Fantasy Baseball: 10 Pitchers Whose Arms Won't Hold Up All Season Long

Josh Cohen@@arealjoshcohenCorrespondent IIJuly 23, 2012

Fantasy Baseball: 10 Pitchers Whose Arms Won't Hold Up All Season Long

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    Your fantasy baseball team may be rolling now, but some of the pitchers you rely on will soon wilt in the dog days of summer.

    As the season wears on, owners cannot afford to be sentimental.

    Just because a guy pitched you through June doesn't mean he deserves to hold his roster spot when he's hurt through August. Likewise, you can't stand by a pitcher getting shelled just because he hurled solid innings for you in the spring. When it comes time to chase a championship, you must put your best foot forward.

    With your league on the line, being too loyal could cost you a season's worth of work. So when it comes to these 10 pitchers, do your best to look past the solid production they might have given you and acknowledge the warning signs.

Stephen Strasburg

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    We've known for some time that Stephen Strasburg's season was a time bomb. Now we don't know how much time is left.

    According to ESPN's Pedro Gomez, Nationals GM Mike Rizzo will make the unilateral decision to shut down Strasburg, and he will eschew the 160-inning limit in favor of his gut feeling.

    "There is no magic number," Rizzo said. "It will be the eye test. (Manager) Davey (Johnson) won't decide and ownership won't decide. It will be the general manager, and that's me."

    Right now, Strasburg is an All-Star hurler showing no signs of dropping off. Given this recent news, however, he is now a very interesting asset to trade.

    Look for an owner ambitious enough to believe Rizzo will let Strasburg pitch out the season. It very likely won't happen, as the Nationals will want to rest their phenom for the postseason, but one owner's delusion is another's opportunity.

    If you can leverage the uncertainty surrounding Strasburg to shore up a hole on your roster, it will pay dividends as your former pitcher watches from the dugout in September.

Jeremy Hellickson

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    If you've been trotting out Jeremy Hellickson, I pray you play in a deep league, an AL-only league, or both. Even as a low-level option, though, his utility is set to decline.

    Hellickson's 4-6 record is largely due to the Ray's disappointing offense, which has given him an average of 5.36 runs of support per nine innings. However, not even his 3.55 ERA is sustainable.

    Let's look at three of Hellickson's other stats. He has struck out 1.58 batters per walk, recorded a WHIP of 1.35, and given up a .439 slugging percentage against.

    So while his ERA is pretty good now, he lets too many batters reach base, doesn't strike out enough guys, and gives up a fair share of extra-base hits. It appears that he has kept runs off the board by sheer luck. Once that luck turns, he will have no useful statistics left, regardless of what league you play in.

Jason Vargas

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    Jason Vargas has been pitching well lately, but keep in mind that productive and good are two different things.

    The Vargas bandwagon is in high gear right now, as the Mariners lefty is 3-0 with a 1.55 ERA in July. However, those numbers are an aberration, and his luck is likely to run out soon.

    He is tied for fourth in the league in BABIP, as only .240 of balls hit in play off Vargas have gone for hits. Perhaps that could be due to his overpowering stuff, but Vargas does not have that ability.

    The four guys above him in BABIP are Jered Weaver, Justin Verlander, Matt Cain, and Ryan Vogelsong. Vargas is not on that level, and owners should expect him to give up more hits just by virtue of regressing to the mean.

    On top of that, Vargas does not make batters miss enough to offset his impending drop off. Among qualified pitchers, he is 83rd in the league in strikeouts per nine innings with 5.93.

    Before his July streak, Vargas was 7-7 with a 4.54 ERA. No matter how you slice it, Vargas is a pitcher who isn't very good at getting batters out; owners should expect him to return to his previous level of mediocrity.

Roy Oswalt

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    Don't trust Roy Oswalt on name-value alone; aging is definitely leaving an impact on him.

    Now a Texas Ranger, the 34-year-old has shown flashes of his former greatness this season, allowing just one earned run in three of his five starts en route to a 3-1 record.

    In his two other starts, however, Oswalt yielded 16 earned runs (18 total) on 26 hits in 10.2 innings. Granted, five starts is a small sample size, but Oswalt is five years removed from his last All-Star appearance, and he has been tagged in 40 percent of his starts this season.

    Oswalt will now miss at least one start due to tightness in his lower back, an injury that his nagged him in the past. "Sometimes this acts up with his lower back," Rangers GM John Daniels acknowledged.

    At this point in time, let's keep in mind that Oswalt is not the pitcher he once was. He's now at the stage of his career where you can hope he'll pitch the way he once did, but you cannot rely on it.

Colby Lewis

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    A combination of strategy and stadium will undo Colby Lewis in the second half.

    Lewis holds the distinction of being the biggest fly-ball pitcher in baseball this season. He has a ground ball to fly ball ratio of 0.52, tied with Kansas City's Bruce Chen for the lowest mark in the league.

    If you've been using Lewis so far, you've been capitalizing on his 7.97 strikeouts per nine innings. However, that ability to record whiffs won't save him when the home runs start flying.

    The Rangers' Ballpark in Arlington is 10th in the league in park factor on home runs this season. Last year, it was first. Somehow, Lewis has pitched in one of the premier hitter's parks in the league, yet has allowed just 16 home runs.

    Lewis' luck should turn, and those fly balls should start to leave the park. When they do, his strikeouts will not be able to make up the damage his record and ERA will cause to your team.

Ivan Nova

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    Ivan Nova has just two productive stats for fantasy purposes: a 10-4 record and 7.98 strikeouts per nine innings. The strikeouts will likely hold up, but expect the loss column to fill up in the second half.

    Let's compare two very similar Yankees starters.

    In 19 starts apiece, Nova has 10 wins and an ERA of 4.10, while Phil Hughes has nine wins and an ERA of 4.09.

    Their nearly identical numbers diverge due to run support. Nova has the 16th-best run support in the league, as the Bronx Bombers average 7.24 runs per nine innings in his starts. Hughes' 6.53 runs is still good for 39th in run support, but that difference leaves him with eight losses on the year as opposed to just four for Nova.

    No one can argue that the Yankees offense will implode and Nova won't be able to win another game. However, he's a very average pitcher with a very good record, and the slightest adjustment towards the mean should cause an uptick in losses.

A.J. Burnett

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    A.J. Burnett looked like his old self through June, but he might be reverting back to his erratic ways.

    Save for an outlier outing in which he allowed 12 earned runs, Burnett gave up three runs in just one start prior to June 28th. Since then, he has done it three times in five starts.

    Frankly, the stats don't support Burnett's solid numbers regressing. His run support is reasonable at 6.44 runs per nine innings, and so is his rate of 2.62 strikeouts per walk. However, this is A.J. Burnett we're talking about, and caution must be exercised.

    For whatever reason, the guy has a penchant for combusting in the month of August. In each of the past three Augusts, Burnett has posted ERAs of 6.03, 7.80, and 11.91.

    He may be enjoying his best season in years, but just remember that Burnett could go off the rails at any moment, and that history says it could happen soon.

    With a guy pitching as well as he is, endure one bad outing as an isolated incident. If he gets tagged two or three times, you'd best play it safe and cut your losses.

Jarrod Parker

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    Jarrod Parker has been an anomaly this season: the fly-ball pitcher who just does not allow home runs.

    This one can't be explained away by park factor. Oakland's O.co Coliseum is 21st in the league in home run park factor, but half of Parker's homers allowed have come on the road.

    That is to say, Parker has allowed two home runs at home and two on the road for a total of just four in 99.0 innings pitched this season. He shouldn't experience as severe a statistical correction as Lewis should, but something does have to give.

    Let's compare Parker to Justin Verlander. They each have a ground ball to fly ball ratio of 0.76 this season, but Verlander has allowed 12 home runs in 148.2 innings. To put that in perspective, on the same rate of fly balls, the reigning AL MVP gives up homers at roughly twice the rate the A's rookie does.

    Without even speculating on whether the young Parker will hold up over a full season, the ball will surely start flying out more often. Considering he does not strike out enough batters to make an impact that way, a ballooning ERA would harpoon his fantasy value down the stretch.

Matt Harrison

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    With a 12-5 record and a 3.02 ERA, Matt Harrison looks like the ace of the first-place Texas Rangers. Though if you look past the surface, you'll see Harrison's story is very similar to the allegory of Jeremy Hellickson.

    Let's look at the same three stats we did earlier. Harrison has 2.33 strikeouts per walk, a WHIP of 1.25, and a .387 slugging percentage. Do these numbers tell the same story as with Hellickson?

    The answer isn't quite the same. Harrison walks slightly fewer batters than Hellickson and allows fewer extra-base hits, but you could have guessed as much given Harrison's superior record and ERA.

    On the other hand, the lesson is the same. Hellickson should drop off from average to below average, while Harrison should become much more mediocre as the season goes on. If he is one of your top pitching options, prepare to look for reinforcements if he shows signs of declining.

Johan Santana

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    Johan Santana's no-hitter has become a distant memory due to the way he has pitched as of late.

    Since that fateful day in Mets history, Santana has allowed at least six runs in five of his eight starts, including each of his last three. In that time, his ERA has taken an enormous jump from 2.38 to 3.98, and he has only pitched past the sixth inning once.

    So how did the ace of the pre-Dickey era fall so far? It appears to be a matter of control.

    Santana is walking batters at an unusually high rate, with 38 bases on balls in 110.2 innings this year. He has also averaged 2.76 strikeouts per walk, which is an alarmingly low number considering he's striking out 8.54 batters per nine innings.

    It appears that some of Santana's problems were caused by his recent ankle injury, as he has allowed 19 earned runs since tweaking it on July 7th. When he comes back from the disabled list, owners will have to keep an eye on him to make sure he bounces back.

    If he doesn't, it won't matter that Santana is a former Cy Young winner who was one of your top starters earlier in the year. You can't stake your league on sentiment, even if it means benching an embattled pitcher like Santana.