2010 Sleepers, Comebacks and Busts: Starters

There was no post yesterday, mostly because the task of identifying sleepers and busts out of the starting pitchers pool should be a three-day affair. One thing is for sure, there are a lot of arms to choose from and there will be a lot more coming from the minor leagues as the season moves along. For draft day purposes, here are the 2010 sleepers, comebacks and busts in the starting rotation.

The Sleepers

Francisco Liriano – Going back to last season I had written about how Francisco Liriano was a completely different pitcher than his pre-surgery days. That adjustment or realization was a tough pill to swallow for Liriano as he lacked the confidence to pound the strike-zone as he once did. However, if his winter ball and early spring showings are any indication, his command and confidence are back. That slight adjustment in command could be all Liriano needs to put up top 20 fantasy numbers in 2010.

Brett Anderson – As a young, unpolished rookie, Anderson struggled to a 4.64 first-half ERA. However, as the season went along Anderson, with the help of coaches and trainers, only got stronger. That progression led to a 3.48 second-half ERA along with an improving strikeout rate and fastball velocity. All in all, as a rookie, Anderson posted a 3.33 K/BB rate, good for seventeenth best in the league and better than Josh Johnson, Adam Wainwright and Johan Santana.

Jorge De La Rosa/Jonathan Sanchez – I lump these two together because they both have the same strength and the same weakness. Both have top-end strikeout potential, but both have been inconsistent with their control. Should either pitcher improve their command we could be looking attruefantasyaces. However, that has yet to happen so far in either’s career. As long as you can wait until the later rounds on draft day, each pitcher is worth a flier based on their high strikeout numbers.

Gavin Floyd – There were moments last season when Floyd looked like he was ready to breakout, but his season ended with a 4.06 ERA. However, Floyd posted a 3.77 FIP* and a solid 2.76 K/BB rate. Both his strikeout and walk rate improved from previous levels, which is a very good sign as he heads into his age 27 season.

Clay Buchholz – See: Two Pitchers That Could Step Up Big in 2010

Aaron Harang – The good indicators are that Harang has consistently posted very good K/BB rates and he finished 2009 strong posting K/9 rates over 8.5 in July and August. The bad indicator: Dusty Bake is his manager.

Marc Rzepczynski – Last seasonRzepczynski struck out 60 in 61.1 innings. According to minorleaguesplits.com,he generated ground balls at a rate of over 60 percent in his minor league career. Last season about 55 percent of his balls put in play were ground balls. His walk rates may be a cause for concern, but his strikeout potential and high ground ball rates make him worth a late round flier.

Brian Matusz – In eight starts to begin his professional career, Matusz put up agood 7.7 K/9 and an impressive 2.82 BB/9. He may be a rookie, but his poise and command are those of a grizzled veteran. Some comparisons include a young Cole Hamels, just trading Hamels’s plus changeup for a plus curve.

Mat Latos – Last season’s Major League numbers don’t look too impressive, but don’t look past the fact that he completely dominated at every minor league level before his late season call-up. Basically you can throw out his Major League numbers from last season. Latos showed excellent command and strikeout ability in the minor leagues as well as a tremendous ground ball rate. Starting out the season fresh and in San Diego’s rotation should translate into much better numbers in 2010. He has long term ace potential. Now all he has to do is win a rotation spot.

Jason Hammel – Hammel was sort of a forgotten prospect in the Rays system only for the fact that they had a ton of good pitching prospects. Last season the Rays traded Hammel to the Rockies where he posted a solid 3.2 K/BB rate. While Hammel doesn’t have tremendous strikeout potential, he does have good command anda ground ball rate over 46 percent for two years running. Both factors will help counter the thin air in Colorado and make him a nice late round pick.

Shaun Marcum – In 2008 Shaun Marcum looked like one of the more promising young pitchers in baseball. Then surgery to repair a torn ligament in his elbow cost him the 2009 season aside from a few minor league innings. Coming into this season the Blue Jays are expecting Marcum to be a part of their big league rotation. If 100 percent recovered, Marcum has the ability to post an above average strikeout rate and walk rate. He is still an injury risk, but one worth taking in the last round or two of 2010 drafts.

Derek Holland – Holland had an up-and-down season for the Rangers in 2009, but flashed signs of brilliance. Remember that he was only 22-years-old last season. Lefties that throw in the mid-90′s don’t grow on trees, especially ones with Holland’s command, which should improve in 2010.

Bud Norris – After posting very good strikeout rates in the minors, Norris continued that trend in 55.2 big league innings posting 8.7 K/9. His issue has been control related through the minors and that too showed up at the big league level. The strikeout potential alone makes him a nice flier pick, but look no further than Jonathan Sanchez to see how control issues can hold back a pitcher’s potential.

Felipe Paulino – Armed with an upper 90′s fastball, Felipe Paulino is just the type of pitcher to grab in the last couple rounds of the 2010 draft. Injuries cost him the 2008 season and his inconsistent performance last year could have been partly due to rust and an incredibly high .368 BABIP against. Remember how Ubaldo Jimenez struggled with control early in his career? Look at where he is now. Paulino may actually have better command than Jimenez at this point in his career.

The Comebacks

Cole Hamels – Almost nothing went right for Cole Hamels last season. Call it a world series hangover or whatever, but it may have been just plain bad luck. Almost everything about Hamels’ 2009 numbers was BETTER than the two seasons prior. He posted a better K/BB rate, a better ground ball rate, a lower line drive rate, a lower HR/FB rate and a better whiff rate. The big difference? A .325 BABIP against, by far the highest of his young career. Take advantage of his lowered stock on draft day. He still has top ten potential.

Chad Billingsley – A few battles with inconsistency ruined Billingsley’s 2009 season, but all of his peripheral stats remained solid. He still struck out over eight per nine innings, held a whiff rate over 20 percent and got hitters to swing at pitches outside the strike-zone 30 percent of the time. Much like the case with Hammels, take advantage of his lowered stock on draft day.

Ervin Santana – After missing the start of the 2009 season with an elbow injury, Santana then missed more time due to a triceps injury. Though Santana flashed signs that he was about to turn the corner, he remained inconsistent most of the season. If his arm looks healthy this spring, Santana should bounce back and throw his fastball with more confidence. He may never reach 2008 heights again, but he should be worth a late round pick in 2010.

Chris Young – After posting sub-4.00 ERA’s from 2006-2008, Young fell victim to a shoulder strain, which sent him to surgery in August of last season. Before 2009, Young had consistently struck out over eight per nine innings and pitching home games at Petco helped to keep his high fly ball rates from translating into home runs. Health has always been an issue with Young and he has never thrown over 180 innings in a season, but he should bounce back and deliver good strikeout, ERA and WHIP numbers as a late round pick in 2010.

The Busts

Jair Jurrjens -Despite the shining ERA, Jurrjens’sK/BB ratewas league average whilehis ground ball rate, whiff rate and o-swing rate (swings on pitches outside the strike-zone) all regressed in 2009. His peripherals scream league average and I’m not touching him in 2010.

Edwin Jackson – Edwin Jackson had a great first half, but a 5-plus ERA in the second half to go along with a mediocre K/BB rate overall. Since 2006 Jackson has only had one good half of a season. He also allowed 27 home runs in 214 innings, his highest home run rate since becoming a full time starter. Moving from pitcher friendly Comerica Park and into hitter friendly Chase Field won’t help despite moving from the AL to the NL.

J.A. Happ – Happ has about a good of a run as any pitcher in baseball last year, but I’m not betting on anything close to a repeat performance in 2010. Happ benefited from a .270 BABIP against and a very high 85 percent strand rate** last season. He’s also a fly ball pitcher, which is not a good fit in Citizens Bank Park.

Randy Wolf – Last season Wolf posted a mediocre 6.7 K/9, but displayed great command posting a 2.4 BB/9. Keep in mind however, that his numbers were helped by a low .257 BABIP against. Also, he now plays his home games in a more hitter friendly environment compared to Dodger Stadium.

Jeff Niemann – Niemann had himself a nice debut as a full time starter in the Rays rotation, but his overall numbers are less than impressive. His 6.23 K/9 was well below league average and he allowed more hits than innings pitched. Hitters also had no trouble making contact off of his pitches, leaving his contact rate about four percent above the league average. While Niemann is the type of pitcher most real teams would love to have at the back end of their rotation, he’s not much of a fantasy value outside of AL-only leagues.

*FIP – Fielding Independent Pitching, a measure of all those things for which a pitcher is specifically responsible. The formula is (HR*13+(BB+HBP-IBB)*3-K*2)/IP, plus a league-specific factor (usually around 3.2) to round out the number to an equivalent ERA number. FIP helps you understand how well a pitcher pitched, regardless of how well his fielders fielded. FIP was invented by Tangotiger.

**Strand rate (or left on base percentage) – The percentage of runers standed (or left) on base.