Starting Pitcher Preview
The Top Tier
I’m playing it relatively safe at SP this year, hoping to get ahead early by taking a lot of the top pitchers: Tim Lincecum 1510, Roy Halladay 1460, Dan Haren 1440, Zack Greinke 1310, Felix Hernandez 1240, and Justin Verlander 1200.
The Must Haves
Jon Lester 1040 (BOS) – Lester might be the best CDM play of all the pitchers, considering his salary. His K/9 jumped dramatically last year to 9.96 from 6.50. At age 26! Meanwhile, his walk rate was nearly identical (2.83 from 2.82), meaning Lester wasn’t just trading off control for power. The biggest difference in Lester of ’08 and Lester of ’09 was how hitters fared on pitches he threw outside of the strike zone. In fact, hitters actually chased less in ’09, as Lester’s chase percentage slightly dropped. However, when hitters did chase, they made contact only 51.6% of the time, compared to 65.1% of the time in ’08. That’s where those extra strikeouts are coming from, as it seemed Lester was much more comfortable throwing his off speed pitches last season. Meanwhile, Lester was actually a little unlucky. His FIP ERA was 3.15 and xFIP ERA was 3.13, but his actual ERA was 3.41. This might have been because his BABIP of .323 was much higher than in the previous two seasons (.285, .299). His LOB% was right in line with his career average. We are likely to see Lester’s peripherals stay the same in ’10, but his surface stats (ERA, WHIP) should be even better.
Clayton Kershaw 960 (LAD) – If Kershaw tones down his walks a bit, he’ll be in contention for a CY Young. If he does not, well, he still managed a 2.79 ERA last season. I think we’ll all take that any day of the week. Kershaw has elite level talents because of his amazing curve ball, which allowed him to strike out 9.74 batters per 9 and hold opponents to a dismal .198 batting average. He hopes to continue to work develop his changeup this season, which would make his fastball even more effective, if that’s possible. Kershaw’s fastball was 30 runs above average last season! Also, there’s always a chance you can use Kershaw for home starts only, as he has a career 2.48 ERA at home compared to 4.37 on the road.
The Splits Guys
Two guys knocked Francisco Liriano and Josh Johnson off of my roster. For overall value, I’d rather have the two I originally listed, but the following two pitchers have good value to begin with along with home/road splits that are too obvious to ignore.
Adam Wainwright 1100 (STL) – Wainwright is a solid pitcher, and his climb from 6.20 K/9 to 8.19 K/9 helped mold him into one of the games top hurlers. Still, I was reluctant to take him this season, as I expected a spike in his ERA due to a lucky 80.4% LOB% and thoughts that his K/9 would fall off a bit. Then, I looked at his splits. Wainwright has spent his entire career with the Cardinal, and in 357 IP at home over 4 seasons, he has an ERA of 2.75 and K/BB rate of 2.93. Since I am carrying 13 pitchers, I can afford to take a couple pitchers that I play just at home. As an added bonus, Wainwright is slated to take on Houston and the Mets, both at home, in week 2.
Johann Santana 1290 (NYM) – I worry that Santana’s skills are degrading, mainly because of a declining strike out rate the past two years despite making the switch from the AL to the NL. However, Santana is completely healthy heading into this season, and he OWNED Citi Field in its first full year of existence. Santana had a 2.43 ERA at home over 96.1 IP, with a K/BB ratio of 3.58, compared to 2.73 mark on the road. As an added bonus, Santana takes on the Marlins and the Nationals, both at home, in week 1.
Low Priced Plays
Brett Anderson 760 (OAK) – As a rookie Anderson demonstrated great command (3.33 K/BB ratio), while missing a decent amount of bats (7.70 K/9). He also had a solid GB/FB ratio of 1.49, while limiting good contact by opponents (15.1 LD%). When I see a rookie pitcher, and a 22 YO at that, be above average in not most but ALL of the primary categories I look at when targeting a pitcher, I get real excited. The icing on the cake is Anderson just improved as the season went along. In his last 18 GS, he posted a 3.07 ERA while striking out 108 batters in 111.1 IP. He had a K/BB ratio of 3.86 over that time period while giving up only 7 HR (gave up 13 in first 12 starts). Anderson has stardom written all over it. I think we see his K/9 jump into the 8.5 range while his walk and ground ball totals stay the same. That and some ERA adjustment (his FIP ERA was 3.69, xFIP 3.61), and we could see 180 strikeouts, wins in the mid-teens, a sub 3.5 ERA and 1.20 WHIP.
Tommy Hanson 850 (ATL) – Here’s another player where there’s not too much to say about. Hanson is unlikely to repeat a sub 3 ERA because his BABIP of .280 and LOB% of 80.3% will likely rise and fall respectively, but he struck out 8.18 batters per 9 while maintaining decent control (3.24 BB/9). While I might not see his upside (for this year) as high as many in draft leagues, in CDM it doesn’t matter because it’s highly unlikely that he’s not worth this price.
Battle of the Marlins
Ricky Nolasco 950 (FLA) over Josh Johnson 1030 (FLA) – Really wish I could take both of these pitchers, but I’m going with my gut a little bit on this one and taking Nolasco. Nolasco was one of my favorite pitching sleepers heading into this off season, and his impressive spring has done nothing but enhance his value in my eyes. As solid as Johnson is, I think Nolasco has a chance to be this year’s Zack Greinke. At first glance, one might think that Johnson is the easy choice; I mean, his ERA of 3.23 was nearly two runs better than Nolasco’s 5.06. However, here are Nolasco’s peripheral stats side by side with Johnson’s. K/9: Nolasco 9.49 to 8.22; BB/9: Nolasco, 2.14 to 2.50; GB/FB ratio, Johnson 1.58 to .96. While Johnson is much less FB risky, I’ll take the upside in Nolasco’s higher K totals and K/BB ratio. And Nolasco’s K/BB ratio of 4.43 was no fluke, as that’s exactly what it was in 2008. I guess I am just enamored with Nolasco’s upside due to his ability to miss bats. From July on last year, Nolasco had 5 double digit strikeout games and struck out 10.38 batters per 9. Nolasco finished Spring Training with 21 strikeouts and ONE walk!
Francisco Liriano 740 (MIN) – His winter and spring performances were so dominant, one can’t help but think there’s a chance he’ll revert back to his ’06 form. Frankly, if he’s even a shell of that pitcher, he’s worth his tag. However, I’d like to see a few starts out of him first, and looking at the way the schedule breaks, he probably wouldn’t be in my lineup the first couple of weeks. So, if he’s bad like last year, I don’t waste a burn. If he’s looking good after a few starts, he’ll be my first buy.
The next 5 off of my list, in order: Ubaldo Jimenez, Yovani Gallardo, Wandy Rodriguez, Cole Hamels and Jake Peavy.