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Finding Value in Young AL East Pitchers

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There are four AL East fantasy pitchers under the age of 27 coming off solid 2010 fantasy baseball seasons that will garner a lot of attention at the top of 2011 drafts.  They are all guys that took big steps in 2010 to prove that they will be stable top of the rotation starters for their respective teams for years to come.  Perhaps the highest compliment for these four pitchers is that they are all ranked in the top 42 starting pitchers in the CBS pre-season rankings despite pitching in the dreaded AL East.  Even though all four pitchers are ranked highly in fantasy circles, there is only one I will be targeting in my fantasy draft.  The players along with CBS pre-season rankings after the jump:

 

 

 

CBS SP Rank             Player

12                                David Price

20                                Clay Buchholz

31                                Phil Hughes

42                                Ricky Romero

 

Price, Buchholz, and Hughes are three players that have attracted a lot of hype leading up to the 2011 season due to their recent success.  They also play on teams that have experienced success in the recent past and have received a lot of national attention as a result.  For these reasons, if you want any of these three players on your team you will most certainly have to overpay for them.  Worse yet, you would be overpaying for players that may not yet be as good as the general public thinks they are.  Price, Buchholz, and Hughes all had BABIPs of .273 or below last season.  This puts the three of them in the lowest quarter of all qualifying pitchers in this category and at a level that is certainly due for regression.  Price and Buchholz also sported HR/FB ratios of 6.5% and under.That puts them both among the 20 most fortunate pitchers in the majors in terms of HR/FB ratio..  This ratio especially appears unsustainable when you consider they both pitch in the division that was home to 4 of the 8 least favorable pitchers’ ballparks in the majors.  Hughes had a HR/FB ratio more in line with the league average, but this resulted in his giving up 1.28 home runs per 9 innings.  That was good for 12thmost in the majors among qualified pitchers.  Let’s take a look at how all four pitchers fared last year in regards to ERA, FIP (to strip out BABIP), and xFIP (to normalize HR/FB), according to Fangraphs.

 

Player              ERA                FIP                  xFIP
Price                 2.72                 3.42                 3.99

Buchholz         2.33                 3.61                 4.20    

Hughes            4.19                 4.25                 4.33    

Romero            3.73                 3.64                 3.75                            

 

 

As you can see, Price and Buchholz's results outperformed their metrics while Hughes was in the low 4s using all three measurements.  The fourth pitcher in question was also consistent across all three measurements.  In his second full season at the big league level, Ricky Romero improved his K/BB ratio to 2.12.  Additionally, he was also able to induce ground balls on 55% of balls in play.  That ground ball percentage is especially key as he spends most of his time pitching in hitter friendly parks.  Not only was 55% good for 8th in the majors, but Romero had the highest K/9 of any pitcher in the top 8.  Romero also had the highest BABIP of the four AL East pitchers in question and a HR/FB ratio of 9.4% which is pretty close to league average.  It is safe to say that his 3.73 ERA was not the result of luck.  Romero’s solid K/BB ratio and high amount of ground balls induced is the reason why he has an xFIP superior to Price, Buchholz, and Hughes.  This, combined with the fact that he plays for the Blue Jays, is why I will be targeting him in drafts.  The other three young AL East hurlers will be overpriced because of either the markets they play in, the attention they have received, the luck they experienced in 2010, or all of the above.  Romero will be a bargain as he has shown the ability to pitch just as effectively as his AL East counterparts, while still not receiving their pre-draft level of hype.  Three of these pitchers will only land on your roster if you overpay, while one you may actually be able to get at a nice bargain.