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AL Starters: Day Four
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.

David Bush504.491.257529142136.1
TOR Blue Jays4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 25P:R    B:R3417.517.5

The former second round pick and college closer headed to Milwaukee as the primary return in the Lyle Overbay deal. Bush opened the year in Toronto's starting rotation, briefly returned to Syracuse where he pitched decently but received little support, and then returned to the Jays, registering a 4.23 ERA and 5-6 record on a 49:19 K:BB with 83 H and 10 HR in 83 second-half innings. A respectable groundball rate suggests the homer rate will drop with the Brewers, and although I envision further growing pains here, Bush should develop into reliable rotation filler or at least return to his former dominance out of the bullpen. Take a flyer on him for a couple bucks in any reasonably deep NL league even if Rick Helling lands the fifth starters' job out of camp.

Nate Robertson704.481.3612265202196.2
DET Tigers4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 28P:L    B:R3425.425.4

Mild skill deterioration almost across-the-board didn't prevent Robertson from dropping his ERA from 4.90 to 4.49. His strikeout rate also fell from 7.1 to 5.6 K/9, and this general loss of dominance led to a shocking total of twenty-two second-half homers. I still see plenty of long-term upside for the relatively inexperienced southpaw, but nothing here suggests an immediate emergence as more than a late-round wild card for most clubs.

Kyle Lohse904.181.438644211178.2
MIN Twins4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 26P:R    B:R3429.729.7

Few veterans enter spring training in a more precarious position than Lohse, who faces competition for his job from fifth starter candidates Scott Baker and Francisco Liriano and soon will depart due to the wave of young pitching approaching Minnesota. However, Lohse only turned 27 in October and started at least thirty games for the fourth straight season. A steadily rising ground-fly rate minimizes his downside while fewer walks keep his qualitative stats at acceptable levels. The improvement of the Twins' defense offers more potential for growth to Lohse than any pitcher on the team outside of Carlos Silva, so although I don't expect significant growth here, a jump to double-digit value doesn't appear particularly improbable.

Erik Bedard604.001.3812557139141.2
BAL Orioles4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 26P:L    B:L3526.726.7

Everything about Bedard's profile and recent development screamed potential ace even before Baltimore added Leo Mazzone to the coaching staff. Bedard registered a 2.08 ERA on a 52:14 K:BB in 61.2 IP with 49 H and 3 HR over 9 first-half starts before a mild knee strain benched him for two months. He returned after the Break to a club in disarray, echoing the offense's struggles by performing increasingly worse as the season drew to a close. Only inconsistent control could keep him from another step forward this year, so bid to the high single digits in the hope of a $15 breakout.

Ervin Santana1204.651.399947139133.2
LA Angels4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 22P:R    B:R3514.614.6

Registering a 2.31 ERA on a 32:15 K:BB in 39 IP with 34 H and 2 HR over six weeks for AA Arkansas(TL) earned Santana a spring promotion. While he later headed to the International League for three starts, he returned to the Angels in June, remaining in their rotation for the rest of the season. Santana compiled a 3.97 ERA on a 65:27 K:BB with 9 HR and 89 H in 93 second-half innings, indicating plenty of short-term potential despite his unimpressive qualitative stats. With a strong defense and excellent bullpen supporting him, Santana should head into double-digit value without any trouble.

Rodrigo Lopez1504.901.4111863232209.1
BAL Orioles4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 29P:R    B:R3316.216.2

The purported ace on a club with five superior starting options, Lopez desperately needs the help of new pitching coach Leo Mazzone. Of course, since inconsistency looks like Lopez's biggest problem, we can't expect dramatic development from the 30-year-old veteran. Few of the Orioles' moves appear particularly solid this winter, and with reduced offensive support effectively negating the benefits of a better defense, don't bother bidding more than a couple of bucks on someone who just might end up in the bullpen by year's end.

Scott Baker303.351.1632144853.2
MIN Twins4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 24P:R    B:R3414.414.4

Spending much of the year on the shuttle between Minnesota and AAA Rochester(IL), Baker compiled a 3.01 ERA on a 107:26 K:BB in 134.2 IP with 123 H and 15 HR over 22 GS in the minors. His big league numbers suggest a youngster capable of emerging as a quality #4 starter this year, yet he heads into camp in competition with flamethrowing southpaw Francisco Liriano for the #5 spot. While Baker deserves to win that battle due to his superior consistency in climbing the minor league ladder, his comparative lack of dominance even could result in a long-term assignment to the bullpen. Gambling more than a few bucks here until he firmly gains control of a rotation slot seems unwise.

Brandon McCarthy304.031.1848176267
CH White Sox4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 22P:R    B:R2112.412.4

Perhaps the best pitcher to lose his rookie status last year, McCarthy enters camp as the sixth starter on a club with five putative aces. Of course, he probably belongs in the #3 spot in the rotation, but instead he should split time this summer between closing down the sixth and seventh innings before covering for the inevitable injury in the rotation down the stretch. Figure maybe 120 innings from McCarthy this year, polishing his skills in Buehrlian fashion before he spends the rest of the decade as best starter on the White Sox.

Daniel Cabrera1004.521.4315787144161.1
BAL Orioles4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 24P:R    B:R2620.120.1

While Cabrera appears on many sleeper lists this winter, he deserves that ranking due a virtual perfect storm of events that could send his value spiraling upward. Mild back problems prevented him from accumulating an unhealthy number of innings pitchers, and as he enters his third big league season, positive skill trends across-the-board suggests significant upside. Plus, he now enjoys the benefits of Leo Mazzone as his pitching coach, which should allow Cabrera to take full advantage of his 8.8 K/9 and 1.73 G-F. Expect him to build on an impressive second half as only an elevated walk rate stands between Cabrera and the upper echelon of big league pitchers.

Pedro Astacio604.691.347837133126.2
Age: 35P:R    B:R2413.113.1

Astacio's decision to refuse the Padres' arbitration offer baffles me following his one good half in the past three seasons. He took full advantage of his return to the NL West to post a 3.17 ERA and 4-2 record on a weak 33:26 K:BB in 60.2 IP with 54 H and 4 HR. Given his limited command and dominance, I understand his difficulty finding work with another team, but spending one more year in San Diego at almost any salary provided the best hope for Astacio to reemerge as a valued rotation member. He now may never return to this positive value, so absolutely wait until you see him pitching effectively with decent skills before even considering him for your team.

Scott Downs404.311.3575349394
TOR Blue Jays4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 29P:L    B:L1214.214.2

The former Cubs' prospect pitched shockingly well for Toronto while splitting his time between the bullpen and rotation. Downs initially registered a 4.12 ERA on a 35:3 K:BB in 39.1 IP with 44 H and 5 HR over 7 starts for AAA Syracuse(IL), then spent several weeks as an unimpressive reliever before finally reemerging as a starter. He compiled a 4.30 ERA on a 60:25 K:BB in 69 IP with 71 H and 7 HR over 13 starts, even adding a ground-fly ratio near 2.00 to that line. Any rotation opening will place Downs in a pitched battle with top prospect Dustin McGowan, and given Downs' work last year, he may hold the edge. Spending a reserve round pick on Downs just might net you a nice sleeper for the second straight season.

Jeff Harris204.191.2725204853.2
SEA Mariners4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 31P:R    B:R1-18.98.9

A journeyman reliever stuck pitching for Quebec in the Northern League less than two years ago, Harris quickly worked his way to the majors after signing with Seattle early in 2004. Last season he registered a 2.10 ERA on a 31:8 K:BB in 34.1 IP over 2 GS(14G) for AA San Antonio(TL), then progressed to AAA Tacoma(PCL), where he posted a 2.78 ERA on a 56:17 K:BB in 68 IP over 9 GS(16G). A final move into the Mariners' rotation enabled Harris to finish 2005 with the third-best ERA of any Seattle starter with more than one start, slipping behind only King Felix and Jamie Moyer. Unfortunately, the Mariners outrighted Harris after the season, so although he could return to the club this summer, his uncertain future zeroes his fantasy value until you see Seattle both recall Harris and provide him with regular work.

Casey Fossum804.921.4112860170162.2
TB Devil Rays4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 27P:L    B:L1212.212.2

Swapping Jose Cruz to Arizona for Fossum looks like the second-best trade completed by Chuck LaMar in his decade of running Tampa, topped only by the Scott Kazmir swindle and at the very least redeeming LaMar for exchanging Brandon Backe for Geoff Blum a year earlier. Fossum earned a two-year deal this winter by adequately transitioning from a dominant reliever into a capable starter. While he stumbled badly in August, he otherwise pitched quite well, demonstrating intriguing upside as the Rays' second-best starter. We viewed him as a potential stud with Boston before his detour out west, and given his development last season, I fully expect a breakout in 2006. Bidding about five bucks here just might provide you with a 100% profit on your investment.

AL Starting Pitcher Week continues tomorrow.

Today's Fantasy Rx: Daniel Cabrera leads the list of young sleepers here, although teammate Erik Bedard follows right behind the right-hander. Ervin Santana offers nearly as much immediate upside, and the high-risk, high-reward award goes to Brandon McCarthy, who just may spend the year with fellow former starter Neal Cotts as a dominant middle reliever if the White Sox can't clear a rotation spot. Of course, McCarthy could emerge as a double-digit contributor in any role, so owners in keeper leagues certainly need to target him anywhere you can land him for much less than ten dollars.

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