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March 13, 2009

Fantasy Beat

Starting Pitchers, Part II

by Marc Normandin

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Continuing from where we left off earlier in the week, here's part two of my starting pitching rankings:


Rank Name               Team       W    IP    SO  WHIP   ERA  Beta
 31. Ubaldo Jimenez     Rockies    9  165.2  143  1.48  4.66  1.06
 32. Randy Johnson      Giants     8  127.1  111  1.28  3.82  0.94
 33. Edinson Volquez    Reds       9  151.1  151  1.38  4.21  1.10
 34. Jonathan Sanchez   Giants     7  127.2  122  1.37  4.25  1.10
 35. Gil Meche          Royals    11  187.2  147  1.36  4.23  1.11
 36. Aaron Harang       Reds      11  183.0  152  1.27  4.22  0.94
 37. Carlos Zambrano    Cubs      11  169.2  141  1.39  4.12  1.13
 38. Ryan Dempster      Cubs      11  168.1  143  1.38  4.10  1.12
 39. John Danks         White Sox 10  169.0  137  1.34  4.27  1.18
 40. Justin Verlander   Tigers    12  186.1  147  1.35  4.31  1.01

I'd like Ubaldo Jimenez much more if he wasn't pitching in Colorado, but he's the one guy there worth taking a chance on, and that's thanks to his pure stuff. He shaved about half a walk from his BB/9 rate in the second half, but it would be nice to see him lower it further, and to do so permanently to make his WHIP more attractive. Randy Johnson is moving from a severe hitter's park to one that favors pitchers, a switch that makes PECOTA happy. His projected inning total is still low, but assuming that he can repeat last year's mark of 184, he's going to be much more valuable than this initial forecast suggests.

I think Edinson Volquez has a very bright future, but his first and second halves last year were like night and day. His strikeout rate remained above one per nine for the season, but his walk rate was also consistent at 4.3; it just didn't catch up to him until the second half, when his ERA was over two full runs higher. He also gave up 1.0 homers per nine in the second half, as opposed to the 0.4 mark he posted in the first. While one per nine isn't that high in a vacuum, it is a problem when combined with his walk rates. He has the potential to be much better than his forecast-his 75th- and 90th-percentile forecasts look like those of a staff ace-but until he can fix that walk rate or be consistent about his homer rate, I feel safer letting someone else over-draft him.

The Giants have their fourth starter in the top 34-now if only they had some hitting. Sanchez was actually a victim of poor luck last year, as his FIP was 3.85, over a run below his actual ERA. He stranded a below-average 68 percent of his baserunners, thanks to his pitching a bit worse from the stretch than he does from the full windup. He did manage to rein in his wildness though, hitting just seven batters last year after having plunked five in a hundred fewer innings in 2007, and he also shaved half a walk off of his walk rate. He's worth it for the strikeouts, and he should be a better source of ERA this year as well.

Gil Meche's forecast has his ERA a little higher than I would like, since his FIP had him around the same rate as his 2007 with the Royals. Unless their defense completely hoses him, I can see him repeating last year's numbers, or doing better. Aaron Harang did much worse after having come into a game as a reliever last year, partially due to a forearm injury and also because of the small sample size. Look for him to improve this year, though he plays in front of a poor defense for a team that may not win him many games with their lineup.

It feels odd ranking Carlos Zambrano this low, but it makes sense when you take a look at his numbers. His strikeouts dropped for the second straight year, down to 6.2 per nine, and he failed to crack 200 innings for the first time since 2002, and that was when he was splitting his time between starting and relieving. His ERA was also better than it should have been, as his FIP was 4.23. If he's not striking hitters out at the same rate that he used to or getting as many ground-ball outs as he used to, his numbers are going to take a hit, and you have to seriously consider that he's no longer a true ace.

Ryan Dempster's improvements are real for the most part, as you can see in our profile of him. John Danks' low ranking has a lot to do with PECOTA believing that the White Sox are going to be an awful team this year. He's got a lot of upside as a strikeout/ground-ball guy, but as with Edinson Volquez, most of his production last year came from the first half of the season. He's capable of being much better than this rank, but I think we'll see him being drafted too early in a lot of leagues.

A few people wanted to know where Justin Verlander was last week. My question by way of a reply is: What did he do last year that merited the consideration? His mechanics were messed up at the beginning of the season, and he was pitching with his front side flying open; this caused his velocity to be down, while his control was also off. Once he straightened things out, he was a better pitcher, but he still wasn't the Verlander we had all hoped he'd be when we drafted him. If you're picking him for 2009, it's in hopes that he can return to form; that's certainly possible, but I wouldn't waste an early pick on a hope so slim.


Rank Name               Team       W   IP     SO  WHIP   ERA  Beta
 41. Clayton Kershaw    Dodgers   10  157.0  146  1.41  4.00   .88
 42. Jered Weaver       Angels    11  172.1  136  1.32  4.25   .93
 43. Jair Jurrjens      Braves    10  156.1  115  1.35  4.06  1.13
 44. Daisuke Matsuzaka  Red Sox   10  155.0  135  1.37  4.32  1.19
 45. Ted Lilly          Cubs      10  161.2  139  1.29  4.26  1.09
 46. Josh Johnson       Marlins    8  135.0  120  1.37  4.10   .98
 47. Francisco Liriano  Twins      9  145.2  125  1.34  4.16  1.09
 48. Chris Young        Padres     6  111.0  100  1.30  3.93  1.00
 49. David Price        Rays       6  102.1   78  1.39  4.20  1.20
 50. Wandy Rodriguez    Astros     7  123.2  104  1.35  4.32  1.12

The Dodgers should allow Kershaw to pitch more this year, so he could have additional value even without improving his numbers. Lowering his walk rate and striking out a few more guys wouldn't hurt, though. Jered Weaver had a much higher ERA in the second half last year, but he also struck out 9.6 hitters per nine, a number that seems to have come out of nowhere for a starter who has seen his punchout rate continue to drop. He's a good, sneaky pick for later rounds, since most people are down on him.

Jurrjens is a relatively good pitcher, but his numbers don't have that fantasy flash to them since he isn't a strikeout machine. Still, between his grounders and the guys who do swing and miss, he's going to post a solid ERA for you; it'll be nice if he can manage to post a better WHIP for you. Matsuzaka had a great ERA last year, and loads of wins. He probably didn't deserve either; he walked 5.1 hitters per nine and posted a WHIP of 1.32 despite a BABIP of just .267. This allowed him to strand nearly 81 percent of his baserunners (of which there were many). He's going to be a good pitcher in 2009, but his ERA should have been well over a run higher than it was. Betting on him to repeat 2008 is not something I would do, especially in the early rounds, where he'll be drafted for all of those numbers that we know don't matter in real life.

Lilly's ERA was better looking than he deserved last year, but he does rack up the strikeouts, and he doesn't hurt you much in any other stats. He's a well-rounded fantasy pitcher, and a great complementary piece on a staff. If you could guarantee that Josh Johnson would throw 200 innings, I would have him ranked higher than this. While I don't think he's Ricky Nolasco, he is a great starter who can get outs on the ground or by himself. I would like to see Liriano drop the walk rate (it can take time for control to return after Tommy John surgery), but seeing where his velocity was last year, I don't think we're going to get the ridiculous version of Liriano again. For what it's worth, he's probably the one pitcher I'm going to regret ranking this low come the end of the year, so take that into consideration.

Chris Young didn't look like his 2007 version, but that was a hard act to follow as it stood. Assuming he can avoid getting pegged in the face by a line drive, he should be a solid option for as long as he remains in Petco. I like David Price a lot, but there are still some questions about whether or not he'll end up in the Rays bullpen, and we don't know how he'll fare as a starter in the majors yet. If we knew the answers to both of those questions, my guess is that he'd be ranked much higher. He's another player who may be over-drafted based on his playoff performance. Wandy Rodriguez is going to hit the 200-inning mark and actually give us a full season of production someday, right? While his ERA was well above where it should have been, he can still be a useful complement to the starters you picked earlier.


Rank Name               Team       W   IP     SO  WHIP   ERA  Beta
 51. Johnny Cueto       Reds       8  136.0  122  1.40  4.64  1.10
 52. Erik Bedard        Mariners   7  117.0  116  1.34  3.94  1.00
 53. John Maine         Mets       6  107.0   89  1.34  4.16  1.08
 54. Manny Parra        Brewers    8  136.1  111  1.45  4.40  1.13
 55. Oliver Perez       Mets       9  152.1  144  1.38  4.26  1.00
 56. Scott Baker        Twins      9  153.0  113  1.33  4.28  1.03
 57. Justin Duchscherer Athletics  9  151.0   98  1.26  4.02  1.12
 58. Kevin Slowey       Twins     10  159.2  115  1.24  4.11   .96
 59. Bronson Arroyo     Reds      10  177.0  133  1.40  4.65  1.04
 60. Mark Buehrle       White Sox 11  181.2  112  1.40  4.58  1.09

You'll know which one of your league mates is thinking about Cueto: his eyes will be darting back and forth repeatedly, from the impressive strikeout rate to the horrifying totals as far as his homers allowed. His walk rates are average, but when combined with all of those long balls, it becomes a problem. He'll need to lower one of the two going forward to be taken seriously as anything but a source of strikeouts. He was stingier with homers in the second half (1.3 per nine), but more generous with walks (4.0).

Bedard doesn't need a repeat of 2007 to be a useful fantasy pitcher. He's still got good stuff, and as long as he's healthy this year he should be worthwhile, though pitching for the Mariners may limit his win totals; at least they have a great outfield to hunt down his fly balls. John Maine never had a very consistent home/road split, so he may not miss Shea Stadium as much as we would think. His walk rates were ugly last year though, and he lost a few strikeouts. He out-pitched his FIP for two straight seasons, but he was much closer to the mark in '08, which is worrisome in a "waiting for the other shoe to drop" kind of way.

Manny Parra is another guy who you can draft for strikeouts, but he's going to hurt your WHIP, and he probably won't help your ERA much either. He'll have more value than last year simply by sticking in the rotation. Oliver Perez is the more maddening version of Parra. I like Scott Baker more in real life than I do in fantasy baseball. PECOTA may be a little hard on him, but I'm not much more optimistic, hence his ranking. That doesn't mean he isn't worth having around; if you're playing with 10 teams and have six starters per team, this list is telling you that you want Baker to be one of your six.

Justin Duchscherer's 2008 was a product of his home park and a wonderful defense, along with his quality pitching. Since the A's still play in the same park and should still have a great defense, you'd think he would rank higher, but Duke's entry was going to have the dreaded "if healthy" line in it somewhere even before he began having discomfort in his elbow. If Kevin Slowey could stop giving up home runs, he'd be a great fantasy pick instead of merely a good one, but you have to love a guy who doesn't walk anyone.

Bronson Arroyo walks a few too many hitters and gives up too many homers to be considered a great starting pitcher option in fantasy, but if he holds on to the increase in strikeouts from last year, he does still have some value as a later pick to shore up your counting stats. Buehrle is another pitcher I like much more in real baseball than in fantasy, as his lone standout number is his ERA. If the White Sox are as poor a team as PECOTA thinks they'll be, then his win total will suffer, limiting his value.

Related Content:  Walk Rate,  A's,  The Who,  Year Of The Injury

31 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

rrvwmr

I don't want to be the guy that asks what about my guy, but what about my guy? It is tough to be a Cardinal fan w/ no starters in the top 60, so I'd like you to reconsider. I know Pecota hates Wainright, but I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and say this must be an oversite.

Mar 13, 2009 09:21 AM
rating: 0
 
jashnew

I agree Wainwright should be in the top 60. He'll get wins.

Mar 13, 2009 09:45 AM
rating: -1
 
sgturner65
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

Mark, we have an opening in our 5 x 5 NL League and if you don't think Adam Wainwright is one of the top 60 starters in baseball, I'd like to invite you to take that team. I'd gladly take your money.

Mar 13, 2009 14:01 PM
rating: -4
 
Richard Bergstrom

I usually get in late on starters and draft those with solid K/9 and WHIP, rolling the dice on ERA and WHIP. Seems every year there's at least one ace pitcher that goes down and I'd rather use the earlier rounds on offense, then trade the surplus for an ace once pitchers start establishing themselves. I also tend to draft a lot of closers, with at least one high K loser, so that I can package the surplus saves for a starting ace. Out of the 60 starting pitchers listed, I'd probably draft my first pitcher once Peavy/Vazquez/Hernandez/Grienke are the best left on the board, then wait a few rounds and grab two more in 25-35 group (Myers/Cain through Sanchez/Dempster)... Once you get down to Arroyo and Buehrle, at least in Yahoo leagues, there are waiver wire pickups that can outperform the 51-60 group.

Mar 13, 2009 09:24 AM
rating: -2
 
jashnew
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

Oleoay- If you're a subscriber to Baseball Prospectus you should not be in any Yahoo leagues. Use this knowledge for some pay leagues.

Mar 13, 2009 09:47 AM
rating: -5
 
Richard Bergstrom

I'm not in any leagues this year actually. I'm busy pursuing my PhD. Yahoo generally has "easy" competition, but I do like their interface and draft engine and its free. I also like Scoresheet.

Mar 14, 2009 00:09 AM
rating: 0
 
jashnew

Oleoay- You have your priorities straight. I need to do the same. Good luck.

Mar 14, 2009 07:37 AM
rating: 1
 
willjosh09

thanks Marc. I've enjoyed all your articles this winter. but would you really draft Ubaldo and Jonathan Sanchez over just about every other pitcher on this page? I definitely like both for their K/9 and upside, but you have them ranked like a fantasy 3rd SP. either way, I'll be bumping them up on my draft sheet. thanks!

Mar 13, 2009 09:26 AM
rating: 0
 
Fresh Hops

Glad to see Jimenez getting some respect. Did you see the box score from his 4 inning outing in the WBC? 10Ks, no BB.

However, I have to be wary of Jimenez in fantasy. PECOTA favors him to develop, but he's in a very difficult learning situation. The atmosphere in Coors keeps breaking balls from breaking. His home road splits are ridiculous. Away from home he struck out more than a batter per inning, but he walked 60 people in 95 1/3 inning away! At home it was something like 6.3K/ip and 3.7bb/ip. I can't help but wonder is he's going to struggle to learn what his pitches do, and how to make them do what he wants, when they exhibit totally different behavior in the two environments in which he pitches.

Mar 13, 2009 09:28 AM
rating: 1
 
Fabjefe

Is Mark Buerhle really going to be better than Adam Wainwright?

Mar 13, 2009 09:39 AM
rating: 0
 
fideaux

Marc - Where's CM Wang?

Mar 13, 2009 10:24 AM
rating: 0
 
jarjets89

i eagerly await a BP response on Wainwright

Mar 13, 2009 10:32 AM
rating: 0
 
fellajsmall

PECOTA cant factor in that Wainwright is a breakout waiting to happen I dont think. He freaking dominated last year before his finger gave him problems.

Also, it is hard to believe that only 25 or so pitchers will have an ERA under 4, while last year over 60 SP did.

Mar 13, 2009 10:41 AM
rating: 0
 
Ira

I know this has nothing to do with your article, but I have a question about the difference between the PECOTA projection and the Depth Chart:

Name PECOTA IP Depth Chart IP
Milwood 141.3 165
Padilla 147.3 160
McCarthy 68.3 110
Harrison 153.0 125
Feldman 98.3 120

I understand that the Pecota projections are each made in a vacuum and that the Depth chart is supposed to be charting team decisions, but I don't see why the Depth chart thinks that adding 30 IP to all of the pitchers (except harrison, who aparantly loses 30 IP) makes alot of sense. Could you explain the logic here?

Mar 13, 2009 11:13 AM
rating: 0
 
cdkasdin

4 Reds pitchers in the Top 60? Having pitchers managed by Dusty Baker can be maddening, especially young pitchers. Not to mention how the GAP can ruin fly ball pitchers. Expect Cueto and Volquez to be run into the ground and injured before the season is over. As for Harang and Arroyo, I'll take Kuroda or Wainwright over either of them.

Mar 13, 2009 11:28 AM
rating: -2
 
sgturner65
Other readers have rated this comment below the viewing threshold. Click here to view anyway.

I googled the author of this article and found a picture of him, not surprisingly, wearing a Reds jersey. I expect more objectivity from this website.

Mar 13, 2009 15:09 PM
rating: -6
 
Patrick

Check out some of the chats Marc has done. You'll see that he's more partial to the Red Sox and the Padres, I believe.

That's not to say all four of those Reds pitchers should be where they are, but they're his rankings, not yours.

Mar 13, 2009 16:03 PM
rating: 1
 
sgturner65

I wasn't masking as flip remark when I reported that I found a picture of the author wearing a Reds' jersey. I was curious about his background and why he could have four Reds' pitchers ranked ahead of Adam Wainwright so I looked him up and that was the first picture I saw of him. Here's the link: http://www.blogger.com/profile/4639420

As for Patrick's comments that the rankings are Marc's and not mine, that's true. If this were a blog devoted to the Cincinnati Reds, it would be perfectly acceptable (IMO)to show such a bias. I always had this website well above that sort of partisanship. I guess I was wrong.

Oh, I'm curious about the threshold thingy. It sort of reeks of censorship.

Mar 14, 2009 11:13 AM
rating: -2
 
dpdst10

I'm sorry for asking, but are these rankings mainly for a rotisserie or points system, or both?

Mar 13, 2009 11:30 AM
rating: 0
 
sarm34

I thought Upton over Sizemore was bad enough, but no Wainwright in the top 60, and Liriano ranked that low is just too much for me. This is Baseball Prospectus. I'd love to hear some NUMBERS behind Marc's rankings, since we know they aren't PECOTA-based only. Marc, how do you rank one player over another? If it's just gut feeling, I don't think these articles go deep enough into your reasoning to really have much value.

Granted, there are some spots where PECOTA spits out some wacky projections, not knowing about past injuries or other factors. But that's what the human element is for, so I just don't get some of these rankings, without additional justification. Also, agreed it would be good to know what sort of league set up you're considering, I'm just assuming basic 5x5.

Mar 13, 2009 13:16 PM
rating: 0
 
milkmoney11

Alright...what do you do if you are AL only, 10 team league. The general consensus is to wait on pitching until the later rounds because you can get a good pitchers late.

Not true in an AL only league where the pitching is extremely thin after round 8 or 9. If you are stuck without 3 quality guys in those rounds, you will struggle all year with inflated WHIPS and ERA's because you are forced to use 5th starters.

Anyone in an AL only league that has any deeper sleeper thoughts or at least a differing strategy you use?

Mar 13, 2009 14:42 PM
rating: 0
 
MikeJordan23

Wainwright, honestly, should've been in the first grouping of pitchers. Him not even being in the top 60 is pretty absurd.

Mar 13, 2009 16:52 PM
rating: 0
 
frankg

Andy Sonnanstine. Injury risk - minimal, Wins - Tampa, experience - didn't you see those gems he threw in the playoffs?, smarts - off the chart (I'll take smart and crafty over stuff any time). Maybe not the K's you want but it's not as if he doesn't strike anyone out. Pick with confidence.

Mar 14, 2009 07:50 AM
rating: 0
 
dpdst10

Brandon Morrow could do a bit better than his forecast for you in an AL league. PECOTA may be a bit unfair on Jeremy Guthrie, he'll hurt you on strikeouts but has had good ratios for a couple of years and should get plenty of run support with the Orioles to earn wins if he pitches well enough.

Mar 14, 2009 08:24 AM
rating: 1
 
Jack Thomas

Without Wainwright in the Top 60. It is hard to give much credence to these rankings. Is he going to get hurt again this year?

Mar 14, 2009 08:52 AM
rating: 0
 
David Coonce

Gosh, with so much fuss about Wainwright, I thought I might look him up to refresh my memory. We have a pitcher who started all of 20 games last year, albeit with nice numbers. It looks like Aaron Small's 2005 all over again.
But then you look at 2007, Wainwright's "healthy" season, and you see a pitcher who gives up more than a hit per inning, doesn't strike many guys out, and has a K/BB ratio of less than 2:1. That's the very definition of a LAIM, and while those guys can stumble into the occasional 17-win season, they're not guys I would put all my stock into, fantasy-wise. Especially on a bad team.

Mar 14, 2009 15:19 PM
rating: -1
 
fellajsmall

well if you have seen him pitch you would realize he has much better stuff than aaron small, and you also forgot he closed for the cards in WS they won.he was well on his way to his break out season when a stupid finger injury derailed him

do this - watch someone take him in the 12th round of your draft and see what happens.

Mar 14, 2009 16:31 PM
rating: 0
 
David Coonce

Stupid finger injuries can turn into other stuff pretty quickly. Look at Adam Miller and Adam Eaton (weird, why are all these guys named Adam?). Pitchers have great half-seasons all the time. Look at, say Volquez or Duchscherer last year, or go back and look at some "breakout" seasons by Jose Rosado or Steve Ontiveros.

I will agree that Wainwright throws hard, but the evidence, as presented by his one healthy season, shows him to be a league-average pitcher. Until he sustains his first-half success last year over a full major-league season, I think it's reasonable to be skeptical.

I'm assuming his lack of any predictable past is why the PECOTA system doesn't like him.

Mar 15, 2009 06:00 AM
rating: 0
 
MikeJordan23

Adam Wainwright has a decent K rate, not outstanding, but good enough to sustain his numbers. He never gives up home runs, he doesn't walk anybody. He's very well above league average. And since mid 2007, his stats have been excellent.

There's no logical explanation for leaving him off the list. He is significantly better than atleast most of the second day pitchers listed, and I can make a strong case he is superior to a nice amount of the first day starters listed.

And you talk about his lack of track record? You know how many pitchers he has on these list ahead of him that track record isn't nearly as good as Wainwright's? Nor is there stuff even remotely close. Wainwright has top of the rotation stuff, and has performed like a ace for over a calender year. Comparing him to Aaron Small is the dumbest thing I've seen typed this week.

Mar 15, 2009 15:07 PM
rating: -2
 
David Coonce

One calendar year isn't a "track record." I am assuming that's why PECOTA undervalues him.

Aaron Small went 10-0 with a 3.2 ERA one year. Adam Wainwright went 11-3 with a 3.2 ERA last year. Wainwright is obviously better. But you can't just say "look at him, his stuff is great, and he's been good for a WHOLE YEAR" and expect everybody to agree that all of a sudden he's Tom Seaver. Or whomever. He's a guy who's had a good half-season. He needs to show more than that for any computer model worth its salt to respect.

And if you think what I typed is the "dumbest thing you've seen all week" you should check out Michelle Malkin or, ummm, Kanye West's blog.

Mar 15, 2009 16:07 PM
rating: -1
 
metfanaaron2001

Adam Wainwright's second half of 2007--2.7 ERA, K:BB > 2--was even better than his 2008 numbers, so it really doesn't seem like he's a fluke.
He also finished well down the stretch last year, so it's hard to understand why he's considered such an injury or flop risk.

Mar 18, 2009 07:13 AM
rating: 0
 
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