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December 8, 2011

The Keeper Reaper

Starting Pitching for 12/8/11

by Mike Petriello

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After taking a break for a few weeks, the Keeper Reaper is back and ready to take a look at potential 2012 decisions. While I still have your list of requests—and keep ‘em coming—this time of year excites me largely because we’re getting into the fun season for player movement, where a new park or league can really have an impact on the value of a starting pitcher. Let’s start with some of the arms on the move before getting back to reader requests.

Jonathan Sanchez | Kansas City Royals
Sh
allow: NO
Medium:
NO
Deep: NO
AL-only:
 BORDERLINE
Super Deep: 
YES

When Sanchez was traded from San Francisco to Kansas City for Melky Cabrera, many laughed at the move for the Giants, reasoning that they had given up a talented young arm with a no-hitter under his belt for an outfielder who probably can’t cover center and is unlikely to repeat his career year—“Sabean gonna Sabean,” as it were. While there are still a lot of reasons to like the deal for the Royals, there’s also plenty to be concerned about from a fantasy perspective.

The good news, of course, is that Sanchez is one of the most difficult pitchers in baseball to hit. His 6.6 H/9 in 2010 was the best in the National League, and his 9.06 K/9 in 2011 was the eleventh highest in baseball (minimum 100 innings pitched); since his debut in 2006, he’s struck out 736 batters in 708 innings, which is excellent. That said, Sanchez largely gives back the value he provides in strikeouts by demonstrating an inability to get the ball over the plate—of the 67 starters who have thrown at least 600 innings over the last four seasons, only two have BB/9 rates north of four, and at 4.75, Sanchez is by far the leader of the pack. At 5.9 per nine, his 2011 was a career worst in that department, though there’s something to be said for the fact that the biceps injury that cost him over a month may have been bothering him for some time, as he walked 25 in 25.2 June innings before landing on the disabled list.

Since Sanchez isn’t much of a flyball pitcher, leaving the spacious ballpark in San Francisco may not affect him as much as some other pitchers, though having to make a move to the tougher league won’t make his life easier. This all adds up to something of a lottery ticket for the Royals and for you, because if he can get a handle on his control, the strikeout rate makes for a very valuable pitcher. If not? Well, the cautionary tale of Oliver Perez is still out there...

Chris Capuano | Los Angeles Dodgers
Sh
allow: NO
Medium:
NO
Deep: NO
NL-only:
 NO
Super Deep:
BORDERLINE 

Part of me is tempted to just write “no” all the way down, because Capuano is A) injury-prone, having missed all of 2008 and 2009 with arm injuries, B) homer-prone, having allowed a long ball roughly once every seven innings throughout his career, and C) useless outside of Citi Field, where he held batters to a .690 OPS against as opposed to the .883 mashing he allowed on the road in 2011.

Still, there’s reason for a small amount of hope as Capuano heads west, because he struck out nearly a man per inning in his lone season in Queens while simultaneously lowering his walk rate below his career averages—performance which suggests that his 4.55 ERA is misleading as both SIERA and xFIP put him in the 3.60 range. While leaving Citi Field can’t help, it’s not like Dodger Stadium is a batter-friendly launching pad either, and he’ll have the benefit of starts in San Francisco and San Diego as well. Of course, what people tend to forget when talking about the friendly confines of the NL West is that Colorado and Arizona are in play there as well—terrifying thoughts for such a homer-prone pitcher—so Capuano should hold considerably more value in daily transactions leagues than in weekly.

Erik Bedard | Pittsburgh Pirates
Sh
allow: NO
Medium:
NO
Deep: NO
NL-only:
 YES
Super Deep: 
YES

Word broke on Wednesday afternoon that Bedard was on his way to the Pirates on a one-year deal, and it’s an intriguing acquisition for Pittsburgh. There’s little doubt that when healthy, Bedard is capable of being an upper-echelon starter, yet he’s rarely healthy enough to show off his talent, having thrown just 293 innings over the last four seasons combined—or just 60 more innings than Roy Halladay threw in 2011 alone.

After missing all of 2010, Bedard resurfaced with the Mariners (and later, the Red Sox) to post a 2011 that wasn’t all that dissimilar to his breakout 2006, with only six American League pitchers posting a higher strikeout rate (minimum 100 innings pitched). Of course, he still missed nearly six weeks thanks to two separate stints on the disabled list with left knee pain. While the more optimistic among us will say, “Well, at least it wasn’t more arm problems”, it’s just another reminder that no discussion of Bedard can start anywhere other than with his medical charts, so it’s really all about expectations. If you go into the season with the hope that you could get 20-25 excellent starts but knowing you’ll need to replace him for a month or two, you won’t be disappointed. If you’re expecting more than that… well, there’s a reason such a good starter was only able to get one year on the market, right?

Michael Pineda | Seattle Mariners
Sh
allow: NO
Medium:
BORDERLINE
Deep: YES
AL-only:
 YES
Super Deep:
YES

When I saw Michael Pineda appear as a reader request, I almost didn’t want to accept it, because coming off his outstanding debut season, it’s tempting to say that there’s not a whole lot to say other than, “Uh, yeah, he’s awesome.” Sure, the lightweight Seattle offense could cost him a few wins. Yes, there’s always the concern about the durability of a young pitcher coming off his first full season—particularly one who missed much of his 2009 minor league campaign with elbow soreness—but those are the kind of concerns that can come along with any young pitcher

Otherwise, Pineda is one of the brightest young stars around, even if Jeremy Hellickson’s shiny ERA earned him the AL Rookie of the Year Award. He struck out more than a batter per inning while limiting walks, and even though he’s more of a flyball type than you’d like, his home park is perfectly suited for such tendencies.

Pineda showed few signs of slowing down last year (30/6 K/BB over his last four starts) before the Mariners shut him down early to avoid extending him any further than necessary; expect him to be highly valued in all leagues next year.

Anibal Sanchez | Miami Marlins
Sh
allow: NO
Medium:
NO
Deep: BORDERLINE
NL-only:
 YES
Super Deep: 
YES

I realize it may be blasphemous to try to talk about a Marlin or prospective future Marlin who isn’t Jose Reyes, Heath Bell, Hanley Ramirez, Albert Pujols, or C.J. Wilson, but believe it or not, they do have other players on the roster. Depending on their success in the starting pitching market and the health of Josh Johnson, Sanchez could be the key to whether the new Fish have the arms they need to make it to October.

After several years of fighting shoulder injuries, Sanchez finally stayed healthy for a full season in 2010 and followed it up with another solid year in 2011, coming close to 200 innings each time and producing nearly identical FIP marks of 3.32 and 3.35. Though it feels like he’s flown under the radar due to his underwhelming (and, of course, irrelevant) 21-21 record over the last two seasons and since the Marlins generally stay out of the spotlight (until this week, that is), Sanchez has quietly been one of the more effective pitchers in baseball, even ranking fourthamong all qualified pitchers in strikeouts per nine innings in 2011. His two-year FIP score of 3.33 puts him among the top 20 pitchers in baseball, above top names like Dan Haren, Cole Hamels, David Price, and Chris Carpenter.

 Coming off a career year, it’s uncertain whether Sanchez can take that next step or if this is all there is. He’s not even 28 until the spring, so there’s still time, but even if he doesn’t have anything further to offer, another season of around 200 strikeouts would be more than welcome—and you might even find him to be undervalued despite those numbers.  

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

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