2010 Echelons of Starting Pitching: Part 8

Down the stretch we come!!! Finishing off Echelon 3 and just two more to go…

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

Echelon 3, Part III – Ready to Shine?
82. Joba Chamberlain, 24, New York Yankees – Yes he’s currently a reliever, but he’s an injury away from being in the rotation. That or Phil Hughes ineffectiveness which isn’t completely out of the realm of possibilities. This is one of the biggest wastes of talent in the game right now because they Yankees have jerked him around and ruined him mentally. He has tremendous value even in the bullpen, but I think he will net at least double-digit starts, too. A hybrid season between the rotation and pen is probably best for him at this stage. If the cost is down as it should be, he’s worth investing in.

81. Anibal Sanchez, 26, Florida Marlins – More injury issues for Sanchez limited him to his third straight season of less than 90 innings and he’s never pitched more than 114 at the major league level, but he is just 26 years old he has posted two nice K rates in a row (8.7 in 2008, 7.4 last year). I still believe so draft the skills and hope for health.

80. Joe Saunders, 29, Los Angeles Angels – With back-to-back sub-5.0 K/9 rates, he’s not a sexy pick at all. In fact, I’m 99% certain that most owners vomit while or immediately drafting him. But the simple fact is he logs innings and wins. In 2008, he managed a lucky ERA (3.41) with skills that portended an ERA nearly a full run higher (4.32). In 2009, he displayed nearly equal skills and was justly saddled with a 4.60 ERA. There is something to be said for the reliability of a 190-inning starter, but don’t expect better than a 4.30 ERA.

79. Brad Penny, 32, St. Louis CardinalsDave Duncan Fever, Catch It!! Penny is just two years removed from a 208 inning, 3.03 ERA and 16 win season. His ERA (5.61) was ugly in the AL with Boston, but his skills were solid while his ERA in San Francisco (2.59) was excellent but his K-rate dipped to 4.9. He still managed a 2.2 K/BB thanks to a miniscule 1.9 walk rate so overall he was pitching well regardless of the end result. Now he goes to St. Louis where pitching coach Duncan has built aces out of much, much less. The ceiling for Penny for 2010 is becoming the third ace in St. Louis; bid with confidence.

78. Jason Hammel, 27, Colorado Rockies – Just needed an opportunity with the stacked rotation in Tampa Bay squeezing him out so he was traded and had a very nice season. His strikeouts went up and walks went down leading to an excellent 3.2 K/BB ratio. Though the NL helped him as a whole, Coors Field didn’t work out as well as he posted a 5.73 ERA at home. Yet his K/9 (7.4) and K/BB (3.7) were both better at home so I’d bet on him to improve that home ERA and push for a sub-4.00 ERA in 2010.

77. Trevor Cahill, 22, Oakland A’s – I don’t think the 21-year old Cahill got enough credit for getting through a 179-inning rookie year with a reasonable 4.63 ERA and 10 wins. That is mainly because his season is juxtaposed against Brett Anderson’s which isn’t really fair for many starting pitchers let alone a rookie who has never pitched above AA. He didn’t bring his 10.0 K/9 from the minor leagues with him to the majors, but that doesn’t mean he is destined to be a 4.5 K/9 pitcher the rest of his career. He’s 22 and still learning a lot about how to pitch in the majors. He’s coming very cheap so I really like him keeper leagues because he will contribute a solid in 2010, but also give you a low-cost, high-upside keeper for 2011.

76. Barry Zito, 32, San Francisco Giants – Zito’s really solid season is being overlooked and no one trusts he can do it again. Yes the strikeout rate was his highest since 2001, but at 7.2 it was essentially in line with his 6.4 K/9 the last five years. He’s going to walk batters, it’s that simple but as long as he’s striking out 6.4+ batters and logging 190+ innings, he has value. Just because San Francisco will never get their return on investment from him doesn’t mean you will suffer the same fate. And he’s only 32, that’s hardly old.

75. Brian Matusz, 23, Baltimore Orioles – It was only 45 innings, but Matusz skipped AAA and made it to the majors in his first professional season after stops at A+ and AA. He acquitted himself quite well with a 7.7 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9. Forget the 4.63 ERA because those rates are worthy of a much better figure over the course of a season. This polished college pitcher is ready for the big time and holds legitimate AL-Only value and could feasibly become a mixed league value if he can maintain those rates or better throughout 2010.

74. Phil Hughes, 24, New York Yankees – I mentioned earlier that his ineffectiveness could land Joba Chamberlain back in the rotation, but don’t confuse that with me predicting ineffectiveness for him. He struggled in seven starts with an ERA over 5.00, but he still struck out 8.0 per nine and managed a 2.1 K/BB while starting so he was hardly awful. But he was truly brilliant in relief with an 11.0 K/9 and 5.0 K/BB in 51 innings. He earned the fifth spot in the rotation and on pure talent alone he deserves a much higher ranking. But we’ve seen this before with a Yankee stud so I’ll lean conservative with Hughes until I see him make the transition back into the rotation.

73. Justin Masterson, 25, Cleveland Indians – Like Hughes, Masterson fared much better coming out of the pen but he showed glimpses as a starter. He’s now a full-time starter and he will need to cut down that 4.2 BB/9 while holding most of that 8.3 K/9 rate to be successful. One underrated tidbit about Hughes and Masterson is their dual SP/RP eligibility in leagues that differentiate the pitching spots. I like this former top prospect to take another step forward and justify the praise he garnered as an elite trade chip in Boston before finally being shipped away for star catcher Victor Martinez.

72. J.A. Happ, 27, Philadelphia Phillies – A 12-4 record and a shiny sub-3.00 ERA for the National League’s best team will get Happ overdrafted in many leagues, but don’t fall prey. He was fairly lucky in his peripherals (high LOB%, low hits against %) and his high flyball rate (43%) won’t help much, either. Also forgotten is the fact that he was an old rookie so there isn’t necessarily any growth coming at 27 years old. He’s a 4.30 ERA pitcher with 135-140 Ks in 200 innings who could pile up wins if things break right thanks to an excellent offense supporting him.

71. Aaron Cook, 31, Colorado Rockies – A rich man’s Joe Saunders, Cook doesn’t strike batters out at a very impressive clip (4.0 K/9 last 3 years) and that instantly gets him overlooked by the bulk of the fantasy baseball community. Yet he possesses a tremendous groundball rate (58% career mark in 1088 IP) and sharp control with a BB/9 at or below 2.7 every year since 2005. He comes cheaper than Saunders, yet he’s far more reliable.

70. Bronson Arroyo, 33, Cincinnati Reds – Consistency is inexplicably an undesirable trait for fantasy baseball owners when they scout pitchers. How else can you explain Arroyo’s 322 ADP? At a position rife with injuries, Arroyo has notched 200+ innings for five straight seasons averaging 215 with 13 wins, 146 Ks, 4.09 ERA and 1.31 WHIP. What exactly is wrong with that in the middle-to-back end of your rotation? Nothing. Set it and forget it.

69. Rick VandenHurk, 25, Florida Marlins – Plenty of attention is paid to Florida’s dynamic 1-2 punch of Josh Johnson and Ricky Nolasco with good reason, but the remaining 3/5ths have been a bit overlooked as a whole. Anibal Sanchez and Chris Volstad have already been given their due on this list, but VandenHurk is a darkhorse I really like for 2010. The Marlins appear to foolishly be putting a lot of stock in VandenHurk’s spring ERA so he might not start the season in the rotation, but Clay Hensley is still Clay Hensley so RVH will get his chance. In the meantime, he will be a valuable bullpen asset.

68. Mark Buehrle, 31, Chicago White Sox – A rich man’s Bronson Arroyo, Buehrle is the model of consistency with nine straight 200-inning seasons and seven ERAs of 3.89 or better and just one above 4.14. He doesn’t strikeout many, but that is only very detrimental in leagues with innings caps. Two no hitters including a perfect game last year keep Buehrle’s profile somewhat high, but he still doesn’t get as much credit as he deserves.

67. Brett Myers, 29, Houston Astros – A change of scenery should serve Myers well and he brings a solid skills profile with him that deserves consideration. His strikeout rate tumbled from 2007 to 2008 and then dipped again last year, but he’s still above 6.0 and has still held above 2.0 K/BB rate. I think the strikeout rate moves back up over 7.0-7.5 in a very sharp comeback season reminiscent of 2006. He doesn’t cost anything (334 ADP), so why not give him a shot?

66. Neftali Feliz, 22, Texas Rangers – I know it’s sacrilegious to put Feliz this low, but I am interested in helping you win, not just latching onto the flavor of the month. I believe Feliz is a truly special talent who will be great, but seasons like Tommy Hanson’s are the exception while ones like David Price’s or worse are the rule for untested young phenoms. Feliz had an excellent 31 relief innings last year, but it was THIRTY ONE innings and it came in relief. He will have his ups and downs in 2010 and it’s laughable to see him drafted ahead of Scott Kazmir, David Price, Gavin Floyd, Jorge de la Rosa and Kevin Slowey among MANY others. This is a Matt Wieters situation for 2010. Avoid unless his price comes down to a realistic level.

65. Carl Pavano, 34, Minnesota Twins – Resides on the “do not draft under any circumstance” for many owners, but those owners are only hurting their teams. His ERA wasn’t great (5.10 combined between Cleveland & Minnesota), but the 3.8 K/BB was elite. If he can maintain that kind of excellent rate and hold the improved K rate he showed in Minnesota (7.2, up from 6.3 in CLE), then he’s going to be a hidden gem at 365 ADP. His time in New York was a complete and utter disaster, but don’t let that foolishly keep you from making a smart decision about rostering him in 2010 especially at his depressed cost.

64. Rick Porcello, 21, Detroit Tigers – Like Trevor Cahill, don’t assume that Porcello is locked into his 4.7 K/9 just because that’s what he showed in his first big league season at age 20. He is a developing ace who more than held his own despite never pitching above A+ ball in the minors. His velocity improved as the season wore on and he had two 8 K starts in the last month and a half, both in just 5.7 innings. He might not be ready for an elite K rate in 2010, but I’d expect to see improvement to the acceptable 6.0-mark. This is a superstar in the making.

63. Wade Davis, 24, Tampa Bay Rays – Very well seasoned in the minor leagues, Davis grabbed a major league cup of coffee in 36 late-season innings last year and impressed. He struck out 8.9 batters per nine while walking only 3.2 (2.8 K/BB) en route to a 3.72 in six starts. He is the next in what has become a factory of arms in Tampa Bay and he just recently nailed down the 5th spot in the rotation. To give you an idea of how strong the Tampa rotation is, note that Davis is the first of their five in the list and there are only 63 spots left. Invest heavily in Rays despite their residence in the AL Beast.

62. Derek Lowe, 37, Atlanta Braves – He wasn’t as good as his 3.24 ERA in 2008, but he’s not as bad as his 4.67 ERA in 2009, either. Even at 37 years old, he’s somewhere in between thanks in large part to an excellent groundball rate. Now, that rate has fallen yearly since 2006, but even at 56% it’s elite. Lowe is a workhorse who has averaged 206 innings per year since 2002 never throwing fewer than 183 in that span and notching an average of 15 wins, too. He’s a 4.00 ERA pitcher at this juncture, but as I mentioned before, consistency is a skill and it shouldn’t be overlooked.

61. Ervin Santana, 27, Los Angeles Angels – Dealing with a sore elbow that he reportedly banged on a piece of furniture, Santana says it is no cause for alarm. For now, I’ll believe him. As such, I like him for a bounceback in 2010. He is very inconsistent with a wide variety of ERAs in his five seasons, but he’s never had a sub-2.0 K/BB and his lowest K/9 is 6.2 in that span. His two best seasons came in the two he stayed healthy (not terribly surprising) and topped 200 innings of work. If the elbow does prove to be nothing more than a little bump, then Big Erv is ready for a big year.

60. Clay Buchholz, 25, Boston Red Sox – Buchholz can look so amazing at times and so awful at others. Those times can come in the same game if you catch him on the right (or wrong?) night. The no-hitter has kept his expectations sky high and that’s OK when you consider how dominant he has been in the minors (2.42 ERA in 443 IP), but he needs to harness his control (4.1 BB/9 191 IP) to begin paying dividends on #4 prospect in the MLB rating from 2008. I’m not sure how he is being drafted ahead of Kevin Slowey, Jeff Niemann, Francisco Liriano and Rich Harden among others. Like Feliz, avoid unless the price tag gets reasonable. Of course, Joba Chamberlain is being drafted ahead of Buchholz, so who knows what the hell these mock drafters are thinking?!

59. Shaun Marcum, 28, Toronto Blue Jays – After back-to-back big seasons, Marcum was on his way to becoming a very solid #2 starter thanks to a 2.5 K/BB in 310 innings across 2007 and 2008. His strikeout and groundball rates had improved from ’07 to ’08 before falling victim to Tommy John Surgery in late 2008. He got a minor league cup of coffee (16 IP) to close out 2009 and he fared quite well (2.30 ERA, 13 K, 3 BB). Absence makes the brain grow forgetful as Marcum is falling to a 329 ADP (87th SP overall) behind the likes of Chris Young and Randy Wells. He could be one of the biggest profits on the mound in 2010. Buy, buy, buy!!!

58. Stephen Strasburg, 21, Washington Nationals – Here he is! The toast of the town has met expectations early on with an excellent spring striking out 12 in nine innings allowing just two earned runs. But the Nats wisely sent him to minor league camp and will give him a tour of AA and AAA before bringing up to the show sometime in May or June. As I mentioned before, it’s important to realize that seasons like Tommy Hanson’s (11-4, 2.89 ERA, 1.18 WHIP in 128 IP) are the exception, not the rule. Since 2000, there have been three rookie starting pitchers to post a sub-3.00 ERA, sub-1.20 WHIP and 8.0+ K/9 in 128+ innings. Hanson, Roy Oswalt and Brandon Webb make up the list. Strasburg looks like he will become an elite talent, but that doesn’t mean instant success. Unless you are in a keeper league, temper your expectations and don’t be afraid to not get Strasburg in lieu of overpaying.

57. Jonathan Sanchez, 27, San Francisco Giants – It’s hard not to salivate over a 9.8 K/9 rate in 163 innings. It comes with a huge walk rate (4.8), too, but Sanchez is definitely moving forward. Despite 4.3-4.8 BB/9 rates in each of the past three seasons, Sanchez has sustained a 2.0+ K/BB across 373 innings. Lefties tend to develop a little bit slower than righties; expect another step forward for Sanchez in 2010.

56. Joe Blanton, 29, Philadelphia Phillies – Blanton flourished in his first full National League season with a career high 7.5 K/9 en route to workman-like 4.05 ERA in 195 innings of work. There is nothing particularly flashy about Blanton, but as we have seen with many of the guys in this group, he’s a horse. His ERA has bounced around, but in the NL I think it will stabilize around the 4.00-level. There is no reason to believe the 7.5 K/9 won’t stick around, too.

55. Ben Sheets, 31, Oakland A’sBilly Beane’s A’s were about as unexpected to land star free agent Sheets as the Reds were to land Aroldis Chapman. He had enjoyed his second best season ever in 2008 before losing the entire 2009 season to an arm injury. Much has been made of his disastrous spring start in which he didn’t log an out and allowed nine earned runs, but honestly, who cares? Many very good starting pitchers absolutely suck in spring only to pitch just fine in the regular season. The only reason Sheets is getting the attention is because he’s returning from injury. For the record, he threw four innings allowing one run and striking out four just five days after that outing, so he’s fine. As someone who hasn’t topped 200 innings since 2004 and returning from injury, reliability will be an issue but 150 innings of Sheets is better than 200 from many others.

54. Hiroki Kuroda, 35, Los Angeles Dodgers – I love this guy’s skill set as he ramped up his strikeout rate by one to 6.7 K/9 while trimmed his walk rate a tad to 1.8 BB/9 resulting in a brilliant 3.6 K/BB. I expect more of the same in 2010 with more volume as he should approach 185-200 innings of work. That kind of skill profile for 185 innings is an absolute steal at a 236 ADP. Go the extra dollar.

53. Randy Wolf, 33, Milwaukee Brewers – The Dodgers should have hung onto Wolf as they now search to fill their 5th starter spot with Vicente Padilla already in place at the four hole. Wolf battled injuries from 2004-2007, but has posted 190 and 214 inning the last two seasons with very strong results to show for it. Now he moves to Milwaukee where he will become the two to Yovani Gallardo giving the Brew Crew a legit 1-2 punch they sorely lacked last year after CC Sabathia’s departure.


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