR/9. Many expected to see him up in the majors at some point in the summer, but he didn’t make his debut until Wednesday afternoon. He’s currently pitching in a long-relief role, so this is a deep pickup. He may only scoop a start or two and possibly none at all, but he was really sharp in his relief outing, fanning four in two innings of one-hit ball.
Miller has ace potential going forward, so he is undoubtedly rostered in any keeper league that utilizes the minor leagues. There are some NL-only leagues, however, that might keep 10-plus players year-to-year without using a minor league roster, so he could be available for pickup and potentially used as a keeper for next season.
Most of all, though, Miller is a redraft league target who can fill a final spot on a pitching staff and get you some easy strikeouts. While he did post a 4.74 ERA and 1.38 WHIP in 136 2/3 innings at Triple-A this year, he was great to close out the year down there with a 2.88 ERA and 0.93 WHIP with 70 strikeouts and just seven walks in 59 1/3 innings across 10 starts. He was also 7-2 in that span.
Paul Sporer is an author of Baseball Prospectus.
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