April 2010

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Deceptive First/Second Half Splits

A few weeks ago a reader asked me if I was concerned about Dan Haren's second half decline.  After all, Haren posted a 2.01 ERA in the first half and a 4.62 mark in the second.

I set out to check Haren's splits, and quickly found that he was strong for the season's first four months but had ERAs near 5.00 in the final two.  So now our concern is over a 12-start span.

Then I checked Haren's splits at FanGraphs.  FanGraphs gives you a pitcher's peripherals, BABIPs, and xFIPs by month.  This is an excellent development for fantasy leaguers.  Haren's August featured a 4.86 K/BB.  Typically excellent control, slight dip in strikeout rate but not a source of concern.  His problem was allowing eight home runs in those six starts.  I'd consider that a fluke.  XFIP normalizes a pitcher's home run per flyball percentage, and that showed a 3.64 ERA for August compared to his actual 4.95 mark.

In September/October, Haren was bitten by BABIP instead of HR/flyball.  His peripherals were sharp, but his BABIP was .352, leading to a 4.79 ERA.  His xFIP was 2.96.

So all this second half Haren concern really just boiled down to four extra homers in August and more hits dropping in in September/October.  With samples that small, I can't muster concern for Haren's 2010 second half.  Maybe he really will struggle in the second half for some reason, but his 2009 numbers didn't predict it.  I encourage you to go month by month, especially for pitchers, and see if there really was a problem.

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Five for Friday: Young Starting Pitchers

Finding reliable pitching for your fantasy team is always a challenge. As a result, it always helps to monitor a few extra arms for when the inevitable injuries strike. Below, we've listed five young starters (rookies or sophomores) that could provide short- or long-term fixes to your rotation in 2010.

Brian Matusz (38% owned): One of the top college pitchers when he was drafted by the Orioles in 2008, Matusz flew through the minors and reached the Majors in his first full pro season in '09. The southpaw has an advanced feel for pitching, as well as a four-pitch mix. In eight big league starts, he showed good control with a walk rate of 2.82 BB/9 and he also has strikeout potential after posting a rate of 7.88 K/9. On the downside, wins could be hard to come by in Baltimore and he needs to make improvements in his ground-ball rate (31.2%).

Wade Davis (19%): Despite an off spring, Davis beat out Andy Sonnanstine for the final spot in the Rays rotation. The right-hander posted a 3.72 ERA in six big league starts in '09; his 2.90 FIP suggests that he was even better than a first glance at his stats would suggest. Davis also showed a strikeout ability with a rate of 8.92 K/9. Playing for the Rays should also afford him plenty of wins. Davis relies heavily on his fastball/curveball combination and an improvement in either his slider or change-up could help him take that next step forward.

Jonathon Niese (3%): Just 23, Niese is poised to step into the back of the Mets rotation. The southpaw's strikeout rates have suffered a bit at triple-A, as well as the Majors, so he may not be a big strikeout guy (6.31 K/9 in five MLB starts in '09). Niese probably won't win a lot of games playing for the Mets, either, unless the team surprises a lot of people. With that said, starting pitching depth is not a strength of the organization so this pitching prospect should have plenty of opportunity to prove himself in 2010.

David Hernandez (0%): Nobody is jumping on the Hernandez train just yet. It's probably because of the fact that he posted a 5.42 ERA and a W-L record of 4-10 in 20 MLB games (19 starts) in his rookie season of '09. In fact, his 6.61 FIP suggests that the Baltimore defense actually helped him out a fair bit. In fairness, though, a lot of pitchers struggle with their first taste of big league action. Hernandez has looked great this spring and he also has a habit of posting excellent strikeout numbers in the minor leagues (12.40 K/9 in 11 triple-A starts in '09). Add in the fact that he's durable and has the chance to provide innings, and you have yourself a sleeper.

Travis Wood (0%): This young pitcher has benefited from Aroldis Chapman's back injury, which has prevented the Cuban from breaking camp with the big league club. Wood also appears poised to beat out '09 No. 1 draft pick Mike Leake for the final rotation spot (in part because Wood is on the 40-man roster and Leake is not). Just 23, Wood took a big step forward in '09 due to an improvement in his control. The southpaw also showed his durability by pitching 167.2 innings between double-A and triple-A. 

Honorable Mention - Neftali Feliz (81%): A lot of fantasy owners have already jumped on Feliz this season so you'll be lucky to find him available in your league. Feliz has made the 25-man Opening Day roster but he'll start the season in the bullpen. However, his long-term position should be at the top of the Rangers' starting rotation.

*Ownership numbers from Yahoo Fantasy Baseball

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NFBC Draft Results

I drafted a team in an online NFBC mixed league recently.  I had the first overall pick; here's my team by round:

  1. Albert Pujols
  2. Mark Reynolds
  3. Grady Sizemore
  4. Matt Wieters
  5. Carlos Lee
  6. Gordon Beckham
  7. Shin-Soo Choo
  8. Hunter Pence
  9. Jake Peavy
  10. Geovany Soto
  11. James Shields
  12. Ryan Dempster
  13. Chad Qualls
  14. Erick Aybar
  15. Garrett Jones
  16. Matt Capps
  17. Kelly Johnson
  18. Ben Sheets
  19. Matt Lindstrom
  20. Aaron Harang
  21. Travis Snider
  22. Colby Lewis
  23. Cameron Maybin
  24. Clint Barmes
  25. Kevin Gregg
  26. Jason Hammel
  27. Seth Smith
  28. Travis Hafner
  29. Matt Guerrier
  30. Brian Bruney

Getting the opportunity to draft Pujols came with the typical pain of having to wait 23 turns between picks.  With plenty of participants taking the full minute and thirty seconds, and a seven-man bench (?), this thing dragged on for four hours.  Note that this league doesn't allow trades, so building up a surplus in one area isn't too helpful.

Despite drafting in a different spot, I managed to draft a dozen of the same players I chose in the RotoAuthority league: Reynolds, Carlos Lee, Beckham, Pence, Soto, Dempster, Qualls, Garrett Jones, Capps, Lindstrom, Hammel, and Lewis.  I again crafted a shaky starting rotation, and with this league I'll have to employ my FAAB budget to pick up the right starters.  This year I aimed to leave drafts happy with my offense, and I accomplished that.  I've grabbed Bruney in a few leagues, in the event Capps doesn't work out.

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