Starters


Recent Call-Ups: Conger, Kirkman, Moore

Let's round up three recent call-ups and their fantasy impact. Two hail from the AL West, the third from the NL East.

Hank Conger | C | Angels

Had it not been for an elbow strain earlier this season, Conger would have been up a long time ago. Chris Iannetta broke his wrist in early-May and the Angels had to turn to Bobby Wilson and John Hester to replace him while their top catching prospect was out. Now that he's healthy -- and Bobby Wilson is on the 7-day concussion DL -- Conger is in the big leagues but playing second fiddle to Hester. He's only started three of eight games since being recalled, including just one of the last six. Hester's solid batting line -- .256/.333/.349 with one homer in 48 plate appearances -- is a hindrance, as is manager Mike Scioscia's affinity for defense-first catchers.

Conger, 24, is seen as an offense-first backstop with a line drive swing from both sides of the plate according to Baseball America. He has more over-the-fence power from the left side and his minor league plate discipline rates -- 14.4% strikeouts and 8.7% walks -- are evidence of his contact-oriented approach. This isn't another Mike Napoli situation but it's similar, the Angels are focused more on defense than offense behind the plate and that works against Conger. With Wilson expected back as soon as this weekend, Conger might find himself back in Triple-A. He's a fantasy non-option until we know he's going to get regular at-bats.

Michael Kirkman | RP | Rangers

The Rangers have lost Derek Holland (shoulder), Neftali Feliz (elbow), and Alexi Ogando (groin) to the disabled list in recent weeks and with Roy Oswalt still a few weeks away, they had to dip into their farm system for a replacement starter. Kirkman, 25, has 29 appearances and 48 2/3 big league innings to his credit already, but all of them have come in relief. He's worked primarily as a starter in Triple-A but his performance hasn't been anything to write home about: 5.25 ERA with 9.0 K/9 and 5.8 BB/9. The walks are a problem now and have been throughout his career based on his 4.9 BB/9 in over 600 minor league innings.

I like Kirkman -- who Baseball America ranked as the teams 28th best prospect coming into the season -- more than most because he's a four-pitch lefty with some funk and deception in his delivery. He's slated to start at home against the Astros on Saturday, making him a fine end of the week candidate if you're desperate for counting stats or need to roll the dice on someone for help in the rate categories. Kirkman might not be long for the rotation with Holland reportedly on the mend, but if he sticks around he'll pick up SP eligibility soon enough.

Tyler Moore | OF | Nationals

Bryce Harper garners all of the attention and rightfully so, but the 23-year-old Moore has two straight 30 homer seasons to his credit in the minors and tagged Triple-A pitching to the tune of .310/.372/.660 before being recalled. He hit two homers yesterday -- the first two of his big league career -- and has started three of Washington's last five games after coming off the bench for the previous month. Baseball America only ranked Moore as the team's 16th best prospect coming into the season because of his high strikeout rate (23.5% of all minor league plate appearances) and defensive shortcomings, but they do acknowledge that his right-handed pop is very real. He's totaled at least 70 extra-base hits in each of the last two minor league seasons.

With Steve Lombardozzi starting to come back to Earth a bit -- .238/.289/.333 in the last 33 team games -- Moore could see more time in left field, particularly against left-handers. He's not going to give you much average or even OBP, but Moore will hit some homers and drive in some runs if given the playing time. Keep an eye on their lineups the next few days, if Moore starts to see more and more playing time, grab him if your team is power-starved.



Jered Weaver's Back Brings Garrett Richards Back

Initially it looked like a hamstring or ankle injury, but earlier this week the Angels lost ace right-hander Jered Weaver to the disabled list with spasms and a strained muscle around a disc in his lower back. It sounds -- and looked -- pretty painful, and right now it's unclear how long he'll be out.

"Hopefully it won't be too long before he's out there pitching, but we don't know what the timetable is going to be," said manager Mike Scioscia to Mark Saxon of ESPN Los Angeles. "I think everyone believes it's going to be manageable, and hopefully it won't be too long, but we have to give him enough time ... It's significant enough where it's going to take a couple of weeks. When he's back in the rotation is when he's healthy, and when that time frame comes isn't certain."

Taking his place in the rotation will be 24-year-old right-hander Garrett Richards, who appeared in seven games (three starts) with the Halos last season. He wasn't very good in his first taste of the show, pitching to a 5.79 ERA with nearly as many walks (seven) as strikeouts (nine) in 14 innings. Richards jumped right from Double-A to the big leagues though, and early this year he was able to get some Triple-A innings under his belt to continue his develop. He's pitched to a 4.31 ERA with unimpressive strikeout (7.67 K/9) and walk (4.63 BB/9) rates in 52 1/3 innings across ten starts. I have to think the Angels would have preferred to give him more minor league time, but duty calls.

Baseball America ranked Richards as the team's third best prospect before the season, saying "a No. 3 profile is the most likely outcome" in their subscriber-only scouting report. PitchFX data available at FanGraphs corroborates their report of a legitimate mid-90s fastball with a hard, mid-80s slider and a nascent mid-80s changeup. It's the kind of stuff that makes you wonder why Richards didn't rack up more strikeouts in the minor leagues, when he posted a 7.9 K/9 and whiffed just 21.1% of the batters he faced. Most hard-throwers are up around 25% in the minors thanks to pure velocity.

Coming into the season, Dan Syzmborski's ZiPS system thought Richards was a true talent 5.48 ERA pitcher at this point of his career. That's really harsh and despite his status as one of the club's top prospects, it's very much in line with what you'd expect given his recent minor league performance. The schedule will help him a little bit in the coming weeks. Richards will start against the Mariners in a few days (the Halos took advantage of today's off day to rearrange their rotation) after throwing a perfect tune-up inning last night, then he lines up for dates against the Dodgers, Giants, and Dodgers again. One of those three games (the first Dodgers matchup) will be in an NL park. You can use him as a matchup guy if you're desperate for counting stats late in the week, but otherwise Richards is unlikely to contribute much in a standard 12-team mixed league with 5x5 scoring. Sit this one out and hope one your opponents decides to roll the dice.



Athletics Turn To Jarrod Parker For Rotation Help

Trading for prospects is nothing new for the Oakland Athletics, who turned the duo of Trevor Cahill and Gio Gonzalez into seven prospects in separate trades this past offseason. Left-hander Tommy Milone, who came from the Nationals in the Gonzalez trade, has been in the A's rotation since Opening Day. Last night he was joined by the recently recalled Jarrod Parker, who came from the Diamondbacks in the Cahill trade. Replacing the generally ineffective Graham Godfrey, Parker held the White Sox to one run in 6 1/3 innings yesterday afternoon. He struck out five and walked just one, getting 17 of his 19 outs on the infield. It was a strong if unspectacular debut.

The 23-year-old Parker came to the Athletics with some big league experience. He threw 5 2/3 scoreless innings against the Dodgers is his first (and only other) big league start last September before making Arizona's playoff roster. In his lone appearance in the NLDS against the Brewers, Parker allowed three of the four batters he faced in relief to reach base. He pitched to a 3.79 ERA in 130 2/3 innings Double-A innings before the callup, showing the typical control problems associated with recent elbow surgery; Parker walked 3.8 BB/9 in the minors last year after missing all of 2010 with Tommy John surgery. In four Triple-A starts before his callup, he struck out 21 batters and walked just six in 20 2/3 innings. The performance is there, and the scouting report backs it all up.

Baseball America has long touted Parker as a future high-end starter, ranking him no worse than 46th on their annual Top 100 Prospects List every year from 2008-12. They ranked him as the top prospect in Oakland's farm system following the trade, saying he "has true frontline-starter potential and isn't far away from reaching it" in their subscriber-only scouting report. Reports of a mid-90s four-seam fastball, low-90s team-fastball, mid-80s slider, and mid-80s changeup are corroborated by the PitchFX data from his start last September as well as yesterday afternoon. Parker generated 11 swings and misses with 99 pitches yesterday, an excellent rate even if it came against the team with the third highest strikeout rate -- 21.8% of plate appearances -- in baseball.

So what does this all mean from a fantasy perspective? For one, Parker has the stuff to miss bats and rack up strikeouts. Keeping the ball out of play is a great way to escape jams, as is playing in a huge ballpark. The Coliseum in Oakland is one of the pitcher-friendliest parks in the Majors, as is Safeco Field and Angels Stadium. Outside of the Rangers lineup and the ballpark in Arlington, it's a pretty good division for a pitcher. The only problem is that while Parker will get some help keeping his ERA and WHIP down, he won't win you many games. He's a three-category asset in a standard 5x5 scoring league.

Parker's upcoming schedule isn't all that great, so you're going to have to keep him glued to the bench if you pick him up right away. If you don't pick him up right away ... someone else will. Parker's next start will come at Fenway Park against the Red Sox, then he lines up for home dates against the Blue Jays and Tigers before going on the road to face the Rangers. If another owner in your league doesn't play the matchup  game and gets frustrated by Parker's performance against those clubs, I'd look to buy low on him in about three weeks. Other than Matt Moore, I don't think there's a more fantasy-ready pitching prospect this season than the former Diamondbacks right-hander.



Recent Call-Ups: Frazier, Pomeranz, Smyly, Wilk

Three teams have made a quartet of interesting call-ups in recent weeks, but are any of the players worthy of a spot on a fantasy roster? Let's dig in...

Todd Frazier | 3B | Reds

Frazier, 26, was Cincinnati's last roster cut before the start of the season and now he's back with the club following Miguel Cairo's hamstring injury. He's hit .261/.335/.453 in parts of four seasons at Triple-A but didn't get his first taste of the show until last year. Baseball America has considered Frazier as one of the team's ten best prospects for a half-decade now, ranking him ninth this year because of his "plus power to all fields."

The problem for Frazier and fantasy owners is playing time. He's a corner infielder and outfielder by trade, and the Reds have those spots covered with Joey Votto, Scott Rolen, and Jay Bruce. Even the unconventional left field platoon of Chris Heisey and Ryan Ludwick has no room for Frazier because like those two guys, he's a right-handed hitter. Rolen looks pretty much done - .171/.209/.244 so far - plus he isn't exactly Mr. Durable, but it will probably take an injury to get Frazier into the lineup with an regularity. Dan Szymborski's ZiPS system thinks he can hit 20 homers with 13 steals given regular at-bats in the show, but that's just not going to happen right now. Unless injury earns him a steady lineup spot, Frazier is a non-option in 12-team mixed leagues.

Drew Pomeranz | SP | Rockies

Part of last summer's Ubaldo Jimenez trade, the 23-year-old Pomeranz got his feet wet with the Rockies last September and allowed eleven runs in 18 1/3 innings across four starts. The southpaw made the team's rotation out of Spring Training, though he was sent to the minors for one start because off days allowed Colorado to avoid using their fifth starter. Pomeranz was recalled to make his first start of the season against the Diamondbacks on Sunday, allowing five runs in 4 1/3 innings.

Considered the 30th best prospect in the game before the season by Baseball America, Pomeranz has frontline stuff but must master his control to realize his potential. He walked 38 batters in 101 minor league innings last season (3.4 BB/9), but he also struck out 119 for a 10.6 K/9. Walks can be problematic when Coors Field is your home park, but the strikeouts do mitigate the risk somewhat. The NL West is also full of big-time pitcher's parks, which will help further. Pomeranz can be useful to your fantasy team if you pick and choose your spots. His next two starts are likely to come against the Brewers and Mets, but after that the Rockies run into a slate of games against the Dodgers, Braves, Padres, Dodgers (again), Giants, Diamondbacks (sans Chris Young and maybe Justin Upton), and then an interleague series with the Mariners. I'm buying Pomeranz right now, both for that short-term stretch and for the long-term upside in a keeper league.

Drew Smyly & Adam Wilk | SP | Tigers

The runners-up to Duane Below in the fifth starter's competition, both Smyly and Wilk are back in the big leagues and in Detroit's rotation. Doug Fister is on the shelf with an oblique strain and the team decided to keep Below in the bullpen after two early-season relief appearances. Smyly, 22, allowed one run in four innings to the Rays in his first start before shutting out the White Sox over six innings the second time out. The 24-year-old Wilk allowed two runs in five innings to those same ChiSox in his only start so far.

Neither Smyly or Wilk offers the same upside of Pomeranz, though Baseball America did rank Smyly as the Tigers' third best prospect before the season. Not only was Wilk much further down the list at 22, but he was also listed as a reliever. Below was 21st. Smyly is a bit of a personal fave as a true five-pitch - four-seamer, cutter, curveball, slider, changeup - left-hander with a strong but short minor league track record. He walked just 36 of the 501 batters he faced last season (7.2% and 2.6 BB/9) while striking out 130 in 126 innings (25.9% and 9.3 K/9). He also advanced three levels after being a 2010 draft pick. Smyly's next two starts are must-sits against the Rangers and Yankees, but after that the Tigers will go on to play the White Sox, Mariners, Athletics, White Sox (again), Twins, Pirates, Indians, and Twins (again). There is some definite fantasy value to be gained but matching up with Smyly over the next month.

Wilk will enjoy that same cushy schedule, but he has much less margin for error as a finesse southpaw - low-to-mid-80s fastball, curveball, change. His minor league walk rates are fantastic (1.2 BB/9 in 2011), but he doesn't miss many bats (just 6.7 K/9) and AL hitters will punish his mistakes. You might luck into a decent start or two next month, but Smyly is the better play both in terms of probability and upside. Fister suffered a bit of a setback in his rehab recently, so both Wilk and Smyly appear to have some short-term job security.



Moseley's Injury Opens The Door For Joe Wieland

Right-hander Dustin Moseley missed a big chunk of last season with an injury to his non-throwing shoulder, but the news is much worse this year. The 30-year-old suffered "extensive damage" and "changes to the labrum" in his right shoulder in his first start of the season last week according to manager Bud Black, when he allowed five runs in five innings to the Dodgers. Last night, the Padres pulled right-handed pitching prospect Joe Wieland from his start for Triple-A Tuscon after just two innings. Baseball America's J.J. Cooper confirms that Wieland was lifted from the game and told he's headed to San Diego to fill Moseley's rotation spot. As you'd expect, he was thrilled when he got the news.

The Padres have yet to confirm the move, but it appears that Wieland will make his big league debut against the Dodgers this Saturday. San Diego acquired the 22-year-old from the Rangers in the Mike Adams trade last summer, and Baseball America went on to rank him as the seventh best prospect in baseball's third best farm system. "Wieland profiles as a classic No. 4 starter, but his exquisite control suggests he could be a No. 3," wrote Matt Eddy in the subscriber-only scouting report, and he's not kidding about the exquisite control. Wieland walked just 21 batters in 155 2/3 innings last year, a 1.2 BB/9 and 3.4% of the hitters he faced. Just for some perspective, the best walk rate in the big league last year was Josh Tomlin's 3.2%. No one else was below 3.5%. 

Based on the batted ball data at First Inning, Wieland is a bit of a fly ball pitcher and that plays right into his home ballpark. He's a four-pitch guy - upper-80s/low-90s fastball, curveball, slider, changeup - with very strong strikeout rates in the minors, including an 8.7 K/9 and 24.4 K% last season. Dan Szymborski's ZiPS system thinking Wieland can muster a sub-4.00 ERA with nearly a strikeout per inning as a big leaguer this season, and that guy is rosterable in a standard 12-team mixed league with 5x5 scoring. As with any extreme strike-thrower, the risk is too many pitches in the strike zone resulting in lots of hits allowed. Hits have a way of turning into runs, though I still don't think it's crazy to expect a lower ERA than ZiPS projects given Petco Park. Wieland is certainly more usable in fantasy than Moseley, a low-strikeout ground ball guy.

Assuming he starts at Dodger Stadium this weekend, Wieland's next start would come at home against the Chase Utley and Ryan Howard-less Phillies. A date with the Nationals in Petco would follow next. That's three straight pretty favorable matchups, making Wieland a nice early-season waiver wire add. I wouldn't count on him or any Padres' hurler to provide many wins, but he's capable of a lowering your ERA and WHIP rates while chipping in a handful of strikeouts. For a spare rotation piece, those are pretty solid traits. Most fill-in types will kill the rate stats and boost the counting stats, not the other way around. 


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Braves Tab Randall Delgado As Fifth Starter

The Braves traded innings-eater Derek Lowe in the very first deal of the offseason because they felt they had the pitching depth to replace him. Even when Tim Hudson went down with a back injury, Atlanta still had the depth in place to fill his spot internally. Tommy Hanson, Jair Jurrjens, Brandon Beachy, and Mike Minor are locked into the top four rotation spots, meaning that fifth spot is going to one of the kids. Dave O'Brien of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has the news...

Delgado, 22, made seven effective starts for the Braves last summer. He pitched to a 2.83 ERA in 35 innings, but high pitch counts had him out of the game very early. Only once did he record more than 15 outs in a game despite averaging 89 pitches per start. Baseball America ranked him as the team's third best prospect behind the man he beat out for the fifth starter's job (Julio Teheran) and the presently injured Arodys Vizcaino. They also consider him to be the 46th best prospect in baseball while Keith Law is a bit more bearish; he ranked Delgado 98th. "His best offering is a plus curveball with sharp downward bite, and he also has a solid changeup," wrote Baseball America in their subscriber-only scouting report, while also acknowledging that he needs to work on commanding his 92-94 mph fastball.

Dan Syzmborski's ZiPS system isn't Delgado's biggest fan, projecting him to pitch to a 4.74 ERA with seven wins and 121 strikeouts in 29 starts (151 2/3 innings) this summer. Nothing about that makes you want to run out and add him to your fantasy roster, and truth be told it's always tough to rely on a kid pitcher in your fantasy rotation (unless his name is Matt Moore). With Hudson due back in early-May, Delgado's time in Atlanta's rotation is limited barring another injury. Remember, Jurrjens isn't exactly My. Durable. That said, Delgado can be useful for reasons beyond his control.

The Braves' early-season schedule is favorable as far as matchups are concerned. Their off-days are spaced out, so they will need their fifth starter at least three times in the first three weeks of the season. Delgado's first starts are likely to come at Houston against the lowly Astros, against the Mets at home, then at the low-offense Dodgers in Chavez Ravine. The Mets have a sneaky good lineup, so that's probably one to aoid. You can beef up your counting stats (and possibly your ERA and WHIP) by spot-starting Delgado against the Astros and Dodgers however, and matching up against subpar offenses is the best way to deploy shaky back-end starters in fantasy leagues.



Elite Prospect Updates: Moore, Trout, Harper

Elite prospects are always popular targets come draft day, and this year we have a trio of ultra-promising young players on the cusp of the big leagues and eager to help your fantasy team. To help you prepare for the early part of the season, here's the lastest news on each of those three players. Average Draft Positions come courtesy of Mock Draft Central.

Matt Moore, LHP, TB
ADP - 104

A mild oblique strain held the game's best pitching prospect back early in Spring Training, but Moore got into his first game action this week and struck out three of the six men he faced. Thanks to his new contract extension, the Rays have no salary or free agency-related reason to send the 22-year-old southpaw to Triple-A to start the season. Either Jeff Niemann or Wade Davis will be shifted to the bullpen to free up a rotation spot, with Niemann the favorite to remain a starter. A trade is always possible as well. There's enough time left in Spring Training for Moore to make four starts, which should give him plenty of time to properly stretch out and start the team's fourth or fifth game of the regular season. Oblique issues can be tricky though, and a setback would surely have him start the season on the DL.

I ranked Moore as the 43rd best starting pitcher in fantasy baseball a few weeks ago, but I like him quite a bit more than that. I can definitely see a Madison Bumgarner-type of performance coming in 2012, which means something like 13 wins, a 3.30 ERA, a 1.20 WHIP, and 8.5 K/9. Given the tough AL East competition, I would probably take the over on the ERA though.

Mike Trout, OF, LAA
ADP - 220

Injuries are a theme in this post, but in Trout's case it's an illness. The 20-year-old told Bill Plunkett of The Orange County register that he's "feeling weak and feverish with no appetite" due to a flu-like virus which has also caused him to lose ten pounds. Trout hasn't played in close to a week now, so his already long chances of making the club out of camp have been diminished further. The Angels have a logjam of outfielders and DH-types with Mark Trumbo, Bobby Abreu, Torii Hunter, Vernon Wells, and Kendrys Morales penciled into just three lineup spots (four if you're feeling generous and think Trumbo can cut it at third). Abreu and Wells are release candidates, but the latter will likely get a significant opportunity to show he's worth the $63MM left on his contract.

Trout was #59 on my list of fantasy outfielders mostly because his playing time is so uncertain. The talent is there for him to club double-digit homers with 30+ steals if given 400 plate appearances, although the high batting averages might not come right away. Fantasy owners won't benefit from Trout's above-average defense, but there's enough here to become a top ten fantasy outfielder in the near future. I just wouldn't expect it to happen this summer given the team's currect roster situation.

Bryce Harper, OF, WAS
ADP - 227

Harper has been limited by a calf issue this week, prompting him to tell Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com that he probably won't be able to make the team out of Spring Training despite his (and manager Davey Johnson's) wishes. Still just 19, Harper has five singles and two walks in 13 at-bats this spring, and he was going to really have blow the doors off the competition to have a realistic chance to make the club. There's a open spot in the outfield calling his name and GM Mike Rizzo says he's still a candidate for the roster, but I get the sense the club is content with letting the game's best power prospect get some more time in the minors rather than throw him to the big league wolves as a teenager.

I didn't rank Harper among the game's 60 best fantasy outfielders only because I find it very hard to believe a kid that young will be that productive right away. Harper has insane power, legitimate 40 homers-a-year type of power, but no teenager has ever hit even 30 homers in a season, and only twice in the last 50 years has a 20-year-old managed 30 homers (Alex Rodriguez in 1996 and Tony Conigliaro in 1965). There figures to be a point in the not too distant future when Bryce is among the game's very players (fantasy or reality), but that probably won't happen in 2012.



2012 Position Rankings: Starting Pitchers

With the position players all wrapped up, it's time to move to the mound. The steady decline in offense around the league means there are more quality starters now than anytime in the last few years. The rankings are based on standard 12-team mixed leagues with 5x5 scoring, but obviously saves are a non-issue here.

  1. Roy Halladay, PHI - The Master. Doc does it all in both reality and fantasy, providing strikeouts, wins, and innings while keeping his ERA and WHIP at near microscopic levels.
  2. Justin Verlander, DET - Will he win 24 games again? Almost certainly not. Verlander will flirt with 20 though, and his fly ball ways will keep the Miguel Cabrera-at-third base damage to a minimum.
  3. Clayton Kershaw, LAD - Still just 23, the sky is the limit for last year's NL pitching Triple Crown winner. If Kershaw shows his improved walk rate is real and not a fluke, he'll challenge Halladay's throne.
  4. Cliff Lee, PHI - A left-handed and slightly lesser version of Halladay, Lee's strikeout rate jumped to over nine-per-nine with the move to the NL last season.
  5. CC Sabathia, NYY - Few pitchers move to the AL East and get better like Sabathia has. His strikeout rate shot back up last season, and he's always got a shot at 20+ wins.
  6. Felix Hernandez, SEA - The King saw his ERA jump over a full run last season even though his underlying performance was unchanged. Continue to expect greatness.
  7. Cole Hamels, PHI - Overshadowed by the two guys ahead of him in the rotation, Hamels is entering his prime years and is poised for a huge contract push.
  8. Jered Weaver, LAA - Weaver's strikeout rate dropping back into the mid-7.0 K/9 range after one year over nine-per-nine, but he's at his peak right now and his team improved around him.
  9. Tim Lincecum, SF - It's hard to ignore the trends - three-year decline in strikeout rate and two-year decline in walk rate - but Lincecum is starting from such a high baseline that he could continue to decline and still be elite.
  10. David Price, TB - Price's underlying performance in 2011 was better than in 2010, but his ERA and win total didn't reflect the improvement. At age 26, another step forward could be coming.
  11. Dan Haren, LAA - Not facing pitchers anymore did take a bite out of Haren's strikeout total, but the more favorable park helped his homer rate and ERA. Still somehow underrated.
  12. Yovani Gallardo, MIL - The fluky low homer rate from 2010 (0.6 HR/9) returned to his career average last season (1.2 HR/9), but the long ball is the only blemish in Gallardo's game.
  13. Jon Lester, BOS - Both his strikeout and homer rate took steps back last season, but Lester is right in his prime years with a great team around him. He gets the benefit of the doubt after one off year.
  14. Zack Greinke, MIL - An early-season rib injury cost him about five starts, but otherwise his strikeout run jumped more than three whiffs per nine to 10.54 K/9. I doubt he'll ever be 2009 good again, but Greinke is still excellent.
  15. Matt Cain, SF - Remarkably consistent, Cain doesn't get a ton of strikeouts and his team doesn't always give him the most run support, but you know exactly what you'll get out of him each year.
  16. James Shields, TB - After giving up homer after homer in 2010, Shields incorporated his curveball more in 2011 to get more ground balls while keeping his strikeout and walk rates static. Sub-3.00 ERAs in the AL East are hard to sustain, however.
  17. Madison Bumgarner, SF - Still only 22, MadBum took a big step forward in the strikeout department last season while keeping his walks down. There's still more roon for growth here.
  18. Mat Latos, CIN - Despite playing in Petco Park, Latos has next to no home/road split. He'll inevitably surrender more homers in Cincinnati, but everything else makes up for it.
  19. C.J. Wilson, LAA - Moving from hitter friendly Texas to pitcher friendly Anaheim will help Wilson's performance, but facing his old mates six times a year won't.
  20. Ian Kennedy, ARI - Kennedy is an extreme fly ball pitcher who probably should have allowed a few more homers last season (0.8 HR/9), but that's pretty much the only blemish on his record.
  21. Matt Garza, CHC - It wasn't just the move to the NL that boosted Garza's performance. He starting throwing substantially more sliders and changeups, and the results were a ton more strikeouts and grounders.
  22. Anibal Sanchez, FLA - Now more than three full years out from shoulder surgery, Sanchez's strikeout rate jumped in his age 27 last year. If the Marlins' new stadium plays as big as expected, he could end up a top ten fantasy starter.
  23. Stephen Strasburg, WAS - Strasburg will be held to 160 IP or so in 2012, but his performance in 92 big league innings has been off the charts good. The upside is scary.
  24. Michael Pineda, NYY - Moving to a tougher league and tougher division will hurt his numbers, but Pineda will get a ton more run and bullpen support while fantasy owners will get more wins.
  25. Ricky Romero, TOR - Owner of the quietest sub-3.00 ERA in baseball last year, Romero has been improving his walk rate while keeping his strikeout and ground ball rates static. He just keeps getting better.
  26. Josh Beckett, BOS - The question with Beckett continues to be health. His performance was ace-like last year, but you have to count on him missing a handful of starts a year, if not more.
  27. Jordan Zimmermann, WAS - As he gets futher away from Tommy John surgery, hopefully the strikeout stuff Zimmermann showed in 2009 returns. Big time breakout potential.
  28. Gio Gonzalez, WAS - Gio has gotten better every year of his career, but moving out of the spacious Colisseum in Oakland will jack up his homer rate a bit. 
  29. Adam Wainwright, STL - A bonafide fantasy ace before Tommy John surgery, Wainwright will be back this season and will probably struggle with control like most guys a year out from elbow surgery.
  30. Yu Darvish, TEX - Everything is there for greatness, but his expected performance is completely unpredictable. I usually steer clear of international imports in year one.
  31. Daniel Hudson, ARI - Hudson traded some strikeouts for ground balls last year, which isn't a trade that helps fantasy owners. Still only 24, he needs to get back to missing bats like he did in 2010.
  32. Shaun Marcum, MIL - The big concern here is Marcum's dreadful finish to the season, which carried over into the playoffs. If that's behind him, expect another mid-3.00 ERAs and 13 or so wins.
  33. Tommy Hanson, ATL - Last year's shoulder problem and this spring's concussion make Hanson a questionable proposition, but his performance in 460.1 big league innings is tough to top.
  34. Jeremy Hellickson, TB - The peripheral stats (4.42 FIP) don't match the ERA (2.95), so Hellickson is going to have to beef up his strikeout or ground ball rate to maintain long-term success. Don't overvalue him based on the Rookie of the Year Award.
  35. Johnny Cueto, CIN - Ignore the ERA (2.31) but be conscious of the three-year decline in strikeout rate. Cueto's also good for an injury or two during the season as well.
  36. Chris Carpenter, STL - Carpenter threw a career high 237.1 IP last season at age 36, the last 30 or so with a barking elbow. There's some serious risk here.
  37. Brandon Beachy, ATL - An oblique injury sabotaged Beachy's first full season, but he still showed big time strikeout stuff and a miniscule walk rate in his 25 starts. He might be too well known to qualify as a sleeper.
  38. Max Scherzer, DET - Scherzer cut his walk rate a bit last season but gave up a ton more homers, way more than his career average. I doubt that will happen again in Comerica Park.
  39. Jaime Garcia, STL - Garcia maintained his strikeout and ground ball rates last year while cutting down on his walks, but his ERA rose nearly a full run. I expect him to finish with an ERA closer to 3.00 than 4.00.
  40. Cory Luebke, SD - Luebke's gaudy strikeout rate (9.9 K/9) was the same as both a starter (17 starts) and reliever (29 appearances) last year. He keeps the walks down and will benefit from Petco, giving him serious sleeper potential.
  41. Ervin Santana, LAA - The fourth wheel in the Halos' rotation, Santana's strikeout rate has never matched his stuff. He did improve his ground ball rate, but I can't see another sub-3.40 ERA in 2012.
  42. Ubaldo Jimenez, CLE - Ubaldo's strikeout, walk, and ground ball rates didn't budge from 2010 to 2011, but his ERA shot up nearly two full runs. He's very enigmatic, but another 4.00+ ERA would surprise me.
  43. Matt Moore, TB - The potential is drool worthy, and Moore's new contract means there is no reason for Tampa not to have him in the Opening Day rotation.
  44. Josh Johnson, FLA - It's all about health. When he's on the mound, Johnson is one of the ten best pitchers in baseball. Unfortunately he's only make 37 starts over the last two seasons.
  45. Justin Masterson, CLE - Masterson's success last year had to do with his newfound ability to neutralize lefties. He won't give you strikeouts or a great WHIP, but he's rock solid overall.
  46. Brandon Morrow, TOR - The peripherals say the ERA should be better, but we're going on close to 350 IP as a starter now. The strikeouts will be great, but Morrow can be frustrating.
  47. Scott Baker, MIN - Baker is better than he gets credit for, but he's a lock to miss time with injury each year. I could see Ian Kennedy-type numbers if he manages 33 starts.
  48. Hiroki Kuroda, NYY - I doubt he maintains a near-3.00 ERA after the move to New York, but the Yankees will help boost Kuroda's win total north of his career-high 13.
  49. Wandy Rodriguez, HOU - Wandy's performance took a bit of a hit last year, but if his strikeout rate keeps falling it's going to be hard to get value out of him. A mid-3.00 ERAs with few wins and strikeouts isn't all that great.
  50. Derek Holland, TEX - A definite breakout candidate, Holland improved his walk rate as last season progressed, his biggest bugaboo. Now the strikeout rate has to follow suit.
  51. John Danks, CHW - Now the top lefty in Chicaco, Danks has improved both his strikeout and walk rates every year since 2009. There's no reason he shouldn't get to being a 3.70 ERA guy.
  52. Jhoulys Chacin, COL - Chacin became sinker-heavy last season, leading to an increased ground ball rate but a below average strikeout rate. A balance between the two would be best.
  53. Doug Fister, DET - Don't count on a repeat of his late-season dominant following the trade. Fister allows a lot of balls to be put in play and doesn't get a ton of ground balls. Expect an ERA closer to 4.00 than 3.00.
  54. Trevor Cahill, ARI - Moving to the NL should help Cahill's strikout rate, but Chase Field will not be as kind as the Colisseum. He needs to miss more bats to boost his fantasy value.
  55. Clay Buchholz, BOS - Buchholz hasn't racked up the strikeout totals his stuff suggests he should, but the real issue in health. Back trouble limited him to just 14 starts last season.
  56. Chad Billingsley, LAD - The three-year decline in strikeout rate is scary, and control has never been Billingsley's forte. He's another guy that will leave you wanting more.
  57. Brandon McCarthy, OAK - McCarthy has gained notoriety for his use of sabermetrics to revive his career, though his strikeout and win totals won't be of much benefit to fantasy owners. Neither does his history of shoulder problems.
  58. Jonathon Niese, NYM - Niese has shown the ability to miss bats, limit walks, and get ground balls, but he's also good at getting hurt. He could really take off with good health.
  59. Gavin Floyd, CHW - Safe, reliable, and predictable. Floyd isn't great at anything but he'll do a swell job in four of the five pitching categories.
  60. Edwin Jackson, WAS - Jackson is in his prime years and has developed into a rock solid workhorse starter, but his strikeout totals don't match his stuff. Another safe option like Floyd.

Honorable Mention: Colby Lewis, Matt Harrison & Alexi Ogando, TEX; Tim Hudson, Mike Minor & Jair Jurrjens, ATL; Bud Norris, HOU; Ricky Nolasco, FLA; Homer Bailey, CIN; Ryan Vogelsong, SF; Vance Worley, PHI; Francisco Liriano, MIN; A.J. Burnett, PIT; Ivan Nova, NYY; Chris Capuano, LAD

Other Positions: Catcher, First Base, Second Base, Shortstop, Third Base, Outfield


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ADP Analysis: Overrated Starting Pitchers

Every Friday during the pre-season I will be analyzing ADP-related issues using the most recent ADP information courtesy of Mock Draft Central and other sources. We start this week by looking at pitchers that are overrated in relation to their ADP positions (don't trade an "overrated" top tier starter appearing on this list for Chris Volstad, unless it is because you have a fanboy mancrush on Theo Epstein), and the upcoming schedule will be:

  • Friday, January 27 - Underrated starting pitchers.
  • Friday, February 3 - Overrated hitters.
  • Friday, February 10 - Underrated hitters.
  • Friday, February 17 - Comparing ADP variances from different sources or other requests from the comments.

Leave any other ADP-related requests in the comments, and I will try to add as many as possible to the pre-season schedule. Here we go with the overrated pitchers (unless stated otherwise, all stat references are for the 2011 season):

  • Any starter in the top 15 overall (Justin Verlander is at ADP 8, Clayton Kershaw at ADP 13 and Roy Halladay at ADP 15) - As I discussed here, I am in favor of drafting a starter in rounds 2 or 3 because a 200-inning starter will have about 13% of your total innings (assuming 1500 inning limit) and a 600 at-bat hitter will have about 7% of your at-bats. I want to lock in 13% of my innings with quality stats since I have flexibility to find cumulative hitting statistics elsewhere, including by streaming at-bats. However, taking a pitcher in the top 15 is too early in this newfound era of the pitcher. I am taking Joey Votto (ADP 10), Evan Longoria (ADP 12), or Prince Fielder (ADP 16) before a starter.
  • The First Five Closers Off The Board - Also as I discussed here, do not be the owner starting closer runs in your draft, you are only chasing one category (an elite set-up reliver can get you similar non-saves stats 50-150 picks later, or off the waiver wire). I do not care if the first five are Craig Kimbrel, Jonathan Papelbon, Ricky Vaughn (where can I buy the Dorn jersey shown in that link?), or the late great Rod Beck's Des Moines center field RV, resist the urge to take a top closer! This urge will grow if top closers begin falling in your draft, but since we are only chasing one category (saves totals, which are about as predicable as throwing darts against a spinning dart board while blindfolded) the value of closers is relative to where others are being drafted. Craig Kimbrel (current ADP 54) does not increase in value falling to the eighth or ninth round if no other closers are being drafted. Ignore ADP slots or draft sheets, and just try to target getting three out of the thirty closers wherever they are being drafted. I do not believe that any owner should punt saves, just saying getting any three is fine. We will see next week that the bottom tier closers are underrated - wait on drafting closers and then pounce in rounds 11 through 18 to make sure you get three.
  • Jeremy Hellickson (ADP 131) - Among qualified starters, he had the lowest BABIP in MLB last year (.223) and had the highest differential (1.83) between SIERA on the high end (4.78) and ERA on the low end (2.95). He also has a measly 1.63 K/BB rate. And he pitches in the AL East. I'd rather have Anibal Sanchez (ADP 132, 3.29 SIERA), Max Scherzer (ADP 147, 3.63 SIERA with a 3.11 K/BB), or Shaun Marcum (ADP 154, NL Central starter, 3.91 SIERA) or Brandon Morrow (185 ADP, 3.31 SIERA, 10.19 K/9 (!)).
  • Jered Weaver (ADP 31) - 2.41 ERA masked 3.67 SIERA and 3.80 xFIP. His hr/f dropped from 8% each year from 2008 through 2010 to 6% in 2011, and was carried by an insane 3% in the first half of 2011 (10% second half of 2011). Expect regression. Give me instead Zack Greinke (ADP 51, more on this stud sleeper to follow in later posts) or teammate Dan Haren (ADP 39, 3.34 SIERA). Does this mean that if Weaver and Zack Greinke are sitting on the board at 31 that you should take Zack Greinke? The answer is, as George Lucas would have Darth Vader say (or as George Lucas would stupidly remix years later over the audio of your draft), NOOOOOOOOOOOO! It means that you take a hitter, wait a round, and still get a superior pitcher in Zack Greinke to the one you were going to take at 31 in Jared Weaver.
  • Mark Buehrle (ADP 275) - 4.38 SIERA and 4.78 k/9. I prefer the upside of Jon Niese (ADP 279, 7.89 k/9, 3.42 SIERA) or Mike Minor (ADP 296, 3.76 SIERA) instead.
  • Ian Kennedy (ADP 70) - 3.44 SIERA, and the 21 wins will cause owners to overreach. Not saying just yet I would take Madison Bumgarner (ADP 74, 3.18 SIERA) or Daniel Hudson (ADP 78) over Kennedy, but I would rather wait on my No. 2 or a high-end No. 3 starter to get one of these two a round later.

As a bonus, like seeing the Avengers teaser at the end of the Captain America credits (yes, I was one of the five or so nerds in the theater opening weekend that knew it was coming and forced my girlfriend to sit through five minutes of credits), here is a guy that seems like he would be overrated but is being drafted at about his correct slot:

  • Stephen Strasburg (ADP 58) - He will put up sick numbers for 160 innings, and then you can round out the other forty innings or so with bantha fodder set-up men from the waiver wire. I love taking him before the next two starters on the ADP list (Matt Cain at 65 and James Shields at 66). Nab him in the fifth round if he is available, particularly if you have not drafted a starter yet.



30 Starting Pitchers To Watch

Last year our list of 25 starting pitchers to watch included Francisco Liriano, Mat Latos, Phil Hughes, Max Scherzer, Ervin Santana, Colby Lewis, and Ian Kennedy.  Our criteria was that the pitcher had to have been going in the 13th round or later in a 12-team mixed league at the time of writing, which was March 17th.  Note that this filter removes Dan Hudson, Ricky Romero, Wandy Rodriguez, Brandon Morrow, Colby Lewis, and Neftali Feliz.  Anyway, how about some names for 2011?

  • Josh Beckett, Red Sox.  You have to like Beckett in the 16th round; his SIERA was 3.84 last year and he's backed by a good offense.  If his control returns and his HR/flyball and BABIP come down, I don't see why another '07 or '09 is out of reach.
  • Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals.  He managed to give up eight home runs in 31 innings last year after coming back from August '09 Tommy John surgery.  Otherwise the numbers looked good, and Zimmermann is back to being the intriguing pitcher he was after his '09 rookie season.
  • Hiroki Kuroda, Dodgers.  Not an exciting name, and you worry about him reaching 190 innings again, but the numbers were fantastic across the board last year.
  • Ted Lilly, Dodgers.  He's homer-prone, but still keeps the WHIP down and gets Ks.
  • Mike Minor, Braves.  I can envision an ERA under 4.00 with a strong K rate, if he gets the fifth starter job.
  • Bud Norris, Astros.  We did some cherry-picking with Norris last month; he had an intriguing 13-start stretch last year.
  • Homer Bailey, Reds.  Not unlike Norris, there were injury issues but you can cherry-pick a very interesting stretch from his '10 season.  Post-hype sleeper.
  • Jeremy Hellickson, Rays.  You might have to spring for him in the 13th or 14th round, but even with 185 innings I see big things.
  • James Shields, Rays.  He had a 3.57 SIERA, and has a lot in common with Beckett in terms of their 2010 seasons.
  • Edwin Jackson, White Sox.  Very strong 75 inning stint with the White Sox; maybe Don Cooper showed him something.
  • Ian Kennedy, Diamondbacks.  He'll give up some home runs, but still has value in most categories.
  • Brett Anderson, Athletics.  Aside from the injury concern, I didn't like the dip in Anderson's K rate.  You can probably find safer choices, but maybe he'll slip a few rounds in your league.
  • C.J. Wilson, Rangers.  Won't help your WHIP but could whiff 180.
  • Phil Coke, Tigers.  He will need to find a way to get righties out.
  • Jake Peavy, White Sox.  One of many health gambles worth taking late.
  • Javier Vazquez, Marlins.  He doesn't need to be the Vazquez of '09 to provide value.
  • Brian Matusz, Orioles.  We've seen the cherry-picking, though the hype is starting to grow.
  • James McDonald, Pirates.  Might be homer-prone, but will have a long leash in Pittsburgh and may at least give you Ks.
  • Ricky Nolasco, Marlins.  The ERA has to catch back up one of these years...interesting peripheral kings Nolasco and Vazquez are in the same rotation.
  • Jonathan Sanchez, Giants.  Another example of sacrificing WHIP for Ks.
  • Phil Hughes, Yankees.  I can see another step forward here.
  • Brett Myers, Astros.  File him under boring but useful.
  • Gio Gonzalez, Athletics.  Can provide Ks, gets groundballs, walks too many.
  • John Lackey, Red Sox.  Finished strong, and could be a good pick if he does better against lefties.
  • Jhoulys Chacin, Rockies.  Big-time strikeout numbers as a rookie; needs to find-tune the control.
  • Madison Bumgarner, Giants.  I can see a better K rate this year.
  • Gavin Floyd, White Sox.  Had the best groundball rate of his career last year.
  • Jorge de la Rosa, Rockies.  See Chacin, Sanchez, Wilson, Gonzalez.
  • Erik Bedard, Mariners.  Who knows if guys like Bedard and Brandon Webb will hold up, but the risk is tiny.
  • Travis Wood, Reds.  Might be homer-prone, but the ratios should be helpful.
  • This list isn't meant to be comprehensive - there are at least a dozen more undrafted starters to monitor closely for mixed leagues.  Let me know who you like in the comments.


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