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The Wheelhouse: 30/30 - Pitching

Derek VanRiper

Derek VanRiper

Derek is the Senior Baseball Editor for RotoWire.com, where he's been a two-time finalist for the FSWA's Baseball Writer of the Year award, and winner of the Best Football Article on the Web (2009) and Best Baseball Article on the Web (2010) awards. Derek also co-hosts RotoWire Fantasy Sports Today on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio (XM 87, Sirius 210) from 11a-2p ET on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

Fourth place.

In monetary terms, it's nothing more than the first loser in NFBC Main Event leagues.

The final deficit from finishing in the money was 6.5 points a margin that can be quickly accounted for by looking back at the draft board. Digging deeper, there could be a discovery that includes incorrect FAAB bids, valuable players that were missed entirely, or $1 players prioritized in the incorrect order.

Every decision matters. Each and every one of the $1,000 in the FAAB budget are crucial.

You might think that your early-round toss-ups are such that you "can't really go wrong either way," but one path will certainly prove to be more beneficial than the other. Well reasoned analysis isn't infallible - injuries and suspensions wreaked havoc on owners last season - but making a decision with little more than coin-flip logic or a whim will be far more regrettable than having a clear plan.

A certain level of indifference between Clayton Kershaw and Stephen Strasburg going into draft day last season proved to be very costly. Rest assured, that is a type of mistake that I will not make again.

I attribute part of the indifference to groupthink, but that is entirely my own fault and a function of laziness.

ADP reports are valuable tools when utilized properly, but seeing a cluster of players together (which was the case last season with Justin Verlander, Strasburg, and Kershaw spanning from 15.96-16.35) and assuming that there is little or nothing that separates those players in value simply because the masses lump them together is a huge mistake.

My goal for the upcoming season is to block out the noise. I will probably miss some blurry spring training photos and the usual snarky, hashtaggy goodness on Twitter, but I am convinced that being more focused and less susceptible to hearing too many voices will make me a better player.

We are just 233 days away from winning our league championships. For those drafting during the final weekend of March, whether it's for the NFBC Main Event, or a completely different league, there are 49 days left to prepare for our drafts.

Hopefully the next 12 minutes you spend reading this piece will be worth every second.

Among starting pitchers, only Yu Darvish has struck out a greater percentage of the batters he's faced (30.1%) than Max Scherzer (29.0%) over the past two seasons. Scherzer has issued fewer walks during that span, but the big difference between his 2012 season and the Cy Young award-winning effort a year ago came from a huge drop in hits allowed. A quick glance at the batted ball profile doesn't show any overwhelming shifts that explain the change, although his BABIP fell from .333 in 2012 to .259 last season.

There should not be a question focused on whether Scherzer will regress in that category, but instead a focus on how he might have controlled the quality of contact that hitters made against him, and if it's possible that he has changed his baseline in that particular metric. Jeff Sullivan of FanGraphs wrote a piece in late August breaking Scherzer down in further detail and visually illustrating the impact of Scherzer's curveball, a relatively new offering to his arsenal last season.

I highly recommend reading the piece in its entirety because it will help you begin to re-think fluctuations in BABIP. It might also lead you to wonder why there is currently a 10-pick difference in ADP between Darvish and Scherzer.

Yordano Ventura's path into the Kansas City rotation is very clear barring a last-minute decision to bring back Ervin Santana, or one of the other free-agent starting pitchers still floating around on the market. Ventura can touch triple digits with his fastball, but also brings a curveball and improving changeup. Last season between Double-A (57.2 IP) and Triple-A (77 IP), Ventura carried a 155:53 K:BB and allowed just seven homers in 134.2 combined innings before a three-start taste of the big leagues. Lee Warren of MinorLeagueBall.com was on hand for Ventura's debut at Omaha last season.

Late last season, I noted that Phil Hughes might still have value in the right environment. It doesn't get much better than Target Field in the American League, and his peripherals (19.6% K%, 6.0% BB%) over the past two seasons point to a nice rebound assuming park-driven improvement in his extremely high home-run rate (1.58 HR/9). As it currently lines up, he's not even included as one of the first 100 starting pitchers off the board in early NFBC drafts. A high 3.00's ERA and 1.25 WHIP are within his skill set, and ideal use in mixed formats might be streaming him for those home starts and other good spots in division including road starts at Kansas City and Cleveland.

Has any healthy player lost more value than Trevor Bauer in the past year? As it turns out, Bauer suffered a groin injury in 2012 which led him to make changes to his mechanics. According to Teddy Cahill of MLB.com, the injury prevented him from working on those changes last offseason, and it became a process of making those adjustments in games throughout the year working mostly at Triple-A Columbus. His limited chances with Cleveland were disastrous, and Bauer was passed over completely for a September callup when rosters expanded despite his possession of a 40-man roster spot. This offseason, Bauer has been healthy and able to make those changes to his delivery, and now heads into 2014 with completely different mechanics.

Nate Jones is filthy.



The Pirates are going to be in rough shape if A.J. Burnett ends up signing elsewhere, but perhaps it's good news for Jameson Taillon? For our purposes, Burnett earned $11 in 15-team mixers last season, returning the same value as C.J. Wilson. A move back to the American League would likely be a huge blow to his value in 2014.

I like Trevor Rosenthal, and I believe in the Cardinals' consistent ability to maximize and develop their talent. Even with that, I do not like him as a top-five closer, which has been the case in many NFBC drafts thus far. The elite strikeout rate is there (12.9 K/9, 34.7% K%) and he has good control (2.4 BB/9, 6.4% BB%), but he leans very heavily on his fastball, which despite plus-velocity has a tendency to flatten out at times and become susceptible to very hard contact (.341 BABIP). Nitpicking? Maybe, but the Cards' aforementioned talent means there are plenty of viable alternatives if he falters, and that depth may also include Jason Motte at some point in 2014 if his return from Tommy John surgery goes as planned. It's not that I don't like Rosenthal, it's just that there is too much helium here for my liking. I would much rather have David Robertson (10.5 K/9, 29.4% K% and 2.4 BB/9, 6.9% BB%) 50 picks later given the choice.

K-Rod, who is somehow only 32 years old, re-signed with the Brewers (one year, $3.25 million) on Friday. General manager Doug Melvin confirmed that Jim Henderson is still positioned to begin the year as the team's closer, but adjust your handcuff plans accordingly. Looking deeper, Brandon Kintzler could be the next in line during the second half if Melvin flips Rodriguez in a mid-summer trade again. Kintzler is essentially the Crew's version of Jim Johnson with his combination of control (1.9 BB/9) and extreme groundball tendencies (57.4% GB%).

Health is a major concern for Jason Hammel after two injury-plagued seasons in Baltimore, but the Cubs could end up with a movable asset (a la Scott Feldman) this summer if he's able to regain his 2012 form (8.6 K/9, 22.9% K%, 3.2 BB/9, 8.5% BB%). A move back into the National League, and this time without the detriment of making home starts at Coors Field certainly don't hurt Hammels' chances of a rebound.

With an NFBC ADP of 188.68, it's difficult to pass on Johnny Cueto. Then you read Jeff Stotts' write-up about him from the RotoWire Fantasy Baseball Guide and it feels like throwing that dart elsewhere is a better idea.

Interestingly enough, Jeff suggested that Cueto's ADP neighbor, Clay Buchholz (193.87), is worth the risk.

Yahoo's Mike Salfino has a well-reasoned projection for Masahiro Tanaka that makes his current position (ADP 128.02, 31th SP off the board) seem like one that will afford plenty of room for profit despite his home park. It shouldn't ever play out this way, but how much will Tanaka's stock soar if he turns in a handful of dominant outings in the Grapefruit League this spring?

I really wanted to see the Rays turn Heath Bell into an elite closer again, but that will now hinge on the health of Grant Balfour. For some reason, I am not overwhelmingly concerned about the "issues" the Orioles found in Balfour's arm that led them to back out of a deal earlier this offseason.

As for the Orioles, Tommy Hunter is the frontrunner to close for now, but they might be wise to consider Brian Matusz for the occasional spot save when the opposition has a pair of quality left-handed bats due up in the ninth inning. Last season, lefties hit .294/.322/.535 against Hunter with 11 homers in a combined 177 plate appearances.

The Blue Jays' rotation still looks like a dumpster fire, but at least Brandon Morrow's arm feels good. Currently outside the Top 350 overall, he's never been available at a lower price after logging just 179 innings over the last two seasons combined.

We have seen plenty of cautionary tales regarding setbacks with Tommy John surgery (Cory Luebke and Dan Hudson, among others), but assuming Matt Harvey is back in the mix for the start of 2015, the Mets could have a dominant trio atop their rotation with Zack Wheeler and Noah Syndergaard behind him. Mets general manager Sandy Alderson does not get enough credit for the rebuilding job he's done, and the NL East is arguably the weakest division in baseball at the present time which should help the Mets compete a year from now.

I prefer Julio Teheran to the Braves' other starters for 2014 and beyond. His last 10 starts in 2013: 2.77 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 67:20 K:BB. There are elite skills here, without an elite price tag.

Whether it's the drop in strikeout rate (9.2 K/9, 24.7% K% in 2012 to 6.9 K/9, 18.4% in 2013), the injury history, or some combination of both, I have found that Rafael Soriano isn't being downgraded the same way that Phillies closer Jonathan Papelbon has been discounted in early drafts. To make matters worse, Drew Storen is still in the mix, although it may be fair to say that I am higher on Storen than the Nats are.

The Marlins care a lot less about service time than most teams, which seems very counter-intuitive, but nevertheless it's their approach. Tom Koehler and Angel Sanchez won't block Andrew Heaney from getting into the Miami rotation, so consider him a part of it as soon as the Marlins feel he's ready. The tools include a good fastball (low-to-mid 90s), plus-slider and good control, and he will pitch half of his games in one of the most pitcher-friendly venues in the game.

Sight unseen, we are left to trust the eyes of a major league team's scouting department and front office with players that sign from overseas. Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez is a highly unusual case since he hasn't pitched in an organized league since 2011 and he's had bone spurs removed from his pitching elbow since that time. On top of that, he signed for six years and $48 million initially, before concerns about his health dropped the contract to three years and $12 million when he signed with Philadelphia last summer. If those red flags aren't enough to scare you off, doesn't the fact that the Phillies signed him make you think twice about his chances of being an immediate success?

Only four pitchers earned more in 5x5 value than Hisashi Iwakuma last season. Yet, 16 starting pitchers and five relievers are ahead of him in ADP. The four pitchers: Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Adam Wainwright, and Cliff Lee (Yu Darvish matched Iwakuma's 2013 value).

One of the more intriguing job battles of the spring will take place in Surprise, Arizona. Will the Rangers lean on Neftali Feliz or Joakim Soria to close out games this season? Both have the potential to rank among the league's elite relievers, but there's no consensus regarding a favorite just days before spring training begins.

Mark Appel had an appendectomy recently, which may slow his progress through spring training. The most challenging aspect of gauging the value of the Astros' young players is determining when the front office will be comfortable starting each player's respective arbitration clock. Appel made 10 starts in the minors last season after signing with the Astros, finishing with eight starts in the Midwest League (Low-A) and carrying a 27:9 K:BB over 33 innings with Quad Cities. If the Astros select Carlos Rodon No. 1 overall in June, the front of their rotation could have a very strong 1-2 punch in the not-so-distant future.

Tyler Skaggs is only 22, and he's already made 13 starts in the big leagues. The results haven't been great, but considering that he's been a strikeout per inning starter at each level and that he's a young lefty with control, it's very difficult to envision a scenario where he fails to secure a spot in the Angels' rotation this spring. Anaheim is a much easier place to pitch than Arizona, and his numbers at Triple-A Reno over the past two seasons (at age 20 and 21) need to be viewed in the appropriate context as his home starts were made in one of the most extreme hitter-friendly venues in all of professional baseball.

In roto dollars, which A's starter returns the most value in 2014? Dan Straily v. Jarrod Parker is an ADP toss-up (I prefer Straily), and Oakland aggressively pursued Scott Kazmir in free agency following a season where he stayed relatively healthy and posted the best walk rate of his career. Sonny Gray is being targeted the earliest of the bunch by a wide margin, but should he be? Fire away with your preferred A's starter in the comments below.

What if Matt Cain is really just Jake Peavy pitching in a much more favorable home park?

(Addition from the author: Check out their numbers from the last two seasons in many key metrics.)

If you are projecting the distribution of saves in the Colorado bullpen, what does it look like? Recall, this time last year, Kenley Jansen wasn't written in as the Dodgers' closer (remember Brandon League?). Rex Brothers doesn't have Jansen's control, but he can be completely unhittable at times and possesses the best skills in the Colorado bullpen.

Andrew Cashner is going to be a very popular mid-round target in drafts this spring. Don't be surprised if he moves up as much as 40-50 spots from his current ADP (157.87) before the Main Event.

If you recall the dialogue about Hyun-Jin Ryu this time last year, there were plenty of well-respected scouting types questioning his chances of sticking as a starter in the big leagues. Even when Ryu pitched well to begin the season, there were concerns about his conditioning and how he might hold up over the course of a full MLB season. Rather quietly, Ryu finished last season with a 2.45 ERA and 0.98 WHIP along with a 54:7 K:BB over his final 10 starts (66 innings).

The addition of Bronson Arroyo temporarily pushes Archie Bradley and Randall Delgado to Triple-A Reno to begin the season. Given the durability issues that Brandon McCarthy has experienced throughout his career, being the No. 6 starter on that depth chart should afford at least a few weeks in the rotation at some point. Keep in mind, however, that Bradley is the type of elite talent capable of dominating big league hitters immediately upon arrival, and he won't necessarily lose his spot even if an injury paves the way for his first big league start in the first half of 2014.