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For the most part, I love the Japanese games that kick off the season. (To be fair, I’m not a fan of Oakland or Seattle, and it’s not my team that’s playing in the middle of the night.) It’s fun to get a sneak preview of real baseball and even more fun to have a game that comes on when you wake up in the morning, right? Yet it’s also somewhat disconcerting, because after you’ve seen the real thing and had stats that count appear in your fantasy lineup, we now have to go back and sit through another week of exhibition games before we can get down to business.

If you haven’t yet drafted or are still making decisions, here are three starting pitchers to keep an eye on.

Cory Luebke | SP | San Diego Padres
Mixed: $8 | NL-only: $4 |
PECOTA SP Rank: 53 | SP ADP: 39

IP

W

ERA

WHIP

K

SV

168

9

3.77

1.24

136

0

Though I’m having difficulty finding the link at the moment, I’m pretty sure there’s not a single pitcher that appeared in this column all winter who created more controversy than Cory Luebke. Though Luebke’s half-year as a starter last season was indeed impressive, I was somewhat apprehensive about a guy who had struck out only 7.5 per nine over parts of four seasons in the minors suddenly whiffing 9.9 in the bigs—one of the most impressive marks in baseball. It’s not that I don’t like Luebke or wouldn’t consider drafting him, but my contention that he wouldn’t make a good keeper in shallower leagues was met with a decent amount of disagreement from those who fully believed in him.

In some ways, I suppose I am still expecting at least a slight regression from Luebke this year—are we really expecting him to keep that strikeout rate near ten per nine all season long?—but I am warming up to him. When a pitcher moves from the bullpen to the rotation in the middle of a season, you normally expect his strikeout rate to decline. Luebke, however, not only kept his whiff rate exactly where it was, he actually managed to decrease his walk rate to go along with it, ending up with a stellar 111/29 K/BB rate in 17 starts.

Despite getting hit hard in his most recent start on Tuesday—though it’s hard to be too critical about allowing Mike Napoli to homer twice off you—Luebke has managed to keep expectations high with a fine spring, striking out 22 against just 4 walks in 18 1/3 innings. There’s actually a chance that he’s become overvalued, considering that his ADP has been rising steadily and the Padres won’t support him with much offense, but for the PFM prices listed above, he’s a fine purchase. I’ll be happy to have been proven wrong on this one.

Erik Bedard | SP | Pittsburgh Pirates
Mixed: $8 | NL-only: $4 |
PECOTA SP Rank: 47 | SP ADP: 84

IP

W

ERA

WHIP

K

SV

126

7

3.24

1.17

125

0

Erik Bedard got off to a good start on Monday against the Orioles, throwing six shutout innings before getting hit hard in the seventh. In his previous start, he allowed eight baserunners in 3 2/3 against the Yankees. Normally, that kind of performance would be concerning, but in this case, I don’t consider it a problem. You know why? Because we’ve made it through nearly the entire spring without hearing a peep about Bedard’s health, and in his case, that’s usually all that matters.

When Bedard is healthy, he’s almost always very good, occasionally elite. He even showed that last year, striking out nearly a man per inning in 129 1/3 innings split between the Mariners and Red Sox. The kicker, of course, is that he’s rarely healthy, boasting an injury history that would take an entire article of its own to run through. That said, despite missing 31 games last year thanks to two different disabled list stints, neither absence was due to his always troublesome left arm.

Bedard has made it through an entire season without an injury layoff just once, and that was back in 2006 at age 27. Now entering his age-33 season and with years of additional injuries behind him, there’s absolutely no way that Bedard is going to last through this entire year without missing some time; it’s almost incomprehensible to think otherwise. While that may mean he’s in no position to be anyone you depend upon, it also makes him a good buy-low candidate (just look at the difference between his PECOTA SP rank and his SP ADP above). The move to the National League should only help him, so enjoy the ride while you can and have no regrets about dropping him onto your DL or simply cutting him when the time comes—which it inevitably will.

Brandon McCarthy | SP | Oakland Athletics
Mixed: $10 | AL-only: $4 |
PECOTA SP Rank: 54 | SP ADP: 56

IP

W

ERA

WHIP

K

SV

181

10

3.70

1.28

122

0

I couldn’t really pass up the opportunity to talk about one of the only four pitchers to have actually started a game that counts so far in 2012, could I? McCarthy allowed only one run over seven innings against the Mariners in Japan early Wednesday morning, striking out three without walking any. That’s about par for the course for McCarthy these days, finding success despite strikeout rates which are far from elite. That’s part of what makes McCarthy a more valuable pitcher in real life than in fantasy, because despite leading the American League in FIP last year, you can see that PECOTA and MockDraftCentral agree that he’s approximately the 55th most valuable starting pitcher in baseball.

Of course, that’s partially because McCarthy pitches in front of Oakland’s dreadful offense, which got their season off on the right foot by handing their starter a no-decision despite his solid performance. Expect a whole lot of that this year, which will explain why we’re bemoaning his inevitable 10-13 record despite potentially excellent run prevention.

Thank you for reading

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swarmee
3/29
Your dollar values are defaulted to $8 mixed and $4 only.
sam19041
3/29
Yes, very strange. Mike, Luebke sold for $15 in LABR NL-only and $18 in Tout Wars NL-Only.
grandslam28
3/29
You are so wrong about Luebke!!!!!!! Just kidding, but I do think he will be very good.
jfranco77
3/29
Isn't it strange for a player to be worth more in mixed than in an only league? I can see how it might happen once in a while, but for all 3 of these guys?
swarmee
3/29
He just forgot to type in the dollar values. The only players who have more value in mixed leagues than only leagues are the stud players (first and maybe second rounders). A $10 only league player is normally around a $1 mixed league player. In shallow non-keeper leagues, the price of the superstars is driven up a little over their only-league values since the difference between a $10 guy in the auction compared to a waiver wire guy is smaller than in only leagues, where there's almost no one of value on the waiver wire.
mpet29
3/29
The dollar values are actually correct, but I think I transposed them between mixed and AL/NL. For example, McCarthy is $10 and $4, just the opposite of how I mistakenly displayed them.
jthom17
3/30
I would expect some regression for Luebke this season -- but not near as much as PECOTA does. Putting more focus on years 2008 & 2009 for PECOTA, has made PECOTA a very unrelaible projection for 2012 in my opinion. Luebke is an example of that. Jose Batista is another. Anyone buy more SB's from Nyjer Morgan than Cameron Maybin for 2012? These are just a few -- I could name a lot more
Robotey
4/03
If that is so doesn't it seem that PECOTA doesn't account for breakthrough change in a player's performance?