Year's Arms Race
March 15, 2007
If you buy into the idea that previous year’s stats are reliably
predictive of what will happen this year and that players’ stats will
tend to gravitate to their individual means, then there are a number of
pitchers you should be
aware of. I’ll cover both sides of the coin – pitchers who
encountered bad luck last year and/or whose trends are improving and
should be primed for a significantly better year this year, and then
pitchers who enjoyed the best of times last year and/or whose trends
are headed for hard times.
First, the good, the guys you want to spend an extra buck to get them
at your fantasy auction drafts.
Number one on the list is AJ Burnett. Last year he
struggled with some scar tissue in his arm but once he got comfortable
he was pretty impressive. He’s still a groundball pitcher, he
improved his control (his walk-to-strikeout ratio) to the best of his
career while maintaining much of his strikeout rate despite not facing
the pitcher any more. Even more encouraging for this year is that
he was really unlucky with batting average on balls in play (BABIP)
which was nearly 30 points worse than his career average. If the
Jays can find anyone in the infield who can consistently
catch the ball, Burnett is primed for a huge year and probably
for one of the top five pitchers in the AL. Even if they can't,
a $20 pitcher.
Ben Sheets battled injuries again, but his performance was
just as affected by bad luck in the field. His BABIP was
abnormally high. Despite his injuries, his control went through
the roof. Ron Shandler of Baseball HQ thinks he’ll win a Cy Young
award if he stays healthy. I think in a different park and with a
better defense he’d be right, but Sheets
will still be plenty good.
Brad Penny was very unlucky with BABIP but his strikeout
rate is up and he still gets a decent number of ground balls. The
sooner the Dodgers go with James Loney at first, the better, but Penny
should be a
pretty good bet to match last year’s win total with a better ERA and
I never doubt anything Dave Duncan does with a pitcher because his
track record is just too good. And at first glance maybe moving Braden
Looper into the rotation might just be the challenge that breaks
Duncan’s success streak. But Looper’s groundball rate has
increased in each of
the last three years (a good thing with the St. Louis infield) as has
control and efficiency (the number of pitches he throws per
inning). He won’t put up gaudy strikeout
numbers but Looper could very well end up as a nice end game cheap
CC Sabathia was victimized by bad defense and an even worse
bullpen, but his control, strikeout rate and pitch efficiency continued
to get better. If the Indians give him any kind of support (as
long as it’s not the bad support
they gave him last year), this guy will be worth $20-25, easy.
Another guy many people are skeptical about is Claudio Vargas,
but his problems have all been mental. In 2005 in the seven
which he did not give up a home run he went 4-0 in 46 innings with a
1.17 ERA, 0.956 WHIP and 38 strikeouts against just 8 walks. When
he gave up at least one homer, his WHIP was 1.690 and his ERA was
7.13. Last year’s overall numbers don’t look that great but his
control improved as did
his K rate and G/F (groundball-to-flyball) ratio. And despite
pitching in a far more permissive park for home runs, his homer rate
improved. Further camouflaging his growth was a career worst
BABIP. The Brewers don’t have a good defensive team but
if they can just catch the balls they’re supposed to, Vargas should
nice breakout season.
The guy everyone is waiting to have a monster year is Daniel Cabrera.
This looks like the year to buy in. His strikeout rate increased
and he was fantastic in September. Last year was muddled a bit by
a career worst in BABIP by 20 points. If Leo Mazzone can convince
him this spring to be more aggressive throwing strikes and be more
efficient with his pitches, Cabrera will win 15 games and strike out
250 batters with a better than average ERA and WHIP.
Cabrera’s stablemate Erik Bedard won 15 games but we haven’t
seen anything close to his ceiling. Last year his G/F rate made a
from 1.15 to 1.70. His control improved without losing much in
strikeout rate and his pitch efficiency increased for the second
consecutive season. The only concern is the increase in the
number of innings he threw. If he stays healthy, he could be the
second or third best pitcher in the AL even though his win total might
not reflect it.
Kansas City GM Dayton Moore was lampooned a bit when he signed Gil
Meche this winter, but Meche showed slight-to-significant
improvements in control, strikeout rate, efficiency and G/F rate last
year. If he can stay healthy – always a question with Meche –
this could turn out to be a pretty good signing.
It’s sounds crazy to put Johan Santana on a list like this
because he is already head and shoulders the best pitcher in baseball,
but his G/F rate is increasing and last year was an off year for him
when it came to balls
in play. If he rebounds back to his career average along with
the ball in the yard more, he could best even his 2004 season.
Another guy where health is the primary concern, John Patterson
looks primed for a nice rebound. His control is improving, his
topped one per inning last year and his efficiency remained excellent
his injuries. All this bodes well for staying healthy despite an
workload. And if the Nationals can give him more than 3.5 runs of
per game, we’re looking at a 15-game winner minimum. Still, that
be a tough trick to pull off with the Nats' offense.
Although it sounds like a broken record, another pitcher with a history
injury troubles, Kelvim Escobar, appears primed for a good
year he improved his control and efficiency, and saw a slight bump in
rate. His fielders let him down as well - last year was his
worst BABIP. Odds are this year will be better.
Kip Wells has always had great stuff but has never been
to focus it. Now under the tutelage of miracle worker Dave
Duncan, he should show some growth just on the strength
of that alone. But he is also coming off by far his worst year in
despite a sizable increase in G/F ratio. If he can regain some
of control and K rate, could be a nice sleeper in St. Louis. And
if you doubt how good Dave Duncan really is, consider that he revived
the careers of Dave Stewart, Bob Welch, Scott Sanderson, Mike Moore,
Storm Davis, Andy Benes, Darryl Kile, Kent Bottenfield, Chris
Carpenter, Jeff Suppan and Jason Marquis. All but Suppan and
Marquis have won 18 or more games under Duncan and all of them have had
their career best years under his guidance.
I have to admit I have a blind spot for Oliver Perez.
a proponent of his since his days in the Padre minor league system.
with that caveat, know that I might be more optimistic about him than I
That said, last year he stabilized the declining trend in his
control and K rate,
and pitched pretty well from September through the playoffs. Also
in his favor is that he got very little offensive or defenseive support
from the Pirates. Neither
of those should be an issue with the Mets so if he can find a
release point - and mechanics are Rick Petersen's forte - then he
turn in a profitable 2007.
Like Santana, Roy Oswalt is an odd choice for this list.
his control is improving without much loss in K rate, his G/F is on the
and his efficiency is improving. If you're going to spend big
on a top NL starter like Carpenter or Webb, Oswalt is probably the best
to possibly earn more than you'll spend
One of the big ticket players the Cubs netted in their spending spree
was Ted Lilly. Most analysts see him as merely a big
player, but his control and K rate are on the upswing and lefties
coming from the AL have traditionally done quite well the first
time through the NL.
The last buy-guy is Vicente Padilla. Even though his G/F
is headed in the wrong direction - especially pitching in Texas - his
improved as did his strikeout rate and efficiency. The other plus
that his BABIP was his worst since 2001.
OK, now the guys you might want to stay away from:
Last year, Bronson Arroyo held right-handers to .206 average
(.547 OPS). His BABIP was the best of his career and he also managed
neat trick of lowering his ERA despite giving up homers at a greater
Part of his success was due to NL hitters’ unfamiliarity with him for
first half of the season, but in July and August they saddled him with
ERAs of 5.45 and 4.78. And now the really bad news: left-handers
been increasingly effective against him, going from .768 to .831 to
OPS over the last three years. Without the good fortune that
on him last year and lefties increasingly figuring him out, this is a
year to say “no thanks”.
One of the top pitchers on most people's NL list is Carlos Zambrano,
but there are several warning flags to heed. His control is on
decline, his G/F rate is declining, his efficiency has regressed, and
year was helped by a near career best in BABIP.
The Dodgers gave big money to sign Jason Schmidt but that
mean you should. His strikeout rate is in a 3-year decline, his
is well of his 2003-04 peak, and his G/F rate is declining. That
have worked in AT&T Park (the toughest park in which to homer last
but that won't play well in Dodger Stadium (7th easiest to homer in).
Jered Weaver was one of the best pitchers in baseball, but
performance has more red flags than a May Day parade through Red
He threw almost three times as many innings in 2006 as 2005.
that significant often result in arm injuries for young hurlers the
year. There’s even more to consider than just this spring’s bout
tendonitis. Last year when opposing hitters put the ball in play,
hit just .239. League average is around .300 and even great
like Johan Santana hover around .265. Additionally, only a small
of the flyballs he allowed left the yard. Once those rates
toward the mean, his career path will look like Livan Hernandez’, who
up his 9-3, 3.18 ERA rookie season with a 4.72 ERA and a record of
his sophomore year.
When the season ended, I was surprised that Josh Beckett
with an ERA over 5.00. After looking at his home run rate (36 in
238 flyballs), it was pretty clear that he was bit unlucky.
his BABIP was actually the best of his career and his control took a
hit. He'll give up fewer homers but unless Beckett does a better
of keeping hitters honest those expecting a huge rebound will be very
Mark Buerhle’s defense let him down a little last year – his
was about 15 points higher than his career average – and his home run
increased pretty significantly. July and September were
harsh. He threw a lot of innings in 2005 (including the
so maybe his inability to turn his season around was not simply a
of bad luck but a workload that was catching up to him in the form of
a tired arm or a burned out one. There are 28 pitchers since
play began that have thrown as many innings by the same age as Buerhle,
nearly half of them burned out before they were 30. Just know
last year his control, K rate and G/F rate all went in the wrong
Many look at Noah Lowry's season and think he just had a tough
That is true but that doesn't mean the struggles will end.
control and strikeout rate disappeared, even when he supposedly
his change-up. Worse, he became more of a flyball pitcher -
with so many old guys in the outfield - and his BABIP was the best of
major league career. That reverting to his career norm would just
more bad news.
The D-backs are somewhat of a darkhorse pick for the playoffs because
the return of Randy Johnson. However, if they win it
as much in spite of Johnson as because of him. His BABIP has
been steady the last couple of years in New York, but his control and K
rate have been in steep decline. His G/F rate is also in decline,
is a bad thing going from Yankee Stadium (ranked 13th for homers) to
(ranked 1st for allowing homers).
I'm really not sure what the Blue Jays see in Tomo Ohka.
control and strikeout rate are in decline, he is throwing more and more
to each batter, his groundball rate is in decline and all this after
on the his best BABIP in 2006. If there's a pitcher with disaster
2007 written all over him, it's Ohka.
One last guy, although this one is probably obvious. Wade Miller is
done. From a scouting point of view, this was a guy that depended
a mid-90s fastball during his halcyon days, but due to several
his fastball now tops around 87 mph. Now he has to nibble around
plate - which is evidenced by a declining control and efficiency rate -
he's become a extreme flyball pitcher (in the 5th easiest park to homer
and last year was his career best in BABIP. He's having a decent
so far, but I'd be surprised if it lasts another week.
Good luck and may your teams exceed your expectations
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