Trade Targets – Pitching

This was the final part of what ended up being a 3-part series that appeared on Owner’s Edge at fanball.com –

Infield
Outfield
Pitching

Finishing up my series of trade targets leaves me with just the mound men to cover. As a refresher or for anyone that didn’t read either of the first two installments that covered the infield and outfield: this isn’t just a group of buy low targets; there are some buy at-cost and even some buy high, too. This group just brings value in some form or fashion to your team, so let’s get to them.

Scott Baker, Minnesota Twins – Since about late April, I have been furiously beating the drum to buy low on Baker and his teammate Kevin Slowey. The window has closed on Slowey, as he is 4-0 with a 2.40 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in five starts since May 12th. His season ERA is now below 4.00 at 3.97. But Baker hasn’t quite gotten on track like Mr. Slowey. He appeared to be turning the corner with a May 8th outing that included seven shutout innings but followed that up with nine earned runs allowed in his next two starts spanning 11 innings of work. Then he threw 8.1 strong against Milwaukee, but followed it up by allowing four in 5.2. That has been his “thing” thus far for 2009. Four runs in 5.2 equates to a 6.32 ERA, which is his season ERA. But alas, he finds himself on this list. I’m a sucker for anyone with ridiculous control. Baker walked six in 38 innings during May; Daniel Cabrera walks six during the National Anthem. Baker is also striking out 6.7 batters per nine, which is a very reasonable rate. His numbers are in line, but he is being punished by a ridiculous home run rate that WILL come down. He’s at 2.4 HR/9 so far this season, but his career number through 2008 is 1.1 HR/9.

A.J. Burnett, New York Yankees – The haters and naysayers are out in full force screaming, “I TOLD YOU SO!!!” regarding the Burnett signing. But the Yankees may (and probably will) have the last laugh. Burnett hates the first half of the season for some reason. From 2006-2008, Burnett has a 4.64 ERA before the All-Star Break, yet a 3.28 after. He is coming off of back-to-back nice starts and three strong out of his last four, so his cost probably isn’t as low as it was after his May 22nd start when his ERA reached a sky-high 5.28, but his overall numbers are still unappealing at 4.69 for the ERA and 1.39 for the WHIP. In leagues counting strikeouts, he has at least been delivering some value during his struggles. If you get him now, you’re looking at 130 strikeouts and an ERA around 3.20 with a chance at a boatload of wins in 140 or so innings. One key factor is health, as he has never had back-to-back 200-inning seasons, but health aside, I think he will improve his numbers without question.

John Danks, Chicago White Sox – It would appear as though Danks’ 2008 bubble has burst when you look at his 4.80 ERA/1.47 WHIP combo, but the skills are in line for a strong rebound. His strikeouts are up (8.3), as are the groundballs (0.99 G/F ratio), both of which are great indicators. The walks are up too much at 3.6, but that is inflated by two terrible outings in which he yielded six and four runs, respectively, in separate six-inning outings. Though I’m not a huge fan of this practice, if you take those out, his BB/9 is back at the 2.6 it was at last year. With the outings, it’s at 3.6. Simply put, everything points to a journey back into the 2008 realm for Danks, and soon. Acquire confidently.

Jorge De la Rosa, Colorado Rockies – de la Rosa was one of “my guys” coming into the season. Ya know, the guys that you love that aren’t getting much pub so you can usually get them cheaply; in other words – a sleeper, but a legitimate one unlike a Nelson Cruz that touched every radar out there by the time draft season hit. Through his May 15th start, I was looking like a genius. I hadn’t counted my chickens before they hatched given how early into the season we were, but I was enjoying his success on several of my fantasy teams. Then the wheels came off. De la Rosa has been thrashed in his three starts since May 15th, allowing 18 runs in 12 innings while walking 10 and allowing 18 base hits. He has struck out 12, but even that can’t cover the damage he has done in a short time. His season ERA is now up to 5.43 and the WHIP is at 1.43. He is still striking out better than a batter per inning at 9.5 K/9, which keeps him above the 2.0 threshold aimed for in K:BB ratio despite a 4.3 BB/9 rate. I would probably hold off in mixed leagues without reserve lists, but he is probably dirt cheap in NL-only leagues and makes for a nice addition to the strikeout totals even while he works out the kinks elsewhere in the arsenal.

Jon Lester, Boston Red Sox – This is one of the more higher profile buy low candidates due to name, past success and the team he plays for, but he is still coming at a discount thanks to a 5.65 ERA and 1.55 WHIP. His peripherals suggest neither of those numbers should be anywhere near that high. He is striking out batters at an amazing 10.2 per nine clip while walking just 3.3, good for a 3.1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Home runs have eaten him alive so far, as he is just three away from his 2008 total. His HR/9 (1.5) rate is 2.5x his 2008 mark of 0.6. A correction in that figure combined with these peripherals would yield a sharp drop in his ugly ERA and WHIP totals. Take him at any discount you can get right now, because he is not long for this level of ineptitude. In fact, he has two strong outings sandwiching a dud over his past three, so the wheels of the turnaround may already be in motion. He does have a worthy opponent Saturday in his next start when the Texas Rangers head to Fenway.

Roy Oswalt, Houston Astros – They say that history has a way of repeating itself and Oswalt’s beginning to 2009 when compared to 2008 seems to play that adage out. Oswalt posted a 4.68 ERA and 1.38 WHIP during the first half last year spanning 115 innings. He has been similarly shaky again in 2009 with a 4.28 ERA and 1.34 WHIP through 69-plus innings of work. Yet his indicators are very strong and almost identical to 2008’s first half indicators. He is striking out 7.2 batters per nine (7.3 in ’08) and walking 2.5 (2.1 in ’08). Like several others covered already, the home run ball has been the bane of existence so far in 2009 and it was in 2008, too. Only once had Oswalt posted a HR/9 rate at or above 1.0 and that was an injury-shortened season in 2003 in which he pitched just 127 innings. He posted a 1.4 HR/9 rate in the first half but cut it back down 0.5 during his incredible second half run. With his skills in order, that once again appears to be the sticking point to success for Oswalt and once he gets that in order he will return to the elite class of bankable starting pitchers. His value may never be lower, so now is the time to buy, especially since his price probably jumped a tick after his latest outing in which he threw seven innings of one-run ball with eight strikeouts.

Carl Pavano, Cleveland Indians – How hard is it to erase a one-inning, nine-run shellacking? Pavano threw 45 innings of 3.60 ERA work in the month of May and his ERA is still sitting at 5.29. That opening week abomination is likely still overshadowing the progress Pavano has made into a viable fantasy starter. He has a sparkling 3.9 K:BB ratio thanks to a career-high 7.1 K/9 rate. His ability to hold those strikeout gains will determine how far he goes in 2009 since the control has never been in question. He is in a no-pressure situation in Cleveland and it almost seems as if he relishes sticking it to the Yankees with every passing successful start. He gave up more than three runs just once in May and has walked more than two only once since the ugly debut. Pavano might still be on the wire in many leagues, which, of course, would obviously eliminate the need to trade for him, but it shouldn’t be hard to spin a discount from any owner looking at his gaudy ERA and factoring his injury history and lack of a legitimate track record outside of that magical 2003. Of course, that means there is also an inherent risk involved for you if you acquire him, but his skills support an ERA comeback.

CC Sabathia, New York Yankees
– Most of the names included on this list have qualified as buy-low candidates in some form or fashion, which wasn’t always the case on the two hitter lists. Those lists had guys performing well that I still recommended chasing down and CC is probably the first to fit that bill for the pitchers. That said, there is still a legitimate upside in that strikeout rate that you’re buying low on. He is at 6.5 K/9 right now, a figure he hasn’t touched since 2004. The best has yet to come for him in 2009 despite his 3.46 ERA and 1.14 WHIP. He is a top dollar ace that will command a premier hitter or a package of 2-3 quality talents, but he can begin to repair a broken down pitching staff. If he gets on the kind of run he had with Milwaukee last year, he can single-handedly lead you up your league’s standings.

Also Look Into:


— Aaron Harang, Cincinnati Reds
– He appears to be all the way back from 2008’s washout, yet the ERA isn’t as pretty as it should be with a 4.1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. I’d pay full price, but you might be able to get a bargain thanks to a 4.19 ERA.

— Rich Harden, Chicago Cubs – Unsurprisingly on the DL right now, Harden has a surprisingly mammoth (for him) ERA of 4.74. Yes, he has walked 4.4 per nine, but that’s tolerable when you’re striking out 11 per nine innings. He’s ALWAYS going to be an injury risk, but the reward can be huge as fantasy owners learned last year in his 25 brilliant starts.

— Koji Uehara, Baltimore Orioles – Slated to be back in a week, Uehara has displayed pinpoint control (1.9 BB/9) and solid ability to miss bats (6.7 K/9). Though much lesser heralded than Kenshin Kawakami in terms of imports, he has definitely outshone him to date.

— Jordan Zimmermann, Washington Nationals – He won’t be too discounted in keeper leagues despite a 6.07 ERA, but he’s worth targeting either way. He just can’t keep an ERA that high while striking out more than a batter per inning (9.2 K/9) and walking fewer than 3.0 batters per nine (2.7 BB/9).

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