We end our individual starting pitcher blurbs with the top tier from the American League.
Verlander is simply the stuff fantasy aces are made of. He racks up Kâ€™s (9.03 K/9 last year), he pitches deep into games (over 220 innings for four straight years) and he doesnâ€™t walk very many (2.27 BB/9 last year). He has outpitched his xFIP for the past three years and could be due to regress, but he strikes out so many that heâ€™s capable of putting up solid numbers even if he regresses. Itâ€™s really hard to find any red flags other than the workload heâ€™s logged over the last few years.
David Price is really good. This isnâ€™t earth shattering analysis, but itâ€™s the truth. He posts solid K numbers (8.74 K/9), doesnâ€™t walk a lot of batters (2.52 BB/9) and good enough ratios to qualify as a top five starter. He really doesnâ€™t have any red flags other than concern over the Raysâ€™ offense.
How is King Felix still only 27 years old? Heâ€™s been in the league for eight years. The underlying metrics have been eerily similar for the past three years of his career. Heâ€™s posted K/9 numbers ranging from 8.36 to 8.65. Heâ€™s posted a xFIP that has ranged from 3.14 to 3.20 while his actual ERA has varied from 2.27 to 3.47. Heâ€™s the fantasy baseball equivalent of a metronome. If only the Mariners could find a way to score some runs for him.
Darvishâ€™ long anticipated arrival lived up to the hype last year. He showed a wide array of plus pitches, struggled with command and posted the kind of season that most fantasy GMs were expecting. Itâ€™s hard to say if there are any sabrmetric red flags with Darvish because he doesnâ€™t have an established major league track record. It doesnâ€™t look like he has any issues other than his 4.19 BB/9, but the walks come with the Kâ€™s.
Itâ€™s not a good sign that the Yankees decided to limit Sabathiaâ€™s workload…in November. Sabathia did have a small bone spur removed from his pitching elbow, but he started a throwing program after Christmas and should be ready for the start of spring training. The only red flag with CC is his health. His average velocity was essentially the same last year as in his rookie year, so itâ€™s not like his stuff has fallen off the map. He might not be able to make 32+ starts a year anymore, but he can still produce a K/9 over 8.00 and a BB/9 under 2.00.
Weaver owners could be set up for some pain in 2013. He failed to throw 200+ innings for the first time since 2008. His average velocity has plummeted to under 88 MPH on his fastball. His K/9 was under 7.00 for the first time since 2007. His 4.18 xFIP indicated that his 2.81 actual ERA was a complete mirage. Be very careful when considering Weaver for the 2013 season.
Scherzer was one of the unluckiest pitchers in baseball in the first half of last year. He posted a 4.72 actual ERA with a 1.39. The underlying metrics indicated that he was not that mediocre. His first half xFIP was only 3.24 and his BABIP was .349. Both indicated he was the victim of poor defense and statistical variance. He turned things around during the second half of the season. His second half BABIP was only .315 and he posted a 2.69 actual ERA while continuing to deliver more than a strikeout per inning. He has all the tools fantasy GMs look for in starting pitchers and heâ€™s starting to realize his tremendous potential.
Fantasy GMs have watched Shieldsâ€™ ERA bounce around like a yo-yo. His ERA might have bounced between 5.18 to 2.82 over the past three years, but his K/9 has been around 8.00 and his BB/9 has been under 3.00 while his other numbers have regressed and corrected. He enjoyed a career average year last year after suffering through a horrible 2010 and enjoying a bounceback 2011. He switched teams in the off-season. If anything the move to grass in KC and out of the dome in Tampa should help Shields and his 45.1% career GB %.
RA Dickey is hard to evaluate because weâ€™ve never seen a pitcher like him and heâ€™s never had a year like last year before. Dickey was amazing to watch last year. It looked like something that didnâ€™t add up. Hereâ€™s this career journeyman who throws something called an â€œangry knuckleballâ€ and heâ€™s making big league hitters look like bums. The case against Dickey is that his 2012 season looks like the outlier and not a trend. He was effective for 2010 and 2011 seasons, but he wasnâ€™t posting a K/9 of almost a batter per inning. Heâ€™s also moving away from Metco and into the Rogers Centre. He posted a 2.59 ERA with a 3.42 xFIP at Metco last year. The case for Dickey is that heâ€™s never thrown the knuckler as hard as he did last year and he might be able to repeat his results if heâ€™s able to repeat the same way he threw the knuckler. If you think what he does is repeatable, invest in Dickey. If you donâ€™t think itâ€™s repeatable, stay away.
Moore seemed to put things together in the second half last year. His K/9 went from 8.67 to 9.15. His BB/9 fell from 4.52 to a much more palatable 3.59. His BABIP even normalized from .302 to .282. Heâ€™s a fly ball pitcher (0.87 GB:FB ratio last year), so his BABIP should be under league average. Moore could very well end up a top ten starter in fantasy baseball by the end of the year…or he could walk guys by the dozen and be as frustrating to own as he was in the first half of last year.
Peavy came back from a shoulder injury that required â€œinnovativeâ€ surgery to fix and posted his best season since 2007. Heâ€™ll never post the K numbers that he posted in San Diego again, but he proved he could still be an effective pitcher in fantasy baseball. Some will point to his .272 BABIP in 2012 and scream regression. Those people must not have noticed his 0.82 GB:FB ratio. His BABIP isnâ€™t a concern. His. 4.00 xFIP might be a concern heading in 2013, but you shouldnâ€™t be scared off by his xFIP if youâ€™re not scared off by his health.
Kuroda just keeps chugging along and racking up double digit win/7.00ish K/9/sub 3.00 BB/9 seasons. Heâ€™s in his age 38 season and he throwing a ton of sliders. The slider is the pitch that chews up elbow ligaments and Kuroda has thrown his slider over 30% of the time in two of the last three seasons. Heâ€™s shown no outward signs or sabrmetric signs that the years are taking their toll on him. Kuroda is thriving in New Yankee Stadium. He did a great job of keeping the ball on the ground last year with a 52.3% GB % and posted a 2.72 ERA at home. Age might be a concern, but pitching in New Yankee is not.
Hereâ€™s what we learned about Chris Sale last year; His mechanics arenâ€™t that great and he struggled the stretch last year. Sale posted a 4.03 ERA in the second half, but his xFIP was only 3.20. The problem might have been fatigue, but his defense seemed to betray him as well. Sale posted a .252 BABIP in the first half of the year, but that number ballooned to .338 in the second half. The large second half number was partially caused by a 26.0% LD %. Saleâ€™s innings bump is a huge concern. He went from throwing only 71 innings as a reliever in 2011 to tossing 192 innings as a starter in 2012. Thatâ€™s a lot of innings on a young arm and itâ€™s no wonder that he appeared to run out of gas in the second half. Sale also put together a fantastic first half and survived the season without needing a DL trip. He proved that heâ€™s capable of striking out better than a batter per inning and heâ€™s been put on a special off-season program to help him deal with the wear and tear of the regular season. His mechanics might not be what scouts look for, but the results are what fantasy GMs look for.
Holland needed a .261 BABIP to post a 4.67 ERA. His BABIP was kept low by a really low LD %. He only gave up line drives 16.8% of the time. He was a little unlucky on balls in the air with a 15.2% HR:FB ratio, but he gave up fly balls at a 40.1% clip. He strikes out a fair amount (7.44 K/9 last year) and doesnâ€™t walk very many (2.67 BB/9 last year), but he seems to get absolutely murdered on balls in play.
Ogando will be converting from the bullpen to the rotation for the 2013 season. He has the raw stuff to post numbers fantasy GMs would expect from a frontline starter, but the last time we saw him in the rotation he had the big velocity (95.1 MPH average fastball), but his K/9 was an anemic 6.71. Heâ€™s a fly ball pitcher (0.94 GB:FB ratio) pitching in Texas. Heâ€™s a solid bet to wilt in the second half of the year between the heat and the fatigue.
Hellickson has defied baseball logic for the past two seasons. Heâ€™s posted BABIPs of .224 and .267 in his first two full seasons. He did a better job of keeping the ball on the ground last year (1.12 GB:FB ratio last year) and that was the source of the rise in his BABIP. If his GB:FB ratio increases, so will his BABIP. He strikes out too few (6.13 K/9 for his career) and walks too many (3.11 BB/9 for his career).
Johnsonâ€™s velocity has been in decline since 2009 and his K/9 has been in decline since 2010. There arenâ€™t really any sabrmetric red flags. Johnsonâ€™s red flags are all related to his health. Heâ€™s always one pitch away from two months on the DL.
Anderson came back from Tommy John surgery…only to go down with an oblique strain. He was competent when he wasnâ€™t hurt. He showed better velocity than he had before he went down with TJS. His K/9 was only 6.43, but his BB/9 was under 2.00. Itâ€™s worthless to try to draw any conclusions from his batted ball data. Itâ€™s simply too small of a sample size.
Both Lesterâ€™s velocity and his K/9 have been in decline since 2009. His 3.82 xFIP indicates that his 4.82 actual was due to poor defense and statistical variance. He was a little unlucky with a .312 BABIP (.301 career average) and 13.9% HR:FB ratio (10.1% career average). He could provide value if his luck normalizes, but he could also provide pain if his K/9 and velocity continue to decline.
Dempster is entering his age 36 season, but he proved last year that heâ€™s still capable of posting a K/9 over 8.00. His velocity has been in decline since 2005(!), but his K/9 numbers have been in 7.43 – 8.71 range in every season. He really doesnâ€™t have any sabrmetric red flags, but it wouldnâ€™t matter even if he did. Heâ€™s changing teams, home ballparks and leagues.