RotoWire Partners

Mound Musings: 2012 Breakout Candidates

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.

While watching Matt Kemp hit his 39th home run, I'm finishing my final Mound Musings column for the 2011 season ...

As usual, it's been quite a year. As I type this, it's the final day of the regular season (or is it?), and two epic collapses by the Braves and Red Sox have brought us to an exciting conclusion. By the way, Jose Reyes is a coward and come 2014 or so, some team will regret the contract it gives him this offseason. Sure, Terry Collins pulled Reyes from the game, but do you think Ted Williams would have let his manager do that? Reyes easily could have tried to convince Collins to leave him in the game.

Before we get to some pitchers to look at for next year, here are my choices for the major awards:

NL MVP

1.Matt Kemp, LAD
2.Ryan Braun, MIL
3.Justin Upton, ARI

How many no-shows would there have been at Dodger Stadium without Matt Kemp in the lineup every day? Kemp made a valiant run toward the first Triple Crown since Yaz, but even though he fell short, he's my choice. Braun will get votes and this should be close, but Kemp's overall numbers are slightly better and he plays a premium defensive position. Plus, he did all this while wondering whether his paycheck would bounce.

AL MVP

1.Jacoby Ellsbury, BOS
2.Jose Bautista, TOR
3.Curtis Granderson, NYY

30/30 and a .376 OBP makes Ellsbury an easy choice for me given his elite defense in center field. Any of these three guys could find himself the winner.

NL Cy Young

1.Clayton Kershaw, LAD
2.Roy Halladay, PHI
3.Cliff Lee, PHI

Pitching Triple Crown = Cy Young. ‘nuff said.

AL Cy Young

1.Justin Verlander, DET
2.CC Sabathia, NYY
3.Jered Weaver, LAA

See NL Cy Young comment.

NL Rookie of the Year

1.Freddie Freeman, ATL
2.Craig Kimbrel, ATL
3.Danny Espinosa, WAS

Braves continue cranking out the top young talent. It's close, but Freeman finished with a .794 OPS and considering he played in 157 games, I just think that's far more valuable than an elite reliever. I'd be fine with either of the top two guys on this list winning the trophy.

AL Rookie of the Year

1.Jeremy Hellickson, TB
2.Michael Pineda, SEA
3.Dustin Ackley, SEA

A 5.6 K/9 and 3.4 BB/9 are numbers that are only going to improve for Hellickson, but finishing with a sub-3.00 ERA in the AL East gets him the nod in my book. Pineda faded down the stretch, while Ackley played in just 90 games.

2012 BREAKOUT PERFORMANERS

One potential breakout pitcher for each team.

Jarrod Parker, ARI -
He impressed with his first big league start against the Dodgers. Parker was routinely hitting 94-95 mph on the radar gun and had the composure of a pitcher who has been around a while. I think he's the team's No. 5 starter come Opening Day.

Julio Teheran, ATL -
Jair Jurrjens and Derek Lowe likely won't both be in an Atlanta uniform next year, opening a spot for either (both?) Teheran or Randall Delgado. Teheran has a huge ceiling, reaching the big leagues at the tender age of 20. He'll have to have a huge spring to win a job come Opening Day, but he has the talent to do so.

Pedro Strop, BAL -
It's hard to imagine Kevin Gregg as the team's closer next year, and with Jim Johnson possibly converting to the rotation, Strop is a top in-house closer candidate. Strop has a 21:10 K:BB in 21 big league innings this year, averaging 94.4 mph with his fastball.

Boston -
Just can't identify a guy here ... Andrew Miller?

Andrew Cashner, CHC -
I wouldn't spend more than an end-game buck on him, but Cashner's stuff has been pretty impressive since his return from a shoulder injury. He hit 99 mph, averaging north of 95 mph with his fastball. Cashner's results haven't matched his stuff the last couple years, but those are the types to target with late picks.

Addison Reed, CHW -
Reed has posted a 12:1 K:BB in 7.1 innings while averaging 95 mph with his fastball since being promoted from Triple-A Charlotte earlier this month. Reed also had a 12.8 K/9 in the minors this year, and despite being just 22, he could be in line to close at some point next season. Sergio Santos should be in line to enter the offseason as the favorite to close next year, but Santos' 9.72 ERA this month isn't exactly inspiring.

Homer Bailey, CIN -
He's appeared on these types of lists for at least a couple years, but I still like him as a breakout candidate. Pre-2011 BB/9: 4.1. This year: 2.3.

Vinnie Pestano, CLE -
Chris Perez's salary could hit $5 million next year, and he's regressed. If the Indians want to allocate that money elsewhere, Pestano could get a chance to close.

Drew Pomeranz, COL -
The guy had an appendectomy what, five minutes ago? No, I'm not worried about that last start. He will build on this season, get stronger this winter and should be the team's best starter next year.

Jacob Turner, DET -
This kid showed a ton of poise in his big league debut against the Angels. Don't worry about the 8.53 ERA, as he went THREE weeks between start No. 2 and start No. 3. He's also shown an ability to do something Rick Porcello has yet to do - miss bats.

Ricky Nolasco, FLA -
xFIP is often used as a tool to determine who is outperforming or underperforming his peripherals (BB/9, K/9, HR/FB rate, etc.). Generally, if a pitcher has an xFIP far less (say 1.00 less) than his actual ERA, then improved performance can be expected. The inverse would apply as well should xFIP be significantly greater than ERA. How then to explain Nolasco?

YearK/9BB/9ERAxFIP
20099.5 2.1 5.06 3.23
20108.4 1.9 4.51 3.37
20116.5 1.9 4.67 3.56


Pretty startling to see the spread consistently that large. When I evaluate pitchers, the first two numbers I look at are not wins and ERA, but strikeouts and walks. Those numbers tell me that Nolasco should not be posting ERAs in the 4.50-5.00 range consistently, but he clearly is. I'll probably dig into Nolasco more in a future article, but there really is no obvious reason for his underperformance. As a Nolasco owner myself, I know he's prone to the occasional ugly game (three games of 8-plus earned runs this year, one in 2010 and three in 2009), so perhaps he just loses focus (big-time) occasionally. As an example, Nolasco had a four-start stretch in late-June/early-July in which he posted a 0.56 ERA. The next start - nine runs. Overall, while the declining K rate is somewhat troubling, I still think consistency is a skill that can be learned. Maybe it can't be learned by Nolasco, but he'll likely be undervalued enough to make that a risk worth taking.

Wilton Lopez, HOU -
Not a whole lot of breakout candidates in this dismal system. I suppose Jordan Lyles could be one, but his ceiling is limited. Therefore, let's go with the pitcher next in line behind closer Mark Melancon, a guy with some upside, but very little track record of success.

Greg Holland, KC -
I think the Royals will shop Joakim Soria this winter, with Holland as his most likely successor. He brought a minor league career 9.6 K/9 into 2011, and after a Triple-A cameo to start the year, Holland has been fantastic for the Royals - 1.80 ERA, 74:19 K:BB in 60 innings. His fastball sits easily in the mid-90s, and given the opportunity, he has top-10 closer potential.

LA Angels -
Not seeing a breakout season from Tyler Chatwood or Garrett Richards, so this one is tough. I've got nothing here folks - maybe Jerome Williams?

Kenley Jansen, LAD -
Jansen has already “broken out,” but next season could be the year he becomes a fantasy superstar. In 53 innings, Jansen recorded a whopping 96 strikeouts (16.2 K/9), and it gets even better when you look at his September numbers - 13 innings, 32:3 K:BB. Yes, that's a 22.2 K/9. Other-worldly. Jansen will have to beat out incumbent closer Javy Guerra for saves next year, but those numbers suggest he will.

Wily Peralta, MIL -
The Brewers rotation looks set for 2012, but someone is going to get hurt, and Peralta is the top candidate to step in. In five Triple-A starts this year, Peralta has a 2.03 ERA and 40:11 K:BB. He could even supplant a healthy Chris Narveson next year.

Liam Hendriks, MIN -
Love Aussies. Hendriks has a 6.17 ERA in four big-league starts, but he had a 111:21 K:BB in the minors this year. He won't be a frontline starter, but as a solid endgame pick, you could do far worse.

Matt Harvey, NYM -
Harvey has just 12 starts above A-ball, but how hard could it be to win a job with the Mets? Seriously, though, Harvey has a mid-90s fastball and was the seventh pick in the draft, so it wouldn't be a huge surprise to see him log significant big-league time next year.

Dellin Betances, NYY -
Manny Banuelos has more upside, but Betances reached the big leagues first. Betances struggled with his control a bit this year, but he's 6-foot-8 and looks like Michael Pineda out there, intimidating with a fastball that reaches the mid-90s. The Yankees will certainly look at starters like C.J. Wilson in free agency, but Betances could compete for a rotation job out of spring training.

Brandon McCarthy, OAK -
McCarthy had a knee injury this year, but he remained healthy enough to make a career-high 25 starts, posting a 3.22 ERA and 123:25 K:BB in 170.2 innings. McCarthy also had a pair of double-digit strikeout efforts in his last six starts. He saw his velocity tick up two full mph over his 2009 season, and if he can remain healthy for a full year in 2012, a great season could be in store.

Phillippe Aumont, PHI -
Sort of hard to find a “breakout” starter on this team, so let's go with the Canadian giant. Aumont has thrived in a relief role this year, posting a 13.1 K/9 in 53.2 minor league innings. Aumont missed a month this year with a sore shoulder, but if he impresses this spring, a bullpen spot is his for the taking.

Bryan Morris, PIT -
Digging a bit deep here, but after being converted to a bullpen role, Morris posted a 2.05 ERA in 29 innings for Double-A Altoona. Morris likely will get a chance to win a bullpen job this spring. Joel Hanrahan likely will be back as the closer, but Morris could work his way into a late-inning role eventually.

Robbie Erlin, SD -
Erlin has reportedly impressed Padres brass with his skills and demeanor despite not being old enough to legally order a beer until next month. Erlin's minor league numbers this year are unreal - 9.4 K/9 and 1.0 BB/9. He'll get a spring training invite, and considering that the Padres rotation isn't exactly on par with that of the Phillies, he could see significant big-league time next year.

Eric Surkamp, SF -
As far as I'm concerned, the No. 5 starter job in San Francisco is up in the air next year, with Barry Zito, Jonathan Sanchez and Surkamp the candidates to fill the slot. I can't imagine both Zito and Sanchez returning next year, so it's really Surkamp versus one of the two. Surkamp had a 10.7 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9 in nearly 400 minor league innings, and I'll take that upside over a pair of shaky left-handers.

Charlie Furbush, SEA -
Furbush has been brutal for the Mariners, but this is still a pitcher who fanned 183 last year. The home-run ball has killed him this year, but I have to think he'll improve in that area, particularly given his home park.

Eduardo Sanchez, STL -
Due to payroll concerns elsewhere (first base, for example) , don't expect a big-name closer to be brought in. That would seemingly leave the closer job up for grabs between Jason Motte, Fernando Salas and Sanchez. Motte has had two good outings in a row after some struggles this month, so he seems likely to enter camp as the favorite for saves. Salas, though, has been excellent (9.0 K/9, 2.5 BB/9). Then there's Sanchez, a guy who seemed to be on his way to being the closer-of-the-future in May before blowing a couple saves, losing the job to Salas, and then missing three months with a shoulder injury. Sanchez, though, looked excellent in his return on Tuesday and could be in the mix next year with a big spring.

Matt Moore, TB -
If you don't know about Matt Moore, then we at RotoWire haven't been doing our job. It's not a huge stretch to think that by sometime in 2012, Moore could be the most productive Rays fantasy starter.

Texas -
Not a lot of candidates here. I'm not convinced that Neftali Feliz is destined for the rotation, but if C.J. Wilson signs elsewhere this winter, it will be seriously considered. That would make Mike Adams the closer and Koji Uehara the eighth-inning guy barring other free-agent signings.

Dustin McGowan, TOR -
After basically not pitching for three years due to arm injuries, McGowan is back and averaging north of 93 mph with his fastball. His control hasn't been sharp, but McGowan has managed 20 strikeouts in 21 innings. After an offseason of rest and conditioning, what will we see next year? I'm not 100 percent sure, but I'd invest a little to find out.

Brad Peacock, WAS -
Peacock has allowed just one run in 12 big-league innings, though a 4:6 K:BB is far from inspiring. What IS inspiring is Peacock's excellent command and 10.8 minor league K/9 (2011). I'd look for Peacock to break camp in the team's five-man rotation.

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

Follow @vtadave on Twitter.