By Eno Sarris //
Biggest Surprise: Wilton Lopez
How does a pitcher who doesn’t strike out batters at an average rate for relievers (6.72 K/9, reliever average well above 7 K/9) become the best reliever in his pen? Lopez did it by not walking anyone (five all year, or 0.67 BB/9) and keeping the ball on the ground (55.7%). Those aren’t always the traits of a great closer – managers love the strikeout – and so Lopez may not be fantasy-relevant in most leagues. But if your league counts holds, or you are looking for a reliever to keep your ratios down, remember this name.
Biggest Bust: Bud Norris
If you’re looking for strikeouts, Norris could be your man; if he could pick up some of that control from Lopez through osmosis, he’d be a veritable ace. He struck out more than a man per inning (9.25 K/9), and that’s valuable. But he struggled to locate his secondary stuff, and his walks spiked as a result (4.51 BB/9). Given that he’s also a flyball pitcher (41.4% groundballs for his career), he’ll really need to cut down on the walks to fulfill his promise in the starting rotation.
2011 Keeper Alert: Wandy Rodriguez
Rodriguez struggled out of the gate (4.97 ERA, 1.52 WHIP before the All-Star game), but a fine second half brought him back to upper-echelon levels (3.60 ERA, 1.29 WHIP). Though his strikeout (8.22 K/9) and walk (3.14 BB/9) rates were the worst he’s shown in three years, they were still strong. He’s a little older than you might think (32 next season), but in the short-term he’s still a good keeper on a staff mostly devoid of young keeper pitching. J.A. Happ, for instance, strikes out more than a full batter fewer than Rodriguez, and usually walks at least a half-batter or more than him too.
2011 Regression Alert: Felipe Paulino
Paulino is a little like Bud Norris in that he can strike a batter out (8.15 K/9 last year), struggles with control (4.52 BB/9 last year), and put up a stinker of an ERA in 2010 (5.11). But Paulino may have an easier time harnessing his stuff. In his first 100 major league innings, he walked fewer than 3.5 batters per nine innings, and even after a poor second 100 innings, he’s got a manageable 3.89 BB/9 for his career. As a flyballer, he’ll always be a little vulnerable to the gopherball. But look for that unsightly ERA to improve next year if his control settled toward career norms.