Archive for ‘Spring Training’

Saturday: 02.23.2013

Spring Training GIFs!!

Bryce Harper starting off his Spring Training with some nice concentration.

harperstcatch1

 

And Prince Fielder wastes no time displaying his massive power with his first swing of the 2013 season.

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Friday: 02.22.2013

MLB At Bat 13

I was going to do a post letting everyone know that At Bat’s 2013 iteration was available, but my BP colleague Maury Brown already did all the fantastic leg work so I’ll point you to his preview of the app instead:

Biz of Baseball Previews At Bat

Meanwhile, after a pair of fake fake games yesterday as the Red Sox split up to take on a pair of colleges, we get real fake games today with four Spring Training games on the docket. This is a beautiful site:

stgames

Elsewhere on the net:

I wrote about five interesting pitchers to follow this Spring Training as they battle to be a part of the Opening Day 25.

I had Mike Gianella as a co-host, filling in for Jason Collette, and Bret Sayre as a guest on this week’s Towers of Power podcast. Gianella and Sayre are both new additions to the BP fantasy team for 2013.

Tuesday: 03.22.2011

18 of My Favorite Pitchers for 2011, Part 2

Here is the second half of my favorites for this year:

Part 1

10. Kevin Slowey – Without a spot in the rotation his value is going to plummet, but it’s a buying opportunity.  Don’t draft solely for April.  It’s a 6-month grind and skills almost always win out.  Slowey has more talent than Nick Blackburn and Brian Duensing, but to start the season both will have rotation spots while Slowey will work out of the bullpen.  Slowey will be an afterthought even in AL-Only leagues and I would be more than willing to slot in him as your 8th or 9th pitcher for a few bucks and wait for him to win a spot that he deserves.  A 4.6 K/BB rate doesn’t lie.  He’s long been one of my favorite pitchers and a poor decision by Minnesota at the beginning of the season isn’t going to change that.

11. Tim Stauffer – The former #4 pick overall took a while (29 y/o in 2011), but it looks like he’s finally paying dividends on that lofty draft status.  He plays in the perfect park for pitchers, showed a major uptick in groundballs last year (up to 55%) and has seen his team add strong middle infielders (Jason Bartlett & Orlando Hudson) to field those grounders adding up to a potential breakout season.  There is a slight premium on anyone in PETCO for obvious reasons, but Stauffer seems to be firmly entrenched off the radar in most standard drafts.  He went for $8 in NL Tout Wars and could easily return twice that when you consider what PETCO did for someone with lesser skills than Stauffer in Jon Garland.

12. Chris Narveson – His near-5.00 ERA from 2010 (4.99 in 168 IP) is sure to scare most away, but he pitched much better than that.  He doesn’t have the groundball tilt I usually like out of my pitchers, but with Milwaukee’s horrendous infield defense, that might not be such a bad thing.  He has nice base skills, the next step is learning to work with runners on so he can strand a few more guys.  Part of that is cutting down the long balls, too.  I think he takes a step forward in 2011 and ends up as one of those $1-3 glue guys instrumental in a team’s success.

13. Bud Norris – Like Narveson, his skills were better than his 4.92 ERA indicates, but many will pass based on that figure and the team name on his jersey.  I’d caution strongly against that as Norris has the kind of stuff that “out-of-nowhere” seasons are made of starting with his 9.3 K/9 rate being overshadowed by unimportant factors.  Are you one of those owners dying for an upside pick?  Norris is your guy.  The lofty strikeout rate is matched with an average groundball rate and a BABIP and LOB% combo worse than league norms that could be in for positive regression.  Even if he doesn’t take that major step forward this year, his sub-$5 price tag is at worst an even investment with all of the strikeouts.

14. Carlos Carrasco – We could have a budding Sporer Trifecta of Excellence (patent pending) profile on our hands.  It was only 45 innings of work last year, so temper the expectations a bit, but he had a 7.7 K/9 with an elite 57% groundball rate and his changeup was the best pitch in his arsenal.  This is a 3-time top 54 prospect (2007: 41, 2008: 54, 2009: 52) according to Baseball America so the pedigree is there, too.  Like Norris, his jersey will have some shying away or ignoring him completely, but his first full season in the majors could be a big one.

15. Derek Holland – It seems like I have been touting Holland for so long that he should be older than 24.  Alas, he doesn’t even have 200 major league innings under his belt yet here I am again espousing the virtues of this man’s abilities.  He started to come together in a 57-inning sample last year, but the loss of Cliff Lee opens an opportunity for him to finally prove it over a full season.  Although the sample was tiny, it was nice to see him greatly improve on 2009’s ugly 1.7 HR/9 down to 0.9 a season ago.  That’s about the limit for him if he is to have that breakthrough season many see as a possibility.  He’s one of those popular sleepers so be careful if his value gets too high in your league.

16. Jason Hammel – Similar to several guys on the list whereby he has above average base skills, but is missing one ingredient that keeps him from legitimate success.  For Hammel, it’s an ability to work with runners on as he his LOB% actually got further from league average 2010 leaving him with an ERA a half run higher despite improved skills.  You could easily be looking at $10+ profit out of Hammel if leaves a few extra men on base and continues or improves his already impressive skill set.

17. Chris Tillman – Remember when Tillman was the 22nd-ranked prospect in all of baseball?  It was alllll the way back in 2009.  He then proceeded to dominate AAA for 97 innings posting a 2.70 ERA and 1.15 WHIP with 9.2 K/9 and a 3.8 K/BB.  Later that season he was knocked around in 12 starts in his major league debut resulting in an ugly 5.40 ERA and 1.55 WHIP.  The skills were nothing like his minor league pedigree at 5.4 K/9 and 1.6 K/BB.  It was essentially rinse & repeat for 2010 with 121 strong innings at AAA then 54 ugly ones in the majors.  He turns 23 on Tax Day this year.  Too often the fantasy community gives up on top prospects if they don’t set the world afire right away a la Ryan Braun or Jered Weaver.  This is a post-hype play going for as little as a dollar in some AL-Only leagues who could end up as a tremendous keeper for 2012 and beyond.  Worst case is he is still not ready in 2011 and you cut bait with little invested.

18. Ross Detwiler – This is my biggest spec play of the bunch.  I just think there could be something here with Detwiler.  He has 278 innings of minor league success suggesting he is better than the 106 innings of major league work thus far.  He is the left-handed Tillman with less fanfare and a few years older (OK, I guess there are a enough differences to make that a bad comp).  Point being he showed enough in the minors to be something of a top prospect and though he hasn’t put it all together at the major league level yet, there is reason to believe he still can and will.  Furthering his spec play status is the fact that he’s not going to have a rotation spot on Opening Day, but the four surrounding Jordan Zimmermann are neither bastions of health, nor particularly skilled at pitching so he will get a shot at some point.  If he doesn’t win a bullpen spot, just monitor him.  But if he does make the team out of camp, he could be a high strikeout $1 reliever as he bides his time for a rotation chance.

So there they are, my favorite 18 for 2011.  There is something in here for everyone regardless of what kind of league format you play in.  I guess the only thing missing is minor league prospects, but I posted 50 from each league just a few weeks ago, so you know who I like there.  I know it’s a big draft/auction week for everybody so I’m trying to get as much material out as possible for your last minute prep.  I have a draft tonight, but hopefully I can get another piece up shortly after it finishes.

Monday: 03.21.2011

18 of My Favorite Pitchers for 2011, Part 1

Any fantasy baseball magazine, book or website is bound to have a sleepers section somewhere.  They are a fantasy staple loved by all and for good reason as everyone is looking to get the next big thing at a great price that will propel them to a title and help them for years to come if they play in a keeper league.

Of course in the Information Age we live in these days, it is really hard to get anything by your leaguemates in terms of a legitimate sleeper.  The more obvious sleepers turn up in seemingly every one of these articles all of sudden making them overvalued or at least just fairly priced sapping the value.  I am not here to bash sleeper articles as I have done them for the last five or six years whether here or at the various outlets I have worked for in the past.  I wanted to try a different approach this year.

Instead of worrying about sleeper label and pretending like we are pulling a fast one on our leaguemates, let’s just look at some guys I like for 2011.  These aren’t necessarily sleepers as many will be firmly entrenched on the radar of your opponents.  Nor are they necessarily breakout candidates, either.  After all, who really knows what defines a breakout?  It can mean 10 different things to 10 different people.

If you read the Starting Pitching Guide then you won’t be surprised by some of these guys as I made it clear how much I liked them there by suggesting you aggressively buy in or go the extra dollar or a host of other ways I used to convey my excitement for them.  Essentially if they are on this list, I like them more than their current projection meaning there is profit to gained.  There isn’t a uniform theme to this piece so let’s just get started with the names and you’ll see what I mean.

1. Cole Hamels – Seeing Hamels on a list like this might come as a surprise after all he doesn’t fall too far out of the top 10 starting pitchers in most drafts.  His inclusion is due to the fact that I have him as a top 5 guy for 2011.  He has Cy Young-quality stuff.  It was a travesty that his pitching led to just 12 wins, but that’s why judging pitchers on wins is foolish.  He is a bit overshadowed by teammates Roy Halladay and Roy Oswalt, but I think he’s the best bet from a production-to-cost ratio.

2. Tommy Hanson – Like Hamels, this is a superstar in the making, but an overreaction to a 10-11 record from 2010 is depressing his value a bit.  Guys like Hamels and Hanson are the ones who will be my aces in 12-team mixed leagues because I refuse to pay the premium attached to the Lincecums and Felixes of the world.  If you’re looking for guys to take Ubaldian leaps from good to great, target Hanson and this next guy…

3. Chad Billingsley – Noticing a trend with these first three guys?  Billingsley also had a record that belied his true value going 12-11 for the second straight season masking his return to 2008’s 2.5 K/BB and a career best 0.4 HR/9.  Are you surprised to learn that he is just 26 years old?  In a standard 12-team mixer, I’m building my hitting base filling in some scarcity fields like shortstop (if I can get Hanley or Tulow), third base and outfield (remember, we need five) while taking advantage of the first base depth with those first 6-8 picks then pairing Hanson and Billingsley as my 1-2 punch.  My offense is going to be better than the guy who took Halladay in round 1 or 2 and my pitching is going to nearly on par and potentially better even if he paired a Sabathia or Weaver with him using yet another early round pick.

4. Brandon Morrow – I think he is getting a little trendy raising his value, but that doesn’t dissuade me.  Last year, I loved Gio Gonzalez and Jonathan Sanchez to make big leaps forward and they didn’t let me down.  Morrow is my guy of that class this year.  If he can shave a full walk off of his rate like Gonzalez did, he would be near 3.0 and if it didn’t cost him over two strikeouts in the process (as it did Gonzalez), he can be truly elite.

5. Ricky Romero – I love me some Blue Jays this year.  I will lift a quote from myself from the Guide re: Romero, “Romero meets the three criteria of Sporer Trifecta of Excellence (patent pending) with a strong strikeout rate (7.5 K/9), a truly elite groundball rate (55% career) and an above average changeup (though it was valued higher in ’09)”.  He has the stuff to take a step forward, but even a 2010 repeat has value at the cost I’m seeing for him in the two drafts I have already done and the expert leagues that have already taken place.

6. Hiroki Kuroda – A victim in the W-L column going just 11-13 last year despite a very strong skill set.  He has managed three straight sub-3.80 ERA seasons in the majors despite failing to reach even 70% LOB% let alone the league average 72% mark.  His age (36) undoubtedly scares some off, but nothing in his profile warrants fear (50%+ GB rate, 2.2 or better BB/9 and improving K/9 reached 7.3 last year).  He comes cheaper or at the same cost as the likes Matt Garza and Tim Hudson despite a more stable set of skills and even a tick of upside if that LOB% bumps up to average.

7. Edwin Jackson – Not much love out there for Jackson for some reason.  Maybe because it took him so long to begin paying any sort of dividends on his elite prospect status (4th in baseball in 2004) or because he teased and tantalized with so many false starts prior to that breakout year in Detroit back in 2009.  In Don Cooper I trust.  In 75 innings he righted Jackson’s season from the disaster it was in Arizona assisting Jackson to eight quality starts out of 11 including a run of three in which he struck out 11, 10 and 11.  I think Cooper and the Sox will finally extract the best out of Jackson for a full season returning a sharp profit on his current value.

8. James McDonald – This is the third year of me driving the McDonald Bandwagon.  He’s just getting going after a trade to the Pirates finally got him into a rotation so I’m not going anywhere now.  He went for $4 in NL Tout Wars over the weekend.  He is the kind of endgame play that can yield $10+ dollars of profit and be integral to a championship run.  Frankly I’m surprised he was so cheap as he has popped up on a lot of sleeper lists this offseason, much to my chagrin.

9. Jordan Zimmermann He got a nice little 71-inning (31 in the majors) tune up last year coming back from Tommy John Surgery displaying 99% of his velocity from 2009 (92 of 93 MPH) and posted some decent stats albeit in smallish sample.  I am quite intrigued by what he can do in a full season (though a full season this year may mean  approx. 170 innings) having displayed strikeout an inning stuff throughout his minor league career as well as the 91 innings from his rookie year.  Injury returns are often a great source of profit and Zimmermann will be a prime candidate in this field for 2011.

Tomorrow’s portion of the list will feature nine names geared more towards single leagues and deeper mixed leagues.  That doesn’t mean they are entirely out of play for 10 and 12 mixed leaguers, especially if you have a reserve roster or taxi squad, but a lot of those leagues will have several of these guys on the waiver wire after the draft.

Ed. Note – if you’re wondering where Dan Haren is on this list, I figured he was too obvious to include.  If you’ve been reading my work at all this offseason, participated in the chat I hosted a few weeks back or talked with me via Twitter, you know how much I love this guy for 2011 (and beyond for that matter).  He is an unheralded ace with one of the best and most stable skills profiles in all of baseball.  He was tied with Max Scherzer as the 6th most expensive starter in AL Tout Wars ($20), a bargain in my book.  I have him 3rd-best in the AL behind Felix Hernandez and Jon Lester, just ahead of Justin Verlander.

Monday: 03.14.2011

Spring Training Stats are WORTHLESS!

This will serve as the 3/14 Daily Dose

It seems that no matter how often it’s said (even if it’s every year), fantasy baseball owners still want to put stock into Spring Training stats.  I understand the enticement of them.  You spent a long, cold winter desperate for Hot Stove news, poring over the previous year’s stats and preparing a bit for the upcoming season.  Finally in late February you have some actual boxscores and with the real season just a month or so away, you get caught up in a frenzy and start to give meaning to the numbers before you.

Let me assure you that they are almost 100% meaningless.  In fact, the numbers themselves are 100% meaningless and the only instance where they have some significance is when someone is competing for a job.  If a marginal player or up & coming rookie believed not to be ready has a blistering spring to win a job, the gaudy stats aren’t a precursor of things to come during the season, rather they are merely a ticket to entry.  You should use previous career track to that point for a projection going forward, not the spring numbers.

Still articles and podcasts all over the internet are littered with lines about how well established player X is hitting so far or how poorly established pitcher B has been doing thus far.  Often people will then use confirmation bias in May or June for the few instances of players who continue to perform (for better or worse) as they did in spring, all the while ignoring the 100s of examples going against them.

For every Jose Bautista (.439, 5 HR, 11 RBI) there are four or five Shaun Marcums (8.10 ERA in 10 IP returning from TJS).  Bautista’s September should have been your indicator if you were looking for a sign of breakout, not Spring Training.  He hit 10 bombs with 21 RBIs in 125 plate appearances in games that mattered.

Pitching is especially deceptive.  Guys are just working on various things during their spring stints whether it’s building velocity, spinning a new pitch, refining their worst pitch, gaining stamina, developing their command, etc…  They don’t really care about the ERA and WHIP accumulated, nor should you.

Even strikeout-to-walk ratios can be misleading.  You will hear some back that as the most reliable spring stat for a pitcher, but it is just as prone to failure as the rest of them.  Rodrigo Lopez had a 4.3 K/BB in 19 innings with a 1.90 ERA.  He then posted a 5.00 ERA with 2.1 K/BB in 200 innings for the Diamondbacks.

Or what about last year’s breakout star, Ubaldo Jimenez?  If you kept yourself from getting too giddy about the 2.89 ERA and instead just trusted the strikeout-to-walk ration, you wouldn’t have been too heartened by his 1.3 K/BB mark (14 K, 11 BB in 19 IP).

Teammmates Ricky Nolasco and Anibal Sanchez are couple of other interesting cases.  Nolasco had a ridiculous spring where he threw 25 brilliant innings striking out 21 and walking just one en route to a 1.78 ERA.  His skills were still solid throughout 2010 (4.5 K/BB), but he had a 4.51 ERA because of his 1.4 HR/9.  Sanchez meanwhile was trash throwing 18 ugly innings with a 7.00 ERA striking out a healthy 17 but also walking 11.  He then had the first full season of his career notching 32 starts posting a 3.55 ERA in 195 innings.  He had a 7.2 K/9 and 2.2 K/BB.

These examples are all admittedly cherry-picked as I peruse the 2010 Spring Training stats, but I could put together a 3,000-word piece further proving the point.  I stand firmly behind the notion that spring stats don’t mean anything.  What about last year’s spring HR leaders?

1. Chris Johnson – 8
2. John Bowker – 6
3. Aaron Hill – 6
4. Mike Napoli – 6
5. Sean Rodriguez – 6
6. Justin Upton – 6
7. Delwyn Young – 6
8. Ryan Zimmerman – 6
9. Jose Bautista – 5
10. Nelson Cruz – 5

You’ve got six established studs already known for their power, a guy whose spring made him a massively overrated commodity in fantasy drafts (Rodriguez) and three trashbags who were trashbags before their spring and then throughout the 2010 season (Johnson, Bowker and Young).

And like I said, I could easily keep going.  Don’t let quality spring numbers validate someone you’re high on or worse, dissuade from someone whose skills you love and expect a breakout from in 2011.  They are a non-factor and you really would be better off ignoring them completely if you can do it.

If you can’t contain yourself and must peruse them, use them as a tool against your opponents.  Talk up another nice spring from Delwyn Young (fewer HR, but .333 AVG in 2nd-most AB [42]) or mention how Mark Trumbo has had a great spring and will be ready to take over if Kendrys Morales isn’t 100% by Opening Day (hopefully wasting money on Trumbo and driving Morales’ cost down).

Or loudly discuss how Carlos Zambrano has continued his hot second half (which was a complete and utter worthless fluke) posting a 1.38 ERA in 13 innings so far (make no mention of his pathetic 6-to-4 K/BB).  And lastly, point out how Joe Blanton might have to replace Cole Hamels in that famed Fantastic Four for Philly because Hamels has been getting rocked with a 4.61 ERA.  Then promptly buy Hamels and enjoy a Cy Young season.

Trust skills, especially for established stars.

Wednesday: 03.31.2010

2010 Echelons of Starting Pitching: Part 11

It’s finally done! After 27,776 words, the 11 part epic on starting pitchers is complete. Below is final piece that covers the upper echelon, the cream of the crop, the aces. Here are the other 10 parts and I hope you’ve enjoyed the series.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8
Part 9
Part 10

Echelon 1 – Aces

15. Josh Johnson, 26, Florida Marlins – Johnson finally got a full season of play under his belt and he did not disappoint. He improved significantly upon the skills he had shown in his previous 272 innings spread across four years since 2005. The results were a 15-5 record with a 3.23 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 8.2 K/9 and 3.3 K/BB. Don’t think that his presence on a small market team will leave him under the radar. He is toting a 71 ADP, good for 13th among starting pitchers. At 26, there’s reason to believe there is actually another level of improvement left in Johnson’s game, but even a carbon copy of 2009 would easily be enough to lead your staff in 2010. One potential concern is the 122 inning spike from ’08 to ’09, but I wouldn’t dismiss based on that as there is no solid evidence that a spike automatically yields a dip in performance. If you have an equally excellent starter in mind with Johnson and that pitcher doesn’t have the spike, then maybe you let it be the deciding factor.

14. Tommy Hanson, 23, Atlanta Braves – His rookie season couldn’t have possibly went better if you scripted it. Well maybe in the script he wouldn’t have been completely jipped out of the Rookie of the Year Award that he most certainly deserved ahead of Chris Coghlan. And yet he finished behind Coghlan AND J.A. Happ. Sweet brains, voters. At any rate, Hanson met the lofty expectations set upon him and dominated the league to the tune of a 2.89 ERA with a 2.5 K/BB rate in 128 innings. There is no doubt more to come from the former Top 5 prospect, too. His ERA was a bit fortunate last year, but his strikeout and walk rates could very improve with a year under his belt and offset any correction forthcoming and lead to another sub-3.00 ERA. I wouldn’t bet on the sub-3.00 ERA, rather I’d look for something around 3.30-3.50, but don’t be surprised if he tops a 3.0 K/BB and throws up another absurd season across the board.

13. Adam Wainwright, 28, St. Louis Cardinals – I have been a huge fan of Wainwright’s since for three years now. I really liked him coming into the 2007 season after watching his nasty stuff shut down my Tigers at the end of games in the 2006 World Series. I have continued to drive the Wainwright Bandwagon and last year was the biggest payoff yet with a Cy Young-worthy season that yielded 19 wins, a 2.63 ERA and a career-best 8.2 K/9 rate. He flat out ridiculous in the second half with a 1.97 ERA and 1.11 WHIP in 119 innings as every facet of his game improved down the stretch. He built up to this point with small steps each year since 2007 and now 2010 will be a “do it again” season where he will be asked to show that his elite status is for real. There is nothing within his profile to suggest he won’t be able to meet that challenge. He is also a great example of how sometimes it takes even the highly touted prospects a while to develop. He was a 4-time Top 100 Baseball America prospect from 2001 to 2004, but he didn’t even get going in the majors as a starter until 2007. Now, he’s an ace-level frontline starter for one of the best teams in baseball.

12. Jon Lester, 26, Boston Red Sox – There was really only one improvement from 2008 to 2009 for Lester. Of course, it was massive as he raised his K/9 from 6.5 to an eye-popping 10.0. Oddly enough, it didn’t yield any improvement in his ERA (3.21 in ‘08, 3.41 last year), but adding 73 strikeouts absolutely raised his fantasy value. A guy with this kind of incredible stuff on a team like the Red Sox is pure gold. They have a tremendous defense as well as a very supportive offense which should put him in line to win more often than not. There’s no reason to believe a spike in K rate would be fluky and as such Lester moved into the bona fide ace list for 2010. Bid with confidence.

11. Cole Hamels, 26, Philadelphia Phillies – Hamels had identical skills from 2008 to 2009 yet his ERA rose from 3.09 to 4.32 thanks to an overcorrection on his fortunate hit rate from 2008. Everyone seems content to blame the ERA jump on the high workload from 2008 that included a World Series run, but I really don’t think that was it. His skills didn’t depreciate at all; in fact he actually trimmed his walk rate slightly leading a jump in K/BB. The beauty of his 2009 “struggles” is that he is now a tremendous value for 2010. His 98 ADP has him sitting as the 20th SP off the board. He has Top 5 skills and I would have put him higher if it weren’t for the amazing depth at the top. There are just so many quality arms this year that there are really clusters of like pitchers more than ever, especially in these final two echelons. Hamels is a huge value in 2010, but don’t let him sit too long or else someone will snap him up before you can.

10. Wandy Rodriguez, 31, Houston Astros – What exactly does Wandy have to do to get some legitimate credit for his work? He has improved his K/BB rate every year since 2005 and his ERA every year since 2006 and his HR/9 has improved or stayed flat each year since 2005 yet he is still the 28th SP off the board with a 126 ADP. I realize he plays for a garbage team so it’s hard to see much win potential, but if that’s how you pick your starting pitchers then you should find a different game because that’s a fool errand to be sure. He may not have the name recognition or the high profile team, but Rodriguez is most certainly among the elite starting pitchers in baseball with a skillset that continues to improve and could see yet another uptick in 2010. Enjoy the huge profit he turns as he gets passed over by your entire league several times over.

9. Johan Santana, 31, New York Mets – He hasn’t posted the elite K/9 rate for two years settling in at 7.9 after six years between 9.2 and 11.4, but you’d think he was at 4.2 K/9 the way some talk about him. Last year was a tough year for him including missed time to injury, but he is said to be 100% healthy for 2010 and that means another Johan-esque season. He posted a league-best 2.53 ERA with the 7.9 K/9 two years ago so even though your bottom line isn’t getting 235+ strikeouts, he can still log 200 with a sub-3.00 ERA and double-digit wins. His WHIP trend hasn’t been promising having gone up yearly since 2004, but even with that he has only topped out at 1.21 which is still Top 15 among starting pitchers. Another reason I still really like Santana is that he has at least one more insane season in his arm and the downside of investing in him in hopes of being the benefactor of that season is very slight. I wouldn’t be happy if he only pitched 167 innings like he did last year, but if that’s a bad season then I’m investing in him every chance I get.

8. Justin Verlander, 27, Detroit Tigers – I wonder how many times a pitcher has gone from leading the league in losses one year to leading the league in wins the very next. But that is exactly what Verlander did as his 2009 picked up where 2007 left off. The biggest improvement in Verlander’s game was mental, at least as far as I could tell. He labored through April (6.75), but was pitching pretty well below the surface (10.9 K/9, 3.8 K/BB) so instead of letting the ERA get to him and imploding his whole season, he handled the adversity with maturity and he was virtually unhittable for the remainder of the season. There is some concern about his high pitch count games and his batters faced total, but I think it could be a bit overblown. Yes there were several pitch counts into 100s, but he wasn’t struggling through those starts or pitching tired, his arm wasn’t being slagged. He was still throwing fluidly and bringing it at 97-100 MPH. Pitch counts and innings totals on their own mean little, it’s the state of the pitcher as they get higher that matters. I’m not just being a homer, either. I watched every one of his games during the season and watched them again on MLB.tv this offseason so I stand behind the analysis. Overall, he only threw 39 more innings than in 2008 and he’s no longer in the age range that is most at risk for high inning counts year after year.

7. Josh Beckett, 30, Boston Red Sox – Is Beckett actually so good that he has become a boring pick at age 30!? It’s really hard to believe he has a 5.01 ERA season on his resume when you consider that his K/BB has never been below 2.1 and sits at 3.1 for his career. This is as consistent a profile as you can find for a starting pitcher and I am actually surprised that he is the 15th SP off the board, especially on such a high profile team like the Red Sox. He’s got a sub-3.00 ERA season lurking in there somewhere, it could be 2010.

6. Dan Haren, 29, Arizona Diamondbacks – Everyone knows that Haren’s seasons are often a tale of two halves where his ERA seems to rise year after year once the All-Star Break hits. But let’s not confuse that fade with some kind of skills implosion where you should instantly deal him in June. His ERA split was 2.19/4.09 from the first half to the second, but he had equal 7-5 records, still notched 110 strikeouts in 114 innings and his WHIP was still a very solid 1.20. Trying to trade Haren around the All-Star Break is probably a stupid idea when it comes right down to it because anyone with a brain knows about his second half “swoons” and you probably won’t get enough value to merit trading an ace starter. So instead of trying to outsmart yourself, just hang onto Haren and get ready for a fourth straight brilliant season of mid-teens wins, sub-3.50 ERA, 200+ Ks and 1.20 or better WHIP.

5. Zack Greinke, 26, Kansas City Royals – It was really nice to see the Cy Young voters actually get it right for once and make sure the American League’s best pitcher got the award even though he only had 16 wins. Greinke absolutely deserved the award with an amazing season that included a mind-numbing 9.5 K/9 rate. In fact, his K/9 has risen yearly since 2005 and while it might have peaked in 2009, no one is complaining with a better than one per inning rate. Greinke’s ERA can and probably will move up a full run in 2010 and he will still be an unquestioned ace, that’s just how good he was in 2009. Don’t worry about trying to guess how many wins he will get with the Royals and just draft him for his dazzling skillset.

4. C.C. Sabathia, 29, New York Yankees – There isn’t a lot left to be said about Sabathia. He is as consistent as they come having logged fewer than 193 innings just twice in his career and those were seasons of 188 and 180 innings, respectively. His 3.37 ERA last year was the highest mark in four years and he hasn’t had a WHIP higher than 1.17 in the same span. He’s a perennial Cy Young candidate with plenty left in the tank and he deserves every bit of his Top 5 ranking. The ridiculous offense behind him does set him up to potentially garner more wins than the average starter, but his ability to go deep into games has always put him in position for the decision so adding the league’s best offense only makes things better.

3. Tim Lincecum, 26, San Francisco Giants – This is pretty blasphemous to some I presume, huh? I’m not down on Lincecum just because I put him here; I just think there is a pair of guys who could top him in 2010. I think he will be truly remarkably yet again, but the other two will be their league’s Cy Young winners. With a pair of seasons like the two Lincecum has had, I can see why some are tempted to take him in the first round of their draft. It’s not something I would ever do, with him or the other two guys yet to be listed, but I can understand it. The fact that he got better from 2008 to 2009 is just sickening. Some skeptics are still predicting a breakdown in the near future, but I don’t see him as any more susceptible than every other pitcher. His ERA might tick above 3.00 this year, but he is still a mortal lock for at least 240 strikeouts.

2. Felix Hernandez, 24, Seattle Mariners – How is he only 24 years old?? Last year he finally put it all together for the world class season everyone had been expecting for a few years now. As young as he is, there is no reason to believe he won’t continue to improve, too. He’s got the best profile for continued growth, too: power/groundballer. A 2009 carbon copy would not surprise me, nor would improvement upon last year’s elite season. He’s going 5th among starting pitchers in the latest ADP, but I would only take one guy ahead of him…

1. Roy Halladay, 33, Philadelphia Phillies – Matthew Berry of ESPN put in his bold predictions column that Halladay could win 25 games this year and I couldn’t agree more. He doesn’t strikeout as many as Tim Lincecum or even Felix Hernandez, but he had back-to- back ERAs of 2.78 and 2.79 in the American League East. Re-read that last part again. His walk rate has been above 1.9 once in the last seven years and his WHIP has been above 1.19 just twice in the last nine years (1.24, 1.35). In other words, he is the game’s best pitcher and now he moves into an easier division in the much easier league. He may begin challenging Lincecum and Hernandez in strikeouts with the cozier environment. And he can definitely challenge the 25-win mark that Berry floated out there for him. If you want to venture out and grab a starting pitcher early, make it Halladay.

Tuesday: 03.30.2010

2010 Echelons of Starting Pitching: Part 10

This part finishes off Echelon 2 and then Part 11 will be Echelon 1 all by itself.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8
Part 9

Echelon 2, Part II – Kings

25. Chad Billingsley, 25, Los Angeles Dodgers – A brilliant 2008 season left many wondering the heights Billingsley would reach in 2009 as he had lowered his ERA and BB/9 while raising K/9 each year in the league to that point. Well the strikeout and walk rates ticked a bit in the wrong direction, but the ERA unnecessarily shot up (4.03) nearly a full run thanks to a very unlucky second half. Despite the uptick in ERA, he isn’t being overlooked by the fantasy community as his ADP (123rd) puts him 27th among starting pitchers. Clayton Kershaw gets most of the attention, and with good reason, but the Dodgers have dual aces with him and Billingsley. If you miss out on Kershaw, grab Billingsley 2 ½ rounds later.

24. Kevin Slowey, 26, Minnesota Twins – I really hate that Slowey pitches for the Minnesota Twins. I am a huge fan of him as a player, but his success is a detriment to my team, the Detroit Tigers. I just pray for him to be on the losing end of 2-1 battles against the Tigers that way my team wins and my fantasy team gets some value out of it. I was very high on Slowey last year (21st) and I remain so this year as you can see with the top 25 ranking. He is coming back from an injury riddled 2009 where a 4.86 ERA has driven down his value. He’s the 53rd SP off the board on the latest ADP list which is absolutely crazy. He posted his second season in a row with a 5.0 K/BB and took his strikeout rate up over seven to 7.4 which over the course of a 200 inning season would be about 165 strikeouts. He has yet to post an ERA below 3.99 because the longball still plagues him. That is the hurdle between Slowey and a sub-3.50 ERA season. He was excellent at limiting home runs in the minors so getting that skill to translate to the majors seems to be within the scope of his talent. His skillset is too good to be posting 4.00 ERAs and I think at age 26 with 318 innings under his belt, Slowey finally puts together a complete breakout season.

23. Scott Baker, 28, Minnesota Twins – He and Kevin Slowey are thought to be synonymous with one another so why not bundle them together here on the list? I’m not just doing it for the sake of ease or anything, either. I believe they belong together and Baker is just a bit further along so he gets the nod over Slowey. His K/BB is 3.4 for his career and has only once been below that mark (2.3 in 54 innings back in 2005). His K/9 rate has been above 7.0 for two straight seasons and he has managed to pound the strike zone without being overly hittable. After posting back-to-back hit rates above 10.0 in 2006 and 2007, Baker now pushed back below 9.0 for two straight seasons while sacrificing only somewhat on the walk rate (1.8 BB/9 06-07; 2.2 08-09). Baker isn’t coming at quite the discount of Slowey, but he is still a nice value as the 33rd starting pitcher off the board.

22. Jake Peavy, 29, Chicago White Sox – Moving from PETCO and the National League to US Cellular and the American League is about as drastic a move as you can make for a starting pitcher, but Peavy isn’t former teammate Chris Young who needed PETCO to have any real success at all. I am not foolish enough to think we will see sub-3.00 ERAs like we saw four out of the last six years from Peavy, but I don’t think he becomes Daniel Cabrera, either. Yes he did benefit from PETCO, everyone does, but for his career he has managed a 3.79 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 8.3 K/9 and 2.6 K/BB in 622 road innings. Peavy has the talent of a top 10 pitcher, but moving to the AL will make it tougher to post those overwhelming top 10 numbers in 2010. Luckily he’s coming as the 23rd SP off the board.

21. Cliff Lee, 31, Seattle Mariners – I moved him down a bit because of the strained ab that will likely put him on the DL to start the season. It is problematic enough that the M’s have been rumored to be searching for another pitcher perhaps even bringing back Jarrod Washburn. Obviously I don’t think it will be catastrophic because I still rated him 21st, but injuries are scary for a pitcher, especially an elite one. Lee’s ADP is still very high at 57, making him the 10th SP off the board. There is absolutely no way I would go that high for him with the insane depth at SP this year. Fanball.com’s Ray Flowers said he saw Lee go in the 11th round of an NFBC draft this past weekend which I think it veers toward the other end of the spectrum as I’d take him in the 8th-9th without worrying. Nothing within his skillset scares me even the move back to the American League, so if he does get a clean bill of health with a defined timetable for how long the strain will shelve him between now and your draft day, bump him back up into the top 15 without question.

20. Clayton Kershaw, 22, Los Angeles Dodgers – Tough to resist the urge to place him much higher than 20th, but he’s not a finished product just yet. That is scary for the rest of baseball because of how great he is already. He has a tendency to labor at times and rack up his pitch count which limited him to just 5.7 IP per start. His control would abandon him and lead to those blown up pitch counts and he ended up walking 4.8 batters per nine. When you strikeout nearly 10 batters per nine (9.7 K/9), you can sustain that kind of walk rate but you’re only going to post a sub-3.00 ERA with that walk rate if you have a very fortunate hit rate. In fact, Kershaw led all of baseball with a miniscule 6.3 H/9. He was aided by a 27% hit rate, but that isn’t overwhelmingly lucky so the correction won’t do much damage to him, especially if he does see some gain in his control. Overall, this is a very strong profile that will only get better as he continues to learn at the major league level. There may be hiccups here & there, but nothing devastating. Look for his first 200+ inning season in 2010.

19. Javier Vazquez, 34, New York Yankees – I was so upset when the Yankees reacquired Vazquez this past offseason. Not because it’s the Yankees getting better or anything silly like that (though they did give back virtually nothing… get real with Melky Cabrera), but because Vazquez is a Cy Young candidate in the National League just as he was last year. There was tough competition so he didn’t quite nab the award, but he was one of my best predictions from 2009 as I rated him 18th. Headed back to the Bronx has scared many because of his results the last time he was a Yankee (4.91 ERA), but he’s a different pitcher five years later and even though his ERA was bad the first time around, he still had a 2.5 K/BB rate. The move back to the AL hasn’t put him at any type of discount because he joined the highest profile team and that’s fine. I don’t think he will be the 12th SP as his ADP projects, but I do think he will be much better than he was the first time around for the Yankees back in 2004.

18. Ricky Nolasco, 27, Florida Marlins – You are reacting one of two ways to seeing Nolasco this high: a) “WHAT?!?! This guy had a 5.06 ERA last year and you are ranking him 18th overall!?!???!” Or b) “Dangit, even Paul is onto Nolasco’s awesomeness, there’s no way I am going to sneak him despite that 5.06 ERA last year.” Nolasco is Exhibit A of why ERA isn’t at all representative of a pitcher’s effectiveness. It can tell you if a pitcher has been good or bad at times, but looking at it alone will get you in trouble. Nolasco posted a career best 9.5 K/9 offsetting the minor bump in BB/9 to 2.1 giving him his second straight season of 4.4 K/BB rate. Nolasco was sent down at the end of May when his ERA was 9.07 and he had given up eight runs in back-to-back starts of fewer than four innings. He worked out some kinks, came back and for the final four months of the seasons he went 141 innings with a 3.83 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 10.1 K/9 and 5.1 BB/9. He posted those fantastic numbers even with three starts in which he gave up 7, 7 and 10 runs. Nolasco has the skills of a sub-3.50 ERA pitcher with 200 strikeouts. Don’t let him sit out there too long in your draft.

17. Ubaldo Jimenez, 26, Colorado Rockies – If I had told you a few years ago that soon there would be a pitcher from the Colorado Rockies who would crack the top 20 of a starting pitchers list, you would have laughed in my face. Yet here we are. Jimenez has tamed Coors Field for 506 innings so if you’re still skeptical, you’re obviously never going to be convinced. Last year was a big step forward as he pushed his K/9 up over eight (8.2) and posted his first sub-4.0 BB/9 (3.5). Not only is he a high strikeout power pitcher, but he also has a fantastic groundball rate (54% and 53% the last two years) that allows him to rack up outs in spades. Simply put, he’s got the best kind of profile to invest regardless of his home stadium. Go the extra dollar.

16. Chris Carpenter, 35, St. Louis Cardinals – Carpenter probably single-handedly won some fantasy leagues with the overwhelming value he delivered last year. He was definitely a late round, low dollar pick up having essentially missed two full seasons (21 IP across 2007 and 2008) and he went out and threw 193 brilliant innings and nearly won the Cy Young Award. The only reason I have him this low is because the injury risk is always present with him, especially at his age. Plus, as I’ve mentioned a thousand times already, the pool of starting pitching is so deep that you can place someone with Carpenter’s talent at 16th and it’s not out of place. Another reason he’s a tick lower than the next 15 is that he doesn’t strikeout a ton of batters. He’s no slouch with a 6.7 K/9 last year and better than 7.5 in each of his last three full seasons prior to last year, but as you will soon see those ahead of him are posting strikeout rates better than 7.5 ranging as high as 10.0.

Monday: 03.15.2010

2010 Echelons of Starting Pitching: Part 6

Sorry for the delay in posting lately, but I have been busy with some other things including auction/draft prep for the leagues I commission as well as taking over the reins at Eye of the Tigers.com, the Detroit Tigers blog in the Fanball Blog Network. Plus I have started my two weekly columns over at OwnersEdge.com for Fanball, too. Fear not, though. I am going to finish the list.

This part will take us up to the top 100 so we are in the homestretch.

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

Echelon 3, Part I – Prince or Frog?

Can you believe that we have looked 144 pitchers already and we are only into the third echelon of five? I told you this year’s list was huge. Last year I covered 154 arms total and I’m only 10 away from that mark with three full echelons left. In part 1, I describe echelon 3s as “a mix of young guys on the rise still putting it all together and crafty veterans capable of eating a boatload of innings without destroying your team”. These guys either have a guaranteed spot or a clear line to a guaranteed spot that doesn’t include several injuries and a leap of faith from their management (the one exception being Jarrod Washburn who has yet to sign). Talent wise, the upside for these guys ranges from solid, useful piece (i.e. someone you wouldn’t stream based on matchup) to game-changer who could essentially make your season and take a long toward the championship you so desire. But that is upside which means perfect health, reaching their skill ceiling and a healthy dose of luck mixed in. So they aren’t without risk, but that risk lessened considerably as compared to their 4th and 5th echelon brethren. There are 119 pitchers left in the list, so with Echelon 3, I will begin to count them down.

119. Jose Contreras, 38, Philadelphia Phillies – Every time we try to bury this guy he comes back and shows a glimmer and looks rosterable. He seems to either dominate for six or seven innings or give up six or seven runs in one inning.

118. Jarrod Washburn, 35 years old, Free Agent – The aforementioned Washburn has yet to find a club, but the latest rumors have the Orioles interested if his price drops. He should learn from Johnny Damon and Orlando Hudson that digging your heels will keep you at home this season, so if he wants to play just sign a reasonable one year deal with someone. Washburn had a rebirth with the Mariners last year thanks in large part to their stellar defense, but he fell apart after being traded to Detroit mostly because he was giving up home runs at a ridiculously high rate (2.5 HR/9). He’s a flyball pitcher who looked to be fully entrenched in the twilight of career until that 133 inning outburst with Seattle, but anything short of a return there will bring him back to the mid-4.00s, low strikeout pitcher he had been the three years prior to 2009.

117. Chien-Ming Wang, 30, Washington Nationals – Reports suggest that Wang will miss at least the first and possible the second month of the season as he returns from shoulder surgery that cost him most of what was already a dismal 2009 season. When healthy, he will slot into the Nationals rotation almost instantly. Wang’s name recognition from his time with Yankees will keep him from sneaking up on anyone, but he could easily turn into a legitimate fantasy asset as he was back in 2006 and 2007. It is virtually impossible to project wins, but I don’t think it is wrong to suggest that they will be a bit tougher to come by with the Nationals than they were with the Yankees when he won 19 in consecutive years. He would be worth a buck or two in an NL-Only league where you could store on a disabled list or reserve roster and wait for him to return.

116. Ian Snell, 28, Seattle Mariners – This one time fantasy darling has burned the bridge with many fantasy owners across the world so much so that he has been banished to a Do Not Draft Under Any Circumstance list. I try not to do that with anyone because I am always trying to win so if someone can further that cause then I will roster him. Even Derek Jeter or Milton Bradley. He had a breakout skills wise in 2007 with 7.7 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9. Since then, his walk rate has skyrocketed in each of the past two years with 4.9 in 2008 and 5.2 last year. His strikeout rate has fallen, too, but the first it was just to 7.4 while last year’s was a big drop down to 5.5. He owns 7.0+ K/9 skill and that shouldn’t be entirely ignored. A skills return combined with the Seattle defense could result in a nice season.

115. Kyle Davies, 26, Kansas City Royals – Interesting note: his first name is Hiram. Obvious note: average control with a mid-6.0 K/9 rate leads to a modicum of success. And that’s exactly what Davies managed to do in 2008, but the control left him again in 2009 and so did the success. Still just 26, his success or failure in 2010 will hinge solely upon his ability to command the strike zone. Well I shouldn’t say solely. If he walks 2.5 batters nine innings, but has matching homerun and strikeout rates, then it won’t be a very good year. If he can walk 3.5 or fewer per nine while matching his career strikeout rate of 6.3, then he has a shot at being useful.

114. Aaron Laffey, 25, Cleveland Indians – On the surface, this might look like someone worth investing in: 7-9, 4.44 ERA in 122 IP last year; 4.39 career ERA in 265 IP. But he has a plummeting K/BB rate thanks to a dismal K/9 that hasn’t topped 4.5 since his debut 49 inning stint back in 2007. Sinking in concert with that K rate is his groundball rate which used be excellent at 62% when he first came up, but has moved to 51% and 49% the last years, respectively. You can get by with a lame strikeout rate if you’re topping 55% in groundball rate, but that is no longer the case for Laffey leaving him with a scary profile worth very little. Pass until groundball returns and/or strikeout rises dramatically and his minor league record (6.3 in 663 IP) says don’t bet on the latter.

113. John Lannan, 25 Washington Nationals – Lannan’s profile is very similar to Laffey’s except he is holding steady or at least not falling as quickly in the key areas making him someone worth at least keeping an eye in deeper NL-Only leagues. His K rate tumbled dramatically from 5.8 to 3.9 last year, but his groundball rate held steady from 54% in 2008 to 52% last year. And he has improved his walk rate each year in the league including a 3.0 BB/9 last year. If he can hold those control gains, maintain his 50%+ groundball rate and get back to that 5.8 K/9 then he becomes a very nice low-cost option for the back end of your rotation. If not, then his sub-4.00 ERAs will quickly become a thing of the past.

112. Ross Ohlendorf, 27, Pittsburgh Pirates – His 2009 results will likely drive his price too high considering they were a bit lucky. His 1.3 HR/9 is scary especially considering the 5.6 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9 that supported it are just OK. A severe flyball pitcher with middling skills doesn’t inspire too much confidence, but if he could drop that HR/9 below 1.0, then he could be onto something legitimate.

111. Kyle Lohse, 31, St. Louis Cardinals – A rich man’s John Lannan, Lohse has strung together four straight seasons of a better than 2.0 K/BB rate including a very sharp 2.4 in 2008 that led to his career year 15-6 record with a 3.78 ERA. Injuries kept him from getting anywhere near that in 2009 (118 IP), but his skills weren’t markedly different. He should continue with his 2.0 K/BB again in 2010 leaving his HR/9 to inevitably decide his fate as either a 3.78 ERA pitcher (0.8 HR/9 that year) or 4.74 ERA pitcher (1.2 HR/9). Lohse’s value pretty much just depends on how much you buy into the Dave Duncan Magic Machine.

110. Zach Duke, 27, Pittsburgh Pirates – Can you really have a breakout season when you lead your league in losses? Sure and it’s just another example of how misleading a W-L record is when judging a starting pitcher. Duke even made the All-Star Game last year thanks to a 3.29 ERA, 1.21 WHIP and eight wins for the lowly Pirates. Things unraveled a bit after the break, but the year ended up as his best full season (he went 8-2 with a 1.81 ERA in 85 innings his rookie year). Like so many at the bottom of this tier, he is a low strikeout, control artist type reliant upon limiting free passes and keeping the ball in the yard for his success. Last year was his first 2.0 or better K/BB since that rookie stint and not surprisingly it yielded his best results yet. I have a hard time trusting sub-6.0 K/9 guys myself, let alone sub-5.0 guys like Duke, but if he can get back up to his previous 51% groundball mark and continue to shave down his H/9 (9.8 H/9 in 2009 came after 10.7, 13.5 and 11.2 marks from 2006-2008), then he can have some value. Right now his value lies as a home/away spot starter: 4.44 ERA at PNC, 4.86 elsewhere in the last three years and a 3.85/4.28 split in 2009.

109. Doug Davis, 34, Milwaukee Brewers – Davis is to WHIP what a Jack Cust or Carlos Pena is to batting average. Allowing at least a hit per inning on average and walking more than four per nine has led four straight seasons of 1.50+ WHIP for Davis. His WHIP is like death and taxes, you can set your watch to it, but that doesn’t make him completely worthless. In that same four year stretch, he has just one completely unusable ERA (4.91 in 2006), otherwise his 4.25, 4.32 and 4.12 marks the last three years over an average of 181 innings has legitimate value. He will strike a decent number of batters out, too, with a career 6.7 mark. He returns to Milwaukee this year where he had that ugly 4.91 ERA, but also where his two best seasons took place the two years prior to that blowup. In 2004 and 2005, he threw 430 innings of 3.62 ERA with a non-Davis-like 1.30 WHIP thanks to just 3.6 BB/9. He also struck out nearly eight batters per nine innings. I’m not saying he will recapture that magic in 2010. Pay for 2009 repeat, but pray for some of the Miller Park magic where he has posted a 3.37 ERA in 372 innings.

108. Vicente Padilla, 31, Los Angeles Dodgers – No one wants to take Vicente Padilla in their league, but he has some value especially now that he is back in the National League. I don’t think he can go through a whole season posting an 8.7 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9 as he did in 39 innings with the Dodgers last year, but his AL ERA pushed 5.00 while his NL mark sits below 4.00. You can do worse than his 4.25 ERA and 6.5-7.0 K/9 in 175 innings.

107. Mike Pelfrey, 26, New York Mets – I got away from the low K/control artist types there for a second with Davis, but we’re headed back that way with Pelfrey. He’s got the low strikeout part down, but his walk rate jumped up over 3.0 last year (3.2 in 184 IP) which is a fair bit higher than the rest of the group. He excels over the group in limiting home runs though having never been above 1.0 in the majors. His groundball rate is also improving, which helps lessen the impact of the low strikeout rate. If he could just get to that 6.0 K/9 level and keep everything else the same (or better, obviously), then he could be well on his way to building upon that 3.72 ERA from 2008. He is coming absolutely dirt cheap (432 ADP) because of the 5.03 ERA last year, but he was very unlucky in the second half despite actually taking his K/9 to the aforementioned 6.0-mark. He could make a very nice endgame option, even in very deep mixed leagues.

106. Jason Marquis, 31, Washington Nationals – Another 2009 All-Star ranked in the 100s, but not without good cause. Marquis racked up the wins (11 before the break) thanks to a career-best groundball rate (56%) and a tiny HR/9 of 0.6 (also a career-best). Alas, Marquis has topped 5.0 K/9 just once in the last five years (5.1 in 2007) and his K/BB rate hasn’t topped 1.45 since 2004 and even that was a weak 1.97. Yes those round up to 1.5 and 2.0, but I’m using two decimal places to make a point: Marquis has an incredibly weak skills profile making him a scary investment unless he can maintain or increase the 56% groundball rate. Not a bad innings-eater option, but 2006 shows what can happen if the ball doesn’t stay down (6.03 ERA in 194 IP; 43% GB rate). Be careful.

105. Kenshin Kawakami, 35, Atlanta Braves – His skills suggest more a 4.40 ERA pitcher than the 3.86 he managed, especially considering the loss of K rate as the season wore on. He fits the general tenor of this grouping, he’s a solid if unspectacular option used best in single leagues that could get hot for short periods of time, but could also get rocked for 6 ER in 2+ innings in any given outing.

104. Randy Wells, 27, Chicago Cubs – A surprise breakout rookie in 2009, Wells posted a 3.05 ERA thanks to decent skills (2.3 K/BB, 0.8 HR/9) and a fair groundball rate. The general marketplace doesn’t appear to be charging a premium for his 2009 stats, which is good because it wouldn’t be worth the cost. There is room for a little skill growth, specifically in the K rate. If he got that up near 6.5, he could be a nice cheap endgame option.

103. Nick Blackburn, 28, Minnesota Twins – Is anyone keeping track of how many times I called a low strikeout control artist a “Nick Blackburn-type” so far in this list? Back-to-back seasons with 4.5 and 4.3 K/9 rates doesn’t really jump off the page at anyone, but when you can push 2.5 K/BB rate because of the sub-2.0 BB/9, he is at least given a modicum of value. Again, from a personal preference standpoint, I avoid these types but that doesn’t mean that you have to, too. I’d strongly recommend it as his margin for error is paper thin as evidenced by his second half (5.02 ERA despite better base skills), but over the course of a whole season he will have streaks of effectiveness. For his career, his ERA is more than a run better at home (3.57 to 4.64), but changing from the Metrodome to Target Field kind of makes it tough to follow that trend for spot starting purposes.

102. Derek Holland, 23, Texas Rangers – Though a direct comparison for 2009 shows me losing out, I would rather use my endgame dollars on the Derek Hollands of the world (7.0 K/9, 3.1 BB/9) than the Nick Blackburns (4.2, 1.8) because the skills of the former will win out more often than not. Holland was mauled by a 1.7 HR/9 which left him with a 6.12 ERA. The two are being valued nearly the same over at MockDraftCentral.com so far this season yet I’d take Holland 100 times out of 100 even if he cost two-three rounds more than Blackburn. Holland was blistered by bad luck in addition to that ugly home run rate, but he showed flashes of the kind of quality pitcher he can (and likely will) be in the near future. He’s worth investing in now before the results catch up with the minor league hype and raise the price.

101. James McDonald, 25, Los Angeles Dodgers – Call me crazy, but I like guys who strike out 9.9 batters per nine innings in 503 minor league innings and then come up to the majors and have pretty decent success in a role that is new to them. His totals were depressed by an awful first month he spent working the kinks out and getting used to working from the bullpen. In April he threw 14 horrible innings in which he allowed 13 runs on 13 hits, walked 14 and struck out just six. From then on he threw 49 innings with a 2.76 ERA while striking out 48 (8.8 K/9) and walking 20 (3.7 BB/9; 2.4 K/BB). He’s got a legitimate shot to enter the rotation in 2010 as the fifth starter and I think he is poised for a breakout season, especially if he earns that spot. He is costing next to nothing as he doesn’t even register on the NL-Only ADP at MockDraftCentral.com right now. He is a prime endgame target who you could feasibly steal for a dollar if your league is napping and end up not only turning a profit this year, but also in 2011. That said, if another owner or two has the same idea as you, I’d go the extra buck to land him because unless you get into an inflation-driven bidding war, he will still be undervalued.

Friday: 03.30.2007

Zumaya Hits 107 MPH???

I’d love to think that this was completely legit, but I feel like this was probably just a glitch with the radar gun:

Thursday: 03.29.2007

Spring Training Extravaganza: Day 2 – The Day In Pictures

I’m pretty wiped from another long day in the sun, so I’ll let the pictures do the talking today.

I got to the yard around 10:30 AM only to find out that they don’t open the gates until 11:00 AM. Oh well, at least I was there from the start. I was contemplating a move to the berm to see if I could catch some batting practice home runs, but instead I decided to stick around and see what autographs I could catch.

There you see ESPN’s Steve Phillips interviewing Gary Sheffield after batting practice. The interview was a good 20-30 minutes between the two. I’m wondering how much, if any, was off the record as it seemed that Phillips turned off the recorder part way through. Just prior to this interview, I got Phillips’ autograph as he walked from the batting cage to the area they were seated at in the picture above. I’m not a huge Phillips fan by any stretch, but he was very nice and I responded in turn as we bantered for a good 2-3 minutes. One lady asked Phillips the following, “Are you someone famous?”

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This is flamethrowing reliever Joel Zumaya during some sort of photoshoot. Not sure what it was for, but he was nowhere to be found after the shoot. Hopefully he pitches Friday against the Yankees.

Magglio Ordonez and Craig Monroe heading to the locker room after some quality batting practice. The two respectfully declined to stick around and sign autographs. Neither were snide or rude, just said that they were busy and would try to be available later. Monroe made himself available about an hour after this just before game time as he made his way to the dugout.

Curtis Granderson warming up in the bottom of the first. While I preferred my Wednesday seats because of their proximity to the Tigers’ dugout, these actually offered a better view.

Jim Leyland signing a bunch of post-game autographs, including my program!!!!! I had moved from my seat and was making my way around the stadium to the exit as Todd Jones closed things out. I stopped immediately to the left of Detroit’s dugout where Leyland had sat with Gene Lamont just outside of the dugout all game. As Jones closed out the final scrub that Houston offered up this afternoon, I hopped down a few steps to see if Leyland would hook me up. He was very kind with his time and continued to sign despite saying he had to go three or four times. I was the second one to get an autograph and snapped the above picture and the two below immediately after.

Another great day in Florida!

I had initially planned to go to Sarasota this evening for the Cincinnati Reds and Minnesota Twins game, but I was just too tired. Tomorrow the Yankees will be here and I will be on the berm hoping to catch a baseball.

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