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October 2, 2012

Value Picks

Starting Pitching Review

by Paul Sporer

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It is review time at Value Picks. Since I wasn’t here writing the starting pitcher VP from the jump, I don’t have any preseason picks to review, so we’ll dive in around late-April when I signed on and break the season up into a few segments.

April-May
Best Calls: Though he was just a week away from his worst start ever, I stand by A.J. Burnett as a top call; from April 26 (my BP debut) forward he gave fantasy owners 189 2/3 innings of 3.56-ERA ball with a 1.24 WHIP, 170 strikeouts, and 15 wins. After the disaster start in early May, his stock plummeted, but I stuck with him and included him in the May 23 and May 30 editions.

If you didn’t make a move for Chris Capuano until he appeared in VP, you missed his brilliant April, but you still enjoyed plenty of valuable outings from the veteran lefty. He maintained a sub-3.00 ERA deep into July, and only a handful of bad outings (including turns in the ever-dangerous Coors Field and against the potent St. Louis offense) have pushed his ERA up to 3.69 on the season. The solid strikeout rate and 1.21 WHIP have given him plenty of value given the cost of acquisition.

On May 9, R.A. Dickey was still available in 70 percent of Yahoo! leagues and 80 percent of ESPN leagues because an ugly mid-April start (eight ER) against Atlanta left him with an unimpressive 3.76 ERA through six starts. I won’t even pretend I saw this coming, but from that point on he had a 2.74 ERA and 1.02 WHIP in 189 1/3 innings with 190 strikeouts and 16 wins. His season has been positively amazing.

Worst Calls: Erik Bedard was a good short-term call (3.54 ERA in the six starts following his VP debut), but that ended in disaster. Bedard had a 6.35 ERA from June on and was eventually cut from the Pirates. Thankfully, he was no doubt cut from fantasy teams well before the Pirates finally made the move themselves.

As bad as Bedard was, Jake Arrieta would kill for those numbers. He appeared in the May 24 edition of VP because I liked his peripherals despite what the surface stats were telling us. Turns out I should’ve listened to the surface stats because the peripherals remained sharp (9.4 K/9 and 2.9 K/BB in 52 2/3 innings), but he has a horrid 7.69 ERA since being recommended.

Ivan Nova similarly carried peripherals that portended future success as he developed into a bona fide strikeout pitcher (9.0 K/9 at the time; 8.1 for the season). Alas, he couldn’t curb his home run issues (similar to teammate Phil Hughes), which limited his upside all year and leaves him with a 5.02 ERA entering the final series of the season.

June-July
Best Calls:
I have been a Jon Niese fan for some time now, and like the Mets, I have been waiting for him to put it all together and finally jump below 4.00 with his ERA. The skills were there, but he seemed to always have that disaster start or stretch of a couple rough outings that limited his success. This year, that stretch was basically his May (6.02 ERA). I recommended him after a gem outing in mid-June in the Bronx, and he has been sharp ever since with a 3.25 ERA in 122 innings aided heavily by just 22 walks (1.6 BB/9).

The second that the Braves mentioned Kris Medlen was being stretched out to start, I added him to VP. I am a big fan of this guy and couldn’t wait to see him get a shot, especially as Randall Delgado and Mike Minor continued to waste their chances. Minor turned his season around, but Delgado eventually relinquished his spot in July and Medlen made the Braves look great for the move. Since joining the rotation on July 31, Medlen has a 0.97 ERA in 83 2/3 innings with 84 strikeouts and 10 walks. None of those numbers are misprints.

Mike Fiers made the June 21 edition after putting together four solid starts that yielded a 3.46 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, and 24 strikeouts in 26 innings. He also had just four walks. He was an unknown commodity as a 27-year-old rookie, but he didn’t let me (or those who listened) down after my VP recommendation.

He was brilliant right out of the gate with a 0.68 ERA and 43 strikeouts in 40 post-VP innings running through July. Things have been a bit rockier since then, but he still has 58 strikeouts in 55 2/3 innings across August and September, so the peripherals have held steady throughout, even as the ERA ballooned a bit in the dog days. I recommended teammate Marco Estrada first in May as an NL-only guy but then again in July as a mixed league option, and he has been on fire since that second appearance (3.31 ERA and 77 Ks in 81 2/3 IP).

Brett Anderson made the July 26 edition as an AL-only guy after his first rehab start so fantasy leaguers could get a jump on the well-known lefty.

Worst Calls: I fell for Trevor Bauer.

Even as an NL-only option, Christian Friedrich has been wretched since appearing in the June 6 edition. I can go a little easy on myself because all Colorado starters became worthless once they switched to the pitch count limit, but it was still a bad call, and he did plenty of damage to anyone who bought in before the switch was made.

Home runs just kill pitchers. Ask Zach McAllister if you don’t believe me. He has posted a 4.72 ERA since appearing as a VP in mid-July, and 12 of his 40 earned runs came in two ugly starts during which he allowed six home runs. He has allowed 12 home runs in his other 109 1/3 innings this year.

We are at a point now where I will need approximately 100 great innings in a row to believe in Luke Hochevar again, even as an AL-only option. And even then, I will still be cautious. He is on the cusp of Lirianodom for me. No matter what Francisco Liriano does, I will never fully trust him. You’re next, Luke.

August-September
Best Calls:
I brought Homer Bailey back in the final edition of VP, just in time to watch him throw a no-hitter against the Pirates. He actually had a five-ER outing before that, but no-hitters erase a lot, and he still managed a 2.87 ERA across the pair of outings with 16 strikeouts and just three walks in 15 2/3 innings.

A.J. Griffin re-entered the rotation in September and picked up right where he left off back in July, posting a 3.09 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 7.5 K/9, and 4.1 K/BB in 35 innings with a 4-1 record. The under-the-radar rookie was one of many Oakland Athletics who unexpectedly came up huge to help fuel this dream season in the Bay Area. He only threw about 80 innings, but he definitely helped fantasy owners get a quality arm in their lineup when they needed to replace an injured or under-performing pitcher.

Worst Calls: Nate Eovaldi appeared three times this year, so he could have appeared in more than one of these Worst Call sections. We’ll stick him here. He was the same guy in LA and Miami with uninspiring peripherals, far too many hits, and subsequently bad results. I still like him in the long-term, but I read too much into his tiny runs of success throughout the year.

Jose Quintana first appeared on July 4, and he was great from that point until August 29, when he appeared again as an incumbent VPer. He had a 3.41 ERA in 60 2/3 innings before the second appearance, which as terrific. From August 29 on, however, he was awful: 7.25 ERA in just 22 1/3 innings, going more than five innings just once in the five starts.

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

Related Content:  Innings Limit,  Era,  Peripherals

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