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NL Starters: Day Two
by Tim Polko

Today's Fantasy Rx

National 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.

Greg Maddux1304.241.2213636239225
CH Cubs4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 39P:R    B:R9102525

Dusty Baker single-handedly kept Maddux from extending his record streak of seventeen straight seasons with fifteen or more wins by placing OBP sinkholes at the top of the lineup throughout the year. Yet even with this streak broken and his fortieth birthday approaching this spring, Maddux still possesses superb control and appears able to remain effective indefinitely. Of course, expecting much more than a repeat of these numbers seems unwise, but given his good health and overall skill level, feel free to bid into double digits for Maddux, especially if looking to secure a 200 IP guarantee.

Aaron Harang1103.831.2716351217211.2
CIN Reds4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 27P:R    B:R91134.334.3

I never expect Harang to contend for a Cy Young, but with good command, a solid 6.9 K/9, and respectable hit and homer rates, he could remain an effective middle-of-the-rotation option indefinitely. Of course, he rates as the Reds' ace right now due to his unimpressive teammates, yet nothing here allows us to project a particularly impressive ceiling for the young veteran. Consider Harang a bargain in single digits, passable roster filler around $10, and an unwise investment in any league where bidding heads into the teens.

Esteban Loaiza1203.771.3017355227217
WAS Nationals4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 33P:R    B:R91136.636.6

I doubt everyone remembers that Loaiza nearly won the AL Cy Young just two years ago, a candidacy fueled primarily by fantastic defensive support. Now he moves from an excellent pitchers' park into a another friendly haven in Oakland, which now owns the best defense in the majors after adding Milton Bradley. The accompanying drop in his hit rate could carry Loaiza's ERA down near 3.00, elevating him from afterthought rotation filler to a 15 win, 3.25 ERA pitched capable of carrying your staff. Just remember that he turned 34 in December, so while winning the bidding on him for anything under the teens gives you a significant edge on your competitors, he doesn't look like a great long-term investment.

Mark Prior1103.671.2118859143166.2
CH Cubs4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 25P:R    B:R91130.230.2

With skills that rank among baseball's half-dozen best pitchers when healthy, Prior should cruise past $20 if he ever avoids the DL for a full year. However, with a growing string of injuries threatening to stifle his tremendous potential, even Prior's otherwise dominant skills won't mean anything if he can't regularly pitch over 180 innings. Right now you'll likely find at least one owner in the vast majority of leagues willing to push $20 in the hope that Prior exceeds 200 innings. Yet with that expectation looking fairly laughable for 2006, I simply see no justification even for bidding far into the teens for the recovering top prospect. Resign yourself to avoiding Prior in standard leagues if you want to contend this year.

Mark Mulder1603.641.3811170212205
STL Cardinals4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 28P:L    B:L9937.837.8

With a ground-fly rate that skyrocketed to 2.74 G-F, Mulder took full advantage of his move to the NL, similarly allowing his strikeout rate to drop to a career-low 4.9 K/9. Although his walk rate remained higher than anticipated, Mulder otherwise managed to cut more than five pitches off his average game, minimizing his workload even as he exceeded 200 innings for the fourth time in five seasons. I anticipate that pitching for a new contract will result in additional improvement for Mulder, so despite some trepidation regarding his injury history and general concern about his seemingly deteriorating command, he appears nicely positioned to head toward $15 barring any unexpected problems.

Tim Hudson1403.521.3511565194192
ATL Braves4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 30P:R    B:R9938.538.5

Hudson looks like an increasingly risky pick due to his inability to stay healthy for a full year, but with seven straight seasons of a ground-fly rate over 2.00 and a perpetually solid WHIP, he appears virtually incapable of registering an ERA above 4.00. Atlanta remains a great place for pitchers to succeed, so although losing Rafael Furcal could create problems on both sides of the ball, pitching for the Braves insures that Hudson possesses as little downside as almost anyone in the game. Of course, the negative effect of his stable success is that plenty of owners still expect him to return to Cy Young contention. Conversely, I don't expect him to exceed $15 any time soon, so unless bidding stalls in the low teens, let someone else run the risk of owning yet another NL starter seemingly destined for another round on the DL.

Tom Glavine1303.531.3610561227211.1
NY Mets4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 39P:L    B:L9941.841.8

If Glavine had ignored his agent and remained with the Braves, he probably would be within a dozen wins of 300. Instead he'll needs to pitch two full seasons after turning 40 next month to net the extra twenty-five victories to insure his first ballot HOF election. The good news is that he remains the most reliable starter on a vastly improved Mets' squad, so even though he reversed his normal trend of a superb spring performance, thereby vastly diminishing his mid-season trade value, Glavine remains a solid option anywhere around $10.

Doug Davis1103.841.3020893196222.2
MIL Brewers4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 30P:L    B:R9935.735.7

As one of only eight pitchers with more than two hundred strikeouts last summer, Davis seemingly looks like an ideal 5x5 option. However, he failed to reach double-digit value in any standard league due to fairly unimpressive qualitative stats and another low win total. Nothing here suggests significant upside for the hard-throwing southpaw, so while he certainly won't hurt you under any circumstances, even a Brewers' playoff run won't push him far into the teens.

Noah Lowry1303.781.3117276193204.2
SF Giants4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 24P:L    B:L91134.334.3

An awful start to last season merely pushed Lowry's approaching breakout to 2006. He registered an 8-4 record and 2.43 ERA in the second half on an 85:32 K:BB in 100 IP over 15 GS with 78 H and 5 HR. That performance suggests a 3.50 ERA and 15 wins as a likely base for the rising ace, giving you little reason not to push into the teens to secure Lowry's services.

Jeff Suppan1603.571.3811463206194.1
STL Cardinals4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 30P:R    B:R91037.737.7

Suppan's skills scarcely changed from 2004. He even won exactly sixteen games for the second straight year. Yet somehow his ERA abruptly dropped sixty points without any overt explanation. Given his lack of dominance, even the intriguing prospect of approaching free agency shouldn't prevent Suppan's ERA from finishing nearer his 4.66 career norm than his 2005 mark. Consider him little more than a solid fourth starter in any NL league where you can land him around five bucks, a fair price for someone who offer a virtual guarantee of a dozen wins without much support in any other category.

Chris Capuano1803.991.3817691212219
MIL Brewers4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 27P:L    B:L8831.231.2

The healthy Capuano unsurprisingly emerged as an excellent starter in Milwaukee. Only five pitchers won more games than Capuano's eighteen victories, and although he didn't dominate hitters like teammates Ben Sheets or Doug Davis, Capuano's overall improvement suggests he should develop into a capable #2 behind Sheets over the balance of the decade. However, Capuano likely will register similar stats this summer given both his strikeout and walk rates jumped in the second half of 2005. Spending a second full season in the Brewers' rotation should provide him the necessary experience for a breakout in 2007, but we can't expect him to clear double-digit value by any significant margin this year .

Matt Morris1404.111.2811737209192.2
STL Cardinals4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 31P:R    B:R8924.524.5

Shifting from anointed ace to inning eater really seems to agree with Morris, who still owns outstanding control despite his decreasing dominance. Moving to San Francisco similarly should agree with the long-time Cardinal given the extremely forgiving nature of AT&T Park. While he still qualifies as a relatively risky option, bidding on Morris just might stall in single digits in some leagues. Take full advantage of the diminished expectations to land a potential $15 starter for less than a third of that value.

Jae Seo802.591.1159168490.1
NY Mets4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 28P:R    B:R8728.428.4

Returning to AAA Norfolk(IL) apparently allowed Seo to regain his confidence. He registered a 7-4 record and a 4.36 ERA on a 111:30 K:BB in 121.2 IP over 19 GS with 126 H and 13 HR in the minors before returning to the Mets' rotation. However, while he compiled a solid skill set in New York, nothing here supports a sub-3.00 ERA. Even his trade to the Dodgers doesn't insure so much as a sub-4.00 ERA, but with excellent control and another great pitchers' park providing a solid foundation, Seo at least remains a good choice as a tertiary starting option. He should earn a small profit as long as you don't need to pay more than $10 for him.

NL Starting Pitcher Week continues tomorrow.

Today's Fantasy Rx: I almost like this group of starting pitchers better than the eighteen nominal top starters discussed yesterday. Very few of today's starters suffer from an obvious injury risk, and most of them appear solidly pre-peak in their development. You could compile very solid stats for a comparatively minimal investment merely by snapping up the first four of these starters where bidding doesn't exceed your nine buck hard ante.

Click here to read the previous article.

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