Archive for February, 2009

Wednesday: 02.18.2009

The 2008 MRM in Review

On the heels of the 2009 list of Middle Relievers, I wanted to show how last year’s list fared. Before that, let me address a few things that came across via comments, email and over at the message board I frequent (Rotojunkie.com):

Rafael Soriano was a miss on the list. He’s a huge injury risk, but undoubtedly talented and belongs near the top of the GOLD MINING list. He can strikeout over a batter per inning and has the ability to close if he stays on the field and Mike Gonzalez doesn’t work out.

J.A. Happ and Scott Downs were both brought up separately and the reason they didn’t make the list is because I was under the impression that both would be vying for rotation spots. If they fail to lock down rotation spots, they are viable candidates for MRM, especially Downs with his back-to-back successful seasons out of the ‘pen.

To Dan Lowe, thanks for your great comments. I did include Bob Howry in the FLIERS category as his skills far classed the numbers he yielded. He is still worth a look, even at 35. David Riske has logged a K rate better than 6.0 just once since 2004 and a 2.0 K:BB rate once since 2005. He showed the ability to be an elite MR back in Cleveland, but it’s been awhile. Finally, excellent find on the Burton tidbit in that Baseball Analysts article. I didn’t think my mancrush for him could get any higher, but it just did!!

To the several emailers, I know the Joey Devine is penciled in as the closer on several depth charts, but there is no guarantee that Brad Ziegler doesn’t earn that job come Opening Day. Speaking of Ziegs, the reason he didn’t make any of the lists is because of his 4.5 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9. Not too appetizing, though the 60 IP sample is hardly massive. He hasn’t really blown batters away in the minors either.

Now, the 2008 list in review and some examples of how the method works from those that made the list:

• Diamonds in the Rough (these are the guys most likely to be the next Betancourts and Broxtons):
o 1 Rafael Perez, CLE – AWESOME
o 2 Justin Miller, FLA – FLAMED OUT THANKS TO INJURY
o 3 Matt Guerrier, MIN – 2ND HALF MELTDOWN
o 4 Jensen Lewis, CLE – CLOSED FOR AWHILE–13 SV
o 5 Santiago Casilla, OAK – 2ND HALF MELTDOWN THANKS TO INJURY
o 6 Michael Wuertz, CHC – OK, BUT INNINGS CUT DRASTICALLY
o 7 Juan Cruz, ARI – SUSTAINED 12 K/9; OVERCAME 5.4 BB/9 FOR 2.61 ERA
o 8 Matt Lindstrom, FLA – K/9 DROP, BUT STRONG 2ND HALF EARNED CL JOB
o 9 Brandon Morrow, SEA – AWESOME
o 10 Taylor Tankersley, FLA – DONE AFTER 18 IP
o 11 Tony Pena, ARI – STRONG BB GAINS FROM ’07, MIDDLING K RATE
o 12 Joel Peralta, KC – AWFUL
o 13 Chris Schroder, WAS – SENT DOWN EARLY FOR GOOD
o 14 Jimmy Gobble, KC – OBLITERATED
o 15 Bobby Seay, DET – DECENT IN EXPANDED ROLE THANKS TO 9.3 K/9
o 16 Joe Smith, NYM – MASSIVE GB & STRONG K HELD ALL YEAR
o 17 Andrew Brown, OAK – WEAK SKILLS, WEAKER BODY
o 18 Manny Delcarmen, BOS – AWESOME
o 19 Pedro Feliciano, NYM – SPURRED NYM COLLAPSE; AWFUL V. RIGHTIES
o 20 Mark McLemore, HOU – DNP IN MAJORS
o 21 Justin Speier, LAA – SHARP LOSSES IN K & BB RATES BROUGHT 5 ERA
o 22 Tim Byrdak, DET – BB RATE TOO HIGH; RIGHTIES MASHED HIM
o 23 Kevin Cameron, SD – JUST 10 IP; FLIER POTENTIAL IN OAK?
o 24 John Bale, KC – JUST 27 IP
o 25 Peter Moylan, ATL – INJURED EARLY, COULD BE READY OPENING DAY

• The Known Commodities (these guys are the premier middle relief aces as well as the steady, unheralded relievers :
o 1 Jonathan Broxton – BRILLIANT-FULL TIME CLOSER NOW
o 2 Rafael Betancourt – BUST EARLY, STABLE IN 2ND HALF
o 3 Carlos Marmol – BRILLIANT-MADE 2K9 LIST JUST IN CASE
o 4 Joba Chamberlain – BRILLIANT-FULL TIME STARTER NOW
o 5 Heath Bell – STRONG AGAIN THOUGH 2ND HALF FADE; HOFFMAN HEIR
o 6 Scot Shields – VERY GOOD, MADE 2K9 LIST
o 7 Aaron Heilman – BIG K SPIKE BROUGHT BIGGER BB SPIKE, TROUBLE ENSUED
o 8 Pat Neshek – LOST ’08 AFTER 13 IP; GONE TIL ’10
o 9 Dan Wheeler – VERY GOOD-MADE 2K9 LIST
o 10 Hideki Okajima – VERY GOOD-MADE 2K9 LIST
o 11 Chad Qualls – BRILLIANT-FULL TIME CLOSER NOW
o 12 Joaquin Benoit – NOT 100% IN ’08-MISSING AT LEAST HALF OF ’09
o 13 Scott Proctor – WORKLOAD CAUGHT UP; NOW IN FLORIDA-AVOID
o 14 Bob Howry – ERA & WHIP DECEIVE-PERIPHS SAY BUY IN ’09 DESPITE AGE
o 15 Fernando Rodney – PRETTY BAD; 13 SV ALLEVIATES PAIN OF 6.7 BB/9
o 16 Derrick Turnbow – LOST ’08 AFTER 6 IP; MOVE TO TEX FRIGHTENS
o 17 Octavio Dotel – STILL DOMINANT; WORTH ELEVATED ERA
o 18 Damaso Marte – TALE OF 2 HALVES; STILL VIABLE AT 34
o 19 Jeremy Accardo – LOST ’08 AFTER 12 IP; ’07 AN OUTLIER FOR NOW
o 20 Al Reyes – SQUEEZED OUT OF ELITE TB PEN; TURNS 102 IN ’09

• I’ll close with a few DEEEEEP sleepers:
o Kerry Wood, CHC – HUGE PAYOFF AS DOMINANT CLOSER
o Edwar Ramirez, NYY – SOLID ’08-A FAVORITE FOR ’09
o Renyel Pinto, FLA – NOTHING TERRIBLY SPECIAL
o Vinnie Chulk, SF – A 4.5 K/9 RENDERED HIM USELESS IN ’08
o Wil Ledezma, SD – LEFT SD, NOT MUCH ELSE TO SAY
o Jack Taschner, SF – DROPPED NEARLY 2 K/9-DIMINISHING ROLE IN SF
o Jon Coutlangus, CIN – DIDN’T GET TO ’08 MAJORS
o Guillermo Mota, MIL – SOMEWHAT USABLE IN ’08, BUT 35 IN ’09
o Lenny DiNardo, OAK – 23 WORTHLESS IP IN ’08
o Zach Miner, DET – BECAME OK STARTER, BUT K RATE WAS AWFUL
o Tyler Yates, ATL – K AND BB RATES TANKED YET ERA DROPPED
o David Aardsma, CHW – MADE 2K9 LIST AS A SLEEPER
o Royce Ring, ATL – WORTHLESS IN 22 IP

Here are some examples of the method in practice from 2008′s list:

o Hong-Chih Kuo, Juan Cruz and Manny Delcarmen:
o 205 IP
o 10 W
o 3 SV
o 2.67 ERA
o 1.12 WHIP
o 239 K

o Kerry Wood, Edwar Ramirez and Reynel Pinto:
o 186 IP
o 12 W
o 35 SV
o 2.67 ERA
o 1.12 WHIP
o 239 K

o Rafael Perez, Justin Miller and Matt Guerrier:
o 199 IP
o 14 W
o 3 SV
o 4.35 ERA
o 1.40 WHIP
o 188 K

Tuesday: 02.17.2009

2009 Guide to Middle Reliever Methodology

It’s time for 2009 Guide to the Middle Reliever Methodology. A quick refresher on the idea of MRM for the uninitiated—the goal is to acquire three dirt-cheap middle relievers who in turn will net you the stats of an elite starting pitcher. From my experiences, it is best employed in single league auctions. That doesn’t mean that it can’t be done in mixed league drafts and auctions, especially deep ones, just that I find it most effective in SLAs. This strategy seems to gain traction yearly with more and more fantasy magazines and online draft kits dedicating a portion to middle relievers. Of course they often identify the elite middle relievers. The idea is to find the next elite reliever since the whole goal is to save money in the budget for more hitting*.

(*I’m saving it for hitting, you may choose to invest it in a higher priced ace starter or closer.)

I won’t gloss over the elite of middle relievers in my list, but I hope to highlight the up & comers so that you have a deep list in case other owners choose to utilize the MRM for their teams as well. Not only that, but some of us will invariably end up in leagues where the bulk of middle relievers are ignored or severely undervalued. I’d hate to assume that every league was going to bid up the top ones and leave you empty-handed when they finally do come available on the cheap.

VOLUME

When you’re constructing your three-pack of relievers, you need to keep an eye on their innings totals from the past couple of seasons. Some guys have very appetizing strikeout and walk rates, but are used in a very limited capacity (30-40 IP) and thus should be counted only as your third guy, if at all, unless you are predicting an increased role for 2009. This year has greater balance in workload among the relief corps. In 2007, three non-closing relievers that managed 90+ innings of relief work while nobody reached that threshold in 2008. There were, however, nine that topped 80 and 31 more that topped 70.

THE LIST

I took the top 200 relievers based on innings pitched and began paring it down through a series of filters. First, obviously, was eliminating closers. From there, I applied a strikeouts-per-nine filter of 6.5. Last year the figure was 7.0, but I let a couple of special cases in at the 6.5 because I believe they will be valuable in 2009. Finally, a strikeout-to-walk ratio filter was applied to determine who made the next level before final cuts. I took the generally accepted 2.0 mark because the only ones treading that fine line had big K rates. The two 6.5 K rates both topped 3.0 in their K:BB rate. I settled upon the final list after a cutting a handful of players that met the filters due to injury, age, role and fluke factor. When dealing with such small samples, flukey seasons will come about rather regularly in the reliever ranks. That volatility is another reason why you don’t want to have too much money locked up into these guys so you can cut bait if things aren’t working out as the season progresses. And so here it is, the 2009 Middle Reliever Methodology List:

WHO’S NEXT?

Here are three small-sample strikeout studs that you should keep on your radar:
1. Mitch Stetter, 27 years old, Milwaukee Brewers – He made the most of his 25 innings last year as he struck out 31 batters, good for an 11.0 K/9. Unfortunately, he also walked 19 (6.8 BB/9). In his 312 minor league innings, he has a 9.1 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9. He could easily earn a big league spot in camp.

2. Garrett Mock, 25, Washington Nationals – Their depth charts lists like 817 pitchers, which calls to mind the old adage, “If you have 817 pitchers, you don’t have any…” I may’ve paraphrased a bit, but the point stands that the bullpen is wide open in D.C. Mock struck out 26 in 29 relief innings and 46 total batters in 41 innings that includes his three starts. On the surface, his 2.0 K:BB meets the baseline we’re looking for, but when it comes on a 10.1 K/9 rate, it’s a bit less impressive. His walk rate was half that over 569 minor league innings though his K rate was decidedly less at 7.7, too. Either way, he’s got a live arm and real shot at coming north in April.

3. David Robertson, 23, New York Yankees – The Yankees might have settled their pen enough with some emerging talent from the minors and the use of extra starting pitchers leaving no spot for Robertson out of the gate in 2009. However, there is no doubt that his 36 strikeouts in 30 innings (10.7 K/9) caught the eye of the Yankee brass. Though still quite green, he hasn’t posted a K rate below 10 at any stop in the minors posting a very impressive 12.4 K/9 over 138 innings spanning 2007 and 2008. Despite the impressive K total in his cup of coffee, he was knocked around to the tune of a 1.45 WHIP which yielded a 5.34 ERA. He made need more seasoning in AAA, but a midseason call up when reinforcements are needed in the pen should be in his future.

NON-STARTING STARTERS

Here are three guys that have come up as starting pitchers, but may be forced to the bullpen due to filled rotations:
1. Justin Masterson, 23 years old, Boston Red Sox – Though he managed a sub-4.00 ERA in nine starts, it wasn’t until he moved to the pen that he began posting a respectable K:BB ratio. He gained an extra strikeout per nine up 7.6 while shaving over a full walk down to 3.1. Mixing that newfound success with a killer groundball rate netted him a 2.36 ERA in 34 innings of relief. By my count, Masterson needs at least four failures before entering the rotation.

2. Scott Elbert, 23, Los Angeles Dodgers
– Making the jump from AA, Elbert brings a live arm to the majors. Unfortunately, it has yet to show any sustained control and thus if he expects to stick with the club in April, it’ll have to be out of the bullpen where his 5.0 BB/9 will do less damage. If the Dodgers do decide to hold him for their bullpen, a good comparison would be Seattle’s Brandon Morrow. He posted 9.9 K/9 and 5.1 BB/9 rates in the minors before joining the M’s and posting nearly the exact same figures (he actually raised the BB/9 to 5.9). Morrow has flourished though with a 3.73 ERA in his 128 innings.

3. James McDonald, 24, Los Angeles Dodgers – I’d be willing to bet that the Dodgers are only interested in keeping one of their youngsters up and in the bullpen. If that’s the case, I’d have to give the nod to the more polished McDonald. He has experience at AAA and he hasn’t displayed any of the same huge control woes that plague Elbert. Another potential scenario is that McDonald wins the 5th spot and Elbert stays on in the bullpen. After all, how tough could it be to oust Jason Schmidt, Shawn Estes and Eric Stults?

THE ELITE

This is the cream of the middle reliever crop as I see it. These are the guys that will likely cost you the most to acquire as just about everyone recognizes their value. In the cases where your league fails to, jump at the chance to get them at a discount:
1. Carlos Marmol, 26 years old, Chicago Cubs – We already have some controversy as Marmol could very well end up as the Cubs’ fulltime closer with Kevin Gregg setting him up, but a better than 4.0 walk rate and massive flyball ratio fuel doubt about 9th inning potential.

2. J.J. Putz, 32, New York Mets – A former ace closer, his ugly 5.5 BB/9 is skewed by an odd, injury-riddled first half. He now joins the Mets to set up Francisco Rodriguez and will likely draw the attention of many K-Rod owners in a handcuff situation. If he’s left alone, pounce.

3. Jon Rauch, 30, Arizona Diamondbacks – Chad Qualls seems to have a lock on the closer spot leaving Rauch to slink back into his role as stud middle reliever. He has excelled there now for three years and there is little to indicate that 2009 can’t become his fourth. The second half meltdown didn’t result in an overwhelming shift of skills. He walked 3.1, but that was merely a correction on his first half 1.3 rate; he was bit by dastardly hit and strand rates.

4. Rafael Perez, 27, Cleveland Indians – He ranked fourth on my list last year that used a formula based on ERA, K:BB and K/9. He also ranked first on my Diamonds in the Rough and he didn’t disappoint. He traded half of a walk (up to 2.7) for almost a full strikeout per nine (up to 10.1) on his way to a 3.54 ERA and 1.18 WHIP. This elite groundballer isn’t pigeonholed into a lefty specialist because righties struggle against him, too. If Wood falters, Perez should become the closer.

5. J.P. Howell, 26, Tampa Bay Rays
– Enjoyed his first of what could be many Shieldsian seasons as he logged a boatload of innings (89) with great rates (2.22 ERA/1.13 WHIP), a ton of strikeouts (92) and a handful of both wins (6) and saves (3). A walk rate approaching 4.0 could yield a boost in ERA, but even a low-3.00s ERA keeps Howell in studsville. No closer in TB leaves a 15+ save upside.

6. Hong-Chih Kuo, 27, Los Angeles Dodgers
– In 80 innings of work, 69 of which were from the bullpen, Kuo toyed with the competition to the tune of a 10.8 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9—both of which were better when you look at just the relief work. Concerns around health and the fact that 2008 was an “out of nowhere” season for his control create some risk when predicting a repeat.

7. Joey Devine, 25, Oakland A’s – Speaking of health concerns, Devine’s biggest inning total as a pro is a whopping 57 back in 2007! As a reliever, that’s not the worst thing ever, but it goes along with seasons of 26 and 29 innings in 2005 and 2006. Though he impressed in his 46 innings in 2008, he missed all of June and July. Simply put, it’s very tough to rely on him. That unreliability factor might make the A’s think twice about penciling him in as the closer. It should also give you pause when penciling him in as one of your three MRs in 2009. He’s certainly got the elite talent for either job, but can he last?

8. Scot Shields, 33, Los Angeles Angels – I put him here because he might be the most famous middle reliever in the last five or so years, however be careful getting caught up in a bidding war. Though the strikeout rate has moved incrementally year over year since 2006, the walk rate has too, at a faster clip. The once rubber arm has dropped his inning count yearly since 2004 as well. That said, a better than one-per-inning strikeout rate and amazing groundball rate should keep him valuable for at least a few more years.

9. Juan Cruz, 30, Unsigned – A lot of warts can be covered up by a 12.4 K/9 rate, even Cruz’s ugly 5.4 BB/9 rate. He gained a modicum of control in the second half (3.3) and ended up dominating with a 1.64 ERA and 1.09 WHIP in 22 innings. He would already be signed if he didn’t cost a 1st round pick, but I can’t imagine him sitting out there much longer. A team could call on him to be their closer so consider that potential if you draft before he’s signed.

THE NEXT LEVEL

Here is where you can find value. A few of these guys likely won’t be at the forefront of many radars in your league. Some are known, but still just don’t command a price tag commensurate with their value (which is of course great for us). And others have the name, but found themselves in this tier because I value them as next-level despite their elite tier price tag—you may want to pass on those that fit those criteria:
1. Carlos Villanueva, 25, Milwaukee Brewers – He actually got nine starts last year so his total body of work topped the 100-inning mark, but he shined as a reliever. In 59 innings, he posted a 9.4 K/9, 2.1 BB/9 and 2.12 ERA against his 7.7 K/9, 2.5 BB/9 and 4.07 ERA composite line. He may very well be tapped for spot starts again this season, but there is nothing wrong with that if he’s going to post these kinds of numbers. And the upside is 100+ innings of the numbers he had as a reliever. I love him for 2009.

2. Edwar Ramirez, 28, New York Yankees – Could he be the heir apparent to Mariano Rivera? If the Yankees decide that Joba Chamberlain will be a full-time starter, then he very well could fill that closer-in-waiting role. He is your prototypical high K/high BB reliever. His 10.2 K/9 last season in New York was his first stop of 10+ innings below 13.3 since 2003. He has a 2.8 BB/9 over 277 minor league innings so the potential for greatness is there. Buy, buy, buy!!!

3. Dan Wheeler, 31, Tampa Bay Rays – An odd season for Wheeler as weak supporting stats yielded a 1.88 ERA/0.91 WHIP in the 1st half thanks to a microscopic hit rate and inflated strand rate while brilliant supporting stats in the 2nd half brought a 4.82 ERA despite a 1.11 WHIP thanks to a massive correction in strand rate and significant correction in hit rate. Massive flyball rate increase seems like an outlier at this point. Like Howell, the save upside exists, but could also inflate price.

4. Ryan Madson, 28, Philadelphia Phillies – Veterans of the MRM may be all too familiar with Madson as I am. I was enticed by his 3.1 K:BB ratio and 8.0 K/9 from 2005, so I made him part of my trio in 2006. They started him in the rotation so I figured, this could be even better. It wasn’t better. He got destroyed for 90 innings in the rotation and then for 44 more less-awful innings in the bullpen.

5. Manny Delcarmen, 27, Boston Red Sox – A successful 2008 marks back-to-back great seasons for Delcarmen yet he still plays second fiddle to Hideki Okajima in terms of profile. That’s perfect for MRM’ers as you can pass on the higher priced Okajima for a much cheaper yet equally awesome Delcarmen.

6. Jose Arredondo, 25, Los Angeles Angels – The heir apparent to K-Rod until the Angels signed Brian Fuentes; Arredondo remains the younger Shields for at least another season. His miniscule 1.62 ERA was spurred by a lights-out strand rate and unsustainable hit rate. That said, his skills are very promising for the now and beyond. His numbers could from last year could overvalue him, but a correction is coming so don’t get sucked in when better, cheaper options exist.

7. Hideki Okajima, 33, Boston Red Sox – By no means was I downing him in the Delcarmen note, rather pointing out the discrepancy in price does not correlate with a discrepancy in performance. A 2nd half jump in walk rate was offset by a non-existent hit rate or his season ERA would’ve been well into the 3.00s. K rate remains strong, but be aware of age, huge drop in groundball rate and an escalating walk rate.

8. Grant Balfour, 31, Tampa Bay Rays
– What didn’t go his way during Tampa Bay’s dream season? There is always a group of outliers when a team has an unexpectedly awesome season like that and Balfour is Exhibit A for Tampa Bay. The strikeout ability is absolutely legit but his hit and strand rates are entirely unsustainable meaning a correction in ERA is on the way. Control has, not surprisingly for some name Balfour, always been an issue, too. Tread cautiously.

9. Octavio Dotel, 35, Chicago White Sox
– He might be old, but he can still blow it by guys. He only needed 67 innings to log 92 strikeouts—that’s amazing! His ERA hasn’t been elite for some time, but it’s also not bad enough to shy away. And if he’s healthy enough for 60+ innings, he’s worth rostering.

GOLD MINING

If the last tier is where you find value, then this is where you get rich. Some of your leaguemates won’t even know who a handful of these guys are, but they have the skills and they just might become the next best thing. Even if they don’t become sometimes-closers or vulture five-plus wins, they could just rack up 65+innings of quality work anonymously for your team:
1. Jerry Blevins, 25, Oakland A’s – A darkhorse candidate for the Oakland job thanks to strong skills (8.4 K/9 in OAK, 10.8 K/9 in 259 minors IP) and experience closing in the minors (41 saves).

2. Jeremy Affeldt, 29, San Francisco Giants
– Since 2006 he has a 7.81 ERA & 3.8 K/9 in 43 IP as a starter and 3.84 ERA & 7.3 K/9 in 192 IP as a reliever. Even splits keeps southpaw from LOOGY status.

3. Jared Burton, 27, Cincinnati Reds – Injuries stunted a very nice breakout that ate up almost all of July and August; he likely wasn’t 100% during a poor September either. Owns a better than 8.0 K/9 throughout his career including 8.9 last year. One of my favorites for ’09.

4. Tony Pena, 27, Arizona Diamondbacks – Third in line for saves or worse if Cruz is re-signed, this should curb his price amongst speculators. He hasn’t displayed the strikeout ability you look for when using the MRM.

5. Jose Veras, 28, New York Yankees
– A slightly wilder clone of teammate Edwar Ramirez.

6. Matt Thornton, 32, Chicago White Sox
– Skepticism sets in because he posted a never-before-seen K rate (10.3), BB rate (2.5) and groundball rate (53%). I’m quite bearish on a repeat, plus Dotel and Scott Linebrink would get a shot a closing if Bobby Jenks faltered.

7. Joe Nelson, 34, Tampa Bay Rays
– As with the other TB penners, saves potential exists, but it’d take a lot of failures to get to him. The K & BB rates jive with his career numbers, but the correction due in strand rate will boost ERA into mid-3.00s.

8. Jesse Crain, 27, Minnesota Twins – Not bad in his return from surgery and 2006 suggest some room to grow during second full season back. Holds leaguers should see a big number here in 2009.

9. Justin Miller, 31, San Francisco Giants – Though treading the fine line near the 2.0 K:BB rate, he’s still above and with an 8.3 K/9 rate, too. As a REM-deep sleeper saves option, 2007 points to how good things can get with Miller.

10. Santiago Casilla, 28, Oakland A’s – Another hot start tanked by a terrible finish, though injury may’ve been the culprit in 2008. Skilled enough to thwart teammates for closer’s role, but can he maintain over a full season?

11. Boof Bonser, 27, Minnesota Twins – Excellent skills went wholly unrewarded thanks to a terrible strand rate. He managed 9.8 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9 in his 52 relief innings which could signal a permanent new role for him.

12. Cory Wade, 25, Los Angeles Dodgers – The other sub-7.0 K/9 to make the list thanks to a 3.8 K:BB rate. His 387 minor league innings back up the miniscule walk rate and point to potential in the K rate. One to watch.

13. Rafael Betancourt, 34, Cleveland Indians – A big fat bust last year thanks to some gopheritis mixed with extreme hit and strand rate corrections from 2007’s excellence. 50%+ flyball tendency keeps HR-allowed potential in play.

14. Bill Bray, 25, Cincinnati Reds – Nice potential with K rate gains since 2006, but consistent control and a clean bill of health have eluded him during that time period as well. Left-handedness buries saves opportunity.

FLIERS

A lot to prove to show value for 2009.
1. Boone Logan, 24, Chicago White Sox
2. Will Ohman, 31, Unsigned
3. David Aardsma, 27, Seattle Mariners
4. Jesse Carlson, 28, Toronto Blue Jays
5. Ramon Troncoso, 26, Los Angeles Dodgers
6. Scott Linebrink, 32, Chicago White Sox
7. Taylor Buchholz, 27, Colorado Rockies
8. Bob Howry, 35, Chicago Cubs
9. Mike Lincoln, 34, Cincinnati Reds
10. Neal Cotts, 29, Chicago Cubs
11. Kyle Farnsworthless, 33, Kansas City Royals
12. Damaso Marte, 34, New York Yankees
13. Blaine Boyer, 27, Atlanta Braves
14. Ramon Ramirez, 27, Boston Red Sox
15. Kyle McClellan, 24, St. Louis Cardinals
16. Alex Hinshaw, 26, San Francisco Giants
17. Tyler Walker, 33, Seattle Mariners
18. Buddy Carlyle, 31, Atlanta Braves
19. Robinson Tejada, 27, Kansas City Royals
20. Scott Proctor, 32, Florida Marlins

Monday: 02.16.2009

A Trip in the Wayback Machine: 2004

I worked on my middle reliever list and podcast combo over the weekend and both should be done this weekend. I’ve also gotten started on my sleeper list, so expect that this week as well. In the meantime, take a look at John Sickels‘ top 50 hitter and pitcher lists from 2004. Five years after making a list like this is a good amount of time to wait before judging minor league forecasters. Sickels’ blog is always a good read and these two lists give a look into how money he is when it comes to projecting minor leaguers:

Top 50 Hitters: 2004

Top 50 Pitchers: 2004

Friday: 02.13.2009

Top 154 SPs in List Form

Here is a look at the top 154 starting pitchers broken down by list:

Broken down by age, look at that cluster between 23 and 28 years old.

Broken down by age, look at that cluster between 23 and 28 years old.

A team breakdown from most to least

A team breakdown from most to least

And finally, the echelons with some details about each grouping

And finally, the echelons with some details about each grouping

I’d like to thank everyone for the tremendous feedback on the list thus far. I’m glad it’s been so well-received. I’ll be polishing it up this weekend (i.e. removing Hurley, downing Sheets and slotting Blanton back in—among other goodies to come). I also hope to complete at least 2 podcasts over the weekend, so stay tuned for that as well.

Wednesday: 02.11.2009

The Podcast Returns!

On the heels of the starting pitcher list being released, I’ve brought back the podcast with an episode covering some of the ins & outs of the list. It can be found here: http://pauls.mypodcast.com/index.html or view iTunes by searching for Baseball by Paul.

Monday: 02.9.2009

2009 Version of Echelon-Divided Starting Pitchers

Welcome to the 2nd Annual Echelons of Starting Pitching. For the 2009 season, I’ve expanded from 100 (+12 under 30) to a more robust 154. Remember, they are divided into echelons so focus more on their grouping than the actual number next to their name if you disagree with someone’s position. I went for a deeper list in order to hopefully help with those late round/dollar days roster spots. When we can’t think of a name, we often throw anything out in order to speed up the process and it usually ends up being a wasted spot. Perhaps now you can pluck someone from the latter groupings that will pay dividends so you don’t end up with Mike Maroth.

The 2008 List

154. Noah Lowry, 28, San Francisco Giants – He didn’t even pitch in 2008 due to injuries, but this sometimes promising lefty will likely get a handful of innings to begin his comeback. Even when going good, he destroys the WHIP and doesn’t strike out very many. Coming off of a 0 IP season limits potential; not being a very good pitcher destroys it.

153. Eric Hurley, 23, Texas Rangers – Outside of a trade to Colorado, Hurley couldn’t possibly play in a worse ballpark than he does given his heavy flyball tendencies. Combine that with youth and a lack of overpowering stuff and it is tough to predict much from Hurley in 2009. He’s a warm body that has shown glimpses in the minors before so he gets a mention. OUT FOR SEASON

152. Greg Smith, 25, Colorado Rockies – Remember what I said about Hurley being in Coors… imagine being Smith and moving from the very friendly McAfee Coliseum in Oakland to Coors Field in Colorado as a flyball pitcher! Having made the jump from AA in 2007, he was a risk in Oakland and now he becomes virtually undraftable in anything but the deepest leagues-maybe 15 team, NL-West Only leagues.

151. Zach Miner, 27, Detroit Tigers – Proved to be a functional stopgap for the hemorrhaging Tigers last year posting a 2.56 ERA and five wins across July & August, but the wheels fell off in September (6.67 ERA in 29.7 IP) and exposed him for what he was: a band-aid over a gunshot wound. You will have to dig deeper for viability.

150. Daniel Cabrera, 27, Washington Nationals – Remember when Cabrera sucked but still struck out a good number of batters? Last year he just flat out sucked as his K/9 dipped to 4.7, which matched his BB/9. I practically begged people not to buy into him after a nice May (3.14 ERA/1.16 WHIP), but my warnings went mostly unheard. He carried a 6.57 ERA over his final 100 innings of the season. He will be picked up again as the move to the NL will rekindle the flame for helpless owners, like a woman who sees her abusive ex-boyfriend at church one Sunday and decides he’s a changed man. Don’t let Cabrera take from the collection plate that is your auction budget.

149. Bartolo Colon, 35, Chicago White Sox – Old, fat and crappy. He stole a Cy Young award in 2005 and any traction he gets in a draft or auction will likely be a result of that, so don’t get sucked in. He could have spurts of effectiveness, but he can’t be counted on for any extended period of time.

148. Jo-Jo Reyes, 24, Atlanta Braves –Though still not ready for the big leagues, Reyes has two valuable assets that could make him a quality SP sometime soon: ability to induce the groundball and a solid, if unspectacular strikeout rate creeping near 7.0. He is still too wild too often and right-handed batters obliterate him (.314).

147. Shawn Hill, 28, Washington Nationals – A control-type that keeps the ball down well, but his health down better. Unfortunately, the latter isn’t an asset and his inability to remain in the rotation ever in his career will likely make him an afterthought at this point. He is young enough to be worthwhile if he can stay put together, but even then you have to wonder how many innings his underused arm could give before natural fatigue set in.

146. Joel Pineiro, 30, St. Louis Cardinals – Known for his control, perhaps he should try being a little wilder against right-handers so they stop pounding the daylights out of him. He doesn’t miss many bats and when runners get on, they score thereby wasting his ability to limit free passes and induce grounders. He can get better, but don’t stake much on it.

145. Tim Redding, 31, New York Mets – He scooped up 10 wins on the Nationals last year, so you want to believe that he could maybe get back into the double-digits again on a significantly better team, right? Unfortunately, wins are wildly unpredictable so merely adding wins to miraculous total from last year just because he’s on a viable team now is faulty logic and dangerous to boot. I’ve seen and play in leagues deep enough where his services are of some use, but they are rare. Avoid.

144. Jeremy Sowers, 26, Cleveland Indians – A young lefty that has solid control, but that’s about it. He hasn’t been particularly dazzling in the minors so expecting it in the majors barring a big change in his approach would be foolish. Roster filler at best until further notice.

143. Mike Hampton, 36, Houston Astros – He has pitched just 147 innings in the past four years, but they haven’t been very good innings so even if you make the case that there is less mileage than on a normal 36-year old arm, does it even matter? There’s nothing here to suggest that the old Houston Hampton is returning.

142. Radhames Liz, 25, Baltimore Orioles – His skills look like the second coming of Daniel Cabrera which bodes well for nobody. He is a fireballer with terrible control. Mix in the fact that he’s a pretty extreme flyball pitcher and you have a recipe for disaster.

141. Jonathon Niese, 22, New York Mets – Niese came a long way in 2008 starting in AA and ending up in the majors. He displayed some powerful stuff in 164 innings across AA and AAA, but also had a worrisome walk rate that quickly became problematic upon arrival in New York. The bright side is he maintained his ability fan to guys albeit in a very limited sample. He could use a season in AAA to continue his development and the recent signing of Oliver Perez makes that a more likely scenario.

140. Dontrelle Willis, 27, Detroit Tigers – Not since Oliver Perez has someone fallen from such a peak into such a deep, dark valley. Alas, Perez has battled back to respectability and there is reason to believe that Willis could do so, too. That said, I wouldn’t begin to invest more than a reserve pick or $1 bid on the resurgence happening in 2009. As with Perez, it’s all about control and if Willis can get back to a <3.0 walk rate, then he will have some success. He has maintained his passable strikeout rate (mid-6s) throughout it all, but since he’s not as good as blowing it by people as Perez (mid-8s), he has a much smaller margin on the free passes.

139. Clayton Richard, 25, Chicago White Sox – He is your prototypical soft-tosser that keeps the ball down and walks very few in the mold of Aaron Cook. He is likely a year or two away, but these aren’t skills that generally need to be refined through years of ups and downs, so he could be ready sooner than later. I’d plan for 2010 usefulness, but he wouldn’t be an awful gamble in deeper AL-Only leagues that allow reserves.

138. Scott Downs, 33, Toronto Blue Jays
– I don’t know of any 33-year old middle relievers that haven’t started regularly in four years that transitioned back into the rotation with success. In that time he has gone from a solid groundball pitcher to an extreme groundball pitcher all the while maintaining a strong strikeout rate. It remains to be seen what a jump in workload would do, but he might not be a bad flier deep into your draft.

137. Jeff Karstens, 26, Pittsburgh Pirates – Made his way onto the radar amongst NL-Only players with a useful 51 IP after being traded to the Steel City. He tends to leave the strikeout rate in the minors when he comes up as his 7.5 K/9 rate in 639 minor league IP is whittled down to just 3.6 in 108 major league IP. At 26, there is still time to get things figured out, but his value is slight until (if ever) that happens.

136. Koji Uehara, 34, Baltimore Orioles – How do the Orioles plan to use this import? He was a starter, closer and middle reliever in his last three years in Japan with varying degrees of success. The one constant was his ability to keep guys off base. His 1.18 WHIP last year was his highest by 0.12 in nine seasons. The lack of workload the past two seasons make him hard to peg as a starter, but I’d think fewer innings of [B]Hiroki Kuroda’[/B]s stuff with perhaps a strikeout more per nine would be his upside.

135. Nate Robertson, 31, Detroit Tigers – Seems to be tenuously holding onto a rotation spot at this point, though the skills haven’t changed much since the 2006 breakout. He’s not as good as that 2006 season nor as bad as last year’s implosion. Nothing went right for Detroit in 2008, so give Robertson a pass on the mid-6.00 ERA. Instead, pay for a 4.40-4.50 and 10-12 wins.

134. Barry Zito, 31, San Francisco Giants – What hasn’t been said about Zito’s demise at this point? He will have stretches that trick people into picking him up and then he goes right back to sucking. He has gotten better against lefties in each of the past three seasons; maybe he has a future as middle relief specialist or LOOGY. More unlikely comeback stories have happened 100s of times in this game, so it wouldn’t be crazy to see him get better, but the writing was on the wall well before he left Oakland.

133. Brandon Backe, 31, Houston Astros – He had a huge spike in strikeouts in his first full workload since 2005, but alas he still sucks. If you can find a reason to roster in anything but ocean-deep leagues, call me and I’ll help enter you into a drug rehab program.

132. Brian Bannister, 28, Kansas City Royals
– The 2007 success was clearly a joke and that’s not just hindsight after a 2008 collapse. He’s a soft-tosser with no real redeeming qualities. He added over a strikeout per nine to his total last year, but he’s still at a menial 5.6.

131. Boof Bonser, 27, Minnesota Twins – I’ve always been a fan of Boof’s, but his results have sunk yearly since 2006. He couldn’t strand a runner to save his life last season and it bit him hard. He remains a dominant-type with upside especially on a team that churns out valuable starting pitchers all the time.

130. Jeff Suppan, 34, Milwaukee Brewers – The 2006 version of Suppan with big innings, a low 4.00s ERA and horrible WHIP was at least rosterable, but significant jumps in ERA over the past two seasons as well as upticks in an already-bad WHIP have eroded that worthiness. He could regain 2006 form, but let him join you as a waiver pick up in April if anything.

129. Glen Perkins, 26, Minnesota Twins – There is little doubt in my mind that the 12-4 record will catch the eyes of many and boost his draft spot in March, but he is a flyball pitcher that didn’t strike many batters out and gave up a ton of baserunners. His last strong sample of work came in 2006 at AA New Britain, but even that 117 IP stint had flaws. The 10 K/9 rate was very appetizing, but he also had a less-than-stellar 3.91 ERA & 1.30 WHIP. He is still young and as mentioned, Minnesota is known for starting pitching, but he’s a late dollar days pickup for now.

128. Vicente Padilla, 34, Texas Rangers – Padilla always seems to have that month or two each year that leads to his being picked up in every league. He hit the radar out of the gate going 3-2 with a 3.79 ERA despite an awful 1.53 WHIP, but then he sucked owners in with a 4-0 May that saw improvements in ERA & WHIP. He imploded for three months before posting his best ERA in September (3.18). He has a three-year uptrend in HR/9, bad news anywhere but fatal in Texas. If you’re lucky enough to get him for one of the good months, leave with house money and cut bait immediately.

127. Homer Bailey, 23, Cincinnati Reds – The downside to today’s internet culture in fantasy baseball? Hot prospects get NO TIME to develop. The much heralded Bailey has face-planted in his two major league cups of coffee that have totaled all of 81 innings yet he’s being written off at 23. He is unlikely to be a dominant force still in 2009, but I expect some strides towards viability as he works on his control and his strand rate normalizes. If his confidence isn’t destroyed and Dusty Baker doesn’t overwork him, he’ll show some value in NL-Only leagues.

126. Collin Balester, 22, Washington Nationals
– Displayed 130 solid innings in AAA before finally making the show with modest results. He toils in obscurity in the nation’s capital which could be both good and bad. It could be good in that he won’t be on the radar of many so if he shows hints of success early in the season, he should linger on the wire. It could be bad because he will still likely be trotted out every fifth even if he’s getting hammered. He was a 7 K/9 guy in the minors, but only had 5.6 with Washington last year. If he gets that up over six while keeping the walks in the low 3s or below, he’s worth a shot.

125. Carl Pavano, 33, Cleveland Indians – He still sucks, but he’s finally out of New York so we will see if his team hating him was weighing heavily. I can’t imagine anyone paying attention was surprised that he failed in New York since his supporting stats weren’t even very good in his breakout campaign of 2004. He is a control artist, but lacks the dominance to stay consistent. Name alone will get someone to take a shot; I wouldn’t unless he was my last roster spot and I could release him at will.

124. Kyle Lohse, 30, St. Louis Cardinals – There wasn’t any legitimate skill change associated with his breakout season meaning the sustainability is tenuous. That win-loss record (15-6) will take him off the board well before 123 other pitchers go, but that doesn’t mean he should. Tread carefully.

123. Kevin Millwood, 34, Texas Rangers – He has been predictably awful since arriving in Texas, but he has been destroyed by seemingly anomalous strand & hit rates. Now mixing poor stats with an inability stay healthy making it even tougher to get back to previously established levels. The 2005 season’s shine has just about fully dulled leaving little appeal here. He still owns the skills capable of a $15+ season in value, but buy at the $5 level he’s delivered the past two seasons and pray for that upside.

122. Kyle Kendrick, 24, Philadelphia Phillies – It is never good for strikeout and walk rates to be almost identical. There isn’t a lot to get excited about here, but he did make the jump from AA so he is learning on the job. He does have major-league worthy control in his arsenal, but he needs to stretch that skill pretty far to maintain value.

121. Kevin Correia, 28, San Diego Padres – Hoping to build on 2007’s modest success, Correia came into 2008 as a deep sleeper in NL-Only leagues (he was for me at least), but it was a lost season from the jump. Now he heads over to the Pitching Effectiveness Test Center Operative in San Diego prompting me to place him on the sleeper list again this season. PETCO could make Jason Marquis an All-Star. He doesn’t have an overwhelming skillset, but it’d be solid just about anywhere and gets a nice boost in San Diego.

120. Nick Blackburn, 27, Minnesota Twins – Notice the plethora of soft-tossers down in this part of the rankings? It’s not a coincidence. Craftiness and control are hard to invest in confidently, especially with these youngsters that don’t have a proven track record like their idol, Jamie Moyer. His last viable sample of innings in which he topped 5.5 K/9 was back in 2004 at Single-A where he had a 7.0 K/9 in 84 IP. Little cause for excitement.

119. Ryan Rowland-Smith, 26, Seattle Mariners – Posted a passable ERA (3.50) in 12 starts, but tanked his strikeout rate from 7.6 to 4.5 when joining the rotation from the bullpen. Getting in the neighborhood of previously established K-rates from his days as a reliever (in the 9s) will be the key to his long-term success in the rotation. There are tools here, monitor the spring.

118. Micah Owings, 26, Cincinnati Reds – I liked him for another improvement after his 2007 debut, but the season quickly became a washout for Owings. Lost in the vomit-inducing stats is the fact that he had increased his strikeout rate by over one per nine. That plus previously established skills lead to post-hype sleeper candidacy.

117. Aaron Laffey, 24, Cleveland Indians – Another light-throwing control artist… how odd! After his June 24th start against San Francisco, he held a 2.83 ERA in 70 innings, including an 8-run shellacking from Texas earlier that month. The wheels fell off from there with 21 runs in his final 23 major-league innings for the season. He is exceptionally good at inducing groundballs, especially when compared against his peers so far on this list, and that is a skill that can mask even the least-overpowering stuff (see also: Cook, Aaron).

116. Chris Volstad, 22, Florida Marlins – He kicked butt in 84 innings, but that’s a tiny sample and it wasn’t supported by much. He had a 5.6 K rate and 3.9 BB rate. At 22, expectations need to be seriously tempered despite the friendly home park and strong groundball rate. He will take his lumps as a youngster, but should be worthy in small patches. Non-keeper leagues shouldn’t go higher than $4-5 dollars.

115. Rich Hill, 29, Baltimore Orioles – One of the foremost sports clichés popped back up after Hill was dealt to Baltimore this offseason: “perhaps a chance of scenery will do him good.” I’m hoping it will as a Hill fan, but a resurgence will have more to do with a harnessing of previously displayed skills than changing teams. In fact, a case could be made that while changes in scenery can be beneficial, this one might be the worst possible for a pitcher: leave the National League for the American League and trade the Cincy, Pittsburgh, Houston, Milwaukee and St. Louis lineups for Boston, Tampa Bay and New York! Sure Houston, Milwaukee and St. Louis have potent parts of their lineups including the perhaps the game’s best hitter in St. Louis, but those three AL East teams are stacked 1-9. Worth a flier, but be reasonable.

114. Garret Olson, 25, Seattle Mariners – Moved twice this offseason, Olson likely saw his stock bumped up both times despite his first move being to the National League with the Chicago Cubs. From there, he was flipped to Seattle. While he is back in the tougher American League, he did go from the AL East to the AL West. There is nothing resembling the lineups of the East out West so he should have an easier time refining his skills and learning from last year’s debacle. He established a power pitching profile in the minors, but there is a lot of work to be done.

113. Pedro Martinez, 37, Free Agent – Ever the gamer, Pedro is determined to show he belongs on a major-league team. He is even willing to use the WBC as an audition for teams. [B]Randy Johnson[/B] looked like he lost it two years ago and came back to relevance, so it’s hard to count to first-ballot Hall of Famers out. That said, even if he finds himself in a favorable situation after signing with someone this spring, it is difficult to justify saying $5 if the bidding reaches $4.

112. Tom Gorzelanny, 26, Pittsburgh Pirates – WTF Tom?! I can only imagine how many times that exclamation hit inboxes and message boards after Gorzelanny’s sophomore suckfest. I have little empathy though as the skills holding his 14-10/3.88 season up were flimsy at best. He threw well in a brief 35 IP stint at AAA-Indianapolis, but using that to bet on a rebound would be sillier than initial error of expecting much after the 2007 season. To be fair, I fell for it and had him top 50 in last year’s ranks, so I mock from experience-not from an ivory tower.

111. Zach Duke, 26, Pittsburgh Pirates –The groundball-low walk profile pitchers can be successful, but the more balls put in play, the more chance for something bad to happen. That’s why most fantasy players, me included, prefer guys that miss plenty of bats. He has almost 600 innings under his belt meaning he qualified for Cory Schwartz’s List of 12. Young enough and experienced enough to throw on the roster late.

110. James McDonald, 24, Los Angeles Dodgers – His 8.6 K/9 rate in 119 innings for AA Jacksonville last year is his lowest in seven minor-league stops. He has the kind of power that scouts drool over and catches the eye of the big league management regardless of age. With the fourth and fifth rotation spots VERY wide open for the Dodgers, McDonald could earn himself a spot with a strong spring showing.

109. Scott Elbert, 24, Los Angeles Dodgers – Likely to make the jump from AA to the majors, but he is slated to start in the bullpen and work on his control. Since 2005, he hasn’t had a strikeout rate below 10, but his walk rate has been 4.4 or higher in the same timeframe. He has been dominant enough to keep his WHIP at 1.22 or below at each stop along the way except for his 62 IP stint in 2006 at AA where it was 1.35. I included him in the list because despite being a bullpen arm, I expect him to have a season similar to J.P. Howell’s last year as an elite high-inning reliever with a ton of Ks and a handful of wins and saves.

108. Anibal Sanchez, 25, Florida Marlins – Virtually no surprise that he struggled after coming back from Tommy John Surgery, but the strong K rate (8.7) is promising. Making too many judgments one way or another on 52 innings upon return from injury is risky. I love any power guy with a no-hitter on his resume as a $1 pickup in mixed and NL leagues.

107. Justin Masterson, 24, Boston Red Sox – There is a rotation logjam in Boston so Masterson will probably be on the outside looking, but he’s another guy that could have a J.P. Howell-type season out of the pen thanks to a quality K rate and huge groundball ratio. He will get a shot in the rotation, just not likely in 2009—as a $1 middle reliever, he can deliver double-digit profit.

106. Brad Penny, 30, Boston Red Sox – The Red Sox have done the real-life equivalent of $1 fliers with low-investment pickups of Penny, John Smoltz and Takashi Saito. Penny is two years removed from a 3.03 ERA/1.31 WHIP season and still 30 years old. That said he has lowered his K rate yearly since 2006 while the walk rate increased over the same span. Given his move to the very tough AL East, I see a reprise of 2006 for Penny.

105. Scott Olsen, 25, Washington Nationals – Where is the K rate going!? The ERA correction was powered by a hit rate correction. Only 25 with a bundle of experience, Olsen stays in a pitcher friendly park with the move to Washington but loses the favorable matchups against Washington. If you subscribe to the BaseballHQ notion that once a player displays a skill, he owns it then another season like 2006 could be on the docket. Bid accordingly.

104. Armando Galarraga, 27, Detroit Tigers – This entirely unexpected breakout was viewed cautiously for quite awhile until it was clear he was for real, at least for 2008. Even slight ERA & WHIP boosts, which I fully expect, will keep him viable on the fantasy landscape. If you charge up the bid expecting another $19 season, you’re fooling yourself, but there is enough in the supporting skills for a double-digit value.

103. Clay Buchholz, 24, Boston Red Sox – Expectations were massively inflated by the no-hitter, but even if you allow a discount for that, he still underperformed. He maintained his dominance with 8.5 strikeouts per nine so he wasn’t a complete disaster. His quick jump to the minors was very successful so it’s not like he just “lost it” completely, it was just too much too soon. There is still a ton of upside here and he’s setting up as a great post-hype sleeper.

102. Jorge de la Rosa, 28, Colorado Rockies – I think the Royals dropped the ball when they let de la Rosa go in a minor trade last year as he has a very appealing profile of being able to strikeout plenty of batters and getting plenty of others to hit the ball on the ground. The control has been a problem and that’s why he can’t seem to stick anywhere, but he has the makings of something here. He had a usable walk rate in the 1st half last year, but got bit by strand and hit rates; those rates corrected in the 2nd half but his walk rate ballooned to 4.7 preventing him from doing even better than his 3.86 ERA/1.43 WHIP. Someone to stash.

101. Carlos Villanueva, 25, Milwaukee Brewers – Reversed flyball and walk rates from 2007 and ended up dominating, especially out of the bullpen. I like him whether he grabs a starter role or stays in the bullpen. As the former, he can be a 180-IP guy with 7.5+ K/9 and 4.10 or lower ERA. As the latter, he’s already displayed how well that can work with last year’s second half. Simply doubling that output is dangerous, but 75 IP with 65 K along with 7 wins and 7 saves has plenty of value.

100. Todd Wellemeyer, 30, St. Louis Cardinals – I was bought into him early last year and it paid off handsomely for fantasy owners, but there are reasons to be skeptical of a repeat-namely the massive workload increase from 79 to 192 IP. If he clears that hurdle, then his success remains tied to his ability to limit free passes. He lowered his BB rate by over a full walk last year (from 4.5 to 2.9), but that stands as the clear outlier right now despite improvements yearly since 2006. Tread cautiously here.

99. Anthony Reyes, 27, Cleveland Indians – A once-bright prospect, Reyes was a hard thrower expected to develop into a frontline starter for years to come. His first real shot at the major league level back in 2006 was a disaster and it’s only gotten worse since. Since 2005, his strikeout rate has dwindled from 8.4 per nine to 5.4 while his walk rate has risen or held steady going from 2.3 to 3.5. Last year’s 1.83 ERA in 34 innings with his new team might inflate his draft value, but he did it with a near 1:1 K:BB ratio. That said, you can’t put too much stock into such a small sample whether positive or negative. He is still fairly young and capable of fulfilling his promise coming out of USC, but don’t overbid as a rotation spot is not even guaranteed at this point.

98. Jon Garland, 29, Arizona Diamondbacks – I’ve become a broken record, but the low-strikeout pitchers are susceptible to trouble because the more the ball is in play, the more potential for disaster. The raising walk rate and lowering strikeout rate trend is alarming, but moving to the National League could reverse that, especially in the NL West. You know what you’re getting with Garland, so don’t go an extra dollar praying for a return to 2005 levels… that was a special season that stands as a clear outlier for him.

97. Dustin McGowan, 27, Toronto Blue Jays – He had his surgery on July 31st last year which puts him on track to be ready for Spring Training as the Jays say his labrum & rotator cuff are now in good health. Of course, believing a Jays health analysis is a very risky proposition. His groundball rate fell 12% last year so it’s hard to figure what he’ll do there this year. At 100%, the strikeout rate should return to the high 7s, but the key will be that GB rate. Single digit bids here for sure and I’d begin to cower a bit at the $7-8 mark.

96. Doug Davis, 33, Arizona Diamondbacks
– How much do you value your team’s WHIP? There are no secrets here with Davis as he’ll bring solid strikeouts, middling ERA and a terrible WHIP. He walks a ton and gives up plenty of hits, yet does a good job of getting out of trouble without too much damage. If you’re adding Davis to a rotation with a stud SP like [B]Johan Santana[/B] and a strong #2 like [B]Scott Baker[/B], then you can absorb the garbage WHIP.

95. Dana Eveland, 25, Oakland A’s
– Meanwhile, you don’t want to adding Doug Davis to a rotation with Eveland or vice versa if it can be avoided. Looking like a younger Davis at this point with at or slightly above average strikeout rates, but a penchant for doling out free passes left and right. At 927 pounds, endurance has been a problem and will be again this year if he doesn’t get it under control. His first half was smoke and mirrors making the second half a surprise for no one paying attention. There is upside here, especially in that cavernous park, but he might be best suited as a spot starter you ride for three-four weeks at a time when he’s hot and then reserve or cut until the next wave starts up.

94. David Purcey, 27, Toronto Blue Jays – Like Andrew Sonnanstine last year, this is a guy I like for this year despite some garbage numbers in the previous season. Plenty of people will see the 5.54 ERA and be turned off, but I see the 8.0 K rate (right in line with his 9.2 K rate in 468 minor league IP) and see value. Unfortunately, the 4.0 walk rate is right in line his minor league performance too so this is a work in progress here. By the way, I don’t want to appear as though I’m merely parroting the Baseball Forecaster guys, who also see his potential, so I want to give them credit for being bullish on him as well. Since I don’t have a book or a premium website, it can look like I’m merely agreeing with the “touts” or just copping their opinion when I like someone they do, but you’ll have to trust me on Purcey and others. With A.J. Burnett gone and Shaun Marcum on the shelf, Purcey has a great chance at landing a rotation spot… he should get a similar chance for AL-Only and deeper mixed leaguers.

93. Dallas Braden, 25, Oakland A’s – He posted a decent ERA (4.14) in 71 innings with Oakland despite the fact that he didn’t bring all of his previously displayed skills with him. He has a 10.1 K rate in 346 minor league innings, including a 9.9 in 117 innings at AAA-Sacramento. This means we have potential for growth on our hands as Braden’s skills develop in the majors. Braden likely gets a boost for being an Oakland farmhand, but his performance to date backs up the attention. Throw in that he gets to play in a very beneficial home park and we have a 2009 sleeper on our hands.

92. Edwin Jackson, 25, Detroit Tigers – How in the heck is Jackson only 25 years old?! It feels like he’s been around forever. He made his professional debut in the Dodgers’ organization at age 17 back in 2001, but he’s yet to live up to his huge billing since. Control has been an issue since day 1 so it’s no surprise that his best year (2008 w/Tampa Bay) only came when he finally got his walk rate below 4.0. Even still, he only had a 4.42 ERA and 1.51 WHIP. He joins the pitching starved Detroit Tigers after an offseason trade and still has the stuff to make on his prospect promises. It’s likely to come in small doses if at all, however.

91. Yusmeiro Petit, 24, Arizona Diamondbacks – A once-heralded prospect, Petit uses a great walk rate and good strikeout rate to alleviate the damage from his massive flyball tendencies. He will have to battle another youngster for that 5th spot in the Arizona rotation this season. Even if he doesn’t win the spot out of spring, he will be used out of the pen and get a number of starters as a spot starter/injury replacement so he could end up approaching 150 innings. Pay for 115-120 for now.

90. Andy Pettitte, 37, New York Yankees – I didn’t purposely put Petit and Pettitte right next to each other, but it made me chuckle a bit when I saw it. With four straight 200+ IP seasons, Pettitte is nothing if not reliable. His periphery stats suggest last year’s ERA jump can easily be reversed in 2009 as his stats move back to their normal range. The WHIP has been over 1.40 for the last three seasons, but that’s really his only wart. I am vehemently against predicting wins, but Pettitte seems to always get a decision and has a quality offense supporting him so it’s not off-base to think you’ll get a win total in the teens with a low 4.00s ERA, a good number strikeouts and bad WHIP.

89. Randy Wolf, 32, Los Angeles Dodgers
– I had him here regardless because I was pretty confident he’d be going to Los Angeles once he signed. He is an up-n-down talent thanks to a flyball tendency and usually shaky control that can get him in trouble, but he’s an electric armed lefty capable of a strikeout rate nearing 8 per nine when he’s at his best. Staying on the field has been a huge issue for Wolf throughout his career as his 190 IP last year was the first time he topped 136 since 2003. His workload increased by 87 innings from 2007 to 2008, it remains to be seen how that will impact him this year.

88. Jorge Campillo, 30, Atlanta Braves
– The 29-year old journeyman rookie excelled in his first chance and it was with the team that originally signed him all the way back in 1996. He displayed a carbon copy of his minor league skills when the season done, but it was a tale of two halves making it tough to peg him for 2009. He will be a mid-4.00 ERA guy with around six strikeouts per nine operating on thin ice thanks to a pitch-to-contact strategy and the tendency to yield a bevy of flyballs. Too many bad starts in a row could cost him his rotation spot.

87. Kenshin Kawakami, 33, Atlanta Braves – The Japanese import brings some strong skills to the states with him, but it’s virtually impossible to know how these guys will do in their first season. He has displayed great control his entire career including five straight seasons of sub-2.0 walk rates. His strikeout rate over that span has fluctuated from 6.9 to 8.6. Having pitched just 117 innings last year, durability could be a factor with the Braves. While the Japanese League will never be confused for Major League Baseball, the skills displayed Kawakami are strong enough to believe he can be a viable back-end pitcher for fantasy leaguers.

86. Jamie Moyer, 46, Philadelphia Phillies – It seemed like the end of the road for Moyer after a horrendous 2007 season, but he enjoyed some normalization of his strand & hit rates as well as a 5% uptick in groundball rate to put together his first sub-4.00 ERA season since 2003. The ageless one can be relied upon to take the ball every fifth day, but the results won’t be as special as last season’s miracle. These skills, especially on a 46-year old, are a high-4.00s ERA with a mid-1.30s WHIP. Bid accordingly.

85. Luke Hochevar, 25, Kansas City Royals – Impressive at times last year, Hochevar has severely trimmed his once-gaudy strikeout rates since reaching AAA in 2007. Though excellent at inducing the groundball, it is hard to survive long with a 1.5 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Still, he’s a twice 1st-round pick including 1st overall in 2006 so there is talent to hone on this southpaw. He will enjoy some slight improvements this year as he starts to “get it”, but he’s at least another year away from being a reliable fantasy commodity.

84. Philip Hughes, 23, New York Yankees – Labored through his second straight injury-shortened season in 2008, this time only amassing 34 innings and not many good ones at that. The skill is definitely there, but it will take time for it all to come together. It is hard to believe he will be just 23 in June of this year, but when you’re a prized prospect for a large market team; a couple of seasons in the news can feel like four or five. Being a Yankee is likely to inflate the price for a twice injured starter who is still very young, so be ready to duck out of the bidding as it escalates in the double digits.

83. Ubaldo Jimenez, 25, Colorado Rockies – One of the many hard-throwing youngsters with an inability to consistently throw the ball across the plate, Jimenez developed a knack for keeping the ball on the ground when in play which covered up an ominous 4.7 walks per nine ratio. If he can hold those groundball gains while shaving a whole walk off of that ugly rate, then he could break out with a big season. I think he drops half of a walk per nine at most leaving his value at or below its current level depending on the remaining variables. Strikeouts are a bargain at his single-digit price.

82. Sean Marshall, 26, Chicago Cubs – It seems only Aaron Heilman stands between Marshall and a rotation spot with the Cubs in 2009. When given a shot at starting last year, he mirrored his minor league skills posting an 8.3 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9 (vs. 8.8 and 2.5 rates in 307 minor league IP) albeit in just seven starts. He has value regardless of role, but the ceiling is significantly higher should he hold that fifth spot in the rotation.

81. Jeff Francis, 28, Colorado Rockies – Suffered a World Series hangover and turned in a busted season after such a promising 2007 campaign, but he isn’t as bad as his 5.01 ERA suggests. His strikeout rate is a quirky every-other-year streak as far as being over or under 6.0. If the pattern were to hold true, then last year’s 5.9 rate indicates better days ahead in 2009. The 2.6 walk rate and 72% strand rate from 2007 stand as outliers among his four seasons in the majors and his performance in both this year will be pivotal to his success. Look for a rebound in between the 2007 and 2008 seasons yielding a low-teens value in 2009.

80. Sean Gallagher, 23, Oakland A’s – The prize in the Rich Harden haul, Gallagher labored through his 57 innings of work after the trade. The one positive note in that stint was his 8.6 K/9 rate, which was right in line with his one per inning rate in 481 minor league innings. Taming that electric arsenal has been the challenge for Gallagher throughout his career though he has improved from 5.7 to 2.8 in four minor league stops since the 2006 season. The 3.4 mark in 59 innings with Chicago last year was at least league average, but then it ballooned out of control to 5.7 once in Oakland. He is one of several very young, but very talented arms that will be in the A’s rotation this season. A season similar to Johnny Cueto’s 2008 campaign with a 4.50ish ERA thanks to his home park is on tap for Gallagher.

79. Gio Gonzalez, 23, Oakland A’s –Gonzalez is with his third organization since being drafted in 2004. It’s not because he is a problem, quite the opposite in fact. Drafted by the White Sox, they dealt him to Philadelphia with Aaron Rowand for Jim Thome only to get him back less than a year later with Gavin Floyd for Freddy Garcia. They kept him for just over a year this time before packaging him with Ryan Sweeney and a prospect for Nick Swisher. I don’t foresee the A’s letting go of this dominant lefty for quite some time now. A fireballer with control issues and a lack of experience has been a recurring theme in this portion of the list, but the gobs of potential tied to these arms make them fantasy relevant. With only 34 innings at the big league level, Gonzalez will be doing a lot of in-the-fire training, much like this next guy…

78. Andrew Miller, 23, Florida Marlins – Coincidentally the third straight 23-year old on the list, Miller threw more innings at the major league level last year than he has in the minors for his whole career thus far. It’s clear that he’s learning on the job and he has had to take his lumps, but it will pay off soon. Like many of the promising youngsters on this list, control is primary issue that has kept Miller from excelling. Miller has given a glimpse into the future of how great he can be when his stuff is harnessed, though-witness last May when he struck out 28 and walked just 10 in 30 innings en route to a 2.43 ERA and 1.08 WHIP. He will have more value in 2009 by avoiding the meltdown months that plagued him last year (April 9.12 ERA, July/September 9.45 ERA). It will only get better from here.

77. John Lannan, 24, Washington Nationals – How do you mask a pair of pedestrian-at-best rates (5.8 K/9, 3.6 BB/9)? Induce groundballs at a 54% clip. Lannan’s 9-15 record lends credence to those that base wins projections solely on the lineup of the pitcher’s team, but Johan Santana’s 16-7 record blows that theory up quickly. Aaron Cook is proof that a guy like Lannan will be overlooked for a very long time in most drafts, but his is a valuable, repeatable skill that can produce some stability to the back end of your rotation. For the record, he posted 6.3 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9 rates in 326 minor league innings so don’t expect marked differences in either this season.

76. Mike Pelfrey, 25, New York Mets – Very similar to Lannan in that he induces a ton of groundballs without much else. The difference is that he had some huge gains in walk rate in 114 second half innings last season. If those are real, he should hold a WHIP advantage over Lannan. Secondly, Pelfrey displayed more ability to miss bats at the minor league level, though it tapered dramatically in AAA (from 10.4 to 6.8). Price likely to be driven up by second half breakout, but he’s not that good yet not as bad as his first half… split the difference for 4.10 ERA & 1.32 WHIP.

75. Ian Snell, 27, Pittsburgh Pirates – His stuff is too good to yield 5.42 ERA/1.77 WHIP numbers again. It seemed everything put in play went for a hit against him as he lost 8% on his groundball rate and gave it all to his line drive rate-never a good thing. The strikeout rate stayed solidly above league average at 7.4 but it is on a three year decline. Last year’s disaster after having his stock at its highest heading into the season has created a base of owners that will assuredly swear off of him. There is profit potential here and it will be dirt cheap in a lot of leagues.

74. Gavin Floyd, 26, Chicago White Sox – It doesn’t seem like anyone buys the breakout season from last year, at least not fully. I am not in the camp that thinks he’ll faceplant and be worthless, but I think his 2nd half (4.22 ERA/1.38) is far more indicative of what you can expect going forward than the impressive 1st half (3.45 ERA/1.14 WHIP). Oddly enough, his skills were better in the 2nd half as he struck out more and walked fewer. A fluky hit rate (23%) drove the special 1st half. Pay what you would for a 4.40 ERA in 190 innings and enjoy anything better as profit.

73. Jeremy Guthrie, 30, Baltimore Orioles – He doesn’t really do any one thing VERY well. Everything he does just kind of ends up with a decent result. But make no mistake that this is a very shaky skillset. The 2007 strikeout rate of 6.3 is the clear outlier and while he has back-to-back seasons of sub-3.0 walk rates, you have to wonder if that’s even legit given 569 minor league innings above that mark. Just as owners will mistakenly down some pitchers for bad ERAs that overshadow good skills, they will also boost some pitchers for good ERAs that overshadow lackluster skills. This will likely be a case of the latter if he goes ahead of the likes of Manny Parra, Wandy Rodriguez and Gil Meche as his ADP suggests.

72. Mark Buehrle, 30, Chicago White Sox
– When you put him on your team, no one is going to say, “Ah man, I really, really wanted him!” But he can be counted on for 200+ innings of reliable work. His 4.99 ERA from 2006 stands as a clear outlier, likely due to the huge workload from the World Series season, otherwise he’s been above 3.89 once since 2003. He won’t overpower many, but has improved his strikeout rate yearly since 2006 while maintained a sparkling 2.1 or below walk rate since 2004. A great pick for stability especially if you’ve constructed a rotation steeped in risk.

71. Jesse Litsch, 24, Toronto Blue Jays – A low-strikeout, sharp-control profile sets him up as a younger version of Buehrle. Once rated the 8th-best prospect in the Toronto system, he has enjoyed success in his 48 major-league starts including some big gains during his 28 last year as he added a strikeout and shaved off a full walk on his per nine rates. Unless he can get to the famed 6.0 K/9 or better threshold, he will be a 200 IP/4.00 ERA as opposed to the mid-3.00s enjoyed last year.

70. Bronson Arroyo, 32, Cincinnati Reds – Salvaged his season with a big 2nd half after becoming unrosterable during his 1st half. Arroyo’s strikeout rate is generally in the high 6s-low 7s, but managed an 8.5 per nine rate in that 1st half, but it obviously didn’t help much as his control was off and he had a 6.19 ERA and 1.67 WHIP. He came back down to 6.3 in the 2nd half with better control and yielded significantly better results. His value will likely be depressed in 2009, but he presents a strong value pick as a 200 IP with a strong K-rate and passable ERA. His 1.19 WHIP from 2006 looks like an outlier as he’s more of a 1.35-1.40 type.

69. Joe Saunders, 27, Los Angeles Angels
– Everyone kept waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop with Saunders in 2008. A guy with a sub-5.0 strikeout rate that doesn’t induce groundballs a 60% or better clip shouldn’t do this well… and yet, he maintained throughout the whole season. Though his ERA and WHIP saw gains in the 2nd half, he was still a very good asset to those that held on all year. Despite a full K/9 more in 2007, he posted a 4.44 ERA with a 1.52 WHIP in 107 innings of work. That ERA is a better benchmark of expectation for 2009, while the WHIP is likely to be held around the 1.40 area. The more doubters in the room, the higher his profit potential goes as it’s unlikely he will be an outright bust.

68. Brandon Morrow, 24, Seattle Mariners – As of this writing, it’s still not certain that Morrow will be starting for the M’s as opposed to fill the role of closer. I’ve argued against his starting because of his control problems and the fact that he has been so dominant as a reliever. That said, he still managed a strikeout per inning as a starter despite the better than six walks per nine. The Mariners seem set on giving him a rotation spot so he made the list. He has amazing skill, but the control will be the source of ups and downs throughout the season. His 4.2 BB/9 rate in 23 IP at AAA-Tacoma is his first below 6.2 since becoming a professional. Edinson Volquez’s big season with a 4.3 BB/9 is the exception, not the rule… stay realistic here.

67. Max Scherzer, 24, Arizona Diamondbacks – Worst strikeout rate at any stop for this third year pro? His 9.3 offering in 74 IP at AA-Mobile in 2007. This guy is sick. He got a taste of the big leagues last year and held his own striking out 10.6 per nine in his 56 innings of work that included seven starts and nine relief appearances. He does cross the 3.0 safety barrier in walk rate, but when you strike out that many, it is a lot less troubling. He will battle Yusmeiro Petit (#91) for the 5th starter job in Arizona, but both may find their way in Jon Garland (#98) falters. Either way, this is a dynamite skillset that should be highly sought after whether he has the rotation spot secured or not.

66. David Price, 23, Tampa Bay Rays
– Impressed many in his limited work towards the end of the season and out of the pen during the playoffs which will no doubt inflate his already-high price. He may very well be the top pitching prospect in the entire game, but with just 32 IP above AA expectations need to be tempered for 2009. It is unreasonable to expect that he will be elite this quickly. There is a slight chance of it happening, but expecting it and paying accordingly is an unnecessary risk to your team. Too many redraft leaguers overpay youngsters as if they will be a part of their team for more than that year; don’t be one of those players-expect 150 IP of 4.00 ERA with 130 K.

65. Jonathan Sanchez, 26, San Francisco Giants – Those firmly entrenched upon the Sanchez bandwagon may very well benefit from his 5.01 ERA in 2008. There is a subset of fantasy owners that will take one look at a player’s previous season and make their judgment, for better or worse, on that data set. Lost in the shuffle with those owners judging Sanchez would be his strikeout per inning dominance and the fact that his 2nd half meltdown was due in large part to a grossly outlying strand rate of just 55% and a spike in hit rate up to 36%. His strikeout and walk rates remained virtually the same from a 1st half that saw a 3.79 ERA and 1.34 WHIP. The above 4.0 walk rate is troubling, but the raw power is just too much to ignore. Pay for the handsome K-rate and don’t be surprised if you’re rewarded with a sub-4.30 ERA as well.

64. David Bush, 29, Milwaukee Brewers
– It is tough to figure this guy out. Though on a three-year incline, his 2.3 walk rate remains very viable while his three-year decline in strikeout rate (bottoming out at last year’s 5.3) is a bit more problematic. Most worrisome is the career-long inability to leave runners on base. The league average was 71% last year, a mark that Bush has failed to reach in his entire career. That would seem to be the key to his success when you consider that he had a 74% in the 2nd half of last year and went on to a 3.34 ERA/1.01 WHIP in 94 IP. Too inconsistent to get hopes to high.

63. John Maine, 28, New York Mets – The strikeouts dipped while the walks soared, but it’s tough to make something of an injury-shortened season because we never really know when the injury began causing problems. Regardless of that, the 2007 season looks like a career when stacked against the 2006 and 2008 seasons. He is more of a 4.15 ERA/1.35 WHIP guy than the 3.91 ERA/1.27 WHIP from that season. On the whole, there isn’t a massive difference to your team’s bottom line, but just make sure you have the right set of expectations. The healthy strikeout total adds a good bit of value.

62. Oliver Perez, 27, New York Mets – I remain surprised at how reviled he is in some fantasy circles. Erratic sure, but his lofty strikeout totals leave him brimming with potential as evidenced by last year’s 2nd half performance. He is defined by his walk rate, but it’s not as though he is beyond repair given that he is just 27 years old. Head-to-head leaguers budget for a case of Pepto Bismol when owning him with good reason, but he has now managed back-to-back good seasons after being left for dead in 2006. Understand the risk, enjoy the strikeouts and pray for 2004 walk rate.

61. Hiroki Kuroda, 34, Los Angeles Dodgers – A very appetizing 2nd half was fueled by halving his walk rate to 1.3 and a sharp increase in groundball rate to 56%. How sustainable those gains are will be instrumental in determining his 2009 value. In Japan, the walk rate hadn’t touched above 2.1 since 2002 so there’s reason to believe he’s closer to the 1.3 than the 3.0. Meanwhile I don’t have groundball data for his Japan seasons so it’s tough to say which is more real: the 46% or 56%. Either way, his control-happy/strikeout-starved profile has been covered at length throughout this list so far. It has a thin margin for error, but even Kuroda’s 4.05 ERA/1.35 WHIP performance from the 1st half is very useful over 190 IP. Bet on something in that neighborhood.

60. Justin Duchscherer, 31, Oakland A’s – I was a big fan of his last year and it paid huge dividends. He was part of my champion AL-Only team, my first outright title in that league where both of my parents hold multiple titles over my head year in and year out. I’m not just trying to brag about getting one right last year, but rather setting up that announcement that I’m again driving the Duke’s bandwagon in 2009. No, he isn’t going to give a 2.54 ERA/1.00 WHIP performance again, but he is very capable of a 3.50/1.20 showing in 150 innings of work. Health concerns remain the big downside that cost him at least 20 spots on the list. I’d love to say he’s going to stay on the field and top 185 IP, but it’s just not likely. Prepare a backup as he crosses the 135 IP threshold.

59. Jeremy Bonderman, 26, Detroit Tigers – Perhaps the rest will do him well. Bonderman’s injury-shortened 2008 kept him from breaking the 1000 IP-mark before his 26th birthday and maybe it is just what he needed. After a strong 2006, Bonderman was a colossal bust in 2007 despite little change in his skills. Last year wasn’t going much better before a blood clot ended his season after just 71 innings. Though hardly official, he told me in Texas late last year that he expects to be 100% in March and ready for Opening Day feeling as good as ever. He will no doubt be a draft day bargain and could provide huge dividends with a full recovery. For now, think 4.20 ERA/1.32 WHIP/7.0 K rate with upside to spare.

58. Ben Sheets, 30, Free Agent – This kind of reminds me of last year’s ranking for Rich Harden. I had him 53rd knowing full well that if he were the least bit healthy, he was a top 25 arm. Combine health concerns (some reports suggesting he could miss 80% of the season) with a lack of home and Texas being the only rumored destination and I have to put Sheets much further down than his actual talent merits. Of the several theories out there surrounding workload spikes, I believe the 50-IP one is most subscribed to, thus adding another tick mark in the “downside” column for Sheets in 2009. Let someone else bother with him once the bidding passes $1. SURGERY FORTHCOMING, OUT UNTIL AUGUST…

57. Aaron Cook, 30, Colorado Rockies – There isn’t much love for this control artist despite now three full seasons of worthwhile production. Sure the strikeout totals are so low that they barely register on the radar, but his ability limit free passes and induce groundballs will keep him in a ton of games. He is a classic WYSIWYG guy, but there is nothing wrong with 190 IP of 4.00 ERA and a chance to rack up wins thanks his ability to garner decisions.

56. Ryan Dempster, 32, Chicago Cubs – Why should we believe in the career year from 2008? Trick question, we shouldn’t… at least not fully. The strikeouts are legit, which is always a good thing, but whether or not he holds the gains in walk rate will determine whether he can stay below a 4.00 ERA or not. The workload spike theories are probably having a field day with Dempster’s 140 IP jump though the impact may be lessened due to age and the fact that he has topped 200 IP in the past. A lot of strikeouts with a 3.90 ERA and 1.35 WHIP is still a very good line so bid with that in mind.

55. Chien-Ming Wang, 29, New York Yankees – He is the Lexus to Cook’s Honda in terms of groundball artists. The wins feel about as certain as wins can thanks to his team’s lineup and the back-to-back 19-win seasons in 2006 and 2007. The positive trending strikeout rate is another reason for the increased appeal versus Cook. The walk rate has jumped up each year since 2006, but with only 95 IP last year, it could be too small of a sample to be considered a trend. The foot injury shouldn’t be a factor in his 2009 season.

54. Fausto Carmona, 25, Cleveland Indians – This dramatic fall off after more than 100 IP workload increase lends credence to the theories on the matter. He remained an excellent groundball artist, but his strikeout rate dwindled while his walk rate ballooned culminating in a horrible September in which he posted a 9.12 ERA and 1.70 WHIP. Cleveland’s staff believes they have worked out the flaw that caused the tailspin, but an immediate return to 2007’s prominence is unlikely. Bid with a 4.00 ERA/1.35 WHIP in mind while understanding that there will still be bumps in the road.

53. Paul Maholm, 26, Pittsburgh Pirates
– The jump from 5.3 to 6.1 strikeouts per nine was merely a return to already owned skills while he now has 380+ innings of sub-3.0 walk rate, too. This combines with his groundball tendencies for a solid, if unspectacular, skillset. A carbon copy of 2008 is a very reasonable expectation and it likely won’t cost full value given the low profile of Pittsburgh pitchers in general.

52. Ricky Nolasco, 26, Florida Marlins – At the risk of beating a dead horse, Nolasco is another guy that could become the latest poster boy for those worried about workload spikes. The midseason acquisition of a cutter is being credited for the massive spike in strikeout rate and plummeting of walk rate. It is tough to know how real these skills are for Nolasco. With so many warning signs, I can’t imagine valuing him based on last year’s 2nd half and yet his ADP at MockDraftCentral.com is 27th amongst starting pitchers.

51. Josh Johnson, 25, Florida Marlins – Enjoyed tremendous success upon return from Tommy John Surgery complete with better than before strikeout and walk rates. The strikeout rate increase with minor on the whole, but he shaved over a walk off of the total from his only full season in the majors back in 2006. Sustaining those gains will go a long way towards determining his 2009 value. There is a lot to like here with 180 IP of sub-4.00 and 140 strikeouts the type of line I expect.

50. Clayton Kershaw, 21, Los Angeles Dodgers
– I’m generally skeptical of youngsters as you may have noticed throughout this list, but Kershaw impressed me during his major league debut last year that spanned 108 innings. He skipped AAA, but wasn’t fazed as the strikeout rate held firm and walk rate got better with time. Mix in a nice ability to get groundballs and you have a real deal budding superstar here. He will still encounter the bumps in the road that come with being a 21-year old, but paying for a slightly below 4.00 ERA and 164 Ks over 185 innings would be wise.

49. Carlos Zambrano, 27, Chicago Cubs – Is the strikeout rate plummeting as the walk rate drops because he’s pitching to contact more and not just wildly trying to overpower opponents? It’s hard to tell, but cutting nearly 2.5 strikeouts off of his K/9 since 2006 has severely dented his value even with the control gains. He has been red-flagged for some time, but that’s not surprising when you see 1382 innings on a 27-year old arm. He is a real wildcard for 2009, but I’ve erred on the side of caution in this case as I refuse to be burned with so much writing on the wall. Run.

48. Jered Weaver, 26, Los Angeles Angels
– He regained his strikeout rate after a 2007 dip, but a 4.33 ERA could dent perceived value and make him a very nice draft day bargain. Expectations were sky high after 11-2 debut, but he is just 26 and now coming into his own as a pitcher instead of a thrower. I feel like he’s just kinda “there” on the radar with many failing to realize the upside that exists here. His 9.1 K/9 in 74 IP during the 2nd half gave us a taste of the dominance displayed in the minor leagues and there’s a better than half chance that it’s not a fluke. As a culture, we fantasy baseballers tend to forget (to a degree) guys who come back down to Earth after a white-hot debut, which in turn creates profit down the line.

47. Jair Jurrjens, 23, Atlanta Braves – Jurrjens could be the next victim of the phenomenon described above, though his penchant for inducing groundballs lessens the possibility of too much drop off. His strikeout rate is above that mystical 6.0 figure and it seems to be improving which helps mask the tenuous above-3.0 walk rate. In general, a 23-year old carries risk, but having seen him work 219 innings should ease some of the tension involved. Allow slack for the ERA to push nearer to 4.00, but skills appear sturdy enough to fight off a meltdown of any type.

46. Rich Harden, 27, Chicago Cubs – Remember how I mentioned earlier that I had to bump Harden down simply on the fear that he doesn’t stay healthy? Well a 148-inning season isn’t going to sway me away from protecting myself in a similar manner this year, especially when there are already reports of shoulder issues that have led him to back out of the WBC. Honestly, Harden is a top 5 talent if he could ever go 185+ innings. And if he ever does pull that rabbit out of his hat, he will be on a lot of team’s that finish 1st that season because of the massive value he will be for that team. For now, bid for no more than 130 innings of 3.00 ERA/1.15 WHIP and 130 Ks with the inevitable DL stint or eight.

45. Matt Cain, 24, San Francisco Giants – Admit it, you thought he was older. I don’t blame you. After all it feels like we’ve been expecting a breakout into the elite forever now. He plays into the “bad team = low wins” mantra trotted out by many which no doubt slices into his value. Meanwhile, his skills have remained steady. That’s not necessarily a good thing as I’d like to see an improvement in the walk rate at some point, or at least more strikeouts if the walk rate is going to hold firm above 3.5. Despite 655 innings on his arm at age 24, he doesn’t stand out as an injury risk though it’d be tough to blame anyone for being concerned. With an ADP of 28th amongst starting pitchers, his star is still burning as bright as ever meaning there is likely no bargain to be had at the auction table… I’d still go the extra dollar.

44. Andrew Sonnanstine, 26, Tampa Bay Rays – He paid almost a strikeout per nine for nearly a run and a half off of his ERA which is a move you always have to like, but now he sits on the wrong side of 6.0 in K/9. He simply refuses to walk batters (1.7 BB/9 last year; never above 1.8 at any stop in his career) though and that’s why he will remain successful whether or not he boosts his K rate. I love him again for 2009 because good things happen when you strikeout nearly 3 ½ as many batters as you walk. He’s likely owned at very keeper-worthy prices in such leagues; spend the extra dollar in redraft leagues.

43. Adam Wainwright, 27, St. Louis Cardinals
– Like Sonnanstine, I was a major proponent of Wainwright in 2008 and feel similarly this season. An injured finger cut his career year short, but the skills displayed in 132 innings were very strong. Status quo on the strikeout rate, which lingers around the low 6s, but a big improvement in control fueled ERA and WHIP gains. Hanging onto that control while taking his strikeout rate closer high 8s displayed in 793 minor league innings and his 2006 season as a reliever would yield the breakout that Wainwright has been setting up for awhile now.

42. Gil Meche, 30, Kansas City Royals – It seemed simply ludicrous at the time, but two years into it, the $55 million dollar deal given to Meche is looking pretty damn good. His skills have fluctuated quite a bit year over year, but the end result has been strong in both cases. His walk rate increased from 2.6 to 3.1, but the strikeout rate came with it moving a whole strikeout plus from 6.5 to 7.8. His groundball dropped by 8% to 39%, but a 2nd half strand rate of 76% covered up any ill effect from that change. Whether he brings the 2007 or 2008 skills to the table this season, you can feel comfortable that you’re getting a reliable arm ready to go 200 innings.

41. Manny Parra, 26, Milwaukee Brewers – Parra only made my supplemental list of “12 under 30” last year, but he made his way into the rotation and showed why Baseball America tabbed him as Milwaukee’s 2nd best prospect for 2008. The 4.39 ERA, 1.54 WHIP and 4.1 BB/9 rates are factors that will depress his value for some, but the 52% groundball rate and 8.0 K/9 point towards his potential with giant neon arrow. His skills were actually much better in the 2nd half of last year, but an unlucky 37% hit rate did him in eventually. Play up these artificial downsides in your league and see if you get him near his ADP as the 73rd starting pitcher off of the board. He is for real.

40. Johnny Cueto, 23, Cincinnati Reds
– Speaking of for real, Cueto is another guy who’s fantasy numbers can be used to drive down his value while you swoop in and enjoy the next step of a budding superstar. His flyball tendencies got the best him in the form of gopheritis, but he actually improved on that as the season went along. He dominated hitters throughout his 174 innings of work, but he also improved on that as the season went along. On the downside, he plays in one of the worst parks for a flyball pitcher and his 3.5 walk rate is a little rough on the eyes. However, that 3.5 rate was a career worst meaning he has control in his arsenal and a gain of at least 0.5 walks wouldn’t be surprising—in fact, I expect that as a minimum. A 200-K season is looming ahead.

39. Matt Garza, 25, Tampa Bay Rays
– If you watch a Garza start and see the intensity with which he pitches and the key strikeouts he’s sure to register, you come away thinking he’s a high strikeout dominant type. In actuality, he shaved a whole strikeout off of his 2007 number down to 6.2 while bringing his walk rate down 0.6 in the process. The net result is a .30 improvement in WHIP down to 1.24. He has over 300 innings at the major and minor league levels yet nearly a 3.5 K/9 disparity in favor of the minors meaning there is strikeout growth coming. He showed last year why his asking price included a former #1 overall draft pick.

38. Wandy Rodriguez, 30, Houston Astros
– Injuries stunted an across-the-board breakout season, but he remains a pitcher on the rise. Three years of a declining walk rate along with four years of an improving strikeout rate show the maturation of pitcher poised to become a viable #2 both in the fantasy realm and for the Astros behind ace Roy Oswalt. I implored you to hop aboard last year (Strong improvements across the board including a proven portion of success make Rodriguez a strong buy candidate heading into 2008), but if you hesitated—I’m extending the invitation again this year.

37. Aaron Harang, 31, Cincinnati Reds – Virtually everyone knows that Dusty Baker is a professional “arm ruiner.” He did a number on Harang last year with a ludicrous relief stint on two days rest that effectively ended Harang’s season (sidenote: Dusty’s presence around Johnny Cueto and Edinson Volquez scares the living daylights out of me), but a bounce back season is on tap. Something along the lines of his 2006 season with a slightly higher ERA will show that 2008 was a Dumbsty-aided, injury-riddled aberration.

36. John Danks, 24, Chicago White Sox – Given how highly touted Danks was coming up through the Texas farm system, last year’s breakout wasn’t an out-of-nowhere surprise that some seemed to imply. Danks credits a cutter with a great deal of the success as he dropped his walk rate by almost one to 2.6 and raised his groundball rate by 8% to 43%. Based on the results of Danks and Ricky Nolasco (#52), perhaps everyone should work on a cutter. Unlike teammate Gavin Floyd (#74), there is a lot of sustainability built into this profile.

35. Chris Young, 29, San Diego Padres – A line drive to the face will derail anyone’s season. Throw in arm and elbow injuries and you’ve got a washout season with nearly three whole months missed. A sparkling September bodes well for predicting a full recovery in 2009, but remember that Young remains coddled by his home park, so spot start someone else when he’s on the road if your leagues allows. In any other park, this massive flyball pitcher with questionable control struggles to get drafted. That Texas is hammered for dealing him is unfair to the Rangers as he’d have a 7.00 ERA in Arlington.

34. Randy Johnson, 45, San Francisco Giants – He was called a freak of nature early in his career as he simply overpowered batters in Seattle. He was called a freak of nature in the middle of his career when he shifted to the National League, where it’s even easier to strike batters out, and took his game to a whole new level. And he remains a freak of nature into his mid-forties as he continues to overmatch hitters with impeccable stuff. He even gets the benefit of a better home park this season. The only roadblock to success is health, but he feels his best in years after back surgery and you’d better believe he wants to go out as an elite pitcher. Don’t get caught up in the age here. Johnson is the exception to the rule.

33. Derek Lowe, 35, Atlanta Braves – This is as solid a skillset as you’ll find in a pitcher thanks to an amazing groundball rate that routinely reaches 60% or better. The past two seasons have brought a better than 6.0 strikeout rate only adding to level of excellence here. The move to Atlanta is unlikely to rock the boat in any negative way so it’ll be business as usual for Lowe with season like those from 2005-2007 likely coming in 2009. With this profile and at his age, there isn’t a ton of upside, but the immense reliability has remarkable value. Plus 2008 shows the bit of upside should he hang onto the gains made in walk rate.

32. Brett Myers, 28, Philadelphia Phillies – He really got his act together after being demoted to the minors and put together an excellent 2nd half. It was gains in walk rate and groundball rate that spurred the comeback as his strikeout rate stayed flat from when he was struggling. Trusting whether he has really matured or not will be the key to setting 2009 expectations. Recall 2005 and spend the extra cash or earlier pick to get him. Unless your league counts personality, his douchebaggery is largely irrelevant here.

31. Ted Lilly, 33, Chicago Cubs – Establishing control has eliminated a great deal of the risk formerly tied to Lilly. He is now a high-strikeout/low-WHIP option workhorse that doesn’t hurt the ERA, either. When the wind is blowing out in Wrigley, it can be trouble as he’s flyball-prone, but he is as consistent as they come over the past two months. With an ADP of 49th amongst starters, he is behind the likes of Joe Saunders (#69), Aaron Cook (#59) and Ryan Dempster (#56) meaning he is something of a draft-day bargain at this point.

30. Daisuke Matsuzaka, 28, Boston Red Sox – Fortunate strand (80%) and hit (27%) rates went a long way towards masking a very ugly 5.0 BB/9. All told, he didn’t deserve his impressive 2.90 ERA and this odd amalgam of skills and performances makes projecting 2009 very difficult. He will get his strikeouts, but the walks will be an issue even if he trims the massive rate from last year. I think he is good enough to earn a 2.90 ERA by fixing his control, but that’d obviously be a best case scenario. For now, he will strikeout nearly one per inning with an ERA approaching 4.00 and a great chance to rack up wins thanks to his ability to go very deep into games.

29. Edinson Volquez, 25, Cincinnati Reds
– Wow, what a season! For all the great things Josh Hamilton did, it was still a pretty stupid trade for an organization that has been pitching-starved since forever. It was a tale of two halves as Volquez was unhittable during the 1st half and even if someone managed to get on (usually via the walk), they were left there to rot (84% strand rate). He came back down to earth quite a bit in the 2nd half as the walks remained over 4.0 per nine and the strand rate normalized to 72%. So all told, he wasn’t as good as his numbers in the 1st half nor as bad his numbers in the 2nd half. That kind of dominance can mask the control problems to a degree, but we’re likely dealing with a low-4.00s ERA pitcher this year. I’d happily endure a 4.00-4.10 with 200 strikeouts, though.

28. Jon Lester, 25, Boston Red Sox
– Displayed significant gains in control while becoming a groundball pitcher as opposed to the flyball tendency he had in 2007. He also benefitted from a strong strand rate (76%) throughout the season. There was a change in his approach so it’s not like these things happened while he was doing the same old stuff. Nevertheless, there is risk here because he has to prove that the new skills are legit. How he will respond to his first 200+ inning season is another looming question. If he holds the K gains from the 2nd half, he has 3.50 ERA written all over him. If not, 4.00+ is likely.

27. Scott Baker, 27, Minnesota Twins – Adding a strikeout per nine to his rate and a 3% cut in hit rate offset the minor boost in walk rate (from 1.8 to 2.2). Any way you slice it, the improvements are real and Baker has established himself as one of the go-to starters in fantasy baseball. Baker has drawn comparisons to former Twinkie Brad Radke, but that understates how good Baker is at missing bats. Radke peaked at 6.5 K/9 while Baker has improved from 5.4 to 7.4 in his three seasons. The low 7s is likely the high watermark for Baker, but that will be just fine if he continues to post that kind of ERA and WHIP along with it.

26. Erik Bedard, 30, Seattle Mariners – I’m not hearing much about him this offseason and I feel like he’s been left for dead after disappointing many in2008. Some idiot actually put him 3rd on his top SP list last year! OK, that was me. I guess it’s no real surprise he missed time due to injury considering he still hasn’t pitched 200 innings in a season. He tried to play through his injury and it sapped his control, but he remained dominant with eight strikeouts per nine. Now there is a chance for profit in leagues where he is downgraded too much for being hurt last year. If you pay for a 175-inning season, you’ll be rewarded with a big strikeout total and sub-4.00 ERA. The WHIP hinges upon the walk rate which has only been good once so far. That one time is an outlier until proven otherwise. Even at 30, upside exists—the 200-IP dream season.

25. Yovani Gallardo, 23, Milwaukee Brewers – It’s much more comforting when you are taking an injury rebound that is coming back from knee problem as opposed to arm problem. With C.C. Sabathia and Ben Sheets out of the picture, Gallardo is man in Milwaukee, but he doesn’t seem like the type to be bothered by such pressure. He excelled throughout the minors and then made a big splash in the majors two years ago when he was rated the 16th-best prospect in all of baseball. He had three excellent months and one blow up month (7.55 ERA in 31 IP). Even during that August meltdown he managed 30 strikeouts against just 10 walks. He was punished by the HR having allowed six. There isn’t really a blemish on the record of Gallardo at this point, which is odd for someone so young. He’s elite.

24. Justin Verlander, 26, Detroit Tigers – To say things didn’t go well for Verlander last year would qualify as a gross understatement. Surely he didn’t just get bad all of a sudden. Velocity concerns surrounded him all season as did control issues. His K rate sank while his BB rate soared, both raising nearly one full point. A big problem was that he was just awful with runners on base and ended the season with a putrid 66% strand rate. Even when the strikeouts came back in the 2nd half (8.5 per nine), he allowed several more hits (33% hit rate) and stranded fewer (64%). Where does that leave him for 2009? Some say last year was a latent impact of the heavy workloads on his young arm or perhaps he was hiding in-season pain instead choosing to gut it out at the expense of his performance. Control problems and the inability strand runners plagued him last year though neither has been a problem in the past ultimately leading to 2008 just being a busted season. It doesn’t appear as though he’s lost the confidence of the drafting masses checking in at 26th in the starting pitcher ADP rankings.

23. A.J. Burnett, 32, New York Yankees
– With a wealthy contract already in hand, it’d seem that Burnett’s motivation to succeed is out the window. I am firmly in the camp that he’s a wuss unless his money is on the line, but you can’t overlook his excellent skills. Obviously, anyone getting him is hoping for a repeat of the 200-IP season from last year, but even a copy of 2007 would be very valuable. The skills are evident, but so is the risk. It’d take a remarkable set of circumstances for me to draft him because I’m not interested in paying a premium for such a wildcard, but the high-strikeout/high-groundball profile is the best mix available.

22. Scott Kazmir, 25, Tampa Bay Rays – His WHIP has always been the wart on his line, but he actually improved it significantly last year despite seeing his walk rate top 4.0. He benefitted from a career-best 28% hit rate. He is one of the best strikeout pitchers in the league, but an increasing walk rate and sharp reversal year-over-year in groundball rate from 43% to 31% raise some concerns. Anytime a pitcher is striking out over a batter per inning, you want to acquire him, especially someone with Kazmir’s pedigree at an age that still has plenty of room for growth. He still had tremendous value while missing a month… his 2007 season points to how great he can be in a full season.

21. Kevin Slowey, 25, Minnesota Twins – Already an excellent control artist, Slowey improved upon his strikeout rate from 2007 nearly reaching seven per nine. In fact, he got better with it as the season progressed and reached 7.1 in his 88 innings during the 2nd half. He is already what I believe Andrew Sonnanstine (#44) can become thanks to that strikeout rate and complete unwillingness to yield walks (improved from 1.5 in 2007 to 1.3 last year). In fact, he has never posted a walk rate above 2.0 in any stop where he pitched more than 59 innings. Both Scott Baker (#27) and Francisco Liriano (#14) seem to garner more headlines than Slowey, but he may very well have the most stable skillset of the three. His name doesn’t draw the attention it should, so look for him to be a draft day bargain relative to other top starters.

20. Zack Greinke, 25, Kansas City Royals
– To come all the way back from his off-the-field issues and be a productive major leaguer is an excellent story in itself. To come back and be the dominant stud he was projected as in 2003 and 2004 is even more impressive. He’s got a remarkably steady skillset with tons of strikeout potential and a walk rate that remains below the 3.0-mark. If he can hold some or all of the 11% increase in groundball rate, the league is in trouble. These skills are worthy of a 17+ win season, but it’s tough to figure how a pitcher’s defense and lineup will support him regardless of how strongly he pitches.

19. Cliff Lee, 30, Cleveland Indians – He will add a full run to last year’s 2.54 ERA and still be a viable top tier starter in the league. His new approach has allowed him to get the ball down a ton more and walk fewer batters. His 1.4 BB/9 from last year is unlikely to stick, but he has displayed a mid-2.0s before and I expect a similar figure this year. Where he goes on draft day will be one the most intriguing moments of most drafts/auctions in March & April. He has two elite seasons on his record now and he can be trusted to perform in 2009. Use 2005 as a guide.

18. Javier Vazquez, 32, Atlanta Braves
– There were no massive changes in his base skills, yet his strand and hit rates conspired against him as he suffered a much worse ERA than his skills seemed to merit. A move back to the National League has me very bullish on Vazquez with his 2007 as the yard stick for what he can accomplish. A worst-case would be a low-4.00s ERA with a ton of strikeouts in another 200-inning season.

17. Felix Hernandez, 23, Seattle Mariners – The skills are bouncing around, but they are appealing regardless of their fluctuations. He has that high-strikeout/high-groundball profile most conducive to excellence, but he hasn’t put up the Cy Young-worthy season just yet. It might still be a year off, but there is still plenty of room for growth here. His walk rate jumped to 3.6, but it didn’t hurt him much because his foundational skillset is so strong. There nothing to dislike here and the hyper-impatient nature of fantasy baseballers could present some extra in value in some leagues. Buy, buy, buy!

16. Ervin Santana, 26, Los Angeles Angels – The volatility of pitching is proven perfectly with Santana’s 2007 and 2008 seasons. His meltdown of ’07 came in large part to the fact that he was unable to leave men on base once they reached whether by hit or free pass. He always had the strikeout ability desired, but a walk rate that continues sat on the wrong side of 3.0 made things tough for him. He cut that walk rate down to 1.9 last year while also improving on his strikeout rate. His consistency was something to behold as he went at least five innings in every single start last year. These skills are sustainable across-the-board, though it is more reasonable to expect an uptick in WHIP tied to a regression in walk rate.

15. Joba Chamberlain, 23, New York Yankees – I usually approach Yankees prospects with caution as they are often markedly overrated, but Chamberlain has been nothing short of amazing in his two professional seasons. He lost nothing in his move from the bullpen creating a very desirable skillset over the course of a full starting pitcher’s workload. His walk rate went up as a starter, but he is so good everywhere else that it almost doesn’t matter. His upside is Tim Lincecum’s Cy Young performance from last year. Yankee haters will miss out big time if they let their biases impact how they value this superstar-in-the-making.

14. Francisco Liriano, 25, Minnesota Twins
– I can’t think of any reason why the Twins thought it’d be a good idea to leave Liriano down in the minors while Livan Hernandez continued to blow games for them in the thick of a playoff race. He is firmly back on track to the greatness displayed in 2006 with a brilliant 2nd half in his return from Tommy John Surgery. He didn’t return his full strikeout capability, but that will creep back into at least the mid-8s and he will be an elite frontline starter again in 2009. His value is back at full blast.

13. Chad Billingsley, 24, Los Angeles Dodgers – Nicknamed “The Buzzsaw” by the guys of ESPN’s Fantasy Focus, Billingsley cut through opponents like a hot knife on butter as his strikeout and walk rates showed minor improvements. The biggest gain was an 8% uptick in groundball rate and if it’s real, look out. He can be wild at times with a walk rate firmly above 3.0, but he’s improved yearly since and he’d be scary good with another big step forward in 2009. He will be a chic pick for the NL Cy Young and while I don’t find it completely absurd, I’m standing by Johan Santana. The Buzzsaw is becoming a star.

12. John Lackey, 30, Los Angeles Angels
– Continued his strong performance in an injury-shortened campaign and he has developed into one of the most reliable starters in the game. Some others may have more glamorous upside, but Lackey offers stability in an area rife with volatility—that has unheralded value. There is virtually nothing to dislike here except a shaky 2nd half, but it merely balanced out his off-the-charts 1st half so bid confidently.

11. Josh Beckett, 28, Boston Red Sox
– It is fair to expect a bit more here, isn’t it? His skills aren’t the issue rather how many times he’ll take the mound with those skills in a given season. The 2007 season shows the upside when he manages to play a full season, but betting on that happening is the fool’s bet. You’re best off expecting 175 innings of greatness and enjoying the extra 25 or so as pure profit if they come about. He is still an elite starting pitcher capable of greatness and just 28; he can still take big steps forward. If you can stomach the injury risk, push forward.

10. Roy Oswalt, 31, Houston Astros – Need a reason not to make too much out of one half for better or worse? Oswalt was left for dead after a 4.61 ERA/1.38 WHIP performance in 115 1st half innings. Though his ERA is trending up since 2005, he remains one of the league’s best starting pitchers thanks to a remarkably sound skillset. A 200-inning season with a sub-4.00 ERA and nearly 7 Ks per nine is ace worthy material. The 2007 season and 2008 2nd half show his ERA upside of sub-3.20.

9. James Shields, 27, Tampa Bay Rays
– I was a huge fan last year and he did nothing in 2008 to make me leery of touting him again in 2009. He now has 430 innings of sub-2.0 walk rate on his ledger and a strong strikeout rate to go with it (6.7 in ’08). With Shields as your ace, you can take chances with a high WHIP guy or two later in the rotation—not Doug Davis necessarily (#96), but someone in the high 1.30s-low 1.40s.

8. Cole Hamels, 25, Philadelphia Phillies – It’s hardly a unique take which is why it appears in the Baseball Forecaster and in the following capsule, but the big risk with Hamels is the workload increase tied to the Phillies’ World Series run. His skills are tremendous and he will draw plenty of attention, but don’t overlook the potential for regression due to fatigue. If he avoids that pitfall, another 200-IP season with sub-3.50 ERA, sparkling sub-1.15 WHIP and 180 strikeouts is on tap.

7. Roy Halladay, 32, Toronto Blue Jays – He has displayed remarkably reliable skills over the past four seasons thanks to pinpoint control and no less than a 53% groundball rate in each season. He doesn’t have the strikeout rates of his peers in this group, but experienced a sharp increase last year up to 7.5 per nine. If I knew he would hold those gains, I’d have rated him fourth or fifth, but he’s probably headed back to somewhere in the 6.5 area. He is the definition of a workhorse and makes for a great ace even if he heads back to the K rates from 2006 and 2007 (5.4 & 5.6, respectively).

6. Danny Haren, 28, Arizona Diamondbacks – He enjoyed another brilliant 1st half followed by a regression in the 2nd half. However the shift was much more palatable for his owners as he remained below 4.00 in ERA while surging in strikeout rate up to 9.4. He is positioning himself as the best starting pitcher on his team (though not yet there, in my opinion) and he needs to be included in the discussion for Cy Young award candidates. He has a surging strikeout rate over the past four seasons (from 6.8 to 8.6) while displaying one of the sturdiest skillsets in the game. He’s definitely an ace.

5. Jake Peavy, 27, San Diego Padres – A missed month couldn’t curb his value too much, but take heed of the dip in strikeout rate and boost in walk rate. He remains dominant even with the 8.6 K/9 and 3.1 BB/9 rates he displayed last year, so don’t be scared off by a sub-.500 record or feel as though he’s unraveling. Just when the trade rumors surrounding Peavy seem completely quelled, some tidbit pops up to suggest they are back on and he could be headed elsewhere, namely Chicago. A move out of San Diego would significantly impact his value as one of the premier starters in the game, so monitor carefully.

4. Tim Lincecum, 24, San Francisco Giants – An absolutely brilliant season for Lincecum has vaulted him to the top of some starting pitcher lists yet I’m not quite ready to do that with just one full season on his ledger. The only blemish about him right now is the perceived injury risk thanks to a rather violent looking delivery, but he stands behind the delivery as preventative of injuries rather than conducive to them. His dream season is the upside of what he can deliver, but he there will be some regression this season. I think he will have another 200 strikeout season with an ERA around 3.25 and WHIP around 1.20. How ridiculous is it that this line constitutes a regression?!

3. Brandon Webb, 30, Arizona Diamondbacks – If Roy Halladay (#7) is the definition of workhorse then Webb is the epitome of the word. Four straight seasons of better than 225 innings pitched with remarkable success. His disgusting sinker induces groundballs at a better than 60% clip every season while he misses plenty of bats, too. Guys like and Halladay have a tad more control over their win totals by often eliminating how much the bullpen can mess up their start since they go so deep into games. Webb will miss second baseman Orlando Hudson, but this is a truly elite base of skills that won’t crumble with the loss of an infielder, even a Gold Glove caliber like Hudson.

2. C.C. Sabathia, 28, New York Yankees
– There is nothing about Sabathia that suggests he will crumble under the pressures of New York. His biggest hurdle to success is the massive workloads with the Milwaukee Brewers last year and the Cleveland Indians two years ago. Strikeout rate could come back into the high 7s with move back to the American League and more specifically the AL East, but that won’t detract from his gobs of value. The scary thing is that he could actually improve upon last year’s brilliant season. Specifically, he has a chance to post his first 20-win season.

1. Johan Santana, 30, New York Mets – The dip in strikeout rate didn’t prevent him from yet another brilliant season. For now it stands as the aberration on his record and there is little to suggest he won’t head back into the better than one per inning rates he’s enjoyed since 2002. He is still firmly entrenched in his prime so have confidence in him as the league’s best starting pitcher. Another 200 strikeout season with a 3.00 ERA and 1.10 WHIP could net 20+ wins thanks to the massive improvements in the Mets’ bullpen.

As always, I’m open to any and all feedback on the list. I put in a ton of time and effort, but I won’t even pretend like it’s a perfect list or the end-all/be-all in starting pitching… it’s simply my thoughts on the highly volatile field.

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