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Bogfella's Notebook: The Organizational Context

Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson

For more than 25 years, pitching guru Brad "Bogfella" Johnson has provided insightful evaluation and analysis of pitchers to a wide variety of fantasy baseball websites, webcasts and radio broadcasts. He joined RotoWire in 2011 with his popular Bogfella's Notebook.

This Week's Scouting Tip: Organizational Approaches to Pitching Development

With the draft upon us, one of the most difficult things to gauge will be the impact of each draftee's new organization on his eventual success. Most pitching draftees will sign before the signing deadline, some will immediately step into the professional game while others may not make their debut until next year, and all will be on varying timelines regarding their ascent to the major leagues. Not surprisingly, those drafted out of high school probably won't have an impact at the sport's highest level for at least a couple of years while some players with significant experience in a major college program could be in the major leagues much sooner. However, beyond the general guidelines, organizational approaches to young pitchers can make a big difference in both the arrival date, and the ultimate measure of success, a positive contribution to your fantasy baseball team! Let's take a look ...

Changes in Attitudes, Changes in Latitudes ...

When evaluating prospects from the draft or more established professionals, it's always a good idea to give some thought to the organization. When you look at some teams you see a deep pool of pitching talent producing positive results at various levels. Look at the rotations in Tampa Bay or Oakland or Los Angeles. They must be doing something right. Conversely, other teams have virtually no homegrown pitching talent. Consider the Cubs or Pirates. How many homegrown aces or top tier arms are a part of their starting rotations? Where a guy ends up can make a big difference.

And note it's not just newly drafted pitchers who are impacted by exposure to systems that routinely develop high quality talent. Sometimes a veteran who has labored in mediocrity for several seasons will suddenly become fantasy relevant when moved to a new organization. Think about it. How many unproductive pitchers have had a rebirth when dealt to St. Louis and united with pitching guru Dave Duncan? Conversely, there are plenty of examples of highly regarded pitchers moving to a different team, and then never really progressing to their anticipated level of performance. It's not unusual, and it should be a consideration in your fantasy roster planning.

Given these facts, take a look at the 40-man roster of a team. Is it filled with talented arms moving steadily through the system, usually following in the footsteps of others who are already in the major leagues and producing results? If so, you probably want to move a pitcher joining that organization up a bit on your potential rankings. If the team's rotation is performing poorly, and the team's minor league system has little to offer now or in the foreseeable future, take that into consideration when you see someone you like moving into that system. For example, what does the crystal ball say about Pirates draftee Jameson Taillon. He was taken as one of the most talented arms in the draft, but the Pirates have not had the best track record with developing young pitchers. There are exceptions to be sure. Some young pitchers just "click" with a pitching coach, and a few have the natural ability to excel regardless of their environment, however those who work with the best are more likely to produce the best results. I like Taillon a lot. I just hope it all comes together for him, and he matures into the pitcher he can be.

Here are things to watch for regarding the timing and placement of strikes:

- We have all heard the term, "he needs a change of scenery" and that often helps a pitcher who isn't progressing. When a pitcher changes organizations, try to spot possible positives and negatives. For example, is he being reunited with a former pitching coach who he worked with during more successful seasons?
- Pitching coaches influence decisions regarding acquisitions. If a team targets a struggling pitcher in a trade, there is a good possibility the coaching staff noted some flaw in that pitcher's delivery or approach that they feel can be corrected. If they have a history of improving performance, it could happen again.
- Obviously, coaching staffs aren't the only factors that influence a pitcher's future performance. For example, a pitcher friendly ballpark or better defensive lineup can make a significant difference too. Even then, a better organizational approach can be productive. Some organizations build their team, or even tailor their home stadium to better match up with their pitchers. When a pitcher moves to a better environment, and has the benefit of a successful coaching staff, the results can be significantly better.
- Finally, teams do have different philosophies regarding pitcher development, and they can all produce positive results. The Tigers like to challenge their young arms and frequently promote them to get a feel for their progress. That can lead to some ugly outings and return trips to the minors, but many do eventually become successful. Conversely, other teams are very conservative and rarely promote pitchers before they are ready. Be aware of those tendencies.

Now, let's check this week's Scouting Notebook ...

This continues our weekly feature scouting pitchers of interest. We won't normally cover the elite guys in this column, rather this forum is dedicated to finding pitchers who might help, and more importantly, might be obtainable (as well as pitchers to avoid). Alright ... let's get started with this week's featured arms:

Luke Hochevar (KC) vs. MIN - Being selected in the first round of the amateur draft is generally enough to make you fantasy relevant. Being the first pick overall will generate considerable fantasy hype. So in 2006, when the Royals made Hochevar the number one pick, expectations ran high. They could have opted for other good arms, names like Brandon Morrow, Tim Lincecum, Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherezer, and Ian Kennedy - a pretty fair rotation to say the least. They could have gone after hitting, but they left guys like Evan Longoria. Obviously, they must have seen something in Hochevar. Unfortunately, most fantasy owners are still trying to find whatever that was. The hype has faded, and the fantasy relevancy is questionable at best right now. What happened?

Hochevar has the tools. His fastball sits comfortably in the 90-94 range and can touch 96, his curveball in the high 70s has a wicked 12-6 break, he throws a quality slider and change up, and he can add or subtract a bit from any of them. He flashes brilliance at times, but he soon quashes that impression with a couple of ugly outings. Fantasy owners (and the Royals) have to take note of those exceptional performances, but they have to be frustrated when he promptly returns to his inconsistent ways. At some point you have to ask if Hochevar is worth following, and the answer is a qualified yes.

Our target game against the Twins was vintage Hochevar. He breezed through five innings and entered the sixth inning up 2-1. Five hitters into the seventh inning, the Royals trailed 6-2 and Hochevar was out of the game. The problems are almost always the same. Hochevar's command comes and goes from inning to inning. He throws a few quality pitches and then starts missing. Behind in the count, he has to throw to the middle of the plate and the hit parade begins. Further complicating the situation, he seems to "wander" mentally at times and doesn't appear to be pitching with a plan. Too many of his offerings are what you call "easy takes" as hitters are not even tempted.

He is currently 3-6 with a 5.25 ERA. Those numbers are not unlike previous seasons, and in most cases, a lot of the damage came in a few innings where Hochevar just lost his focus (and command of the strike zone). You don't have to watch much of a Hochevar start to see what the Royals liked back in 2006, however if you watch enough, you will also see things that will turn your hair gray. Hochevar might be one of those guys who could use a "change of scenery" but teams are reluctant to part with high draft choices, especially when they keep seeing signs of hope. You might not want to have him in your rotation right now, but don't scratch his name off your list - at least not yet.

Andy Oliver (DET) @ CWS - Everyone likes to speculate when a very young prospect arrives in the big leagues. Oliver is no exception, being considered one of the top pitching prospects in the Tigers system. He pitched for Detroit late last year after just 130 minor league innings. The results (0-4 with a 7.36 ERA) were either not surprising, or disappointing, depending on your point of view. Perhaps the most interesting thing about his major league meanderings would be related to the organizational philosophy of his club. The Tigers are known for rushing their best arms to the show, at least long enough to see where they are in their development, and how they handle the jump. Even coming out of high school, Rick Porcello followed a similar path to Detroit, with very few minor league innings before landing in Detroit. It's how they like to do things.

Right now, the left-handed Oliver is a work in progress. He is basically a two-pitch pitcher with a lively fastball that can touch 96 and a sharp slider. He also throws a change-up, but infrequently as he still lacks confidence in his ability to spot it well. In fact, in our game against the White Sox, he showed an inability to spot any of his pitches very well. He began the outing by hitting Juan Pierre and followed that up with walks to the two and three hitters. The Sox let him off the hook with some ill-conceived swings although a mental lapse by Oliver himself did lead to a run. For the most part, the pitches he threw showed promise, but he wasn't very close to the zone at any time. The pattern continued and he was out of the game relatively early. He will go back to school in Triple-A when Phil Coke returns from the disabled list.

Oliver showed some obvious ability, but his delivery is almost all arm and he is prone to opening his shoulder which results in leaving pitches up in the zone - when they are even in the zone. Mechanical concerns like that will be addressed. The important thing to keep in mind here is that organizational tendency to expose kids early. From a fantasy standpoint, that usually equals some nasty outings from highly-touted rookies, but it also means other fantasy owners will sour on kids with a lot of upside, and that's why you should monitor the Tiger's top prospects as they mature. When they are ready, and most of them will be at some point, you want to be ready to capitalize while your competition ignores a guy they would have scooped up only a couple of years before.

Jason Hammel (COL) @ SF - Pitching at Coors Field for the Colorado Rockies has long been enough to make all but the stoutest of hearts shy away on draft day. While it's not the graveyard of pitchers it once was, its still one of the more dangerous places to miss with a pitch. Pitching successfully in Colorado can require a change in attitude, and admit it, your guy leaving Colorado is considered good news, and if one of your pitchers gets moved to the Rockies, its reason for concern. When Hammel was dealt from Tampa Bay in 2008, he hadn't been particularly successful, and few people really expected his performance to take a huge step up in his new home. However, he hasn't let the ballpark diminish his confidence, and he has become a serviceable fantasy option as he matures. That's important. He has the makeup to survive and he has made the adjustments necessary to keep his team in games. A four-pitch pitcher with a 91-94 fastball, a crisp slider, a respectable curve with nice down angle, and a change up, he has adequate tools. The key to his game, especially in home starts, is location.

Against the Giants (in San Francisco), he carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning and ended up allowing two hits and one run in seven innings -an excellent performance, but not typical. He allows too many fly balls and doesn't miss enough bats to expect many low hit games. In this one, he had a couple of deep fly balls die on the warning track and was a bit lucky on several other drives. He survived by avoiding the middle of the plate, and that will always be critical to his game. He relies heavily on the fastball and slider with only an occasional curve or change - although he did throw a few more curves later in the game. Because he doesn't vary his speed that much, he doesn't generate strikeouts, and he can be prone to hitter's timing his stuff the second or third time through the order. That makes him more effective as a 5-6 inning starter.

Hammel is certainly not the name you want at the top of your fantasy rotation. He typically allows too many hits while keeping his WHIP in line with fewer walks, and he is not going to be a high strikeout guy. Further, there are certainly times you will want to avoid his home starts (his ERA is over a run higher at home), so he is best suited to match up situations. However, in deeper leagues, NL-only leagues, and leagues with deep benches, he can be a valuable asset. If your team falls into one of those categories, consider him for a back of the rotation slot. He can generally avoid the disastrous starts some experience when toiling in Coors Field.

Some short takes:

Madison Bumgarner (SF) - He has pitched with exceptional consistency most of this season allowing three or fewer runs in his last nine starts. The Giants offense can shoulder most of the blame for his 2-7 record so fantasy owners can enjoy the peripherals and look forward to more wins as the season progresses.

Derek Holland (TEX) - Holland has quietly become a fantasy asset when he can be spotted in favorable match-ups. His last start resulted in his second career shutout and dropped his ERA to 4.36. His home ballpark is the only real downside to his long term upside so he could be a nice mid-season trade target.

Chris Carpenter (STL) - He's still not enjoying the best of luck but he does appear to be getting back to his usual form. With Albert Pujols heating up and the Cardinals in line to get healthy before too long, Carpenter could be poised to go on a run. If his owner is frustrated by his early season contribution, you might want to take a shot.

John Lackey (BOS) - He returned to the Boson rotation on Sunday and put in a good performance against Oakland. That said, given the competition (and the fact that the A's best run producer, Josh Willingham sat the game out) I wouldn't be too quick to rush him back into your fantasy lineup.

Tim Stauffer (SD) - Stauffer was a popular sleeper on draft day this year and many owners probably paid too much for his services. He will still throw an occasional good start in, especially at Petco, but the shine is wearing off. You need to do better.

Charlie Morton (PIT) - He continues to put up very respectable numbers with a 6-2 record and a 2.52 ERA, but I am still not convinced. An altered delivery has helped but he still walks too many and strikes out too few. Expect a significant regression.

Jake Peavy (CWS) - The good news is it's not an arm injury, but the bad news is Sunday's groin pull will likely put Peavy back on the DL. The guy just can't seem to stay healthy. This should not be a long term thing, but it probably delays a decision on who will remain in the rotation long term. Edwin Jackson or Phil Humber owners get a reprieve.

Dustin McGowan (TOR) - He hasn't pitched in the major leagues in a few years, but he sure had the world by the tail before all the injury problems. Reports have his velocity up to 95-96 and the Jays are hoping he can take a regular turn once his rehab is up. He is definitely worth taking a look at if he is even close to his pre-injury form.

Andrew Bailey (OAK) - Bailey blew his first save opportunity after returning from the disabled list but everything looked good. His velocity was what you would hope for and his delivery was free and easy. He may not go on back-to-back days just yet, but get him in there and watch the saves accumulate.

Joakim Soria (KC) - Recently removed from the closer's role after struggling the first couple of months of the season, Soria has turned in five clean innings over three appearances and now has the closer's job back.

Jonathon Papelbon (BOS) - Papelbon remains his own worst enemy. While he continues to convert saves, a couple of very ugly outings have inflated his ERA on the year. The volatile closer is still the guy, but he can lose focus so blowups are always going to be a possibility.

Kid's Corner ...

Jarrod Parker (ARZ) - Parker is right at the top of the Diamondbacks prospect list and he should be near the top of your "guys to watch" list as well. He missed all of 2010 following Tommy John surgery, but his velocity is back and his command is coming around as he continues to shake off the rust. He is still building stamina and it wouldn't be surprising to see him in Arizona sometime later this year.

For some of the most in-depth coverage of all things pitching in fantasy baseball for 2011, visit www.bogfella.com and be sure to follow @RotoWire and @bogfella on Twitter.

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