Fantasy Baseball: The Best Pitching Rotation in Baseball

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Fantasy Baseball: The Best Pitching Rotation in Baseball
(Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)
The Marlins rotation is good. Not just a little good. Really good.
It's true, I'm not exactly stating something not known by the rest of the fantasy world. Still, when you look at the front four, it appears stronger than any in baseball. It's not exactly by accident.

Florida has spent years turning around and developing pitching. This is the same team that produced Josh Beckett and A.J. Burnett. The same team that gave life to some of the best closers the game has ever seen in Robb Nen and Trevor Hoffman.
The Marlins draft and develop talent at this position better than anyone in baseball. And they've done it for a long time.

Other teams are taking the same route. Minnesota's rotation is another strong one, but doesn't seem to have the same ceiling and star power that we see in South Florida.
Tampa Bay has a chance to produce similar talent levels, but they just haven't been around the same amount of years. Even the big boys like Boston and New York are getting involved in developing pitching.

In a cost-conscious environment, producing home-grown talent is the best way to control costs. Teams simply can't afford to spend money on both sides of the ball.

The larger question, for fantasy purposes, is which of these pitchers is the better long-term and short-term investment? When should they be owned? Both good questions, and both deserve evaluation.

Josh Johnson

Johnson, to me and many others, is the current anchor of this staff. His Tommy John surgery in 2007 scared many, but he returned incredibly strong last season. In 14 starts, he lost only one. More than that, there was no concern with his command.

He had a mini-breakout in 2006, a season where he won 12 games and struck out nearly eight batters per nine innings. Surgery cut his season short in 2007, but when he returned in 2008, so did the same strikeout ratio.
Johnson's command is his greatest asset, and he's improved his pitches per at-bat from 4.07 in 2005 down to 3.87 last season.

Sure, we would still like to see his K/BB rate jump up slightly, but what we saw in 2008 was impressive.
He's actually stronger on the road than at home, when you look at the splits, but with the Marlins holding more of a pitcher's park, his home numbers should improve with more outings.

While Ricky Nolasco may get much of the hype, Johnson's numbers this season may serve to impress the most.

2009 projection: 15W, 160K, 3.25 ERA, 1.30 WHIP
Long Term Projection: No. 2/3 Fantasy Starter

Ricky Nolasco

Nolasco became a fantasy favorite last season, putting together an impressive stat line. His 15 wins were a huge step in the right direction for value, and may have caused him to be slightly over-drafted early on.
His ESPN ADP suggests a round 12 selection in 12-team formats, and that seems still slightly high.

Why? It puts great expectations on a young shoulder. Like Johnson, he was injured much of 2007. His innings increase from 2007 to 2008 is, therefore, only slightly alarming.
Still, it was 33 percent more than his workload in 2006, and it amounted to nearly 50 percent more pitches.

The Marlins are looking to Nolasco to be their ace, and there is no doubt he has the stuff. He got progressively better during each part of 2008, lowering his ERA in the second half by a full point.
Batters hit just .240 against him for the season, and he struck out nearly eight per nine innings.

What I like best is his command. He struck out nearly 4.5 batters for each one he walked, meaning he was keeping batters off the bases that weren't getting hits.

His first few starts this season have been rough, and I think the work from last season and the increase in innings could catch up to him at some point in 2009.
His work improved every month of 2008, and his Aprils seem to consistently be his worst month based on limited data history.

That in mind, Nolasco likely still has a ceiling of being a top-15 pitcher in baseball.

2009 Projection: 16W, 185K, 3.50 ERA, 1.20 WHIP
Long Term Projection: No. 1 Fantasy Starter

Chris Volstad

Volstad doesn't profile as the potential ace that Johnson and Nolasco do. He doesn't strike out many hitters, tends to nibble too much, and doesn't have an overpowering fastball.
Still, he could be one of the more effective pitchers in the organization, and one out of the Greg Maddux mold as opposed to John Smoltz.

The 22-year-old is a groundball and contact pitcher. He doesn't give up home runs, as evidenced by the three he gave up in 29 total starts between majors and minors last season.
Yet, because of his walks, he still put up a WHIP of 1.32. Doesn't make sense for a guy who had an ERA under 3.00.

The key with him will be expectations and innings management. The Marlins will need to make sure he doesn't ramp too quickly, and experience the similar let downs seen in Johnson and Nolasco (granted Johnson's was less controllable).

Volstad's early two starts have strongly resembled what was seen last year. He's efficient with his pitches, keeps the ball on the ground, and keeps hitters off-balance.
In most leagues, he's worth owning, because the peripheral stats will certainly help you beyond strikeouts.

I'd be hard-pressed to find a scoring system that doesn't value what Volstad can bring to the table.

2009 Projection: 12W, 110K, 3.30 ERA, 1.25 WHIP
Long Term Projection: No. 3/4 Fantasy Starter

Anibal Sanchez

Much of the limelight in the Josh Beckett trade was focused on Hanley Ramirez. Yet Sanchez has made a little name for himself as well. He's already thrown a no-hitter, and his mound presence is mature for such a young pitcher.

He suffered a labrum tear after his rookie season that shelved him for a while, but he has regained the velocity he had prior to the injury. Problem is, in getting the velocity, he still continued to get knocked around.

Of all the Marlins pitchers, he remains the toughest to project. He's likely to improve off his numbers from a year ago, especially as he regains comfort on the mound.
Sanchez still lacks some control, and needs to develop better command of his pitches in order to lower his walk rate and work deeper into games. 

With all this in mind, he still has the type of stuff that can dominate; he simply needs to work on harnessing it. At this point, his value is in spot starts for mixed leagues, but he should be valued more highly in NL-only formats.
He could certainly be a sleeper moving into the second half of the season.

Mixed-league owners should watch and observe, but capitalize on favorable matchups.

2009 Projection: 9W, 100K, 3.65 ERA, 1.35 WHIP
Long Term Projection: No. 5 Fantasy Starter
Collin Hager writes The Elmhurst Pub fantasy blog. You can get your fantasy questions answered by sending an email to elmhurstpubroundtable@yahoo.com. He's also on Twitter @TheRoundtable.
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