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May 31, 2012

Value Picks

Starting Pitchers for 5/31/12

by Paul Sporer

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Leaving
Ervin Santana (Yahoo! 67%, ESPN 66%, CBS 87%) has finally seen his ESPN percentage surge, leaving him available in very few leagues now—as it should be in light of his May performance (2.91 ERA in 34 innings), although the timing here isn’t the best as he comes off his worst start of the month during which he walked seven Mariners while allowing four runs in five innings.  Everyone is entitled to a hiccup here and there, though, even if it is against Seattle (just ask Derek Holland), and the important part is that he has allowed just three home runs for the month after allowing 10 in April. 

Ross Detwiler (Yahoo! 20%, ESPN 14%, CBS 24%) labored through a trio of iffy starts (8.16 ERA in 14 innings) which either outright cost him his rotation spot or contributed heavily to him losing his rotation spot.  Either way, Chien-Ming Wang is in and Detwiler is moving to the bullpen.  Don’t completely remove him from your radar, however. There are no guarantees that Wang recaptures his 2006-2007 magic, but for now you can safely cut him in just about all formats. 

Last Chance
Ivan Nova (Yahoo! 48%, ESPN 38%, CBS 81%) and his 2011 success drew plenty of skeptics; his 16-4 record propped him up higher than he deserved when paired with his 5.3 K/9 and 1.7 K/BB.  Flash forward to 2012 and Nova has added nearly four strikeouts to his rate (up to an even 9.0 K/9) while cutting into his walk rate (down to 2.7 BB/9), yielding a sharp 3.3 K/BB in 56 innings. 

At the same time, his BABIP and HR/FB rates have skyrocketed, resulting in an ugly 5.46 ERA and 1.57 WHIP.  His 3.61 xFIP points to how well things could be going if he weren’t as unlucky this year as he was lucky a year ago.  A strikeout per inning arm on the Yankees doesn’t pop up on the waiver wire often, so I would pounce on this likely limited opportunity.  Of course, Wednesday’s outing might leave him available a bit longer.

In Case You Missed It
Speaking of the Yankees, Felipe Paulino (Yahoo! 21%, ESPN 19%, CBS 47%) has bested them twice for six shutout innings within his first five starts, yet he remains widely available.  He has certainly garnered some attention since the last time he was featured here when his ownership rates were 1, 3, and 16 percent, but I am surprised to see that he is still underutilized. 

He had his first bump in the road the second time he faced Baltimore this year, but even with five walks he was just an out from netting a baseline quality start.  I realize the enhanced pitching age we have been in the last few years leaves some enticing options on the wire seemingly at all times, but I don’t think the pool is deep enough that a guy with a 9.9 K/9 should just be left alone after five strong starts. 

Arriving
Homer Bailey (Yahoo! 12%, ESPN 15%, CBS 46%) is the latest to join the VP ranks after stringing together four straight solid starts, capped off with a complete game in Pittsburgh during which he allowed just a run on four hits and a walk.  In fact, he had just one stumble in May, which he has sandwiched with eight quality starts dating back to April 14.

Though he has been around seemingly forever, he is still just 26 years old in the midst of his ninth season in professional baseball.  He isn’t the flamethrower we thought we were getting back in his early minor league days, but he has really refined his control and command, resulting in a 2.4 BB/9 in his last 195 innings dating back to 2011. 

Dillon Gee (Yahoo! 7%, ESPN 4%, CBS 22%) has seen massive improvement in his skills profile this season, including an 8.3 K/9, 3.3 K/BB, and a 55 percent groundball rate in 57 innings, all career bests.  Unfortunately, the results haven’t followed; his 4.92 ERA is a career worst while his 1.38 WHIP matches last year’s, which was his career-to-date worst too.  The 3.25 xFIP says there is light at the end of the tunnel, but he needs to get better with men on base (67 percent LOB%) and in limiting home runs (1.1 HR/9 and 16 percent HR/FB rate). 

Staying
A.J. Burnett (Yahoo! 19%, ESPN 15%, CBS 47%) threw seven more shutout innings on Wednesday night, lowering his ERA to 3.60—nearly four and a half runs lower than it was a month ago after the Cardinals obliterated him for 12 runs in 2 2/3 innings on May 2.  He chiseled away at the 8.04 ERA with three straight two-run outings across 22 innings followed by 12 shutout innings over his past two starts, including Wednesday’s at home against the Reds.  I don’t know what you are waiting for, folks. 

Tom Milone (Yahoo! 24%, ESPN 13%, CBS 50%) is a lot different from Paulino and Burnett in that he doesn’t really strike anybody out.  Okay, anybody is a bit of an exaggeration—especially when Derek Lowe is the one toting a sub-3.0 K/9—but Milone’s 4.9 K/9 is hardly an asset.  The upside is that he doesn’t really walk anybody either; his 2.2 BB/9 helps keep his WHIP nice and low. 

He has been knocked around a few times, including during back-to-back outings in Boston and Tampa Bay, but it is pretty impressive that his ERA is just 3.64 having faced those two, Texas on the road, the Yankees, the Tigers, and the Angels (during the latter part of May when they were actually playing quite well).  If you can secure your strikeouts elsewhere, Milone is a nice asset to pair with an Edinson Volquez type. 

AL VP
Brian Matusz (Yahoo! 7%, ESPN 7%, CBS 26%) had a big spring training, which some believed would translate into a return to his late-2010 form that showed why he was the number 18 prospect in baseball that year, according to Kevin Goldstein.  I wasn’t sold.  I am never sold by spring training numbers.  Okay, enough bragging.

Matusz’s 5.66 ERA in April accentuated how little the spring meant, but after an early May thrashing at the hands of Texas, he has run off four straight quality outings, posting a 3.38 ERA in 24 innings.  He has the Royals twice in that stretch, but the other two outings were against Boston and Tampa Bay, so it was hardly a bunch of walkovers.  I am still leery, which is why he is relegated to an AL-only recommendation, but there is discernible talent here.  The question is whether or not consistency will follow. 

NL VP
For the second straight season, Nathan Eovaldi (Yahoo! 2%, ESPN 1%, CBS 7%) has skipped past Triple-A en route to the majors.  Part of that is the Dodgers not wanting to subject their top youngsters to the PCL, which can wreak havoc on even the best of prospects with its offensively-charged environment.  Repeating Double-A in 2012, Eovaldi has seen his strikeout rate dip a full strikeout to 7.7 K/9, but his walk rate has come down almost as much, moving from 4.0 BB/9 last year to 3.3 BB/9 in 35 innings this year. 

He has mid-rotation potential, and while I could see him as a high-6.0s/low-7.0s strikeout arm, that will probably take a few years to materialize, leaving him as modest contributor in the short term, best deployed at home and on the road only in favorable matchups (quick tip: avoid Coors Field and anything St. Louis-related for sure).  His walk rate will go a long way toward determining his success.  A pitcher who limits free passes can get by with a high-5.0s/low-6.0s strikeout rate.

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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