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Mound Musings: Pitchers to Target & Avoid

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.

As a writer, sometimes it's a challenge to come up with fresh and interesting topics each week. My hope is you find this week's topic interesting, as the creative juices admittedly were not flowing. Fortunately, there are always interesting stats to examine as you evaluate your pitching staffs and consider trade and waiver possibilities.

This week, we'll look at a handful of starters in terms of ERA and Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP) metric. We've defined xFIP here before, so you're probably familiar with it, but essentially it's a calculation based on strikeouts, walks and home-run rate that details what a pitcher's ERA should be based on factors he can control. Studies have found xFIP to be as good or better than any measurement in approximating future ERA, and that's what we're always looking to do, right? We know how well a pitcher has pitched to this point, but we don't necessarily know how he'll pitch going forward. Comparing ERA and xFIP will help us do that.

We'll split this list into Risks (ERA much lower than xFIP) and Potential Buying Opportunities (ERA much higher than xFIP) and provide some commentary. As of Tuesday's games, there were 36 pitchers that had an ERA at least a full 1.0 less than their xFIP, (Risks) and another 26 at least a full 1.0 higher than their xFIP (Potential Buying Opportunities). Here's all 62 with analysis.

RISKS

Ted Lilly, Dodgers (ERA: 1.38; xFIP: 4.69) -
The epitome of today's crafty lefty, Lilly has had success despite a 5.1 K/9IP rate. It helps that he's pitched against the Astros and Padres, but he also had success Tuesday in Coors Field. Expect similar results as last year (3.97 ERA).

Barry Zito, Giants (ERA: 1.67; xFIP: 4.65) -
Even Giants fans know where his ERA will start heading soon.

Johnny Cueto, Reds (ERA: 1.39; xFIP: 4.18) -
91-percent strand rate has helped, but 6.1 K/9IP is nothing special. I see his stuff as more No. 3 material on a contending team.

Joe Saunders, Diamondbacks (ERA: 0.90; xFIP: 3.59) -
Doesn't he pretty much always land on these lists? Obviously he's not this good, but this was still a great one-year signing.

Brandon Beachy, Braves (ERA: 1.38; xFIP: 3.79) -
Huge fan. He'll be great all year. His strikeout rate is down, 6.06), but there's no reason to believe it won't creep up closer to his near-10 career K/9IP rate as the season progresses.

Kyle Lohse, Cardinals (ERA: 1.62; xFIP: 4.01) -
Looking like he'll get another decent contract after this year. He's certainly helping a lot of NL-only leagues.

Derek Lowe, Indians (ERA: 2.27; xFIP: 4.58) -
56.5 GB% has been great as ever and he appears to be reborn in the AL, but this sort of success isn't sustainable by a pitcher with a 2.6 K/9IP.

Wei-Yin Chen, Orioles (ERA: 2.22; xFIP: 4.52) -
Allowing a lot of flyballs, and once that 5.6-percent HR/FB rate corrects itself, the ERA will climb quickly.

Jake Westbrook, Cardinals (ERA: 1.30; xFIP: 3.37) -
Even if Westbrook posts an ERA the rest of the way in line with his current xFIP, it's going to wind up as the best season of his career and one that no one saw coming. That said, expect him to get hurt soon.

Jake Peavy, White Sox (ERA: 1.67; xFIP: 3.71) -
Career looked like it was on life support, but while a .206 BABIP and 1.8-percent HR/FB rate won't last, he's still missing bats and showing elite-level control of his fastball.

Jeremy Hellickson, Rays (ERA: 2.51; xFIP: 4.49) -
Minor league 2.1 BB/9 says that 3.2 big league mark will get better.

Roy Halladay, Phillies (ERA: 1.95; xFIP: 3.84) -
Hard to argue with the ERA, but strikeouts are way down and walks are up. I still wouldn't mind owning him, but I'm not sure he's a top-five starter this year. Blasphemy?

Wandy Rodriguez, Astros (ERA: 1.72; xFIP: 3.57) -
ERA won't last, so expect another 200 innings with a 3.50 ERA.

Colby Lewis, Rangers (ERA: 1.93; xFIP: 3.73) -
Good enough to finish with a sub-3.00 ERA, as a 29:4 K:BB in 32.2 innings is very good.

Lance Lynn, Cardinals (ERA: 1.33; xFIP: 3.00) -
Lynn entered Wednesday with a 94.7 percent strand rate, meaning of his four runs allowed only one was not a home run. I'm pretty sure a near 100-percent strand rate is not sustainable. Wednesday he allowed two baserunners to score, dropping his strand rate to 86.9 percent. I'm pretty sure that rate is not sustainable, either, for a pitcher who posted a 72.7 rate last season.

Yu Darvish, Rangers (ERA: 2.18; xFIP: 3.76) -
4.6 BB/9IP for the year, but just 2.3 in his last two starts. At 4-0 already, he's a very early contender for the AL Cy Young and Rookie of the Year awards.

Stephen Strasburg, Nationals (ERA: 1.13; xFIP: 2.69) -
Awesome. 'nuff said. Also, I firmly expect the Nationals will find a way to have him pitch in September and potentially October. I can easily see them bumping him up to 180 innings while skipping a start here and there.

Madison Bumgarner, Giants (ERA: 2.53; xFIP: 4.05) -
4.8 K/9IP keeps xFIP relatively high, but the strikeouts have been more frequent in his last couple starts.

Kyle Drabek, Blue Jays (ERA: 2.40; xFIP: 3.85) -
I'm a huge fan of pitchers who were first-round picks and who have his sort of pedigree. He's now showing the results we knew he could.

Bronson Arroyo, Reds (ERA: 2.70; xFIP: 4.11) -
One of those who doesn't help or hurt (much) in deeper leagues. I own him in zero of my leagues.

Erik Bedard, Pirates (ERA: 2.48; xFIP: 3.85) -
With a 3.7 BB/9IP, control has been spotty, but did strike out nine Braves in five innings in his last start. Pirates crossing their fingers that he is healthy come July so they can get a prospect or two for him.

Jamie Moyer, Rockies (ERA: 3.14; xFIP: 4.50) -
I love that he's pitching still, but I will never own a 49-year-old whose fastball is only 20 mph faster than my own.

Bartolo Colon, Athletics (ERA: 2.53; xFIP: 3.88) -
Found the fountain of youth in the form of stem cells and has yet to flame out, so perhaps a sub-4.00 ERA is possible.

Matt Cain, Giants (ERA: 2.35; xFIP: 3.67) -
The good: 1.4 BB/9IP. The bad: .161 BABIP.

Blake Beavan, Mariners (ERA: 3.60; xFIP: 4.89) -
Any pitcher with a 4.3 K/9IP isn't going to cruise through a season without a mountain of bumps along the way, Beavan included.

Henderson Alvarez, Blue Jays (ERA: 3.62; xFIP: 4.90) -
He impressed me last year, but a starting pitcher with a 9:9 K:BB in 32.1 innings pitching in the AL East? Pass.

Neftali Feliz, Rangers (ERA: 3.81; xFIP: 5.08) -
It's been a bumpy conversion to the rotation, but he's learning on the job and I expect he'll be just fine.

Ricky Nolasco, Marlins (ERA: 2.76; xFIP: 3.96) -
Strikeout rate trending down, way down (K/9IP) for the third consecutive year. Has shown flashes, but it's time to consider him a solid No. 4 starter and nothing more.

Chris Capuano, Dodgers (ERA: 2.73; xFIP: 3.93) -
In Dodger Stadium, Capuano can get away with a 33-percent groundball rate and 3.9 BB/9IP. He won't finish with a sub-3.00 ERA, but something in the 3.75 range is doable with his talent.

Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals (ERA: 1.89; xFIP: 3.09) -
He's good enough to post a sub-3.00 ERA the rest of the way because he limits his walks (7.33 K:BB leads baseball) and doesn't give up the long ball(one in five starts).

Brandon Morrow, Blue Jays (ERA: 3.03; xFIP: 4.15) -
Morrow's 5.8 K/9IP is puzzling to say the least considering he posted marks of 11.0 and 10.2 the previous two years, but after fanning just 12 batters in his four starts, Morrow struck out nine last time out. He'll be fine.

Felix Hernandez, Mariners (ERA: 2.23; xFIP: 3.27) -
Six years of 30-plus starts. This guy is just a beast.

Cory Luebke, Padres (ERA: 2.61; xFIP: 3.65) -
Tough break with the injury, but he's still easily the team's best starter when healthy.

Vance Worley, Phillies (ERA: 1.97; xFIP: 3.01) -
Proving last year was not a fluke. Best No. 4-5 starter in baseball.

David Price, Rays (ERA: 2.67; xFIP: 3.70) -
Strikeouts way down at 6.8 K/9IP, but velocity is fine. He's still a Cy Young-caliber pitcher.

Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers (ERA: 1.78; xFIP: 2.78) -
Note that these numbers are pre-Wednesday when Jamey Wright helped Kershaw to five runs allowed. Don't really need to say much here. He's a top-three pitcher in the game.

POTENTIAL BUYING OPPORTUNITIES

Zack Greinke, Brewers (ERA: 3.94; xFIP: 2.94) -
He's going to get a huge contract this winter. It's likely the Dodgers are already preparing a trade offer should he become available in July.

Derek Holland, Rangers (ERA: 5.13; xFIP: 4.13) -
Maybe it's the mustache, but I've always had a bit of a man-crush on Holland. He's left-handed and sits generally in the 92-94 range, so he's no soft-tosser. Holland has had a couple rough starts recently that have inflated his ERA, but at worst, he should be a 4.00 ERA pitcher the rest of the way.

J.A. Happ, Astros (ERA: 4.60; xFIP: 3.55) -
9.5 K/9IP has to be a fluke, right? I don't think I've ever been comfortable owning this guy.

Jeff Samardzija, Cubs (ERA: 4.13; xFIP: 2.94) -
I really like what I've seen so far. Hard-thrower with pretty good control, 3.0 BB/9IP).

R.A. Dickey, Mets (ERA: 4.45; xFIP: 3.12) -
I try to avoid knuckleballers; if it's not knuckling on a particular day, the results can kill your week.

Mike Minor, Braves (ERA: 4.68; xFIP: 3.32) -
Strand rate of 56 percent will improve and so will his ERA. I like him quite a bit, probably even more than Julio Teheran and Randall Delgado.

Mat Latos, Reds (ERA: 5.97; xFIP: 4.55) -
For a pitcher with his stuff, a 5.7 K/9IP is shocking. Has been hurt by the long ball.

Bud Norris, Astros (ERA: 5.46; xFIP: 3.86) -
K/9IP characteristically high at 8.3. A very underrated NL-only option, particularly with the Astros offense not being as horrible as expected.

Randy Wolf, Brewers (ERA: 6.84; xFIP: 5.20) -
.369 BABIP explains part of it, but 50 base runners (H+BB) in just 26.1 innings is just crazy bad.

John Danks, White Sox (ERA: 6.23; xFIP: 4.51) -
Control has been spotty, and he's already allowed five home runs. Velocity is also way down (two full mph) over last year, so yes, I'm worried.

CC Sabathia, Yankees (ERA: 4.58; xFIP: 2.83) -
I'm pretty sure you aren't going to be able to buy low on CC Sabathia except perhaps in your home league where other owners don't have access to or interest in advanced metrics.

Felix Doubront, Red Sox (ERA: 5.19; xFIP: 3.35) -
It won't be too long before Daisuke Matsuzaka (elbow) is ready, so Doubront will need to stop allowing five runs in four innings to teams like the A's. With a 10.4 K/9IP, he should be far better than a 5-plus ERA.

Dillon Gee, Mets (ERA: 4.85; xFIP: 2.97) -
Just not a fan after last year's 1.6 K/BB.

Rick Porcello, Tigers (ERA: 5.64; xFIP: 3.67) -
Velocity up well over one mph over last year, but K/9IP still just 4.5. He'll have a long career, but don't expect a sudden ability to miss bats to materialize.

Josh Tomlin, Indians (ERA: 5.48; xFIP: 3.51) -
Greg Maddux comparisons are ridiculous, but I still like this control artist.

Ivan Nova, Yankees (ERA: 5.18; xFIP: 3.15) -
9.3 K/9IP and 1.9 BB/9IP in first four starts. He's been a rock for the Pinstripes.

Aaron Harang, Dodgers (ERA: 5.72; xFIP: 3.66) -
Harang has struck out an impressive 9.5 per nine innings, but walks and home runs have really hurt. Still, missing that many bats in that ballpark makes Harang worth noting in deep leagues.

Yovani Gallardo, Brewers (ERA: 6.08; xFIP: 3.80) -
A true ace, he'll turn things around with the help of great stuff and a .363 BABIP.

Tim Lincecum, Giants (ERA: 5.74; xFIP: 3.41) -
Results have been much better lately, but you're looking at a pitcher who's already past his prime. Still, a top-20 pitcher for now, but wasn't it just two years ago that he was the best, or at least top-3?

Chris Volstad, Cubs (ERA: 6.11; xFIP: 3.68) -
Solid command with a 2.3 BB/9IP, but it's really hard to endorse Chris Volstad ... so I won't.

Jhoulys Chacin, Rockies (ERA: 7.30; xFIP: 4.84) -
7.30 ERA gets him a Triple-A gig. He showed promise in 2010-2011, so don't dump him yet in deep keeper leagues. Maybe it's mechanical.

Josh Johnson, Marlins (ERA: 5.34; xFIP: 2.86) -
Strikeouts and velocity are both down, but .436 BABIP should help narrow the ERA/xFIP gap. Still, he's been far from impressive so far.

Luke Hochevar, Royals (ERA: 7.36; xFIP: 4.49) -
And here I thought he was poised for a career year. A .376 BABIP has hurt, but he's just been wholly unimpressive all year, culminating in his Tuesday start against the Tigers - 4 IP, 12 H, 9 ER. Let someone else own him in AL-only leagues.

Max Scherzer, Tigers (ERA: 7.77; xFIP: 4.44) -
Well now we have the requisite "he's stunk because he had a mechanical flaw" take, so there's that. Scherzer still has a 10.0 K/9IP, so we can't write him off. I, however, would ensure he's on your bench until this supposed flaw is fixed.

Clay Buchholz, Red Sox (ERA: 8.69; xFIP: 5.06) -
Big disparity, but I just feel from watching him that he's never going to be what we and the Red Sox hoped.

Adam Wainwright, Cardinals (ERA: 6.75; xFIP: 2.78) -
Sporting a 9.1 K/9IP and 2.0 BB/9IP, and I'm pretty sure that his 33-percent HR/FB rate will trend down. His velocity is down a bit over 2010, but I can see him gaining arm strength and improving his ERA as the season progresses.

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

Follow @vtadave on Twitter.

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