A Dutch Master, A Baker… a Candlestick Maker?: Pitchers to Aim for in 2010

Be afraid, be very afraid. This is generally the mantra people take into draft day when considering how to draft pitchers. I’m here to give you courage (and a heart… and a brain!) Most pitchers are not hard to predict, the biggest problem with them is that there are the “either he’ll win me my league or he’ll be ranked below Mark Prior” type guys (see: Carmona, Fausto). It’s fine to take risks on these guys, you just need to know that you have a few stable players. That’s where I come in (and it only took me four sentences!). I’m here to tell you who you can get in the late rounds and feel fairly confident in. Last year my big guy was Jered Weaver in the 18th round. Totally worth it. Worst case scenario, you take Fausto “M M M My” Carmona and can drop him to find some spot-start gold (more to come on that later). So here it is, some later-round pitchers (based on their Average Draft Position) and their riskiness.

The “I think it’s time to start taking pitchers” Group

Clayton Kershaw (ADP: 111)

This late 11th-early 12th is simply not worth it. True, he’s better at throwing a baseball than I will most likely be at anything ever, but it’s also true that he can’t get out of the 6th inning. He started 30 games last year and pitched 171 innings, an average of 5 and 2/3 innings per start. What does that mean? Fewer wins (had only 8 last year), fewer K’s (about 6 per start, similar to his IP), and a lot more risk. If he was a 20th rounder, I’d be all in. However, the baseball talent simply does not always translate into fantasy baseball value, something drafters generally aren’t understanding.
Riskiness Rating: “She looks 18, right?” (4/5)

Scott Baker (ADP: 126)

One word: undervalued, let me tell you why. His two worst months last season were the first two, during which time the best catcher in all of baseball and overall dream boat Joe Mauer was injured. Mauer came back in the beginning of May and Baker improved slightly that month. After May, however, Baker was lights out. He had a 3.20 ERA in June and was solid after that. So solid in fact, that his post-all star numbers were better then some fairly top-level pitchers. Let’s look at Josh Beckett (ADP: 67). After the all-star break, Beckett’s numbers were very unimpressive: 6 wins, 4.53 ERA, 89 K’s for half of the season from your 2nd or 3rd pitcher. Here’s Baker after the break: 8 wins, 3.28 ERA, 80 K’s from a guy you can take almost twice as late. Here’s another comparison, Josh Johnson’s (ADP: 75) numbers post all-star break: 7 wins, 4.00 ERA, 82 K’s. Take Baker, weather the potentially early season storm (although I think he’ll be fine with Mauer there), and you’ll be glad you did.
Riskiness Rating: Betting on the Globetrotters (1/5)

Jair Jurrjens (ADP: 135)

Jair “The Dutch Master” Jurrjens is a curious case to say the least. He was fantastic last year, posting 14 wins and a 2.60 ERA to go along with 152 K’s. The thing that scares me there is his Batting Average on Balls in Play, or BABIP. This measures how often balls hit fell in or made it through a hole (that’s what she said?). His was almost 30 points below the league average, at .273 compared to the accepted average of .300. This means he got lucky. Even with a .311 BABIP in 2008, the Dutch Master still found a way to win 13 games, with a 3.68 ERA and 152 K’s. Assuming average BABIP we can knock the ERA down a few notches to around a 3.50. Wins are hard to predict but those should go up given a few factors: Tommy Hanson’s ascension to at least a low-level Deity allows Jurrjens to face worse opposing starters, and the Braves vast improvement offensively (aided of course by the Church of Jason Heyward) should improve his run support from last year. Don’t let this “Dutchey” pass to the right hand side.
Riskiness Rating: Rest Stop Tuna Sandwich (2.5/5)

The “Crap! I only have 3 pitchers?!?” Group

Jonathan Sanchez (ADP: 203)

This late in the draft, you can start specializing and figuring out exactly what and who you need. If you’re short on K’s, Sanchez is your guy. Sure, he only had 8 wins last year, but he only started 29 games. Bottom line with this guy: he will strike people out and give you a fairly solid ERA while doing it. His 6.1 K’s per start is solid given he averaged less then 6 innings per start. His 4.24 ERA is fine from a 21st round pick and any win above the 8 from last year is a bonus. For where he’s going and what he’ll offer you, Johnny is worth it. If that doesn’t convince you, last year he started throwing his slider 9% more often (12.1% compared to 21.1%), leading to his high walk total. If he can master that slider in year two of it’s usage as a secondary pitch, watch out. This is a guy who won’t hurt you and can elevate your staff to a whole different level.
Riskiness Rating: McRib (2/5)

Ben Sheets (ADP: 220)

Talk about risky. Ben “Takin’ a” Sheets will either be feast or famine this year. He was a number one starter, got hurt, and now is trying to prove he can at least be a shadow of his old self. There are very few recent numbers for Sheets because of his injury but here are the facts: he’s had a sub-4.00 ERA each year he pitched since 2004, he’s a fly ball pitcher pitching in Oakland, and he can strike guys out. If he holds up, he can be as good as a 3rd starter. Worst case scenario, you drop him. He’s a very risky pick, but has great reward potential and won’t cost you much (except for the ERA category those first few starts if he does suck).
Riskiness Rating: Dollar Store Condoms (5/5, but worth it)

The Spot Start Group

I’m all for spot-starting. Pick up some guys who have some upside early in the year, and maybe you’ll catch lightning in a bottle and get to keep him all season. Last year, Edwin “Action” Jackson was that guy for me. He was on my team virtually all year. Conversely, I picked up Ricky Nolasco in the playoffs last year. His spot start sucked and I ended up losing ERA (our tie-breaker category). It can go either way. Here are some guys who you should look at for early spot starts. Since they’re generally undrafted, there is almost no risk involved for any of them.

Shaun Marcum (ADP: Undrafted)

The elusive undrafted Opening Day starter. Obviously, you won’t want to grab him for his first start (assuming you don’t hawk the waiver wire for one round of starts after the draft), but if he performs well, why not? In 2008 he started 25 games and had 9 wins with a 3.35 ERA.

Chris Young (ADP: Undrafted)

He was hurt for a bit last year and flat-out sucked when he came back. However, he pitches in a Whale’s Vagina, where the cavernous Petco Park resides. He’s a fly ball pitcher, with over 50% of his batted balls going on the fly, and has done it before (sub 4.00 ERA each year from 2006-2008). As always with spot starters, can’t hurt

Zach Duke (ADP: Undrafted)

Before the All-Star break last year, Duke had 8 wins and 3.29 ERA. Sure, he was unsightly (much like the rest of the Pirates) afterwards, but you can drop him after (or even better, trade him to an unsuspecting idiot)! He’s trending the right way (BB/K down, K’s/9 up, HR/9 down) and his terrible ’07 and ’08 were thanks to BABIP’s of .360 and .327 respectively. I may have just convinced myself to draft him.

Ian Kennedy (ADP: Undrafted)

This is really only based on two things: he’s been killin’ it in Spring Training (securing the fourth spot in the D-Backs rotation) and he’s out of the AL East. There is almost no pressure on him, seeing as nobody cares about sports in Arizona. The NL West is not the best division in the history of baseball (kinda like the AL East is), and he has the pedigree (remember, the Yanks wouldn’t trade him, Phil Hughes, and Melky Cabrera for Johan Santana. This was probably more because of the other two, but still). Try him out once, he’ll be at least as good as Phil Hughes this year, who will get drafted by some homer in your league.

Pitching is not a hard half of your roster to fill. As long as you mix high and low risk guys, go for the occasional lucky spot-start guy, and get a few sturdy top of the draft type guys, you’ll be fine. No need to be afraid, despite the stigma that comes with this position. Follow my advice and don’t be fear the spot starters, and your staff could win you your league.

‘Till next time, keep the bat on your shoulders.

-Backwards K

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