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Split Squad: A Look at Borderline Starters

Conan Hines

Conan Hines writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

Justin Green

Justin Green writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

For this week’s debate, Justin and I each chose two pitchers that entered the year as borderline starters but have provided strong early production. It’s always good to locate cheap starters, and these guys certainly fit the bill. However, will these pitchers be able to keep it up over the course of the season? We weigh in with our opinions below.


Kyle Lohse

Lohse has always had good stuff. Scott Boras scored him a four-year deal because of that stuff. After signing a one-year, $4.25 million flyer with the Cardinals in 2008, Lohse went on to post a 15-6 record and was rewarded with the four-year, $41 million contract. However, over the next two seasons he made only 40 starts and posted a combined 10-18 record.

In 2009, Lohse served up long balls at a higher rate than he had in previous years and finished with a 4.74 ERA, which was not far off from his 4.55 FIP. In 2010, the numbers weren’t as representative. With an increased walk rate that seemed to be related more to injuries than to depreciation in ability, Lohse was markedly more hittable and finished with a 6.55 ERA in just 92 innings. However, his .367 BABIP indicates he may was a bit unlucky. Lohse’s 4.42 FIP in 2010 reveals that he was essentially the same pitcher despite the decline in numbers.

This season, Lohse is out to prove that 2010 was a fluke - his last three starts were probably his best stretch since the 2008 season. Lohse relies on working ahead in the count and inducing groundballs. His groundball rate has consistently hovered around 45 percent the last four seasons, so there is no reason to expect a deviation from the norm. He is also throwing a first-pitch strike 72 percent of the time, which compared to his 2010 rate of 56 percent and his career rate of 60 percent, shows he is doing a good job getting ahead in the count. If he is able to maintain his current approach and stay healthy, there is no reason not to believe that Lohse could be the waiver-wire steal of the year.

The Counter: I’m not going to lie; I’ve looked at adding Lohse before. While researching this article, it came to me, “what was I thinking?” Besides the one outlier year of 2008 where Lohse won 15 games and had an ERA under four, Lohse has been not good. He hasn’t won over 10 games in any other season, and his highest strikeout total is 130, back when he threw 200 innings in 2003. He has had an ERA under four only once in 11 seasons. Put all that together and you get a pitcher who is unlikely to sustain long-term success.

Freddy Garcia

Garcia remains in pinstripes again this year, except now he’s pitching in the Bronx instead of Southside Chicago. Pitching in the AL East is not ideal for any pitcher, especially an aged hurler desperately trying to hang on. The good news is he doesn’t have to face the Yankees, and also has the Yankees’ offense backing him up. Now, I’m not saying Garcia will be the piece that wins you the title – he doesn’t have much upside – but I am saying he could add value and depth to a pitching staff in need of wins without disturbing the other categories.

In two starts so far, against Texas and Baltimore, Garcia has twice pitched six innings and only allowed two hits. He also sports an 8:3 K/BB ratio, suggesting he has challenged hitters and prevailed. The biggest mystery surrounding Garcia is his long-term ability to continue challenging hitters while keeping the ball in the yard. However, I don’t see this being a major concern. Garcia has had, and will continue to have, a reasonably short leash. If he goes out there with the expectation that his job is to get through six innings, I think we will see a competitor with enough left in the tank to keep the Yanks in a lot of games.

Garcia should also see some favorable matchups as the team’s fifth starter. This should take a lot of pressure off of him and allow him to pitch with a little more leeway than in years past. He is a smart pitcher who throws five pitches. He has a solid defense behind him (cue Derek Jeter jokes… now), and if he utilizes that, while refraining from low and inside pitches to lefties at home, I think Garcia will be able to help those in deep leagues.

The Counter: Garcia had some good years. The problem is those years were five years ago. He hasn’t pitched more than 160 innings since 2006 and has only thrown more than 60 innings once during that time. Couple that with his mere 86 strikeouts in 157 innings last year and you get a golden oldie that shouldn’t be on your team.


Jason Hammel

With Hammel, you know what you’re going to get: a consistent pitcher who by the end of the season will have a decent amount of strikeouts, around 10 wins, and at best an average ERA/WHIP. And that’s why those in deeper formats should add him to the team.

Hammel finished 57th in the league in strikeouts in 2010 and 52nd in 2009, but with Hammel you’re not paying for top-50 talent. He’s had 10 wins in both of the last two seasons and allowed more than five runs in a single game just twice over that span. He may have games where he allows just a couple runs, but he’ll usually give up between three and five.

If you can still get Hammel, he’s an easy grab in 14-team leagues. In 12-team leagues he is definitely borderline, but if you have a team light on flame-throwers, Hammel is a good option.

The Counter: If you’re looking for 10 wins, a 4.50 ERA and 1.40 WHIP, then by all means pickup Jason Hammel. And if you feel that you need Jason Hammel, although it’s not yet May, feel free to start building for 2012. Hammel is 28 years old, and even though his fastball can reach the mid-90s, he is only as good as his breaking pitches. Because of this, he’s susceptible to the long-ball and big innings. Playing in Colorado certainly doesn’t help. I think he can win more than he loses because of the loaded offense behind him, but I don’t think there’s much upside and would look elsewhere.

Kevin Correia

I don’t know how many times I have flagged Correia on my watch list over the last few seasons. When sorting through stats, he is always lingering in the top 15 of most categories. But I have never grabbed him. Why should you? Wins and strikeouts.

Correia won 10 games last year, despite tossing just 145 innings, and 12 in 2009. He has been between six and seven K/9 over his career, though he has had just two seasons over 120 IP. His career high in strikeouts came in 2009, when he threw the most innings of his career. That year he threw 198 innings and finished with 142 strikeouts. In his 145 innings in 2010, Correia had 115 strikeouts, not a bad total. He is a bit erratic, allowing five-plus runs seven times over the last two years, but when you are mingling with the borderline pitcher crowd, that’s what you get.

The Counter: Before last weekend, I would have opened this note with “SELL HIGH”. But after a thrashing by the Nationals, I’m going to revise and just ask readers to “SELL” Correia – and sell immediately. As a starter, Correia really has no track record to stand on. He’s 30 and relies on a fastball-slider combo on top of a repertoire of smoke and mirrors. He is essentially a middle reliever (because he tops out at 91mph) despite being in the rotation for the Buccos. This is an easier call than Hammel and Garcia because Correia won’t even reach 10 wins by the end of the season. He strikes out less than three hitters a game and is prone to the long ball. Enough said.