Please check out the Hippeaux's weekly posts at SNY affiliate, It's About The Money.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Fantastic Thoughts: The Year After The Year Of The Pitcher

It's almost upon us.  The first round of fantasy baseball magazines will start hitting the shelves next week.  In anticipation, I want to analyze some fantasy-relevant players who have changed franchises this offseason.  There are still a few outstanding free agents.  Rafael Soriano and Billy Wagner (assuming he returns) are likely worth owning, assuming they land closing jobs.  Carl Pavano has been a solid contributer in recent seasons.  Veteran power-hitters like Vladimir Guerrero, Manny Ramirez, and Jim Thome will provoke a little interest at the tail-end of standard league drafts.  If they find a favorable situations, I might be tempted to take a flyer on Jeremy Bonderman, Jeff Francis, or Justin deep leagues.  For the most part, however, the fantasy-relevant players have found there new homes.  Let begin with those pitchers who have moved to friendlier confines:

Zack Greinke - SP - Milwaukee Brewers

I've already commended the Greinke trade.  The only downside to in, in my opinion, is that it put the 2009 Cy Young winner back on the fantasy radar.  Greinke wasn't bad in 2010, but those who expected him to be a fantasy Ace were severely disappointed by his 10-14 record and his 4.17 ERA.  It became clear late in the year that Greinke was sick of playing in meaningless games and getting atrocious run support.  Had he remained in Kansas City, I think few owners would've been interested in him prior to the middle rounds.  The move to Milwaukee, however, to a clubhouse with great chemistry and a real opportunity to contend, should be invigorating.  Not only that, but the move to the NL will almost certainly result in an ERA well under 3.50 and strikeout totals greater than 200.  He isn't going to sneak up on anybody now.  You'll have to pay for that production.

Javier Vazquez - SP - Florida Marlins

Vazquez, on the other hand, is coming off the worst season of his career and a very public humiliation at the hands of the New York media.  He will attempt to rebuild his market with the Marlins.  With the exception of Javy's ever-advancing age (he will be 35 in 2011), almost everything about his new situation is advantageous.  He moves to a pitcher's park in a pitcher's league.  It's a low-pressure environment, pitching at the back end of the rotation on one of the league's least popular teams.  The Marlins have a solid offense.  And, perhaps most importantly, the last time Vazquez played in the NL East he posted a 2.87 ERA and finished fourth in the Cy Young voting.  I don't necessarily expect him to do that again, but solid contributions across the board are very possible, especially when you consider he will probably be completely ignored in most standard drafts.

Jake Westbrook - SP - St. Louis Cardinals

Westbrook isn't technically changing teams, but if you weren't paying close attention at the end of last season, you may not have noticed that the 33-year-old sinkerballer posted a 3.48 ERA in a dozen starts with the Redbirds.  Dave Duncan is famous for turning middling veterans like Westbrook into All-Stars, so this is an extremely likable flyer.

Shaun Marcum - SP - Milwaukee Brewers

Marcum followed up an under-the-radar season in 2010 by being involved in an under-the-radar trade to Milwaukee.  Like Matt Garza, he's leaving the AL East and he couldn't be happier.  In 2010, Marcum was 1-6 against Boston, New York, and Tampa Bay.  He went 12-2 against everybody else.  At 29, with three full seasons under his belt, now two years removed from Tommy John surgery, and pitching in the National League, Marcum has all the makings of a breakout candidate.

Matt Garza - SP - Chicago Cubs

I like Garza.  I like the fact that he'll be 27-years-old in 2011.  I like the fact that he's moving away from the AL East.  I really like the fact that he's got a rubber arm.  However, I'm concerned about his falling strikeout rate.  I'm concerned about his propensity for giving up homers.  And, most of all, I'm concerned that he'll be pitching for one of the most accursed franchise in baseball.  Garza should contribute a boatload of innings.  His ERA and WHIP should be very solid.  And, hopefully, his strikeouts will rebound.  I don't believe, however, even in the best case scenario, that he's a strong candidate for 15+ wins.  Garza is a nice pitcher, but don't make Jim Hendry's mistake by casting him as an Ace.

Aaron Harang - SP - San Diego Padres

It seems like a long time ago that Aaron Harang was considered a legitimate Ace, but he was, undeniably, one of the best and most dependable pitchers in the National League from '05 to '07.  Since then, he's gone 18-38 in three injury-plagued seasons.  In 2011, at the ripe old age of 33, he's going to try to rebuild his career in pitching's Valhalla, Petco Park.  He will follow in the footsteps of reborn starters like Jon Garland, Tim Stauffer, Woody Williams, and David Wells.  Adding to the potential redemptive flavor is the fact the Harang grew up in San Diego and pitched at San Diego State.  It might be worth betting a dollar on his homecoming.

J. J. Putz - RP - Arizona Diamondbacks

The D-Backs were 6th in the NL in save opportunities last season, but they were second in blown saves, which made for the worst save percentage (59%).  Putz is their solution and he isn't an unreasonable one.  In '06 and '07, Putz closed out 91 game for the Mariners and posted a measly 1.98 ERA.  Injuries plagued his next two seasons, but he returned to something near dominance last season as set-up man for the White Sox (7-5, 2.83 ERA, 54 IP, 65 K).  For those who hate "paying for saves," Putz is low-risk, high-reward type of option.

Here are some pitcher's who may not be completely comfortable in their new homes:

Vin Mazzaro - SP - Kansas City Royals

Mazzaro was a premier prospect who looked damn good in the second half of 2010.  He posted a 3.97 ERA from June 23rd on and, at 24 years young, might seem primed to take another sizable step forward.  Unfortunately, that step must come in Kansas City, where he won't be buoyed by one of the league's best pitching ballparks or one of the league's best defenses, as he was in Oakland.  Nor will he get to beat up on horrible offenses like those of the 2010 Mariners and Angels.  Moreover, he'll probably be expected to pitch near the front of K.C.'s young rotation.  All things considered, Mazzaro has tons of promise, but I think fantasy relevance is still a year or two away.

Cliff Lee - SP - Philadelphia Phillies

Many are on the verge of anointing Philadelphia's '11 rotation the greatest of all time and I won't deny it has that potential.  According to WAR, Lee was the best pitcher in baseball last season, despite his modest record, and we all know how dominant he was in the postseason, as well as the last time he pitched for the Phillies.  I'm a huge Lee fan, so I'm certainly not denying his potential to post another Cy Young quality season.  However, the price will be steep, and, in fantasy, postseason glory is irrelevant.  Lee will undoubtedly be among the five most expensive pitchers in fantasy, perhaps one of the top three, but, at the age of 32, he's posted only one season in which he really provided elite fantasy production.  Only twice has he topped 14 wins.  He's never had more than 185 strikeouts.  And, of course, for a premier pitcher, he's a little homer-prone.  All that said, I like Lee.  I just don't like the price.

Jon Garland - SP - Los Angeles Dodgers

What Garland did last season was the definition of a mirage.  His walk rate went way up.  His K/BB rate  went way down.  He homer rate stayed in line with his career rate.  And yet, he posted a career best ERA and his lowest WHIP since 2005.  Certainly, Petco Park worked in his favor.  As did the prolonged stretch when it appeared that every bounce was going San Diego's way.  This becomes evident when you see that Jon Garland's .267 BABIP was among the lowest in baseball.  Moving to L.A. isn't necessarily a bad thing.  He'll still be in a pitcher's park and he'll have a better offense and defense surrounding him.  Still, I think the "real" Jon Garland is probaby the guy who averaged 12 W, 4.37 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 99 K from '07 to '09, not the guy who went 14 W, 3.47 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 136 K in 2010.

Bobby Jenks - RP - Boston Red Sox

From 2006 to 2010 only four pitchers had more saves than Bobby Jenks.  Unfortunately, it will probably be a couple years before Jenks gets a chance to reprise the role in which he had such prolonged success.  A rough conclusion to the 2010 season prompted an unsavory parting between Jenks and the White Sox.  Theo Epstein and the BoSox saw value in Jenks's over-exaggerated fall from grace.  But, for fantasy purposes, Jenks is now all but irrelevant.  Jonathan Papelbon is still toeing the mound in Boston and he's one of the four closers who outperformed Jenks since '06.  Daniel Bard is very much his heir apparent.  In very deep leagues, Jenks may still be a source for strikeouts, holds, and perhaps an occasional scavenged save in middle relief, but he's waiver wire fodder in almost every format.

Zach Duke - SP - Arizona D-Backs

Was among the most homer-happy pitchers in the NL while playing for Pittsburgh.  Moves to the most homer-happy ballpark in the NL.  Not a favorable combination.

No comments: