It's early in the 2012 fantasy baseball season, and that means you should exercise patience with proven performers and show only guarded optimism with formerly middling options who are off to blazing starts. Today, I'll discuss a handful of the starting pitchers who are in the news and give my thoughts if you should be buying, or selling, base on their starts in 2012.
Chris Capuano, Dodgers
Overlooked this year at the draft table, Capuano is off to a solid start for the Dodgers at 2-0 with a 3.52 ERA, 1.35 WHIP and 20 Ks in 23 innings. In fact, if we go back to the start of last season we find that Capuano is 13-12 with a 4.44 ERA, a 1.35 WHIP and an 8.10 K/9 mark that has led to 188 Ks in 209 innings. That ERA is a run higher than the 3.32 mark that Matt Garza posted last season, but Garza only had nine more strikeouts and his WHIP was only 0.09 better at 1.26 while the Cubs' righty won just 10 games. Do those two sets of numbers explain the draft day decision to take Garza 31st at the starting pitcher position and Capuano at 103 (numbers from MockDraftCentral)? I'm not saying that Capuano is a pitcher on par with Garza, he's not, but I'm merely pointing out that if you drafted Capuano, or if he is still wasting away on waivers, your team would likely be better off if he was in the mix for your rotation.
Phil Humber, White Sox
Mr. Perfecto tossed the 21st perfect game in baseball history the last time he took the bump. Looking back to 2011 we find a hurler who posted an impressive set of ratios for an AL hurler with a 3.75 ERA and 1.18 WHIP. So why am I suggesting now is the perfect time to deal the Tigers arm? (1) Though he has 16 Ks in 14 innings this season he's not a strikeout arm, and that damages his value in 5x5 leagues. Humber has a 6.57 K per nine mark for his career, below the big league average of slightly over seven. (2) Always a good control arm, his 2.68 BB/9 mark is impressive, there is no way his current mark of 1.88 per nine is sustainable. What, does he think he's Doug Fister or something? (3) He hasn't allowed a homer yet. He's been able to keep his HR/9 mark below the league average of about one per nine with his career 0.83 mark, so that's a solid mark to be sure, even though his career GB/FB mark of 1.25 is only about a tenth above the big league average. I could go on, but the point is that Humber's career numbers make him look an awful lot like about 25 other big league arms that you really shouldn't be paying a lot of attention to in 12 team mixed leagues. You can certainly try to ride the wave, there is nothing wrong with that, but just know that last year's levels aren't likely to be there when the 2012 season is complete and Humber is nothing other than a depth arm in standard mixed leagues.
Zack Greinke, Brewers
Here we go again? Last year Greinke had a 5.29 ERA in May, after missing April with an injury, and he then went on to post a 6.04 ERA in June before finishing the year with a 2.59 ERA over his final 15 starts. Through four starts this year his ERA is way too high at 4.56, so is doom and gloom time? Hardly. Greinke is still performing at an elite level right now, it's just not being reflected in his ERA yet. Through 23.2 innings Greinke has 28 Ks giving him a 10.65 K/9 mark and also leading to 229 Ks over his last 195.1 innings. Greinke has also bettered his already elite 2.28 BB/9 mark for his career with a current mark of 1.90. Trust me. You can't have a 5.60 K/BB ratio and finish with an ERA over 4.50. In fact, it's never happened (no one has ever finished a season of at least 162 innings, with an ERA over 4.50 and a K/BB ratio of 4.50 or better). Greinke should still be thought of as an ace, period.
Jair Jurrjens, Braves
I told you so. In fact, I told you more than two years ago in What to Make of Jair Jurrjens? What did I tell you? How about that Jurrjens simply isn't anything other than a nice pair of socks. You need to wear socks, it can get cold out there, but it's way more important what kind of shoe you are wearing than what kind of sock you are wearing. If you didn't follow that, let me say it plainly – Jurrjens is not the pitcher you have thought he was when noticing his sub 3.00 ERA in two of the past three years. Nothing he does, nothing, stands out in any way. His K/9 rate is a batter below the big league average (6.11 per nine for his career). He walks batters at the big league average (3.16 BB/9). His career 1.22 GB/FB ratio is one tenth better than the league average. His 19.8 line drive rate is right in the middle of the 19-20 percent mark that is league average. So am I surprised that he hasn't been impressive this season? Hardly. I am surprised though that he was so awful (9.37 ERA, 2.45 WHIP, 0.80 K/BB in 16.1 innings) that he had to be demoted to the minor leagues. He needs to straighten out so much that even if you're in a 12 team mixed league I'm not sure why you would waste a bench spot on him.
Jon Lester, Red Sox
Off to an awful start, the Sox star lefty is 0-2 with a 6.0) ERA and 1.50 WHIP. Still, you know to buy on this guy, right? For the last four years he's won at least 15 games each season, an over the past three years he's punched out at least 182 batters per season. Throw in the fact that his ERA has never been above 3.47 while his WHIP has peaked at 1.27, and you have yourself one of the most stable arms in the game. All told Lester is one of four hurlers who have won at least 15 games with 180 Ks and an ERA under 3.50 in the last three seasons (he's joined by Roy Halladay, Justin Verlander and CC Sabathia). Lester will be fine. Buy low.
Brandon Morrow, Blue Jays
When a guy averages 10.5 Ks per nine over a two years span, people take notice. When that same hurler has a 4.1 mark through four starts people panic. While I admit to being slightly concerned, I think people are missing the point with Morrow. Sure the K-rate plummeting is an issue, but there is no hint that he is injured. Second, his average fastball velocity is down just 0.7 mph from last season, and that could easily be a sample size thing. Third, he's shown some real growth on the hill as he continues to cut his walk rate. After posting a disastrous 5.68 mark per nine in 2009 he cut that mark to 4.06 in 2010 and then 3.46 in 2011 (the big league average is about 3.10). This season, with only eight walks in 26.2 innings, Morrow has that rate down to 2.70. If he can maintain that level he's going to have an awful lot of success this season. Buy Morrow if his current owner is worried about the loss of punchouts.
Wade Miley, D'backs
Called up to replace Daniel Hudson, the story of Miley is more about who didn't get called up (Trevor Bauer, Tyler Skaggs) than it is about this lefty. Oh Miley did well in his first start holding the Phillies to just two hits over six scoreless innings Monday, and he could carve out a role in the starting rotation for a while given how awful Josh Collmenter has been (9.82 ERA, 1.64 WHIP), but Miley really is nothing more than an NL-only option on the hill. Miley is a lefty, and that certainly helps, but he's also barely able to hit 91-92 on the gun, and his secondary stuff isn't overly impressive either (he gave up 424 hits in 422.1 innings in the minors). Miley also walked 3.1 batters per nine in the minors, not a terrible number but certainly one that needs to be lower if he replicates the 7.0 K/9 mark he had during his minor league outings to this point.
Jake Peavy, White Sox
Did we all jump in the Hot Tub Time Machine and end up in 2007? Through four starts Peavy is 3-0 with a 1.88 ERA, 0.73 WHIP and 26 Ks in 28.2 innings. My advice? Trade him immediately. From a physical standpoint Peavy, and all of his doctors, admit he just isn't where he was five years ago and he'll never get back to that point again. I know, it sounds foolish to say deal a guy who has been one of the best pitchers in baseball in April, but facts are facts. The last time Peavy was able to throw 175 innings in a season was that fateful 2007 campaign. That was also the last time he was able to throw 115 innings. That's right, Peavy threw 101.2, 107 and 111.2 innings the past three years. Given the substantial work that was done on his shoulder, it's simply foolhardy to expect him to be able to make 30 starts this season, let alone to maintain his current pace. You almost certainly got Peavy on the cheap so you can try to just ride him out until the roof collapses, but realize that this man has nowhere to go but down, and that fall could be precipitous.
Johan Santana, Mets
Much like Peavy, Santana is returning from major surgery to his shoulder. Much like Peavy, Santana hasn't been able to pile up the innings in years (the last time he threw 200-innings was 2008). Santana has made four starts this season, and despite an 0-2 record, he's posted a solid set of ratios (3.00 ERA, 1.22 WHIP) while striking out a whopping 24 batters in 18 innings. Newsflash, there is no way that Johan will continue to strike batters out at a rate of 12 batters per nine innings. Not when (a) his average fastball is 88 mph, 3.4 miles per hour below his career average, (b) when the last time he posted a K/9 rate in double-digits was 2004, (C) when his K-rate has decreased each of his last three seasons (9.66 to 7.91 to 7.88 to 6.51). It should also be mentioned that even with all those punchouts that Santana has walked an average of 4.00 batters per nine innings. The last time he posted a mark above 2.70 per nine was 2002. The sample size here is throwing everything off. Santana has looked pretty impressive for the most part, but there are still major questions about whether or not he can make 30 starts and how his performance will hold up when the innings start to pile up. After his 11 K outing Tuesday now is probably the perfect time to trade out the aging lefty for maximum profit.
You can hear Ray Flowers Monday-Friday, from 5-8 PM EDT, on Sirius XM Fantasy Sports Radio (Sirius210, XM87). You can also follow Ray on Twitter at the BaseballGuys' Twitter Account while you can read more of his work at BaseballGuys.com.
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