Coming into the season, Scott Baker would have never been someone I would have imagined putting on my Trolling the Wire recommendation list because he is someone who was drafted or purchased at auction regardless of league format.
There was a tick of uncertainty with his rotation spot during Spring Training as the Twins did their best to show they didn’t care that much about winning (Nick Blackburn? Really?), but in the end he landed a spot and Kevin Slowey was the odd man out. Baker stumbled out of the gate allowing four runs in each of his first two starts across 11 innings which inexplicably led to the fantasy community at large distancing itself from Baker.
As a long-time fan of Baker despite his being a Twin (and my being a Tigers fan), this struck me as odd. His ERA has left a bit to be desired in shallow mixed leagues three of the last four years, but his skills always said he was a sub-4.00 ERA kind of pitcher. Meanwhile his strikeout and walk rates were rock solid the last three years as the former ranged from 7.4 to 7.8 and the latter held firm from 2.2 to 2.3.
His chronic issue has been home runs allowed. Longballs have been a problem of Baker’s throughout his entire career and they are the main reason that his pedestrian ERA rarely matches up with his near-elite skills profile. A lot of good work can be erased in one swing when you are prone to gopheritis.
In those first two starts back in April, he allowed two home runs in each. In the first start the homers accounted for all four runs of damage while he yielded two solo shots in the second start. I have recommended Baker twice this season since those first two starts and those who picked him up have enjoyed two of his four excellent outings since those first two.
After the April 10th start, he had a 6.55 ERA in 11 innings. Since then he has dropped his ERA below 3.00 to 2.97 allowing just five runs in his last 28.3 innings of work. In that time he has allowed just two home runs (a pair of solo shots to Boston in his last outing) while striking out 25 and walking a mere four (6.3 K/BB). In other words, he has joined the Hold List.
He is owned in just two thirds of CBS leagues, 32% of Yahoo! leagues and a meager 18% of ESPN leagues. He is someone you can confidently start regardless of opponent and venue at this time. At the very least, he will bring you a well-above average strikeout rate (7.8 against AL average of 6.6) and excellent WHIP (1.14 compared to AL average of 1.29) thanks to elite control. The upside is that he could match his 2008 ERA of 3.45 or at least just reach the sub-4.00 levels that his skills have suggested in the past.
Baker’s excellent start from Friday wasn’t a part of this week’s spot starter recommendations, but that didn’t keep the group from having the best week yet. The 14 recommendations started 13 times (Sam LeCure did not pitch) with just one allowing more than three runs (R.A. Dickey, 6 ER v. SF). Nine of the 13 pitchers allowed fewer than three runs allowing the group to post the first sub-3.00 ERA week of the season.
The frustrating part is that despite the excellent starts night after night, the group only managed four wins. Compare that to five of the 10 recommendations from last week getting wins despite the group faring much worse and you have exhibit 9,271,584,336 of why projecting and chasing wins is stupid and not worth your time. Worry about skills, let the wins come to you.
Let’s see what week 6 brings us.
Travis Wood (CIN @ HOU) – I had some trepidation about Wood coming into this season as I worried that he might not be able to repeat his 3.51 ERA without legitimate skills improvement. But I didn’t have him down for a 6.21. His skills have been way too good to merit such an ugly ERA and a trip to Houston is a nice elixir to get things going back in the right direction. His last start was against the Stros at home and he allowed two runs and struck out seven over six innings, a repeat performance would be welcomed.
Edwin Jackson (CHW @ LAA) – Jackson got off to a nice start this season before two implosion starts tanked his ERA taking it from 3.51 to 5.86 in just 9.7 innings. I am not willing to give up on him at this point as the talent is still there in spades. I’ll take a shot here that he builds off of his big start against Minnesota that was overshadowed by Francisco Liriano’s no-hitter.
Joel Pineiro (LAA v. CHW) – His late start to the season has kept him under the radar as he is massively under-owned despite two strong starts to begin his season. His highest ownership rate among the three major outlets is a 32% mark in Yahoo! leagues which still leaves him plenty available for to jump on before your league wises up. He isn’t a huge strikeout guy and never will be, so innings cap leaguers in major need of strikeouts might want to look elsewhere on this one.
Jason Hammel (COL v. NYM) – Hammel been excellent following a shaky season debut where he allowed four runs in five innings against the Dodgers. He has posted a sub-2.00 ERA in the subsequent five starts allowing more than two just once. He gets to face a mediocre Mets offense that he fared pretty well against back in early April in his second start of the season. He held the Mets to just two earned in six innings allowing seven baserunners.
Jake Arrieta (BAL v. SEA) – Our first trio of the season on a given day. Arrieta is the pick for the more strikeout-starved teams thanks to outings of eight and nine strikeouts in two of his last three. The anemic Mariners offense strikeouts 4th-most in the AL so Arrieta should have another fan-friendly outing.
Scott Baker (MIN v. DET) – His last appearance on Trolling before officially joining the Hold List.
Jake Peavy (CHW @ LAA) – It is his first start off of the disabled list and some owners are vehemently against starting a guy in that situation, but Peavy, a strikeout pitcher, gets to face the Angels who strikeout the most in the American League. It’s a gamble with an injury risk like Peavy, but if he goes out and dominates, you might not get another chance to pick him up so better to be early.
Jon Garland (LAD @ PIT) – Congratulations to the Pirates for being .500 this late into the season, but it isn’t because of their 25th-ranked offense. This team strikes out more than any in baseball and this is the kind of spot that guys like Garland excel despite not possessing overwhelming stuff.
Charlie Morton (PIT v. LAD) – He has done some great things this season, but he has an uneven skills profile looking at it in full. The strikeout total for the season is worrisome at 4.7, but he’s up to a very useful 6.8 in his last four starts. His season total is held down by the fact that he managed just six in his first three starts totaling 22 innings. He was someone I really liked to take a step forward this year and become useful in any NL-Only format and possibly ramp up enough for mixed league viability. He could become a Trolling regular in the coming weeks.
Dillon Gee (NYM @ HOU) – Splitting time between starting and relieving, the samples are small but he has been much better in the former thus far. He has a 2.65 ERA with 6.4 K/9 and a 2.0 K/BB in 17 innings as a starter. A four run implosion in a 1.7 inning relief outing has inflated his season numbers. I think the skills are good enough that we could eventually see Gee hit the Hold List over the summer. For now, he’s a good spot starter.
Ryan Dempster (CHC v. SF) – Check your league’s wire, he could be available. He really shouldn’t be so if he is, make him a permanent hold. He just got off to an ugly start, plain and simple. Home runs were positively killing him, but they have never been a major problem in the past so that will regress in his favor. We are already seeing it in his last two starts.
He has gone 14 innings allowing just three runs (1.92 ERA) striking out nine, walking two and allowing one home run (a solo shot on Sunday to Drew Stubbs). Sometimes guys have terrible stretches that can’t be explained away by injury or significant skills change. It could just be something within his delivery that he is working to correct then all of a sudden he will be back to his 200 inning/near-8 Kper9/mid-to-high 3.00s ERA self.
As always, look for the weekend picks later in the week.