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January 3, 2014

Sporer Report

Garbage Picking

by Paul Sporer

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In any draft or auction it is always hard to resist the temptation to take the big breakouts from the year that just passed. After all, they are on the upswing… supposedly. Their breakout may have led you to a title or you may have just missed getting them and had to suffer through them cleaning up for an opponent, but you’re determined to not miss out again this year. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with taking the recent breakout—well unless it was built on a mirage of poor supporting skills—but there can also be value in the garbage bin.

On the opposite end of the shiny breakouts is the thrown-out trash: the previous year’s failures that sunk a team to the bottom of the standings and left them spending their entire free agent budget by May 1. Those toxic assets are far down on the list for those they burned and they aren’t exactly hot targets for the rest of the league, either. Alas, every year we see guys rise from the ashes like a phoenix to be the late-round steal that pairs with an aforementioned breakout to carry a team to the title.

Let’s dive into the bin today and see if we can find some 2014 treasure on the mound.

Phil Hughes, MIN – (5.19 ERA in 145 2/3 innings)

  • Why: The ballpark, of course.

This one is pretty obvious, but there are still several folks who won’t even put Hughes on their 2014 list. There might not have been a worse fit of skill and home venue than Hughes and Yankee Stadium. The gopher-prone fly-baller was stuck in one of baseball’s worst parks for such an affliction. With only the info that someone had a 21 percent strikeout rate and 4.1 K:BB ratio in 78 1/3 innings, you would predict a relatively strong ERA. You certainly wouldn’t believe it if I said that person had a 6.32 ERA and 1-10 record, but that was Hughes’ performance at home last year. I threw in the W-L record just to color how badly things went.

The last three years have seen Target Field with a 79/94 home run park factor for lefties and righties, respectively, compared to 116/122 for Yankee Stadium. That is a massive difference, especially against lefties. Hughes has just a 0.86 HR/9 rate in 375 2/3 road innings, a far cry from his disgusting 1.6 and 1.5 composite rates from 2012-2013. He managed a useful 4.14 ERA in 176 1/3 IP in 2010 with a 1.3 HR/9, so he can be reasonably successful with something around the 1.0 HR/9 league average for starters, and he can be excellent with a rate mirroring his road work.

Erasmo Ramirez, SEA – (4.98 ERA in 72 1/3 innings)

  • Why: Improved health

Ramirez, a sleeper pick for a breakout for some in 2013, didn’t even debut until late-May (and that was in the minors) thanks to bum elbow. He also had some triceps soreness, but there wasn’t a lot of clarity around his exact ailments and what cost him nearly two months of time. He finally got back to the majors in mid-July only to have his face caved in by the Red Sox allowing seven earned in 4 2/3 innings of work. He closed the season with a tweaked groin and probably shouldn’t have made his final start on September 29, but he did and he allowed four earned in just 1 1/3 innings.

In the 66 1/3 innings in between those two duds, he had a 3.93 ERA with an 18 percent strikeout rate and 2.8 K/BB ratio. None of that is winning your league, but it starts to back up the 3.36 ERA, 20 percent strikeout rate, and 4.0 K:BB ratio from his 59 innings in 2012 that made him a sleeper in the first place. Coming into 2014 with a clean bill of health is likely to pay nice dividends.

John Danks, CWS – (4.75 ERA in 138 1/3 innings)

  • Why: Improved health and command

Danks didn’t debut until May 24 after recovering from left shoulder surgery and he had some obvious kinks to work out, particularly his command. He gave up at least one homer in five of his first six starts including multiple homers in three of them. In the sixth of those starts, he allowed four bombs to the Twins at Target Field. In fact, only seven of his 22 starts were homer-less and he allowed two-plus in eight of them.

This has been an issue at times before, but never to this degree. He had a 1.8 HR/9 in his rookie season over 139 innings back in 2007 and a 1.3 HR/9 in 200 1/3 innings during the 2009 season—though he still managed a 3.77 ERA. Danks may have been fooling some folks with his appealing K/BB ratio in 2013 thanks to a minuscule walk rate that kept the ratio high.

He ended the season at 3.30, but it is a lot less impressive when you see the 15 percent strikeout rate. Sure he wasn’t walking anyone, but that’s because he was serving up meatballs all day long. He probably would’ve benefitted by leaving the zone a bit more often. He was in zone 53 percent of the time in 2013, a career-high.

The 2013 season was a lost one in terms of excelling, but he was recovering from the injury and essentially a year off (he threw just 53 2/3 innings in 2012). A healthy Danks has proven himself more than useful in the past. We are a few years removed from it (2010 was his last good season), but at age 29, it’s still in there.


It’s fun to have Michael Wacha or Gerrit Cole, but you can’t get all of the rising studs, so don’t ignore the scrap heap when you are constructing your pitching staff at the draft table this year

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:  Phil Hughes,  John Danks,  Erasmo Ramirez

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