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Preseason Prep - March 1, 2011

Lou Blasi

Following our second-year theme of the return of starting pitching in fantasy baseball, let’s look at some profiles of starters from the teams I am covering this spring …

Josh Beckett – Red Sox – What to do, what to do … Josh has been a Jekyll and Hyde conundrum almost since coming to the Red Sox, alternating really good years with some luke-warm seasons that included season that were just plain bad. Last year he managed just 127.2 IP, posting a 5.78/1.54. Opponents hit .288 off him with a favorable .338 BHIP%, but his unfavorable 65.3% LOB% bloated his ERA a bit.

Addition signs of trouble included a drop in his FB velocity from 94.3 on average the previous two seasons to 93.5 last year. That may not seem like much to you but it does to an MLB hitter. His pitch mix was different as well. He cut his FB% to 55.2% after throwing 60.2% the year before and 66.9% the year before that. Josh threw cut fastballs at 15.3% up from 5.3% in 09 which was by far a career high. His curve% dropped to 18.2% after a 25.5% in 09 and 23.7% in 08. Oh … and his walk rate spiked to 3.1/9, up from 2.3 in 09 and 1.7 in 08, his highest level since 2006. His first pitch strike % dropped as well (58.4%), to his lowest since 2002.

Josh battled some back issues in 2010 and while we can’t quantify the effects his health had on his season we have to acknowledge them. Mix in a little bad luck in LOB% and BHIP% (Josh’s LD% actually went down in 2010 so they weren’t hitting him harder) and Frank Viola, this is what you get. We should expect some age decline but at 30 Beckett is hardly cooked. The other thing that needs to be factored in here is Beckett’s bulldog mentality. It’s one of the reasons for the alternating quality of his seasons of late. Josh will have extra incentive this year and that usually manifests itself positively in his case.

Just a return to his career norms in most categories, not an unreasonable expectation, would get him back to 14 wins, 3.96/1.24. We are projecting 14/3.85/1.25. Sounds about right.

Josh was hit by a ball on the left side of his head during workouts on Monday and exhibited mild concussion symptoms. He wasn't taken to the hospital and the general atmosphere around camp was calm. We'll know more today but right now this doesn't look to be a big deal.

John Lackey – Red Sox – Jon Lackey presents similar projecting issues to Josh Beckett after his tepid debut season with the Red Sox in which he went 14-11, 4.40/1.42. His .319 BHIP% and 69.3% LOB% were just on the unfavorable side of those rates but not so much as to explain his season. John’s fastball velocity was fine and while he exchanged a few curves for a few change ups last year, his pitch usage was normal.

His chase rate on out-of-the zone pitches was 29.6%, even a little better than his 28.6% in 09 but that’s below league average and hitters made contact outside of the zone at 70.5%, way up from 59.7% in 09. More basically, John walked more batters and struck out less last year. John was worse outside of Fenway, a ballpark he used to hate, and lefties gave him fits (.297 OBA, just a 5.6 K/9, 3.6 BB/9, 1.59 WHIP).

On the plus aide Lackey posted a 3.97 ERA and 1.21 WHIP in 15 second-half starts. That’s about it. There isn’t a lot else statistically to point to that suggests a full rebound. He’ll have one year in Boston and the AL East under his belt and that should help, but overall a return to his sub-4.00 “norm” is at least suspect. Today we are projecting 4.11/1.31 with 16 wins. The 16 wins is the high end of the scale, but there is at least the potential that John beats those ERA/WHIP projections. I wouldn’t pay for anything better than our projections myself, but the possibility exists.

Jair Jurrjens – Braves – Jurrgens makes an interesting statistical study, although not for his 4.64 ERA last season. His 2.60/1.21 in 2009 was largely the result of favorable rates in LOB% (79.4%) and BHIP% (.268). His 3.68/1.37 2008 is probably more representative considering his 71% LOB% and .301 BHIP%.

Last year is a pretty dull story. Hamstring issues early, and knee cartilage issues late tell most of the tale. In the 12 starts in between, Jair went 6-1 with a 3.75 ERA and a 1.33 WHIP. We are projecting 3.82/1.29. Assuming Jurrjen’s good health, that’s what to expect.

Tim Husdon – Braves – Hudson, at 35 years old has been largely excellent for the Braves, culminating, it seems, in his 17-9, 2.83/1.15 season in 2010, his best of 6 seasons in the NL. Everything went Tim’s way in 2010 from his 81.2% LOB% to his ridiculously favorable .249 BHIP% (resulting in an equally ridiculous .226 OBA over 228.2 IP).

Tim’s average velocity was up to 91.2 last year almost 1 mph over 08 and 09, and his highest since 2004 with the A’s. The difference led to a 13.6% LD%, 5% lower than 08 (his last full season), by far the lowest rate of his career. He posted his highest GB% ever as well at 64.1%. With Hudson, that’s a tall statement. All of this looks like a veteran who may have found a little something. The only caveat in his non-luck stats was a rise in his BB rate.

Let’s face it, his 2.83 ERA, and .226 OBA are probably not sustainable. The only question is how big the reversion is going to be. Tim is a very good pitcher in an organization that maximizes pitchers. There’s no need to doubt he’s capable of another very good season. Just don’t pay for a repeat of last year. We are projecting 3.29/1.22, but my personal thoughts are a bit closer to 3.50/1.25 or 1.30.

Jordan Zimmerman – Nationals – Jordan Zimmerman returned to the Nationals in late-August after TJS. He went 1-2 with a 4.94 ERA, fanning 7.8/9 with a 2.9/9 BB rate. Opponents hit .252 off him with a favorable .261 BHIP%. The real gem in his stat line however was his 12.8% LD%. Hitters weren’t exactly on him.

Those indicators are surprisingly healthy, and the temptation will be to project them up until Jordan becomes a surprisingly good pitcher. Resists the urge. Unfortunately Jordan is probably a top-half-of-the-rotation starter in Washington which means he can’t fly under the radar in terms of value. Otherwise he’s be the type of pitcher you could score very late to serve as a reliable #6.

We are projecting 10 wins, a 4.59 ERA and 1.35 WHIP, a nice near-league-average performance. You are probably going to have to pay more than that however. Keep in mind also that the Nationals have already placed Jordan on an innings limit although they haven’t disclosed their number. Somewhere between 150 and 170 is probably a reasonable guess.

John Lannan – Nationals – It was a bit of a struggle for John Lannan in 2010, Or to be more accurate, John struggled in the first half of 2010. He posted a 5.76 ERA and 1.85 WHIP in 75 IP over 14 starts out of the gate allowing a .327 OBA. Clearly not good. He wasn’t much more impressive in his resulting tour on City Island at AA Harrisburg (4.65/1.45/.299) but apparently John found something. In his final 11 starts after his recall Lannan went 6-3 with a 3.42 ERA, 1.24 WHIP over 68.1 IP. That’s even a slight upgrade over his solid 2008 and 2009 seasons.

He was also throwing groundballs again which is the core of his game. John is not my favorite type of pitcher. Sub-6/9 K rate pitchers have too little margin for error for my tastes, but John is effective when he’s dealing GBs. We are projecting 13 wins, a 3.72 ERA, and 1.32 WHIP. If your fellow owners focus too much on his season totals from last year and his regrouping trip to the minors, you may find some value here, because there’s more to the story.

Cliff Lee – Phillies – Is there anything in Cliff Lee’s stats box that should give any owner any pause on draft day? Errr … no, not really. Cliff’s 2010 performance was solid throughout. His 67.9% LOB% was slightly unfavorable, and his .287 BHIP%, and 6.3% HR/FB% were slightly favorable but not so much as to discount his performance significantly.

The number to look askance at is his 0.76/9 BB rate. The question to ask there is whether he can do it again. That pretty much halves his BB rates from 2008 and 2009 and those rate were pretty damn solid in their own right (1.37/9 and 1.67/9). That’s the number I don’t think he can repeat. His walks will go up and therefore so will his WHIP and that probably means a few more earned runs over his 200+ IP this year.

Assume some regression there and add in some park effects in his move to Philly, then subtract a couple of outs per start in his move to the NL and arrive at your own number. We are projecting 15 wins a 3.31 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP. There’s nothing wrong with that, as long as you don’t pay for 2010 again.

Roy Oswalt – Phillies – Roy Oswalt is always an interesting statistical study at this point in his career. The 33-year-old is already contemplating his MLB mortality, saying he could retire after 2011, Roy posted an outstanding 2010 that included a bump in his K rate to a 8.21 which was his highest since 2001. His LOB% was favorable at 77.8%, but he carries a 76.4% career rate so I think we can pull that out of the “luck-stat” category in his case. The real favorable number last year was his .253 BHIP% which led to a scary .208 OBA, which in turn led to his 1.03 WHIP. All of that is ripe for some reversion.

Roy’s contemplation of retirement also implies that he feels his skills have eroded at least somewhat. This all adds up to a pitcher you are quite likely going to have to overpay for. We are (as of today anyway, our projections are updated throughout spring training) projecting 15 wins, a 3.42 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP. That’s reasonable. But be aware there’s play on either side of that. It likely doesn’t matter because Roy is probably going to be overpriced in most leagues. Make sure you don’t overpay.

Shin-Soo Choo - Indians – Good news regarding Shin-Soo Choo and his hyperextended elbow. Manny Acta says Choo could return to the lineup as early as Thursday. Choo’s 2010 was pretty much in line with his established norms. His zone control got a little better, which probably accounts for the little extra in his 2010 stat line. Expect more of the same this year. I am keeping an eye on the fact that his LD% is in a 3-year decline without a corresponding rise in his FB% but I am not ready to sound any alarms yet. What you see looks pretty much like what you are going to get this year.

Cla Meredith – Nationals – The news is not so good on Cla Meredith. National’s manager Jim Riggleman hinted that Meredith may need more significant surgery on his elbow. Meredith had his elbow scoped in the offseason but he’s experienced soreness throughout the spring. Nothing about this feels good. Brace for bad news.

Aroldis Chapman – Reds – It was a typical Aroldis Chapman outing on Monday. He walked 3 and struck out 2. The Reds have already said that Chapman will spend the season in the pen. His 3.38/9 BB rate in 13.1 MLB innings was encouraging. If he further nails that rate down he’s going to be something special, because he’s pretty tough to hit (.196 OBA). Eventually the Reds have to try and move him to the rotation even if he doesn’t develop a third pitch.

Derek Jeter – Yankees – In a recent Insiderbaseball.com podcast Drew Dinkmeyer and I talked about Derek Jeter’s age decline, citing a 6% jump in his chase percentage (swinging at pitches outside the zone) last year from 22.2% to 28.2%. As Drew pointed out, as bat speed slows, players cheat more, starting earlier on pitches. That in turn weakens their zone command. Derek’s BB rate dropped 1.6% last year and his K rate rose 1.8%.

So it’s with some interest that we follow the news out of Yankees camp on Monday that Jeter is revamping his swing, cutting down his stride to get to the ball quicker. "His timing is just a little bit off on the outside pitch," said hitting coach Kevin Long. "He’s got to wait a little bit longer on those pitches, and the ones in”. As George Peppard, in the role of Col. John “Hannibal” Smith would say, I love it when a plan comes together.

We are projecting a rebound mainly because Derek posted a very unfavorable .265 BHIP% last year (which frankly could be accounted for by a 4.2% drop in his LD% to 16.1%, a career low), and a mechanical tweak or two may be able to stave off the march of time for a little bit … But hey, we all get older, right?

Russell Martin – Yankees – Martin participated in blocking drills on Monday and reported that he’s pleased with the progress of his surgically-repaired knee. He could spend an inning or two behind the plate in a spring game before the weekend.

Heath Bell – Padres – Heath Bell threw BP off the mound for about 10 minutes on Monday, testing his strained calf. Manager Bud Black says Bell could pitch in a game by the end of the week.

Barry Zito – Giants – Barry Zito walked as many men (5) as he got out in Monday’s outing against the Brewers. You shouldn’t pay too much attention to stats accumulated by speed-and-location pitchers in February.

Barry had a terrific first half last year and struggled on the back nine. Despite a favorable 72.1% LOB% and a favorable .279 BHIP%, Barry went 9-14, 4.15/1.34 with the World Champs. Barry has always posted a low BHIP% but his ERA fluctuates with his LOB%. We are projecting 9 wins, a 4.03 ERA and 1.31 WHIP. That’s reasonable, but I just think his predictability is suspect. Barry is a decent option in a low SP slot and at a reasonable price, but if he’s too vital to your roster or costs too much you may have a long summer.

Fausto Carmona – Indians -Manny Acta named Fausto Carmona the Tribe’s Opening day starter. Carmona took a leap in 2010, without much in the way of support from his indicators. The main different between his 3.77/1.31 2010 and his 6.32/1.76 was a 2/9 gain (to 3.08) in his BB rate, and a return to a relatively neutral 71.5% LOB%. In 08 and 09 Carmona worked with LOB%s of 64.0 and 63.9 respectively. We are projecting 13 wins, a 3.92 ERA and 1.36 WHIP. That’s fair enough, IF he maintains his control gains, and doesn’t suffer another unreasonably unfavorable LOB% this season

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