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January 24, 2010

Fantasy Focus

Starting Pitcher Rankings Review, Part 3

by Marc Normandin

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Today we will look at the very last of the rankings from 2009, as we review the final batch of starting pitchers, numbers 41-60. Remember, this is an exercise in figuring out what went right and wrong and why during last year's rankings, in order to improve the quality of the 2010 ones, which you will be seeing soon.

The statistics in the lists are from the pitcher's 2009 weighted mean PECOTA forecast.


Rank Name               Team       W   IP     SO  WHIP   ERA  Beta
 41. Clayton Kershaw    Dodgers   10  157.0  146  1.41  4.00   .88
 42. Jered Weaver       Angels    11  172.1  136  1.32  4.25   .93
 43. Jair Jurrjens      Braves    10  156.1  115  1.35  4.06  1.13
 44. Daisuke Matsuzaka  Red Sox   10  155.0  135  1.37  4.32  1.19
 45. Ted Lilly          Cubs      10  161.2  139  1.29  4.26  1.09
 46. Josh Johnson       Marlins    8  135.0  120  1.37  4.10   .98
 47. Francisco Liriano  Twins      9  145.2  125  1.34  4.16  1.09
 48. Chris Young        Padres     6  111.0  100  1.30  3.93  1.00
 49. David Price        Rays       6  102.1   78  1.39  4.20  1.20
 50. Wandy Rodriguez    Astros     7  123.2  104  1.35  4.32  1.12

Kershaw had shown flashes of brilliance during his time with the Dodgers, but his second season looks, at first glance, like a massive step forward. Truth be told, though, the increase in his strikeout rate is not enough to counter his still-high walk rate (4.6, higher than in '08), and with so much of his value resting on a massive drop in his HR/FB rate, it's tough to say just how much of this was real.

Weaver finally crossed the 200-inning mark, and also picked up 16 wins while posting solid strikeout totals, keeping his walks down, and not allowing too many homers. This ranking underrates him a little, as I was expecting him to be a little closer to his PECOTA forecast. He's another pitcher who will benefit from the tiered system we'll introduce for the 2010 rankings, given he's not a standout guy, but is still a very useful pitcher to have around.

Jurrjens had a season similar to 2008, but thanks to a high strand rate and a below-average BABIP, his ERA fell to 2.60. I find his additional success in 2009 curious, though, as part of what made his walk and strikeout rates acceptable the year before was his ability to keep the ball on the ground. His G/F ratio dropped from 1.9 to 1.1, and occurred without an increase in whiffs or a drop in walks.

Matsuzaka both proved me correct and wrong this past season. From the '09 rankings:

Matsuzaka had a great ERA last year, and loads of wins. He probably didn't deserve either; he walked 5.1 hitters per nine and posted a WHIP of 1.32 despite a BABIP of just .267. This allowed him to strand nearly 81 percent of his base runners (of which there were many). He's going to be a good pitcher in 2009, but his ERA should have been well over a run higher than it was. Betting on him to repeat 2008 is not something I would do, especially in the early rounds, where he'll be drafted for all of those numbers that we know don't matter in real life.

Where did I go wrong? Saying he would be a "good pitcher" in 2009. Matsuzaka was far worse than I imagined, thanks to being more predictable with his pitches than the plotline to an episode of House. Unlike the performance of Hugh Laurie though, Dice-K wasn't worth watching despite his easily anticipated nature. Who knew you couldn't succeed two years in a row with an extravagant number of free passes and homers, especially when your team's defense is no longer the kind of unit that can save a pitcher like that? There's a lot of talk that his problems were injury-related, but unless we're talking about the brain cramps he had on 0-2 and 1-2 counts, then you haven't told the whole story. It will be interesting to see how he does in 2010, with a better Red Sox defense behind him, as well as a year of management scolding him about his approach and physical condition).<./p?

Lilly dropped his homers and walks considerably, which allowed him to post a career-best ERA. Shoulder trouble did keep him from finishing the season. I'm not sure if we should expect a repeat of his homer rates, given how many fly balls he gives up, but those who had him in 2009 don't care too much about that.

I said I would rank Johnson higher if you could guarantee he would throw 200 innings. Considering his career high was 157 back in 2006, that wasn't a ridiculous thing to think, but he did cross the 200-inning barrier. He continued to get plenty of outs by himself and on the ground, and put together the best full season of his career.

Liriano was the source of plenty of angry e-mail last year, as I ranked him a little low for people's likings. My issue with him was his velocity. Without that, he isn't anywhere near the pitcher he was before Tommy John surgery. While his average velocity was higher than in 2008, it was nowhere near pre-TJ levels, and he posted the second-worst run value for fastballs of any pitcher with at least 130 innings pitched. That could be a one-year issue, especially given he was still dealing with injuries, but if the walks don't go away and the homers keep flying out of the park, it won't matter how many hitters he is whiffing.

Young threw just 102 innings in 2008, which made me leery about 2009. While I felt he could rebound to a degree (or at least throw more than 100 innings) he failed to do even that, and pitched even more poorly. It's tough to gauge what 2010 will be like (or what 2009 should have been) when you're dealing with a shoulder issue, but I probably could have ranked him a little worse given the question marks.

I ranked Price low because I wasn't sure if he would stick in the rotation or the bullpen, and I was also unsure of how he would fare against major-league hitters over more than a short, year-end sample. The lefty had a lot of problems during his early starts, but eventually improved his performance and finished with a solid 4.42 ERA, 7.2 K/9, 3.8 BB/9 and 1.2 HR/9. He allowed a sub-.300 OBP from July 5 on, and kept hitters at a .136 ISO as well. This could be a big year for him, but 2009 was right about what you could reasonable expect from such a young pitcher with so little experience at the major-league level.

Rodriguez was a pitcher I liked a lot when other people did not, so of course once he was finally ready to have a great year I didn't throw support behind him. Last season was very similar to his shortened 2008 campaign once you adjust his ERA, so expect to see him higher than this in the 2010 rankings.


Rank Name               Team       W   IP     SO  WHIP   ERA  Beta
 51. Johnny Cueto       Reds       8  136.0  122  1.40  4.64  1.10
 52. Erik Bedard        Mariners   7  117.0  116  1.34  3.94  1.00
 53. John Maine         Mets       6  107.0   89  1.34  4.16  1.08
 54. Manny Parra        Brewers    8  136.1  111  1.45  4.40  1.13
 55. Oliver Perez       Mets       9  152.1  144  1.38  4.26  1.00
 56. Scott Baker        Twins      9  153.0  113  1.33  4.28  1.03
 57. Justin Duchscherer Athletics  9  151.0   98  1.26  4.02  1.12
 58. Kevin Slowey       Twins     10  159.2  115  1.24  4.11   .96
 59. Bronson Arroyo     Reds      10  177.0  133  1.40  4.65  1.04
 60. Mark Buehrle       White Sox 11  181.2  112  1.40  4.58  1.09

Cueto lost strikeouts and didn't cut his homer rate enough, so the fact that his season was in line with his projection should not be a surprise. Bedard, for the second year in a row, pitched well for the Mariners, but failed to crack 100 innings. His career line as an M: 3.24 ERA, 8.9 K/9, 3.9 BB/9, 0.9 HR/9, and just 164 innings over 30 starts. Maine was supposed to benefit from the move to Citi Field, given his flyball tendencies, but it's tough to reap benefits when you don't make starts. Maine dealt with shoulder problems, which is a common theme from this section of the list it seems.

Parra was a pitcher I suggested as an option for strikeouts if you could deal with the hit to your WHIP and ERA. While his strikeout rates were fine, he struggled so much that he didn't last long enough in games or prevent enough runs from scoring to make it worth it. I didn't think much of Perez, but thought he would provide strikeouts like Parra. Perez was worse than expected, but at least all I did was rank him and not sign him to a long-term deal for a dump truck full of money like Mets general manager Omar Minaya.

I said I liked Baker more in real life than I do for fantasy, but that ended up being one of my sillier comments. Baker's ERA wasn't great, but it was higher than it should have been, and he did keep the free passes down and the punch outs up. Fifteen victories for the Twins isn't so bad either, though it's tough to guarantee those sorts of things without knowing if Joe Mauer is going to win the MVP.

Duchscherer was ranked here thanks to the A's defense and his home park, with an "if healthy" caveat applied. He never returned from the elbow injury that he suffered in 2008 and then sought treatment for clinical depression. Slowey needed to stop giving up home runs to be a better fantasy option, but the opposite occurred. He then missed the second half of the season because of wrist surgery.

Arroyo probably should not have been on the list to begin with, especially since I kept Adam Wainwright off it. Though Arroyo pitched very well in terms of innings and ERA, his strikeout rate fell and he was benefitted by a well below-average BABIP. His ERA should have been at least a run worse, which would make him a much more unattractive fantasy option.

Buehrle continues to confuse me, as he posts low strikeout rates, yet succeeds in the ERA department. According to various adjusted ERAs, though, Buehrle did not deserve the numbers he finished with, not by a long shot. I probably didn't give him enough credit with this particular ranking, but he's not so good that I'm broken up over it.

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