Looking ahead at the 2011 Achievers

Despite my fantasy baseball woes, 2011 was a pretty compelling season with a pretty fantastic end to the regular season.  To be fair, however, it's not all that surprising how it ended.  I mean, both the Braves and Red Sox had significant injuries in their respective rotations (Clay Buchholz... a broken back?!  good grief!) and the teams chasing them down were exactly talentless.  That and the Braves had to play the best team in baseball the final weekend whereas the Cardinals had to play the worst.  It didnn't require much imagination to figure out how that was going to go.  And in the final game, the Yankees did use what can best be desribed as a Triple-A pitching staff against the Rays and had taken out all their regulars except for Brett Gardner by the 7th inning.  The fact that the Rays were down 7-0 to begin with is pretty embarrasing and when it took them six more innings to finally beat that squad... not that impressive if we're being honest.  That said, Theo Epstein has more to answer for than has been placed on him by the media covering the collapse.  It was his decision to get the guys he did down the stretch and not pony up for better pitchers.  But that's something for next year. 

Speaking of next year, there were some very surprising regular season performances this season - as there are every season - and all fantasy players and baseball fans want to know if they can be expected to repeat.   So without further adieu, here are the pitchers:

Ian Kennedy
I have never been impressed with Ian Kennedy - his stuff or his mound presence - but he definitely made me re-consider his ability this year.  A monster 21-win season has him in the running for this year's NL Cy Young.  But is this a new level of performance?  I don't think so.  First of all, he got very lucky with his opponents this year.  He faced an inordinate number of very bad offenses this season and against them he went 11-0 in 15 starts.  He didn't get to face the worst (Seattle) but had plenty of opportunities versus San Diego and San Francisco.  Pittsburgh, Houston and Washington round out the bottom five in the NL as worst offenses and I threw in Los Angeles, who for much of the season was pretty woeful as well.  Of Kennedy's 220 innings pitched, 105 of them came against these collections of pretty awful bats.

   IP       H     R    ER    BB      K       WHIP        ERA
220.00    186    73    71    55    198    1.095455    2.904545    OVERALL
 26.00     22    10    10     6     22    1.076923    3.461538    vs LA

 20.67     17     4     4     1     27    0.870827    1.741655    vs SD
 37.00     24     6     5     9     35    0.891892    1.216216    vs SF
  8.00      1     0     0     1     12    0.250000    0.000000    vs PIT
 14.00     11     1     1     5     11    1.142857    0.642857    vs WAS
105.67     75    21    20    22    107    0.917952    1.703416    Total
114.33    111    52    51    33     91    1.259512    4.014694    The Rest

To give an idea how terrible San Diego and San Francisco's offenses were, other than the 2010 Pirates, no NL team has scored less than 600 runs since the 2003 Dodgers.  Before them the last non strike-shortened season that had an NL team score less than 600 runs was 1993 when the expansion Marlins did it, and they had a built-in excuse.  This year we saw two such terrible offenses.  Granted, they play in two very tough parks for pitchers, but they are not as tough as many make them out to be.  Both reduce run scoring by less than 7 percent over the last several years, so even adjusting upward for the bias, they would still barely top 600 runs. 

Going into 2012 Kennedy has two things working against him.  The first is that both San Diego and San Francisco will be better next year.  Both teams had young players at key positions who will have another year of experience under their belt.  San Francisco will also have star catcher Buster Posey back in the fold.  Washington will be better with Adam LaRoche back and some probable free agent acquisitions and the likely promotion of uber-phenom Bryce Harper.  The list goes on: these teams will hit better. 

The second thing working against him is that it is highly unlikely he'll get to pitch half his outings against the worst third of the NL.  The distribution will likely balance back toward the mean, which means he'll face the better hitting teams more often.  Look for his numbers next season to more resemble "the Rest" in 2012.  To borrow from Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's comments recently about the world economy, Kennedy posseses "significant downside risk".

Clayton Kershaw
Like Kennedy, Kerhsaw benefitted from a soft schedule as well but not to the same extent.  He went 9-0 in 11 starts versus San Diego, San Francisco and Houston.  He did not pitch against Pittsburgh or Washington. 

   IP       H     R    ER    BB      K       WHIP        ERA

233.33    174    66    59    54    248    0.977157    2.275747    OVERALL
 42.00     29     6     5     8     49    0.880952    1.071429    vs SF

 25.33     16     5     5     5     15    0.829056    1.776550    vs SD
 14.00     10     2     2     3     16    0.928571    1.285714    vs HOU
 81.33     55    13    12    16     80    0.872987    1.327923    Total
152.00    119    53    47    38    168    1.032895    2.782895    The Rest

Am I saying these guys don't deserve Cy Young consideration?  Absolutley not.  Both performed well over the course of the season and deserve recognition.  But what is true is that Kershaw, and to a much greater extent Kennedy, benefitted significantly from a perfect storm of bad offenses.  Neither should be expected to do quite as well next season.

Ryan Vogelsong
Vogelsong was a huge dark horse similar to Colby Lewis in 2010, coming back from Japan and sneaking up on the league for the first half of the season.  That likely won't happen in 2012.  Vogelsong also benefitted greatly from his home park.  Oddly enough, he did not face division rival San Diego at all this season.  Perhaps even more surprising is how thoroughly he dumfounded Colorado hitters, both at home and in the mile high environs. 

           G  GS  W  L    IP    H   R  ER  HR   BB   K   ERA  WHIP   BAA 
Home  16 6  109.0  97  27 26  6   30  78  2.15  1.17  .242  
Away      13  12  6  1  70.2  67  35  28   9  31  61  3.57  1.39  .246  
           G  GS  W  L    IP    H   R  ER  HR   BB   K   ERA  WHIP   BAA 
vs. COL    5   4  4  0   28.0  14   3   3   2  6 24  0.96  0.71  .147  

Barring some surprising trade, he'll pitch in San Francisco in 2012, but like Lewis, he won't have the advantage of unfamiliarity.  I expect he'll be much more in the neighborhood of his post All Star numbers - 3.26, 1.31 WHIP - with an ERA closer to 4.00 and a slightly diminished strikeout rate.

Doug Fister
Fister pitched well in Seattle, but turned into a right-handed Cliff Lee in Detroit.  Run support and bullpen support might have played a role but his September was huge where he faced Cleveland twice, Minnesota, Oakland and Kansas City.  His BABIP was low and probably unsustainable, but not extraordinarily so.  I don't expect a repeat performance (probably not even close) but he might be still be pretty good next year, especially if he continues to increase his groundball rate and Detroit returns the premier gloves in it's infield like Brandon Inge, Jhonny Peralta and Ramon Santiago. 

            G GS  W  L    IP     H   R  ER  HR  BB   K   ERA  WHIP   BAA

2011 SEA   21 21  3 12  146.0  139 57 54  7  32  89 3.33  1.17  .252  
2011 DET   11 10  1   70.1 54 19 14  4  5  57  1.79  0.84  .206

            G GS  W  L    IP    H    R  ER  HR  BB   K   ERA  WHIP   BAA
September   5  5  0   34.0   15   4   2 2  34  0.53  0.53  .127

Brandon McCarthy 
A long time ago, McCarthy was a notable prospect in the White Sox system, but a flyball pitcher coming up in that park did not make for a good combination.  It didn't help matters when he was traded to Texas, an even tougher park for his style.  Finally in a pitcher's park in Oakland he got a chance to showcase his talent.  Injuries are still an ongoing concern as they have been his entire career, but as long as he's healthy and in Oakland where his home park and two of the three other division parks are pitcher friendly, he will continue to be a solid starter.

Josh Tomlin
Cleveland got off to such an amazingly fast start there were people actually starting to believe the Indians could win the division.  There was even talk of Manny Acta winning Manager of the Year.  That might still happen - although if it does, the BBWAA should simply stop giving out awards because they clearly aren't watching what happens on the field - but it won't be for the way they finished: under .500 yet again.  Josh Tomlin was the poster boy for the Miracle Tribe, going 6-2 with a 2.74 ERA through May and finishing June with a 9-4 record.  However, it was all smoke and mirrors with him.  Holding batters to a .253 BABIP is entirely unsustainable for almost any starter no matter how many spectacular plays Asdrubal Cabrera makes behind him.  While he did reduce his walk rate to a major league-best 1.14 per 9 innings, Tomlin's pathetic 4.84 K/9 rate was 6th worst among all starters.  In the minors did have a reasonably healthy strikeout rate, averaging a little better than 7 per 9 innings.  However, that strikeout rate is likely the result of polish, not pure stuff, as his fastball rarely touches 90 mph, so we probably won't see much improvement despite the strides in control.  Significant regression should be expected.

Justin Masterson
Masterson shouldn't be much of a surprise.  He was a pretty decent prospect before he was traded to Cleveland from Boston and in 2010 his peripherals suggested a pretty good starter if he could walk fewer batters and find a way to get lefties out.  He accomplished one of those goals and if he finds a pitch to better deal with lefties that should be enough to offset the incredible luck the enjoyed in 2011 in keeping flyballs in the park (0.46 per 9 innings).