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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

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<< Previous Column
Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Starting... (03/09)
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