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May 3, 2012

Value Picks

Starting Pitching for 5/3/12

by Paul Sporer

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Another week has gone by, and we have flipped the calendar over to May. We’re reaching the point where even the fantasy managers who try to practice patience with their rosters begin to feel comfortable making a decision on a guy who is off to a slow start.  If your league is populated by these types of managers, you will start to see more activity on your waiver, forcing you to act more swiftly when you see someone who strikes your fancy.  Without further ado, let’s dive into the week’s value picks.

Last Chance: Time to get on board with these arms before they are snapped up in your league.  These entries are becoming less available with each passing start and find themselves on rosters in 30-plus percent of the leagues at two of the three outlets and over 50 percent at one of them. We won’t necessarily have options in this field each week.

Jason Hammel (Yahoo! 54%, ESPN 61%, CBS 79%) is a special inclusion for this week; his ownership levels exceed the normal requirements to make the cut, but he was the first cut on last week’s list since I was still a bit skeptical—plus he had starts against New York and Boston on the horizon.  He handled the Yankees with aplomb and has now gone six-plus in each of his five starts, posting not only excellent surface numbers (1.97 ERA, 1.03 WHIP) but also exquisite core skills (8.4 K/9, 3.0 K/BB, 61 percent groundball rate). 

I missed the boat with him last week, but he is still available in quite a few leagues despite a 52 percent rise at ESPN, 36 percent rise at Yahoo!, and 31 percent rise at CBS since last week.  Don’t assume he’s owned in your league; give the wire a cursory look just to make sure.  A new sinker registering an average of 94 mph and a sharp slider that he is utilizing more than ever (24 percent, previous high of 19 percent) have keyed his success to date. 

Edinson Volquez (Yahoo! 50%, ESPN 18%, CBS 65%) is this week’s other “Last Chancer” on the heels of seven shutout innings against the Milwaukee Brewers on Tuesday night in PETCO Park.  There was plenty of speculation that Volquez would benefit greatly from the move into PETCO after being traded from Cincinnati, and so far that has played out accordingly. 

Five of his six starts have been at home, where he has a 2.25 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 8.7 K/9, and 2.4 K/BB in 32 innings.  Meanwhile, his worst start of the year came in his lone road start in Los Angeles, where he went five innings, allowing four runs on six hits and five walks while striking out just a pair.  Two of his next three match-ups are at home (against Colorado and the LA Angels), which makes him a worthwhile add.

Widely Available: These arms are sparsely-rostered at most outlets despite possessing the talent and statistics worthy of a spot.  Because of the league type each outlet predominantly caters to, you will often see these guys more available at ESPN and Yahoo! than CBS, but roughly 45 percent availability at CBS qualifies as widely available.  We should have three-to-six arms in this category in a given week.

Chris Capuano (Yahoo! 27%, ESPN 25%, CBS 57%) is an incredible story when you think about it.  As a two-time Tommy John surgery survivor, it’s a minor miracle that he is even pitching in the majors, let alone that he is doing so at a relatively high level.  Home runs elevated his ERA a bit last year, leaving him with a 4.55 ERA against a 3.67 xFIP, but to date he has tamed the gopheritis and is rocking a 2.73 ERA.  He has carried a 40 percent or higher fly ball rate for the overwhelming bulk of his career, so home runs will remain an issue.

Outings with four and five walks have elevated his BB/9 to 3.9, but that seems to be small sample size-inflated. His 8.8 K/9 is in line with last year’s 8.1 rate but could dip as time progresses as well.  Even if he lands around last year’s 8.1 K/9 and 3.2 K/BB, Capuano is a worthy asset who is currently overlooked for the surprise Dodgers.  Another outing like Sunday’s against Washington—during which he went 6 2/3 scoreless innings, striking out nine and walking two—will likely take another large chunk out of his availability across all outlets. 

Heading back to San Diego, Anthony Bass (Yahoo! 13%, ESPN 6%, CBS 28%) outdueled Tim Lincecum last Saturday, going eight strong with two earned runs, eight strikeouts, and nary a walk.  Like any Padre pitcher, his presence in PETCO Park only adds to his value, but the bat-missing ability he has shown in his four starts (27 K in 23 IP) will play anywhere.  His wipeout slider is the strikeout pitch, and it has simply baffled hitters thus far; they’ve managed a mere .274 OPS against it with 16 of his 27 strikeouts ending on the pitch. 

Bass struggled mightily to miss bats in his 48 innings last year (spent predominantly in the bullpen) with a 4.5 K/9, but the improvement of his slider into a go-to pitch and the advancement of his changeup into a usable offering have buoyed his success as a starter. When paired with his 54 percent groundball rate, it suggests legitimacy going forward. 

A long-time favorite of mine, James McDonald (Yahoo! 4%, ESPN 1%, CBS 25%) has appeared to turn a corner in his last two starts, allowing four runs in 14 2/3 innings of work (2.45 ERA) with 18 strikeouts against five walks.  While his overall performance was definitely encouraging in the three starts beforehand (3.45 ERA, 1.21 WHIP), he had just six strikeouts with six walks in 15 2/3 innings.  As McDonald continues to evolve, it is his control that will determine his ultimate ceiling.  He is currently toting a career-best 3.3 BB/9. 

Wei-Yin Chen (Yahoo! 6%, ESPN 4%, CBS 33%) has been a bit lost in the headlines being made by Hammel, but he has no doubt been instrumental in Baltimore’s hot April, posting a 2.22 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 7.0 K/9, and 2.4 K/BB in 24 innings.  The Taiwanese import was excellent during his four seasons in Japan, and his skills are pretty much on par with what you would expect in the transition.  I could see his final strikeout number landing somewhere in the 6.0 range, but he could also reasonably improve his walk rate, which was his calling card in Japan.  A lack of overpowering stuff and an extreme fly ball rate (49 percent) enhance the risk with him (especially in that division), but he isn’t a horrible match-up play right now. 

AL-only VP
David Phelps (Yahoo! 3%, ESPN 0%, CBS 12%)
makes his way into the Yankee rotation to take the place of Freddy Garcia after starting the season in the bullpen and enjoying a bit of success in six appearances (five of which saw him go two innings or more).  He has a strong minor league track record with a 2.61 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in 497 innings, never posting an ERA over 3.00.  His 7.4 K/9 is pretty strong too, but Phelps lives on command and control. His fastball has sat at just 91 mph, and that could get even a tick slower as he moves into the rotation.  Ivan Nova has shown that you don’t need to be a world beater to have success on the fantasy landscape with the Yankee offense offering its support. 

NL-only VP
Joe Blanton (Yahoo! 3%, ESPN 1%, CBS 15%) is quietly off to a solid start aided by a miniscule 1.0 BB/9 in his 26 innings of work.  His 5.2 K/9 isn’t flashy, but he has a 7.0 mark in his NL career, so there may be some upside here.  We saw a hint of that upside in his latest outing when he struck out eight Cubs in 7 1/3 innings. 

Blanton is definitely the forgotten Phillie; no one would ever suggest he is anywhere near the Halladay-Hamels-Lee triumvirate, and he appears to be even a cut below Vance Worley. That just goes to show the depth of their rotation, though. Blanton is definitely a worthy NL-only play right now.

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

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