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June 17, 2011

Value Picks

Starting Pitchers

by Bill Baer

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Homer Bailey, Cincinnati Reds (22% Yahoo!, 10% ESPN, 51% CBS)

Reds-fest in the "newcomers" section. Bailey is on his way back from a right shoulder sprain and is expected to make at least one more rehab start before potentially being activated. It appears that not everyone has forgotten about him, but in shallower leagues with overactive owners, there is a good chance he is sitting around in the free agent pool, waiting to be retaken.

Bailey was certainly impressive in the five starts he made prior to his injury. In 30 innings, he posted a 3.00 ERA, struck out 22, and walked only five to go along with an average-ish ground ball rate at 44 percent. Overall, he looks about as good, if not better, than he did last year when he finished the season with a 3.80 SIERA, supported by an 8.3 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9. He is generating the same amount of swinging strikes and there are no noticeable changes in his peripherals; the decline in K/9 and BB/9 likely has more to do with the high amount of variance in a small sample (30 innings) than anything.

I would consider stashing Bailey if you can afford the roster spot and are desperate for pitching. It will likely be a couple weeks until you’ll actually see him make a start at the Major League level, but if he comes back and pitches well, you just snagged a steal of a mixed-league option this late in the season. If you pick him up and he either does not return or is not as good as he was earlier, then you very slightly fall back in the counting stats (W, K) or take a slight hit to the rate stats (ERA, WHIP). It is a risk well worth taking if you need pitching help.

Mike Leake, Cincinnati Reds (14% Yahoo!, 10% ESPN, 41% CBS)

Leake has quietly come on of late, posting a 1.93 ERA in his last four starts spanning 28 innings. In that time, he has struck out 16 and walked only five. Overall, he has a 4.06 SIERA on the season, which lines up exactly with his ERA. He has shown a significant improvement in strikeouts compared to last year (6.7 to 5.9 in K/9) as well as control (2.5 to 3.2 in BB/9), which points to a pitcher viable in deeper mixed leagues, especially with his team's offense; the Reds lead the National League with 4.9 runs per game on average.

There are, however, two things to worry about. The first is his pitch count. In his last two starts, Leake threw 114 and 113 pitches–quite the workload for such a young arm. The Reds cut him off last year before September after he had logged 138-plus innings in his rookie season. He also never had two consecutive starts with 100 or more pitches, let alone 110. So, we are in a bit of uncharted territory in terms of how he deals with the workload.

Secondly, he may end up being bumped from the rotation when Bailey returns. If Leake continues to pitch well, though, the Reds will have a tough time justifying his removal with three starters sitting with an ERA north of 5.00 (including the recently-returned Edinson Volquez). If you happen to go for Leake, try not to get too attached since you may have to toss him back in the vast fantasy baseball ocean. For now, he's a decent grab.

Saying Goodbye

No one gets kicked off the island this week.

Sticking Around

Jeff Karstens, Pittsburgh Pirates (9% Yahoo!, 8% ESPN, 14% CBS)

You likely were not able to get credit for Karstens' start last Friday, but if you did happen to grab him, you at least got his Tuesday start when he shut out the Houston Astros over six and two-thirds innings. His scoreless-innings streak sits just under 15, and his next start will come against the Cleveland Indians, who have scored a grand total of eight runs over their last five games. Seems like a good match-up.

Last week, I compared Karstens to Alexi Ogando. While Karstens' 2.66 ERA is not sustainable, his 3.92 SIERA suggests he is still above-average and useful in mixed leagues. With a 6.0 K/9 and 1.5 BB/9, there is a lot to like considering most of the garbage that’s available in your league's free agent pool. His ownership rates are shockingly low, but that just means you still have time to make a move.

Zach Duke, Arizona Diamondbacks (4% Yahoo!, 3% ESPN, 11% CBS)

After three great starts, Duke got roughed up in his fourth. At first glance, it looks like he got BABIP'd to death (13 hits in four and two-thirds innings), but he did surrender nine line drives on 31 batted balls (29 percent). It was certainly not the finest outing for the lefty, but as mentioned last week, his below-average ability to miss bats can lead to disaster outings like Monday's.

Duke's peripherals are still relatively impressive, though, albeit in a small sample. The strikeouts will not grab you, but his BB/9 is at 0.8. Although a walk rate that low is not sustainable, Duke is showing great control, which means that the bad nights where the hits are falling in–and lest we forget, he has a .398 BABIP–will be less of a problem since fewer runners will be on base.

Duke is a pitcher in the same echelon as Karstens: good, but not great. Not too many strikeouts, but good enough control to maintain his utility in NL-only leagues.

Chris Narveson, Milwaukee Brewers (14% Yahoo!, 8% ESPN, 36% CBS)

Ever the inconsistent one, Narveson had another mediocre outing on Wednesday, allowing four runs in five and one-third innings. That followed a brilliant outing last Friday when he shut out the St. Louis Cardinals through eight innings with six strikeouts and just one walk.

Narveson's ERA will decline if he continues to pitch the same way going forward. The well above-average 8.0 K/9 and slightly above-average 3.6 BB/9, along with a slightly above-average 45 percent ground ball rate, give him a 3.83 SIERA.

For what it’s worth, Narveson was just as aggravating last year after moving to the rotation in late April. Only once did he have at least two consecutive quality starts (6 IP, 3 ER). He was very up-and-down for much of the season, and that trend has continued into 2011. While the jury is still out on his inborn inconsistency being a real trait, take his peripherals for what they are worth.  That is a nice strikeout rate, after all.

Nick Blackburn, Minnesota Twins (10% Yahoo!, 5% ESPN, 29% CBS)

Blackburn had been questionable for his start on June 9 but turned in seven and one-third quality innings against the Texas Rangers. He worked around 10 hits and a walk, surrendering only two runs while striking out six. Overall, the right-hander does not have a penchant for strikeouts, nor does he have any noteworthy fantasy-related features, but he is good enough for AL-only leagues. Keep an eye on how his back problems are affecting him, and be ready to cut bait if they get serious.

Doug Fister, Seattle Mariners (7% Yahoo!, 3% ESPN, 25% CBS)

After my persistent hyping of Fister recently, he has started to struggle, earning losses in each of his last three starts. He has by no means pitched terribly, but he certainly did not look like the man who had a 2.93 ERA on May 19. Now at 3.53, he should still climb ever higher towards his 4.19 SIERA.

Fister is a slightly better option than Blackburn: more strikeouts, slightly better control, and a more pitcher-friendly home ballpark, which plays better to his more fly ball-prone tendency (relative to Blackburn). He should be just fine for AL-only leagues and even some deeper mixed leagues.

AL-only VP

Andrew Miller, Boston Red Sox (1% Yahoo!, 0% ESPN, 13% CBS)

To prevent Miller from opting out of his contract, the Sox are promoting him to the majors. He is expected to make his 2011 debut on Monday. In what has been a tumultuous career, Miller seemed to get back on track recently with Triple-A Pawtucket. His control improved and he continued to rack up the strikeouts.

With the Sox slated to face the San Diego Padres–the National League's worst offense–on Monday, take a shot and start Miller in your AL-only league. If he pitches well, he could earn additional starts in the Majors (which would push Tim Wakefield out of the rotation), which would provide you tremendous value with a bargain-bin pick-up in mid-June. If he flops, you did not sacrifice much for the shot.

Control issues have dogged him throughout his career, and although they have improved lately, look elsewhere if you are having issues with WHIP or other walk-related categories.

NL-only VP

Tom Gorzelanny, Washington Nationals (3% Yahoo!, 0% ESPN, 11% CBS)

Gorzelanny will be activated on Sunday to start against the Baltimore Orioles. The O's are below-average offensively (including against left-handed pitching), so it is not much of a risk to give Gorz a go in your NL-only league.

Prior to landing on the disabled list, Gorzelanny had an 8.2 K/9 and 3.4 BB/9, which is quite nice. Uncharacteristically, his ground ball rate had dipped from his 41 percent career rate to just 34 percent. Despite a .239 BABIP and 80 percent LOB%, Gorzelanny's ERA (4.25) is actually higher than his SIERA (3.96). Overall, consider him as you would Narveson: an inconsistent lefty with good strikeout potential, particularly for NL-only and deeper mixed leagues.

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:  Jeff Karstens,  Espn,  Peripherals

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