Senior Fantasy Baseball Analyst, Jesse Mendelson, switches leagues to preview the National League Central's Pittsburgh Pirates' starting rotation. Jesse promises nothing, but notes Paul Maholm and company could potentially aide your fantasy baseball team in 2011.
From a fantasy perspective, the single most amazing thing about the Pirates’ 18 consecutive losing seasons is their incredible lack of mixed league-ownable starting pitching over that time.
If I’m being kind, there have been 12 Pirates starters worth owning over that entire period. If I’m being discerning, that number is reduced to four (post a comment if you’d like to know the twelve and the four). FOUR! Over 18 years, the Pirates have had 4 really good mixed league-ownable starting pitchers—TOTAL!
This year, if things break right, the Pirates could actually have three or four. A long shot, I know, but it’s possible…here’s how.
First up is Paul Maholm, the 8th overall pick in the 2003 Draft. Though his strikeout rate has never been particularly high (his career high is 6.1), and his career ERA is 4.48, and he’s 12 games under .500 for his career, he did flash some potential in 2008. That year, he went 9-9 (which on the Pirates is akin to a winning record) with a 3.71 ERA, a 1.28 WHIP, .263 BAA and that aforementioned 6.1 k/9.
Since then, however, it’s been dreadful. Rising ERA, WHIP, BAA, and ground ball % coupled with lower K/9 does not make for good pitching. But, there is a ray of hope—his BABIP was an incredibly unlucky .327 in 2010, and his LOB percentage was an unusually low 64.8%. If—and granted, it is a big If—Maholm can turn those two numbers around, he might be a good value play once the season starts.
Next is the second of those potentially ownable pitchers, James McDonald. After coming over from the Dodgers in a midseason trade, McDonald was a ray of light down the stretch for the Pirates. Over 11 starts, he struck out 61 in 64 innings with an ERA of 3.52, WHIP of 1.30 and BAA of .249.
In 6 of those 11 starts he allowed 2 earned runs or fewer, and was the reliable pitcher the Pirates were hoping for. If he can bring curtail his walks, and continue to pitch the way he did over August and September, he’s an excellent sleeper pick and the only Pirates pitcher potentially worth drafting (in the last round, mind you).
Third is former Padre Kevin Correia, who appeared on a lot of people’s sleeper lists in 2010 (and was actually drafted, on average, in the 19th round). His 2010 season, however, was largely a disappointment, as he stumbled through some injuries, much higher ERA and WHIP than years prior and a higher BB/K rate, even though his GB % was better. He may be ownable, however, if he can return to his 2009 campaign, which saw him win 12 games for a bad Padres team, with an ERA under 4.00 and a respectable WHIP of 1.30. His pitch speed and selection have stayed constant—the potential is there.
Fourth is Ross Ohlendorf, aka Boy Genius. A graduate of Princeton and a former US government intern, Ohlendorf recently made headlines for winning his arbitration hearing after going 1-11 in 2010 and being shut down in mid-August after straining his shoulder. He had a promising 2009, but saw his GB/FB rate halved in 2010 (from 1.31 to 0.68) and his ERA, WHIP and BAA rise. He did, however, strike out more batters in 2010, and has flashed potential of being a decent major league starter. Again, not worth drafting or buying at auction in a Mixed league (worth $1 in NL-only), but toss him on your watch list and see if he can be good again.
Finally, the fifth-starter battle between Charlie Morton and Scott Olsen. Morton, the only major-league ready player the Pirates received from the Braves for Nate McLouth two years ago, has good stuff. He throws a mid-90's fastball, a solid curve and a decent change-up, and has shown the ability to strike people out.
The problem, of course, is that he hasn’t been able to consistently put all of it together, and he pitches for a horrible team, ergo the 2-12 record from a year ago. Put simply, Charlie Morton should not be owned.
Olsen, on the other hand,was legitimately good…in 2006. Since then, however, it’s been a frustrating slide for Scotty. His ERA and WHIP have been all over the place, but always on the wrong side of mediocre, and he hasn’t been able to stay healthy. If he can stay healthy, however, and maintain a K/9 rate close to his career-average 6.6, maybe he can recapture some of his magic from 2006. In which case, he’s another one to keep your eye on.
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.