March 12, 2010
Hot Spots: Starting Pitchers
At the outset, Joba Chamberlain and Phil Hughes have the inside track to the #5 spot for the New York Yankees. Neither Chad Gaudin (career 4.61 SIERA) nor Sergio Mitre (4.15) have had sustained success at the Major League level as a starter. Mitre missed the entire 2008 season due to Tommy John surgery and did not inspire confidence upon return in nine starts last year. However, stats like xFIP and SIERA have thought more highly of his performances than regular old ERA.
Chamberlain in 2009 (4.43 SIERA), after spending most of '08 as a reliever (3.02), saw his strikeout rate chopped by nearly three batters per nine innings while his walk rate increased by nearly one, sending his K/BB ratio below 2:1. Additionally, he allowed nine percent fewer ground balls and seven percent more line drives while his HR/FB rate more than doubled. His fastball and slider usage dropped by several percentage points while his curve and change-up use increased accordingly. The velocity on his fastball and slider diminished by 2.5 MPH and 0.5 MPH respectively.
Hughes built up the hopes of Yankees fans as a starter, but he was moved to the bullpen in June last year. The switch caused his K/9 to increase by 3.5 batters and his K/BB ratio to increase from 2:1 to 5:1. Phil finished the season with a 2.87 SIERA. He was much more effective out of the bullpen. Overall, lefties rake against Hughes with an OPS more than 220 points higher than right-handers, .818 to .596 over his career. Joba, on the other hand, does not have much of a platoon split. Over his career, left-handers have reached base merely 3.5% more often, mostly predicated on walks.
GM Brian Cashman was quoted as saying, "The future of the franchise is better served by having one or both young pitchers in the rotation," referring to Chamberlain and Hughes. Lisa Swan from HEATER magazine gives Hughes the edge over Joba in the battle for the #5 rotation slot, but also names Alfredo Aceves as a dark horse candidate (my term, not hers). Aceves has started in just five of the 49 games in which he has appeared and seemed to have found his niche in the Yankees bullpen last year. He has been lights out in spring training thus far, thus stepping into the competition with Chamberlain and Hughes. In six innings of work this spring, he has allowed nary a base runner and has struck out four batters. Aceves does not throw hard (average fastball is 91 MPH), but he does have great command. Last year, he walked fewer than two batters per nine innings and had a K:BB ratio of 4.3:1.
PECOTA pegs Joba at a 4.39 ERA in 158 innings and 28 starts. Hughes is predicted to compile a 3.95 ERA in 60 innings out of the bullpen. Aceves is expected to toss 56 innings out of the bullpen to a 4.22 ERA.
I think PECOTA is a tad too pessimistic on Joba. Do not go out of your way to draft him, but he can certainly help you rack up some strikeouts (PECOTA says 140). He will also be good for some wins (PECOTA says 10) considering the Yankees own baseball's best offense. As for Aceves, you do not want to put much stock in spring training performances. While he has certainly looked great, it is unlikely that he will escape the 4's in terms of ERA if he wins the #5 spot. He will need to call upon the gods for the parting of the BABIP sea.
As for the Phillies, Kyle Kendrick and Jamie Moyer are competing for the #5 spot in spring training. Jose Contreras most likely will usurp the spot in the bullpen vacated by Chan Ho Park. GM Ruben Amaro said of Contreras, "Our scouts feel that at this stage of his career, he's best suited to being in the bullpen."
Moyer, 47 years old, has had three surgeries performed since the beginning of October last year to fix three torn groin muscles, pooled blood in his abdomen, and the meniscus in his right knee. Despite his age and recent injury woes, Amaro named Moyer the favorite to win the #5 spot going into spring training. Pitching coach Rich Dubee recently echoed that sentiment. Talking to reporters, he said, "Really, in my mind, [Kyle Kendrick has] got to win the job" from Moyer, who compiled a 4.74 SIERA last year when opposing hitters made five percent more contact on pitches inside the strike zone than they did in 2008.
The prevailing thought is that since Moyer is owed $6.5 million this year and Kendrick will hit his first year of arbitration in 2011, the Phillies will justify the salary by using Moyer as a starter. However, Amaro has shown that he will dispose of players he feels are not useful. Last year, the team paid Adam Eaton $8.83 million and Geoff Jenkins $6.75 million to not play baseball in Philadelphia; this year, they will pay Eaton $500,000 and Jenkins $1.25 million to stay out. Amaro also bought out the final year of third baseman Pedro Feliz's contract for $500,000. Thus, there is no guarantee that Moyer will win the #5 spot based on his salary -- he will have to earn it.
Kendrick rebounded from a rough 2008 (5.32 SIERA) by pitching well in Triple-A Lehigh Valley (3.34 ERA in 143 innings) and in limited action at the Major League level (4.28 SIERA in 26 innings). On average, more than 46 percent of balls in play have been grounders over his career. Having one of baseball's best infield defenses behind him to gobble up those grounders has been an asset to him. According to FanGraphs, the Phillies ranked third in Major League Baseball in overall UZR/150 in 2007, first in '08, and sixth in '09. Over the past three years, first baseman Ryan Howard has a 1.4 UZR/150, Chase Utley has a 17.6 (best among all 2B), and Rollins a 7.9 (third-best among all SS).
There is a poker game called Razz, a variant of stud poker where the object is to make the lowest hand (Ace-2-3-4-5 is best as opposed to Ace-King-Queen-Jack-10). If there's a fantasy league out there where strikeouts are bad and high ERA's are good (Razz Fantasy Baseball?) then Moyer and Kendrick would be welcome additions to your squad. However, if you play in any kind of a normal league, then you'll want to avoid Moyer and Kendrick until you're absolutely desperate. And I mean desperate. Desperate as in Livan Hernandez is off the board.