Archive for ‘2010 Fantasy Guide’

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 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.’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.

Tuesday: 03.30.2010

2010 Echelons of Starting Pitching: Part 9

We are now entering the big guns you can build your staff around. Most of echelon two can lead a staff depending on your strategy. If you decide the let the truly elite arms pass by with their gaudy price tags, then a foundation around a couple of these guys will get the job done. In an AL or NL Only league, a lot of these guys are more than adequate #1s if you choose to stockpile hitting early on. Either way, this group shows just how deep starting pitching is for 2010.

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

Echelon 2 – Anchormen

52. Jair Jurrjens, 24, Atlanta Braves – No one, myself included, thinks he can sustain a 2.60 ERA with the peripherals he displayed last year. He limits home runs very well (0.5, 0.6 last two years) and sits right at the acceptable 2.0 K/BB rate so it’s not like I expect his ERA to jump to 5.00 or something crazy. He is much more of a 3.68 ERA pitcher (his 2008 mark) than 2.60 (his 2009 mark) so don’t pay for the cost of the latter. Unfortunately, that’s his market value right now as he’s going 32nd among starting pitchers (ahead of Scott Baker, Brett Anderson) and 142nd overall. At that price, I’m passing without question.

51. Carlos Zambrano, 29, Chicago Cubs – Though Zambrano has never posted an ERA north of 4.00, he is still a very scary investment on draft day. His K/BB has been below 2.0 each of the last four years, but it is on the rise since 2007 so perhaps he’s headed back over 2.0 in 2010. After five straight years easily surpassing 200 innings from 2003 to 2007, Zambrano has pitched 189 and 169 the last two years, respectively. He is a risky proposition, but he is still immensely talented capable of piling up strikeouts with a good ERA. He could pay huge dividends at the right price, but right now he is at cost or too expensive as the 163rd player off the board (39th SP).

50. Johnny Cueto, 24, Cincinnati Reds – A tale of two halves for Cueto as he posted a 2.70 ERA/1.12 WHIP in the first half but labored to a 7.00/1.72 second half including a DL stint. Overall this is still a good skills profile worth investing in with the home run rate being the final piece of the puzzle to a sub-4.00 ERA season. At 24, it may not come in 2010, but there are still plenty of strikeouts and a 4.20 ERA available here.

49. Brandon Webb, 31, Arizona Diamondbacks – He is supposed to return by the end of April, but how good will he be right out of the gate? Webb proves exactly how volatile and unpredictable starting pitchers are because coming into 2009, there were few if any pitchers thought to be more reliable than him. Then he got hurt after a poor four inning start and hasn’t pitched since. I’m reticent to completely write him off even if he misses the entire first month, but not at his current price: 146 ADP, 33rd among SPs. Aces who return 100% from injury at a discount are what make a championship season so keep track of Webb’s value in your league and be ready to pounce if he falls too far.

48. John Danks, 25, Chicago White Sox
– His skillset dropped off a bit from his breakout 2008, but he was still very valuable. His HR/9 seems to be the key to his success right now with the 0.7 of 2008 really aiding him en route to a 3.32 ERA. Last year it ballooned to 1.3 but his ERA didn’t rise in concert. His second half K/9 (5.5) is alarming, but it was 8.2 in the first half so unless injury is the answer, it’s kind of silly to overreact to an arbitrary period because of its recency. I’ve heard some down reports on Danks this year, but his market price isn’t reflecting that as he’s going off the board as the 37th starting pitcher. I don’t mind Danks for 2010, but only at the right price.

47. Ted Lilly, 34, Chicago Cubs – Lilly has had three straight excellent seasons posting K/BB rates of 3.2, 2.9 and 4.2. He enters 2010 banged up with mid-April as his expected return time, but that hasn’t discounted him at all as he’s going 44th among starting pitchers with a 173 ADP. It’s always risky to latch onto someone who is already injured, but this isn’t expected to linger so I would proceed as scheduled.

46. Gavin Floyd, 27, Chicago White Sox – No one believed his 2008 breakout season because the skills were a bit shaky with a 2.0 K/BB and 1.3 HR/9, but then he went out and did even better in 2009 (2.8, 1.0) despite not getting the ERA to show for it (4.06). He got better as the season wore on including an 8.1 K/9 and 3.9 K/BB in the second half showing the is still another level of growth for Floyd. Home runs have always been an issue as they destroyed him in his early years (2.0+ twice, 1.7 another year), but he has reigned that in quite a bit despite still teetering on the acceptable 1.0 rate. I think his strikeout and walk rates will step up again in 2010 allowing him to overcome a 1.3 HR/9.

45. Roy Oswalt, 32, Houston Astros – Oswalt suffered his worst season ERA-wise (4.12), but he still posted a 3.3 K/BB rate so the skills are intact. He’s laboring through a minor hamstring tweak, but it doesn’t appear serious so I wouldn’t downgrade him based on that. As the 36th SP off the board, I’m a little concerned with his price, but I still see a bounceback season so you could reasonably invest around that ADP if you didn’t like the other names on the board at that point.

44. Daisuke Matsuzaka, 29, Boston Red Sox – I still believe. Not everyone does, but his ADP is 47th among starting pitchers so I am right in line with the marketplace here. The walks remain the biggest hurdle to believable stardom for Matsuzaka, but even in lieu of him getting a handle on that he offers a load of strikeouts with super-high win potential as part of the Red Sox. I’d never encourage chasing wins, but he showed in 2008 that imperfect skills could still net 18 wins. Last year was an injury throwaway, so focus more on 2007 and 2008 when assessing his value. Also check the injury report, of course. It doesn’t look like he will start the season in the rotation so perhaps the few weeks on the DL will bring a discount at the draft table.

43. Jeff Niemann, 27, Tampa Bay Rays – He managed a 3.98 ERA in the first half despite weak skills (5.1 K/9, 4.0 BB/9), but then the skills caught up big time (7.1 K/9, 2.1 BB/9) in the second half and the ERA lagged (3.90). He is a bit under the radar in a rotation of studs, but he looks poised for a huge season based on his 102-inning second half. I would take any of the five starters from Tampa Bay as part of my rotation this year, but Niemann’s price (55th SP, 216 ADP) is especially appealing.

42. Edwin Jackson, 26, Arizona Diamondbacks – It took a while, but Jackson delivered on the promise of a 3-time Top 100 prospect from 2003 to 2005. After a brilliant first half, Jackson came back to the pack a bit, but now he moves to the National League where his K rate could reach 8.0 per nine. His success will be determined by his HR/9 rate. In the first half when it was at 0.7, his ERA was at 2.50, but then it skyrocketed to 1.7 and his ERA approached 5.00 at 4.76. It is hard to believe he’s just 26 years old as it seems like he’s been around forever. His 2009 season was just the beginning for E-Jax.

41. A.J. Burnett, 33, New York Yankees – Prior to 2008, the knock on Burnett was his inability to stay healthy. Sure he had a great strikeout rate and at times looked like one of the two-three best starters in the game, but he averaged just 158 IP from 2004-2007. But 2008 was a contract year so perhaps Burnett would make it through to impress potential suitors. In fact, he did just that throwing a career-high 221 innings while racking up 18 wins (also a career-high) and eventually coaxing the Yankees to open their wallets for a fat contract. In his first season with them, he managed his second straight 200+ IP season, a career first. Finally this immensely talented arm is taking his turn every fifth day, everything is great, right? Wrong. Burnett has had an ERA over 4.00 in each of the past two years and last year saw a dip in K/9 and jumps in BB/9 and HR/9. The former resulted in a league-high 97 walks and 17 wild pitches. Of course, 200 IP of 4.00 ERA with mid-to-high teens wins and 190+ strikeouts is hardly chopped liver, but don’t just draft based on his name. He has become a liability in WHIP at this point and needs to be downgraded for it.

40. David Price, 24, Tampa Bay Rays – He gets crushed because he failed to meet an unrealistic set of expectations, but 128 league average innings isn’t awful for a rookie. His adjustments from the first half to the second showed his maturity and ability make adjustments. He had terrible control yet a great strikeout rate in the first half, but that yielded a 4.70 ERA and 1.64 WHIP. In the second half, his strikeout rate dropped from 9.6 to 5.9, but his walk rate plummeted from an absurd 6.3 to 2.4 resulting in a 2.4 K/BB rate despite the average K rate. This guy is as good as advertised, you just can’t expect every phenom prospect to post a sub-3.00 ERA with 190 strikeouts as soon as they reach the majors. I like Price to take a huge step forward into 2010.

39. Max Scherzer, 25, Detroit Tigers – What is not to like about a guy who strikes out a batter per inning while walking fewer than 3.5 per nine? Apparently something if you ask the Arizona brass because they seemingly couldn’t wait to unload him. Of course, it’s not like they got nothing in return (Edwin Jackson, specifically), but this is an ace in the making. That’s not just biased Tigers fan talking, either. Scherzer might lose some strikeouts coming over to the American League, but he is still going to be force at missing bats. Look for him to reach 190 strikeouts and post an ERA between 3.75 and 4.00 in his best season yet.

38. Francisco Liriano, 26, Minnesota Twins – The Twins apparently flirted with moving Liriano to the bullpen to take over for injured star closer Joe Nathan. Thankfully they have come to their senses and decided to leave him in the rotation where he should once again flourish. He won’t be posting the 2.16 ERA he had in 2006, but a sub-4.00 ERA with 160 strikeouts in 175 innings will fit quite nicely into any rotation, especially as the 56th SP off the board at a 218 ADP. Liriano is inexplicably going after Joba Chamberlain and Andy Pettitte, who are vastly overvalued right now.

37. Jorge de la Rosa, 29, Colorado Rockies – His breakout season wasn’t fully rewarded as his first half ERA (5.66) was much worse than he deserved thanks to unfortunate hit and strand rates. A correction in the second half led to an excellent 12-2 record with 106 Ks, 3.38 ERA and 1.29 WHIP in 104 innings. A blistering K rate plus a 45%+ groundball rate make up the best kind of profile to invest in. I think some people are still afraid to invest in Rockies pitchers, but I’m more than happy to take de la Rosa before his 188 ADP. I can’t help but wonder why the Kansas City Royals ever got rid of de la Rosa, but then again it’s the Royals.

36. Rich Harden, 28, Texas Rangers – He wasn’t quite as good as his 2008 ERA of 2.07 suggested nor was he as bad as his 2009 ERA of 4.09 suggested. Both years his skills were that of a mid-3.00s guy with an insane strikeout rate (11.0!!!). You know injuries are a concern for a guy when back-to-back 140 inning years are considered progress. He just can’t be relied on for a full season and as such, a top 10 talent is pushed down to a top 40 ranking.

35. Ryan Dempster, 32, Chicago Cubs – Skeptics were out in full force after a breakout 2008 season and while I expected some regression from his sub-3.00 ERA season, I didn’t hate him. I rated him 56th and said: “The workload spike theorists are probably having a field day with Dempster’s 140 IP jump though the impact may be lessened due to age and the fact that he has topped 200 IP in the past. A lot of strikeouts with a 3.90 ERA and 1.35 WHIP is still a very good line so bid with that in mind.” He went 3.65, 1.31 with 172 Ks. I see no reason not to bet on more of the same in 2010.

34. Matt Cain, 25, San Francisco Giants – Cain is going to get his owners in trouble sooner or later. His ERA consistently outpaces his underlying stats and yet the projected regression never hits. In fact, last year he shaved nearly a full run off of his ERA down below 3.00 despite another drop in K/9 (third straight year) and a second straight jump in HR/9. His control improved down to a healthy 3.0 BB/9 and he will need to hold or improve on that metric to enjoy upper level success again in 2010, especially if he plans on once again cutting into his strikeout rate. Rest assured that despite the negative tilt to this capsule, I recognize that Cain is a very good pitcher. He is a workhorse with three straight 200+ inning seasons so you can rely on him every fifth day, just don’t be surprised if his ERA starts pushing toward 4.00.

33. John Lackey, 31, Boston Red Sox – Lackey has been a personal favorite for years, but I don’t let my personal biases affect my fantasy strategies. Lackey has missed significant time to injury for two straight seasons and the move from Los Angeles to Boston bumps him down several spots before a pitch is even thrown. He’s never been an overpowering force with strikeouts having been above 7.9 just once in his career and right around 7.2 each of the last three years. I love the 3.0+ K/BB for the past three years and he will definitely need it in Boston to avoid an ERA north of 4.00.

32. Jered Weaver, 27, Los Angeles Angels – I think Weaver is constantly viewed as a disappointment because he hasn’t been able to replicate his 2.56 ERA and 1.03 WHIP from his rookie season in the three years since. Of course those figures were luck driven to be that low because his peripheral skills have been virtually the same every single year of his career, including that sparkling 123 inning debut. Weaver is prone to the longball as an extreme flyball pitcher and that is what keeps his ERA up above 3.75 instead of down closer to 3.25 where a groundballer with his other skills might reside. He has settled in at this level, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t worth every nickel he costs on draft day. View his reliability as a skill.

31. Scott Kazmir, 26, Los Angeles Angels – It was a tiny sample (36 IP), but it was nice to see Kazmir rebound after being traded to LA. He’s a rich man’s Rich Harden (pun somewhat intended) right now having topped 200 IP just once and below 155 in three of his five seasons. His health is my only concern when it comes to wondering if he can be an elite starter or not. I don’t really about 5.92 ERA in 111 IP with Tampa Bay last year from a skills perspective as it was tied to injury. He’s coming at a discount as the 42nd SP off the board behind the likes of Carlos Zambrano, Edwin Jackson, Jair Jurrjens and Brandon Webb. Pass on that whole group and take a calculated risk on Kazmir.

30. Aaron Harang, 32, Cincinnati Reds – After establishing himself as one of the most reliable starters in the game from 2005 to 2007, Harang labored through his toughest years as a pro in 2008 as his ERA rose over a run to 4.78 and he had a league-leading 17 losses. Things weren’t much better in 2009 and when it was all over, Harang had been saddled with back-to-back six win seasons despite some really sharp skills that included 3.0 and 3.3 K/BB rates in 2008 and 2009, respectively. He had some bad luck mixed in with an increasing HR/9 rate, but overall this wasn’t a 4.20+ ERA, six win pitcher. He is said to be at 100% health and poised to return to his 05-07 form once again. Best yet is he’s dirt cheap right now as the 65th SP drafted with a 240 ADP.

29. Yovani Gallardo, 24, Milwaukee Brewers – It’s hard not to get excited about a K/9 near 10.0 (9.9 in 186 IP) from a 24-year old starter. The control was a bit off last year up over 1.5 walks per game from his 3.0 mark in 2007 (he was also at 3.0 in 2008, but that was an injury shortened season of 24 IP). And it was especially high in the second half at 5.3 BB/9 in 82 innings, which led to a near-5.00 ERA. That said, he was returning from a lost season and there was enough of his top shelf skill on display to feel confident about him moving forward. Even wonder what it would be like if Rich Harden could go 185+ IP? Gallardo’s 2010 could emulate what that would look like.

28. James Shields, 28, Tampa Bay Rays – When is two straight years of increased BB/9 not really a bad thing? When you are going from 1.5 to 1.7 to 2.1. Despite the increases, Shields still has elite level control. That said, it’s never a good thing when a skill is eroding, however slight the erosion may be. Shields was also a bit more hittable in 2009 and it led to his first 4.00+ ERA in three seasons. But as with Jered Weaver, Shields’ reliability (215, 215, 220 IP since 2007) is a skill that shouldn’t go unnoticed. He possesses an excellent K/BB rate having topped 6.7 K/9 in each of his four seasons so that despite being a control artist, he’s not a drag on your strikeout totals. He’s not a flashy pick by any stretch of the imagination, but that doesn’t make him a bad buy for your rotation.

27. Matt Garza, 26, Tampa Bay Rays – Having seen him in person and many, many times on TV, I can confidently say that Garza has some of the best stuff in all of baseball and his stats are about to catch up to that stuff as he continues to mature and learn more about how to pitch. We saw the first step last year as he began to strike more batters out throughout the year, but as especially as the year wore on. His K/9 jumped more than two strikeouts to 8.4 and he was at 9.2 in the second half. A 15 win-200 strikeout-3.50 ERA season is well within reach for Garza in 2010 and the fantasy community knows it as he has a 115 ADP as the 24th SP off the board.

26. Brett Anderson, 22, Oakland A’s – He was a very integral piece of the package sent from Arizona to Oakland for Dan Haren and his rookie season showed why the A’s were so interested. Of course, they also got Chris Carter, Carlos Gonzalez, Aaron Cunningham, Dana Eveland and Greg Smith out of the deal, but Anderson, Carter & Gonzalez were the big ticket items. Anderson was a groundball pitcher (51%) with excellent strikeout ability (7.7 K/9) that actually improved as the season wore on (8.7 in 2nd half) whereas most rookies usually hit a wall and fade in that first 162-game grind. After such an impressive debut, Anderson caught the eye of many and has become the sleeper du jour of the fantasy baseball industry, which in turn has made him anything but a sleeper. I am not at all dissuaded by the press he is receiving, though as I’m still targeting him because despite the raised profile he is still coming in as the 35th SP off the board at 153 ADP.

Ten more from this echelon and then the aces…

Saturday: 03.27.2010

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.

Monday: 03.22.2010

2010 Echelons of Starting Pitching: Part 7

Here is the next part, just 82 more! 🙂

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

Echelon 3, Part II – Getting There

100. Kevin Millwood, 34, Baltimore Orioles – He had no business ending up with a 3.67 ERA last year with an ugly 1.7 K/BB and 1.2 HR/9 found behind the curtain of that undeserved mark. Unfortunately that performance has driven his price up well beyond what he’s worth (15th round ADP) making him someone to leave alone completely unless that price comes way down. He will pile up the innings, but they won’t necessarily be any good and you should thank your lucky stars if he gives you anything below a 4.50 ERA in 2010.

99. Dallas Braden, 26, Oakland A’s – Braden has back-to-back seasons with good end results, but the skills backing those figures up are a little disconcerting. He came through the minors with a 10.1 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9 in 347 innings, but only brought 5.7 K/9 with him to the majors. His long term success seems to hinge on whether or not he can elevate that strikeout rate up into the 7-8 range if not all the way to the elite levels he reached in the minors. Fueling his 3.89 ERA from a year ago was also his 0.6 HR/9 which was a vast improvement over his 1.0 from 2008. Even if he only bumps the Ks to 6.5 while holding the walk rate steady around 3.0 and maintains the HR/9 gains, then he is a great endgame pick with a very favorable home ballpark. There is so much starting pitching talent in Oakland that someone is going to get squeezed and whoever that is will have their value squeezed. Braden is in line for a spot right now so he’s worth a late look and that is exactly what he is getting at a 20th round pick at MDC right now.

98. Luke Hochevar, 26, Kansas City Royals – It’s not coming along as quickly as you would expect from a #1 overall pick, but not everyone progresses the same. You would probably call me crazy if I told you his second half, during which he posted a 7.35 ERA, was a major growth period. But alas, it was. He refined a splitter and became a strikeout machine (8.4 in 86 IP) and turned the walks way down (2.7 BB/9) leading to a sparkling 3.1 K/BB. So what the hell happened that gave him such an ugly ERA and WHIP? Bad luck was a factor, but so was the major case of gopheritis (14 HR!). Zack Greinke might finally have the 2 to complete the 1-2 punch in KC in the form of Hochevar. And you can have him for pennies on the dollar as he is a 21st round pick in AL-Only leagues representing an excellent value late.

97. Jake Westbrook, 32, Cleveland Indians – Missed all of 2009, but he’s a better version of Kevin Millwood who can actually be relied upon for a 4.00-4.30 ERA in 200 innings of work. His strikeout rate will sit somewhere between 4.7 and 5.2, but that’s not why you’re going for someone like Westbrook. In his last five full seasons, he has a 0.7 HR/9 which has allowed him to have success with such middling skills. As a 22nd round pick, his price is just right, too.

96. Mat Latos, 22, San Diego Padres – I like the long term potential and love the home park, but he is going to have an innings ceiling (around 150) and might not even have a starting spot for a while how Tim Stauffer, Wade LeBlanc and Sean Gallagher shake out this spring. All four of the guys are pitching, so it won’t be easy. Stauffer and Gallagher are out of options while Latos has just 47 innings at AA and has yet to pitch in AAA, so he could end up as the odd man out. Draft the skill, but you may want to look elsewhere if your league doesn’t have a reserve or minor league roster to stash Latos.

95. Gio Gonzalez, 24, Oakland A’s – A messy when you look at the things that matter in fantasy baseball (5.75 ERA, 1.71 WHIP), but his 9.9 K/9 rate is so very enticing. He is a premier talent still developing even though it seems like he has been around forever. If he can avoid the implosion games (like his 11 ER in 2.7 IP vs. Minn in July), get some good luck to counterbalance last year’s bad luck and keep blowing batters away, then he can be an effective low-to-mid 4.00s ERA, 150+ strikeout guy. That’s just a good case scenario, if everything breaks PERFECTLY for him, then he can have an Oliver Perez circa 2004 season (2.98 ERA, 239 K in 196 IP).

94. Clayton Richard, 26, San Diego Padres – Is there anything better than finding out you are moving from home run friendly US Celluar Field to everything stifling PETCO Park? Richard turned up his strikeout rate to an appetizing 6.7 after just 5.5 in his 48 inning debut back in 2008, but his walk rate also rose from 2.5 to 4.2. If he can balance that figure somewhere close to 3.0, he is poised to be the next big time PETCO benefactor. Use Kevin Correia’s 2009 as a guide for Richard’s upside in 2010 (3.91 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 142 K).

93. Chris Young, 31, San Diego Padres – Despite three straight solid years from 2006-2008 with an ERA below 4.00, many were a little skeptical of Young and saw him as a product of PETCO. His walk rate was ticking upward from 2005 on and things came to a head in 2008 when it topped 4.0 and took his K/BB below 2.0 for the first time ever. Things got much worse last year in an injury-shortened season as the BB rate ticked up again but the strikeout rate plummeted to 5.9, well off the 8.1 K/9 career mark he had coming into 2009. One thing that always angers me is when people would say, “Can you believe Texas gave up this guy!?” when talking about Young because he would have a career ERA approaching 6.00 if had stayed in Texas with his +50% FB rate. He is best suited for PETCO and if you can get him in a league where you can spot start him at home until he proves something on the road, then I’d invest in him. If you have to start him fulltime, expect a low-to-mid 4.00s ERA with nearly a strikeout per inning.

92. Paul Maholm, 28, Pittsburgh Pirates – Maholm is a perfect example of how middling the ceiling of an average K/9 pitcher can be no matter how sharp the control. He has three straight seasons with virtually the same skills of 5.6 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9 yet three vastly different ERAs: 5.02, 3.71 and 4.44. His highest K rate in that three year span was 6.1 in 2008. That was also the year he posted that 3.71 ERA, not surprisingly. At 28, he’s unlikely to raise his K rate significantly, so he’s basically a WYSIWYG guy who will give you 190 innings with a passable ERA and average-to-below average WHIP because of how many hits he allows.

91. Gil Meche, 31, Kansas City Royals – Meche lost his way a bit last year after back-to-back strong seasons with the Royals. His control abandoned while his strikeout rate dipped and his ERA exploded to 5.09 in 129 innings. Injuries derailed the season and were a likely cause for the struggles prior to packing it in for the year in August, so he’s coming in at a great value for 2010. Plan for a 4.10 ERA and 165 strikeouts in 200 innings, which isn’t bad for the 13th round of an AL-Only or 21st round of a Mixed League.

90. David Bush, 30, Milwaukee Brewers – There is usually a guy in your league who still has that glimmer of hope for Bush to finally put it all together for an ERA and WHIP that match his skills. If I’m in your league, it’s probably me. Since coming to Milwaukee, Bush has a 6.4 K/9 and 2.2 BB/9 yet his ERA in that time is 4.86 because he completely falls apart with runners on and can’t keep the ball in the yard at an acceptable rate (1.3 HR/9). He isn’t costing anything right now (20th round ADP in NL-Only) setting him up to be a tremendous value if he can just get back to what he did in 2008 (4.18 ERA, 1.14 WHIP).

89. John Maine, 29, New York Mets – Maine’s underlying stats are all the map, but he has remained productive throughout posting passable ERAs in each of the past four seasons even though it has risen each year. His strikeout rate has dipped in each of the past two years, but his HR/9 has fallen each of the past four years, too. His walk rate the past two years has been above 4.0 which has taken his ERA above the same mark, if he can get back to the 3.5 mark from 2007 (or better) then he could be poised for a strong comeback season. Of course, above all he needs to stay healthy as he has lost significant time the last two years. If he can go 180 innings, he can be a useful mid-rotation starter.

88. Kevin Correia, 29, San Diego Padres – Correia is not just a PETCO product, rather the Padres finally gave him a real chance and let him throw 198 innings. He posted skills similar to what he had done in his career prior to 2009 and the results were solid as he maintained an ERA below 4.00 (3.91) and a solid 1.30 WHIP. I wouldn’t pay for more than a carbon copy of 2009 this year, but if the Padres improve a bit, he could reach the mid-teens in wins and two years of a better than 7.0 K rate suggest he could reach 160 strikeouts, too.

87. Chris Volstad, 23, Florida Marlins – After being a bit overrated based on an 84 inning sample coming into 2009, I think Volstad has shifted to the other end of the spectrum and now he’s being overlooked after a 5.21 ERA in 159 innings last year. He had a rough patch late in the season and was eventually demoted and thus a bit forgotten, but he’s a groundball pitcher with above average strikeout (6.1) and walk rates (3.3). Those rate were at 6.6 and 2.7 in the first half of the season of the season showing what he is capable of when he is going well. He’s got a 187 ADP in NL-Only leagues right now so he’s a great value that I highly recommend eyeing late. His profile is a recipe for success and now he has 243 major league innings under his belt.

86. Joel Pineiro, 31, Los Angeles Angels – Pineiro had a brilliant season last year, his best since 2003, thanks to impeccable control (major-league best 1.1 BB/9) and an elite groundball rate (60%). He also had an absurdly lucky 0.5 HR/9. Pineiro has always been OK at inducing groundballs and limiting walks, but last year he was amazing at both and it fueled the 3.49 ERA. He will need to repeat both to sniff that ERA again, especially if he plans to keep striking out 4.4 batters per nine innings or even the 4.9 K/9 he had in 2008. He’s moving back to the AL and his last two full seasons in that league yielded ERAs of 6.36 and 5.62. In other words, be careful here. I think we will see at least a 0.50 ERA jump but he could pile up the wins again thanks to the offense and bullpen supporting him. He might just be a better control version of Joe Saunders, which isn’t awful, but hardly great either.

85. Ricky Romero, 25, Toronto Blue Jays – Why does an up & coming pitcher with a great groundball and very good strikeout rate have to get stuck in the AL Beast? Such is the fate of Romero which will probably cost him at least 0.30 runs of ERA each year right out of the gate. He baffled the league the first time around posting a 6-3 record with a 2.87 ERA and 1.25 WHIP in 72 innings in the first half, but they caught up in the second half tattooing for a 5.27 ERA and 1.71 WHIP in 106 innings. His groundball rate held strong across both halves, in fact it improved in the second, but he dropped a full strikeout to 6.8 and his walk rate ballooned to 4.7 from 3.0. It’s his move now and how he answers the adjustments the league made will determine how successful he can be in 2010. His is the perfect profile (high K/high GB) to bet on, so don’t be afraid to risk that extra dollar on Romero.

84. Brandon Morrow, 25, Toronto Blue Jays – Morrow has been Joba’d to date and his results have borne the brunt of the abuse, but now he gets a fresh start with Toronto and they seem set on putting in the rotation and leaving him there. He’s got a tremendous arm and can blow batters away at better than one per inning, but he has yet to show any control in the majors thus far (5.8 BB/9 in 198 IP). He is still very young so that control should develop, but until it does his wildness will limit his upside. For now, think of him as a right-handed Jonathan Sanchez capable of a boatload of strikeouts, but middling ratios.

83. Koji Uehara, 35, Baltimore Orioles – He’s essentially removed from the list because it looks like the O’s have permanently moved him to the bullpen. Just removing him and moving forward would’ve messed up all the numbers so I thought I’d mention him and let you see where I had him assuming he was going to be a starter. I definitely liked him in the rotation, but I still like him a middle relief option if you are someone who goes for that strategy.

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, the Detroit Tigers blog in the Fanball Blog Network. Plus I have started my two weekly columns over at 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 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 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.

Thursday: 03.4.2010

2010 Echelons of Starting Pitching: Part 5

Continuing the monster starting pitcher list…

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Echelon 4, Part II – Wishing Well

(Note: this entire group has at least some MLB experience)

26 Year Olds

1. Fausto Carmona, Cleveland Indians – I bet you are at least a little surprised to see that he is just 26 years. He is two years removed from a brilliant Cy Young-worthy season, but since then his control has been absolutely horrible with 5.1 BB/9 in 246 innings. Though he continues to induce groundballs at a tremendous rate, he has a weak strikeout rate (just 5.0 K/9 the last two years and it was only 5.7 in his great year) and his batting average against has risen yearly (including two major jumps in LHB OBA). If he can show anything remotely resembling command, then he is worth a flier as 2007 remains a viable upside.

2. Charlie Haeger, Los Angeles Dodgers – Like any knuckleballer, he’s essentially at the mercy of the wind. Just take a look at Tim Wakefield’s year-to-year ERA for an idea of how wild the ride can be if you choose to invest in Haeger.

3. Matt Maloney, Cincinnati Reds – Maloney displayed some pretty solid skills in his 41-inning debut last year including a miniscule 1.8 BB/9 rate and usable 6.2 K/9 rate. But the 2.0 HR/9 rate sank him and led to his 4.87 ERA. In the minors, his K rate has dipped each year since 2006, but so has his walk rate culminating in a 5.0 K/BB in 150 innings last year between AA and AAA. He’s back end of the rotation NL-Only guy who won’t hurt much, but isn’t leading you to victory, either.

4. Brandon McCarthy, Texas Rangers – Another guy you may be surprised to find in the 26 year old list as he has seemingly been around forever. Once a top prospect, McCarthy cracked Baseball America’s Top 100 back in 2005, but he just hasn’t panned out at the major league level in parts of five seasons. His minor league strikeout rate (10.1 in 528 innings) has never translated to the majors (6.1 in 373 innings) nor has his walk rate for that matter (1.9 compared to 3.4) leaving him with an uninspired K/BB rate of 1.8. On top of all that, he has never been able to stay healthy with his 102 innings in 2007 standing as his career high. A clean bill of health under Mike Maddux with the minor league skills he owns would be worth a flier in AL-Only leagues. Monitor him this spring.

5. Charlie Morton, Pittsburgh Pirates – The year was a baby step for Morton so while his K/9 held tight at an OK 5.8, he cut his BB/9 from 4.9 to 3.7 and his HR/9 rate from 1.1 to 0.6. The latter was especially instrumental in his ERA drop from 6.15 to 4.55. Control has been an issue even throughout his 665 minor league innings (4.3 BB/9) so last year’s step in that area was a big one. There isn’t a ton of upside here, but for a buck you could do a lot worse to finish off your rotation.

6. Felipe Paulino, Houston Astros – He missed all of 2008 so last year was a first step back meaning he may still be another year away from legitimate production. That said, he still managed 8.6 K/9 and 3.4 BB/9 rates in 98 innings but his 1.8 HR/9 rate crushed him and led him to his 6.27 ERA. The walk rate is actually an improvement on his 4.4 BB/9 in 386 minor league innings so if he holds those gains, he could become a viable option. The key will how close he can get to his minor league 0.7 HR/9 rate. Like so many of these 4th and 5th tier guys, their success is predicated upon improving their control and/or home run rate. For Paulino, it’s the latter.

27 Year Olds

1. Alfredo Aceves, New York Yankees – I included him in the starting pitcher list just because of the slight possibility that he wins the fifth spot in the rotation. It’s a longshot without question, but it’s not completely out of the realm of possibilities and thus he gets a nod. He showed some excellent skills last year in relief striking out 7.4 batters and walking just 1.7 per nine innings. Whether he wins the fifth spot or not, he is worth a look in AL-Only leagues as a middle reliever option.

2. Brian Duensing, Minnesota Twins – Standard Twins starting pitcher profile: low strikeouts/lower walks. He didn’t bring all of his control from the minors so he stayed below the 2.0 K/BB threshold, but still managed some solid results (3.64 ERA, 1.37 WHIP). He doesn’t have a set rotation spot right now and frankly, he doesn’t deserve one over the guys they have. At the same, the Minnesota rotation isn’t the bastion of health so he will likely grab some starts.

3. Scott Feldman, Texas Rangers – One of the biggest fantasy all-stars from 2009, Feldman came out of nowhere to 190 strong innings and rack up 17 wins with a 4.08 ERA and 1.28 WHIP. However, his mediocre skills (5.4 K/9, 3.1 BB/9) suggest a repeat would be tough. One key to his success was inducing more groundballs than in 2008 allowing defensive star Elvis Andrus to vacuum them up at shortstop. If he can take another step forward in that area, then he can get by with his uninspiring 1.7 K/BB rate. I wouldn’t completely avoid him on draft day, but tread cautiously.

4. Josh Geer, San Diego Padres – Geer refuses to give up walks, but if you want a hit then he is very accommodating (10.2 H/9 in majors; 9.7 in 620 minor league IP) . He doesn’t strike nearly enough batters out either (4.7 K/9 in 103 IP) and home runs absolutely destroyed (2.4 HR/9) him which explains how someone who walks just 2.0 batters per nine can still have an ERA approaching 6.00 in PETCO Park. I love that he limits walks, but it isn’t nearly as cool if you are just trading them for hits. If he gets his act together, he could be a decent filler in NL-Only leagues thanks to his generous home park.

5. Tom Gorzelanny, Chicago Cubs – Well hello there, new Tom Gorzelanny who wants to strike everybody out. It’s nice to meet you. Never known for dominating hitters at the major league level, Gorzelanny finally brought his big strikeout rate to the majors with him (9.0 K/9) albeit in 47 inning sample. Meanwhile his command stayed sharp at 3.3 BB/9 yet he still yielded a 5.55 ERA. He has had significant success in the majors before (2007) and if he can hold some of those strikeout gains then he would be a nice endgame option as the Cubs’ fifth starter. He’s definitely worth keeping an eye on.

6. Sean Marshall, Chicago Cubs – Gorzelanny is worth keeping an eye because for some reason the Cubs hate this guy. While he has been better working out of the bullpen, the Cubs haven’t really given him a legitimate shot at starting in either of the past two seasons (seven and nine starts, respectively). He’s got nice skills across the board and he’s a lefthander so it is a bit surprising that the Cubs have given up on him so quickly in the rotation lately. He did start 43 games across 2006 and 2007 with limited success, but his entire skillset has improved since that time. Gorzelanny and 2009 rookie surprise Randy Wells are question marks at the backend of that rotation so Marshall could get a mini audition at some point this season, but the Cubs will likely throw him back in the pen at the first sign of trouble.

7. Daniel McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates – A solid minor league profile earned him a cup of coffee with the big league club last year and his results were OK given the lackluster skillset. He’s got some pretty good control, but a 4.7 K/9 won’t cut it if he hopes to have any long term success. I like what the Pirates are doing with their overall direction and little is set at the backend of their rotation so I wouldn’t be surprised if McCutchen got another legitimate look just so the Pirates can accurately what, if anything, they have with him.

8. Micah Owings, Cincinnati Reds – *Insert tired joke about his hitting prowess*. Owings’ 2009 was essentially a throwaway thanks to injuries including a bum shoulder and then a baseball to the head that messed up his eardrum. His pre-2009 profile was shaping up nicely with enough strikeouts and decent enough control to match. Home runs have always been a bit of an issue which has only been exacerbated by his two home parks (ARI and CIN), but I don’t think he should be completely tossed to the side just yet. Aroldis Chapman likely won’t break camp with the team meaning the fifth spot is open. If Owings is able to snatch that with solid production, then he could delay Chapman indefinitely.

9. Manny Parra, Milwaukee Brewers – One of my bigger whiffs of 2009, Parra imploded under the weight of horrible control likely due in large part to shoulder issues that seemed to nag him as he tried to fight through them. He has the kind of talent that could make him 2010’s Ervin Santana circa 2008. Santana always elite talent, but his 2007 was a disaster but he bounced back with a breakout campaign that netted him an All-Star bid and some Cy Young consideration. The strikeout is just tantalizing enough to drop a couple of bucks on him and try him out. Be prepared to jump ship mercilessly if things don’t go according to plan.

10. Glen Perkins, Minnesota Twins – See also: Duensing, Brian except Perkins couldn’t finagle any good results from his work.

11. David Purcey, Toronto Blue Jays –He was one of my deeeeep sleepers for 2009, but his control completely abandoned him (5.6 BB/9), which isn’t good when it wasn’t starting from a great place (4.0 BB/9 in 2008). Things were worse in the minors where he posted a 5.0 BB/9 after two seasons in the mid-2.0s. He still owns the skills he has shown previously, but 2009 was a big step backward for Purcey. There doesn’t appear to be an opening for him in the rotation right now and frankly, I’m not sure he could earn one if the fourth or fifth spot were up for grabs.

12. Andrew Sonnanstine, Tampa Bay Rays – A pinpoint control artist whose skills faded across the board in 2009, including that usually strong control. One issue throughout his career has been the inability to strand runners which when paired with his control gives him a real David Bush feel minus a few strikeouts. Unfortunately for Sonny, the Rays’ rotation is ridiculously deep so he won’t get a chance to prove himself as a starter. A good spring could get him shipped out a la Jason Hammel in 2009, which would be great for his chances at being a starter. His is a skillset I generally like if he’s holding at 5.8 K/9 or above, but that K rate has faded yearly since 2007. Monitor closely, but don’t rush to roster him in any format just yet.

13. Jeremy Sowers, Cleveland Indians – I don’t really have anything nice to say about Sowers and if the Indians’ rotation weren’t so wide open, I wouldn’t even have bothered listing him. I probably wouldn’t even roster him in a 12-team AL Central-Only league.

14. Tim Stauffer, San Diego Padres – The former top pick from 2003 coming back from a completely lost 2008 fared quite well across two minor league levels and in 73 major league innings. If he could get close to his minor league walk rate of 2.5 (in 569 IP), then he would be onto something. In the meantime, he will fight for a rotation spot with the likes of Clayton Richard and Jon Garland. NL-Only leagues should monitor his progress because the raw talent is there.

28 Year Olds

1. Armando Galarraga, Detroit Tigers – Took the league by storm in 2008 with some decent skills that led to a 3.73 ERA, but the 1.4 HR/9 rate portended trouble without vast improvement. The improvement didn’t come (1.5 in 2009) and the walk rate went up over 1.0 to 4.2 BB/9 and the result was an ugly 5.64 ERA in 144 innings. He’s probably the 7th or 8th option to start in Detroit, but that could change overnight when risks like Jeremy Bonderman, Nate Robertson and Dontrelle Willis stand between him and a rotation spot. I wouldn’t touch Galarraga without seeing significant improvement in the homerun rate.

2. Oliver Perez, New York Mets – He will get every opportunity in New York for no other reason than the fact that they simply don’t have any starting pitchers after Johan Santana. He allegedly looks great so far this spring, but the same thing is being said of Dontrelle Willis so take it with a pound of salt. The sexy strikeout rate teases and fantasy owners conjure up images of 2004 and 2007 when talking themselves into rostering Ollie, but you’re only hurting yourself if you bid much more than $1 on this partially scratched lottery ticket.

29 Year Olds

1. Brian Bannister, Kansas City Royals – Added a legitimate groundball rate to his limited arsenal that essentially starts and ends with his solid control. If he can hold or build on that trend, then he could be a worthwhile situational play for AL-Only leaguers. His strikeout rate is rising incrementally and another move up would put him past the coveted 6.0 rate. When combined with the already sharp control and developing groundball rate, Bannister’s skillset could be viable enough to produce a repeat of his rookie season when he went 12-9 with a 3.87 ERA. I wouldn’t rush out to invest in him, but I wouldn’t discard him out of hand, either.

2. Jeff Francis, Colorado Rockies –The forgotten former ace is returning from a torn labrum that cost him all of 2009, but he has been successful in the recent past with 414 innings of 4.19 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 6.1 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9 across 2006 and 2007. He likely won’t come back and immediately perform like that, but it is the upside to keep in mind. Don’t go crazy based on his name as his last two years include a 5.01 ERA and a completely lost year.

30 Year Olds

1. Jon Garland, San Diego Padres – His skills remain virtually unchanged year-to-year leaving luck and run support to determine where in the 4.00s his ERA will be and how many wins his ho-hum performance will net. I wouldn’t be surprised if at least one owner in your league talked himself into Garland dipping below 4.00 ERA because of the PETCO pop and thus bumping his cost. That’s a situation I wouldn’t to be involved in. If I can get Garland for next to nothing, then I might give him a look and at least stream him at home.

2. Rich Hill, St. Louis Cardinals – Will he be Dave Duncan’s latest reclamation project? Duncan’s reputation is strong enough that it could raise Hill’s price to an unreasonable level and kill his sleeper value as a rebirth candidate. Keep in mind that Hill is just two years removed from nearly 200 innings of 3.92 ERA and 1.20 WHIP. The health and mental hurdles are holding Hill back right now, not talent. Watch closely this spring for reports on Hill’s control and WebMD report.

3. Colby Lewis, Texas Rangers – Returning to the majors for the first time since 2007, Lewis is an intriguing option after performing well in Japan and latching back on with his original team in Arlington. GM Jon Daniels has been quoted as saying that Lewis will be in the rotation and the depth chart has him set up as the third starter behind Scott Feldman and Rich Harden. He has a live arm and as with other Texas pitchers I’ve mentioned, he gets a little boost from being under the tutelage of pitching coach Mike Maddux. He’s drawing some attention as a very deep sleeper right now so he will be worth monitoring during spring for no other reason than to make sure he holds the rotation spot Daniels said he is in line to get.

4. Carlos Silva, Chicago Cubs – No. Just no. Even moving to the National League won’t do much for Silva. In his last three full seasons (2006-2008), he has walked just 1.7 batters per nine which is literally the only redeeming quality for Silva.

31 Year Olds

1. Chris Capuano, Milwaukee Brewers – Capuano hasn’t thrown a pitch in two full years thanks to two Tommy John surgeries which instantly makes him little more than a flier regardless of how good he looks this spring. He has displayed solid career skills with 7.4 K/9 and 3.0 BB/9 in 712 innings. He is someone to keep an eye on in deep NL-Only leagues, but investing more than a dollar at this point would be an unnecessary risk.

2. Jeremy Guthrie, Baltimore Orioles – The jump in ERA from 2008 to 2009 is hardly surprising considering how tenuous his skills were when he managed back-to-back sub-3.70 ERA seasons (6.0 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 1.2 HR/9). He managed to top 2.0 in K/BB, but the K rate was falling while the BB rate was rising and in 2009 things came to a head with a 5.0 K/9, 2.7 BB/9 and a grotesque 1.6 HR/9. This is not a profile I would buy into.

3. Todd Wellemeyer, San Francisco Giants – Another notch on Dave Duncan’s reclamation belt, Wellemeyer had a brilliant season (by his standards) in 2008, though many didn’t believe he could repeat the magic in 2009 because the skills profile wasn’t that great and home runs have always been a problem for him. The naysayers were proven right as Wellemeyer’s strikeouts fell and his walks went back up while the problematic home runs rose, too. Wellemeyer is no longer with Duncan out in San Francisco and he will have to battle uber-prospect Madison Bumgarner for a spot in the rotation. If he wins the spot, Wellemeyer might be worth spot starting here & there depending on matchup and venue.

35 Year Olds

1. Braden Looper, Free Agent – He hasn’t struck out more than five batters per nine innings since 2004 while his BB/9 rate has been below 2.5 just once in that same span. He somehow managed to go 14-7 last year, but that’s merely Exhibt 4,938,247 that a W-L record doesn’t tell you how well a pitcher has pitched in a given season. He is currently teamless because of a high asking price and even if he does find a team this spring, it is unlikely he will start the season with a rotation spot. Of course what we find valuable in fantasy baseball doesn’t always match what teams value in real life. Looper has averaged 190 the last three seasons and though he’s posted a below league average ERA+ (89), someone will find value in that reliability.

2. Jeff Suppan, Milwaukee Brewers – A poor man’s version of Looper gives you an idea of just how bad Suppan is in fantasy baseball terms. However, his inning-eating track record is lengthy dating back to 1999, but he hasn’t posted a 2.0+ K/BB since 2003 and it was just 2.2. Prior to that, he hadn’t broken the mark since 1998. In other words, Suppan is not someone you want to roster in 2010.

37 Year Olds

1. Bartolo Colon, Free Agent – He hasn’t been worth much since he stole the 2005 Cy Young award. His 21 wins “earned” him the award. His subsequent suckiness and inability to stay healthy is probably karma for the thievery.

38 Year Olds

1. Pedro Martinez, Free Agent – Came back for 45 innings last year and showed some solid skills with a 4.6 K/BB ratio, but 1.4 HR/9 limited his overall success. Still, he went 5-1 with a 3.63. Health and how many innings he can reasonably go will be the major hurdles for Pedro in 2010. He is rumored to be discussing a return to the Phillies and the 5th spot is a bit wide open with no clear option to fill the role. I wouldn’t bet on more than 100 innings from him, but if he lands with a spot where he can win a rotation role, I’d drop a few dollars on him.

39 Year Olds

1. Miguel Batista, Washington Nationals – With little set in the backend of their rotation, Batista has a legitimate shot to win a role with the Nats this year. His skills plummeted last year with a sub-1.00 K/BB ratio and barring a dramatic improvement in his 6.2 BB/9, you will want nothing to do with him in 2010.

43 Year Olds

1. Tim Wakefield, Boston Red Sox – The knuckleballer continues to get it done year in and year out despite pushing his mid-40s at this point. Injuries cut short his season last year, but he’s apparently ready and expecting to be a part of the rotation out of the gate. He will have to fend off youngster Clay Buchholz, but it’s hard to argue with nine straight seasons of at least league average ERA+, including seven above average. He’s a million years old and he’s not going to strikeout a ton of batters, but you could do worse than Wakefield for your last rotation spot in an AL-Only league.

Thursday: 02.25.2010

2010 Echelons of Starting Pitching: Part 4

Continuing the monster starting pitcher list…

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Echelon 4, Part I – Upside Hotel

As with the Echelon 5, I’m going to sort this subset of players by age with 26 again being the cutoff point. This group of 25 and under arms is further along than the group in Echelon 5. Almost all of them have some major league experience and/or a clear path to their team’s rotation with an impressive spring performance. The long term upside of some of them might not be as high as some 5s, but their chance to make a 2010 impact is much higher. This 26 and over crowd is significantly better than their Echelon 5 counterparts and though there is still a chance they’ll implode, it’s not the near certainty it is with the 5ers. Crafting a scenario where they are fantasy viable doesn’t involve a set of 7-10 “if” phrases, instead maybe just two or three.

20 Year Olds

1. Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco (MLB) – Much has been made over his significant drop in K/9 at AA (from 8.6 to 5.8), but I think it’s still far too early to overreact. He struck out 10.5 per nine in 141 innings in 2008 and then suffered the drop in 107 innings at AA-Connecticut last year. So he has one great and one awful similarly sized sample. He still kept the ball in the yard remarkably well (0.5 HR/9) and had sparkling results (1.93 ERA, 1.03 WHIP). Oh and he’s 20! It’d be nice to see his velocity return this year, but judgments need to be held at least until he is able to legally drink. He’s still an excellent investment for 2011.

21 Year Olds

1. Aroldis Chapman, Cincinnati Reds (WBC) – Big time prospect defected from Cuba and surprised everyone by signing with the Reds. He already possesses a plus-plus fastball both in terms of speed and movement with a strong slider to complement it. He is still very raw and hopefully the Reds handle him with care. Realistically he should have an ETA of June 2011 at the earliest unless he just OBLITERATES the high minors for significant periods of time.

2. Hector Rondon, Cleveland Indians (AAA) – He could probably use another 75-90 innings at AAA, but he’s proven himself at every level thus far with great control, above average to great strikeout rates and the ability to limit home runs. His changeup is coming along well to go with a low 90s fastball and two breaking pitches. It wouldn’t be totally out of the realm of possibilities for him to win a spot out of camp, but at least some AAA time this year is probably best for his development.

3. Chris Tillman, Baltimore Orioles (MLB) – Owns a great fastball/curveball combo that he used to dominate the minor leagues to the tune of 10 K/9 across 399 innings and posting a 3.79 ERA in the process including a 3.18 at AA and 2.70 at AAA in the past two seasons. He got a 65 inning taste of the big leagues last year and it was rocky to say the least. I think that the experience will serve him well this season and he will make his adjustment to the league and succeed more than he fails. His control was actually better in the majors (3.3 BB/9 to 3.9 in the minors) than it was coming up through the minors so if he holds onto that and the strikeouts get to 80% of his minor league level, then the league is in trouble.

22 Year Olds

1. Jhoulys Chacin, Colorado Rockies (MLB) – Made it from AA to the majors in 2009, but struggled mightily with his control in the quick stops at AAA (14 IP) and MLB (11 IP). A full season or at least three-quarters of a season at AAA will serve him well as polishes his control against better competition. He already has an above average changeup to go with his excellent groundball-inducing fastball. This is the kind of repertoire you want for a Coors Field pitcher. If he can get his cutter and curveball to catch up, then he can be a #1 guy. He is definitely someone worth investing in with an early minor league pick.

2. Kyle Drabek, Toronto Blue Jays (AA) – Hopefully the Jays don’t rush Drabek in an effort to show fans what they got back for Roy Halladay. He still has a raw arsenal including a changeup that needs plenty of work. It wouldn’t be awful to start him at AAA out of spring, but another 40-50 innings at AA first might even be the best solution followed by AAA work the rest of the year before a September call-up and then another 50 or so innings at AAA in the beginning of 2011 before getting to the show. Obviously this is dependent on how he performs this season, but there is absolutely no need to rush him.

23 Year Olds

1. Michael Bowden, Boston Red Sox (MLB) – He doesn’t jump off the page with gaudy numbers or an overwhelming set of pitches, but all three (fastball, curveball and changeup) are above average and have some room to get better. He strikes me as someone similar to Jair Jurrjens at least in terms of his peripheral numbers. Jurrjens teeters on that 2.0 K/BB line mainly because of a passable but not overwhelming 6.0-6.5 K/9 rate. That doesn’t mean Bowden will be posting a 2.60 ERA anytime soon if for no other reason than the fact that Jurrjens didn’t deserve his in 2009. Bowden profiles as a middle-to-back of the rotation guy who could raise his ceiling as he becomes more polished.

2. Brett Cecil, Toronto Blue Jays (MLB) – Simply lost his ability to strikeout batters at the elite rate he had in 2008 across three levels. Having pitched just 31 innings at AAA in 2008 and only 49 more in 2009, he was clearly rushed into his major league duty. He would be best served with another 75 or so innings at AAA to start 2010, but most depth charts have him in the big league rotation right now. There will be more growing pains, but he has middle of the rotation ability.

3. Jeremy Hellickson, Tampa Bay Rays (AAA) – His changeup was identified as the thing to work on for 2009 and he met the challenge turning it into an above average pitch en route to a brilliant season. He’s been the total package of power and control throughout the minors and he isn’t far from pushing way onto the major league roster. The Rays have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to their starting pitching and continued AAA success from Hellickson could put someone else out via trade or even Hellickson himself who could fetch a mint for the Rays.

4. Tommy Hunter, Texas Rangers (MLB) – His underlying numbers belied the resulting success he enjoyed in 2009 and he is in for some significant regression if he posts the same kind of peripherals again in 2010. He’s a back end of the rotation starter who can be useful in spurts, but he will soon be squeezed out of the Texas rotation by the influx of talent they have coming down pike. The one caveat is that Mike Maddux is a very good pitching coach and he coaxed the 4.10 ERA in 112 innings out of Hunter, so perhaps there is even more magic where that came from. That’s not a hedge, though. I’m avoiding Hunter at all costs and I’ll happily eat crow if he miraculously becomes a 7.0+ K/9 pitcher while maintaining his solid control.

5. Vincent Mazzaro, Oakland A’s (MLB) – Profiles pretty similarly to Hunter across the board including the part about eventually being squeezed from the rotation by better talent. Mazzaro has displayed 6.5-7.0 K/9 talent in the minors, but only brought 5.8 K/9 with him to the majors in his first tour. He can display the kind of K/BB ratio he enjoyed at AA-Midland and AAA-Sacramento the past two years then he might stick in the back end of that rotation, but I wouldn’t bet on him over Gio Gonzalez, Dallas Braden or even Josh Outman once he’s fully healthy late in 2010.

6. Jake McGee, Tampa Bay Rays (AA) – See what I mean about Tampa Bay’s depth? McGee spent 2009 returning from elbow surgery so he essentially started over again in hopes of regaining his arm strength. He only threw 30 innings of work, but struck out 40 batters while walking 12 across two levels in low A ball. He has always been a dominant type who overpowers hitters with a sharp fastball and deceptive curveball and changeup offerings as his secondary pitches. He’s a bit of unknown as he returns from injury and he could detour to the bullpen where his high strikeout/somewhat erratic control profile would flourish and perhaps develop into closer-worthy status should the control get better.

7. Jonathon Niese, New York Mets (MLB) – Acquitted himself well enough when forced into duty at the major league level before being shutdown like so many Mets were in 2009. He is in line to win a spot in the rotation more out of necessity than anything else, but he could be similar to teammate John Maine if all goes well. That is probably the ceiling for his profile right now with a mid-4.00s ERA and decent strikeout totals being the low end of a healthy season from Niese. You could do worse in an NL Only while filling out your rotation.

8. Aaron Poreda, San Diego Padres (MLB) – You know what is better than pitching in Petco? Nothing. And that is why Poreda will get a look in most NL Only leagues even if he doesn’t break camp in the rotation (which he shouldn’t). His spotty control needs about 100 more innings of AAA work before he is ready to make any type of impact in the majors. He has got a low-to-mid 90s fastball that he is living off of at this point while his slider and changeup require attention. He could make an impact during the dog days of summer, even if as a spot starter at home in spacious Petco Park.

24 Year Olds

1. Jake Arrieta, Baltimore Orioles (AAA) – Part of the wave that Baltimore hopes can make them the next Tampa Bay in the coming seasons. Arrieta has two money pitches with his fastball and slider while the changeup is becoming more and more effective. He dominated AA for 59 innings before getting a promotion to AAA where he remained strong, but lost three strikeouts off of his K/9 (down to a still solid 7.7). He needs more time at AAA to work on his command and continue to improve that changeup, too. He could be a midseason call up perhaps after the deadline if veterans Kevin Millwood and/or Jeremy Guthrie are moved out to contenders, but I wouldn’t expect any significant contributions until 2011.

2. Homer Bailey, Cincinnati Reds (MLB) – After four straight season on the Baseball America Top 100 from 2005 to 2008 (topping out at 5 in 2007), Bailey had been left dead at least in terms of an elite prospect as he not only failed in two small, nearly insignificant major league stints, but also struggled to master AAA (4.77 ERA in 111 IP in 2008). Of course once he was written off and the limelight went to roast some other “next big thing”, he excelled. First in AAA and then in majors. Actually his first 62 major league inning of 2009 were abysmal (6.82 ERA), but from August 28th on he went 5-1 with a 1.76 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 8.7 K/9 and 2.5 K/BB in 51 innings. Plus he had also laid waste to AAA posting a 2.71 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 8.2 K/9 and 3.0 K/BB in 90 innings before the big league success. Now even taking it all together, it’s still just 141 innings of success, but Bailey proved what many often forget: you can’t rush to judgment on young pitchers. Don’t rush back to the other end of the spectrum for 2010 though, either. He’s still very young. Buy in with an expectation of a 4.30 ERA over 170 innings and anything better will be a bonus.

3. Collin Balester, Washington Nationals (MLB) – Young enough to believe he can improve into a useful piece on the fantasy landscape, but even his minor league profile wasn’t terribly exciting so expectations can’t be terribly high for him. It is kind of an obvious thing to say, but Balester’s key to success is greatly improved control. He doesn’t have enough stuff to give away free passes and overcome it. Again, it’s not groundbreaking, but for some pitchers it’s much more important whereas someone with overpowering stuff can learn the control piece later on.

4. Brad Bergesen, Baltimore Orioles (MLB) – This guy is snake bitten. He took a shot off the shin cutting his season short last year and now this offseason he gets hurt filming a commercial. He’s got very good command which is probably why the O’s were confident enough to let him pitch just 11 innings in AAA before bringing him to the majors. He will need to have sub-2.0 BB/9 stuff if he plans to stick with fewer than 5.0 K/9 and be successful. I will go back to my favorite comp for this profile, he is very Nick Blackburn-ish meaning he could experience more success in 2010, but the margin for error is Mary Kate Olsen thin.

5. Luke French, Seattle Mariners (MLB) – French wishes he had the profile of Bergesen or Blackburn. He’s got the middling K-rate that they have, but nowhere near the control. The Seattle defense seems to give pitchers a boost similar to what Petco does for guys in San Diego, but that still doesn’t really make me want to roster French. He needs to recapture the seemingly anomalous 7.9 K/9 and 2.2 BB/9 skills he showed in 82 innings at AAA-Toledo last year before I will approach the bandwagon.

6. Sean Gallagher, San Diego (MLB) – He gets the Petco boost off the bat, but that’s mitigated a bit by the fact that they have 94,000 options for their rotation who could be equal to or better than Gallagher at this point. He has shown the talent to be a very good top of the rotation guy with good command and a strikeout per inning stuff, but health has been a major roadblock to this point. A clean bill of health plus Petco Park could result in one of those $1 gem seasons where you get 150 innings of 3.60 ERA. Watch closely this spring.

7. Matt Harrison, Texas Rangers (MLB) – There isn’t a ton to like here, but he did manage 3.1 K/BB ratio in 640 minor league innings, so he can’t be completely ignored, especially in Texas because of the Mike Maddux Effect. He’s waiver wire fodder in all scenarios even if he somehow broke camp in the rotation.

8. Kris Medlen, Atlanta Braves (MLB) – He got better as the season went along posting a 3.4 K/BB ratio from July on and become a very reliable reliever for the Braves. The Braves rotation seems pretty set 1 through 5 right now, but that doesn’t mean Medlen won’t ever make his way back as a starter. He’s an ideal swingman for them as he continues to develop a third offering to go with his plus slider and solid fastball.

9. Franklin Morales, Colorado Rockies (MLB) – Like Medlen, Morales looks to be locked into a bullpen spot for 2010, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he will be there permanently. His control needs plenty of work and the bullpen is a better place to figure it out than every fifth day as a starter. He may catch some spot start duty unless he becomes their left-handed 7th/8th inning guy several games a week. Provided he is used regularly, he has value as a high strikeout reliever who could vulture a handful of wins and a handful of saves.

10. Marc Rzepczynski, Toronto Blue Jays (MLB) – Fared pretty well in 61 major league innings despite essentially skipping AAA (just 11 IP) en route to the majors. He’s a groundball pitcher with excellent strikeout ability which is usually a recipe for legitimate success. His command is a bit sketchy having walked over 4.0 batters per nine, but as long as he’s approaching nearly a strikeout per inning he can get by with those walks. He’s a bit under the radar and I really like him for 2010 if he can secure a rotation out of spring.

11. Anthony Swarzak, Minnesota Twins (MLB) – Fits the low strikeout/high control profile we’ve come to expect out of Minnesota, but his command isn’t quite to the level of teammates Scott Baker, Nick Blackburn, Carl Pavano and Kevin Slowey. He has just 80 innings of AAA ball under his belt so I suspect we will see him start there and refine that control before getting another shot in the majors. His profile isn’t terribly appealing because it lacks the flashy strikeout total, but the Twins have a strong enough track record that you want to keep your eye on their prospects just so you don’t miss out on a potential gem.

12. Sean West, Florida Marlins (MLB) – Didn’t pitch much at AA (64 innings) and skipped AAA completely, but actually fared relatively well in 103 innings at the big league level. He got his feet under him in the late summer closing out with a 2.6 K/BB ratio across the final two months after failing to top 1.5 prior to that point. He’s an intriguing option for 2010 after gaining some invaluable experience last year. He has some serious strikeout potential for an endgame pick and might not cost more than a dollar.

25 Year Olds

1. David Huff, Cleveland Indians (MLB) – He wasn’t able to bring much of his 8.1 minor league K/9 rate with him to majors as he failed to reach even the 5.0 mark in 128 innings. That and a host of other factors led to a dismal 5.61 ERA and 1.56 WHIP. But he would hardly be the first pitcher to struggle mightily in his first shot in the majors only to mature and become the viable option his minor league performance suggested he could become. The Indians rotation is wide open for 2010 so he shouldn’t be short on opportunities unless he completely implodes. Someone to watch, but best case is still a mid-4.00s ERA.

2. Ian Kennedy, Arizona Diamondbacks (MLB) – Injury wiped out most of 2009, but he impressed the D’Backs enough with a 5.6 K/BB ratio (28 Ks, 5 BB) in the Arizona Fall League for them to seek him out in the blockbuster Curtis Granderson/Max Scherzer trade. He has a 9.9 K/9 rate in 249 minor league innings along with a 2.8 BB/9 so the skill is there. He’s drawing a lot of attention as a sleeper so far this year. So much so that he is headed toward the other end of the spectrum, but there will still be plenty of leagues that undervalue him. Look out for his health reports throughout the spring and be ready to pounce if he is given a clean bill of health and a spot in the rotation.

3. Andrew Miller, Florida Marlins (MLB) – It’s been a helluva rollercoaster ride for Miller already and he’s just 25 years old. He has shown flashes of brilliance, but they have been fleeting. This year is a do-or-die kind of season at least in terms of projecting Miller as a top of the rotation starter. If he fails to show improvements in his command, then it is time to reset expectations on what he can become. He does a great job limiting home runs and holds an above average strikeout rate which leaves the mental aspect of the game as his final hurdle to stardom. That mental game goes hand in hand with improving his control. I’d rather wait-&-see with him unless he came at a truly rock bottom price.

4. Bud Norris, Houston Astros (MLB) – He has been rumored as a future closer type, but the Astros went out and acquired two potential closers for their bullpen so they obviously won’t be looking to Norris for that role in 2010. He only has two worthwhile pitches, so barring vast improvement of the changeup his future is in the bullpen. The rotation is a mess after Wandy Rodriguez and Roy Oswalt so Houston will likely shoehorn him into the rotation regardless of the progress of that third pitch which could mean trouble. He offers strikeouts, but they could come with an ERA approaching 5.00.

5. Yusmeiro Petit, Seattle Mariners (MLB) – It seems like he has been around forever since he first started in pro ball at 18 back in 2003, but he still hasn’t hit his prime. He has a very live arm having struck out over a batter per inning in 612 minor league innings, but he has only brought 73% of that effort to majors with a 6.9 K/9 in 229 innings across the last four seasons. That’s a passable rate as is his 2.9 BB/9 in the same span. The problem has been his atrocious 2.0 HR/9 rate. That is simply unacceptable and is the sole reason for his 5.57 major league ERA. As an extreme flyball pitcher, the Seattle defense will help him, but they can’t help save balls that are knocked 400 feet to right or left field. He bears watching and could definitely be worth a flier if he finagles that fifth spot this spring, but be prepared to cut your losses if the home runs remain an issue.

Wednesday: 02.24.2010

2010 Echelons of Starting Pitching: Part 3

Continuing the monster starting pitcher list…

Part 1
Part 2

Echelon 5, Part II – A Mixed Bag

This group, at 26 and above, has used up their prospect status on the low end while the older guys are retreads looking to recapture magic or make good on promise they once had. There are 30 guys in this group and only a few will have legitimate fantasy value this year. If your rotation is populated with too many guys from this list, you are likely in the throes of a difficult season.

26 Year Olds

1. Mitchell Boggs, St. Louis Cardinals (MLB) – Displayed awful control in 58 innings last season (5.1 BB/9), but still managed a 4.19 ERA somehow. He’s a 6.5-7.0 K/9 pitcher and with Dave Duncan on his side, he could become a useful arm for deeper NL-Only leagues. He bears watching.

2. Billy Buckner, Arizona Diamondbacks (MLB) – His skills should’ve netted him the 4.19 ERA Boggs had, but he was unlucky and suffered a 6.40 ERA/1.59 WHIP. Like many youngsters, he needs to refine his control in order to be consistent start to start.

3. Thomas Diamond, Chicago Cubs (AAA) – Has a live arm, but absolutely not control whatsoever. He has a 10.1 K/9 in 435 minor league innings, but has also walked 5.0 batters per nine which just won’t cut it. Twice a top 75 prospect back in 2005 and 2006, but hasn’t fulfilled that promise to date.

4. Dana Eveland, Toronto Blue Jays (MLB) – Been around forever having spent parts of the last five seasons in the majors, but his only real success was 2008. Control has been an issue from the jump, but a fluctuating strikeout rate is sapping any discernible value now, too. And he’s fat.

5. Doug Fister, Seattle Mariners (MLB) – A poor man’s Nick Blackburn right now who still allows too many home runs. Considering that a Blackburn owner is poor, owning Fister seems like a terrible idea.

6. Scott Olsen, Washington Nationals (MLB) – Remember when he was worth a look? He’s still young enough to be viable if he gets back to his 2006 days of 8.3 K/9 which he had over 181 innings.

7. Mitch Talbot, Cleveland Indians (MLB) – Doesn’t have the pedigree of his former teammates in Tampa Bay, but now has a legitimate opportunity to get into the rotation. His 2.8 K/BB ratio in 905 minor league innings suggests he can be an asset. Monitor him this spring.

27 Year Olds

1. Jeremy Bonderman, Detroit Tigers (MLB) – His strikeout rate has been in a free fall since 2006, but he’s also pitched just 82 innings in the last two years. He was once a fantasy favorite, but injuries have derailed his ascension. Worth tracking through the spring and April.

2. Jeff Karstens, Pittsburgh Pirates (MLB) – He doesn’t have nearly enough control (3.8 BB/9 in 2009) to strikeout so few batters (4.3 K/9). A mid 4.00s ERA is probably his ceiling at this point.

3. J.D. Martin, Washington Nationals (MLB) – Another low strikeout control artist who has a small margin for error making his a profile I’m not terribly fond of. He was excellent at limiting home runs in the minors with 0.7 HR/9 in 744 minor league innings.

4. Joe Martinez, San Francisco Giants (MLB) – Displayed almost a 4.0 K/BB rate in 592 minor league innings, but his debut last year was cut short by a ball to the head. Would be an injury replacement at best.

5. Fernando Nieve, New York Mets (MLB) – Had absolutely no business posting a 2.95 ERA with 5.6 K/9 and 4.7 BB/9 in 37 innings. The rotation is so wide open in New York that he could get a chance, but that doesn’t mean he deserves one on your roster.

6. Carlos Torres, Chicago White Sox (MLB) – He’s got some pretty good stuff, but no one pitch is overwhelming despite the lofty strikeout numbers in the minors. Could nab the fifth spot.

7. Jason Vargas, Seattle Mariners (MLB) – Low strikeouts, solid control, too many homeruns… it’s become a mantra for the 26+ group so far.

28 Year Olds

1. Daniel Cabrera, Chicago White Sox (MLB) – Even when he failed back in the day, he at least provided strikeouts. The past two seasons has seen his K/9 rate drop below five rendering him entirely useless. Draft him if you hate winning.

2. Dustin Nippert, Texas Rangers (MLB) – Displayed some solid skills in 70 innings of work last year shaving nearly a full walk off of his BB/9 from 2008. Likely a bullpen option at least in the short term.

3. Dontrelle Willis, Detroit Tigers (MLB) – Once an elite level pitcher who has spiraled into the abyss of suckiness. A mental block has impeded him as much as anything physically at this point. His name will keep him on the radar for at least one more year.

29 Year Olds

1. Sergio Mitre, New York Yankees (MLB) – Mostly awful in 2009 as little more than a 5-inning starter. Injury would be his only avenue back into the rotation.

30 Year Olds

1. Lenny DiNardo, Oakland A’s (MLB) – Kick yourself in the DiNardo if you draft him.

2. Eric Stults, Los Angeles Dodgers (MLB) – Has shown glimpses at the major league level, but overall he’s far too erratic to be trusted on any level. He was good for 39 innings in 2008 and that may end up as his career year.

32 Year Olds

1. Tim Redding, Colorado Rockies (MLB) – He was awful in favorable parks, what do you expect the carnage to be like in Coors?

2. Brian Tallet, Toronto Blue Jays (MLB) – Had three straight solid seasons leading up to ’09, but all were tiny samples between 54 and 62 innings. He was exposed in 161 innings last year. Tread very lightly.

3. Josh Towers, Los Angeles Dodgers (MLB) – Has pitched all of five major league innings the past two years. A control artist wannabe at his best, he could be a spot start option if he gets hot a la 2005.

34 Year Olds

1. Rodrigo Lopez, Arizona Diamondbacks (MLB) – He really wasn’t that bad in July last year, but that’s a one month sample. His best seasons are six and eight years ago, respectively.

35 Year Olds

1. Freddy Garcia, Chicago White Sox (MLB) – Showed some decent stuff in 56 innings with the White Sox last year and enters 2010 with a chance at the last spot in the rotation. You could do worse for a $1 at the very end of an AL Only.

2. Livan Hernandez, Free Agent (MLB) – No. Just, no. He will probably get a chance somewhere, though so I listed him.

3. Russ Ortiz, Los Angeles Dodgers (MLB) – If he gets a real shot at the fifth spot, it’ll be embarrassing for LA.

36 Year Olds

1. Ramon Ortiz, Los Angeles Dodgers (MLB) – If he gets a real shot at the fifth spot, it’ll be embarrassing for LA.

Wednesday: 02.24.2010

2010 Echelons of Starting Pitching: Part 2

Continuing my mega-list of starting pitchers for 2010…

Echelon 5 – Lottery Tickets

For this grouping, players will be broken up by age instead of ranked. After all, what does it really mean if I rate Junichi Tazawa over Tanner Scheppers or vice versa? It doesn’t. Both are deep AL-Only options in dynasty leagues or leagues with a “keepable” minor league roster and hopefully my 1-2 sentence insight will help your decision one way or another. This echelon is more of an informational session than anything else bringing names to light who you may need to know about later in the season. There are 66 guys in this echelon and I see them in two separate sets: 25 and under and 26 and over. Anyone in the latter has probably had a shot in the majors, but has enough warts on him to merit this low of ranking. At the same time, they have talent that could be refined and parlayed into a modicum of success in the right scenario. The former is a group that likely hasn’t reached the bigs for any significant time as of yet and they need a lot more polish before becoming viable options for your starting roster. As I mentioned earlier, they are for the hardest of hardcore players with very deep rosters.

I’ll break it into two parts starting with the 25 and under set.

19 Year Olds

1. Tyler Matzek, Colorado Rockies (no pro ball) – Excellent high school lefty with a plus fastball and two solid breaking pitches. An unpolished changeup will be what he needs to work on to get himself to the majors. He projects as a #1 right now, but there’s no legitimate data to suggest otherwise. A late pick even in minor league drafts unless you are interested in waiting.

2. Martin Perez, Texas Rangers (AA) – Drawing comparisons to Pedro because of his slight stature and excellent stuff. Enjoyed a breakout in the Sally League, but came back down to earth a bit in a tiny AA sample. He cracked Baseball America’s Top 100 last year before the breakout so he’s likely no fluke, but he’s still at least a full year away, perhaps even a year and a half.

20 Year Olds

1. Jenrry Mejia, New York Mets (AA) – Hopefully the Mets don’t let their major league pitching deficiencies dictate how quickly they move Mejia. He’s got an amazing fastball, but little else right now which could relegate him to the bullpen as he moves forward. Control and a bankable second pitch should be his areas of focus in 2010.

2. Mike Montgomery, Kansas City Royals (A+) – Reinforcements for Zack Greinke are on the way and Montgomery is part of the cavalry. He has had three stops over the past two seasons and managed an ERA of 2.25 or better each time. His changeup is already very strong which could fast-track his route to the majors if his fastball improves across AA and AAA.

21 Year Olds

1. Tim Alderson, Pittsburgh Pirates (AA) – His K/9 dropped by nearly two to below 6.0 in concert with a significant dip in velocity. The results, a 3.89 ERA and 1.28 WHIP, were still passable, but there is cause for concern. The 2010 season is a huge one for Alderson and will give insight into whether he’s a top half of the rotation starter or back-end innings eater type.

2. Phillippe Aumont, Philadelphia Phillies (AA) – A solid two-pitch guy with a huge arm capable of consistent high 90s fastballs, but also lacks the control that usually comes with this profile. This could mean a future in the bullpen, but likely as a closer if he maintains the kind of dominance he’s shown thus far. The progression of his changeup (which is virtually unusable at this point) will determine his future path.

3. Casey Crosby, Detroit Tigers (A-) – An excellent return from TJ surgery put him on the prospect map in 2009. Sparkling K/9 (10.1) overshadowed a high 4.1 BB/9. Fastball-changeup combo already effective, but needs to refine his breaking stuff to reach his full top of the rotation potential.

4. Deolis Guerra, Minnesota Twins (AA) – Results (4.89 ERA, 1.34 WHIP) overshadowed a decent seasons skills-wise, especially with his control (2.5 BB/9). He will likely be given every opportunity to succeed with the Twins just so they don’t come away completely empty-handed from the Johan Santana trade. He’s fantasy’s version of a draft-&-follow because it could take awhile.

5. Matt Moore, Tampa Bay Rays (A-) – Yes, the Rays have even MORE excellent pitching on the way. Moore destroyed the SALLY league to the tune of 12.9 K/9 in 123 innings which helped cover up an ugly 5.1 BB/9. Already owns a 4-pitch arsenal, but needs to become a smarter pitcher as he moves through the system or he will burnout.

6. Jarrod Parker, Arizona Diamondbacks (AA) – Out for 2010 with TJ surgery, but still worth keeping on the radar if you can stash him at a next-to-nothing cost. He’s obviously a long-term investment, but should be worth the wait.

7. Trevor Reckling, Los Angeles Angels (AA) – May be at least part of the reason the Angels were OK with letting John Lackey move on as he projects to be a future top of the rotation starter. Already possesses an above average changeup and slider, command of his decent fastball is the missing ingredient.

22 Year Olds

1. Zach Britton, Baltimore Orioles (A+) – Yes, they have even more pitching on the horizon in addition to the group of excellent arms on the cusp for 2010. Britton’s stuff isn’t that great, but he induces throngs of groundballs and has enough to maintain a passable 6.0-6.5 K/9 rate as he advances through the system.

2. Brandon Erbe, Baltimore Orioles (AA) – Better pure stuff than Britton, but lacks a third pitch right now which combined with the influx of starting pitching talent in Baltimore could lead him down a path towards future closer. Even moving his changeup from well below average to average could make him a mid-level starter.

3. Christian Friedrich, Colorado Rockies (A+) – He’s got three explosive pitches already, but the missing piece is a more consistent changeup. He has at least added it to his repertoire, but refinement of it will determine how quickly he can get to Denver. Of course even without it being a reliable pitch, it will be hard to keep him down too long if he continues to strike out 12.0 batters per nine as he has in his first 168 innings of pro ball.

4. Jeremy Jeffress, Milwaukee Brewers (AA) – Possesses a top speed fastball, but often fails to command it resulting in some ugly BB/9 numbers. He’s going to be serving his second suspension, this time a 100-gamer, essentially costing him the 2010 season. He’s very raw and at least a full year away, tread lightly.

5. Kasey Kiker, Texas Rangers (AA) – His changeup is the most effective pitch in his arsenal which includes a low 90s fastball, too. His K/9 held strong in the jump to AA, but control nearly doubled to 4.7. How that control develops at AAA will determine Kiker’s progression towards Arlington.

6. Mike Leake, Cincinnati Reds (AFL) – I saw a lot of polish for a 22-year old in his first pro ball experience in Arizona this past fall. I really like him, but instead of trying to express that in 2-3 sentences, I’ll recommend the Base Heads scouting report of Leake done by Paul Bourdett.

7. Sean O’Sullivan, Los Angeles Angels (MLB) – Performed about as well as you’d expect for a low strikeout/low walk guy. Home runs killed him (2.1 HR/9), or else he might have been able to keep his ERA closer to 5.00 than 6.00. Profiles as a Nick Blackburn type as a ceiling.

8. Jordan Walden, Los Angeles Angels (AA) – Basically your standard big fastball pitcher who needs work just about everywhere else. Has a decent secondary pitch with the slider, but the changeup needs quite a bit more polish and control is too erratic even for someone striking out a batter per inning. A worthy long-term investment.

23 Year Olds

1. Carlos Carrasco, Cleveland Indians (MLB) – Excellent fastball/changeup combo projects as top of the rotation stuff, but struggles to consistently display his best work. Peripherals portend at least a #3 starter if not a #2 or ace, but the mental game stands in front of him and that level right now.

2. Andrew Cashner, Chicago Cubs (AA) – Elite fastball and decent breaking pitch haven’t produced the kind of strikeout results you’d expect just yet. Relieved in college so the adjustment could be messing with him a la Joba Chamberlain. Might end up back in the ‘pen in the long run.

3. Aaron Crow, Kansas City Royals (AFL) – Has a beautiful fastball to build his arsenal around which should all but guarantee him at least a future in the bullpen if his changeup doesn’t continue to develop throughout the minors. Tough to project with no pro work under his belt besides the AFL, but he seems to be legitimate.

4. Daniel Gutierrez, Texas Rangers (AA) – Like many others on this list, the development (or lack thereof) of his changeup will determine his future in the majors between the rotation and the bullpen. You have to like that he’s being developed in the Texas system which has established itself as one of the league’s best.

5. Dan Hudson, Chicago White Sox (MLB) – Zoomed through five levels in 2009 including a 19 inning stint in the majors. May seem rushed, but he acquitted himself well at every stop before the majors never falling below 9.0 K/9 or topping 3.4 BB/9. After a half season of polish at AAA, Hudson’s 4-pitch repertoire could be ready to stick in bigs permanently.

6. Shairon Martis, Washington Nationals (MLB) – He wasn’t terribly special in the minor leagues so his lackluster major league performance shouldn’t really surprise anyone, either. If you’re relying on him for anything, you’ve already lost your league.

7. Tanner Scheppers, Texas Rangers (AFL) – His brilliant fastball was on display in Arizona this fall, but there is uncertainty around his future as a starter since he lacks a legitimate changeup at this point. Worthy of investment while role is sorted out, though.

24 Year Olds

1. Eric Hurley, Texas Rangers (AAA) – Torn rotator cuff cost him the 2009 season and he’d had a rough 2008 before that, however he’s got enough velocity and control to not give up on just yet. Definitely a wait-&-see guy given the injury, though.

2. Chuck Lofgren, Milwaukee Brewers (AAA) – Twice a top 75 prospect, Lofgren has been dismal the past two seasons leading to his departure from Cleveland via the Rule 5 draft. He has dropped a strikeout per nine in each of his last three stops bottoming out at 5.7 last year. Has enough control to fill back end spot in the rotation.

3. Brad Mills, Toronto Blue Jays (MLB) – Nothing overpowering within his arsenal, but that hasn’t kept him from keeping a decent K/9 throughout each stop along the way to the majors. The control has gotten a tick worse along the way, too which would be a recipe for disaster in the majors.

4. Esmil Rogers, Colorado Rockies (MLB) – Everything about him right now suggests a future in the bullpen: no discernible third pitch, significant fatigue as game wears on and shaky control. Improvements to a very weak changeup could make him fourth starter material.

5. Junichi Tazawa, Boston Red Sox (MLB) – Moved from AA to the majors last year, but his peripherals were awful at AAA and MLB levels albeit in tiny samples. Lacks a dominating out pitch, but he is crafty enough to stick in the rotation if he holds 85% of his 8.1 K/9 from AA.

25 Year Olds

1. Sam LeCure, Cincinnati Reds (AAA) – Solid fastball, but not a lot else. He is becoming a pitcher and using what he does have to the best of his ability. That ability might cap out as a back of the rotation starter, though.

2. Brad Lincoln, Pittsburgh Pirates (AAA) – A good fastball/curveball combo afforded him a solid if unspectacular 2009 season, but the development of his changeup will determine his future at the next level. It’s a popular refrain, but it’s accurate, too.

3. Adam Miller, Cleveland Indians (AAA) – He just can’t stay healthy. He’s spent his last three years at AAA, totaling 99 innings and he missed all of 2009. Too big of a risk to invest in right now.

4. Kevin Mulvey, Arizona Diamondbacks (MLB) – A pitch-to-contact type who will likely struggle to strikeout 6.0+ batters per nine at the big league level, but could still be effective by utilizing his defense. A back end starter at best.

5. Craig Stammen, Washington Nationals (MLB) – Doesn’t walk anybody, but doesn’t strike anybody out, either. He’s the kind of guy who could have 4-5 good starts before giving up 8 ER in 2.1 IP. Very thin margin for error with this skillset.

6. Donnie Veal, Pittsburgh Pirates (MLB) – Big power arm, but lacks any control whatsoever. It doesn’t hurt the Pirates to try the Veal, but he’s still pretty raw (pun-intended).