I don’t draft pitching early. It’s that simple. Name one starting pitcher who has lived up to your high expectations of him the last three years, not named Johan Santana. Can’t do it? Well maybe that should tell you something. Pitchers are unreliable! There are alot of external factors that dictate a pitcher’s performance, not to mention they are frequently injured. In this edition of Two Up, Two Down, I’ll throw out two names of guys who might bring some late (and very late) round value, and two pitchers that I expect to disappoint their owners, relative to how much they invested in them.
Ted Lilly – Cubs
He’s not going to light the world on fire, but Ted Lilly might provide some value relative to where you draft him. In the recent 2007 Cafeholics mock draft, I drafted Lilly in the 17th round of a 14-team league – who knows how much further he may have fallen? What is the biggest reason I think he is due to improve this season? Context. Moving from the heaviest hitting division in the league, to one that is much lighter, makes a huge difference. The drop off offensively from the AL East (an average of 803 runs scored per team in 2006), to the NL Central (734 runs per team) is quite extreme. Ask Josh Beckett, Carl Pavano, AJ Burnett, Kris Benson, or Randy Johnson how tough it is to move from the National League, to the AL East. For Lilly, pitching in the national league should translate into more K’s, fewer home runs, fewer hits, and a lower ERA (if he maintains current levels of performance); all due to the absence of the designated hitter, getting to face the pitcher each time through the order, and facing weaker lineups. He may even lower his high walk rate, but don’t bet on it. I’m predicting a guy with good strikeouts, 15-18 wins, with decent ratios. He might just be this year’s Bronson Arroyo.
Cladio Vargas – Brewers
Okay, so you are probably thinking that I have lost my mind. What in the world would anyone expect from Claudio Vargas? If I’m going to give you a sleeper-type pitcher, might as well be a deep one. Keeping in mind that the whole objective of this series is to find guys who will outperform their draft position, I think that Vargas can outperform where he will be drafted – well, he probably won’t be drafted, period. Vargas, for the mostpart, has always had fairly good strikeout rates coming up through the minors, and into the majors. His strikeout to walk ratio has improved the past three seasons in the majors. He is moving into a home environment that is slightly less susceptible to giving up the long-ball than his previous home, which helps, while also moving away from an outfield that consisted of Luis Gonzalez in left, Eric Byrnes in center, and Shawn Green in right – all of which you would consider to be average, to below average defenders (considerable for a flyball pitcher like Vargas). There are also very few pitching coaches with the track record that Mike Maddux possesses, and under his guidance, may be able to harness Claudio’s potential and improve his control. Vargas has shown flashes of brilliance at times while in the bigs, and this is as good a year as any for him to break out a good season (age, team, pitching coach, peripheral trends), and considering that you can take him with your last pick in an 18 team league, he may pay some dividends.
Andy Pettite – Yankees
The main reason I am so down on Pettite, is the same reason I am high on Lilly – the league switch. Ironically, Pettite is moving from the NL Central, to the NL East. This year, Pettite will be 35 and facing some of the heaviest hitting teams in the majors, along with some of the biggest right handed bats in the league. With the Yankees improved bullpen and juggernaut offense, they may be able to earn a few extra wins for the southpaw, however the hit that he will take in strikeouts, ERA and WHIP will hurt much more. Sure, he has pitched (and succeeded) in the AL East before, but this isn’t the 2003 AL East – all five teams in this division now, can flat-out rake. Many people will see his second half 2.80 ERA, and the fact that he is moving to a fantastic offense (and team), and draft him too high. Don’t fall into the same trap.
Bronson Arroyo – Reds
Ted Lilly could quite possibly be the 2006 version of Bronson Arroyo, however I don’t feel the 2007 version of Bronson Arroyo will be. For starters, it’s understandable that a 29 year old moving from the AL East, to the NL Central should see an increase in value and performance, but 2006 was amazing. So amazing, that I don’t see it happening again. There is only so much that an extreme flyball pitcher, who plays half of his games in Great American Ballpark, can get away with. The second year in the National League should now be a different picture for Arroyo, facing offenses that have seen him several times, scouting reports are now making the rounds more frequently, and on top of that, every team in the NL Central improved offensively over the offseason. The 240 innings that he threw in 2006 was also, by far, the largest workload that he has had to deal with – might this take a toll in 2007 given that he has never thrown any number of innings close to that in a single season? At the age of 30, one would have to assume so. The bottom line is that Arroyo is a solid pitcher, but I doubt he will put up the front-line-starter numbers that he produced last season. Draft accordingly.
There you have it – two guys to take a late chance on, and two guys to avoid in the first nine rounds of your draft. I wish you luck on the carousel that is your fantasy baseball pitching staff!
Ryan Thwaites is one of a growing number of fantasy experts who write for the Cafe. You can catch up with Ryan in the Cafe's forums where he posts under the name of RynMan.
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