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NL Starters: Day Three
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.

Zach Duke801.811.2058237984.2
PIT Pirates4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 22P:L    B:L7734.834.8

A sprained ankle thankfully prevented Duke from compiling a truly terrible workload, but he still pitched over 190 innings right after turning 22. Of course, he also exploded in the majors with better roto stats than Felix Hernandez, nicely building on his 12-3 record and 2.92 ERA on a 66:23 K:BB in 108 IP over 16 GS with 108 H and 8 HR for AAA Indianapolis(IL). With a 1.72 G-F similarly supporting continued development, Duke should head into double-digits for good this summer even though his general lack of dominance leaves him vulnerable to an ERA as high as 4.00.

Javier Vazquez1104.421.2519246223215.2
ARI Diamondbacks4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 29P:R    B:R71019.119.1

Escaping New York resulted in a nice rebound for Vazquez, who then forced his way out of Arizona with a trade demand that netted the Diamondbacks a great package, including top outfield prospect Chris Young. Vazquez landed with the White Sox, where he finally downshifts into a middle-of-the-rotation slot after several seasons as one of his club's top starters. Vazquez enters camp as low as Chicago's fourth starter, which should prove comfortable for the inconsistently dominant veteran. I expect him to take full advantage of the excellent defense offered by the White Sox and knock his ERA back under 4.00 while cruising above fourteen wins for only the second time in his career.

Jason Marquis1304.131.3310069206207
STL Cardinals4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 27P:R    B:L7725.825.8

With a meager 4.4 K/9 and little obvious upside, Marquis appears primed for disaster if he departs St. Louis as expected following 2006. He possesses no more than passable control, does not own the low homer rate I expect from someone with a 1.59 G-F, and could see his hit rate skyrocket somewhere with less defensive support. However, he only turns 28 this August and appears fully prepared for another 4.00 ERA and no less than a dozen wins with the Cardinals, making him a good buy anywhere around $5.

Kris Benson1004.131.269549171174.1
NY Mets4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 30P:R    B:R7721.721.7

A torn pectoral sidelined Benson for the first month, but he returned in fine fashion and cruised through the first half, registering a 3.65 ERA on a 46:22 K:BB in 81.1 IP over 13 GS with 76 H and 9 HR. He then stumbled in August, lost his remaining command in September, and spent the fall angling against a trade before Baltimore acquired him for Jorge Julio and John Maine in a decent deal for both sides. Now Kris and Anna return to a lower profile environment that truly could benefit his development, especially with the addition of Leo Mazzone to the Orioles coaching staff. My only real concern regarding Benson involves a lower strikeout rate, but given his solid WHIP when healthy, Benson only needs a bit of luck to enjoy a truly impressive campaign or two. Feel free to bid into the low double digits.

Livan Hernandez1503.981.4314784268246.1
WAS Nationals4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 30P:R    B:R7835.235.2

Although Hernandez's skill set continues to degrade from his 2003 peak, he remains in an excellent situation in DC and could rebound to an All-Star performance following October surgery to fix his troublesome knee. Hernandez chews innings like few pitchers in recent memory, and if good health leads to even mild improvement as expected, his ERA could tumble toward 3.00. I view him as an obvious bargain anywhere under the teens, especially for teams targeting only the starters necessary to meet an IP minimum.

Shawn Chacon803.441.337966135151.2
Age: 27P:R    B:R6631.831.8

While Chacon's command unsurprisingly did not improve upon his return to the rotation, his reduced walk and homer rates nearly cut his convenience store ERA in half. His mid-season move to the Yankees dropped his qualitative stats to truly impressive levels while the superior run support also nicely boosted his win total. Anyone with Chacon's soft skill set seems quite vulnerable to abrupt swings in performance, but given his success in New York, I expect him both to continue starting for the Yankees and to post passable roto stats. Chacon should not hurt you anywhere in single digits.

Brad Penny703.901.2912241185175.1
LA Dodgers4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 27P:R    B:R6726.826.8

Dodger fans will remember few of Paul DePodesta's moves more fondly than the long-term extension awarded Penny, who turns 28 this spring, seems fully healthy, and finally appears ready to emerge as one of baseball's best starters. Penny wisely traded a lower strikeout rate for less walks, and if the Dodgers' defense improves as expected this summer, his WHIP could head as low as 1.10. An offensive rebound similarly could double his wins, so I will not be surprised if he earns as much as $20. Buying him for anything less than three-quarters of that value will look like a great investment seven months from now.

Tomo Ohka1104.041.359855189180.1
Age: 29P:R    B:R6624.424.4

The Brewers took full advantage of a Frank Robinson tantrum to steal Ohka from Washington for the shockingly low cost of Junior Spivey, obtaining an inexpensive long-term rotation option for a veteran increasingly useless to a rebuilding team. Ohka's skills immediately improved in Milwaukee as he compiled an 81:28 K:BB in 126.1 IP over the balance of the season. While his career-worst 1.00 G-F concerns me, especially since he never will dominate hitters, Ohka should be very useful for the Brewers in the near future. Anything much under a double-digit fantasy value will surprise me.

Cory Lidle1304.531.3512140210184.2
PHI Phillies4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 33P:R    B:R5613.813.8

Staying in Philadelphia unsurprisingly did not result in much continued success for Lidle. Although he still possesses impressive control, he allows so many hits that his qualitative stats add little to most roto teams. Consequently, while Lidle will win about a dozen games, he offers as little upside as almost any established starting pitcher. Only target him in the later rounds when looking for double-digit wins at a minimal price.

Matt Cain202.330.9330192446.1
SF Giants4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 21P:R    B:R3516.116.1

Please refer to our Post-2005 Prospect Review: San Francisco for my comments on Cain.

Brandon Claussen1004.211.4112157178166.2
CIN Reds4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 26P:L    B:R3219.119.1

While Claussen certainly does not appear ready for a breakout season after slumping down the stretch, his overall development curve suggests we should see minor improvement across-the-board before a push into double-digit value next year. He already owns respectable strikeout and walk rates, so if he ever bolsters his .77 G-F, the lower homer rate should drop his ERA below 4.00. I see plenty of long-term upside for the former top prospect, therefore if you see an opportunity to land him for a few bucks, definitely grab him in any standard keeper league. You will net a decent starter for 2006 and potentially superb trade bait.

Brett Tomko814.481.3711457205190.2
SF Giants4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 32P:R    B:R3515.415.4

With a ground-fly rate thoroughly regressing from his career-best 1.50 mark posted earlier this decade, Tomko appears increasingly vulnerable to qualitative spikes. Since he does not strike out many hitters, he requires both a solid defense and a forgiving home park to succeed in the majors. Fortunately, he again has found a great situation by signing with the rebuilt Dodgers, so although Tomko never possesses much upside, he certainly will not hurt you for a couple bucks if you are looking to add wins and innings during the endgame.

Jason Schmidt1204.401.4216585160172
SF Giants4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 32P:R    B:R3415.815.8

The Giants' nominal ace soon will slip behind rising stars Matt Cain and Noah Lowry in San Francisco's rotation. Schmidt still registers plenty of strikeouts, but continued health problems and the return of his control issues leave him far removed from the Cy Young contender of recent years. Frankly, nothing here really suggests that he merits double-digit bids, and although I expect a mild rebound, the popular hope of a return to glory for Schmidt will result in incorrectly exuberant bidding in the vast majority of leagues. Smart owners will instead split the $12-16 Schmidt should cost between a couple of lower-profile pitchers with far better chances of turning real profits.

Horacio Ramirez1104.631.398067214202.1
ATL Braves4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 25P:L    B:L3312.812.8

When analyzing Ramirez you need to remember that he just turned 26 in November, so he remains quite young for a southpaw starter with 445 big league innings under his belt. Ramirez returned to full health in 2005 and reemerged as a solid starter for the Braves. However, his meager 3.6 K/9 gives him very little upside even as his 1.60 G-F minimizes his downside. Although Ramirez could mature into a quality #3 starter over the next few seasons, a potential move to another franchise appears likely to send his career into a Mossian spiral. Spending more than a few bucks on Ramirez is a bad idea at this time.

Adam Eaton1104.271.4310044140128.2
SD Padres4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 27P:R    B:R3413.913.9

While few trades look like bigger mistakes than the deal that swapped inexpensive and developing Chris Young for perennially injured potential free agent Eaton, Eaton owns an impressive skill set and may be a better fit in Texas than the defense-dependent Young, despite Eaton's obviously high-risk nature. The Rangers' new #2 starter owns a 7.0 career strikeout rate, and his solid walk and homer rates should keep his qualitative stats at an acceptable level. Nevertheless, with his health history and a 4.27 ERA even in PETCO, Eaton needs to succeed at Ameriquest before earning my recommendation. Do not bother bidding on him in any league where you cannot reserve him at will.

Odalis Perez704.561.267428109108.2
LA Dodgers4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 28P:L    B:L337.87.8

Continued arm problems leave Perez as the Dodger starter least likely to remain in the rotation all year. With the downside indicated by his career-worst 1.27 G-F, even Perez's strong control likely will not push his ERA much under 4.00. However, an improved offense at least should lead him to double-digit wins for the first time since 2003, and Perez certainly owns the skill foundation necessary to reemerge as a top-of-the-rotation option as he heads toward his thirtieth birthday in 2007. Spending several bucks on Perez is not a terrible idea, and given his long-term upside, he should net you at least one $15 season within the next three years.

Dave Williams1004.411.418858137138.2
PIT Pirates4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 26P:L    B:L3312.412.4

Given how quickly the Pirates rushed Williams to the majors earlier this decade, his reemergence as a solid starter did not surprise us at all after his impressive 2004 campaign between AAA Nashville and Pittsburgh. He fairly excelled in the first half, compiling a 4.38 ERA on a 63:33 K:BB in 88.1 IP over 16 GS with 86 H and 16 HR before tiring badly down the stretch. Williams missed much of September with a rib cage strain and then headed to Cincy during the Winter Meetings for Sean Casey. Now Williams pitches in a park particularly unforgiving to flyball pitchers, and given his weak command, he barely merits owning in single-season leagues. Let your local Reds fan win any bidding that pushes beyond a couple of bucks.

NL Starting Pitcher Week continues tomorrow.

Today's Fantasy Rx: A couple of pitchers easily stand out as particularly solid investments here. Brad Penny, Javier Vazquez, and Livan Hernandez rank as the best of these starters, however Kris Benson, Tomo Ohka, and Matt Cain similarly should post very solid numbers. When healthy, Zach Duke and Odalis Perez also possess plenty of fantasy upside.

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