Tagged: Starting Pitchers

Tim Stauffer & Carlos Carrasco: Fringe Fantasy Starters

By Eno Sarris //

We’re all searching for strikeouts. We know that the batting average on a strikeout is zero. We know that a pitcher with a high strikeout rate is likely to help in pitching categories across the board. We all love the strikeout.

But a couple pitchers showed us last night that there is value in pitchers that don’t rack up the Ks.

Well, Tim Stauffer did actually manage eight strikeouts in eight innings of shutout ball against the Rockies Tuesday night, but that’s not his norm. For the year, he has a strikeout rate that’s just above average (7.27 K/9, 6.97 is average this year). This mediocre rate is supported by a below-average swinging strike rate (7.6%, 8.4% is average), so it’s not likely to change much going forward. It’s also tempting to say that he’s a creation of his home park, but he has a 1.35 WHIP at home, and a 1.26 WHIP on the road. He’s been solid at home or away.

What does prop up his production is his walk rate and his groundball rate. Stauffer is only walking 2.31 batters per nine this year. He only walked 2.61 per nine last year, and has a 3.12 rate for his career. All of those numbers are comfortably above average (this year, 3.22 BB/9 is average). Stauffer also keeps the ball on the ground. The last couple of years, 44% of all contact has gathered dirt – and Stauffer has shown a 53.4% groundball rate. Among pitchers with more than 150 innings pitched since the beginning of 2009, that rate places 13th. He’s a worm-burner with great control that deserves to be on most mixed-league rosters even if he won’t rack up the strikeouts.

Most of the same things can be said about Carlos Carrasco in Cleveland, but to a lesser extent. The paradox is that this makes him more likely to be available in your leagues, and also more of a risk.

Carrasco pitched well last night, but not as well as Stauffer. He got six strikeouts in eight and a third innings to Stauffer’s eight. He did hold a team scoreless, but it was the punchless Twins. Carrasco also fails to rack up the strikeouts, but his rate is more poor (5.21 K/9) than mediocre. Carrasco also has shown good control (2.60 BB/9 this year), but his groundball rate (49%) is not as strong. Call him Stauffer-lite – even his home park helps suppress the home run to a lesser extent (3% fewer home runs to lefties, 12% fewer to righties).

There is one note of upside left in Carrasco’s profile. While Stauffer has a below-average swinging strike rate, Carrasco’s is barely above average (8.5%). By using his strong curveball and changeup, he actually managed a strikeout rate above eight per nine ever since he hit Double-A in the Phillies’ organization. His strikeout rates have been better than Stauffer’s at every minor league level.

So there’s your wrinkle. Neither Carrasco nor Stauffer will headline your staff because they are unlikely to be strong plusses in the strikeout category. But by limiting the walks and keeping the ball on the ground, both will be useful this year. Consider picking them up in your leagues if you are looking for good ratios.

For the best fantasy baseball analysis and insight please visit BloombergSports.com

Young Starters To Target Late In Fantasy Drafts

By Tommy Rancel //

Names like Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Tim Lincecum, and Felix Hernandez dominate the top tier of starting pitching in fantasy leagues. While getting a bonafide ace to anchor your rotation is important, filling the final few spots of your staff is also key, especially if you can find some gems in the later rounds. One way to find value late in the draft is targeting young, yet talented arms. Here are the top 5 projected youthful starters with an ADP of 150 or later.

Jaime Garcia
Madison Bumgarner
Jhoulys Chacin
James McDonald
Jeremy Hellickson

Garcia is the latest disciple of St. Louis Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan. As a rookie, he finished with a 13-8 record and a ridiculous 2.70 ERA in 163.1 innings. Even with a strikeout to walk ratio of over 2.0 and a phenomenal groundball rate, he is not likely to produce another sub-3.00 ERA in 2010. That said, Bloomberg Sports’ projects him with another double-digit win season and a more than respectable ERA of 3.73.

Despite being just 21-years-old, Bumgarner will enter 2011 as a key member of the defending World Series Champions’ rotation. The young lefty went 7-6 in his first big league season with a nice round 3.00 ERA. He won’t provide you with a ton of strikeouts, but should top 10 wins with an ERA under 4.00.

Staying in the National League West, Jhoulys Chacin was a much better pitcher than his 9-11 record showed. The Rockies’ right-hander compiled a 3.28 ERA in his first full season while striking out more batters (138) than innings pitched (137.1). Like many other Colorado starters, Chacin’s ERA at home (3.98) was much higher than his road mark (2.44). Even with regression, he should still be an above-average starter who gets drafted after round 20.

James McDonald was stolen by the Pittsburgh Pirates from the Dodgers in exchange for a handful of innings from Octavio Dotel. In 11 starts for the Pirates, he earned an ERA of 3.52 with a strong strikeout rate of 8.58. The Pirates may finish with another 90 losses, however, McDonald should provide solid numbers at the top of their rotation and value at the back end of fantasy ones.

Our lone American League representative is the most inexperienced member of the list. Jeremy Hellickson made just four starts for the Tampa Bay Rays late last season. That said, arguably the top pitching prospect in baseball goes into 2011 entrenched as the Rays’ fifth starter. Although his time with the club was brief, Hellickson showed his trademark control should easily transition to the big leagues. He’ll probably be limited to 175-185 innings, but Bloomberg Sports says those innings will be quality ones as his ERA projects to be under 4.0 (3.89).

Filling the front end of your rotation with the Halladay’s of the world is essential. But remember the Bumgarner types as you look for value from the SP4 and SP5 spots. All five of our pitchers have ADP’s in the triple-digits with the potential to provide double-digits in the win column.

Lackey’s Lacking Season

By R.J. Anderson //

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Theo Epstein and the Boston Red Sox shocked the baseball world when they signed free agent starter John Lackey last offseason. Lackey’s first season in Beantown is categorized as a failure because of a relatively high ERA as he topped 4.00 for the first time since 2004. The perception and ERA seem to stem from a shoddy first half while his second half looked like typical Lackey:

First Half: 18 GS, 113 IP, 4.78 ERA, 1.48 SO/BB
Second Half: 15 GS, 102 IP, 3.97 ERA, 3.38 SO/BB

Taking either half as an indication of Lackey’s true talent would be a mistake. The narrative may suggest Lackey felt more comfortable in Boston over the second half or grew accustomed to the division, but more likely is that he benefitted from a weaker schedule. After making seven starts versus playoff teams in the first half, Lackey made three starts against them the rest of the way. That’s not to say Lackey’s performances did improve in a vacuum, they did, just that they may have been aided by the schedule makers.

One anecdotal aspect which may carry truth in Lackey feeling better about his curveball later in the season. Perhaps this is just another case of creating a story after the results, but Lackey’s hammer is his finest secondary pitch, so it would make sense if he struggled without a great feel for the pitch.

Heading forward, Lackey will continue to pitch in an offensive friendly environment against some of the best teams in baseball — and that’s just the division schedule. Still, most fielding independent metrics had Lackey outpitching his ERA last season. Usually, the peripherals will win out, so don’t be surprised if Lackey has a positively Lackey season once again in 2011.

Is Brandon Webb Rosterable?

By R.J. Anderson //

Brandon Webb averaged 33 starts a season from 2003 until the 2009 season. He’s made one start since (on Opening Day of the 2009 season), as a shoulder injury sidelined him for the duration of the 2010 season. After 199 appearances with the Arizona Diamondbacks, number 200 and beyond will come as a member of the Texas Rangers. Webb signed a one-year deal with Texas, heavy on incentives, over the holiday weekend.

Webb threw for scouts late last season, and the reported velocity readings were disappointing. Webb has never been someone to toss fireballs at batters – his fastball has sat around 87-89 for his career – but low-to-mid 80s is a whole other beast. Webb has been one of the most extreme groundball pitchers in the game throughout his career, which could lead you to wonder if he could, in fact, get by with a fastball of 85 mph or lower. If he does, he’ll be in rarefied air. Below is a list of right-handed pitchers with velocities under 86 miles per hour on their fastballs last season, along with the usage rate and their ERA:

R.A. Dickey (83.9 MPH, 16.1% usage): 2.84 ERA

Livan Hernandez (84.3 MPH, 61.4% usage): 3.66 ERA

The accompanying peripherals suggest both Dickey and Hernandez weren’t as good as their ERA suggests. Next, comparing Webb to Dickey is a bit ridiculous. Dickey lives and dies with his knuckler – which makes him odd. Even odder is that he lacks a UCL in his throwing arm – i.e. the ligament operated on in Tommy John surgery. Comparing Webb to Hernandez is imperfect as well. Hernandez is notorious for his pacing and relative lack of stuff, getting by for years on guile and durability.

That Webb fits into his own category isn’t surprising. What that means, though, is that he should be approached carefully. Depending on spring reports, he could become borderline rosterable in deep AL-only leagues,. But for now Webb is not a suitable fantasy option, until proven otherwise.

Introducing Hisashi Iwakuma

By R.J. Anderson //

We’ve already covered the Athletics’ trade of Vin Mazzaro. The preface to that deal involves the A’s winning the negotiating rights to Hisashi Iwakuma. Yes, Iwakuma is from Japan, which means the level of knowledge about his pitching abilities and potential sits lower than most domestic products.

Keith Law ranked Iwakuma as the sixteenth best free agent available this offseason. Noting Iwakuma’s upside as “mid- to back-of-the-rotation guy” and stating that his delivery is “more conventional” while his mindset is “pitch-to-contact.” Law also offered a scouting report on Iwakuma’s stuff. The basics being that Iwakuma sits in the low-90s while relying on his secondary pitches throughout at-bats.

All of that information combined with the knowledge of Iwakuma’s park and division make it easy to set the baseline projections around a league average performance. Going a step further, though, how have previous Japanese starters fared in making the move?

Only 12 pitchers born in Japan have made more than 10 starts in the major leagues. Only nine have made more than 15 starts. Iwakuma will (presumably) become the tenth sometime around the All-Star Break. The nine names to concern yourself with here are Hideo Nomo, Tomo Ohka, Masato Yoshii, Kazuhisa Ishii, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Hiroki Kuroda, Hideki Irabu, Mac Suzuki, and Kenshin Kawakami. Eliminating the pitchers who came up through the minor leagues (Ohka, Suzuki) leaves us with these first full season results:


Overall impressive, although one has to keep in mind the inherent survivor bias. There are Japanese pitchers like Kei Igawa whom received a ton of cash and quickly bombed out of the rotation. There is no guarantee Iwakamu will avoid that faith in 2011 and particularly not in 2012. Kawakami had the third best debut season and Atlanta Braves removed him from their 40-man rotation over the weekend. Meanwhile the stories of Nomo, Irabu, Ishii, and Matsuzaka are common in the public consciousness.

Iwakuma looks rosterable (at least to begin the season) with an ERA projection around 4.00.

For more on Hisashi Iwakuma and mid-rotation candidates check out Bloomberg Sports’ Front Office. 

The Difference Between Carlos Zambrano and Josh Beckett

By R.J. Anderson //

Through the lenses of ERA, Josh Beckett and Carlos Zambrano could not be more dissimilar.

Zambrano sports a sparkling 3.56 ERA this year, with a mark under 2.00 since returning full-time in August. Over his first eight post-return starts, Big Z struck out 45 while allowing only a single home run.

Beckett, meanwhile, has about the same amount of innings with varying results. In August, his ERA was over 6.00 – making it the third of four completed months this season in which that was true – while September has brought with it an ERA below 3.00. For the season, though, he’s still lugging a sky-high 5.71 ERA. Based on those numbers, one might label Zambrano as a keeper and Beckett as someone to pass on. After all, Zambrano appears to be at the top of his game down the stretch.

Things are not always as they seem, though, and that is why looking beyond the surface is vital when tagging players to keep or not. Zambrano is striking out about 1.5 batters per walk; whereas Beckett is striking out nearly four batters per walk.

The difference between the two reveals itself as a matter of home runs allowed. Zambrano’s one blast per 54 innings average is in no way representative of what he will continue to offer, as his career average is one per 12 innings. Beckett has given up a homer every six innings versus his career average of a homer every nine. Because of that, these two will be a lot more alike next season than it appears now. Both are keeper-worthy.

For more on Zambrano, Beckett, and more studly pitchers, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.

Is James McDonald a Treasure?

By R.J. Anderson //

James McDonald’s career has been anything but usual. Originally positioned as an outfielder, McDonald was converted to pitching during the 2006 season. He made his major league debut two years later in a relief capacity. Entering the 2009 season, the Dodgers deployed McDonald to the rotation, but quickly pulled the plug after four so-so efforts.

Most of the narrative about McDonald’s 2010 season rests in the minors. He made four appearances for the Blue Crew with one start before Ned Colletti shipped him to the Pirates along with another prospect for Octavio Dotel. The Dodgers still had illusions of postseason berth and yet the consensus at the time was something along the lines of, “That’s a bit too much for a reliever.” The consensus seven starts into McDonald’s career is now, “That was way too much for a reliever.”

McDonald’s performance is more responsible for the attitude shift than Dotel’s – although worsened peripherals have lead to an improved ERA – as the 25-year-old lanky righty has adapted well to the new environment. The Pirates have a reputation for their inability to develop power – read: strikeout – pitchers. McDonald may not possess a great American fastball, but he makes up for it with a freedom ringing curve and glistening change. Both of which have whiff rates over 13% since McDonald has began to don the black and yellow. Observe the portrait of a good McDonald start (i.e. mixing locations and keeping his offspeed stuff down):


With all of this hype, McDonald’s 4.17 ERA looks unsavory, even sour. Where’s the fire with this smoke? The peripherals are ablaze; his FIP is 2.63 and his xFIP – which corrects his unsustainably low home run rate – is at 3.92. If he’s not giving up home runs, limiting his walks, and striking out most of the population, then how are teams scoring? Easy: the Pirates’ porous defense. That’s not just porous as in holey, but porous as in: the pitching staff is left saying, “Poor us.”

Neal Huntington and the rest of the Buccos’ front office is top notch – no, really – and fixing the defense should be the primary objective this offseason. It would certainly be hard to downgrade the leather. With that in mind, McDonald makes for an interesting case. Given the division and pitcher friendly ballpark, as well as extremely low costs, McDonald might be worth keeping in deeper National League only leagues, or at worst placing him on the watch list for next season.

For more on the Pittsburgh Piratesand their keeper prospects, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.

Is Luebke Worth Keeping?

By R.J. Anderson //

Cory Luebke started this season on the bottom side of most top 10 prospect lists centered around the San Diego Padres. The former first round pick from Ohio State University will never awe onlookers. He throws lefty and – insert the jokes here – his velocity ranges from 87-91 miles per hour despite throwing from a 6’4″ frame aged 25 years. Two starts into his Major League career and Luebke is raising his stock along with eyebrows. In 11 innings, he’s struck out 10 while walking three. His ERA is a sparkling 3.27 and more than 10% of his pitches have resulted in whiffs. Optimism is running wild for the former Buckeye, but will it continue?

In order to predict success for new major leaguers, analysts will start at one of two places: minor league stats or scouting reports. Let’s start at the latter. Most call Luebke a back of the rotation starter. A fancy way of saying he’s a pitchability (think of Greg Maddux/Tom Glavine as the kings of the throne) type but lacks something — something usually meaning a great fastball or put-away pitch. If Luebke possessed dime velocity and penny command he’d probably have the tag, “Frontline potential”.

The stats are more kind, but support the backend suggestion. Luebke’s strikeout rates reek of modesty since reaching the upper minors (his strikeout rates straddled the line between six and seven per nine innings pitched throughout) His walks per nine innings rates were fine — sitting below three — albeit a necessity with the rest of his skill set, and his ability to get groundballs is admirable. Most people’s problem with Luebke will be multi-layered. First, can he sustain success with his arsenal against the best hitters in the world; and next, how will he get right-handed batters out? Lastly, how does four-eyed vision really work?


The early signs are positive but unfulfilling in their infancy. Luebke stands to benefit from an elite defense playing within a pitchers’ paradise. San Diego is the place to be; a place where someone with Luebke’s stuff can become more than a backend starter or an afterthought thanks to the environment. The phrase product of the environment can reign true and may. That’s why Luebke is interesting for the 2010 season, but not a must keep. Not yet at least.

For more on sleepers down the stretch, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.


Who is Alex Sanabia?

By R.J. Anderson //

The name Alex Sanabia is foreign and unfamiliar to most baseball fans. The Florida Marlins drafted the 22-year-old (Happy Birthday, Alex!) right-hander in the 32nd round of the 2006 draft. Sanabia flew through the system, reaching Triple-A earlier this season and pitching extremely well. His complete 2010 stat line includes 16 minor league starts split between the upper minors with a 1.92 ERA in 98 innings.

How does he do it? With precision instead of flash.


Sanabia’s fastball averages 90 miles per hour, a pitch he backs with a slider and change-up. Somehow, batters are swinging and missing about 8% of the time at his slow-moving, a roughly league-average rate. In the minors, Sanabia flashed excellent control, walking a little over two batters per nine innings. That ratio has made a seamless transition to the big league game — he’s at 1.88/9 IP through his first 48 big league innings. The string bean’s strikeout rate of 6.38 is very playable when he’s that stingy with free passes.

Still, it’s hard to feel comfortable with a soft-tosser who relies enormously on flyballs. Flyballs turn into extra-base hits and home runs more often. Although batted ball data is not always reliable when it comes to differentiating line drives from flyballs, what it tells us is that 22% of Sanabia’s balls in play are supposedly liners; 39% are grounders; and 39% are flyballs.

His 3.52 FIP (a stat that runs along the same scale as ERA, but strips out defense, batted ball luck, park effects, and other factors a pitcher can’t control) looks solid through eight starts. But Sanabia has yielded home runs on just 6.3% of the flyballs he’s induced, which means more long balls are likely to come.

You should also actor in that some might not be completely sold that Sanabia’s game will translate to the major leagues for a length of time. Perhaps it’s inherent scouting bias, one that says guys with Sanabia’s stuff is better suited for the bullpen. But the fact remains there just aren’t many skinny, low-velocity, high-flyball right-handed starting pitchers who survive long in the big leagues.

Add him if you’re desperate for a starter in your deep league playoffs. He’s not highly recommended for keeper leagues, though.

For more on Alex Sanabia and other starting options on your waiver wire, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Tools.

Arizona Diamondbacks’ New Man: Dan Hudson

By Tommy Rancel //

Before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, the Arizona Diamondbacks made a series of moves geared toward their future. One move in particular not only has potential for future reward, but is bringing back some results right now.

In terms of real-life analysis, the thought process behind the Edwin Jackson for Dan Hudson trade was to give up a year and a half of Jackson for six seasons of Hudson. Jackson is a talented pitcher, but he’s on his fifth major league team before the age of 27. He’s a nice piece at the back end of the rotation, but will make more than $8 million next season. Hudson may not have the raw ability that Jackson does, but he will earn around the league minimum for the next few seasons, likely for similar production.

After spending the 2008 season at the rookie level of the minor leagues, Hudson blew through all levels of the White Sox system in 2009 – earning a call-up to he majors after starting the year in low-A ball. He began 2010 at Triple-A, where he continued to post fantastic numbers – especially in the strikeout category. In 93.1 innings, he struck out 108 batters while walking just 31.

Hudson would make three unimpressive starts for the White Sox big club this season before the trade to Arizona. Again, while the move was made with the future in mind, Hudson has provided the Diamondbacks with favorable results in the present.


After four turns through the Arizona rotation, the 23-year-old right-hander is 3-1 with a 2.12 ERA. Hudson has struck out an impressive 27 batters in 29.1 innings with the D-Backs, while handing out just four walks.

One concern about Hudson, a flyball pitcher, moving to Arizona is home runs allowed. Chase Field is among the league’s friendliest home run parks. Since moving out west, Hudson has allowed four home runs (1.21 HR/9), and other Arizona pitchers in larger sample sizes have shows home run-heavy tendencies, so it is something that needs to be monitored long-term.

His current swinging strike percentage of 11% shows that his stuff thus far has been good enough to miss the bats of major league hitters. This is good news for his above-average strikeout rate, indicating that it’s more likely to be sustainable. Although he might be prone to the long ball, Hudson has kept the opposition off base in other ways, limiting the damage of the big fly.

Hudson is currently available on the waiver wire in most leagues. If you have the opening, the risk of claiming him is well worth the potential reward of adding an above-average starter as you head toward your fantasy playoffs – especially in deeper leagues.

For more on Daniel Hudson and other late season pick-ups, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Kits.