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Happy Holidays from the Keeper Reaper. As always, user requests are welcomed. Onto the final starting pitchers of 2011…

Brandon McCarthy | Oakland Athletics
Sh
allow: NO
Medium:
NO
Deep: BORDERLINE
AL-only:
 YES
Super Deep:
YES

One year ago, Oakland signed the oft-injured McCarthy to a one-year, $1M deal and the chance to battle for a rotation spot. Now, with Trevor Cahill dealt to Arizona, Gio Gonzalez traded to Washington, and Brett Anderson and Dallas Braden each working to return from arm surgery, the 28-year-old McCarthy looks like he just might be the club’s Opening Day starter in 2012. Considering he hadn’t pitched at all in the big leagues in 2010 and had made just 23 MLB starts in 2008-09 due to injury, it was a stunning turnaround—so much so that despite a pedestrian 9-9 record, it was McCarthy who led the entire American League in FIP. Though his 6.49 K/9 rate seems low for that type of success, McCarthy’s miniscule 1.32 BB/9 rate means that his K/BB mark was the fourth-highest in baseball, behind only Roy Halladay, Dan Haren, and Cliff Lee. If anything, McCarthy improved as the season went on, turning a 46/12 K/BB in the first half into a 77/13 mark in the second half despite only one additional start.

So why are we considering such a successful starter to be a keeper only in deeper leagues? Despite his breakout 2011, there are still a few reasons for some healthy skepticism. The obvious initial question is, “is this sustainable?” Even when healthy, McCarthy had never shown this type of control before, though it appears that the mechanical overhaul he began in late 2009 is beginning to pay off. There’s also the concern about non-elite strikeout rates and the potential of the 2012 Athletics to be dreadful, costing him additional wins.

Personally, I’m a big fan of McCarthy, and that’s in no small part because he’s one of the more intelligent and entertaining ballplayers I’ve come across, at least on Twitter. I have confidence that he’ll once again be a solid option in 2012, though still in the second or third tier of fantasy choices.

Chris Carpenter | St. Louis Cardinals
Sh
allow: NO
Medium:
NO
Deep: BORDERLINE
NL-only:
 YES
Super Deep:
YES

If it seems like Chris Carpenter has been around forever, well, it’s because he has. (Just look at the names that backed him up in his first start for Toronto in 1997: Otis Nixon! Ed Sprague! Joe Carter!) Despite losing most of three seasons to arm surgeries in the last ten years, Carpenter keeps on humming, ranking ninth in the National League in FIP in 2011 at the age of 36.

Carpenter has never been an elite strikeout type, rather providing value though wins, ERA, and WHIP. Unfortunately for him, he’s been on a three-year decline in each of those metrics, with only 0.02 of ERA preventing him from putting up the worst marks of his St. Louis career in all three (in a healthy season). Though that sounds ominous, I wouldn’t let that alone worry you too much, because he both struck out more and walked fewer than he did in 2010, with the ERA jump largely coming thanks to a few disaster outings (four times allowing six runs or more).

If there’s anything that’s concerning about Carpenter in 2012, it’s the 273 1/3 innings he racked up thanks to the deep St. Louis playoff run—no small workload considering his age and injury history. Assuming continued health, Carpenter should continue to be one of the better non-elite fantasy starters.

Jeremy Hellickson | Tampa Bay Rays
Sh
allow: NO
Medium:
NO
Deep: NO
AL-only:
 NO
Super Deep:
BORDERLINE

But he won the AL Rookie of the Year award! Well, sure, but not exactly in as impressive a fashion as you might have otherwise thought—no qualified pitcher in baseball had a larger an ERA-FIP split as did Hellickson. It’s hard to be all that impressed by a 5.57 K/9 rate or a 1.63 K/BB, the latter ranking eighth-worst among 92 qualifiers, and despite the excellent Tampa Bay defense, a .223 BABIP isn’t likely to repeat itself over a full season.

That doesn’t mean that Hellickson’s season wasn’t a success, of course—especially as a 24-year-old in his first full season for a playoff team in the tough AL East. He’ll still have that Rays defense and the homer-suppressing Tropicana Field behind him, so he’ll still have plenty working in his favor. The real question is: can he take that next step forward, as suggested by his minor league track record? In 580 innings on the farm, Hellickson struck out 634, and his swinging strike percentage of 9.7 percent generally suggests a higher strikeout rate than what he actually put up. So to say that there’s room for growth here is an understatement, and many still expect Hellickson to grow into a fringe top-of-the-rotation starter.

If you’re in a long-term keeper league, then hanging on to Hellickson is a no-brainer. For those concerned only about 2012, Hellickson’s absolutely worth a roster spot but might not progress quickly enough to make him worth a keep in all but the deepest leagues.

Cory Luebke | San Diego Padres
Sh
allow: NO
Medium:
NO
Deep: NO
NL-only:
 NO
Super Deep:
BORDERLINE

This one is all about your tolerance for risk. Do you believe in the 9.9 K/9, fourth-highest among all pitchers with at least 130 innings pitched? Luebke’s your man. Are you worried about the fact that he was never a highly-regarded prospect and made just 17 starts after spending the first three months in the bullpen? You might want to look elsewhere.

If Luebke has anything in his favor (beyond Petco Park, that is) it’s this: unlike the typical story where a pitcher sees an immediate decrease in strikeouts upon leaving the bullpen (or vice-versa), Luebke’s strikeout rate was exactly the same in both his 17 starts and his 29 relief appearances, and a 111/29 K/BB in 100 2/3 innings as a starter is nothing to sneeze at. Like McCarthy, Luebke could be hurt in the fantasy world by playing in front of an offense that doesn’t project to offer much support, though playing in front of San Diego’s solid defense should help somewhat.

Don’t take the four “NO” listings above as a lack of confidence in Luebke; simply keep his lack of a track record in mind. While I wouldn’t recommend using a keeper spot on him, his lack of name recognition should allow you to pick him up pretty cheaply in the draft, and that’s a choice that could pay off nicely.