Archive for January, 2010

Mailbag: Josh Hamilton vs Carlos Beltran

Reader Neil S. asks:

“I have a keeper league dilemma involving chronically injured players. My offense is possibly the weakest in my head-to-head keeper league, and I was planning on keeping [Carlos] Beltran until the recent surgery (we don’t have to announce our eight keepers until early March). But Josh Hamilton is also an option for me. So my question is – is it worth taking a shot on Hamilton bouncing back, or should I take Beltran’s more reliable production numbers, even if he’s going to miss a significant chunk of the year?

I’m keeping HanRam, Texeira, and Bay (though, of course, I’m worried about the hit his numbers will take at the new field), and four of the following five pitchers: Lester, Johnson, Hamels, Cain, and Hanson. Clearly, I’m much better positioned to go forward with my pitchers than I am with my hitters.”

Neil obviously has some pretty sweet offense going on with his team already, and he’s playing in a tradition 5×5 Head-to-Head League. Hanley Ramirez, Mark Teixeira, and Jason Bay will provide some good pop, RBI totals and both Ramirez and Teixeira should hit for good batting averages. In mid-December, Fangraphs fantasy fiend Eno Sarris ranked the center-fielders and had both Beltran and Hamilton within two slots of each other. However, it was announced roughly one month later that Beltran (ADP: 89.58) had undergone another surgery on his troublesome knee, which puts his Opening Day status in doubt.

The outfielder struggled with the knee in ’09 and most of his numbers were down as a result. His batting average was up to .325, but it was aided by a .353 BABIP. At the age of 33, Beltran is no spring chicken so you have to be worried about his mobility when he returns. Previously, a lot of his value in fantasy baseball was wrapped up in his ability to provide power and speed. You have to expect that Beltran will not provide 20+ steals this year, and his ability to score 100 runs could be hampered by reduced speed, as well as a poor lineup around him. If healthy, though, he should still be able to provide 25+ homers and 100 RBI (which he’s done seven of the last nine seasons). The lineup around him, again, could hurt his ability to drive in runs, but improved seasons by Jose Reyes and David Wright could certainly help. With all that said, there are a lot of things that have to go right for Beltran to really put up impactful numbers in 2010.

Hamilton (ADP: 51) also struggled through injury problems in 2010 and his career has been littered with stays on the disabled list. The 28-year-old outfielder has received a lot of press but the truth is that he’s produced just one full outstanding offensive season in his career (2008: .385 wOBA). Unlike Beltran, his injury (pinched nerve in his back) was fixed with rest rather than surgery. In ’09, he hit a disappointing .268/.315/.426 in 336 at-bats. His line-drive rate remained strong at 21% but it’s clear that he had trouble getting around on the good fastballs on a consistent basis as his Pitch Type Value (per 100) dropped from 2.64 to 1.36. Hamilton plays in a better offensive park than Beltan, and the Ranger also has more lineup protection with the likes of Ian Kinsler, Michael Young, Nelson Cruz, and Chris Davis. With speedster Julio Borbon likely playing everyday in 2010 (along with a second-year Elvis Andrus), Hamilton should have plenty of swift-footed players to drive in.

With everything said above, I am going to advocate for Hamilton as your keeper choice. He’s younger by five years so he’s a better long-term bet. Hamilton is also expected to be 100% healthy for the start of the year, which makes him a better short-term option (as witnessed by their current ADPs). Now, I am worried about his chronic health woes (as well as his well-documented off-field issues) but you have enough “insurance” with Ramirez, Teixeira, and Bay that you can take the risk. Beltran has a more proven track record, but I think we’re going to see a serious decline in his speed numbers.

*Average Draft Position (ADP) ranking provided by Mock Draft Central.

Should Fantasy Owners Pay for Jorge de la Rosa’s Wins?

For the past two years, Jorge de la Rosa has improved in all four fantasy categories for a starting pitcher. Of course, that was a relatively easy thing for him to do, given how poor he was in 2007. Still, last year de la Rosa finished in the top 20 in both Wins and Ks. Given how fantasy players love to get “the next big thing,” you might think de la Rosa would be a hot commodity in mock draft season. But you would be wrong.

Instead, the Rockies pitcher sits with an ADP of 180. Recently, Razzball unveiled its 2009 end of season fantasy player rater and de la Rosa ranked 131. The mockers are not buying that number and instead forecast that he will not repeat, much less improve upon, his fine numbers from a year ago. Part of it may be the stigma of being a pitcher in Colorado and part of it may be the poor ERA and WHIP numbers.

Either way, it looks like we may have the new Ted Lilly. For several years now, fantasy owners have undervalued Lilly, despite a very good K rate and strong Win totals. Even after posting a 3.10 ERA last year, Lilly still appears to be a bargain, with a current ADP of 149.

Last year, de la Rosa finished with a 4.38 ERA and a 1.38 WHIP. The ERA placed 65th while the WHIP was tied for 59th out of 77 qualified pitchers. Fantasy owners do not want to pay for Wins and shy away from de la Rosa because he is poor in two of the three remaining categories.

At the All-Star break, de la Rosa had a 5.21 ERA and a 1.45 WHIP. But his final 15 starts of the year, he was a different pitcher. In the second half, de la Rosa was 10-2 with a 3.46 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP. He gave up the same number of HR in the second half in 8.1 fewer innings. The improvement appears to be all WHIP-related.

After having a 4.28 BB/9 in the first half, de la Rosa followed up with a 3.67 mark after the break. And his BABIP was .301 in the second half, after starting off the year with a .327 mark. In his final 15 games, he had 10 starts where he gave up two or fewer runs.

The turnaround actually started even earlier for de la Rosa, who started the season 0-6 with a 5.43 ERA. He went 16-3 with a 3.94 ERA over the final four months of the season, which matches up almost perfectly to when Jim Tracy took over as the team’s manager.

In July, de la Rosa credited his turnaround to his two-seam fastball and throwing more first-pitch strikes, although the numbers do not necessarily support this claim. While his F-Strike% of 55.9 was up from a year ago, it was lower than it was in 2007. And shows him throwing his two-seam fastball at just 2.4 percent for the year.

Either way, it is easy to read too much into second half numbers. One needs only to recall the second half of 2008 and then 2009 for Ricky Nolasco to remember this lesson. But de la Rosa does not need a 3.46 ERA or a 1.30 WHIP to be a big bargain at his current ADP.

Anecdotally, we can all remember lefties that discovered control and success later than normal, including Randy Johnson, Al Leiter and Sandy Koufax. But while there is no proof that lefties develop later than righties, it would be foolish to ignore the possibility that de la Rosa could be another late bloomer. If he can continue to throw strikes like he did in the second half, de la Rosa could wind up as one of the top pitchers in baseball.

ADP Values at Third Base

It’s time for another episode of “You can get with that, but this is where it’s at,” boys and girls. This week, we take a look at the heroes manning what may prove to be the thinnest position on the diamond. Where shortstop had such frugal luminaries as Everth Cabrera, Ryan Theriot and Elvis Andrus, and catcher featured thrifty backstops like Miguel Montero and A.J. Pierzynski, we may have a harder time finding values at the hot corner.

As usual, we’ll start in the first tier. You can’t really fault anyone for going big with Alex Rodriguez (despite the hip and the age, 3.37 ADP), David Wright (despite the power outage, 14.76 ADP), Evan Longoria (I don’t see a problem here, 10.28 ADP) or Mark Reynolds (the king of the whiff, 20.17 ADP). Why is Ryan Zimmerman being drafted at the end of the third round (39.78 ADP)? I guess people are suspicious of his career high .233 ISO (and 33 home runs) last year. I take the view that nothing seems out of place for a 25 year-old top prospect with a .229 minor league ISO and a slowly increasing fly ball rate, who is also on the correct side of his peak. Sign me up for some of that in 2010.

The next tier has some svelte athletes (Pablo Sandoval, 44.83 ADP), some slow-footed plodders (Chone Figgins, 77.84 ADP) and some low-contact sluggers (Michael Young, 93.51 ADP). Scarcasm aside, why not take a player with possibly the same amount of risk (and yet bundles of upside) a little bit later than the fellow members of his tier? Gordon Beckham (93.87 ADP) had a good rookie season despite a low line drive percentage (16.6%) that kept his BABIP down (.294), and therefore his batting average (.270). But look at the good side, if you prorate out his stats, he had a 21-home run, 11 stolen-base kind of year, and his line drive rates were much higher in the minor leagues. Even if he just finished out the pro-rated string next year, he’d be an ADP value in his tier. Bend it like Beckham!

Let’s move past mixed metaphors to the final tier. This tier makes you realize how turdly third base truly is this year. You can gamble on next year’s Mark Reynolds with Ian Stewart (131.84 ADP) or put your grandfather Larry Wayne Jones (ADP 134.39) in the position and cross your fingers. The projection systems don’t like the bearded wonder Casey Blake (ADP 162.64) for good reason, as late bloomers are usually early exits. You could say the same about Mark DeRosa (ADP 246.44), really. Who’s to like in this tier?

The answer, in the immortal words of Homer Simpson, is “I… don’t… know.” I’d probably try to avoid the whole situation altogether by drafting a third-sacker earlier. But I think I might take a pair of players from the bottom, and those two might be Adrian Beltre (ADP 199.55) and Alex Gordon (245.03). Some may say that splits aren’t statistically significant, but perhaps that’s not true in Beltre’s case, who has a grand total of 3272 away at-bats away from pitcher’s havens in Los Angeles and Seattle. In those (probably significant at-bats), he’s put up a .287/.338/.488 career line (compared to a .726 OPS at home). I’d just cover my butt with a post-hype sleeper like Gordon, who had been making nice strides in walk rate, strikeout rate, ISO, line drive rate, and reach rate before injury sidelined him last year. I’ll be owning him more than once this year, I’d reckon.

Ah! Let me stop you right there. Jorge Cantu is ranked as a first baseman.

Randy Winn to the Yankees

The New York Yankees have added another veteran piece to an already stacked ballclub, signing outfielder Randy Winn to a one-year deal, worth a reported $2MM. 2009 was the first season since 2006 that Winn was not more than a fringe option for an outfield spot on fantasy rosters. From 2006 through 2009, here are the numbers Winn put up with the Giants:

2006: .262/.324/.396, 11 HR, 10 SB, 82 R, 56 RBI
2007: .300/.353/.445, 14 HR, 15 SB, 73 R, 65 RBI
2008: .306/.363/.426, 10 HR, 25 SB, 84 R, 64 RBI
2009: .262/.318/.353, 2 HR, 16 SB, 65 R, 51 RBI

Winn’s 2009 wasn’t a huge shock, but it was lower than it should have been. His line drive rate was actually at a career high (or at least since 2002, when our data begins) last year, and his speed score was above his career average. He should have a bit of a bounce back at the plate, and that is reflected in most of the projection systems:

Bill James: .276/.337/.389, 7 HR, 13 SB
CHONE: .259/.317/.364, 8 HR, 12 SB
Marcel: .276/.334/.396, 8 HR, 16 SB
Fans: .277/.326/.385, 5 HR, 12 SB

With a move to Yankee stadium and a great lineup around him, he will get plenty of runs, and the home runs should come easier. However, this assumes he will be the starting left fielder, which is something we just don’t know at the moment. The best guess is that Brett Gardner will maintain the starting left field job, but with the uncertainty that surrounds this situation, his ADP will likely drop, making him a possible bargain.

Keep a close eye on this situation, but Winn could receive playing time in more than one way. If DH Nick Johnson gets hurt, Nick Swisher could slide into first base, allowing Teix to rest as the DH, and placing Winn in the outfield.

If you are in an extremely deep mixed league, or moderately deep AL-only league, Winn might be worth a flier.

Minor Moves: R. Hill to Cardinals, Tracy to Cubs, Golson to Yankees

St. Louis Cardinals signed LHP Rich Hill to a minor league contract.

The memories of Hill’s 2006 and 2007 seasons with the Chicago Cubs become hazier with each passing day. The 6-5 left-hander with the slow, looping curveball had a 4.51 xFIP in 99.1 innings during ’06, whiffing 8.15 batters per nine frames and walking 3.53 per nine. In Triple-A that year, he terrorized the PCL to the tune of 12.15 K/9, 1.89 BB/9 and a 1.67 FIP in 100 IP. 2007 was even better, as Hill logged 195 frames with the Cubs. He posted rates of 8.45 K/9 and 2.91 BB/9, with a 4.13 xFIP.

The University of Michigan product was an extreme fly ball hurler (34 GB% from 2006-2007), but his high-80’s heater had positive run values both seasons (+0.22 runs per 100 pitches in ’06, +0.66 in ’07), while his curve rated as -0.26 in ’06 and +0.53 in ’07.

Then, the wheels fell off. Hill scarcely pitched in 2008, as he was sidelined with back problems. He issued 18 free passes in 19.2 innings with Chicago, and walked 44 batters in 47.2 IP between Rookie Ball, High-A and Triple-A.

Shipped to the Orioles last February, Hill missed the first two months of the season with a left elbow strain and continued to have Blassian issues finding the strike zone. In 57.2 frames with Baltimore, Hill struck out 7.18 hitters per nine innings but walked an obscene 6.24 per nine. His xFIP was 5.69, as he tossed a first-pitch strike just 46.9 percent of the time (58-59% MLB average). That was the lowest rate among all big league pitchers throwing at least 50 innings. In August, Hill went under the knife to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder.

Thirty years old in March, Hill is now a broken, control-challenged project. He’s a long shot to contribute, but New Busch smiles upon fly ball-centric pitchers: per the 2010 Bill James Handbook, Busch has decreased homer production by 20 percent compared to a neutral park from 2007-2009, while deflating run scoring by seven percent.

Chicago Cubs signed INF Chad Tracy to a minor league contract.

The last time Tracy played regularly was 2006, when he turned in a 102 wRC+ with Arizona. Since then, the 29 year-old lefty batter has been injury-prone and ineffective. Tracy was placed on the DL with an oblique strain and right knee tendinitis in 2007. He had microfracture surgery in September of ’07, which sidelined him until May of 2008. This past year, Tracy again hit the DL with an oblique strain.

From 2007-2009, the erstwhile D-Back authored an 86 wRC+. For 2010, CHONE offers an 84 wRC+ projection, while the fans envision a 92 wRC+. Even if he cracks the 25-man roster this spring, Tracy doesn’t figure to see much playing time with the Cubs.

New York Yankees traded INF Mitch Hilligoss to the Texas Rangers for OF Greg Golson.

Golson’s really fast and….did I mention he’s fast? The 24 year-old was once a warmly regarded prospect in the Phillies’ system, but a fatal lack of strike zone control has wrecked his career prospects. Golson did swipe 20 bags in 24 attempts for Triple-A Oklahoma. Unfortunately the former first-rounder “batted” .258/.299/.344, walking 5.8 percent and whiffing 23 percent. During his minor league tenure, Golson has a .263/.308/.395 triple-slash, drawing ball four 5.5 percent and striking out 26.5 percent. He’ll aspire to become the next Freddy Guzman.

Cubs Nab Nady

Chicago Cubs signed OF Xavier Nady to a one-year, $3.3 million contract with $2.05 million in possible incentives.

Nady, 31, missed nearly the entire 2009 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in mid-April. It was the second time he has had the procedure: Nady was Tommy John’d back when he was a Padres prospect in 2002. His pact with the Cubs won’t become official until he passes a physical later this week, and a source in the article by Adam McCalvy notes that it’s “not a foregone conclusion” that Nady will get a clean bill of health.

In 2008, Nady posted a career-best 131 wRC+, meaning his offense was 31 percent better than average once league and park factors are factored in. However, Nady’s .205 Isolated Power was nearly 30 points about his career average, and his .337 BABIP was 20 points above his career norm.

Because of those factors, most projection systems have Nady regressing back near his career 112 wRC+. Here are his 2010 forecasts:

CHONE: 106 wRC+
Bill James: 112 wRC+
The Fans: 113 wRC+
Marcel (weighted three-year average, with regression factored in): 114 wRC+

An aggressive batter, Nady has a 5.8 percent career walk rate, with an outside swing percentage around 30-31 percent from 2006-2008 (25% MLB average). You might hear a lot about Xavier’s platoon split, with his hitting against lefties trumping his numbers against same-side pitching. But, as Mitchel G. Lichtman reminds us, the spread in platoon splits among big league hitters isn’t massive. How a batter performs overall gives us a better indication of how he’ll perform in the future against both lefties and righties:

How a batter does against RH pitchers informs us on how he will likely do against LH pitchers and vice versa. Why? Because there is not much of a spread in true platoon splits among ML baseball players yet there is a large spread in overall true hitting talent among ML baseball players. So if we see a large platoon split, like for a player like Howard, it is likely a fluke. If a player does really well versus RH pitchers but terrible against LH pitchers, both the “really well” and the “terrible” numbers are likely fluky and the “truth” is somewhere in between.

Nady’s career path bears this out. Baseball-Reference offers a stat called sOPS+, which compares a batter’s performance in a given split to the league average. One-hundred is average, while anything over 100 means the batter did better than average. Nady compiled a 123 sOPS+ vs. righties from 2006-2008, slightly better than his 120 SOPS+ against left-handers.

With the Cubs, Nady will be the fourth outfielder behind Alfonso Soriano, Marlon Byrd and Kosuke Fukudome. He’s not draft-worthy right now, but Nady could see a decent amount of playing time if Soriano’s aching knees continue to hinder him.

Sheets Signs with A’s

The Oakland Athletics have reportedly inked free agent right-hander Ben Sheets to a one-year, $10 million contact. That pact might also include incentives.

The 31 year-old missed the entire 2009 season following February elbow surgery to repair a torn flexor tendon. Sheets easily topped the 200-inning mark in each season from 2002-2004, but has provided transient excellence since then. Courtesy of the Fantasy Pitch F/X DL Tool, here’s Sheets’ extensive injury history:

2001: right shoulder tendinitis (DL, missed 46 days)
2005: Vestibular Neuritis (DL, missed 37 days)
2005: upper back strain (DL, missed 36 days)
2006: right shoulder strain (DL, missed 23 days)
2006: right shoulder tendinitis (DL, missed 82 days)
2007: right middle finger injury (DL, missed 45 days)

Sheets recently auditioned for potential suitors, topping out at 91 MPH with his fastball and showcasing his signature curveball.

When healthy, the 10th overall pick in the 1999 draft shows a rare combination of power and precision. Sheets has punched out 7.97 batters per nine innings during his big league career, handing out just 1.97 BB/9. The 6-1 Louisiana native has a 63.2 first-pitch strike percentage since 2002, well north of the 58-59 percent MLB average over that time period. His career xFIP is 3.55.

Prior to the elbow injury, Sheets sat 92-93 MPH with his four-seam fastball. The pitch has a +0.61 run value per 100 tosses since 2002. His high-70’s curveball, thrown over 30 percent of the time, checks in at +0.58 runs/100 pitches. Sheets has rarely utilized a changeup, and for good reason (-1.59 runs/100).

Sheets should enjoy his new digs. According to the 2010 Bill James Handbook, The Oakland Coliseum sapped run-scoring by nine percent compared to a neutral ball park from 2007-2009, while suppressing home runs by 10 percent. Considering Sheets’ fly ball tendencies (career 41.8 GB%), he’ll like the extra breathing room.

Is there a bigger wild card out there than Ben Sheets? He’s superb when able to take the mound, but it’s unclear if he left any of his stuff on the operating table. CHONE projects Sheets to log 114 innings next year, with 7.1 K/9, 2.7 BB/9 and a 3.86 FIP. If he were to reach those totals, Sheets would provide about 2.1 WAR in value.

If you can snag Sheets late in your draft, by all means do. He could provide upper-echelon production, but there are obviously many unknowns regarding his health. Still, gambling on a guy like Sheets beats settling for the Jeremy Guthries and Jon Garlands of the world.

Classifying Fantasy Baseball Players

The biggest part of fantasy baseball is the draft. No question about it. So it is important that we understand who we are drafting with when we step into the room, be it virtual or physical. The easiest way to go about this is to group all players into five simple families, which are listed and explained below.

The Dungeon Master – You all know one of those nerds who is ready to dominate a fantasy league at a moments notice. They play in so many leagues and attend so many mock drafts that you begin to worry about their safety. Chances are, if you are reading this blog (or writing on it), you may be the Dungeon Master. The Dungeon Master is always cool and collected at draft time. Even when his players aren’t making it to him in drafts, he has plan 1A at the ready. Be careful when trading with him, as he is probably looking to screw you over.

The Cockeyed Optimist – This person runs around your draft room or lobby saying things like “I can guarantee Erik Bedard starts 30 games this year”, or “I see a breakout season from Yuniesky Betancourt.” The last time he won a draft, pigs were flying and hell was still defrosting. Let him do his own thing, and don’t bail him out of his bad moves.

The Cast Away – Straight out of a Tom Hanks movie, the Cast Away hasn’t been around (fantasy) civilization for awhile. In the past, he may have been a supreme player, but those days are behind him. The Cast Away will take big name players that have faded from glory, because those are the guys he is comfortable with and knows well. On occasion, he may even select a player who recently retired. If he somehow drafts a player he doesn’t know that you may want, take a run at fleecing him.

The Rival – This league mate always knows how to piss you off. He understands who your sleepers are, as well as your favorite players, and takes them earlier than you would just to push your buttons. He then purposes ridiculous trades, hoping you really want to have your favorite player on your roster. This owner rarely wins a fantasy league. Don’t encourage him by accepting any of his trades, and hope he isn’t invited back next year.

The Rookie – In the wild, The Rookie may often be referred to by his scientific name, “N00bulus Maximus”. When at the draft, he won’t deviate from the rankings provided to him by his most trusted website. Once the season begins, he can be easily convinced to trade his underachieving players that are sure to have a nice bounce back to glory. All is fair in love, war, and fantasy baseball, so exploit this player if you can by stealing away his players.

Tejada Returns to O’s

Baltimore Orioles signed Miguel Tejada to a one-year, $6 million contract with $1M in possible incentives.

After a two-year stint in Houston, Tejada is headed back to Baltimore to take over third base for the O’s. The 35 year-old has never appeared at a position other than shortstop in the big leagues, but Miggy hasn’t rated particularly well at that spot. His three-year UZR/150 at short is -4, and John Dewan’s Plus/Minus system has Tejada at -4.7 per year from 2007-2009.

Tejada is no longer the prodigious power hitter of the late ’90’s and first half of the aughts. His wRC+ was 109 in 2007, 92 in 2008 and bounced back to 112 this past year. His Isolated Power has remained relatively stable over that period: .146 in ’07, .131 in ’08 and .142 in ’09. However, his home run stroke is on the wane:

Tejada’s home run per fly ball rate, 2007-2009

2007: 12.7%
2008: 8%
2009: 7.7%

The righty batter has never drawn many walks (career 6.3 BB%), but his rate of free passes taken has gone from 7.2% in 2007, 3.6% in 2008 and 2.8% this past season. Among batters with 500 or more plate appearances, only Bengie Molina showed a stronger aversion to ball four.

As you might expect, Tejada is swinging more often, both at pitches off the plate and within the strike zone. His contact rate has increased. Maybe Tejada is choking up in deference to Father Time:

2007: 28.4 O-Swing%, 67.9 Z-Swing%, 48.1 Swing%, 85.9 Contact%
2008: 34.7 O-Swing%, 70.4 Z-Swing%, 53 Swing%, 86.5 Contact%
2009: 32.5 O-Swing%, 71.9 Z-Swing%, 52.7 Swing%, 88.4 Contact%

(the MLB averages are about 25% for O-Swing, 66% for Z-Swing, 45% for Swing and 81% for Contact)

That combination of few walks and ample contact makes Tejada a Three True Outcomes trailer. Over the past three seasons, he has put the ball in play at the fourth-highest rate in the majors.

While he’s not a fantasy force anymore, Tejada still retains value as a guy who will qualify at multiple positions. His shortstop eligibility is certainly a plus. CHONE projects a .297/.333/.434 triple-slash for Miggy in 2010, with a 104 wRC+.

Tejada’s taking over third means that Cesar Izturis remains at short, and Garrett Atkins will slide over to first for the most part. Which makes Ty Wigginton Atkins’…stunt double? It’s not especially what the difference is between the two. Neither gets points for defense, and Wigginton holds the edge at the dish:

Three-year wRC+

Atkins: 98 wRC+
Wigginton: 107 wRC+

CHONE predicts a 97 wRC+ for Atkins next season, and a 105 mark for Wigginton.

Tejada’s not a bad option if you’re in a pinch at the shortstop spot. He’s on the downslide, but his bat should be a tick above average in 2010.

Check the Position: SP2

Over the offseason we’ll take a look at each position on the diamond and see how the past season affected the positional rankings and where there might be some potential bounceback value picks going into next year’s drafts. (See shortstops, catchers, second basemen, first basemen, third basemen, right fielders, left fielders and center fielders.)

Of course, when it comes to pitchers, the format suffers. We’re not about to do tiered rankings for the top 75+ pitchers that get drafted every year in mixed leagues – that would be one long post. Instead, we’re doing starters by tiers. Tier one, otherwise known as SP1, was last week. SP2 is below.

Imagine if, on offense, you were just able to pick whomever regardless of position? Or, more correctly, what if there were only two positions on offense in fantasy baseball? Infield and Outfield? That’s what it’s like on the pitching side. So, not surprisingly, the second tier of fantasy starting pitchers looks pretty nice. (It’s also reason #36,978 to draft pitching later!)

All of the hurlers in the first tier could easily end up as fantasy aces next year. Matt Cain and Javier Vazquez were probably even SP1s last year… we just doubt their ability to repeat those seasons. Jake Peavy got a demotion from the first set of pitchers because of his health and move to the stronger league. Yovani Gallardo and Tommy Hanson are young, exciting, and ascendant: pick one of them as your SP1 and follow it up with a possible bounce-back veteran like Cole Hamels, and your likelihood of having two fantasy aces is high.

The next tier just has more question marks. Clayton Kershaw has some awesome pitches, and an equally terrible walk rate to go with them. Jair Jurrjens just had too many stranded runners and too many bouncing balls go his way to trust him to be anywhere as good as he was last year. Wandy Rodriguez has now sustained his excellence two years in a row – but his fastball barely cracks 90 miles per hour, and throwing all those curveballs (almost 40%) has to catch up with you some day, maybe. John Lackey brings multiple question marks (rising walk rate, dropping strikeout rate and innings totals) with him into a new stadium. Chad Billingsley looks like he got a little unlucky last year and may return to grace, but given his walk rate, his WHIP may never be elite.

The final tier includes some semi-controversial pitchers, since we all seem to love Brett Anderson more than his major league numbers perhaps bear out. It could be because of his unique stuff, as Dave Allen showed us a while back in a great post. Then we have numbers that seem to suggest that Ricky Nolasco was very unlucky last year and should be in line for a good season as the luck pendulum swings back for him. We also see two former aces that have ridden injuries to the bottom of the SP2s in Roy Oswalt and Brandon Webb. Webb’s injury is a bigger deal because it was in his shoulder, but Oswalt is a slight guy with declining innings totals that has talked of an early retirement.

And then we have the two toughest names to place on this list. James Shields never had plus strikeout rates, and with the walk rate and WHIP rising slowly, you have to wonder if he’ll just always be a high-3s ERA guy that won’t get you much more than 160 Ks. Joining him is fellow low-WHIP meister Scott Baker. Both pitchers actually have okay strikeout rates, good walk rates, poor home run rates, and high-3s FIPs. Their low WHIP makes them attractive, and they are good pitchers. But who do you move off the list to get them on?