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March 12, 2008

Fantasy Beat

Starting Pitchers

by Marc Normandin

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This week we will shift our focus to the mound, turning our attention towards starting pitchers. If you missed the first two articles in the series, you can find the outfielders here and the infielders here. Before we dive into pitchers though, I want to answer the most-asked question from last week's piece: where's Garrett Atkins?

Atkins just missed the top ten at his position, and only because I chose Longoria's upside over his established performance, believing Longoria is capable of hitting his 75th percentile PECOTA forecast. His missing the top ten has almost nothing to do with his being Garrett Atkins, and is more due to the fact that third base is stacked. If you have more faith in Atkins than you do in Edwin Encarnacion or Evan Longoria, then move him up in your mind to one of those later spots in the top ten.

The tiebreaker for me with Atkins was his home/road splits; this matters significantly in a head-to-head league where stats are weekly, as a road trip renders Atkins... well, not useless, but certainly significantly less useful. I should have mentioned that in more detail in last week's rankings, but hopefully this clears up the confusion on the issue.

Now, on to the starting pitchers...


Rnk  Name              IP      W    K     ERA   VORP  Beta
 1  Johan Santana     225.0   17   239   3.01   60.1  0.88
 2  Jake Peavy        212.2   14   222   3.11   48.7  1.13
 3  C.C. Sabathia     216.0   15   179   3.42   49.9  1.04
 4  John Smoltz       202.1   14   169   3.30   42.9  0.83
 5  Scott Kazmir      192.2   13   194   3.24   49.0  0.93
 6  Cole Hamels       190.2   14   176   3.39   46.9  0.99
 7  Erik Bedard       195.0   12   210   3.37   44.2  1.14
 8  Brandon Webb      199.2   14   155   3.40   51.3  1.12
 9  Josh Beckett      204.1   14   176   3.64   42.2  1.01
10  Aaron Harang      204.1   13   176   3.74   42.5  0.88

Santana and Peavy are a cut above the rest, thanks to their lofty innings totals along with the combination of projected wins, tons of punchouts, and low ERAs. The Beta score for the two seals the deal on who goes first for me, as PECOTA is more certain of Santana's performance than Peavy's. Sabathia and Smoltz are no slouches in the third and fourth slots, as both of those pitchers are expected to hit the 200-inning mark while posting low ERAs, lots of wins, and contribute solid strikeout totals. You have to love John Smoltz's Beta score, despite his age.

With the Rays projected to have such a quality season this year, Kazmir has more value than he may have in the past, since his wins may finally catch up to his peripheral numbers. That earns him the spot at number five ahead of Cole Hamels, who will most likely strike out fewer hitters to boot. Erik Bedard's PECOTA forecast is from Seattle, which actually cost him a win since Seattle isn't expected to do well from PECOTA's perspective. His ERA is better for Seattle though, so it evens out somewhat for you.

Brandon Webb is a better pitcher than his ranking here, but his lower strikeout totals and high-offense home park move him down the fantasy list somewhat. Josh Beckett and Aaron Harang have the same deal with the home park, but PECOTA also projects them for only 176 strikeouts, which cuts into their value slightly.


Rnk  Name                IP      W    K     ERA   VORP  Beta
11  Javier Vazquez      205.0   13   178   3.91   39.5  0.98
12  Dan Haren           201.1   13   174   3.84   42.0  1.14
13  James Shields       188.0   12   147   3.88   32.7  1.02
14  John Lackey         200.2   13   165   3.82   37.1  0.85
15  Joba Chamberlain    176.2   13   192   3.47   39.7  0.93
16  Justin Verlander    200.1   13   161   3.92   35.0  1.05
17  Daisuke Matsuzaka   190.1   13   170   4.00   34.6  1.09
18  Carlos Zambrano     196.2   13   174   3.88   34.7  0.98
19  Rich Hill           175.2   12   161   4.06   29.0  0.99
20  Roy Oswalt          198.1   12   138   3.79   33.1  1.02

This second tier of pitchers is less valuable than the first, as each one of them is somewhat deficient in one category or another relative to their more well-rounded and higher-ranked brethren in the top ten. If he pitched a starter's regular workload, Joba Chamberlain would be the pitcher who slides up into the top ten most easily. Since he is starting out in the bullpen though, he's ranked here. PECOTA still seems to think he'll put in plenty of innings and rack up the counting stats regardless.

To move to this second rank, Javier Vazquez, John Lackey, and Dan Haren should all throw 200 innings, giving you plenty of counting stats. Their rates aren't bad either, though their ERAs are a bit close to 4.00; for the second starter on your team, that's acceptable. James Shields gets the same treatment from me as Kazmir, with the assumption the Rays are going to do well this year. He lacks the strikeouts of his teammate though, which is what puts him in the second tier.

Verlander, Dice-K, and Big Z are all going to rack up the innings with ERAs close to 4.00, but they will rack up a pretty solid strikeout total and are almost guaranteed to accumulate wins thanks to their teams' lineups. You can't go wrong with any of those three, and if you have a preference amongst them, feel free to swap them around their spots. Rich Hill and Roy Oswalt are a different breed than the three preceding them, as Hill is only expected to throw 175 2/3 innings, cutting into his counting stats, while Oswalt, despite almost 200 projected innings, is only expected to strike out 138 hitters, by far the lowest total on our list so far.


Rnk  Name               IP      W    K     ERA   VORP  Beta
21  A.J. Burnett       182.0   11   163   3.83   34.2  1.18
22  Jeremy Bonderman   189.1   12   153   4.00   30.8  1.06
23  Roy Halladay       213.1   13   131   4.06   34.9  1.07
24  Tim Lincecum       140.1    8   132   3.64   27.1  1.06
25  Brett Myers        136.1    9   125   3.79   29.5  0.81
26  Pedro Martinez     124.2    9   113   3.47   26.8  0.91
27  Yovani Gallardo    186.0   12   187   4.05   29.1  1.02
28  Ben Sheets         149.1   10   125   3.96   25.3  0.89
29  Chris Young        142.1    9   133   3.91   19.4  1.19
30  Felix Hernandez    178.0   10   147   3.84   29.8  0.84

Maybe Hertzsprung and Russell were baseball fans, as this third tier reminds me of their work; some pitchers are burning very bright but very fast, and others burning more slowly but for a longer period of time. It's up to you which path you want to take; is A.J. Burnett worth the quality rate stats balanced against his injury risk, or is Jeremy Bonderman or Roy Halladay the safer pick in that spot?

Tim Lincecum's innings are low since this will be his first full season, so you may want to bump him into the second tier if you think he'll last the year without any injury issues. Brett Myers has the low innings projection thanks to his work in the bullpen last year, but as a starter once again he should easily beat out that forecast, at least innings-wise. Pedro Martinez, if healthy, should beat that out as well, and both the Mets and your team will be pleased if that happens.

Yovani Gallardo and Felix Hernandez bring us back to those who should get the innings, but their production is more of a question. If this is the year Felix figures things out, he's going to be worth a pick much earlier than #30, but PECOTA's Beta score makes me think this isn't the year yet. Ben Sheets will most likely spend some time on the DL; I'd love to be wrong about this, but I'm not willing to waste a high pick on him with such a high probability of missing time, so he's ranked in this tier. Chris Young's forecast confuses me somewhat, at least regarding innings. He's still most likely third-tier, unless he refuses to give up runs at home like he did last season, so by adding some innings you would just rank him a few slots higher anyways.


Rnk  Name               IP      W    K     ERA   VORP  Beta
31  Francisco Liriano  144.2    9   151   3.25   40.4  0.90
32  Matt Cain          170.2    9   144   3.98   25.0  1.23
33  Ian Snell          175.0   10   143   4.04   26.2  1.13
34  Ted Lilly          171.1   11   142   4.29   25.3  0.99
35  Hiroki Kuroda      162.1   10   105   4.06   24.9  1.03
36  Chad Billingsley   173.2   11   153   3.99   28.4  1.09
37  Fausto Carmona     190.2   12   126   4.07   30.2  1.07
38  Bronson Arroyo     187.1   11   132   4.37   25.4  1.18
39  John Maine         150.0   10   129   4.13   18.7  1.09
40  Tim Hudson         184.2   12   106   4.02   26.4  1.05

This group isn't all that different than the one before it, as it is still loaded with pitchers who aren't going to throw a ton of innings, but may positively contribute to your rate stats. Liriano is one of the highest-ranked starters by VORP, but his low innings total hurts him somewhat. That, combined with my apprehension regarding his command coming back immediately-PECOTA doesn't know why he missed last year, remember that-puts him back here, rather than in front of other pitchers who missed most of last year like Pedro.

Matt Cain suffers from pitching on the Giants as well as his inconsistency and sketchy Beta score. Ian Snell doesn't strike out a ton of hitters, and he's on the Pirates, which could/should affect his wins total. Ted Lilly should get the wins for you, but his home park and talent keep him lower on the list. I'm not sure how to rank Kuroda with commentary; PECOTA seems to be a fan, and the Dodgers have a good lineup, so this seemed like a good place for him, right alongside Chad Billingsley. Fausto Carmona was fantastic last year, but PECOTA expects some ERA regression, and his low K totals are a problem for fantasy owners as well. Bronson Arroyo is in the same boat, and he pitches in a high-offense park. John Maine and Tim Hudson are both low-strikeout guys who will win games thanks to their teams. I expect Maine to throw more than 150 innings, which should snag him some more strikeouts as well and possibly throw him above Arroyo and closer to Billingsley.


Rnk  Name               IP      W    K     ERA   VORP  Beta
41  David Bush         174.2   11   123   4.35   21.1  0.87
42  Derek Lowe         164.0   10   109   4.05   22.7  1.13
43  Andrew Miller      185.2   11   170   4.10   23.4  1.15
44  Rich Harden         98.0    6    96   3.42   26.0  0.76
45  Barry Zito         162.1    9   120   4.06   22.8  1.08
46  Adam Wainwright    181.0   10   124   4.09   23.5  1.10
47  Jered Weaver       174.1   11   128   4.40   21.8  0.99
48  Oliver Perez       143.1    9   138   4.30   16.1  1.05
49  Kelvim Escobar     182.1   12   145   4.13   26.5  1.10
50  Andy Pettitte      179.1   12   118   4.23   24.1  1.00

You may have noticed, but it's taking longer for the differentiation to show up between pitchers #21-50 than it did going from #10 to #20. At this point though, we're starting to see a clearer difference, as pitchers like David Bush have both a higher ERA and low strikeout totals. Derek Lowe's innings total hurts his projected value; if he ends up throwing close to 200 innings again though, you can move him up despite his low strikeout totals. Rich Harden will most likely have excellent statistics for a short amount of time, but that's if you believe he'll even make it to 98 innings. I have him ranked behind many of the other potential injury candidates for a reason. Barry Zito may have the innings, but between the Giants lineup and his poor strikeout totals, that may not be a good thing for you in the long run.

Adam Wainwright's second year in the rotation should go at least as well as the first, though the Cardinals lineup most likely still won't help his Win totals. PECOTA is not a huge fan of Jered Weaver; if you think he's better than that, feel free to rank him higher on your own draft board. As I mentioned in my latest chat, Oliver Perez is a tough pitcher to have on your team, as you'll get a mix of great starts and poor ones, which is even worse to deal with if you're in a head-to-head league. Kelvim Escobar may have some bumps in the road in the early going, but if his shoulder holds up he's a worthwhile pick, even if he won't do as well as he did last season. Andy Pettitte is nowhere as productive as he used to be, but he's going to get the innings and the wins for the Yankees, which makes him a useful support starter on your fantasy team.

We'll take a look at closers and potential closers next week, as well as a few more starters to round out your fantasy rotation. As always, if you have specific questions or requests for the rankings, feel free to e-mail your suggestion.

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<< Previous Article
Premium Article Pressure in Motown (03/12)
<< Previous Column
Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: The Infi... (03/05)
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Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: The Clos... (03/19)
Next Article >>
Fantasy Article Team Health Reports: M... (03/12)

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