Friday, March 25, 2011

2011 Fantasy Baseball Overvalued and Undervalued: Starting Pitchers

The last in a series to help you win your league, or at least lose in the same way that I will. Let's get it done.


1) Tim Lincecum, Giants.
Two points of worry here; the first serious, the second frivolous, but still telling. With the World Series work added on to the 2010 regular season, the Freak went for 250 innings last year, or 25 more than 2009. Over the last three years, he's at 650 innings... and while he's still very young (27 this year), that just screams out Cole Hamels after the World Series win year to me. The second point is the oddball all fast food diet that he's gone on this year, which adds to the oddness about him, along with the marijuana issues. One suspects that these kinds of personal choices could easily be added to things that are outside the public eye... so when you add it all together, there's just more risk then I'm looking for from my #1 first round starter. This year, he gets you 14 wins with a 3.5 ERA, a 1.30 WHIP, and under 200 Ks, partly because he winds up missing a few more starts. He's still great, but he'll be better in 2012.

2) Zach Greinke, Brewers. The dream here is that Greinke will replicate the past success of quality American League pitchers who come to the weaker league to dominate, but there are a couple of troublesome flaws to that plan. The first is that he's starting the year off unhealthy, which is never a good sign for a guy trying to impress a new team. The second is that the Brewers play in a reasonable park for hitters, don't have a particularly good bullpen, and are fairly porous on defense. So while he might be as good as ever, and certainly should appreciate 40 or 50 extra strikeouts from facing pitchers... well, it's just not going to translate into the full-blown crush act that you might be paying for. Especially when it comes to the wins. 12 wins, 3.85 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 225 strikeouts.

3) Mat Latos, Padres. For over half of 2009, Latos was one of the best starting pitchers in baseball, and with plus-stuff and a ridiculously good defense, bullpen and home park... and then, just like his team, he fell apart late. The worry is that he's just not ready for this kind of workload at age 23, and the Padres are far too likely to keep him away from any kind of workload in the event of a struggle. Add to it the fact that the Padres aren't going to win as many games without Adrian Gonzalez, and the bullpen is likely to backslide a bit, and you get a big name that won't produce to the value you'll have to spend on him. He's still got a very bright future, but 2011 won't be his year. 11 wins, 3.40 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 190 strikeouts.

4) Phil Hughes, Yankees. The aggregate 2010 numbers are great: 18-8 with 146 Ks in his first full year starting, and he's just 25, on a team with a great offense and bullpen. But dig deeper, particularly into the way that he closed his year, and things aren't so cheery. In 2011, I think Hughes takes on too much pressure being the #2 on a team with a $200 million payroll in a media microscope, and it's not as if he's never flinched in that spotlight before. The trouble is that last year, they weren't expecting him to be lights out, and this year, they are. That's not exactly a blueprint for success, especially in the toughest division in baseball, for a guy that put on 90 more innings in 2010 than he did in 2009. 13 wins, 4.40 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 150 strikeouts.

5) Scott Baker, Twins. Why is this guy a name, really -- are we so starved for starting pitching in this era that 38 wins over a 3-year period makes people think he's actually good? Over the last 370 innings, Baker has provided a 4.4 ERA and a 1.3 WHIP, despite playing in front of a great defense, and in 2010, the AL's answer to Petco. Maybe I'm late to the bus on this one, but Baker seems utterly fungible to me, and if it's my team, I think about trying Kevin Slowey instead, assuming that I can someone tell them apart. 9 wins, 4.7 ERA, 1.40 WHIP and 135 strikeouts.


1) Dan Haren, Angels.
Man, did this guy pitch in some bad luck last year, and regression is your friend, especially when the candidate in question goes to a much better defensive team, in a division where he gets to face the Mariners routinely. Haren's ERA dropped nearly 2 runs per game, with the WHIP falling to his historic level, as soon as he got to Anaheim last year, and I'm seeing a lot more of it in 2010. He's been as sturdy as they come in terms of taking the ball every fifth day, he's always flown under the radar in terms of being a real ace, and he's going to be nails this year. Buy with confidence. 17 wins, 3.2 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 225 strikeouts.

2) Max Scherzer, Tigers. Electric stuff that really came to the fore after an adjustment in the minor leagues, and he's perfectly suited to his home park. Since he's not the #1 in Tigertown, he's also more likely to win games with his quality starts, and while he's prone to wildness, it's not so much that it's going to keep him from working reasonably deep in games. At age 26, he's on target for his first 200 inning year, and a subsequent breakthrough in wins. He's going to pay off well for you this year. 14 wins, 3.4 ERA, 1.2 WHIP, 200 strikeouts.

3) Daniel Hudson, Diamondbacks. Last year's closing monster (7-1, 1.69 ERA) returns for his age-24 season in the desert, and while his stuff isn't quite up to the Gibsonian levels that he showed in 2009, he's still going to provide all year value for a Diamondbacks team that can't have as bad of a bullpen as they did in 2009. While workload could be an issue -- he went for 7 innings a start last year, and probably can't hold up to 30+ starts -- he's still a quality starter with excellent control, and I just like the way he works through a lineup. Look for 14 wins, 3.2 ERA, a 1.15 WHIP and 150 strikeouts.

4) Hiroki Kuroda, Dodgers. I don't know about you, but when I go to fill out the end of my pitching staff, I'm a big fan of guys who are either good or hurt. That's Kuroda to a T, who has yet to break 200 innings in three years in Dodgerland, and in his age-36 year, it's not as if he's going to suddenly turn into a workhorse. But what you do get for your dollar is a sub-4 ERA, a sub 1.2 WHIP, and a decent amount of wins... especially in 2011, when the Dodgers are going to have a better bullpen. Finally, I also like that since Kuroda is a 3/4 starter here, he's also going to face a lot of weak opposing starters. The prognosis for a few extra wins is good. 13 wins, 3.2 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 175 strikeouts.

5) Aaron Harang, Padres. Fortune favors the brave. At age 32, Harang got his head handed to him to the tune of a 5.32 ERA, with 16 HRs in 111 innings in his swan song in Porkopolis. This year, he goes to San Diego, where the homer problem becomes a lot less meaningful, and his confidence comes back to a sub-4 ERA. The only real problem is that the Padres aren't going to win a ton of games, and you run the risk of him going to a bandbox in a mid-season trade to a contender. But the overall picture is going to be fine, especially since you'll probably be able to get him out of your free agent pool. 11 wins, 3.8 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 160 strikeouts.

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