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March 1, 2012

Preseason Value Picks

Starting Pitchers for 3/1/12

by Mike Petriello

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It’s March 1 as you’re reading this, and that is noteworthy if only because we’re finally into a month where there’s going to be real, live Major League Baseball that counts—even if the Japan-based series between the M’s and A’s will take place in the middle of the night for most of us. With the season fast approaching, fantasy drafts are really starting to heat up. Here are some thoughts on four pitchers who may or may not be on your radar for various reasons…

Phil Hughes | SP | New York Yankees
Mixed: $3 | AL-only: $10 |
PECOTA SP Rank: - | SP ADP: 67

IP

W

ERA

WHIP

K

SV

135

9

3.84

1.29

119

0

Hughes’s 2011 was nothing short of an outright disaster. After winning a somewhat-misleading 18 games to go along with an All-Star berth at age 24 in 2010, many expected Hughes to take a big step forward last year. It didn’t happen; he allowed 16 earned runs in 10.1 April innings and then missed nearly three months with right shoulder inflammation. Upon returning, Hughes was good-but-not-outstanding, and now that the Yankees have acquired Hiroki Kuroda and Michael Pineda to go along with the returning CC Sabathia, Ivan Nova, and Freddy Garcia, Hughes enters 2012 needing to perform well early to have a chance to beat out Garcia for the final spot in the rotation.

Barring disaster—and according to Joel Sherman of the New York Post, Hughes has looked excellent thus far in camp—it’s absolutely in the best interest of the Yankees for Hughes to win that spot. Despite the variety of troubles he’s run into in his short career, he’s still a highly-touted young pitcher with some prior success who doesn’t even turn 26 until July. Garcia, to paraphrase the famous line, is 35 with a good chance of turning 36. (The great Yankees blog River Avenue Blues even goes so far as to suggest that the competition is rigged in Hughes’s favor, as it should be.)

Assuming Hughes is healthy, PECOTA is relatively optimistic about his success, pegging him for an 8.0 K/9 rate and 2.2 WARP, and if he does hit those goals, I’d argue that nine wins is on the low side since his IP total would likely be higher. Judging by the most recent ADP stats from mockdraftcentral.com, drafters are treating Hughes with caution; his rank of 67th among starters is below cross-town competitors R.A. Dickey and Johan Santana, both of whom come with questions and an atrocious supporting cast. That caution is, of course, justified, because we don’t know which Hughes we’ll see. I’m betting that you can get him in AL-only leagues for less than the $10 PFM thinks he’s worth, which would make him a bargain.

Chris Capuano | SP | Los Angeles Dodgers
Mixed: $0 | NL-only: $5 |
PECOTA SP Rank: 86 | SP ADP: 113

IP

W

ERA

WHIP

K

SV

160

8

4.40

1.37

125

0

I’ll admit that a large part of the reason that we’re discussing Capuano today is simply so that I can share how a recent article on dodgers.com began:

The Dodgers are utilizing statistical analysis more now than at any time in Ned Colletti's tenure as general manager, and Exhibit A is new fifth starter Chris Capuano.

The Dodgers signed Capuano to a two-year, $10 million free agent deal after newly hired front-office number-cruncher Alex Tamin determined that the lefty fly-ball pitcher was a double fit in the club's tight payroll and spacious ballpark.

…which I can only assume means that someone fired up Baseball-Reference and landed upon these 2011 splits from Capuano’s lone season with the Mets:

2011

IP

ERA

WHIP

OPS

HR/9

Home

101.1

3.82

1.214

.690

0.89

Road

84.2

5.42

1.512

.883

1.81


Science!

I’m sure to be reminded that home/road splits are not fully accurate and that it’s important not to place too much weight on them—and that is indeed the case. Still, it’s worth being just a bit terrified when an aging, injury-prone gopherball type ends up in a division where he’ll have to figure out how to succeed in Colorado and Arizona—especially when he can’t easily be skipped there, since the Dodgers have loaded their rotation with two other homer threats in Aaron Harang and Ted Lilly.

Considering Capuano’s less-than-thrilling PECOTA projection, his ADP down in the Guillermo Moscoso range, the terrifying reality of who he was when he wasn’t pitching in spacious Citi Field last year, and the mediocre offense the Dodgers are likely to put out this year, you might think it’s a given that I’m staying far, far away from him in 2012. On the contrary; you may be surprised to see that’s not quite the case.

Our PFM figures show Capuano as roster-filler in mixed leagues and somewhat more useful in NL-only leagues, and I think that’s about right. For all his flaws, he did strike out a career-high 8.1 batters per nine last year—his first full year of health since way back in 2006—and the 10.5 percent swinging-strike rate he achieved matches up nicely with the rates he was putting up back in his healthy years with Milwaukee between 2005-07. At the back end of your rotation, you can do a lot worse than the potential for some added whiffs rather than the usual pitch-to-contact artists who fill that spot on most teams. This is a guy who has rarely been able to stay healthy and just had a losing season for a terrible team; as you can see by his ADP, he’s not generating a whole lot of respect in early drafts. The hope for strikeouts and the low public opinion is a pretty nice combination to have in your pocket when you’re trying to find someone, anyone, of value to fill out your roster.

Jaime Garcia | SP | St. Louis Cardinals
Mixed: $4 | NL-only: $8 |
PECOTA SP Rank: 57 | SP ADP: 48

IP

W

ERA

WHIP

K

SV

174

11

3.93

1.34

126

0

I’m tempted to issue Garcia a demerit simply for not going by his middle name, “Omar”—the world could always use more Omars—yet even that isn’t enough to look past just how good Garcia has been in winning 26 games with a 3.17 ERA over his two full seasons as a starter. Despite what some saw as a step back in 2011 due to an ERA that jumped from 2.70 to 3.56, Garcia kept his strikeout rate steady and actually decreased his walk rate by over a batter per nine innings, leading to a FIP which was slightly lower than it had been in 2010.

Despite this kind of success before he’s even seen his age-25 season, the buzz around Garcia seems to be minimal. PECOTA doesn’t love him, projecting steps backward in most of the major metrics, and his ADP has him below pitchers like Ervin Santana and Jeremy Hellickson, neither of whom had quite the 2011 Garcia did. Part of that may be because people wonder if Garcia is the kind of pitcher who needs to be spot-started on your fantasy team rather than put into your lineup and left there all season. As BP2012 noted:

Garcia continues to do his best work at Busch Stadium, where he limits opposing hitters to a .230/.280/.320 line. But on the road, opponents rake him at an unsettling .313/.353/.463 clip.

Garcia still has plenty of time to right that trend, and to be honest it’s such an odd one—we’re hardly talking about Coors Field or Petco Park here—that it’s difficult to think that those splits won’t even out soon. For now, Garcia’s a nice buy at what may be a below-market price.

Jake Peavy | SP | Chicago White Sox
Mixed: $6 | AL-only: $10 |
PECOTA SP Rank: 43 | SP ADP: 74

IP

W

ERA

WHIP

K

SV

144

8

3.46

1.24

131

0

To be honest, I’m a little surprised at how optimistic people are about Jake Peavy right now. His ADP is above that of Chad Billingsley, Ryan Dempster, and Ivan Nova, and the 144 innings you’ll see in the PECOTA prediction above is more than he’s been able to stay on the field for since 2008.

For his part, Peavy is optimistic, but then again, so is everybody this time of year:

He underwent a rare surgery at Rush University Medical Center to reattach the tendon to the bone. Former major league pitcher Tommy John once had an experimental surgery named after him. If successful, Peavy could be next.

Now 19 months removed from the operation, Peavy is here at spring training, feeling his best from head-to-toe since the White Sox traded for him. “It feels amazing actually,” Peavy said.

His shoulder is finally healthy, but there’s still some mystery. How healthy is it? Neither Jake nor his doctors truly have the answer.

Right there, you can see why it’s difficult to count on any of the projections; the procedure Peavy underwent is incredibly rare, so we know very little about how he’ll respond over a full season. Now, there were encouraging signs in his attempt to return last year—particularly the 53/11 K/BB in nine starts after the All-Star break—and with an additional offseason behind him, he’s even further away from going under the knife.

Still, there’s so much uncertainty here that it’s hard to recommend him as anything more than a late-round flyer. It’s not as though the arm surgery has been Peavy’s only health issue—there was the ankle injury that cost him much of 2009 and the groin strain that put him back on the disabled list last year—and the White Sox, coming off a poor year, are in a tough division with an untested rookie manager and little help coming from the farm. The stars aren’t exactly aligned in Peavy’s favor here, so tread lightly.

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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