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April 1, 2011

Fantasy Beat

Value Picks in the Rotation

by Bill Baer

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I decided to cut down on my fantasy league participation this year due to time constraints. I am in only one league this year, the Crashburn Alley fantasy league. The league includes 14 owners with a roster size of 24, standard 5x5 roto scoring, and a serpentine draft. As I was perusing the remaining starters in the free agent pool, there were a few names that caught my attention—perhaps they are laying around in your league's free agent pool as well, and with the analysis that will follow, you have a clearer idea how to round out your roster.

Brett Cecil, Toronto Blue Jays

Cecil has had a rough spring so far, posting an ERA approaching 6.00 in six starts spanning over 22 innings. He has yet to find his fastball velocity, which has Cecil owners and Jays fans worried. However, neither he nor pitching coach Bruce Walton are concerned.

Looking at his velocity chart from last year, he actually had his velocity early on and seemed to lose it gradually as the season waned. In his last six starts, he allowed 26 runs in 33 innings—certainly a drop in velocity could help explain his struggles.

Walton said that Cecil has had similar problems revving up his velocity early, but this symptom seems to date back to last year. As I am by no means a medical expert, I will defer hypothesizing potential causes to Corey Dawkins and others. For now, I am very, very wary of this velocity issue and am personally going to avoid him in my fantasy league, as everyone else seems to have.

He is likely taken in very deep mixed and AL-only leagues, so the question is not "should I keep him?" but "should I drop him?". Last year, Cecil managed a K/9 just north of 6.0 and showed decent control with a 2.8 BB/9. Overall, he finished with a 4.39 SIERA, which makes him about an average pitcher, depending on the depth of your league.

As I mentioned in previous articles here, I like to take my risks with high-K arms like Bud Norris. Norris and Cecil are about as likely to bomb, but at least when Norris bombs, you still hold steady in at least one category: strikeouts. If you are going to go with a pitcher in the 4.50 ERA range, think about swapping out Cecil for someone with a higher strikeout ceiling. If you simply cannot, then hope that Walton's lack of concern is legitimate.

Bud Norris, Houston Astros

If you thought Cecil's spring training was abysmal, you have not been keeping tabs on the Astros. In 21 innings, Norris owns a 7.71 ERA. While it includes an impressive 20 strikeouts, it also features 10 walks and four home runs.

You are likely aware of the folly of entertaining spring training stats for more than a couple seconds due to the very limited sample sizes. That remains true here. The 7.71 ERA is ugly, but the 8.6 K/9 and 4.3 BB/9 are par for the course with Norris. Last year, in 153 2/3 innings, those rates were 9.3 and 4.5 respectively.

His 3.90 SIERA was a full run lower than his ERA, which indicates a bout with bad luck, but Norris is always going to be a highly-variable pitcher due to the amount of base runners he allows on the base paths. But as mentioned with Cecil, he is the type of pitcher I love to take a flier on to round out my roster. If you are hemming and hawing between Norris and other 4.25-4.50 range pitchers, go with Norris—this strikeout potential is worth the risk, and even if he bombs, you didn't waste any money by tossing a dollar his way.

Nelson Figueroa, Houston Astros

Figueroa won the fifth and final spot in the Astros' rotation. Coming off of an impressive 2010 campaign, he has had a mediocre showing in spring training. In 20 innings, he struck out a meager 11 batters while walking nine and finishing with a 4.95 ERA. Compare that to his '10 showing where he posted a 7.1 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9. Again, spring numbers are a super small sample size, so do not ;et that worry you.

However, Figgy was a bit lucky last year, as his 3.29 ERA may indicate. Line drives were converted into outs about six percent lower than the NL average, and pitchers do not have much control over that. His 4.19 SIERA is a more accurate representation of what you should expect from him going forward. In fact, PECOTA expects a 4.00 ERA right on the nose with a 6.7 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9.

Depending on how the Astros' relievers fare, there is a chance that Figueroa loses his spot in the rotation to prospect Jordan Lyles or someone else that happens to come along (Ryan Rowland-Smith was cut). He serves as good filler in NL-only leagues, but he may not be viable all season long.

Fausto Carmona, Cleveland Indians

Finally, a pitcher with decent spring results to discuss. In 24 innings, Carmona compiled 24 strikeouts and eight walks with a 3.72 ERA. The ground ball specialist is coming off of his first good season since 2007, when he burst onto the Major League scene. Unfortunately, his strikeout rate is normally disappointing and his walk rate is far too high for someone who induces so much contact.

Carmona is not going to help you in any category, but he could provide incremental improvement. Generally, though, you can likely find pitchers of similar skill with better peripherals even in deep AL-only leagues. Personally, I would rather take a risk with a prospect like Kyle Drabek, who PECOTA projects to have a worse showing than Carmona in 2011.

There is really no solid upside with Carmona, aside from the usual bouts of randomness that come with any pitcher.

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

Related Content:  Bud Norris

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