The playoffs are ongoing, but a little fantasy analysis never hurt. Let's continue our look at some of this season's deep rookie class to gauge their 2011 value. This time we're looking at a trio of lefty hurlers from the National League.
This is not the first year that Cardinals' southpaw Jaime Garcia has pitched in the majors, but he did not give up his rookie eligibility working out of the pen in 2008. He was also nowhere near this good, as Garcia posted an ERA of 2.70 over the course of 28 starts, striking out 7.3 batters per nine while also keeping the ball on the ground with a 2.2 G/F and 56 percent of balls in play as grounders. His walk rate could use some help, as it was worse than average, but it's tough to tell exactly what kind of control he will have in the majors—his walk rates from the minors are all over the place, though whenever he was at higher levels they were troublesome.
His SIERA was about a run higher than his actual ERA, though that shouldn't be a surprise given how low his ERA was. In addition, he was expected to be this good by PECOTA—Garcia's weighted-mean forecast had an ERA of 3.81 (his SIERA was 3.73) with a WHIP of 1.38 (1.32 actual) with an equivalent strikeout rate of 6.9 per nine and a 50 percent groundball rate. Don't expect him to post an ERA under three again in 2011, but the 24 year old sophomore should inch closer to 200 innings and be able to manage an ERA under four, which has plenty of value—especially when you remember the Cardinals play in baseball's weakest division.
Madison Bumgarner had an up-and-down year before he ever threw a pitch that counted, as reports of diminished velocity dropped his fantasy value from the outset. After over 80 strong innings in Triple-A though he received a promotion to the bigs. Bumgarner looked like he may struggle against right-handers at the major league level, and while he has shown a split (.283/.323/.429 and a 751 OPS against RHB, .243/.304/.374 and 678 against LHB) it hasn't harmed his bottom line—Bumgarner's ERA is 3.00, but more importantly, his SIERA is 3.88.
A look at his strand rates tells you where the ERA and SIERA difference comes from, as he left 82 percent of his baserunners on, well above the league average of 72 percent. There is reason to be optimistic for 2011 though, even if he can't repeat that act—his BABIP was .322 despite pitching in front of the defense that finished fourth overall in Defensive Efficiency (and in a park that favors pitchers). Bumgarner was in his age 20 season this year, as he didn't turn 21 until August—there is plenty of room for him to grow and to improve on his L/R splits as well as maybe bump his strikeout rates back up above average.
The one concern with Bumgarner is his workload in 2010, as he threw 193 2/3 innings in the regular season between Triple-A and the majors, and has tossed six frames in the playoffs. He will start again tonight, meaning he will have hit the 200 inning mark as long as he can record one out, at the tender age of 20. This is a significant jump in innings, as Bumgarner had 142 2/3 and 141 1/3 the past two years. He looked very strong in his last outing, going six with five punch outs and one walk, but it's something to keep in mind given the size of the jump.
Jonathon Niese was much better than his 4.20 ERA indicates: for one, his SIERA is 3.91, but more importantly, he was pitching like he was fatigued throughout September. The 23 year old pitched well through his first 148 1/3 innings, with 7.5 K/9, 2.9 BB/9 (a K/BB of 2.6) and 1.0 homers per nine for an ERA of 3.70. With September came some brutal performances though, as Niese threw another 25 1/3 innings despite struggling with his control and command, which led to 5.0 walks per nine and 36 hits, plus 1.4 homers per nine for the month. He gave up 26 runs (20 earned) in this stretch, and though he struck out 8.5 per nine for the month, everything else was a problem.
If you toss out September, Niese performed above his 90th percentile forecast, an impressive step forward for the young hurler. He gave some of that back in September due to obvious fatigue—well, obvious to everyone except for the Mets, who kept running him out there despite being out of the playoff race for months—but with the winter off and those 173 plus innings under his belt, 2011 should be a quality year for the lefty. Don't be fooled by his overall numbers, especially when his SIERA shows him to be better than average. He may not be as good as Bumgarner or Garcia, but he can be a valuable under the radar pickup thanks to September hurting his value or a solid choice for an inexpensive keeper.