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NL Starters: Day Four
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.

Aaron Cook703.671.40241610183.1
COL Rockies4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 26P:R    B:R2115.115.1

Cook required rib removal surgery in 2004 to improve blood circulation, so he unsurprisingly did not return to the Rockies until the end of July. However, he pitched so well down the stretch that he earned a multi-year deal from Colorado despite his tiny 2.6 K/9. Apparently the Rockies believe that he can pitch effectively without striking out anyone thanks to his 3.08 G-F, but given Cook's extremely limited upside and his job in Colorado, you obviously cannot risk rostering him anywhere.

Paul Maholm302.181.1626173141.1
PIT Pirates4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 23P:L    B:L2115.115.1

Please refer to our Post-2005 Prospect Review: Pittsburgh for my comments on Maholm.

Mike Hampton503.501.3327187469.1
ATL Braves4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 33P:L    B:R211414

September Tommy John surgery should sideline Hampton for the vast majority of 2006, seemingly rendering him useless to most fantasy teams this year. However, pre-surgery he still owned good control and the ability to induce a steady stream of grounders. Considering that through 2008, Atlanta remains responsible for $43M owed to Hampton, he will return to the rotation when healthy. Therefore, attempting to roster him for a buck in keeper leagues is not a terrible idea, since he at least should be decent trade bait.

Jerome Williams604.261.377049119122.2
Age: 23P:R    B:R2213.413.4

Only the Cubs could convert LaTroy Hawkins into a couple of top pitching prospects and then watch both of their new players struggle in Chicago. Considering Williams only turned 24 in December and allows fairly few baserunners, I certainly still expect him to develop into an ace over the rest of the decade. He just might need one more change of scenery given Dusty Baker's inability to develop any youngsters into productive big leaguers. Of course, since Williams could break out at any time, I definitely recommend targeting him in most standard leagues in the hope that either he will blossom this summer with the Cubs or move to a better environment by the trade deadline.

Robinson Tejeda403.571.3872516785.2
PHI Phillies4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 23P:R    B:R2216.616.6

Ryan Franklin looks like a horrible fit in Philadelphia, but at least the addition of the veteran starter will allow Tejeda to receive the additional development time he requires. The good news for Tejeda is that his stats seem surprisingly solid when we remove his awful 6.48 ERA on a 13:16 K:BB in 17.2 IP over 13 G out of the bullpen. He registered a 2.87 ERA on a 59:35 K:BB in 69 IP with 55 H and 4 HR over 13 GS, and although his walk and ground-fly rates create plenty of immediate downside, any young starter with such a high strikeout rate should enjoy a bright future. Expect Tejeda to warrant mid-season FAAB consideration in most standard leagues.

Brian Lawrence704.831.3710957211195.2
SD Padres4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 29P:R    B:R127.57.5

I absolutely loved Washington's exchange of Vinny Castilla for Lawrence right until the announcement that the veteran innings eater would miss the entire season after requiring surgery to repair both a torn rotator cuff and torn labrum. While he will not pitch in 2006, do not forget about Lawrence in the later rounds of most keeper leagues since he should be very useful if you can land him for a buck or two.

Victor Zambrano704.171.4811277170166.1
NY Mets4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 30P:R    B:R112020

With extremely shallow skills and little obvious upside, Zambrano only merits a couple of bucks in most NL Leagues. His consistently poor command could push him back to the bullpen at any time, especially if Aaron Heilman and John Maine both impress this spring. I largely expect the Mets to deal Zambrano no later than this summer to remove the terrible reminder that the club squandered Scott Kazmir while receiving almost nothing in return, but until that approaching change of scenery, Zambrano appears positioned to win several games despite his troublesome WHIP.

Jason Vargas504.031.3859317173.2
FLO Marlins4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 22P:L    B:L1110.110.1

A second round pick in 2004, Vargas slammed to the majors after seventeen impressive starts split between the Sally, Florida State, and Southern Leagues. He compiled an overall 2.50 ERA and a 7-4 record on a 118:31 K:BB in 108 IP with 76 H, 10 HR, and a .68 G-F between the Marlins' three lower-level affiliates yet remained surprisingly effective in Florida. While his weak walk and ground-fly rates suggest plenty of downside if the refurbished defense collapses as I expect, Vargas should break camp as the #3 starter and just might remain in that role all year. Of course, his relatively high profile likely will push bidding to several dollars, but if you can land Vargas for a few bucks, you may net a very solid long-term keeper.

Woody Williams904.851.4110651174159.2
SD Padres4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 39P:R    B:R125.85.8

This fourteen-year vet turns forty in August, so his increasing health problems are not a surprise in any way. An oblique injury supposedly suffered during batting practice cost Williams a month of action last season, largely ruining the good part of his year before a second-half collapse. While he still possesses good command, rising hit, homer, and even walk rates leave Williams with a useless WHIP and little upside. Treat him as rotation filler for your team rather than a viable full-time starter worthy of more than an endgame bid.

Brad Halsey804.611.448239191160
ARI Diamondbacks4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 24P:L    B:L1110.410.4

Despite an unimpressive 4.6 K/9, Halsey's overall skill set suggests plenty of long-term upside if he is allowed to develop as a starting pitcher. However, the addition of Miguel Batista may push Halsey to the bullpen or even the minors, so I see little reason to invest in the youngster at this time. Wait until he clearly secures a permanent big league job and Arizona's defense begins to gel before considering Halsey as more than a late-round gamble.

Brandon Backe1004.761.469767151149.1
HOU Astros4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 27P:R    B:R1277

Houston's 2004 playoff hero backslid rather badly even as his three fellow full-time starters finished the year among the top half-dozen pitchers in baseball. Backe did not register particularly poor skills, instead he merely posted slightly below-average ratios across-the-board. Even minor improvement along similar lines will send his value skyrocketing, so definitely consider a late-round flyer on him in most standard leagues. A 4.25 ERA and a dozen wins from Backe would not surprise me at all.

Randy Wolf604.391.4161268780
PHI Phillies4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 29P:L    B:L117.47.4

Wolf underwent Tommy John surgery at the end of June, placing him on track to return to the Phillies by the second half of 2006. His skills appeared basically unchanged when he was healthy, so I see no reason for him not to reemerge as a very solid option, especially as he heads into free agency in the fall. Spending a couple bucks on Wolf should net you a small profit down the stretch and a potentially superb keeper depending on where the southpaw starter lands over the winter.

NL Starting Pitcher Week continues tomorrow.

Today's Fantasy Rx: Although almost all of today's pitchers interest me to various extents, every one of these dozen starters ranks as an obvious risk heading into 2006. I see no reason to offer more than a few dollars on any of these guys, so rather than gamble on a thoroughly unproven commodity, allocate a few extra bucks to the safer starters and then try to snag Hampton, Lawrence, or Wolf during Dollar Days.

Click here to read the previous article.

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