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January 22, 2010

Fantasy Focus

Starting Pitcher Rankings Review, Part 2

by Marc Normandin

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Picking up from where we left off last week, here are pitchers numbered 21-40 from my 2009 rankings. Remember, these are a review of the 2009 ranking, not a review of all of the players at the position or a prospective 2010 list. The numbers listed are for a pitcher's 2009 weighted mean PECOTA forecast; 2010 numbers will be referenced as necessary.


Rank  Pitcher          Team       W   IP     SO  WHIP   ERA  Beta
 21.  Joba Chamberlain Yankees    9  124.0  133  1.24  3.09  0.98
 22.  A.J. Burnett     Yankees   13  197.0  178  1.32  3.82  1.08
 23.  Scott Kazmir     Rays      11  166.0  164  1.29  3.90  1.25
 24.  Matt Garza       Rays       9  151.1  111  1.39  4.46  1.07
 25.  Max Scherzer     D'backs   10  158.0  168  1.28  3.77  0.89
 26.  Yovani Gallardo  Brewers    5   84.0   84  1.30  3.73  1.08
 27.  Brett Myers      Phillies  12  179.1  158  1.27  3.87  0.90
 28.  Matt Cain        Giants    11  190.2  168  1.31  3.94  1.06
 29.  John Lackey      Angels    12  182.2  139  1.31  3.92  1.06
 30.  James Shields    Rays      12  183.1  135  1.25  3.92  1.06

I ranked Chamberlain 21th under the assumption that the Yankees wouldn't screw with him too much. He ended up making 31 starts (and one relief appearance) but averaged just over five innings per outing. Of course, he also wasn't as dominant on a consistent basis as he had been the year prior (4.2 BB/9, 1.2 HR/9, just 7.6 K/9). His is a forecast I'm very interested in studying.

Burnett performed as expected, with lots of strikeouts, a solid number of wins, a manageable ERA, and lots and lots of walks. He's not going to help you with WHIP, but you knew that going in. Troubles with injury derailed Kazmir's season for a time, but there are also concerns that losing velocity on his pitches and never putting a stop to his poor walk rates means he has already started his decline as a starter. I probably should have seen this sooner.

His former teammate, Garza, did not disappoint, though. He picked up from where he left off in 2008, posting another ERA under 4.00, jumping his strikeout rate to 8.4 per nine, and doing a better job at reducing contact both in and out of the zone. His walks and homers increased a little bit, but it didn't stop him from putting together the kind of year I expected.

Scherzer made 30 starts, threw 170 innings, won nine games, and struck out 174 hitters. His ERA was a bit higher than his forecast, but he also stranded a lower percentage of base runners than expected. I'm satisfied with this spot and he's not one of the guys I would replace in hindsight. Gallardo may have had a cringe-worthy walk rate that brought up his WHIP, but he also held opponents to a .223 batting average, struck out 9.9 per nine and picked up 13 wins for the Brew Crew. In what was his first real full season, Gallardo impressed, as both PECOTA and I anticipated.

I wish I could say the same for Myers, though. Myers pitched in 18 games, 10 of them starts, and took his previous problems with the long ball to a new level by giving up 2.3 per nine. Most of the time he missed had more to do with injury, as he had had a torn labrum, than ineffectiveness, but the time he did spend on the diamond makes me uncomfortable with this ranking.

On the surface, Cain was the same pitcher, albeit with a shinier ERA. Eric Seidman took a look at what was going on that made Cain different despite the similarities. It's worth taking a look at. Both Shields and Lackey fit into the category I described them in prior to the season, "Both of them are great picks for fantasy, though not among the game's elite." You got some wins, some strikeouts, and innings from both, but neither was so impressive in anything they did that you felt the need to think of them as anything better than their ranking suggested.


Rank Pitcher            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

From the rankings: "I'd like 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."

He did just that, dropping his walk rate from well-below average to average, which also moved his WHIP to above-average and saw him post a 3.47 ERA, one he deserved by pretty much any adjusted measure, despite pitching his home games in Coors Field. I have no problem moving him up for 2010 now that he's shown he can pitch at altitude.

Johnson should have been a good bet for the Giants and your fantasy team, given he was moving into a better park for pitchers, but homers were a problem as was staying on the field. He retired recently, making this the last time I'll be able to write about the future Hall of Famer in this context. Thanks for the memories Randy, you were always a total freak on the mound while I was growing up, and one of the best pitchers I've seen.

In regards to Volquez, I wrote:

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 inning 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 rate. He has the potential to be much better than his forecast as 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.

These problems did not let up, and Volquez' season ended early due to Tommy John surgery. I hope you let someone else make the mistake of overdrafting him based on his first half of 2008.

Sanchez was a decent middle pick due to his potential for strikeouts, and the fact that if he was able to put together the other parts of his game he would be a force out. While better than in 2008 in a variety of ways, including more strikeouts and a better ERA, his walk rate climbed, which was pretty much the one thing he needed not to do. He was a bit unlucky in 2008, so the seemingly progressive 2009 is not as impressive as it looks at first glance. We're still waiting for him to take, well, if not The Leap, then any kind of hop to show us he's more than a strikeout pitcher with control issues.

Meche's poor season isn't my fault. Or any other analyst's fault. Or even Meche's fault. Meche dealt with shoulder problems during the year, problems, which were exacerbated by being forced to throw more pitches than he should while injured. He wasn't all that bad in the first half with a 4.50 ERA, 113 hits allowed in 108 innings partially thanks to a porous Kansas City defense, but in the 21 innings afterward, he imploded, with an 8.14 ERA and 31 hits allowed to go along with nine walks and six homers. I would have liked to see what he could have done healthy and with a half-decent defense behind him, but I probably should have remembered he pitches for Kansas City. Well, technically I did when I said the defense might "hose him," but I didn't factor that into the rankings enough.

PECOTA pegged Harang for a 4.22 ERA, and he finished at 4.21. The end came a little sooner than expected thanks to an emergency appendectomy, but, overall the season was as expected. I said it felt odd to rank Zambrano so low given his history, and Big Z ended up putting together a weird season that was a bit better than his forecast, but not by much. His ERA (3.77) beat his forecast, and he struck out 8.1 per nine, ending the two-year decline in whiffs. He also gave up 3.8 unintentional walks per nine, though, and dealt with back problems that kept him from pitching a full season. I'm curious to see how his 2010 turns out, but I'm not sure he did enough in '09 for me to change my opinion more than a few ranks.

I felt that a large enough portion of Dempster's improvements were for real, and he ended up pitching a bit better than his ranking and projection. Danks' 2009 was not as good as his 2008, as his strikeout rate fell some, his walk rate increased, he gave up more homers, and he relied on a below-average BABIP to keep his ERA under 4.00. Still, his numbers look about right for No. 39. I think he's one of the guys who we will all benefit from when a tiered system is in place for 2010's rankings.

My thoughts on Verlander prior to the season:

What did he do last year that merited the consideration to be in the top 20? 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.

In the battle of slim to none, I took none, and slim made me look stupid. Whatever hangover was bothering Verlander in 2008 after he tweaked his mechanics disappeared completely, and he put together a season that in many years would have been Cy Young-worthy. Do I think I should have put Verlander in the top 20? I'm still thinking what he did was rather unexpected given his struggles in 2008, especially when you consider how he pitched after fixing his issues. Should I have ranked him higher than No. 40 due to his history outside of 2008? Absolutely. That one is on me.

We'll wrap up starting pitchers this weekend, as we take a look at Nos. 41-60. That will put us one step closer to taking what we've learned by reviewing the 2009 rankings, and implementing that to achieve what we hope are improved results in 2010.

4 comments have been left for this article.

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