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July 30, 2010

Fantasy Beat

Rotation Promotions

by Bill Baer

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The trade deadline is a bit of a hectic time for fantasy baseball players, especially as it pertains to starting pitchers. With so many rumors and so many players involved, it can be hard to follow at times. If you are not quick enough, you can lag behind the curve*. So, with the deadline nearly upon us, it is important to look at some of the candidates who could take the roles vacated by traded starting pitchers.

*In the Baseball Daily Digest roto league, I went to pick up Drew Storen right after I was done watching the Diamondbacks-Phillies game. I was literally seconds too slow as our own Rob McQuown beat me to the punch.

The trade of Roy Oswalt leaves an obvious void in Houston, but the Astros received a Major League-ready pitcher in J.A. Happ, a left-hander who is roughly league average. On my blog a couple weeks ago, I wrote of Happ:

He will never be the same pitcher he was last year. He is not a maven of control, he is not able to miss bats on a frequent basis, and he has no special batted ball abilities. He is simply mundane. Happ pitches like a 4.50 ERA pitcher and that is what should be expected. His 2009 was a complete and utter fluke.

Calling him "a 4.50 pitcher" may be a bit harsh as he is likely to be somewhere between 4.00 and 4.50 if he has the benefit of passable Major League defense. He does have some fantasy value this late in the season, particularly in deeper leagues. If you were considering Vance Worley last week (who still may join the Phillies' rotation at some point, pushing out Kyle Kendrick), you should also consider Happ.

The Astros have said that they do not intend to trade Brett Myers, but there is still a chance that he could move. It would make sense -- Myers, after all, can become a free agent after the season and 2010 is a lost cause for the 'stros. If Myers goes, who could get some playing time in his stead?

Felipe Paulino, an alumnus of "Value Picks", is currently on the disabled list and is expected to miss a few more weeks but could take back his rotation spot some time between mid or late August. Paulino is similar to teammate Bud Norris, also a "Value Picks" alum, in that he has  above-average strikeout ability and below-average control. Given his 4.34 SIERA, Paulino is not exactly an enthralling option but is likely as good or better than most of what is left in the free agent pools. Expect his HR/FB (currently at 2 percent) to regress a bit between his return and the end of the season. Take him for the strikeouts, not for the wins, ERA, or WHIP.

Brian Moehler has been dealing with a groin injury since July 8 and is unlikely to join the Astro rotation in the immediate future. However, even looking forward, "if Brian Moehler is the answer, then clearly the wrong question is being asked," says James of Astros County (@AstrosCounty), one of the bloggers I spoke with about the assortment of starting pitching options detailed in this article. Moehler is slightly above replacement level and has little to no fantasy value, even if you are destitute in a deep NL-only league. Think Kyle Kendrick.

Wesley Wright is currently in the 'stros rotation but has not had much success in his two starts thus far this season. A lot of his troubles can be attributed to an unsustainably high BABIP and HR/FB rate, which can happen in a sample size of only 19 and one-third innings. He showed well above-average strikeout stuff in his Minor League career but paired that with troubling control issues. SIERA puts Wright in the low 4's, better than Paulino and Moehler. As long as the Astros organization can identify factors beyond a pitcher's control, Wright should earn a fair shot at a more fixed spot in the rotation. If not, expect to see more of Paulino and Moehler when they are healthy.

Moving on to the Baltimore Orioles, who could deal one or both of Kevin Millwood and Jeremy Guthrie. You have already seen Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman, Brad Bergesen, and Jake Arrieta. If Millwood is dealt, you will continue to see that foursome along with Guthrie.  If both Millwood and Guthrie are sent packing (unlikely), the Orioles could promote Zach Britton. A quick scouting report on Britton, per Daniel Moroz of Camden Crazies (@CamdenCrazies): "lefty, hard sinker, killer groundball rates, misses some bats, improving control."

If the Orioles choose to keep Britton at Triple-A Norfolk, veteran Mark Hendrickson would slide in. Hendrickson seems to find playing time no matter where he goes due to his versatility as both a starter and a reliever who typically fills the mop-up role. He has actually pitched rather well this year despite a 5.60 ERA, as his SIERA is more than a run and a half lower at 4.04. So far he has an average strikeout rate and a well below average walk rate, items that are more than welcome in a starting rotation. However, Hendrickson has fallen victim to BABIP woes as his currently sits at a lofty .372. The Orioles defense is largely to blame for Hendrickson's BABIP and unless the defenders all magically transform into Ozzie Smith, it is not likely to regress nearly as much as expected.

The Chicago Cubs are shopping Ted Lilly as well as Carlos Zambrano. Big Z could be inserted back into the rotation if he is still in Chicago past July 31 and Lilly is not. With open rotation spots, Sean Marshall and Thomas Diamond are the two likely candidates according to Rob McQuown in last week's update for HEATER.

Marshall has pitched extremely well out of the bullpen for the Cubs with a 1.71 ERA in 53 appearances. His strikeout is a hefty 10.4 per nine and his walk rate is a paltry 2.9 per nine. Although his strand rate (82 percent) and HR/FB rate (three percent) are unsustainable, his SIERA is still 2.66, the second-best in the Majors among pitchers with at least 52 innings of work. The question becomes whether or not he can transfer most of the skill he has shown as a reliever to his performance as a starter. As his splits show, this is not likely to be the case. Given the success he has had this year, the Cubs may be very apprehensive about changing his role anyway.

Diamond is a 27-year-old currently with Triple-A Iowa. In both 2005 and '06, he was found among Baseball America's top-100, at #52 and #72 respectively as part of the Texas Rangers organization. Once a part of a trio dubbed "DVD" with John Danks and Edinson Volquez, Diamond missed all of 2007, then struggled with his control over the past two seasons. The Cubs claimed him and he appears to be back on track as his 8.8 K/9 and 3.28 ERA in 104.1 IP indicate. Control is still a problem as is his propensity to allow fly balls, not a great combination for Wrigley Field, a hitter-friendly park. Using the MLE converter on Minor League Splits, his strikeout rate of nearly nine per nine innings at Triple-A translates to about 7.8 per nine at the Major League level, which is above-average. Consider him in the same vein as Felipe Paulino, but Diamond could make a more immediate impact.

The Cleveland Indians have been taking phone calls on two of their starters in Fausto Carmona and Jake Westbrook. They are much less likely to deal Carmona, and even if Westbrook is not shipped out by the end of July, he could find a new home in August via waivers.

Josh Tomlin recently made his big league debut Tuesday night at home against the New York Yankees. He held them to one run in seven innings of work and spawned a debate over the Yankees' perceived lack of success against "debutantes," as Rob Neyer called them. In the Minors, he showed great control with above-average strikeout stuff although none of his four pitches overpower batters according to Daniel Cohen, an Indians fan whose expertise I have come to respect greatly in our conversations on Twitter.

If Westbrook is traded, Tomlin may become a permanent fixture in the Tribe's rotation and one of David Huff or Aaron Laffey, both left-handers, could fill in the #5 spot. Huff has not shown the ability to miss bats at the Major League level. Among pitchers with at least 70 innings of work, Huff ranks second-to-last in the Majors with a 5.56 SIERA.

Like Huff, Laffey has not shown the ability to miss the bats of Major League hitters either. Laffey's control is worse than Huff's but has a better ability to induce ground balls and avoid the home run. Among pitchers with at least 50 innings pitched, Laffey's SIERA ranks 164th of 174 players at 5.28. Neither Huff nor Laffey are great fantasy options and you should avoid them if possible.

Right-hander Carlos Carrasco, acquired from the Philadelphia Phillies in the Cliff Lee trade, is a long shot but still a possibility. Carrasco, at 23 years of age, is pitching well for Triple-A Columbus, sporting a 7.9 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9 along with a flat 4.00 ERA in 117 innings. He got his feet wet in the Majors last year but struggled from virtually all angles. Although not exactly a meritous distinction, Carrasco is a much more attractive option than Huff and Laffey.

Regarding another option, Cohen wrote to me, " A guy I would hope gets another look is Jeanmar Gomez, who threw seven shutout innings to beat the Tigers in his major league debut earlier this month. Manager Manny Acta told him he needed to pitch a perfect game to remain on the roster -- which he didn't do -- so he was sent down right after the game. Gomez pitched a perfect game in AA last season, but has struggled in AAA this year, going 8-8 with a 5.20 ERA.  He had a much better year in 2009 (3.30 ERA and 7.6 K/9) between Class-A Kinston and Double-A Akron. He'll never be a dominant pitcher in his career, but has solid command and control and could be a decent back-end guy. I'd rather see him than Huff or Laffey."

Questions or comments? Leave them below or reach me via Twitter (@CrashburnAlley).

Bill Baer is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Bill's other articles. You can contact Bill by clicking here

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