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AL Starters: Day Three
by Tim Polko

Today's Fantasy Rx

American League Starting Pitchers with Positive Draft Value

Quick Key to the tables:
W = Wins.  S = Saves.  ERA = Earned Run Average (ER*9/IP).
WHIP = (Walks + Hits)/IP aka Ratio.  K = Strikeouts.  BB = Bases on Balls aka Walks.
H = Hits.  IP = Innings Pitched.  P = Pitches.  B = Bats.
Age = Player's Age as of October 2, 2005.
4x4 = BA, HR, RBI, and SB in 12-team, $260 leagues with 23-man rosters in 2005.
5x5 = BA, HR, RBI, SB, and R in 12-team, $260 leagues with 23-man rosters in 2005.
RAR = Runs Above Replacement in 2005; Adjusted RAR = RAR modified to
consider whether a pitcher qualified as a starter in Scoresheet fantasy baseball .

We ranked players in order from the highest draft value in a 4x4 league to the lowest. As the majority of fantasy leagues allow you to keep anyone traded to the other league, we listed each player in the league where he started the season.

Jarrod Washburn803.201.339451184177.1
LA Angels4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 31P:L    B:L9115151

Washburn landed a very comfortable four-year deal with Seattle, enabling him to remain in an excellent pitching environment nicely suited for his skill set. His career-best .97 G-F led to a much lower homer rate more in line with his pre-2003 stats and enabling him to post the second-best ERA of his career. Battling forearm tendonitis throughout the second half also didn't harm his effectiveness as Washburn's command markedly improved with an easier workload down the stretch. Although his growing injury history concerns me, his general consistency and decreasing downside make him a very intriguing sleeper anywhere below the teens.

Felix Hernandez402.671.0077236184.1
SEA Mariners4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 19P:R    B:R8729.829.8

The best teenage pitcher in two decades blew through the minors with amazing felicity, even dutifully dominating AAA Tacoma(PCL) for a half-season last year while the Mariners attempted to avoid abusing his amazing right arm. King Felix recovered from an earlier bout with shoulder bursitis by early August, finally forcing forced his way into Seattle's rotation. He proceeded to dominate in every start save two: an August outing against the Yankees and then on true disaster in Texas. No pitcher in baseball possesses Hernandez's combination of dominance, control, and an unbelievable 3.31 G-F. Only injury will prevent him from a Hall of Fame career, and with Seattle taking every possible precaution, even the chance of him missing half the year shouldn't keep you from bidding much less than $20. Conversely, he'll accumulate so many innings at such a young age that bidding much more than $20 seems unnaturally risky, leaving Hernandez as an automatic play only in national contests where you can replace him at minimal cost.

Gustavo Chacin1303.721.3912170213203
TOR Blue Jays4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 24P:L    B:L81045.245.2

I scarcely believe that Chacin failed to earn double-digit value after he compiled a stunning 4-1 record and 2.48 ERA in 32.2 April innings. Of course, his relatively mediocre skills limited his effectiveness as the year progressed, but given his decent control and the Jays' improved offense, he ranks high on the list of sleeper 20-win candidates. Chacin unfortunately also appears a high-risk gamble as his IP jumped from 69.1 IP in 2003 to 169.1 in 2004 and now over two hundred frames last year. Despite his quantitative upside, general health and qualitative concerns prevent me from predicting any overt increased in value for 2006.

Jake Westbrook1504.491.3011956218210.2
CLE Indians4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 28P:R    B:R7727.127.1

Although Cleveland fielded the third best defense in the majors, Westbrook's ERA rose by more than a point despite little overall change in his skills. He actually registered superior rates in most stats aside from slight increases in hit and homer rates, but with a career-best 3.13 G-F and a solid second-half suggesting plenty of upside, I expect a nice rebound back toward a 4.00 ERA. A push over $10 seems almost certain given his overall skill trends.

Chris Young1204.261.2613745162164.2
TEX Rangers4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 26P:R    B:R7825.725.7

San Diego somehow completely swindled the Rangers, upgrading from the inconsistent Eaton to the vastly cheaper Young while also augmenting the team's offense. The 6'10" right-hander moves from the AL's worst pitchers' park to baseball's best, which nicely mitigates the downside of his .68 G-F. Although he suffered from fatigue down the stretch, a relatively light historical workload makes him an outstanding buy this spring, especially in long-term keeper leagues. Anything under the teens should be a bargain.

Bronson Arroyo1404.511.3010054213205.1
BOS Red Sox4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 28P:R    B:R7825.725.7

An increased organizational commitment to long-term development supplemented by a strong defense provides the perfect platform for Arroyo to fulfill his latent potential. He tired down the stretch last summer as he crested over 200 innings for the first time, but with a new three-year deal securing his future, he should regain his 2004 skill set as the sleeper starter on the Red Sox. Take advantage of the perceived dip in his value due to a winter of trade rumors to acquire Arroyo at a nice discount this spring.

David Wells1504.451.3110721220184
BOS Red Sox4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 42P:L    B:L7624.524.5

Among the most underrated fantasy pitchers in recent seasons, Wells started at least thirty games for the fourth straight season, again demonstrating excellent control, allowing surprisingly few homers, and only failed to keep his ERA under 4.00 due to defensive failures. Given the off-season moves of both the Red Sox and his possible trade destinations out west, Wells should receive the support necessary to cut his ERA back to his even-year 3.75 standard despite turning 43 in May. Any pitcher with his control and savvy should remain rather effective whenever pitching at full strength, so if you can reserve Wells whenever he looks hurt, you should net a small profit on someone who won't cost ten bucks in most leagues.

Aaron Small1003.201.2537247176
NY Yankees4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 33P:R    B:R6421.921.9

Somehow Small's mediocre 1-4 record and a 4.58 ERA on a 24:8 K:BB in 53 IP over 11 GS(12G) for AAA Columbus(IL) merely preceded his midseason explosion as he won all ten of his decisions and likely secured victories for his owners in almost all leagues using net wins as a category. Of course, his 4.4 K/9 , 2.8 BB/9, and advanced age all harshly limited his upside. He also needs no less than two injuries to projected Yankees' starters before he returns to the rotation, so I simply see no justification for treating him as more than endgame roster filler for a couple of bucks from anyone chasing wins.

Jamie Moyer1304.281.3910252225200
SEA Mariners4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 42P:L    B:L563131

The nineteen-season veteran and ten-year Mariners' statesman unsurprisingly stayed in Seattle on a one-year deal in the hope of anchoring the rebirth of a currently rather moribund franchise. Although he struggled for much of the summer, Moyer improved down the stretch, nicely rebounding from his poor 2004 campaign. Yet the significant downside caused by his massive home/road split makes him a poor gamble unless you can roster Moyer for a few bucks and then sit him for every road start.

Chien-Ming Wang804.021.254732113116.1
NY Yankees4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 25P:R    B:R5421.621.6

Wang emerged as the Yankees' best young rookie starter in many years despite a poor 3.6 K/9 that does not match his stat history. A foundation of strong control and minimal overall downsize, particularly buoyed by a 2.96 G-F, allowed eight wins and a 4.02 ERA. Although he could return to the minors, Wang appears a better fit in the Yankees' rotation right now than Jaret Wright, giving the sophomore an edge for the last spot. Of course, the advanced age and fragility of most New York pitchers virtually insure that Wang will spend most of the year starting as long as his shoulder problems don't return. Rostering him anywhere around $5 seems a reasonable gamble.

Jeremy Bonderman1404.571.3514557199189
DET Tigers4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 22P:R    B:R5622.322.3

With Bonderman's contract expiring in many fantasy leagues, he looks like a top target for anyone looking to build a long-term winner. The Tigers continued to exercise impressive restraint in developing him, yet a September filled with elbow problems really concerned me. Despite Detroit's best efforts, Bonderman still accumulated an extremely elevated number of innings pitcher at a very young age, so while he just might avoid an extended DL trip, the odds suggest his comparatively heavy workload at least will slow his emergence as a true ace. Another small step forward this summer will bring him to double-digit value and prime him for additional success once the Tigers' other young flamethrowers supplement Bonderman in Detroit's rotation.

Scott Elarton1104.611.3010348189181.2
CLE Indians4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 29P:R    B:R5720.720.7

With an average ERA above 6.00 over the past three seasons, Elarton seemed a poor bet to contribute to successful fantasy team. Although he defied my expectations, he still allowed an abundance of homers and remained primarily reliant on defensive support due to limited dominance. Moving from Cleveland to Kansas City removes that necessary support, making both a lower win total and skyrocketing qualitative stats nearly a certainty. Don't bother purchasing Elarton in any league without a deep reserve roster to allow you to spot his starts very quickly.

Mike Mussina1304.411.3714247199179.2
NY Yankees4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 36P:R    B:L5924.924.9

Elbow problems cost Mussina much of September and left him short of two hundred innings for the second straight season. The erstwhile ace actually pitched quite well in the first half and still owns decent skills, but diminishing command leaves him nearly completely dependent upon excellent defensive support to post strong qualitative marks. Hopefully the addition of Johnny Damon will alleviate part of that problem, but I simply see nothing here that otherwise portends a return to his glory days. Turning 37 in December means Mussina must excel this summer or risk his current contract expiring without more than token offers from contenders, and the odds against that rebound should keep your bids below ten bucks in most leagues.

Matt Clement1304.571.3614668192191
BOS Red Sox4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 31P:R    B:R5722.622.6

Seemingly daily trade rumors regarding Clement hit the net as soon as he began slumping in July. With about $20M left on his three-year deal, he looks like a relative bargain what pitchers with similar skill sets landed this winter, so he could depart Boston at any time. However, a return to the Red Sox gives Clement the chance to build on his first-half stats of a 10-2 record and a 3.85 ERA on a 97:35 K:BB in 117 IP. I consider him a definite bargain for anything under the teens due to the extreme likelihood of him returning fifteen wins and a sub-4.00 ERA.

Scott Kazmir1003.771.46174100172186
TB Devil Rays4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 21P:L    B:L4740.340.3

The 21-year-old future superstar absolutely excelled in his first full big league season. Kazmir registered above-average skill ratios in every category save walks, and as Tampa's defense continues improving, we could see his ERA drop to 3.00 very quickly. Only difficulties with right-handed hitters kept him from total domination, so other than general concerns regarding the potential for injury of any young pitcher, everything here depicts a developing ace. Consider Kazmir a good investment anywhere below the teens, particularly in 5x5 leagues.

Mike Maroth1404.741.3711551235209
DET Tigers4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 28P:L    B:L4520.420.4

Ironically Maroth pitched great on the road while somehow running up a 5.82 ERA at home almost entirely due to a high hit rate. Even mild improvement in Detroit's defense could send his ERA hurtling down toward 4.00, so although his overall skill set suggests little upside, he just might turn a small profit if you can snag him for a few bucks.

Jason Johnson804.541.349349233210
DET Tigers4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 31P:R    B:R4425.625.6

With a career-best 1.74 G-F a product of six straight seasons of improvement, Johnson appears perfectly suited for his move from Detroit to Cleveland. He at least matched his strikeout rate decrease with superior control. Although nothing here suggests any overly dynamic upside, Johnson owns superior skills to Scott Elarton and just might drop his ERA below 4.00 while winning more than ten games for the first time.

Kirk Saarloos1004.171.405354170159.2
OAK Athletics4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 26P:R    B:R4326.826.8

A top prospect only a few years ago, Saarloos reemerged in the majors as a viable starter by employing Oakland's defense nearly perfectly. A 2.34 G-F helped him minimize the downside of an awful 3.0 K/9, yet despite his passable ERA, his skills simply don't support a repeat of this performance. The Athletics signed Esteban Loaiza because they realized the uphill battle Saarloos faces to remain successful in a rotation. While he may stick in Oakland's loaded bullpen, thereby warranting a minimal investment, Saarloos otherwise simply must improve his command before you risk acquiring him anywhere he starts.

AL Starting Pitcher Week continues tomorrow.

Today's Fantasy Rx: King Felix will cost a ton in any league, and both Bonderman and Kazmir similarly remain in the ascendant ace category. However, several of today's pitchers also rank among the best targets for filling out your staff, including Young, Clement, Westbrook, Arroyo, Washburn, Maroth, and even Wells and Johnson. All eight appear more likely to return profits on your investment than the high-risk, high-upside trio of under-24 pitchers.

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