While perusing Mock Draft Central's average draft positions as I often like to do, I noticed an interesting cluster of starting pitchers later in the draft. The 45-50th starting pitchers off the board were as follows along with their nearly identical average draft positions:
Player Average Draft Position
Josh Beckett 178.79
Gio Gonzalez 179.64
Brett Anderson 180.36
Javier Vazquez 180.50
Hiroki Kuroda 180.99
Jair Jurrjens 181.73
I decided it would be a worthwhile exercise to take a closer look at these six pitchers' 2011 prospects. They appear to be almost exactly equally valued in the eyes of the public and odds are most fantasy managers will have to decide between at least a couple on draft day. Following the jump is the order in which I would pick these pitchers along with my thoughts on each.
After pitching 175 innings with a 3.61 xFIP in 2009, Brett Anderson seemed like he would be a sleeper going into 2010. He then seemed to receive a lot of hype leading up to drafts as a top sleeper, which ultimately caused him to go higher than expected in many 2010 drafts. During the 2010 season, Anderson managed an ERA of 2.80 and an xFIP of 3.75. His K/9 showed a bit of a decline but he was able to limit his BB/9 to a miniscule 1.76. He also increased his GB% to 54.6%. Anderson pitched well in 2010, but frustrated owners as he was only able to pitch 112 innings. He hit the DL twice with elbow issues. Beginning with his rehab start on 7/9/2010, Anderson was able to make 17 straight scheduled starts in either the minors or majors. While Anderson had some injury problems last year, he ended the season healthy and will be entering the 2011 season healthy. If he can get his K/9 rate back up to the level he showed in 2009, he could combine that strikeout ability with his GB ability to possibly be a Cy Young candidate in the near future. He's a player worth a gamble at this stage of the draft.
Over the past 3 seasons, here are Kuroda's ranks in some key categories out of the 67 pitchers that qualified:
Swinging Strike%: 14th
Kuroda misses bats, minimizes walks, and keeps the ball on the ground. While he will be 36 in 2011, he has shown no sign the last 3 years of decreased velocity or effectiveness. He's not a sexy pick, but he should give you 30 very solid starts on the Senior Circuit.
I haven't bought into Jurrjens' recent success. He doesn't strike out enough batters to make up for the amount of batters he walks. His GB percentages over the last three years are as follows: 51.5%, 42.9%, 39.9%. If this number was consistently in the low to mid 50s then his GB inducing tendencies may be enough to make up for what he's lacking in the K and BB departments, but that does not seem to be the case. In 2009 when he sported and ERA of 2.60, he benefitted from a BABIP of .268 and HR/FB ratio of 6.1% (both very low and seemingly unsustainable). Some may believe his rough 2010 was the result of a nagging hamstring injury and will look for a bounce back in a healthy 2011. I believe his results in 2010 reflect his true talent level. I will avoid Jurrjens until he proves he can limit his walks and raise his strike outs.
In 2010, at age 24, Gonzalez broke out with 15 wins and a 3.23 ERA; both especially impressive in the AL. Gonzalez struck out 7.67 batters per 9 and walked 4.13 per nine last season. This 1.86 K/BB ratio is not indicative of a 3.23 ERA, and certainly not near the level of an elite pitcher. He was also on the receiving end of a .274 BABIP, 78.1% LOB% and 7.4% HR/FB ratio. These numbers are all drastically better than those he put up in these categories the previous season. They are also unsustainable and will probably regress toward the league average and to somewhere between his 2009 and 2010 totals. I'll pass on Gio and let other managers hope he repeats his 2010 season.
Last year in a very disappointing season, Beckett posted a brutal ERA of 5.78. He also struck out less batters and walked nearly a batter more per 9 innings than in 2009. Over the last three years, Beckett's BB/9 rates have looked like this: 1.76, 2.33, 3.17. His peripherals were not solely to blame for his ERA; he was also the victim of a .338 BABIP, 65.3% LOB% and 14.2% HR/FB ratio. I would have to assume Beckett may be a bit luckier in these areas in 2011, but I would still be cautious with him. The decrease in Ks and increase in BBs, along with noticeable drops in velocity for each of his pitches are concerning. Beckett will be pitching as a 31 year old in 2011. For fantasy purposes, it may be wise to avoid aging pitchers with decreasing velocity pitching in the AL East.
Speaking of velocity, Vazquez managed to lose 2.4 mph on his fastball last year and 1.4 mph on his slider. That's not easy to do. Vazquez has long been a favorite of mine with a decade of great peripherals to his credit. I thought his move back to the NL this year would make him a nice fantasy sleeper candidate. After taking a closer look, I was reminded that Vazquez pitched at least 198 innings in ten straight seasons before last year. Combine that with the fact that he'll be 34 in 2011 and coming off a season with velocity issues. I've decided to let a rival manager take the risk on him.