Koji Uehara, RP, OriolesHe may not have any saves so far this season, but Koji Uehara remains the most underrated reliever in baseball. Why? How about a 2.20 ERA and startling 0.80 WHIP? Throughout his career, Uehara boasts 138 K’s to just 23 walks, and the ratio is 35:6 this season. He doesn’t let anyone on base, which minimizes the damage. He won’t help in wiuns or saves, but in ERA, WHIP, and K’s, Uehara is a must add.
Jon Niese, SP, MetsEveryone is talking about Mets rookie Dillon Gee and his splendid 7-0 record, but the better pitcher in my mind is southpaw Jon Niese. Ignore the 5-5 record, Niese has won four of his last five decisions. Over his last five starts Niese has surrendered just five earned runs, cutting his ERA from 5.03 to just 3.51 this season. Niese also gets plenty of K’s, making a solid fantasy pickup.
Bud Norris, SP, AstrosIf in need of a short-term pickup, get to know Astros right-hander Bud Norris. Despite a 4-4 record, Norris is a strikeout artist who averages a K per inning. He also has won his last two starts and on Tuesday has a favorable match-up against the Pirates. Norris is a fine start at home, where his record is 12-8 with a 3.76 ERA.
Carlos Villanueva, SP/RP, Blue JaysA long-time middle reliever for the Brewers, Carlos Villanueva is enjoying a second crack at starting with the Blue Jays. The 27-year old veteran enters the week with a 4-0 record and 3.09 ERA. Most impressively, Villanueva boasts a 0.99 WHIP due to a .196 opposing average. I don’t view this success as long-term, but more a result of the opposition not being familiar with the long-time National Leaguer.
Jonny Venters, RP, BravesWhile I pointed to Koji Uehara as the most underrated reliever in baseball, the best one these days is Braves eighth inning option Jonny Venters. The southpaw dominated last season to the tune of a 1.95 ERA and 93 K’s in 83 innings. He has actually improved this season, allowing just two runs to score in 40.2 innings. He has recently enjoyed some save opportunities with Craig Kimbrell struggling. He is a must-add in deep leagues, though odds are he has already been taken.
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.
by Eno Sarris //
Sometimes deep league managers have a hard time reading fantasy advice columns. “But he’s already owned” is the refrain of many a frustrated dude (or dudette). Jeff Zimmerman at FanGraphs did a little piece about ownership cutoff rates in fantasy leagues and what the definition of a ‘waiver wire guy’ is depending on the size of your league. The upshot is that players who are owned in 11% of Yahoo fantasy leagues or fewer are on the waiver wire if your league rosters 350 players. That number drops to 6% if your league rosters 400. So, in other words, if you are in a 14-team league with 25-man rosters, your waiver wire should be full of guys that have about an 11% ownership level.
With that in mind, let’s look at two very different pitchers who are owned in 9% of Yahoo leagues. They are both interesting pitchers, but it will be up to your personal preference whether you take Bud Norris or Chris Volstad in the end. Apples and oranges here, but we’ll cover Norris today and Volstad in a subsequent post.
Norris’ overall 78.2% contact rate this year puts him between Adam Wainwright and Ubaldo Jimenez in that category — elite company. He was top-five in contact rate outside the zone last year, so it’s no fluke. He has a 9.5% swinging strike percentage in 2010 – which is above average (around 8.5% across baseball). So Norris brings legitimate stuff to the table.
Some of his other peripheral stats are nearly off the charts. His 12.08 strikeouts per nine innings would be very impressive if he wasn’t allowing a correspondingly terrible 6.39 walks per nine innings. It’s a rare combo. Take a look at this chart from the Bloomberg Sports Fantasy Tools — those other three dots with huge strikeout rates are Tim Lincecum, Dan Haren and Jonathon Broxton. To approach that group’s overall performance, Norris will have to maintain his elite strikeout rate while also improving his command significantly. Is there a chance he develops his abilities further this year?
Let’s take a look at the locations of his pitches this year (click image for full size version). You may notice something about the red squares. Yeah, he’s all over the place with his fastball. Looks like rearing back for that gas really hurts his command of the pitch – only about 55% of those fastballs find the zone. Norris’ other pitches find the zone more than 60% of the time.
A look at the spin and movement graph of Norris’ pitches shows that he only really has two pitches this year. He’s a fastball/slider guy, and that’s why whispers of future reliever duty have followed him up the ranks. Satchel Price at Beyond the Box Score recently had a post that outlined the reasons to move a pitcher to the bullpen (Insider link), and inconsistent command of a smaller repertoire was one such condition.
But if we look at last year’s spin and movement chart to get a larger sample size, the change-up actually looks like a legitimate pitch (see how distinct the purple squares are on the left). Since he can command it better than his fastball and it has shown a distinctly different movement and spin in the past, the change-up might be Norris’ path to fewer walks in the future. This year, the change is getting the best whiff rate of his three pitches (19.4%); it has the potential to be a strong third pitch for Norris.
If you are interested in strikeouts no matter what the damage to your WHIP, Norris is already a play for your mixed league team. If you’re looking for further development from Norris, watch his fastball command and change-up usage. If they trend up in future games, we may yet see solid, more consistent starting pitching from Norris. He can certainly miss bats.
For more on Bud Norris and other flame-throwing starters, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.
By R.J. Anderson
Carl Pavano has long been a whipping boy, an entry into a word association game when the term “fragile” came up, and a baseball punchline. Pavano thrived in relative anonymity last season, posting a good enough year with the terrible Cleveland Indians to earn him a trade to the contending Minnesota Twins. Rather than testing the frost-bitten market, Pavano accepted the Twins’ offer of arbitration. And boy, who can blame him? The Twins added some fun toys for his usage in the form of a new middle infield with high defensive reputations and offensive ability.
Nothing about Pavano screams fantasy asset. He’s a pitchability type, someone who relies on getting groundballs and avoiding mistakes. His injury-heavy past makes him more of a risk than most and he’s always given up quite a few homers. Pour all of that information into a bowl and whisk softly for a few minutes until the aroma of sleeper hits you. Right? Well, evidently not, since Pavano is being drafted at an average spot of 188th. His B-Rank is a low 324th and his positional rank (meaning of all pitchers, not just starters) is 118th.
Pavano is pitching for the AL Central favorites, so wins should be available. The defense behind him is strong, so his ERA could be playable. He doesn’t strike many out, but then again he doesn’t walk many either, so his K/BB and WHIP are passable. But, is he really worth a top-200 pick? The immediate options that surround Pavano in the B-Rank standings are young talents like Bud Norris, Brian Matusz, and Derek Holland – three pitchers with considerably more upside who aren’t being drafted until the 250-270 range, if it all (in Norris’ case, he’s not being drafted).
It’s not that Pavano is worthless or unworthy of being considered a fantasy option. It’s just that he’s being favored in front of options with a lot more potential to help your team. In shallower leagues, there’s no reason at all to take Pavano ahead of these younger pitchers: You can always find another generic SP with a 4.50 ERA and 12 wins on the waiver wire in a 10- or 12-team mixed league. But Holland and Matusz have the potential to be top-tier pitchers if or when their breakout comes.
At the end of your draft, take the upside pick, not predictable mediocrity.
For more information on possible over- and underrated starting pitchers and more, check out Bloomberg Sports’ fantasy kits.