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Prospect Prospectin': Don't Make Me Hit a Pitch

I’m going to talk about two young pitchers in this week’s PP’in: Tyler Skaggs and Michael Wacha. Both are highly touted prospects and worth taking a chance on in basically every league -- especially keeper leagues -- so go for it. But both are big risks because of their age. It’s a fact: pitchers take more time to adapt to the bigs than hitters. Let’s check out the rookie seasons of the pitchers with the best three ERAs of any live ball era pitchers who have pitched more than 1,000 innings:

Clayton Kershaw (yes, he has the best career ERA of anyone who has pitched 1000+ innings):

107.2 IP, 4.26 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 8.36 K/9

Sandy Koufax (I combined his first two seasons):

100.1 IP, 4.13 ERA, 1.55 WHIP, 5.38 K/9

Bob Gibson:

75.2 IP, 3.33 ERA, 1.53 WHIP, 5.71 K/9

They all had control issues across the board. So the question is: why do we fantasy baseballers expect so much of young pitchers, when literally the greatest pitchers of all-time struggled when they first came up?  We shouldn’t. Matt Harvey and Chris Sale are the exceptions to the rule. Even Matt Moore, who was ranked side-by-side with Trout and Harper before 2012, struggled mightily with his control last year and failed to live up to our Harmon-Killebrew-pop-up-high expectations.  So I want to talk about Wacha and Skaggs, and I’m as excited about them as the next baseball-obsessed fan, but I urge you to temper your expectations. And if you’re choosing between rostering one of these guys and, say, a young stud hitter like Profar, Myers, or even Zunino or Yelich -- I’d always go with the hitter, especially in re-draft leagues.

Wacha Back

Michael Wacha

The Cardinals have the best farm system in baseball, and the mark Dave Duncan left on their young pitchers is indelible (before he left, he told Shelby Miller, “if anyone tries to change your two-seamer, call me”).  Wacha is the latest young Cardinal arm to be called up to fill the void left by Carpenter/Garcia/Westbrook/Gast. Wacha was fantastic during spring training and has been killing it on Triple-A to the tune of 4 - 0 with a 2.05 ERA and 0.95 WHIP. But the major red flag against Wacha (other than the fact he’s only a year out of college, obviously) is that he only has been striking guys out a clip of 5.81 K/9 rate. That’s not good. He has a plus-fastball and solid changeup, but his curveball needs some work (although he’s not afraid to throw it). He’s still worth taking a flyer on, but I’d only trot him out there against sub-.500 teams for a month or so to see how he fares... Remember, he only has 60 professional innings under his belt -- and he’s no Bob Gibson.

Skagg Reflex

Tyler Skaggs

Skaggs made his 2013 debut on Monday against the tough Rangers lineup, and absolutely dominated: 6 IP, 9 K’s, O ER, 6 baserunners.  Before the season began, many experts thought that Patrick Corbin would lose out on the rotation spot battle to Skaggs, the more highly-touted of the two. But Corbin has perhaps been the biggest surprise in baseball this year and isn’t going anywhere. Skaggs was called up to start a doubleheader, but showed that he’s ready to take the big step to the bigs after struggling during his cup of coffee last year. It’s only a matter of time before Skaggs will be up in the rotation on a more permanent basis, so he’s worth a stash if you have the room, especially in NL-only leagues.

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