Welcome to the starting pitchers edition of the 2 Up 2 Down series here at the fantasy baseball cafe. In this article I’ll be discussing two starting pitchers I see exceeding expectations at their draft slot, and two I see disappointing fantasy owners who select them. Starting pitching is a volatile position, with, in my opinion, a lot of gems to be had in mid to late rounds. According to rookies and cream’s latest MDP report both, “up,” pitchers are being selected sometime after pick 125. That means both starters can essentially be had after ten rounds are complete in standard ten-team leagues. When looking at the MDP’s of the two, “down,” pitchers you’ll see one is being selected in the same vicinity of the, “up,” starters and the other is cracking the top-50 in spite of some scary underlying statistics.
Brett Anderson – Oakland Athletics
Many fantasy gamers are at least slightly aware of Anderson’s strong rookie season, but most aren’t aware of just how good he was down the stretch. According to fangraphs splits on Brett Anderson’s player page his xFIP for March/April was 4.62 and for May was 4.83. Quite the putrid start to his Major League career, all of which makes his 3.61 season xFIP the more impressive. The reason Anderson was able to post a tidy 3.61 xFIP was because his xFIP by month in June, July, August and September/October were as follows: 3.61, 3.28, 3.63, and 2.11. Brett Anderson’s LIPS last season was 3.61 for the season, and explanation of David Gassko’s LIPS can be found here.
What impresses me the most about Anderson is his sweet ground ball (GB%) tendencies (52.9 GB% rate for the season). Mix in his stellar walk-rate (BB/9) of 2.31 for the season and his solid strikeout-rate (K/9) of 7.70 for the season and you’ve got a promising young starter. What has me salivating over Anderson’s prospects for this season (and following seasons) is his K/9 by month from June through October. After posting K/9’s of 5.40 in March/April, 4.88 in May he never posted a K/9 of less than 7.91 in any other month. Anderson’s K/9 for June, July, August, September/October were as follows: 8.33, 8.82, 7.91, and 9.73.
Anderson’s current MDP has him being drafted at the tail end of the 11th round in standard 12-team leagues. While not necessarily a steal at that point, he is a guy who’s production is likely to exceed that projection. There is some concern around Anderson’s innings jump last year, but considering his strong finish, I think the concern will simply keep Anderson’s draft slot at a value. While Anderson is a ground ball machine, it is still promising to see the A’s add Coco Crisp to an already superb outfield, meaning his rare flyballs that stay in the yard should be gobbled up. Assuming Anderson’s innings pitched take a step forward from 175.1 to say 190 this season, I see no reason not to expect him to post 170+ strikeouts. With Anderson’s strong walk rate and ground ball tendencies, I see no reason Anderson can’t post an ERA in the 3.50-3.75 with a WHIP in the 1.25-1.30 area. Anderson will almost certainly be finding his way on to many of my rosters for the 2010 season.
Gavin Floyd – Chicago White Sox
To the untrained eye one would think Gavin Floyd took a step back from his, “breakout,” 2008 campaign. Taking a look under the hood though, one can see Gavin Floyd was quite lucky in 2008 and rather unlucky in 2009. Floyd’s K/9, BB/9 and GB% all took steps forward from 2008 to 2009. In 2008 Floyd produced a K/9 of 6.20, a BB/9 of 3.05, and a GB% of 41.2 while in 2009 those numbers improved to 7.60, 2.75, and 44.3% respectively.
Like Anderson, though not to the same extreme, Floyd actually finished the season stronger than he started it. From June to the end of the season Floyd didn’t post a BB/9 higher than 2.36, a phenomenal rate, and never posted a xFIP higher than 3.59 in the same time frame. LIPS didn’t like Floyd’s 2009 season as much as xFIP did (4.23 compared to 3.69), however both numbers are rather stellar, though not spectacular in the case of LIPS.
Considering Floyd’s steps forward from 2008 to 2009, I think it’s possible the 27-year-old starter has a little more left in the tank in terms of improvement. A little more luck in 2010 along with some further improvements and Floyd should have a shot at posting a sub 4.00 ERA along with a WHIP in the 1.20-1.25 ballpark and perhaps upwards of 170-180 K’s if he’s able to top 200 innings pitched. A total package in that range would make Floyd a steal at his current MDP which has him being selected after pick 180.
Edwin Jackson – Arizona Diamondbacks
Many will view Edwin Jackson as a steal at his current MDP of 155 when taking into consideration his prior prospect status, his seeming “breakout,” and his move from the American League to the National League. I’m not buying into Jackson at his current MDP, or even an MDP 50 or more selections later. Jackson’s K/9 and BB/9 took significant steps forward in 2009, so what isn’t there to like considering a likely further step forward in K/9 in 2010 given his move to the easier league?
Well, for starters Jackson’s ERA was significantly better every month of the season than his xFIP with a gap as large as 2.25 in March/April. For the season, Jackson’s ERA was 3.62 which stood in stark contrast to his xFIP 4.39 and LIPS 4.25. Without looking at his ERA and xFIP gap it would be easy to chalk up Jackon’s poor second-half numbers to him wearing down, which may be partly to blame for his ERA exploding, but looking at his month by month splits it is more likely that his ERA regressed to his true pitching level. My second reason for being down on Jackson is his inability to induce ground balls the last two seasons (both years his GB% were below 40%).
While Jackson is a former blue-chip prospect, and does have nice stuff, namely a blazing fastball with an average velocity of 94.5 MPH last year and a devastating slider, it’s simply not enough to justify being drafted like a number three starter in 12-team leagues. Even with the move to the National League I’d expect Jackson’s ERA to check in over 4.50 at season’s end with a mediocre to bad WHIP. Given Jackson’s pedestrian 6.77 K/9 last season there just isn’t enough to like in order for me to draft him, and nor should you.
Johan Santana – New York Mets
No, I have not lost my mind, and my being down on Santana is not a matter of preferring not to draft an elite starter early. There are many reasons I believe Johan Santana will disappoint owners who select him as their staff ace a pay an elite starter’s price for him. Like with every other starting pitcher the first three stats I look at are GB% (never a strong suit of Santana’s), BB/9 and K/9.
Since 2005 Johan Santana has seen his impeccable control, BB/9 of 1.75, slide a bit to it’s current mark of 2.48 this previous season. His 2009 BB/9 was still tremendous, but it is still important to note when taken into context and paired with his alarming K/9 slide. Prior to the 2008 season fantasy owners were likely wondering just how many hitters Santana would strike out given his already elite 9.66 K/9 season in 2007 and his move to the easier league. Unfortunately for Santana and his owners, his K/9 instead slipped to 7.91, and in 2009 his K/9 dropped further to 7.88.
As I alluded to earlier, Santana’s GB% has always left something to be desired, but never been a real concern due to his otherworldly BB/9 and K/9 numbers. As more balls are put in play, his lack of inducing GB’s will likely further deteriorate Santana’s grip on elite starting pitcher status. As everyone knows, flyballs lead to home runs, what some may not have considered, however, is non-homerun flyballs don’t necessarily mean outs with an outfield that won’t feature Beltran to begin the season and will feature Bay in left field.
To conclude my look at Johan Santana I’ll say that he should still be an awesome pitcher in 2010, probably even a number one starter in 12-team leagues, but certainly not one worth his current draft slot. Perhaps in 2011 it will be easier to wrap our collective heads around the fact Johan Santana is in fact human and aging just like many a pitcher before him.
Josh is a recent college graduate from SUNY Cortland where he majored in Sport Management. You can catch up with Josh in the Cafe Forums where he posts as B-Chad.
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