Francisco Liriano & the Minnesota Twins: 2011 Fantasy Baseball Pitching Preview

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Francisco Liriano & the Minnesota Twins: 2011 Fantasy Baseball Pitching Preview
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Because they’re the Twins, people generally expect their rotation to come through as expected. 
But let's quickly run though their five projected starters:

Francisco Liriano is simply put, Jekyll and Hyde. Scott Baker has missed time in every season but one because of injury and has a career ERA of 4.32. Carl Pavano is 35-years-old and recently went five years between double-digit win seasons. Kevin Slowey has a career ERA of 4.41 and almost never hits 90 mph. And to wrap up the rotation is Nick Blackburn who was banished to the minors last year and has never had a winning record. Unless they change their minds and go with Brian Duensing, a converted reliever who was very solid in the second half last year.

But, it’s the Twins, and they know how to win, just don’t put *too* much stock in their fantasy prowess.

Except for Liriano, that is. Though he can be a tale of two pitchers (two seasons where he averaged 1.1 Ks per inning, two seasons where he averaged .88 Ks per inning with loads more walks and a WHIP nearly twice as high), Liriano – when healthy – is one of the few pitchers in baseball who can ring up 200 strikeouts. 

The “when healthy” issue is an open one. He already had some shoulder soreness this spring, but his ability to strike people out, not give up the long ball (only nine home runs allowed in 191 innings in 2010), keep a manageable WHIP and rack up double digit wins are all big-time fantasy assets. 

I wouldn't put Francisco in the elite group of starters (Halladay, King Felix, Verlander, Lester, etc), but just a notch below. He should go in the 6th or 7th round and get about $20 at auction.

Scott Baker is next, with his career 4.32 ERA and injury history. Baker has loads of talent and a couple of good seasons under his belt (2008 and 2009), but he took a major step backwards in 2010. 

Baker’s ERA has climbed for three years running (3.45, 4.37, 4.49) as has his WHIP (1.18,1.19, 1.34). His BAA skyrocketed last year to .277, and his BABIP rose 47 points to .323.  And that’s the biggest difference between his 2008-2009 run and 2010 – that BABIP. 

All the other numbers – LOB %, GB% FB%, walks, etc – stayed fairly constant, but the fact that he was significantly more prone to giving up hits on balls in play, made his season that much worse.

If Baker can return his BABIP to the .270 range, he can be an excellent value pick. Watch for him in the late rounds or for less than $10 at auction.

Carl Pavano, a starter who wasn't bought in my AL league last year, became a huge part of my title run.

In 2009, Pavano had a dismal 5.10 ERA and a 1.37 WHIP, but broke out in 2010 with 17 wins, seven complete games, a 3.75 ERA and 1.19 WHIP. He had the second lowest full-season BABIP of his career, and parlayed that into a sweet $16.5 million contract.

Though Carl could continue to surprise, I don’t put much stock in him. I wouldn’t choose him before the 20th round in a 12 team mixed league, or pay more than $5 for him in AL-only league.  The proof? I’m not even keeping him at $6.

Fourth is Kevin Slowey, a guy I had liked for a number of years and now, well, don’t. 

Yes, he won 13 games last year and pitches for a good team – which makes him worthy of AL-only ownership and deep mixed league consideration, but he’s been hurt all three years of his major league career and only once had an ERA below 4.45.

Slowey has never averaged more than seven strikeouts per nine innings, and consistently gives up more than a hit per inning.

Relying more and more on his slower two-seam fastball, slider and curveball, Slowey is in danger of becoming a 26-year-old junk ball pitcher. 

Honestly, he’s not worth a mixed league draft choice above the 21st round, or more than $5-8 at auction.

Finally, Nick Blackburn vs Brian Duensing – the former is a model of consistency and, unfortunately, of mediocrity. 

11-11 in both 2008 and 2009, Blackburn found himself banished to the minors for a few starts in 2010, only to be recalled and finish with a 10-12 record. His career ERA is 4.50, WHIP is 1.40, BAA of .296 and has never struck out 100 guys in a season.  He is the very definition of a $1/23rd round pick in AL only, and ignorable in mixed leagues. 

The latter, Duensing, is intriguing only because he had a 3.05 ERA in 13 starts last year (2.62 overall) and won ten games down the stretch. He was lucky, though, owning a very high LOB percentage (over 81 percent) and low BABIP of .272 – and he only struck out 5.4 guys per 9 innings (and you know how I feel about starters with low K/9). That said, he’s worth a couple dollars pitching for a good team in a pitchers’ ballpark.

See original article here

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Written by Jesse Mendelson exclusively for www.thefantasyfix.com.  Be sure to check back every Wednesday during the season for Jesse’s waiver wire column (and considering he used the waiver wire to sweep all three of his leagues last year, you might want to pay attention).  Find and add Jesse on Facebook.

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