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Mound Musings: Undervalued, Overvalued for 2011

David Regan

David Regan

David Regan is a five-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner, and was named the 2010 Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year.

This is it. My last hurrah for 2010. Hopefully I've brought at least one of you a pearl of wisdom over the 32 Mound Musings columns Rotowire has published in 2010.

This week, we'll look at 10 undervalued and 10 potential overvalued pitchers (don't like the terms "sleepers" and "busts") for 2011 as we head toward the playoffs and a probable Phillies-Rays World Series.

UNDERVALUED


James Shields, TB –
Shields' velocity is up nearly one full mph over last over last year, and he's managed solid peripherals, including an 8.4 K/9 and 2.2 BB/9. The former would be a career mhigh, while the latter is right in line with his reputation as a solid control guy. The 5.04 ERA? A 14.2 percent HR/FB rate, .349 BABIP and one start in which he allowed 10 runs have combined to put a huge dent in that number. Shields will pitch all next season at age 29, so he's right in his prime. Question is, will he be the one to go to make room for Jeremy Hellickson?

Ricky Nolasco, FLA –
It was elbow issues in 2007 and a knee injury this year, so at least Nolasco's arm issues appear to be behind him. With an 8.4 K/9 and 1.9 BB/9, Nolasco's peripherals continue to be strong. His 4.51 ERA being nearly a full run higher than his xFIP could provide some value in next year's draft if your competitors put too much stock in prior-year ERA.

Joe Blanton, PHI –
xFIP says Blanton has been as good this year (4.03) as last (4.07), but his ERA is 89 points higher at 4.94. Look a little closer, though, and Blanton has been the pitcher we expected over the second half – 5-1, 3.59 ERA and 77:21 K:BB in 87.2 innings. He' s a borderline 12-team mixed league starter even when he's going well, but there could be some value here next year.

Scott Baker, MIN –
I supposed if I write about Baker as a sleeper enough, it may actually come through one of these years. Still, with an xFIP nearly a half run lower than his 4.52 ERA, he's still a good candidate to have 2011 draft-day value. Baker has been remarkably consistent the last three years:

K/9: 7.4, 7.3, 7.6
BB/9: 2.2, 2.2, 2.1
HR/9: 1.0, 1.3, 1.2
xFIP: 4.14, 4.22, 4.03

Baker will pitch most of 2011 as a 29-year-old, so there's still time for a breakout, thought it's understandable if you back off.

Jason Hammel, COL –
Hammel has never been a big strikeout guy (7.2 K/9 this year, 6.7 career), but he exhibits good control (2.1 BB/9 in 2009, 2.4 this season) and a solid GB% (46.6 percent this year). Of course, pitching in Coors Field doesn't help, as he usually allows about a HR per nine innings. So why is he a sleeper? Mainly 3.81 and 3.80 xFIPs the past couple years. Hammel will never be a consistent 12-team mixed-league pitcher, but in a deeper format, he certainly could be.

Chris Narveson, MIL –
In 217.1 innings as a major leaguer, Narveson has managed a 7.7 K/9 and 3.2 BB/9. Both solid peripherals, leading me to think he can be a Doug Davis (in his prime) type at a minimum and perhaps even Randy Wolf. Narveson is finishing pretty well, allowing more than three runs in a start just once in his last 11 starts. He won't be fronting any rotations any time soon, but maybe a weak No. 3 starter? We'll see.

Zack Greinke, KC –
Not many pitchers go from winning a Cy Young one year to being a disappointment the next year and a sleeper the following year, but that might be Greinke in 2011. Greinke still has his excellent command, but his near-100 percent bump in ERA from 2.16 to 4.23 isn't all bad luck. He's missing far fewer bats (7.3 K/9) than a year ago (9.5), and while more of his batted balls are being hit on the ground, as a percentage of total balls in play, this year than a year ago, we obviously prefer strikeouts to ground balls. Greinke's pitches simply has lost their effectiveness (see FanGraphs' Pitch Type Values section). Next year will be his age 27 season, and based on the direction of the organization and the fact his contract is up after 2012, Greinke's name will get some play on the trade market this winter. A deal out of KC (can you blame him if he wants out?) might be best for both sides, though that clearly would depend on the offer. Maybe Dayton Moore should give Ned Colletti a ring. If 18.2 innings of Octavio Dotel is worth James McDonald and Andrew Lambo, would two years of Greinke equate to Andre Ethier and Chad Billingsley? I jest, but …

Dan Haren, LAA –
Haren's 2010 didn't go as he's hoped considering the performance of his two teams, but he's still been better than his 11-12 record indicates. His 213 strikeouts (8.4 K/9) and usual solid command (2.1 BB/9) belie the record and the near-4.00 ERA (3.93). It's just a guess, but perhaps toiling in relative obscurity this year and notching just 11 wins will give Haren a bit of an under-the-radar feeling in 2011.

John Lackey, BOS –
It's not just the ERA that's regressed this year, but Lackey's peripherals have also taken a dive. Last three years:

K/9: 7.2, 7.1, 6.3
BB/9: 2.2, 2.4, 3.0

Lackey's velocity is fine, and while attributing the down year to the “Boston pressure” is taking the path of least resistance, perhaps there is an adjustment period for some players in going from pitching against the Mariners and A's to going up against the Yankees and Rays. Lackey has had three sub-4.00 ERA months, but also two above 5.00. He's also had 10 starts in which he's allowed five or more earned runs, so perhaps next year will be the year of consistency.

Jonathon Niese, NYM –
Niese can dial up his fastball into the 94 range, sitting comfortably between 90-93, so he's a bit more than the typical soft-tossing left-hander. Niese isn't exactly finishing strong, allowing five or more runs in six of his last seven starts. Think perhaps going from 118 innings in 2009 to 177 this year has some sort of impact? I do. Liking Niese quite a bit in 2011.

OVERVALUED


Brandon Webb, TBD –
Reports that his fastball was in the 82-mph range in an instructional league game Wednesday are troubling to say the least. Perhaps a few months to build arm strength will do wonders, but a total of four innings in two years isn't something a lot of pitchers come back strong from.

Clay Buchholz, BOS –
Buchholz will probably finish in the top-10 of several Cy Young ballots, solely based on his wins total (17) and 2.33 ERA. Don't get me wrong, he's clearly established himself as a fixture in the Boston rotation, but a 6.2 K/9 and 3.5 BB/9 aren't the most solid peripherals, and while we don't have enough data to know whether this is sustainable long-term, Buchholz has benefitted from a .265 BABIP. One thing that really helps is a 50 pecent GB%, something you really like to see in Fenway Park. I just think he'll be a bit overvalued next year.

Trevor Cahill, OAK –
Cahill rebounded nicely from his 2009 rookie struggles to flirt with a sub-3.00 ERA, so that in and of itself is a huge accomplishment. That he did it with a 5.3 K/9 and .237 BABIP should give one pause that he can repeat this in 2011. An ERA closer to 4.00 is likely.

Dallas Braden, OAK –
Maybe this is a trend, as Braden has posted xFIPs of 4.80 and 4.40 the last two years but has overcome a poor strikeout rate to post ERAs of 3.89 and 3.50. The poor K/9 and lack of offensive support combine to limit his fantasy value anyway, but we'll just have to see if he can maintain an ERA in the mid-3's. Based on the lack of strikeouts and a HR/FB rate that seems to be consistently better than league average, he's got nowhere to go but down.

C.J. Wilson, TEX –
A 4.1 BB/9 and .271 BABIP indicate a decent dose of luck, so if that first ratio continues next year, Wilson is going to have a difficult time keeping his ERA under 4.00. Wilson, though, has really developed his cutter this year, and it's been his second-best pitch according to FanGraphs. He's 10-3 with a 3.70 ERA at home, so his performance hasn't been a result of pitching on the road. I think he'll be fine next year, but an ERA a half a run higher is probably best put into your projections for his 2011.

Randy Wolf, MIL –
With a 1.47 ERA in five September starts, Wolf has put together a finish that make his overall numbers more in line with expectations. At RotoWire, we projected 13 wins, a 4.02 ERA, 139 K's and a 1.28 WHIP. Actuals came in at 13 wins, a 4.18 ERA, 139 K's, and a 1.39 WHIP. If we came that close on everyone else, RotoWire would have its offices in Manhattan. For 2011, Wolf is 34, but I'd expect similar numbers next year. Perhaps a bit better given the strong finish.

Josh Johnson, FLA –
For a couple months this year, if you had argued Johnson was the best pitcher in the game, folks would have a hard time disagreeing. From April 10 to July 27, Johnson made 20 starts. In all 20, he allowed three or fewer runs, going 10-2. Then Johnson posted a 4.46 ERA in August followed by a 12-strikeout effort against the Braves on Sept. 4 before he was shut down with a sore back. Johnson has made a strong recovery from Tommy John surgery, but this is a pitcher with just one 30-plus start season in five years as a major leaguer. When he's going well, few are better, but check out where he's ranked next spring and see if you're willing to roll the dice. I'd take a pitcher like Clayton Kershaw over him, for instance.

Tim Hudson, ATL –
Hudson has been mortal lately with a 6.10 September ERA. Because he's allowed 1.6 GB per FB on the year, Hudson has managed 16 wins and a 2.76 ERA despite a K/9 that's dropped from 6.4 to 5.5 year-over-year. It's really tough to see the smallish 35-year-old Hudson putting together another season like this next year. Then again, it was also tough to see him putting up his best ERA in seven years this year.

Jaime Garcia, STL –
Garcia deserves to finish in the top three for the NL Rookie of the Year race. He's probably a tick or two behind Mat Latos and Jason Heyward, but with 13 wins, 132 strikeouts and a 2.70 ERA in 28 starts, Garcia isn't far behind. He does have a Tommy John surgery under his belt, so like all pitchers, he's a bit of a health risk (perhaps more than the average hurler), and after a 2.17 pre-break ERA, Garcia's second-half mark rose to a still-respectable 3.53. The talent is there to be certain, but can he hold up over 200 innings consistently?

Jason Vargas, SEA –
Just in case you didn't realize he'd turned into a pumpkin. Since the All-Star break, Vargas is 3-8 with a 5.01 ERA after going 6-4, 3.09 in the first half. His walks are up and strikeouts down, and overall a 5.5 K/9 packaged with a .257 BABIP inspires little confidence that he'll be much more than a 4.50 ERA guy in 2010.