Yeah it's Super Bowl weekend, but I still can't get my mind off the fact pitchers and catcher report in TWO WEEKS. As a Dodgers fan, it's safe to say that every veteran off the street will be gunning for a spot in what is looking to be a wide open starting rotation.
Last week I took a look at a handful of hitters that I felt could be either overvalued or undervalued in 2009. This week: the pitchers.
First off, I must say I must part with my colleagues that put together the draft kit and bump Tim Lincecum from #6 to #1B behind Johan Santana. Remember all the talk that Francisco Rodriguez's frame and delivery would lead to an injury? Lincecum will continue K-Rod's legacy in that regard.
Anyhow, the "undervalued":
Rich Harden (CHC) – Call me crazy, but the shoulder concerns are going to (justifiably) bump Harden's value down significantly this spring. That said, why bother drafting guys like Hiroki Kuroda in 12-team mixed leagues? Grab Harden, use him until he's hurt, and hit the waiver wire. I'd put the over/under on Harden's innings at 100, but those could be 100 innings with a 3.25 ERA.
Erik Bedard (SEA) – Even though the shoulder appears sound, Bedard will still come with a significant draft-day discount. Bedard, a free agent-to-be, struck out 221 men in 2007. Don't forget that.
Yovanni Gallardo (MIL) – Expert leaguers won't be able to get him at a discount, but Gallardo's ACL injury could have him flying under the radar in some formats. Gallardo has ace potential and this will be the last year he'll come cheap.
Aaron Harang (CIN) – A strong April, shades of Josh Fogg for four months, and a 3.07 ERA in September. Blame a good portion of Harang's struggles on bad luck and misuse (thanks Dusty). Look for his GB|PERCENT| to rise from last year's 34.1|PERCENT| to a more-normal 40|PERCENT|, and combined with better luck on flyballs (13.9|PERCENT| HR/F is higher than league average – 12|PERCENT|), Harang should be able to cut those 35 homers allowed by 20|PERCENT|.
Jon Lester (BOS) – The relative lack of strikeouts keeps Lester out of the upper tier of fantasy starters, but as we saw in the playoffs (26 strikeouts in 26.2 innings), there's plenty of room for growth. Great bullpen, strong-as-always offensive support, and an above-average defense and Lester could be a top-15 starter as early as this year.
…and the "overvalued"
Scott Baker (MIN) – Now, I'm a Baker fan and own him in the Rotowire staff league, but I'm not quite ready to anoint him a top-15 fantasy starter. He's excellent and consistent, but dominant? Hardly. The strikeout rate increased from 6.4 K/9 to 7.4 last year (nice), but it's still tough to see Baker jumping into the 180 strikeouts range. A No. 2 or 3 starter in mixed leagues? Sure, but not quite ace material.
Ricky Nolasco (FLA) – 15 wins, 3.52 ERA, and 186 strikeouts. I'm always a bit wary of such out-of-nowhere performances, and while Nolasco had a decent record as a prospect, expecting a repeat is a stretch. Factor in the losses of Joe Nelson and Kevin Gregg combined with a still-mediocre offense, and Nolasco likely disappoints.
Edinson Volquez (CIN) – Despite what some members of the BBWAA thought last year, Volquez's 2008 season wasn't his rookie year. That said, his first full year was a huge success – 17-6, 3.21 ERA, 206 strikeouts. Volquez though faded down the stretch, posting a 4.60 ERA and posting a shade over a 2:1 K:BB after the All-Star break. He's better than that, but some regression in his final 2008 numbers seems likely this year.
Daisuke Matsuzaka (BOS) – Chances are, someone in your league will bid based on 18-3, 2.90, but don't let it be you. Dice-K's 94 walks led the AL while a .267 BABIP and a likely-unsustainable 7.5|PERCENT| HR/F rate. Expect the ERA to rise, perhaps significantly.
Ryan Dempster (CHC) – Breakout season to be sure, but I still can't get Dempster's last stint as a starter out of my mind (20 starts, 6.54 ERA for the Reds in 2003). He's not that bad, but how often have we actually seen guys on the wrong side of 30 repeat after signing huge contract extensions. Don't read too much in to one start, but remember the seven walks against the Dodgers in the Divisional Series? We may be seeing a little more of that in 2009.