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Fantasy Baseball Preview: Pitchers Who Deviated from Their Career Norms

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Fantasy Baseball Preview: Pitchers Who Deviated from Their Career Norms
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Today I will be concluding the series by taking an in depth look at starting pitchers.  Pitchers are a lot more complex than hitters in that they are far less consistent.  Despite this fact, there are certain pitchers who produce similar stat lines year in and year out. However, the puzzle that is drafting starting pitching gets even more complicated when these usually consistent pitchers deviate from their career norms.

In the paragraphs below I will be identifying some of these pitchers who “threw a curveball” last year and had years out of the ordinary.  Then I will determine what we can reasonably expect from them next year.

 

Javier Vazquez

Last year Vazquez was a fantasy ace.  He won 15 games with a 2.87 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP.  He also struck out 238 batters.  Although we anticipated a good year moving from the AL to the NL, nobody could have expected a CY Young caliber year.

In Vazquez’s last season in the NL (2005 with Arizona) before 2009 he finished with an ERA of 4.42 and a WHIP of 1.25.  Also in Vazquez’s previous 6 seasons in the NL before his one year stint with the Yankees, he never had an ERA lower than 3.24.  Not only was Vazquez a lot better last year than in any year of his career, he was also a lot better than any of his previous seasons in the NL.

So what made Vazquez so dominant last year?  For starters, his control was a lot better.  He walked only 44 batters last year, the lowest total of his career.  As a result, he also had the best K/BB ratio of his career.  Vazquez also had a K/9 of 9.77, the highest of his career.  His high propensity to strike batters out combined with the lowest HR per 9 innings led to Vazquez having the highest percentage of runners left on base in his career.

The question remains, how will Vazquez fare in his second stint with the Yankees?  Because Vazquez let up a career low 20 HR last year, I think it is reasonable to assume that he improved his command in that he must have thrown more pitches on the corners and less pitches down the middle of plate.  Improved command, coupled with his improved control (less walks) bodes well for Vazquez in 2010.

He should drastically outperform his numbers with New York in 2004 when he posted a 4.91 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP with only 150 strikeouts.  However, the move to the AL East combined with the hitter friendly confines of Yankee stadium should prevent Vazquez from matching last year’s totals.  I expect him to let up about 25 HR with an ERA around 3.65 and a WHIP hovering just below 1.20.  He should eclipse 200 strikeouts once again and has a good chance to build upon his win total.

Not a fantasy ace, but a good No. 3 starter.

Matt Cain

Matt Cain took a huge step forward in his 4th full year in the big leagues.  He finished the year with 14 wins, a 2.89 ERA, a 1.18 WHIP, and 171 strikeouts.  In his previous three years, Cain averaged 9 wins, a 3.85 ERA, a 1.30 WHIP, and 176 strikeouts.

Unfortunately for Cain, last year seems unsustainable due to the high degree of luck he had.  In 2009, Cain had an extremely low BABIP of .268.  This was the lowest of his career and a lot lower than the MLB average of .303.  A low BABIP such as Cain’s indicates that a lot more batted balls found fielders’ gloves than should have.

Cain also let up the most homeruns of his career last year with 22.  His HR per nine innings ratio of .91 was also the highest of his career.

Another lucky stat was Cain’s LOB% (Left on Base Percentage).  His LOB% of 81.6% was the highest of his career.  The average LOB% for pitchers last year was 71.9%.  This shows that Cain stranded a lot more runners last year than the MLB average.

A possible explanation for a high LOB% would be that the pitcher strikes out a lot of batters.  However, this is not the case with Cain.  His K/9 of 7.07 was just above league average.  It’s also alarming that Cain’s K/9 rate has been dropping from year to year.

In all likelihood, Cain’s BABIP will increase next year and his LOB% will decrease.  This does not bode well for someone who is letting up more homeruns and striking less batters out.

Expect a regression for Cain next year with an ERA close to the mid 3s and a WHIP around 1.25.

 

Derek Lowe

From 2005 to 2008, Derek Lowe was the model of consistently for the Dodgers.  Over that time span he averaged 141 strikeouts with an ERA of 3.59 and a WHIP of 1.23.  Last year with the Braves, Lowe was brutal.  He finished the year with an ERA of 4.67, a WHIP of 1.52, and 111 strikeouts.

After looking at Lowe’s 2009 more closely, I’m more inclined to believe that next year will be pretty much the same.

What made Lowe so successful in the past was his ability to induce the groundball and get out of those tough situations.  However, last year saw a huge dip in Lowe’s groundball percentage.  He only induced groundballs 56.3% of the time.  From 2005 to 2008, Lowe’s groundball percentage was never below 60%.

Another alarming stat last year was Lowe’s K/BB ratio of 1.76.  The year before it was 3.27.  As you might have guessed, Lowe walked more batters last year and struck out less.

Another factor going against Lowe is his age.  He’s 36 years old and is well past the age pitchers start declining.

As a result of all these factors, I can no longer consider Lowe a useful fantasy pitcher.  Last year began a downward trend for him and it’s likely to continue next year.

 

For the original article check out Baseball Professor .

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