Jeff Karstens, Pittsburgh Pirates (ownership rates hidden, read on)

Let's play a game:

·         Player A: 6.6 K/9, 1.7 BB/9, 3.78 SIERA (4% Yahoo!, 2% ESPN, 7% CBS)

·         Player B: 6.6 K/9, 2.0 BB/9, 3.88 SIERA (84% Yahoo!, 100% ESPN, 95% CBS)

Player A, of course, is Karstens; Player B is Alexi Ogando. There are many reasons for the disparity in ownership rates aside from their performance and results, but I was surprised to see just how well Karstens had pitched thus far.

Most of the important pitching stats have stabilized by now (between 200-300 batters faced), so we can start to make some inferences about improvement and decline in pitchers. Karstens seems to have figured this pitching thing out, the culmination of a long and arduous process since joining the Pirates in 2008. He is not as good as his 3.30 ERA indicates, but it’s certainly possible that he’ll post a 4.00 ERA with a K/9 around 6.0 and a BB/9 around 2.0, which would make him perfectly useful in mixed leagues.  Those ownership rates reflect someone who has flown completely under the radar.

Zach Duke, Arizona Diamondbacks (5% Yahoo!, 7% ESPN, 10% CBS)

Duke was mentioned in last week's Value Picks in the NL-Only section but graduates this week to our "main" list, looking good in his only three starts in 2011. In 19 innings, he has an 11-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and his stuff looks essentially the same as it did prior to his injury. While he will not maintain an 0.5 BB/9 going forward, it should wind up between 2.0 and 2.5, which is great for those of you in leagues that use WHIP.

Duke will not rack up the strikeouts, so starts like yesterday's (where he struck out only one batter) can occur and can potentially lead to disasters. He has allowed 19 hits in his last 12 innings; with different timing on those hits, Duke's season could look vastly different. Still, the peripherals point to a pitcher that should be reliable in NL-only leagues and for specific needs in very deep mixed leagues.

Saying Goodbye

Rick Porcello, Detroit Tigers (21% Yahoo!, 17% ESPN, 58% CBS)

Somehow, Porcello's ownership rates have been trending downward in ESPN leagues despite what can only be described as a great two-plus months in 2011. It could be due to his May 27 start against the Boston Red Sox, but that start is scattered among eight great starts. Either way, I am anticipating his ownership rates to trend upward again soon, which will make him too popular for discussion here at Value Picks. Until next time, Rick.

Jon Garland, Los Angeles Dodgers (5% Yahoo!, 2% ESPN, 12% CBS)

Garland hit the 15-day disabled list with shoulder inflammation this week. There are no reports of a timetable for his return, so he will likely need more than just 15 days to recover.

Jordan Lyles, Houston Astros (5% Yahoo!, 4% ESPN, 19% CBS)

Despite initial reports that had Lyles sticking around in the rotation, more recent reports indicate that Lyles will be sent back down to Triple-A when Wandy Rodriguez is activated from the disabled list. Lyles should get more chances throughout the year as the wear-and-tear of the season inevitably takes its toll on the Astros' rotation.

Sticking Around

Chris Narveson, Milwaukee Brewers (13% Yahoo!, 7% ESPN, 31% CBS)

Narveson struggled Sunday against the Florida Marlins, failing to make it out of the sixth inning. In five and one-third innings, he walked five and struck out three while allowing four runs. Narveson is usually good for a couple more strikeouts even when he is struggling, which made Sunday all the more disappointing.

He will not eat up many innings and his control is spotty, but you will have trouble coming across a high-strikeout arm that is freely available at this point in the season. I would put up with his flaws in a mixed league (especially one with an innings cap) for the strikeouts alone.

Nick Blackburn, Minnesota Twins (9% Yahoo!, 5% ESPN, 28% CBS)

Blackburn has been experiencing problems with his back but should be able to make his next start. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire has prepared Anthony Swarzak just in case Blackburn has to make an early exit. Consider benching him for his next start or swapping him out for one of the other pitchers mentioned in this column. Back problems do not magically go away, so be cautious. His mediocre strikeout and walk rates make him expendable.

Doug Fister, Seattle Mariners (8% Yahoo!, 5% ESPN, 23% CBS)

Fister notched yet another quality start on Saturday against the Tampa Bay Rays. His performance, however, was lackluster as he walked four in seven innings of work. Fister is usually stringent with the free passes, though, so we shouldn’t worry too much. He did strikeout six batters, which is great to see, and his strikeout rate continues to climb up towards the American League average.

Frankly, I am surprised his ownership rates are so low, especially as we are past the point where strikeout rate and batted ball splits stabilize. Fister is about average all the way around. He will not maintain a 3.29 ERA in his next 20 starts, but there is nothing that should deter you from picking him up in mixed leagues.

AL-only VP

Carlos Villanueva, Toronto Blue Jays (10% Yahoo!, 7% ESPN, 16% CBS)

Villanueva is another familiar face for Value Picks. Since joining the Jays' rotation in the wake of Jesse Litsch's injury, he has pitched well, posting a 14-to-4 strikeout-to-walk ratio in four starts. He is not a season-saver for anyone in fantasy baseball but should provide some consistency as a spot starter in AL-only leagues. Try not to get too attached as he will eventually relinquish his spot in the rotation to Litsch, who should return by late June if his bullpen sessions and rehab games go according to plan.

NL-only VP

Paul Maholm, Pittsburgh Pirates (5% Yahoo!, 3% ESPN, 14% CBS)

Maholm tossed six shutout innings against the Arizona Diamondbacks on Wednesday, pushing his ERA down to 3.39. His four strikeouts and three walks are par for the course; he should not stray too far from 4-6 strikeouts and 1-3 walks per outing. His .250 BABIP will not last, so his ERA should begin to resemble his 4.38 SIERA a little more.  Still, that’s perfectly acceptable territory for NL-only leaguers.

Given the way he has pitched thus far, it is surprising that his ownership rates are not higher, but many may still be skeptical of a pitcher that finished last season with a 5.10 ERA. A lot of that performance, however, was due to bad luck (.327 BABIP, 65 percent LOB%) and bad defense (the Pirates were dead last in baseball in defensive efficiency), unfairly inflating that ERA. The Pirates have improved defensively as they are 12th of 30 MLB teams presently, and he is no longer suffering from unfortunate die rolls.

Overall, Maholm is a bit risky because of his contact-oriented approach and mediocre walk rate, so he is applied best to NL-only leagues.

Thank you for reading

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Do you know why when I use the "Pitcher Season" report for stats it displays minor league and major league stats combined together?
Nevermind what I wrote about Jordan Lyles. He's sticking around. Jeff Fulchino got the heave-ho. Aneury Rodriguez moves to the bullpen.