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Scouting Pitchers: AL Season Preview

James Benkard

James Benkard

James Benkard writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

After a couple of weeks writing this column – you can call me the Ronald Belisario of fantasy writers – I’m back to help you deliver bowling ball-heavy sinkers to your fantasy competitors. Below are my thoughts on 49 AL starting pitchers. Many of these have “in-between” value: they are coming into their own, or are rebounding from an injury. They don’t qualify as aces, but some of them have been, such as Jake Peavy. I’ve given you this list as a rough guide of what I think about this particular class of pitchers, from a scouting viewpoint as always. To complete these reports, I check video on MLB.com, as well as attend games and talk to people in the industry.

CHEAT SHEET:

Top picks: David Price, Ervin Santana, Jake Peavy, Clay Buchholz, Justin Masterson, Rick Porcello, Jeremy Guthrie, Max Scherzer, Kevin Slowey, Scott Feldman

Overpriced: Scott Kazmir, Scott Baker, Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill, Ryan Rowland-Smith

Modest value in 2010: Francisco Liriano, Derek Holland, Ricky Romero, Brandon Morrow

Promising, but not in 2010: Joba Chamberlain, Brian Matusz, Neftali Feliz, Chris Tillman, Gio Gonzalez, Kyle Davies

If you must draft a rookie: Wade Davis

If you must draft a veteran: Jake Peavy, Ben Sheets, Daisuke Matsuzaka

Avoid: Tommy Hunter, Brad Bergesen, David Huff, Jeremy Bonderman, Armando Galarraga, Shaun Marcum, Doug Fister, Colby Lewis, Justin Duchscherer

Baltimore:

Chris Tillman has an effective 75-80 mph slurve that he controls well, and a sinking 91-94 mph fastball. He also features a 79-82 mph changeup. He has some deception and crossfire action in his delivery. 190 innings with a 4.80 ERA.

Brian Matusz throws four pitches: a low-90s fastball with some movement, a 74-78 mph curve, as well as low- 80s changeups and sliders. The slider, in particular, has good velocity for a lefthander, and he doesn't mind coming inside to right-handed hitters. 160 innings with a 4.60 ERA.

Jeremy Guthrie dealt with some reduced velocity in 2009, as he went from 93-94 mph to 89-92. He was also throwing more cut fastballs. Guthrie has decent breaking stuff and a good motion, and he’s always healthy. I think he's a better bet for 2010 than Tillman or Matusz: 200 innings, 3.90 ERA.

With his funky motion and reliance on a breaking ball, Brad Bergesen seems like a prime candidate to end up on the DL. 90 innings, 5.20 ERA.

Boston:

Clay Buchholz emerged in the second half of 2009. He looked very good dealing his fastball at 93-96, and it had some tailing movement. His breaking stuff dips and darts as well, and he vastly improved his efficiency from 2008 (18.2 P/IP) to 2009 (16.5). 195 innings, 3.80 ERA.

Daisuke Matsuzaka pitched at 88-90 mph in 2009 in part due to a leg injury, and he tweaked his back early in camp. He still has a sweeping low-80s slider and cut fastball, and he will have something to prove in 2010. 195 innings, 15 wins, 4.00 ERA.

Chicago:

Jake Peavy made it through his elbow woes after being dealt from San Diego and still had his 81-87 mph slider. Peavy doesn't have the deepest repertoire, and his fastball has declined to the low 90s. I'd still count on him for 200 innings, 14 wins and a 3.75 ERA.

Cleveland:

Justin Masterson fanned 12 in his last start of 2009, showing promise after battling control problems down the stretch. He has a lot of movement and sink on his fastball, which runs up to 97, and can back door right-handers with his mid-80s slider. Cleveland's rotation won’t be good in 2010, but I think Masterson will be the Indians’ ace by July: 190 innings, 3.75 ERA.

Of Cleveland’s three left-handers, Aaron Laffey is the best bet to be worth a $1 flier. Laffey throws in the high-80s and can touch 92, and he has a low-80s changeup and a 78-81 mph slider. There isn’t much difference between his pitches, and he doesn’t have the smoothest motion. Still, he ranked fourth in the AL in 2009 with 26 double-play balls – despite an only slightly above-average G/F (1.00). 175 innings, 4.35 ERA.

David Huff has better stuff than one might expect of someone with a low strikeout rate (4.6/9 IP) in his rookie year. He is primarily a fastball (88-92 mph) and slider (78-82) type, although he throws an occasional 80 mph changeup. I see marginal improvement: 180 innings, 4.80 ERA.

With his marginal stuff, funky motion and shoulder inflammation this spring, Jeremy Sowers should be avoided at all costs. 80 innings, 5.20 ERA.

Detroit:

Rick Porcello was already dealing his sinker at 93 mph in his second spring appearance on March 9. He also threw some quality changeups. History will be against him having unbroken career success with such a short period of acclimation to the major leagues, but he sure looks solid now. I don’t expect progress in 2010, but neither do I see Porcello breaking down. 190 innings, 3.85 ERA.

People debate Max Scherzer’s potential all the time, and his arrival in the AL will help determine whether he can hold up against the best hitters in the world. Scherzer’s velocity fluctuates from the low- to mid-90s. His 82-86 mph slider is effective against right-handers, who have batted .219 with 133 strikeouts in 420 at-bats against him in his career. An improved changeup would help him corral lefties (.794 lifetime OPS). 190 innings, 14 wins, 3.90 ERA.

Jeremy Bonderman is looking to work his way back to effectiveness after battling elbow (2008), rib blood clot and shoulder (2009) problems. He was back up to 89-92 mph with a low-80s slider in September, and the Tigers are counting on him to hold down their No. 4 spot in the rotation. They are on the hook to pay him $12.5 million, so expect him to get his chances. 170 innings, 4.40 ERA.

Armando Galarraga will try to rebound from his poor 2009 and hang on to the fifth starter spot for Detroit. He is primarily a breaking-ball pitcher, with a good 85 mph slider. With a fastball just cracking 90 mph, Galarraga doesn’t throw hard enough to make him enticing. 150 innings, 4.80 ERA.

Kansas City:

I may be in the minority, but I think Kyle Davies will improve enough in 2010 to make him interesting. His fastball was consistently at 92 down the stretch in 2009, and he has a high-70s curve and 80 mph changeup. If he can cut down on his walks - and I think he will - Davies will be worth a look in 2011. 175 innings, 4.10 ERA.

Luke Hochevar figures to improve on his 6.55 ERA of 2009, if only by the law of averages. He “pitches like a veteran” a little too much for my taste, as he relies on his breaking pitch (78-85 mph slider) for most of his strikeouts. If Hochevar can stay healthy, he can have a few good seasons on the front end or back end of his career – but I don’t think it will be both. 180 innings, 4.30 ERA.

Los Angeles:

Obviously, Ervin Santana is going to be highly prized in 2010 drafts. His strong second half (7-3, 3.90) helped erase memories of his first-half ineffectiveness (7.81 ERA). Santana’s forearm, which limited him in 2009, is reportedly healthy. His 81-87 mph slider is one of the best in the league. 200 innings, 15 wins, 3.75 ERA.

Joel Pineiro cashed in on his success with Dave Duncan and St. Louis to the tune of $16 million over two years with the Angels. He deals sinking 88-92 mph fastballs and a hard 75-80 mph curveball. He can cut his fastball away from, as well as in to, right-handers. Pineiro was bombed out of the AL in 2007, and time will tell whether he can retain his improved command when he starts getting hit. 190 innings, 4.15 ERA.

I don’t see Scott Kazmir as having a total renaissance with Los Angeles, but he should be serviceable. Kazmir will have a lot to prove, and will have an excellent team playing behind him. He was back up to 91-94 mph down the stretch in 2009, and reportedly will be using his low-80s slider more. 190 innings, 13 wins, 4.10 ERA.

Minnesota:

Scott Baker is tabbed to be Minnesota’s ace a year after he was the only member of their strong 2008 rotation who lived up to expectations. Baker throws in the low 90s, and can pitch upstairs effectively. He controls his fastball and low-80s slider well, and isn’t fazed by big games. Still, I see a pitcher who doesn’t use his full repertoire enough and has a questionable delivery. 175 innings, 10 wins, 4.00 ERA.

The early returns on Kevin Slowey returning from wrist surgery are positive, as he has tossed five scoreless innings in his first two outings. The wrist was clearly bothering him last summer before he was shut down. When healthy, Slowey commands his low-90s fastball well to both sides of the plate, and his 84-87 slider has the speed of a cut fastball. 200 innings, 3.80 ERA.

Like the other Twin starters, Nick Blackburn doesn’t mind pitching inside, and he also uses his curve and slider well. His strikeout rate (4.43 per nine innings) is a little low for someone who doesn’t keep the ball on the ground especially well (0.87 lifetime G/F). 190 innings, 4.20 ERA.

After an excellent winter ball season, Francisco Liriano will figure into the Twins’ mix as their fifth starter or closer, should Joe Nathan be unable to pitch. Liriano was reportedly sitting at 92-94 mph with a high 80s slider in the Dominican. It’s hard to say where he’ll end up, but I’ll say the rotation. Minnesota’s bullpen can produce another closer besides Liriano, and they need a power pitcher in the rotation. 185 innings, 3.85 ERA.

Brian Duensing was a surprise to start Game One of the ALDS after logging 300 innings at Triple-A Rochester from 2007 to 2009, going 20-22 with a 4.14 ERA. He will compete with Francisco Liriano for the fifth starter’s role, although the Twins have recently floated the idea of moving Liriano into the closer role, should Joe Nathan need Tommy John surgery. Duensing has pretty good stuff for a left-hander, with an 89-91 mph fastball and two breaking balls. 150 innings, 4.15 ERA.

New York:

The Yankees would prefer to see Phil Hughes beat out Joba Chamberlain for their fifth starter’s spot. Hughes was bombed out of the rotation for the second straight year in 2009, but is still just 24. He sat at 94-95 mph in the playoffs with his upper-80s slider. Hughes will need to cultivate his other off-speed pitches, and his coiled motion isn’t exactly free and easy. 170 innings, 12 wins, 4.00 ERA.

I’m of two minds about Joba Chamberlain . He was effective in the playoffs last year out of the bullpen after battling his control down the stretch as a starter. Chamberlain pumps it up to 97 with a killer slider as a reliever, but gets so charged up, it might be better for his health to let him relax over the course of 200 innings. Will his control and other pitches allow him to throw that much? 90 innings, 3.20 ERA – essentially, the same year Phil Hughes had in 2009.

Oakland:

Counting on brittle Ben Sheets to anchor your staff is risky, but he looks primed for a big year. Sheets is throwing in the low 90s, he is in the biggest ballpark in the AL, and he’ll be in line for a big payday if he throws 200 innings. Oakland’s outfield defense will be good, and its infield defense just OK. The problem will be scoring runs for Sheets – which will remind him of Milwaukee. 210 innings, 12 wins, 3.85 ERA.

Once in a while, the much-abused phrase “he will add velocity” turns out to be true. Brett Anderson increased his fastball to a consistent 92-94 in the second half of 2009, touching 95-96. He fanned 86 in his last 88 innings, third among AL left-handers to CC Sabathia and Jon Lester. Anderson’s 83-88 mph slider is a wipeout pitch to righties, although he tips it by dropping his forearm. He also throws a 74-78 mph curve. 165 innings, 12 wins, 3.95 ERA – and a trip to the DL.

Like Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill made the jump from Double-A to the majors in 2009 at age 21. He deals moving two-seam fastballs in the high 80s, and his four-seamer runs up to 93. Cahill has a good 78-82 mph changeup, and I believe a mid-80s slider – although it could be a cut fastball. He will also reportedly be working on his curve more in 2010. He’s an injury risk. 165 innings, 10 wins, 4.35 ERA.

Gio Gonzalez is listed as the A’s seventh starter, but they’ll likely need 150 innings from him in 2010. Gonzalez has had a good spring so far, allowing two runs in five innings with five strikeouts. He can reach 93 with his fastball, and his high-70s curveball is a strikeout pitch. He still uses too many pitches per inning – 18.5 in 2009 – but he is a strikeout/flyball pitcher, so that is part of his profile. 170 innings, 4.25 ERA.

Counting on Justin Duchscherer coming back from last season’s elbow and depression woes and back pain in camp to beat out several young pitchers for the A’s fifth starter spot seems unrealistic. He made the All-Star team in 2008 before things started falling apart. When healthy, Duchscherer throws a looping low-70s curveball and mid-80s cutters. 100 innings, 4.65 ERA.

Vin Mazzaro throws a tight 82-88 mph slider that he doesn’t mind throwing to left-handers. His fastball is 91-94, touching 95. Mazzaro also has a low-80s curve. He missed the last month with a shoulder problem, and doesn’t have an unbroken record of success. It looks like a season of growing pains for him: 160 innings, 4.85 ERA.

Seattle:

The Mariners hope ex-Pirate Ian Snell can hold down the fourth spot in their rotation after he posted mixed results (5-2, 4.20 in 15 starts) down the stretch for them in 2009. Snell was clocked as high as 95 mph, and he still has his low-80s slurve and changeup. A long time ago, I liked him, but his control problems are baffling. 165 innings, 4.30 ERA.

As a converted reliever who lacks overpowering stuff but isn’t a ground ball pitcher, I am skeptical of Ryan Rowland-Smith. He throws 87-91 with a 71-73 mph curve and changeups and sliders at 77-82 - not bad for a lefty reliever, but short for an AL starter. Still, he has a 3.62 ERA in 253 major league innings, so he should contribute 140 innings with a 4.30 ERA.

Fifth-starter hopeful Doug Fister throws an 87-90 mph fastball with a little sink, as well as mediocre high-70s curves and low-80s sliders. He has a 4.38 ERA in 417 minor league innings, so I wouldn’t expect more than 90 innings with a 5.20 ERA.

Tampa Bay:

In case you get starry-eyed about rookies in 2010, keep second-year phenom David Price in mind. He struggled away from Tampa in 2009 (6.24 ERA), but consider his worst road starts were in Los Angeles, Texas, Colorado, and Toronto – not easy pickings for a 23-year-old. Price might throw harder this year, as he was clocked in the upper 90s during the playoffs in 2008. Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira and Jorge Posada are 1-for-23 with nine strikeouts against Price. 200 innings, 170 strikeouts, 3.55 ERA.

Wade Davis made a name for himself on September 17 when he four-hit the Orioles, striking out 10. Baltimore had loaded the bases against him in the first inning, too. Davis is a prototypical power pitcher, sitting at 92-93 and touching 95 or 96. He pitches to all four quadrants of the strike zone, and has a mid-80s slider and high-70s curveball. The Rays have shown remarkable patience by letting him throw 767 innings in the minors. 180 innings, 150 strikeouts, 3.85 ERA.

Texas:

Scott Feldman rode his Texas-sized offense and a decent (4.08) ERA to the most unlikely 17 wins of 2009. Another converted reliever, Feldman throws a 76-82 mph slurve and a fastball in the low 90s with some movement. He works left-handed hitters away effectively with both his fastball and breaking ball, which is unusual. Feldman can also come inside to right-handers with an 84-91 mph cutter. His statistical indicators are decent. I don’t know how much of a changeup he has. 190 innings, 13 wins, 4.15 ERA.

Derek Holland took his lumps in the AL in 2009, but figures to be worth a draft pick this year. He throws 90-94 mph fastballs and is still working on his 79-82 mph slider and change. Holland also has inconsistent command of his curveball. Of his three off-speed pitches, he controls his slider the best. I like his mechanics and overall approach, but expect only gradual improvement: 175 innings, 4.05 ERA.

In Rich Harden’s March 15 start, I thought he looked decent, with his fastball up into the low-90s. ESPN’s Keith Law saw his March 10 start and wasn’t impressed at all. I haven’t been the biggest Harden fan, as I am prejudiced against starters who throw the split-fingered fastball a lot. I believe it saps a pitcher’s velocity and creates or contributes to control and injury problems. Until Harden is back up to 95-97, I won’t change my opinion. 150 innings, 10 wins, 4.15 ERA.

Neftali Feliz’ spring performance (11.57 ERA) may keep him out of the rotation, and I think this development would be good for his career. Despite his overpowering stuff – fastball at 91-99, 76-80 mph slurve and 83-90 mph changeup – I don’t see Feliz as having a starter’s delivery. Sure, the ball comes out of his hand easily – but that doesn’t mean he can hold up for 200 innings. Feliz was terrific out of the bullpen down the stretch in 2009, and then he lost velocity. If a starter: 150 innings, 4.05 ERA. If a reliever: 75 innings, 3.25 ERA, 20 saves.

Colby Lewis returns to America after two good years in Japan (26-17, 2.81) that earned him a two-year deal with the organization that drafted him 38th overall in 1999. Lewis doesn’t have a first-round arm anymore, as he was throwing 88-91 with an 80-84 mph slider and a high-70s curveball in 2007 for Oakland. Perhaps he benefited from the more disciplined practice routines in the Far East. Lewis will need to move his pitches around very accurately to contribute more than 165 innings and a 4.40 ERA.

I see Tommy Hunter’s body type and mechanics being a big injury risk. The 2007 first-round pick out of the University of Alabama doesn’t look smooth on the mound at all. Hunter throws an 89-92 mph fastball as well as a cutter. He can move the four-seamer in on a left-hander and away from a right-hander. He controls his 77-82 mph slurve well, and has some moxie. I’m not optimistic about him: 115 innings, 5.20 ERA.

Toronto:

Who led the AL in double plays turned behind him in 2009? If you said rookie Ricky Romero with 30, kudos. The left-hander has four pitches, with his high-70s curveball and low-90s heater his best ones. Romero didn’t really improve over the course of 2009, but 13 wins and nearly 180 innings should be counted as a success. 190 innings, 4.00 ERA.

Brandon Morrow, whom I profiled earlier this month, will be counted on for innings for Toronto after shuttling between roles in Seattle. He has great stuff but a complex delivery that contributes to control problems. Expect flashes of greatness with inconsistency: 180 innings, 150 strikeouts, 4.10 ERA.

Brett Cecil is the big wild card in the Blue Jays’ rotation. He could be quite good or find himself bombed back to the minors. Cecil can dial it up to 93, and his 81-83 mph slider has some late movement. He has good movement overall on his pitches. Assuming the home-run hitters in the AL East don’t kill him: 170 innings, 4.15 ERA.

Shaun Marcum will be back for Toronto after undergoing Tommy John surgery in September 2008. He had a nice 80 mph changeup and doesn’t mind pitching inside to left-handed hitters despite only throwing in the high 80s. I still don’t have a lot of confidence in him. 150 innings, 4.70 ERA.

Marc Rzepczynski (pronounced Zep-CHINSKY) struck out 164 between Double-A, Triple-A and the majors. He is penciled in as the No. 4 starter for Toronto. Rzepczynski slings a high-80s fastball and uses a 78-81 mph slider as his strikeout pitch. I don’t see him being more than a fifth or sixth man down the road: 135 innings, 4.90 ERA.

Next column (sometime before Opening Day): NL Season Preview

 

Article first appeared 3/17/10