Contributing Writer : Albert Lang
Chicks dig the long ball, and so do I. That’s just one of the many reasons I prefer evaluating hitters to pitchers. From a ranking perspective, hitters are more predictable and stable from year to year. In addition, they tend to be more insulated from the injury bug.
My goal is to grab one elite starting pitcher with my first 10 picks and at least eight hitters. The pitcher who will likely bring the most value this year is Yovani Gallardo (ninth ranked SP/pitcher). Gallardo has reached 200 Ks for three straight years. While his K-rate went down a tad last year, he greatly limited his walk rate. In addition, he induced less contact and, actually, more swinging strikes than we had grown accustomed to. I see no reason why the 26-year-old cannot keep improving. I see 220 Ks, a 3.35 ERA, and 1.20 WHIP. That can lead a staff.
Still, if Gallardo ends up being a little too expensive, Jon Lester could do the trick. After back-to-back seasons of 225 Ks, Lester struck out only 182 batters last year. It is worrisome that he got fewer swinging strikes last season, however batters were not making better contact, just more contact. Lester should strike-out about 8.8 batters per nine innings. I have him pegged for about 200 innings, which should give him 195+ Ks. In addition, I see an ERA no worse than 3.60 (with decent upside) and a solid 1.25 WHIP.
There have been a ton of headlines surrounding Matt Garza, and rightfully so. He is one of the more underrated pitchers in the league. You might think his career high ERA last year was a mirage, but his FIP and xFIP were actually lower. In many ways, though, 2011 could have been Garza’s career year. He had an 11.2% swinging strike rate; his highest previous tally was 8.8% in 2006. That said, 2011 was also his first year in the National League. We’ve seen American League hurlers switch to the pitcher-batting circuit and their K’s tick up markedly. I don’t think Garza will repeat his 8.95 K/9 rate, however, I still think it will be right around 8.2. With 210 innings, that gives Garza 191 Ks. In addition, I see an ERA at 3.50 and 1.27 WHIP.
If you can get a staff started with the likes of Gallardo and Garza, that’d be awesome. I’d love to supplement them with someone like Ervin Santana. A dominant force with an 8.79 K/9 rate in 2008, Santana had never really gotten back to that form. That said, last year was a huge step in that direction. Santana began to use his slider more and it paid huge dividends. He increased his ground ball rate impressively and his BABIP went down. In addition, he pushed his K-rate over seven, after being under that mark for the previous two seasons. I see a cool 170 Ks for Santana, with a solid 3.70 ERA and 1.27 WHIP. He’s an underrated player at the moment.
One of the most underrated fantasy pitchers is Ted Lilly. Since 2006, Lilly has averaged a 3.83 ERA, 166 Ks, a 1.18 WHIP and 3.0 K:BB rate. Lilly will put up his typical 165 Ks, an ERA around 3.50 (thank you Dodger stadium) and a cool 1.16 WHIP. Enjoy the under the radar production.
In addition to Lilly, I always seem to get Edwin Jackson to fill out my fantasy pitching staffs. Since 2008, Jackson has averaged a 4.06 ERA, 150 Ks, a 1.40 WHIP and a 2.08 K:BB rate. Not overly sexy, but solid. While he isn’t quite as good as Lilly, Jackson should put up 160 Ks, a 3.80 ERA and 1.40 WHIP. The WHIP is a little gross, but he has a decent upside on his ERA and Ks. Later in drafts, Jackson makes a solid gamble.
Those are the pitchers likely to be on a multitude of my teams. There are several pitchers likely to be on a multitude of my opponent’s teams.
I like Jeremy Hellickson, I swear, but he’s not going to redefine what we think about BABIP. His was .223 last year and he had an 82% strand rate (now the Rays typically have a great bullpen, but still). I don’t think he’ll fall of a cliff, but his ERA will be closer to 4.00 than 3.00. Still, he should take a step forward in the K department (maybe to 150+) and should post a respectable 1.25 WHIP. He’s a good young pitcher, and his best years are to come, I just wouldn’t pay for them in 2012.
Similarly, I find it hard to get excited by Jaime Garcia. He maintained solid numbers last year while throwing 30 more innings, however the quantity just isn’t quite there. He seems like a 150 K guy to me, with decent but not exceptional ratios (3.70 ERA, 1.30 WHIP). If you’re going to strike-out so few batters, I’d look for a Tim Hudson-esque ERA. As it stands, it’s nice to own Garcia, but he isn’t more than a back of the rotation type.
Over the last two years, Sean Marshall has averaged 84 Ks, a 2.45 ERA and 1.10 WHIP across 75 IPs/year. Over that same time, Jair Jurrjens has averaged 88 Ks, a 3.69 ERA and 1.30 WHIP across 134 IPs/year. I’m not really arguing that Marshall is more valuable. That is him at his best, whereas a healthy Jurrjens is good to have. However, I don’t know how you expect more than 170 innings for Jurrjens (and even that might be dramatically high), which limits him to barely 110 Ks. He could post a 3.50 ERA and 1.27 WHIP, but those do not inspire me. I’m not much of a fan of Jurrjens.
I’m probably a bit low on Ryan Vogelsong (and I did write nice things about him last year), but let’s get serious here: before 2011, he hadn’t pitched anywhere in the majors since 2006. In addition, 2005 was the only season he posted an ERA under 6.31. I don’t think he’s horrible, but there’s risk here. I’m also not buying his 80% strand rate and am curious about his spike in ground balls. It’s incredibly difficult to compare Vogelsong’s different seasons, so I’m just treating him like a rookie that came out of nowhere (and it’s just as easy to go back to nowhere). I have him down for a 3.90 ERA, 1.35 WHIP and 145 Ks. I’d be happy if I was wrong on this but will let my opponents take on that risk.
Now for the guys who are going to come out of seemingly nowhere and help your team:
Ryan Dempster: Over the last four seasons, Dempster has averaged a 3.81 ERA, 1.32 WHIP and 190 Ks. Of course, that time span includes his incredibly impressive, somewhat over-his-head 2008. That said, I see nothing demonstrably different in his 2011 season that would lead to an ERA a full point higher than anything we saw in his previous three seasons. He struck out a good number of batters, walked a good bit (but no more than in 2010), and had a slight dip in his swinging strike percentage. Dempster is getting up there, and we’ve seen his best stretch, but he’s still capable of an ERA slightly under 4.00, a 1.35 WHIP and 180 Ks. That’s very useful.
Colby Lewis: I’ve believed in Lewis for awhile now, but there’s no getting around how bad he was last year. He had a .265 BABIP and still posted a ridiculously wretched 4.40 ERA. That said, a lot of his problems came because he gave up more fly balls (and a higher HR/FB rate) than in 2010. In fact, his line drive rate and ground ball rate went down, while his HR rate went up. I don’t think he is as good as he was in 2010, nor is he as bad as he was last season. If you marry the two years, you get a 4.06 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and 182 Ks. I’d go a bit higher on the ratios, but not by a ton. He should provide a nice amount of Ks as an afterthought this season.
A.J. Burnett: I know it has become fashionable to hate on Burnett, but he’s not the devil. For the Yankees (over three years), he has averaged a 4.79 ERA, 1.45 WHIP and 171 Ks. Okay, you got me, that’s terrible. But, if someone like me (who hates the Yanks) is standing up for Burnett, you know there’s a reason. Somewhat surprisingly, Burnett returned to a 10% swinging strike rate for the first time since his breakout 2008 season. In addition, he didn’t give up more line drives than his career number and gave up significantly less fly balls. What was out of whack was his HR/FB rate: 17% in 2011 compared to 11.3% for his career. If the Yankees just let Burnett pitch, he should put up a 4.40 ERA with 1.39 WHIP and 175 Ks. Of course, his path to innings is by no means certain after the Michael Pineda trade. Burnett has become a flier in deep leagues now.
Henderson Alvarez: Alvarez was born in 1990, and he is by no means a finished product; however there’s already a ton of polish there. In 63.2 innings last season, Alvarez posted a 3.53 ERA, 3.97 FIP and 3.38 xFIP. Alvarez succeeds by keeping batters off base: he posted a 1.13 BB/9 rate in the majors, similar to what he did in the minors. I’m giving Alvarez 170 innings, 110 Ks, a 3.50 ERA and 1.20 WHIP. He could be a huge WHIP stabilizer and should be a good match-ups guy. He’s what everyone hopes Jurrjens is.
Travis Wood: I remember where I was for Wood’s near perfecto against the Philadelphia Phillies. I was walking down a street in Cape May, New Jersey, peering into every bar’s TV to follow his progress. Unfortunately, his success in 2010 did not translate to 2011 at all. While he got a bit unlucky on balls in play in 2011, Wood also walked way too many batters and lost some deception on his pitches (just a 6.7% swinging strike rate). That said, he’s still young and has promise. The Cubs should give him the opportunity to pitch a full year in the Bigs. With 180 innings and a K-rate around 7, Wood could tally 140+ punch outs. I also think he could post an ERA around 4.00, with a solid 1.30 WHIP.
Jordan Lyles: That Astros’ bull pen did no favors to their young starting pitcher (65% strand rate). While some of that has to do with his own propensity to give up the long ball, Lyles should post a better rate in 2011. In addition, if Lyles gets to 160 innings or so, he could post 128 Ks. His ERA will probably not be overly pretty (think 4.50-4.75, with a bit of upside) and his WHIP will look a little fugly (1.40), but every Pirates start will be something to watch, i.e. he has a good bit of match-up appeal.
Homer Bailey: I wonder if Bailey is going to be one of those perennial teases, like Chris Volstad, Kevin Slowey, Scott Baker, etc. who post nice FIPs, but seem to never translate to ERA success (James Shields was a founding member of this club). Well, this is the year we find out Bailey’s deal. I’m betting on an ERA around 4.00, a 1.30 WHIP and 150 Ks. He has upside on those numbers (and obviously downside). He really cut down on his walks last year, while getting more swinging strikes. I wouldn’t be shocked if Bailey was a “surprise” this season.
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