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February 7, 2013

The Keeper Reaper

Starting Pitching for 2/7/13

by Paul Sporer

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Matt Harvey | New York Mets

Shallow (30 keepers): No
Medium (60 keepers): No
Deep (90 keepers): Fringe
NL-only (60 keepers): Yes
Super Deep (200 keepers): Yes

Harvey entered the year as the Mets’ top prospect, and Kevin Goldstein ranked him as the 25th-best minor-league talent in all of baseball. Slated to start 2012 in Triple-A, there was reason to believe that Harvey would at least claim a cup of coffee with the big-league club, barring an injury or a poor first half. We know that statistics alone will never give you the whole picture on a prospect, since there is a multitude of variables to consider, and had the Mets judged Harvey by the box scores, his 1.32 WHIP and 10 percent walk rate might have precluded his summertime promotion.

However, the reports of those watching Harvey pitch were as bullish as ever, and on July 26, he made his major-league debut. Harvey jumped out of the gate, logging 5 1/3 shutout innings and 11 strikeouts in his opening salvo, and took off from there, recording six quality starts in 10 tries, plus two others that would have qualified had not been limited to five innings. He turned in only one dud—which, of all places, came against the Padres at Petco Park—allowing five runs in as many innings, but he still fanned five and walked only one in that outing, while proving that you really can’t predict baseball. Harvey’s 29 percent strikeout rate over 59 1/3 innings was the most impressive aspect of his debut, and inspires even more confidence in his future than his 2.73 ERA and 1.15 WHIP.

What’s next?

The masses have bought-in to start the 2013 draft season, as Harvey has an ADP of 151 in the early NFBC data, putting him ahead of Anibal Sanchez, Lance Lynn, and teammate Jon Niese, to name a few. I understand the excitement around a young stud with superstar potential, but drafting Harvey too high places a significant burden on his immediate performance. If he doesn’t go out and put together a full season of better than league-average work, his 11th round slotting (remember NFBC uses 15-teams) makes him a bust from a 2013-asset perspective.

Harvey has a strong four-pitch mix, highlighted by his 95-96 mph four-seamer and a low-80s slider that batters swung through 16.5 percent of the time. Young pitching is a fickle market, though: Even prospects with elite stuff often need time to harness their command, and Harvey’s 10 percent walk rate in his big-league debut was exactly the same as his Triple-A figure. The risk of growing pains is enough to throw Harvey back into the pool in all but NL-only and super-deep leagues, and then to take your chances on landing him again in the draft.

Jon Lester | Boston Red Sox
Shallow (30 keepers): No
Medium (60 keepers): No
Deep (90 keepers): No
AL-only (60 keepers): No
Super Deep (200 keepers): Yes

With Lester, the scenario is much more cut-and-dried: We’re dealing with a player whose name value far outstrips his actual fantasy value. Once a Cy Young contender on one of the best teams in the league, Lester’s fortunes seem to be mirroring those of the Red Sox franchise, and every indicator seems to be going the wrong way.

Lester’s ERA, WHIP, hits per game, and home runs per game are all going up. His strikeout rate, velocity, and ground-ball rate are all going down. The only bright spot in 2012 was his walk rate, which also shrank, keeping pace with his diminishing strikeout rate to match his 2.4 K/BB ratio from 2011. Though Lester’s velocity has dipped from 95.0 mph in 2009 to 93.6 last year, he is still one of the hardest-throwing lefties in the game, ranking seventh among southpaws with at least 1,000 four-seamers thrown.

From a skills standpoint, Lester’s 2012 was a reasonable replica of his 2011 effort, except for the fact that he was brutalized at home, to the tune of a 15.5 percent HR/FB rate that resulted in a 6.31 ERA at Fenway Park. Two division rivals ate the lefty alive in a quartet of games, two apiece, in Boston. In his pair against Toronto, he allowed 15 runs over 11 innings, including six home runs, while fanning six and walking five (all in the second game). In his pair against Tampa Bay (were you expecting one of the teams to be New York?), he lasted 10 combined innings, coughing up 10 runs on 10 hits, half of which left the park. In those two outings, he struck out nine and walked four. Thus, 11 of his 25 home runs (44 percent) and 25 of his 110 runs (23 percent) allowed came in just four of his 33 starts.

Then again, Lester’s ERA in the other 29 outings was 4.15, so even if you play the “let’s remove this awful sample” game, he was still far from the Lester we have come to expect. It doesn’t take too many leaps of faith to see him returning to excellence, but we are talking about keepers here, where you are trying to tilt the odds in your favor, while building the foundation of your club. Lester’s keeper price would be too high in any of the formats discussed here, and that’s especially the case if you use 2012 salaries, since he was still commanding a pretty penny last March.

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:  Matt Harvey

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Premium Article Arbitration Showdown: ... (02/06)
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