The first part of this article, containing profiles of the starting pitchers ranked 1-25, was posted yesterday and can be found here. I look forward to your feedback.
Romero is entering the mythical Age 27 Season and upped his inning total for the second straight year last year, so there's a case to be made for buying in. Buyer beware: His BABIP (.242) was well below both the MLB average (.291) and his career average (.285). He does induce plenty of ground balls, so it's not a stretch to say he can continue to beat those averages, but a repeat is likely out of the question. For me to rank him in the Top 25 this time next year, he's going to have to up his strikeouts and cut out the walks (2.23 K/BB is okay, but should be better).
I love me some C.J. Wilson. He's got a personality that some find grating, but I find endearing in a professional athlete. He's a self-aware renaissance man who speaks his mind (and, as a bonus, used to spend some time on SBN until a meddling beat writer printed some of his more controversial comments and he had to delete his account). Problem is, he doesn't always take his own advice to #ThrowStrikes (though his BB/9 in 2011 was by far a career best). C.J. has 6 pitches, including 2 very effective fastballs, but the problem with some of his breaking stuff is that he has a tendency to fool the umpire as well as the batter (he often shows up on these kinds of leaderboards). The upside to all that nibbling at the corners is a high ground ball percentage (49.3 in 2011), which plays well in any ballpark and especially Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. So far, we're buying into a great season for Wilson, especially if he lands in a pitchers park.
The problem comes when you examine the level of his competition, as Marc Normandin of Roto Hardball astutely points out. The average OPS of Wilson's opponents was the lowest in baseball. Wilson is a great pitcher, and I'm not telling you to avoid him, but he will likely find a nice payday some time in the next couple of months, and that may cause some people to overvalue him on draft day.
Latos pitches his home games at Petco and racks up plenty of strikeouts. He wasn't quite the breakout many projected in 2011, but he doesn't have to be. He still has time to come into his own, and even if he doesn't, he pitches his home games at Petco and racks up plenty of strikeouts. Petco. Strikeouts. Got it?
Beachy had the highest strikeout rate in the majors last year among starters (10.74), and his swinging strike rate (11.8%) seems to suggest that it wasn't a fluke. Problem is, his ground ball rate is extremely low and there are worries that he will be able to pitch as many innings as he would need to do to rank among the best pitchers in the game. Strikeouts are extremely valuable, so you should be targeting Beachy, as long as you realize he's not quite ready to contribute to the other categories in a meaningful way.
I wrote about Holland during the ALDS (notice also the note regarding Matt Moore), noting his inconsistency, which should bother head-to-head players but won't matter much to traditional roto participants. Holland did indeed earn some playoff legend points for putting the Rangers on his back in Game 4 in the World Series, so he may be overvalued by some. Before you make your final judgment on him, take a look at his second-half stats from 2011. Is he close to putting everything together in one awesome package? Maybe.
Ray wrote about Luebke at the end of September and said he was potentially a Top 30 pitcher,* citing his ballpark and strikeouts, among other things. In the attached poll, 80% of Fake Teams readers said they believed his breakout in 2011 was for real. I'm a believer, but there are two reasons I'm slightly concerned: (1) the low number of innings pitched. Will he be on a limit? Can we believe in his numbers based on this sample size? (2) He basically has 2 pitches. There was some discussion in yesterday's thread about this regarding David Price, and while it's true that it doesn't matter how many pitches a pitcher has as long as they're effective, I'm worried that he'll be figured out, which sort of goes back to number one. Also, how does he cope if he's not feeling one of his pitches on a given day (or in a given season)? Look at Felix Hernandez - his fastball lost some velocity last year, but he's got 5 pitches, so he was able to adjust. Luebke will not have that fallback option.
*I promise I just now noticed this as I write the profile. Ranking him at 31 is just a coincidence, not a slight.
Zimmermann was subject to an innings pitched limit last year as he recovered from Tommy John surgery, and that's good for fantasy players moving forward for at least 2 reasons: (1) the responsible use of Zimmermann by the Nationals means he will probably not suffer any ill effects in 2012, and (2) he will be relatively unknown on draft day. Had he been allowed to complete his season, I think his name would be on the lips of more casual fantasy players. The drop in strikeouts from his pre-surgery days is troubling, but his velocity appears to have suffered no ill effects, and he'll contribute to your ERA and WHIP positively.
Morrow is the guy that has never been able to put everything together in one package, and if he's ever able to figure it all out at once, he's going to have a great year. Crazy stat time: In 179.1 innings pitched in 2011, Morrow induced just 1 GIDP. That's historic stuff. There are theories ranging from a decreased ability pitching from the stretch (his numbers with men on base are worse, but not significantly so) to a mix of chance and his very low ground ball rate (much more plausible). I'd argue that pitching in front of Edwin Encarnacion for most of the year didn't help. So what to do with Morrow? He's not likely to go so long without inducing a double play again, but he's also probably not going to post a 50% ground ball rate out of nowhere. He's developing a cutter (he debuted it in September), so there's room for optimism. The Ks will be there (and so will the walks), and as Toronto gets better as a team, he'll win more games.
34. Josh Johnson - MIA
Johnson is a very talented pitcher, and if he weren't injured, he would be much further up this list. To be more accurate, if his shoulder weren't injured, he would be much further up this list. Shoulder problems are no joke and can linger, so even the news that he has thrown live batting practice is not particularly encouraging to me. It's a high risk, high reward situation, but make no mistake - the risk is high.
Like Michael Pineda (see yesterday's post), Hudson is a candidate to succumb to The Verducci Effect. He's 24 and pitched 33.1 more innings in 2011 than he did in 2010. Again, it's not an ordinance, but there is cause for concern. If you're willing to throw caution to the wind, Hudson represents a nice bargain as he can contribute in almost every category.
36. Chris Carpenter - STL
Please don't be seduced by Carpenter's playoff performance or his name brand. The former Cy Young winner is really just okay for fantasy these days, though he does give his owners plenty of innings. The introduction of his sinker a few years back revitalized his career, but curiously enough he gave up less ground balls than he ever has before. His LD% jumped up to 24%, resulting in a .312 BABIP that seems totally justified. I don't think he's going to lose his fastball in 2012 - physically or metaphorically - but what you see is what you get, and there is only downside from there.
It's an open secret that Matt Moore will likely not start 2012 in the majors. There are a couple of reasons for this: the Rays have enough pitching that there will be a ton of players in spring training competing for the last 1 or 2 starting spots (and the 5th starter on most teams doesn't see much action until later in April, anyway). The more important reason, though, is that by waiting to start Moore's service clock, Tampa can push back his arb years to 2018 rather than 2017. We likely won't see Moore until June 1 at the very earliest.
"But wait," you say, "Moore is so good I'd rather have 4 months of him than 6 months of several of the guys above him." I see your point, and in real life baseball, I'm inclined to agree. Moore was a top-shelf prospect and he acquitted himself very well (albeit in a small sample size) in September and in the playoffs. For fantasy, I disagree. Take a look at this June article from Jeffrey Gross of The Hardball Times that discusses the value of prospects relative to when they're called up. It's a smart article, one that makes my head hurt, but the basic idea is that for every day a player misses, you lose about 0.6% of his value (1/162=~0.6). If Moore misses 60 days, his value is depressed by a whopping 36 percent, which means he has to be worth 156% more than a player that doesn't miss any time at all for your investment in him to be worth it. (If you're not convinced by this argument, read the article. It's much more persuasive than I am.) Now, take into account that you'll have to waste a useful roster spot on him for 2 months or longer. #37 is not a low rank for Moore - not if the Rays do the expected and hold him back.
July and August were not very kind to Sanchez, as he racked up an ERA of 6.75 and 5.14, respectively, and a WHIP of 1.69 and 1.54, also respectively. You can't just throw out two months of data when evaluating a pitcher, but it's encouraging that (A) he rebounded in September, and (B) he maintained his elite strikeout rate throughout, actually posting his highest K/9 in July (10.13). Run prevention is part of the fantasy game, so it's hard to recommend a higher placement for Sanchez, but he certainly has potential to be better, and even if he's not, hey - strikeouts are nice.
I wrote about Scherzer during the playoffs, calling him a potential bargain based on working through some mechanical issues during the season. Don't read the piece too closely; I stated I would rank him in the 25-30 range and then didn't. Mostly, I'm worried about which Scherzer will show up in 2012. I'll want to see him pitch during spring training before ranking him higher.
Marcum is one of those guys who can contribute to all of the pitching categories, but none of those tools are exceptional. He's fairly reliable and consistent, and that counts for something. Just don't expect him to be much more than the fantasy equivalent of an LAIE.
Gonzalez has one plus pitch - his fastball, so when that's not working, he's in trouble. That fastball is good enough to grab some Ks though, and since he gets to pitch in the O.co (Stadium sponsorship has officially gotten out of hand), he's a nice option as long as you don't mind walks. I mind walks, and honestly I find it hard to believe he doesn't get punished more for the free passes he hands out.
Jimenez fell off in some respects in 2011, posting the highest ERA of his career (4.68), and while he was unlucky (0.97 ERA-xFIP, 65 LOB%), the predominant storyline all season was the loss of velocity on his fastball. It started in spring training, and every once in a while, after a good start, Jimenez would proclaim that the zip was back, only to fall down on his next time out. He was traded to the Indians midseason, which should help his home run numbers, which were never really much of a problem anyway. It's hard to know what to do with him going forward. His strikeout numbers didn't really suffer despite his fastball problems, so was the whole issue overblown, or could it be that the "bad luck" is a symptom of something more under the surface? Jimenez seems like a good upside pick, but something seems off to me.
Scott Baker was putting together a fine season in 2011 (3.14 ERA, 1.17 WHIP) before he was sidelined with a flexor strain in his throwing elbow. He returned in September and pitched 3 strong innings in relief, so concerns about his ability to come back should be mostly alleviated (but make sure you check in him from time to time next spring). There's room for him to flash his skills again in 2012 (that 3.84 K/BB in 2011 is very sexy indeed), which makes him a nice value pick at this point.
There's not much upside in owning a 36 year-old soft-tossing lefty, especially when a nice WHIP is the best thing he can offer. Still, he'll give you plenty of innings, an ERA that won't kill you, and some strikeouts as well. Don't be afraid to take a sure thing over upside once in a while.
Ogando's conversion from reliever to starter (Warning: this is about to be a theme) came full circle in the playoffs, after he had hit his innings cap for the season. Ogando did wear down as the season went on, and though that is a concern going forward, I believe he should handle the workload better in his second full season in the rotation. I'm more worried about his depressed K-rate. Alexi threw less strikes overall, and he'll need to find the strike zone if he wants to have a shot at being named to the All-Star team again. Happily, I think 2011 represents the floor for Ogando, though I don't expect him to contribute too much to any one category, except perhaps wins.
I wrote about Neftali Feliz just before Thanksgiving, when the Rangers effectively announced they were moving him to the rotation when they signed Joe Nathan to be their closer. If you are a Baseball Prospectus subscriber, I urge you to read this piece by Jason Parks detailing Feliz' journey to this moment in his career. If you can't read that article, here are some bullet points: Feliz was always going to be a starter, and his time in the bullpen was just a detour along the way. There are some concerns about his secondary offerings, but as a prospect they were graded positively and if he can rediscover his command, things are looking up. An innings cap will be a concern.
Sale is also being converted from the bullpen, and though he has always been a reliever in the White Sox system, he did start when he was at Florida Gulf Coast University. Like Feliz, he is a high-velocity, high-strikeout guy, and like Feliz there are concerns about his lack of quality secondary stuff in the majors, though his little-used change-up was always considered a plus pitch. The main question with Sale will be about his small frame and his ability to handle a starting pitcher's workload, but I'm not terribly concerned about that. Again, watch and see if the White Sox will be limiting his innings in 2012.
Garcia should really strike more guys out than he does (7.21 K/9 vs. 10.5 SwStr%), but to be fair, he should probably be walking more folks as well (2.31 BB/9 vs. 57.6% FStrike%). As a Cardinal, he'll give you some wins and a nice ERA. There's upside here, but not so much that you should go reaching for him any higher than this.
Hellickson had himself a nice fantasy season on his way to winning the real life Rookie of the Year award in the American League, going 13-10 with a 2.95 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and...let's not talk about the strikeouts. Problem is, he's almost certain not to come anywhere close to replicating those stats again in 2012. He put up some pretty absurd (in a bad way, if you're trying to predict the future) peripheral numbers. His BABIP was .223, the strand rate was 82%, and his ground ball rate was 35%. He can afford to get away with the latter number to a certain extent in the Trop, but those other numbers spell trouble, as does a 5.57 K/9. That should regress due to an impressive SwStr% (9.7), but not enough to make up for the rest of it. His xFIP-ERA is ridiculously huge at 1.77. Realistically, wins are the only category you can count on him for, unless he really is the luckiest pitcher in the world.
Nova benefits from playing for the Yankees, plain and simple. If not for his potential to put up a good record, he would not be on this list. He has a high ground ball rate (52.7% in 2011) and doesn't give up a lot of home runs (0.7/9), so his game plays well at Yankee Stadium. Unfortunately, his results are pretty run-of-the-mill and there's not a ton of upside that he'll be much better. Take the wins and be happy his other stats won't hurt you.