Well, that dopey groundhog saw his shadow and saddled us with six more weeks of winter allegedly (it was 76 degrees today in Austin), but that’s neither here nor there because the calendar turning to February means baseball is once again on the horizon. Spring Training will start mid-month and from there we will soon have meaningless Spring Training game stats to ascribe far too much meaning to as we prepare for our fantasy drafts and auctions.
My annual Starting Pitcher Guide is also on the horizon. Last year’s edition was a resounding success and while it may be difficult to top, I plan to do so in 2012. While the number of pitchers covered is unlikely to grow for the first year since I started back in 2008, the analysis of those included in the guide will be expanded. Make no mistake, it will still be a robust offering covering names all the way down to the short season minor leagues, but there just won’t be as many of those project types included in 2012.
What you can expect is another guide that will have utility regardless of your league type. Whether you play in an 8-team mixed league or 20-team dynasty league with 50-man rosters, you will be well equipped to tackle the 2012 pitching pool with aplomb.
…nailed the rebound of James Shields, “He is likely to be dirt cheap and I can’t recommend buying in enough. The downside if his luck just bounces back to average is 2009 while the upside is 2008 or better.”
…outlined the immense upside of Clayton Kershaw (though admittedly it takes all of one time seeing him pitch to understand his greatness), “He has more brilliance in his future including a 20-win season and/or a Cy Young award. Buy.”
…pegged the sleeper status of Ian Kennedy, “He deserved better than his 9-10 record even with the gopheritis, but that may depress his value again in 2011 making him a sleeper albeit a much different kind of sleeper than prior to the 2010 season” and also offered a solid expectation for teammate Daniel Hudson’s first full season, “I would use Kennedy’s 2010 line (194 IP-3.80 ERA-1.20 WHIP-168 K) as a guide for Hudson’s 2011 (222 IP-3.49 ERA-1.20 WHIP-169 K) and bid accordingly”.
…encouraged aggressively buying into a 2011 rebound for Josh Beckett, “With his BABIP, LOB% and HR/FB rate all working against him, he is ripe for a significant bounce-back in 2011, which may also come at a measurable discount. This is a buy profile regardless of the size discount, because he certainly won’t cost what he did heading into last year.”
…really liked the prospects of Washington’s Jordan Zimmermann even with a reduced workload on the heels of Tommy John Surgery, “[Innings] Limit or not, I love Zimmerman’s skills and will do what I can to acquire his services for my teams. He has strikeout-per-inning stuff with above average control. In his 91-inning debut, he pitched like a mid-3.00s starter, but bad luck cost him more than a run rendering him a 4.63 ERA. Buy now on this budding star, especially in keeper leagues.”
…loved Ricky Romero for 2011, “He’s a bit under the radar for some reason. In ESPN’s top 75 starting pitcher list, he’s behind Jeremy Hellickson, Trevor Cahill and Jhoulys Chacin among others. All three of those guys have their merits, but I wouldn’t take any of them ahead of Romero. He could take another step forward in 2011, but even a 2010 repeat is very valuable.”
…stayed the course with Derek Holland for a second year & reaped the benefits of his 16-5, 3.95 ERA season, “One of my favorites for a little while now, Holland flashed real skill in his 57 innings, but an injured shoulder cost him 55 games in the middle of the summer. He has a good chance of locking up spot in the rotation heading into 2011 and I’m looking for the full breakout.”
…liked Bud Norris for a solid year, especially at his price (next to nothing, even in NL-Only leagues), “If I’m going to buy into an imperfect profile, there has to be a legitimate upside and Norris has it. With his strikeout-per-inning stuff, Norris isn’t far from being an impact arm at the major league level. The biggest hurdle remaining is his control. If he can get his walk rate under four per game (4.5 BB/9 in ’10; 4.4 career), he could have a big season.”
…suggested keeping Cory Luebke on your watch list for the first opening in San Diego, “If he doesn’t win a job in Spring Training, he will be on call if any of the non-Latos entities falters as they all come with their own special brand of risk. Keep an eye on him. He still qualifies for minor league drafts and he’s almost certain to contribute at some point in 2011.” Luebke pitched well out of the pen (39 IP, 43 K, 3.23 ERA, 1.00 WHIP) through mid-June before finally getting a start on June 26th and holding a rotation spot the rest of the way (101 IP, 111 K, 3.31 ERA, 1.09 WHIP).
…pointed out that Scott Baker’s skills were much better than his >4.00 ERAs in three of the last four years heading into 2011, “Still, the skills beyond the flyballs are so appealing that it’s hard to stay away. Be prepared to walk if the price climbs too much, but there is value and upside lingering in this profile.”
…preached caution with youngster Kyle Drabek, “Even if he wins the job, I would suggest tempering expectations of a youngster who has skipped AAA. Keeper leaguers invest; re-draft leaguers invest only at the right price.” Even that tepid endorsement probably wasn’t enough as he was absolutely brutal in any format.
…warned that Clay Buchholz wasn’t a 2.33 ERA pitcher with his skill set, “He continued to be successful because a strong 51% groundball rate was supplemented by very favorable BABIP, LOB% and HR/FB rates that turned a 3.50-4.00 season into a 2.33 one. I love profiles with elite groundball rates and above average or better strikeout rates, but you will pay a premium for Buchholz’s 2010 in most leagues making it tough to invest for profit. I would pass unless his value is commensurate with his true skill.” He had almost equal strikeout and walk rates, yielding a 3.48 ERA in 83 innings before injuries cut his season short.
…had Jonathan Sanchez’s 2009 season as the barometer for his 2011 forecast, “Use that  season (4.24 ERA, 1.37 WHP, 9.8 K/9) as your guide and bid accordingly. His price may escalate because of 2010 so don’t be afraid to bow out; let others pay the unnecessary premium.” Sanchez toted a 4.26 ERA, 1.44 WHIP and 9.1 K/9 in 101 innings.
…didn’t buy Mike Pelfrey’s 2010 artificial breakout at all, “He’s not a legitimate mid-3.00s [ERA pitcher] with his current skills profile. I don’t think he’s going to all of a sudden develop an above average strikeout rate after 683 major league innings at 5.1, so his key to pushing the strikeout-to-walk rate above 2.0 (for the first time ever) is his walk rate. If the record (15-9) and ERA (3.66) inflate his value, step away.”
…virtually nailed Mat Latos’s 2011 performance, “Look for a 3.25-3.50 ERA, a 1.20 WHIP or better and 8-9 Ks per game for the budding star.” Latos pitched to a 3.47 ERA and 1.18 WHIP with 8.6 K/9 in 194 innings.
…wasn’t deterred by Hiroki Kuroda’s age, instead focusing on his consistent year-to-year performance since coming over to the States, “Though 36, he shows no signs of slowing down (including significant 2nd-half improvement in 2010) yet the elevated age generally brings an unnecessary but welcomed discount.”
…saw improved control mitigating the impact of a worse infield defense for Jaime Garcia, “A 180 inning season with a 3.50ish ERA, 1.30ish WHIP and 140 strikeouts is very good. The worsening defense with the departure of Brendan Ryan will hurt a groundballer like Garcia, but improved control after getting 163 innings under his belt isn’t out of the question either, which would help offset Ryan.” Garcia threw 195 innings with a 3.56 ERA, 1.32 WHIP and 156 K (7.2 K/9).
…was actually a little on high side when it came to Javier Vazquez’s rebound even though his season started off about as poorly as possible, “I’m less concerned [about his velocity dip in the Bronx] as a one year drop doesn’t automatically make it a certainty and though he is 35, I think he will rebound nicely out of the limelight with the Marlins. We almost certainly won’t see 2009, but 200 innings of 3.80 ERA, 1.25 WHIP and a heap of strikeouts has plenty of value.” On June 11th, 13 starts into his season, Vazquez had a 7.09 ERA and 1.65 WHIP in 66 innings, but pitched to a 1.92 ERA and 0.94 WHIP in his final 127 innings to end the season with a 3.69 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in 193 innings (as well as a solid 7.6 K/9).
Of course those 18 success stories were but a sample of the insightful analysis found in the 2011 guide and in the interest of full disclosure, there were some duds which is to be expected when putting out 546 player profiles. I was way too high on Kevin Slowey, who managed just 59 innings of work and while his 6.8 K/BB ratio was a career best, his 1.5 HR/9 led to a 6.67 ERA and 0-8 record.
I also thought buying in on John Lackey was wise.
I saw an implosion for Mark Buehrle, who enjoyed his best ERA since 2005.
I thought Derek Lowe was a low-risk investment (5.05 ERA, 1.51 WHIP).
I vastly underestimated his teammate, Tim Hudson, who showed plenty left in the tank at 35 improving his K and BB rates.
I fell for Ricky Nolasco… again.
I jumped off the Matt Garza Bandwagon before reaping the dividends after loving him in 2010.
I stayed the course with Jason Hammel whose skills were much better than his ERA for two straight years until last year when he decided to regress his skills toward his ERA instead of vice versa.
I thought AJ Burnett could rebound from his dreadful 2010 thanks to a solid track record & big time strikeout ability… whoops (Burnett lowered his ERA just 0.11 to 5.15).
I dismissed the signing of Bartolo Colon by the Yankees, lumping him in with Mark Prior, “even the best Spring Training in the world couldn’t convince to lay a dollar on either, but they are in Tampa and could feasibly pull off a miracle… I guess.”
I overrated Brett Cecil suggesting “he definitely merits heavy consideration in most league formats” as he went on to post a 4.73 ERA in 124 innings thanks in large part to a 1.6 HR/9.
I gave Justin Masterson merely a tepid endorsement which may have caused some to miss out on the 26-year old’s breakout season, “There is still to work to be done, especially against lefties. Invest on the cheap in AL-Only leagues and deeper mixed leagues, but maybe reserve (if applicable) or just monitor him in standard 10-12 team mixers.” I should’ve stayed the course with him after recommending him in the 2010 guide.
I was duped by Bruce Chen again, who lowered his undeserved 2010 ERA by 0.40 despite a strikeout rate below 6.0, “If you are falling for the 4.17 ERA last year and actually consider rostering Chen in any league format, I’d rather you just send me your money since burning it is illegal.”
I thought Joel Pineiro could continue to offer value as a low strikeout, control artist after back-to-back sub-4.00 ERA seasons in 2009 and 2010. I was so very wrong. His already miniscule strikeout rate plummeted to 3.8 K/9 and his ERA rose significantly to a completely unusable 5.19 in 146 innings.
In any sort of undertaking like the 2011 Starting Pitching Guide, there are going to be hits and misses, but overall I am happy with how everything turned out both when I published it last winter and now as I look back on how the prognostications panned out. You can expect more quality analysis in the 2012 guide as well as feature pieces diving into a bevy of starting pitcher-related topics yet to be determined.
Apart from knowing there will be profiles and some articles, details are scant on the 2012 guide because I have several decisions to make in terms of both content and distribution. I am flattered with how many inquiries I’ve received on Twitter and via email asking if there will be a guide this year so I wanted to make it known that there will be one which also explains why coverage has been scant at paulsporer.com through January.
I’ll post updates throughout the month especially as I get a strong handle on a release date.