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Scouting Pitchers: 2008 Season Preview: Starting Pitchers

Scouting Pitchers: 2008 Season Preview: Starting Pitchers

Statistics as of 3/21/08

In this column, I'd like to show you some starting pitchers who might be bargains in 2008, as well as introduce you to this column. Some years ago, Bill James advanced a good formula for finding these sleepers: look at the pitchers who had the highest ratio of strikeouts to wins in the previous year. Filter out the high-priced pitchers, decide which of the remaining raw youngsters are likely to improve, and you have a good idea of who will improve their value.

Readers should know the influences on my baseball thinking are Bill James, Baseball America, Peter Gammons, and Ken Rosenthal. You can accuse me of plagiarism for using James' formula, but I'd rather stick with something that works than create something that might not.

Some of my other preferences:

1. I prefer pitchers who raise their forearms high at the midpoint of their delivery (Ben Sheets, Erik Bedard, Roy Halladay) to those who drop their forearm (Javier Vazquez, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Pedro Martinez). While there seems to be little difference in durability between the two motions at the top end of the talent spectrum, an average pitcher who points the ball toward the sky at the midpoint of his delivery seems to have a better chance of sticking and staying healthy. I agree with Bob Cluck's basic pitching motion that he lays out in Play Better Baseball.

2. I'm prejudiced against the split-fingered fastball. Again, while some very talented pitchers (Roger Clemens, Matsuzaka and many other Asian pitchers) have used it without getting hurt, it seems several pitchers have lost some velocity, control and durability largely because of it. I think Rich Harden would have an easier time staying healthy if he didn't throw a split-finger. Baseball America reported a few years ago that the Phillies discouraged their minor leaguers from throwing the split-finger. Roger Craig advocated it, saying that the pitch is only harmful if thrown incorrectly.

3. The focus of this column is the entire major leagues. I wait until a prospect has thrown 50-100 innings before reviewing him, as I need that much data before making a judgment on a pitcher. I will certainly take suggestions for pitchers you'd like to see scouted. My main source of data is the video feed on MLB.com. If a pitcher hasn't appeared in enough major league games, I can't scout him properly.

2007 AL Strikeout-to-Win Ratio, Top 10 (Minimum 100 SO):

Pitcher: '08 Team: Ratio:
1. Scott Kazmir TB 18.4
2. John Danks Chi 18.2
3. Ervin Santana LAA 18.0
4. Jeremy Guthrie Bal 17.6
5. Gil Meche KC 17.3
6. Erik Bedard Sea 17.0
7. Boof Bonser Min 17.0
8. James Shields TB 15.3
9. Zack Greinke KC 15.1
10. Dontrelle Willis Det 14.6

Javier Vazquez (14.2) and Jeremy Bonderman (13.2) just missed the top 10. Kazmir, Bedard and Willis are too well-known to slip in value. Of the three, I'd take Bedard - pay top dollar for him. Danks, Santana, Guthrie and Greinke are the best bargains on this list. Santana is leading the Angels in strikeouts this spring, while Danks is second on the White Sox to Vazquez. Guthrie looks like a 220-inning workhorse and Greinke looks solid.

Shields is a big wild card. In USA Today's recent LABR Draft, he went for $24 due to the shortage of AL starters. That price seems excessive despite the Rays' projected improvement. Some lower-cost options are the "hot prospects": Clay Buchholz, Jon Lester, and Phil Hughes. I'd prefer them to Matt Garza, Ian Kennedy, and Francisco Liriano. Liriano hasn't looked good this spring and will need this year to regain his effectiveness. Another sleeper is Kevin Slowey, who's leading the Twins this spring with 18 strikeouts.

Meche looks like a prime candidate for an injury or a drop in performance, and I don't trust Bonser to progress this year. I left off Edwin Jackson (25.6) Daniel Cabrera (18.4) out of common courtesy. Each has the type of dropped-forearm motion I dislike. Of the two, I prefer Jackson, who looks smoother.

2007 NL Strikeout-to-Win Ratio, Top 10 (Minimum 100 SO):

Pitcher: '08 Team: Ratio:
1. Chris Capuano Mil 26.4
2. Matt Cain SF 23.3
3. Tim Lincecum SF 21.4
4. Ian Snell Pit 19.7
5. Chris Young SD 18.6
6. Wandy Rodriguez Hou 17.6
7. Bronson Arroyo Cin 17.3
8. Rich Hill Chi 16.7
9. Orlando Hernandez NY 14.2
10. Kyle Lohse StL 13.6

I left off Johan Santana (15.7) out of consideration for your budget, and Kip Wells (17.4) out of respect for your sanity. Cain and Lincecum are excellent young power pitchers on a bad team, while Snell is in a similar position with the Pirates. Of the three, I like Cain the most because of his size and durability. Snell is leading the Pirates in strikeouts this spring. Capuano ruptured the ulnar collateral ligament in his left elbow on March 17 and will most likely require a second Tommy John operation, making him a non-factor for 2008 and likely 2009.

Young is a safe bet, but I wouldn't break the bank on him, as he has some weaknesses. Arroyo has matured into a reliable veteran, and his good control and slow breaking pitches will keep him effective. Hill is leading the majors in walks (14) this spring, an ominous sign. Rodriguez might also benefit from a trade, as a flyball pitcher doesn't belong in Minute Maid Park. Lohse is Dave Duncan's latest reclamation project in St. Louis. Hernandez is on his last legs and is about to have his job taken by the promising Mike Pelfrey.

Other "hot prospect" sleepers deserving a look are Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey, Andrew Miller, and Jair Jurrjens. Cueto has upstaged Bailey at the Reds' camp and has been one of the hot stories of spring training. Bailey (10 walks) and Miller (11 walks) have battled their command this spring. Miller is more assured of a rotation spot than Bailey. Jurrjens came to Atlanta in the Edgar Renteria trade, and we'll take a look at him next week.

Next week: NL East: Jair Jurrjens.

 

Article first appeared 3/30/08