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May 27, 2011

Fantasy Beat

Value Picks in the Rotation

by Bill Baer

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Newcomers
Rick Porcello, Detroit Tigers (21 percent ESPN; 21 percent Yahoo!)
Considering that he was a first-round pick in the 2007 draft and how quickly he progressed through the Tigers' minor-league system, it should not be a surprise how well Porcello has pitched lately. But his 2010 season was a disaster and prevented many fantasy players from drafting him at all in most leagues.

Porcello has turned the corner and has looked unhittable since April 15. On Sunday, he threw a one-hit shutout in eight innings of work, lowering his ERA to 3.08. It was his first start after a two-week reprieve. He only struck out three, but he has never been, and likely will never be, a strikeout pitcher. Instead, Porcello relies on inducing weak contact on the ground and limiting walks.

Going forward, Porcello should be expected to pitch to an ERA in the low 4s. Due to his lack of strikeouts, he is less attractive in mixed leagues, but has plenty of appeal for those of you in AL-only leagues.

Vance Worley, Philadelphia Phillies (5 percent ESPN; 5 percent Yahoo!)
The outlook on Joe Blanton does not appear to be good, meaning Worley should continue to get starts going forward. His most recent start against the Cincinnati Reds was underwhelming, as he walked four in five innings. Worley even admitted he was not in the best shape on Tuesday. Regardless, Worley has been a surprise, making the Phillies' already-potent rotation even more dangerous.

Worley's control issues should not persist; he displayed great control throughout his minor-league career and in his intermittent major-league appearances. He should be able to sustain an average to slightly above-average strikeout rate as well, and his skill level speaks to an ERA in the low- to mid-4s. If you happen to be in a very deep mixed league or an NL-only league, he is worth consideration.

AL-Only
Carlos Villanueva, Toronto Blue Jays (2 percent ESPN; 4 percent Yahoo!)
Villanueva pitched effectively against the New York Yankees on Monday, striking out five and walking one in five innings, earning him another start in place of the injured Jesse Litsch. Villanueva will likely have a short leash—the Jays can recall Brett Cecil from Triple-A—but he will make his next start on Saturday against the Chicago White Sox.

Villanueva has mostly pitched in relief, and he has been more effective in that role. His walk rate as a starter and as a reliever are nearly identical, but his strikeout rate as a reliever is much higher. As he accrues more starts, Villanueva should be expected to post average strikeout and walk rates with a lot of fly balls—another option that is fine in AL-only leagues but a bit too risky in mixed leagues.

NL-Only
Dillon Gee, New York Mets (2 percent ESPN; 4 percent Yahoo!)
Gee has been surprisingly effective since rejoining the Mets’ rotation on May 7, posting a 3.75 ERA in his last four starts. He threw 7 2/3 innings of shutout baseball on May 19 against the Washington Nationals, allowing just two hits and two walks.

Relative to both his strikeouts and his innings pitched, Gee walks too many batters to be anything more than an NL-only option. If he ever harnesses his control, he could find mixed-league appeal, but he is much too risky right now.

Sticking Around
Jason Vargas, Seattle Mariners (17 percent ESPN; 13 percent Yahoo!)
After three consecutive brilliant outings, Vargas was hit around by the Minnesota Twins and failed to make it out of the fifth inning. He is neither as good as he had looked nor as bad as he was on Monday. As mentioned last week, Vargas is average across the board, making him best suited for AL-only leagues. Those of you in mixed leagues that are not incredibly deep may want to scour the waiver wire for some better options.

Nick Blackburn, Minnesota Twins (5 percent ESPN; 4 percent Yahoo!)
Blackburn turned in his best start of the season on Tuesday, holding the Mariners to two runs in a complete game victory. In that start, he struck out six and did not issue a walk. He may very well have turned the corner. Although he is currently sitting on a career-high walk rate, he also has a career-high strikeout rate. Pitching is such a balancing act, and Blackburn may have found the balance between precision and deception.

Blackburn's lack of strikeouts overall and his team's lack of offensive support makes him unattractive in mixed leagues, but he should be taken in all AL-only leagues at this point.

Jon Garland, Los Angeles Dodgers (3 percent ESPN; 8 percent Yahoo!)
Garland was lit up on Saturday against the Chicago White Sox, allowing seven runs on 11 hits in 3 2/3 innings. It contrasted with his previous run of consistently solid (quality) starts. Although 11 hits in such a short period of time is fluky, Garland does induce a lot of contact, so starts like Saturday's are not impossible.

I had previously suggested Garland as applicable in mixed leagues, but that may be a little excessive. If he gets last year's strikeout rate back, that may be the case, but for now, he fits best in NL-only leagues.

Doug Fister, Seattle Mariners (2 percent ESPN; 5 percent Yahoo!)
Fister's May 7 outing, when he surrendered 14 hits to the White Sox, still seems to be lingering in the minds of fantasy owners as his ownership rates belie a pitcher with a 3.18 ERA. Granted, he is more like a 4.25 ERA pitcher, but Fister seems like a very underrated fantasy asset. He is a must-add in AL-only leagues if you find him in the free-agent pool.

Jason Hammel, Colorado Rockies (5 percent ESPN; 8 percent Yahoo!)
On Wednesday, Hammel shut out the Arizona Diamondbacks in seven innings for the second time this month. Unfortunately, he was saddled with the loss; Ian Kennedy matched him pitch-for-pitch and the Rockies' offense could not get him the lead after the sixth inning. I previously noted that I harbor concern with Hammel despite his now-3.20 ERA due to a decline in strikeout rate and overall velocity on his pitches. SIERA puts him at 4.50, which does not bode well for the future. Despite his success thus far, confine Hammel to NL-only leagues.

Saying Goodbye
Tyson Ross, Oakland Athletics (1 percent ESPN; 3 percent Yahoo!)
Talk about bad timing. I had submitted last week's edition of Value Picks with Ross included, and learned shortly thereafter that he had suffered an oblique injury. The right-hander was steamrolling his way through the American League, posting a 2.32 ERA in his previous five starts. Ross will likely require more than 15 days on the disabled list, but keep an eye on him during his rehab. His current ownership rates indicate a potential midseason sleeper if he is healthy.

Brandon McCarthy, Oakland Athletics (3 percent ESPN; 7 percent Yahoo!)
McCarthy was put on the 15-day disabled list with a stress fracture in his right shoulder, the same shoulder he has had problems with in previous years. It comes at an unfortunate time, as 2011 appeared to be a breakout year for the right-hander.

Jesse Litsch, Toronto Blue Jays (0 percent ESPN; 2 percent Yahoo!)
Litsch landed on the 15-day disabled list and will be visiting with an orthopedic surgeon to determine his fate. Sadly, I cannot think of a reason for optimism here. 

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:  ESPN New York,  Jesse Litsch,  Espn

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Fantasy Article Fantasy Beat: Weekly P... (05/27)
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