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Armando Benitez Projection

Purchasers of my 2006 Fantasy Guide may have noticed that Armando Benitez is valued at just $2.39, right below Kyle Farnsworth.  Given that Benitez posted a 1.29 ERA with 47 saves in his last healthy season, what gives?  Let's take a peek under the hood and see why I've projected Benitez to have a 4.26 ERA in 2006.

To begin with, I have Benitez pitching 68 innings in '06.  It's his previously established healthy level, and he hasn't really exceeded it since 2001.

Next, let's look at his K rate.  While there are some dangerously small samples from 2003 and 2005, Benitez's strikeout rate has seen a fairly steady decline since 1999.  I've pegged it at 7.6 per nine for his age 33 season, which would be better than his '05 mark in 30 innings.  Baseball Prospectus's PECOTA system thinks Benitez will remain at 2005's 6.9 K/9 rate.  The ZiPS system went with 8.1, a rise from his 2004 mark.

Now it's time to predict Benitez's hit rate.  This is far from an exact science, but I'll do my best.  I put it at 7.4 hits per nine.  It hasn't been that high in a full season since '03, and Benitez  posted a remarkably low 4.6 per nine rate in 2004.  I'm not sure how much control he has over his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) but the .178 mark from '04 seems a tad lucky.  ZiPS says 7.4 and PECOTA went with 7.9. 

Walk rate must also be projected for us to come up with his WHIP.  2004 and maybe 2002 were the only two seasons during which Benitez had walk rates that could be considered good.  He has a 4.62 per nine career mark, and I went with 4.65.   I think he could get this down to 4.3, but I'd be surprised to see much better than that.  The field does not agree, as ZiPS said 4.0 and PECOTA 4.2.  In their defense, Benitez's career walk rate is influenced by some wildness early in his career.

My projections call for a 1.34 WHIP, versus 1.40 from PECOTA and 1.28 from ZiPS.  The range here is huge, with the most variation in the walks allowed portion.  Improved control is how Benitez would most likely prove my projection wrong.

I was pessimistic in projected his HR rate, going with 1.1 per nine.  He hasn't been that bad in a full season since '02, but Benitez did spend 2004 in a major pitchers' park.  ZiPS went with 0.90 and PECOTA predicts 1.1.

Given Benitez's salary and the weak San Francisco bullpen, it'd be a surprise to see him lose his job.  That's why I still predicted 34 saves.  According to the depth chart at The Closer Watch, we could have to endure more 9th innings in the hands of Tyler Walker if Benitez really blows up or gets hurt.   

PECOTA projects a 4.40 ERA while ZiPS is kinder with 4.03.  My final projection:

  IP    H   HR   BB   SO ERA WHIP    W    SV
  68   56    8   35    57 4.26 1.34     5    34

There's plenty of uncertainty here, but three independent systems predict an ERA over 4 for San Francisco's closer.  I'm not sure what kind of price Benitez will go for in auctions this year, but I'd have to think it will be more than $5.  He went in the 11th round of ESPN's expert mock draft, ahead of Tom Gordon, Eddie Guardado, Brian Fuentes, and Jose Valverde.  At this point in his career Benitez just doesn't look like a good fantasy investment, and I'd prefer any of those four.

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