Fantasy Baseball

2014 MLB Buyer Beware: Pitchers

CC Sabathia, New York Yankees
Can Sabathia regain his mojo in 2014?
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Joel Beall

Joel Beall is a writer for FOXSports.com and WhatIfSports.com. He lives with a Golden Tee machine and a jump shot that’s currently broken. Reach Joel on Twitter @FOXSportsBeall.

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If I would have been warned that playing excessive amounts of Golden Tee would lead to tennis elbow and carpal tunnel syndrome…well, I would have continued to play, because Golden Tee is the bomb. However, a heads-up would have been appreciated, and likely deterred a share of my golf cohorts from this fate.

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John Halpin hosts his fantasy baseball podcast throughout the 2014 MLB season on iTunes and SoundCloud.

A similar counsel is attached to the following players at their current draft projection. Uncovering value gems like Carlos Gomez or Anibal Sanchez will go ways in capturing a fantasy championship, but a just-as-important endeavor is avoiding lemons. What ensues is a forewarning on entities whose juice might not be worth the squeeze. Not to say they’re completely worthless; rather, simply have your guard up in pursuing these ballplayers.

Pitchers

Hisashi Iwakuma, Mariners
Due to the Mariners’ cellar-dweller constitution and West Coast habitat, a majority of Iwakuma’s starts have been unseen by the general public. As such, the prevailing conviction is the Seattle starter’s impressive harvest (2.66 ERA, 1.01 WHIP in 219 2/3 innings) is the derivative of Safeco Field. A transitory glance would state this is not necessarily the case, with Iwakuma’s road work (2.45 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, .228 AVG in 106 1/3 innings) not far off from his numbers in the Emerald City (2.86 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, .209 AVG in 113 1/3 innings).

Conversely, a dig deeper uncovers a sizeable amount of providence in Iwakuma’s away ventures. The soon-to-be 33-year-old’s BB/9 mark more than doubled outside of Washington, correlating to a pedestrian 2.86 K/BB figure (versus a 7.85 rate at home). Batters were also catching better lumber against Iwakuma on the road, evidenced in a line-drive rate of 19 percent (compared to 16.2 percent in Safeco). Coupled with an 86.4 left-on-base percentage, these measurements equate to a 3.80 FIP and 3.68 xFIP for Iwakuma away from Seattle.

Expect the home cookin’ to continue for Iwakuma in 2014; alas, expect a regression toward the mean when he takes the mound as a visitor.

Jarred Cosart, Astros
In theory, this advisory is targeted to a small contingent. The average baseball fan likely doesn’t recognize Cosart, a shame as he posted a sub-2.00 ERA in 10 Major League starts, along with a 3.29 ERA in the hitter-haven Pacific Coast League in 18 games, last season. (I have no data to back this up, but I feel like 96.7 percent of general baseball fans have never heard of the Astros arm…or any Astro, for that matter). HOWEVER, if you know who Cosart is, you probably realize the aberrational nature of those stats.

And “aberrational” is putting it nicely. Cosart finished his debut season with a higher walk rate (5.25 BB/9) than strikeout quota (4.95 K/9). This relationship brings a Rock-sized eyebrow raise on Cosart’s .246 BABIP and 85.9 left-on-base percentage, as lower numbers in these categories are generally the offshoot of punch-outs. Understandable, then, that Cosart had the worst ERA-FIP differential in baseball last season at a -2.40 mark, accompanied by a ballooned 4.68 xFIP. That’s not…that’s not good, Jarred.

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Cosart is just 23 years old, and will likely be on the front end of the Houston rotation. Moreover, Cosart has displayed a nasty cutter, one that makes him an intriguing add in later rounds. Just make sure he stays in that sleeper-status stratum. Building aspirations off greater dividends could lead to disaster.

Ervin Santana, Free Agent
Curious to why Santana was still on the market, I asked a friend in the business how gluttonous a deal the pitcher was seeking. “Offensive,” my buddy said. “He initially was asking for something short of the Cliff Lee range. That’s close to triple what he’s going to get.” To give that comment perspective, Lee signed a five-year deal close to $135 million. Sure, Santana was good in 2013 (3.24 ERA, 1.14 WHIP in 211 innings), but bold request for a man with a career 4.03 ERA and just one winning season in the past five years, right? Kind of like Roberto Zincone parlaying his romance with Malin Akerman into another relationship with a goddess. Or me asking for a raise after making that analogy…

Santana has seen varying degrees of success in his career and is dependable in terms of workload, averaging 200 innings per season since 2008. Nevertheless, he’s also finished a year with a 3.92 ERA or higher in six of his nine campaigns in the Bigs, and 2013’s 3.93 FIP doesn’t give much promise he can replicate last summer’s feats. Unless he settles in a pitcher’s paradise, Santana’s bark doesn’t match his bite.

Stephen Strasburg, Nationals
There’s a high likelihood that he injured himself before you finish this sentence. While I love watching this dude take the rubber, WAY too much risk involved with such a preeminent pick. Only hop on this train after the first three rounds have been completed.

Travis Wood, Cubs
The lefty turned in a 3.11 ERA and 1.15 WHIP despite a 2.18 K/BB ratio and 22.3 line-drive percentage. A miniscule .248 BABIP and 77.4 left-on-base percentage were the catalysts for these numbers, as well as a 14.2 infield fly-ball percentage. Such luck is why Wood finished with a sky-high 4.50 xFIP, 3.89 FIP and 4.50 SIERA. In short, Wood was one lucky SOB in 2013. (Or as lucky as one could be who pitches for the Cubs.) Don’t envision the good fortune to roll over into 2014.

CC Sabathia, Yankees
Is there any gas left in Sabathia’s tank? The cat’s an elderly 33 years old, logging 2,775 innings in his career. He’s also coming off a nightmarish season, as his 4.78 ERA and 1.37 WHIP were career-worsts. A look at the ace’s pitch speeds second the notion that the tread is falling off the tires:

Sabathia Pitch Speed

 
Year vFastball vSinker vSlider vCurve vChangeup
2011 93.9 93.0 81.6 77.2 86.6
2012 92.4 91.9 80.8 76.5 86.0
2013 91.3 90.5 80.8 75.7 84.8

 

Sabathia has added weight this offseason in hopes of regaining some oomph. Additionally, though the geriatric nature of the Yankees’ lineup is a tad disconcerting, it shouldn’t diminish their performance at the plate. This ample run support, combined with Sabathia’s inning longevity, will again make him a candidate to rack up Ws in 2014.

Unfortunately, the aforementioned age of the New York roster will take its toll on Sabathia’s numbers thanks to the defensive support, or lack thereof, behind the mound. Worse, unless one goes the Bartolo Colon route with stem cells and testosterone, a pitcher with as many miles as CC doesn’t recapture past magic. He has the name recognition, but Sabathia’s actual worth is closer to a backend arm this summer.

Click here for Part Two of this column.

Joel Beall is a writer for FOXSports.com and WhatIfSports.com. He lives with a Golden Tee machine and a jump shot that’s currently broken. Reach Joel on Twitter @FOXSportsBeall

Tagged: Royals, Yankees, Mariners, Cubs, Astros, Phillies, CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee, Ervin Santana, Travis Wood

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