NL Pitching Yeas and Nays | Christopher Kreush
When I am putting together my draft lists, I pay particular attention to the ranks of pitchers, trying to identify those that I feel are primed for a breakout or bounce-back. It is easy to look at the Roy Halladays and Tim Lincecums of the world and say "I want them on my fantasy team." But the reality is most teams don't wind up with a truly elite pitcher because there aren't enough to go around - especially if you look to solidify offense instead of taking one of the top hurlers.
So most teams (including mine) usually start with a second or third tier starter and build from there. It's pretty easy - especially this year when pitching is deeper than recent years - to cobble together an effective fantasy staff. But it gets a little hairy the further you get into the pitching depths.
Without a true ace, it becomes imperative to try to identify those pitchers that you believe will surprise and help you and those that will hurt your chances of attaining the Yoo-Hoo shower. Here are some National League pitchers I will be trying to roster and some I will avoid in my quest for a championship fantasy pitching staff.
Jhoulys Chacin - Chacin had a successful 2010 with the Colorado Rockies. He only showed a 9-11 record but all his other numbers were good - 1.27 WHIP; 3.28 ERA; 9.04 K/9. The only blemish was a 4.0 BB/9. Jhoulys has a ground ball rate that plays very well in the cozy confines of Coors Field so won't be hurt by pop ups to the outfield. He does need to lower his walk rate by a bit if he is to move up the pitching ranks. Chacin did demonstrate he could keep it under 3.0/9, albeit that was in low minors. He needs to work on this throughout the season but hasn't demonstrated yet this spring that he has better control. If he can take a stride in that direction (I'm thinking he will), he'll have a very good future ahead of him.
Garcia's good start: NAY?
Javier Vazquez - It's painful for me to do so but let's revisit Vazquez's 2010 season with the New York Yankees - 1.40 WHIP, 5.32 ERA, 1.83 HR/9, 3.72 BB/9, 6.92 K/9. All of these were his worst since - you guessed it - 2004 with the same New York Yankees. It's pretty amazing that he managed to win 10 games but that's a testament to the Yankee offense rather than good pitching. What makes it even scarier is all those bad numbers came with a favorable .269 BABIP! Javier's velocity has been up a little this spring and that bodes well. He's not as bad as last year but certainly not as good as the 2009 Atlanta Braves version either. Split the difference back in the National League in a good stadium and Vazquez should be fantasy relevant again at least one more year.
Aaron Harang - 2010 was another year to forget for Aaron Harang as he didn't pitch well enough to enjoy the Reds' success. Any of the gains Harang made in 2009 were wiped out in 2010 to the tune of a 1.59 WHIP, 5.32 ERA and 6.61 K/9. The San Diego Padres signed him to a one-year contract as a free agent last December. He will now be pitching his home games in his hometown as well as pitcher friendly Petco Park. He's had mixed results so far this spring with some very good outings and some very bad. Harang admits he is still working on his mechanics. Again, I'm not looking for Cliff Lee numbers but he could be a nice surprise at the bottom of a fantasy staff - especially at home.
Wandy Rodriguez - Going into the 2010 season many analysts were touting Wandy as the next pitcher to enter the ranks of the elite. Then he proceeded to have a bad spring and an equally bad start to the regular season and everyone was jumping off the bandwagon. Wandy righted the ship and after the All-Star break he went 5-1 in 14 starts with a 1.04 WHIP, 2.11 ERA, 9.75 K/9 and 3.6 K:BB. He's following the same pattern this year as he has been pretty bad in the Cactus League. But then again nearly every Houston starter not named Jordan Lyles hasn't been good either. If he starts off the season the same as last year stash him or stream him in favorable matchups. But at the end of the season look for familiar numbers.
Hong-Chih Kuo - There's always talk before the season begins about many closers getting the job without starting the season in the position. Kuo was just one of those pitchers as he took over for an ineffective Jonathan Broxton for the final months of the 2010 season and finished with 12 saves. He dominated hitters in the process with a 10.95 K/9 over the course of the season. His final WHIP and ERA (0.78 and 1.20, respectively) were outstanding and fantasy gold. Broxton will start the year with the closer's job but there will be questions surrounding him after last year's meltdown and Kuo has demonstrated he has what it takes to close out games. Kuo's health is a concern but he was able to stay injury-free long enough to pitch 60 innings. Look for the same kind of numbers this year and if Broxton falters again Kuo will get save opportunities.
Jaime Garcia - Garcia was a nice surprise in 2010 for the St. Louis Cardinals and his fantasy owners coming back to the majors from Tommy John surgery. His 2.70 ERA was a little lucky as his 1.32 WHIP should have resulted in an ERA of around 3.88. Jaime did a good job of keeping the ball on the ground - better than 50% of the time. He didn't do such a good job of limiting bases on balls with a 3.53 BB/9. Garcia did pitch 122 combined innings in 2008 but 2009 only saw him throw 37 innings and his workload jumped well over 100 innings last year - something that could be a concern. All in all, it was a very good season for Garcia but I'm not expecting nearly the same numbers.
Tim Hudson - Hudson was in the same boat as Jaime Garcia coming back from Tommy John surgery last year and had a banner season with a 17-9 record and 1.15 WHIP and 2.83 ERA. His velocity was up last year but his K/9 was still an unimpressive 5.47 but he only owns a 6.0K/9 for his career anyway. Hudson also benefited from the perfect storm of a 64% ground ball ratio, 81% LOB rate, and .249 BABIP. Regression is definitely in the cards the question is how much.
Jonathan Broxton - Broxton's struggles last year have been documented above. With all the question marks surrounding him at the end of the season and through the off-season, it should have been imperative for Broxton to demonstrate this spring that there's nothing to worry about. However, his spring numbers don't point to dominance - at least on the surface. To be fair, most of the damage of his 4.32 ERA came in one game against the San Diego Padres. Still, he has walked five in just over eight spring innings while striking out only six - a 6.67 K/9 - certainly not dominant. I'm not taking the chance that we're going to see the same Broxton of years past.
Armando Galarraga - The highlight (or lowlight depending on how you look at it) of Galarraga's season in 2010 was the perfect game that wasn't. Other than that game, the season was pretty unimpressive as he won only four of 13 decisions, winding up with a 1.34 WHIP and 4.49 ERA. He was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks this past January and will be pitching in a much tougher home park. His 4.61 K/9 won't play well in the desert the same as his fly ball tendencies won't. Galarraga had a favorable BABIP in 2010 which could face a slight correction, further hurting him overall.
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