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Joe Saunders, Useful Starter?

The move to Seattle could make Joe Saunders a more valuable fantasy arm

The Star-Ledger-US PRESSWIRE

Joe Saunders might not be someone who comes to mind as a productive fantasy baseball pitcher. His ERA has been just a little bit above-average in his career, and he strikes out batters at a well below-average rate, all while allowing plenty of baserunners. Unless your league gives you credit for inducing double plays, then Saunders just hasn't had the kind of numbers you need out of a pitcher in a mixed format.

In AL- or NL-only, though, anyone who can throw upwards of 200 innings without embarrassing themselves in ERA, WHIP, or the like is useful. Saunders can do just that, and now is back in an environment conducive to pitchers with his return to the AL West. Rather than pitch for the Angels this time, though, Saunders is with the Mariners, in pitcher-friendly Safeco.

Over the last three years, primarily in hitters' parks, Saunders posted a 4.07 ERA and averaged 197 innings per season. That counted for exactly a 100 ERA+, and while it wasn't buoyed by lofty punch out rates, the results are difficult to argue with in an NL/AL-only scoring system. You get a lot of tolerable pitching, and likely for a decent price given the lack of sex appeal in his numbers.

One issue Saunders has had is homers. He hasn't given them up in droves, but considering that the majority of his home innings did come in pitcher-friendly Angels Stadium, his career 1.1 rate is still a bit higher than you'd like. Right-handers have been the primary problem for him in this regard, as Saunders has allowed just 19 homers ever to lefties -- that's one bomb every 58 lefties or so. Against right-handers, though, Saunders has given up 126 homers, or one every 30 batters faced. His career K/BB against right-handers is just 1.6, compared to 3.3 against lefties, and he's allowed a .286/.341/.463 line to righties in his career.

Pitching at Chase Field and Orioles Park didn't help this at all, as those parks increase right-handed scoring by 14 and seven percent, respectively, according to Stat Corner. Safeco, on the other hand, has a park factor of 78, where 100 is neutral, for right-handed scoring. Homers are reduced by 30 percent, doubles are down, too, and strikeouts -- something Saunders could use more of -- are up. Why more strikeouts? With less fear of a ball going yard, pitchers can challenge hitters more often, and often to their benefit. Jon Garland set a career-high in strikeouts and strikeout rate while with the Padres in 2010, thanks to the dimensions and environment of Petco Park. Saunders might not set a career-high, but there's a very good chance he'll beat out his previously pedestrian rates.

Saunders isn't going to be a game-changer for you, but with half of his starts coming in a park designed to reduce his most-significant issues, he could be in line for his best season in awhile. In an AL-only format, that's worth the risk of a few beatings against the Rangers in Arlington. Keep an eye on him on draft day, as if he falls to you for cheap, you'll want him to round out your staff.