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Mound Musings: Rotation Surprises

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.

In preparing the inaugural edition of the 2011 Pitching Value Meter, which ranks starting pitchers for the coming fantasy week, there were several pitchers I was frankly astonished to see in a big-league rotation and others who I wasn't sure would be there as recently as a week ago. Before we look at those pitchers, let's review a handful of notes from around the league:

Andre Ethier basically called the Dodgers cheap and disloyal this week, saying that if he doesn't play up to expectations that he would be non-tendered, and even if he does, that his projected eight-figure 2012 salary in arbitration would be too much for LA's penny-pinching owners. He's right on both counts of course, but coming on the heels of Chad Billingsley's $35 million extension, the timing is curious. ...

The Royals led baseball with a .667 winning percentage this spring. That's just a precursor to a run at the AL Central title in 2013 once baseball's best farm system matures. ...

Jake Fox and Mike Morse combined for 19 homers this spring. Josh Hamilton and Miguel Cabrera totaled four. I'm sure if I went back to last year's spring numbers I could come up with a similar anomaly, but Morse is intriguing. ...

Brad Lidge could miss half the year with a shoulder injury, and it seems Jose Contreras is the reliever to sub for Lidge. I have an NL-only draft this weekend and will cross my fingers that none of my league members prefer Contreras over Ryan Madson. ...

Shortstop is incredibly shallow this year as we all know. That said, this makes no sense: Alicedes Escobar's spring triple-slash line: .364/.400/.636 with five homers and just three strikeouts in 55 at-bats. ...

Now back to our regularly scheduled program …

Pitchers I Didn't Expect to See on the Value Meter a Few Months Ago

Jo-Jo Reyes, TOR –
Reyes pitched in one big-league game last year, allowing nine runs in 3.1 innings in his final start as a Brave, so let's just say expectations were low headed into spring training. A 3.32 ERA and 12:5 K:BB in 19 innings later, and he's a member of the Toronto rotation. Reyes was once a solid prospect for the Braves, but that was back in 2007, and he's done little since. Brandon Morrow is recovering well from an elbow injury, so Reyes will have to impress quickly to remain in the rotation ahead of Jesse Litsch or Kyle Drabek.

Freddy Garcia, NYY –
It's widely speculated that whomever is making starts out of the five-hole in New York is merely a placeholder for 20-year-old southpaw Manny Banuelos. Banuelos turned heads this spring, but Yankees fans will in the meantime have to suffer through Garcia and, perhaps eventually, Bartolo Colon. In fact, it was pretty stunning to see Garcia (4.91 ERA) get the nod over Colon (2.25 ERA, 17:1 K:BB in 16 innings) in the first place. Garcia had a 4.64 ERA and 5.1 K/9 last year, so it's hard to be optimistic here.

Phil Humber, CHW –
Next on the White Sox list: Wade Townsend or perhaps Matt Harrington? Humber has a 4.49 career minor league ERA, so predicting any sort of big league success would just be me trying to look smart and picking VCU BEFORE the tournament began. Humber will get three or four starts before Jake Peavy (shoulder) returns. It's probably his last chance at establishing himself as a big-league rotation option, though it's not like Lucas Harrell and Jeff Marquez are far better options.

Nelson Figueroa, HOU –
Figueroa is no more than a placeholder for the Astros' top pitching prospect, Jordan Lyles. Although he managed a 3.22 ERA in 67 innings for the Astros last year, Figueroa still generates too many walks and home runs to be a successful starter over an extended period. Lyles is just 20, but he'll probably be ready by July.

Kyle McClellan, STL –
This spot was supposed to go to Adam Wainwright (elbow) of course, but from day one this spring, McClellan left little doubt he was the best replacement. He finished his work this spring with a 0.78 ERA, easily beating out the likes of Lance Lynn. I like what I saw this spring and think that he could be a better starter than he was a reliever given his above-average curve and change.

Armando Galarraga, ARI –
He's had his 15 minutes of fame and is just keeping this slot warm for Jarrod Parker after doing the unthinkable – beating out Aaron Heilman for the No. 5 starter job after Heilman imploded in his final spring start. Galarraga has allowed an alarming 1.4 HR/9 in his career, and that was mostly in spacious Comerica Park.

Esmil Rogers, COL –
A .394 BABIP contributed to Rogers recording a 6.13 ERA in 72 innings last year despite a solid 66:26 K:BB. The fact that he also generated nearly two ground balls for every fly ball (1.95 GB/FB ratio) last year makes me at least mildly interested in the 25-year-old. I won't go crazy and say he'll be better than Jhoulys Chacin, but a sub-4.50 ERA is certainly possible.

Dustin Moseley, SD –
Moseley doesn't miss many bats and has a tendency toward the long ball. In Petco Park, that translates to a sub-4.00 ERA. That said, Mat Latos is set to miss just one start, leaving Moseley ticketed for Triple-A.

Sam LeCure, CIN –
Shoulder injuries to Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey leave LeCure with a spot in the Opening Day rotation after tossing his firs 48 big-league innings (4.50 ERA, 1.56 WHIP) in 2010. LeCure's minor league numbers are best described as pedestrian, so expect him to shuttle back and forth between the Reds bullpen and the Triple-A Louisville rotation once guys start getting healthy.

Marco Estrada, MIL –
If he was a Brazilian soccer player, we'd know him simply as “Marco,” but alas, Estrada wasn't good enough to pitch for the Nationals. Instead, he's Zack Greinke's (rib) placeholder. Estrada has allowed eight home runs in 31.1 big-league innings.

Chris Capuano, NYM –
Capuano breaks camp with a 1.93 ERA, but keep in mind he hasn't been fantasy-relevant since 2006. He actually pitched fairly well for the Brewers last year, and considering his age (32) and handedness, there might be a little left in the tank to make him a nice NL-only buy, but that's about it.

Andrew Cashner, CHC –
Pitching mostly as a starter, Cashner dominated Double-A and Triple-A a year ago, posting a 2.05 ERA and 59:15 K:BB in 57 innings. It didn't go quite as well in the big leagues, where out of the bullpen, Cashner recorded a 4.80 ERA thanks in no small part to a 5.0 BB/9. Kudos to the Cubs for letting him get first crack at the No. 5 starter job. Cashner is a former first-round pick who stands an imposing 6-foot-6 and brings mid-90s gas. He's an interesting sleeper whose command will dictate how much success he has as a big leaguer.

Alexi Ogando, TEX –
With Tommy Hunter and Brandon Webb nursing injuries and Neftali Feliz staying in the bullpen, Ogando will fill a slot in the rotation, likely for just a handful of starts per Nolan Ryan. I'm sure he's just happy to be in the U.S. after taking the whole Ronald Belisario-visa issues debacle to a new level. It's probably best to temper expectations, as though Ogando posted solid minor league numbers last year (30.2 innings, 14 hits, 43 strikeouts) before continuing to excel at the big-league level, he's far from stretched out enough to go more than five or six innings. I like the stuff and would certainly consider spotting him even in 12-team mixed leagues, but his ultimate destination is the bullpen.

Just Squeezed In

Colt Morton, PIT –
Pretty sure he wasn't the centerpiece of the Nate McLouth deal (but who was?), but Morton has certainly been a disappointment for the Pirates. All Morton did last year was post the highest ERA (7.57) of all major league starters. Morton has decent enough stuff, but 50 big league starts have resulted in a 5.98 ERA. It's likely he'll be replaced by Brad Lincoln (a.k.a . “that guy the Pirates drafted instead of Tim Lincecum and Clayton Kershaw”) within a couple months.

Barry Enright, ARI –
Enright was a heavy favorite for a spot in the rotation anyway, but the injury to Zach Duke (hand) and Aaron Heilman's implosion sealed the deal. Enright has had a so-so spring (4.43 ERA, 12:6 K:BB in 22.1 innings), but last year's 3.91 ERA is probably fresh in the mind of manager Kirk Gibson. Problem there is that it looks flukish given his 20 homers and .251 BABIP in 99 innings. Enright is a solid command guy, but unless he can keep the ball on the ground, we won't see him grow beyond No. 5 starter material.

Michael Pineda, SEA –
Pineda was named to the rotation this week after 25 starts last year between Double-A and Triple-A that resulted in a 2.2 BB/9 and 9.9 K/9. One of baseball's top pitching prospects, Pineda's ceiling is by far tops in the entire Seattle organization of guys not named Felix Hernandez. Mix in a great pitcher's park and it's hard to overstate how much upside this kid has. Pineda may be limited to around 160 innings this year after tossing 139.1 a year ago, but when he's in there, he should be fun to watch.

Randy Wells, CHC –
Wells went from a 3.05 ERA as a rookie in 2009 to a 4.26 last season despite an improved strikeout rate (6.7 K/9 from 5.7) and a groundball rate that remained constant. Chalk it up to less luck on balls in play for the most part, and we're probably looking at an ERA somewhere in the 3.80-4.00 range. That's about the ceiling for his skillset.

Scott Baker, MIN –
Baker beat out Kevin Slowey for the final spot, but a year ago did we really expect Brian Duensing and Nick Blackburn to win slots ahead of both Baker and Slowey? Career peripherals for the four:

PITCHERK/9BB/9HR/9
Duensing5.52.80.8
Blackburn4.31.91.2
Baker7.12.11.2
Slowey6.91.51.4

Given that all three exhibit solid command but occasional long-ball challenges, I'd stake my fortunes on the pitchers with the strikeouts – Baker and Slowey. I fully expect Slowey to get traded given top prospect Kyle Gibson is close to being ready, though I'll just say I've been burned by Baker in the past. I wouldn't blame you for looking behind the ERA and targeting Baker, but I'm taking a wait-and-see approach.

Brandon McCarthy, OAK –
A 4.50 spring ERA isn't that impressive, but a 20:1 K:BB in 26 innings is another story. McCarthy of course was once dealt for John Danks, so his prospect pedigree is better than most. Injuries have limited McCarthy the past few years, but maybe he's finally healthy. I wouldn't bank on it, but now that he's out of Texas, he's at least worth a look.

Brandon Beachy, ATL –
In a bit of a surprise, Beachy won the No. 5 slot over Mike Minor. Both had 0.90 ERAs this spring, but Beachy tossed 20 innings to Minor's 10 and had an impressive 21:4 K:BB. Beachy has never been all that highly regarded in prospect circles, but a 1.73 ERA and 148:28 K:BB in 119.1 minor league innings last year is an incredible year, so are we (or should I say, me?) underestimating him? Maybe.

Chris Tillman, BAL –
Tillman was named the team's No. 4 starter this week, beating out fellow impressive young arm Zach Britton and pushing Bradley Bergesen to the five hole. Tillman has a 5.61 ERA in 23 big-league starts, but that doesn't diminish the upside.

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