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NL Starters: Day Six
by Tim Polko

Today's Fantasy Rx

National League Starting Pitchers without 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.

Edwin Jackson206.281.6713173128.2
LA Dodgers4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 22P:R    B:R-3-3-4-4

Jackson's sleeper status ended on his twentieth birthday during his big league debut when he outdueled Randy Johnson. His prospect status essentially fizzled when his command imploded at AAA Las Vegas in 2004. His rookie status ended last summer when he finally reached fifty innings pitched. Despite career marks of a 6-4 record and 5.50 ERA on a 48:39 K:BB in 75.1 IP over 14 GS(19G), Jackson just turned 22 in September. He initially shot through the Dodgers' system so quickly that he skipped A+ only to spend the last two years stagnating at the pitchers' graveyard in Vegas. Tampa Bay provided Jackson with a necessary fresh start by dealing Danys Baez and Lance Carter for Jackson and Chuck Tiffany, and a quick glance at the Rays' current rotation demonstrates the clear opportunity presented to Jackson. Although he may not emerge as a reliable option until the second half, his 44:18 K:BB in 62 IP over 11 GS(12G) for AA Jacksonville(SL) in 2005 demonstrates that he retains solid base skills. Jackson still should develop into an ace, so take advantage of any lull in the bidding to grab the future star at a severe discount due to his unexpectedly reacquired sleeper status.

John Koronka107.471.721081915.2
CH Cubs4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 25P:L    B:L-3-4-4.5-4.5

Please refer to our Post-2005 Prospect Review: Chicago(N) for my comments on Koronka.

Jesse Foppert005.232.326131110.1
SF Giants4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 25P:R    B:R-3-4-0.1-0.1

Acquired by Seattle with Yorvit Torrealba for Randy Winn, Foppert again spent much of the year dealing with injuries. However, he also managed a 4.03 ERA on a 54:35 K:BB in 58 IP with 53 H and 5 HR over 15 GS(16G) between AAA Fresno(PCL) and AAA Tacoma(PCL). Although I still believe the former top prospect can develop into a quality starter, his persistent control issues suggest a shift to the bullpen makes more sense. Seattle should concur with that assessment if Foppert echoes these stats in his second tour with Tacoma, so do not be surprised if he follows the path of another Giant prospect with control issues who moved to the American League and emerged as a dominant closer. Foppert's always owned more upside than Joe Nathan, and if given the opportunity, he could flourish in a more limited role. Definitely consider spending a reserve round pick here.

Kip Wells805.091.5713299186182
PIT Pirates4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 28P:R    B:R-3-111

Surprisingly kept by Pittsburgh as the club's one veteran starter, Wells departed camp this week with severe circulation problems that could prevent him from competing for much of the year. However, the Pirates might not miss him after a few years of rising walk and ground-fly rates finally pushed his qualitative stats into an unacceptable range. Wells finished with an 8-18 record that rendered him completely useless to fantasy teams, and with his command also disintegrating in the second half, he merited little consideration this spring before the injury. Targeting him in a reserve round is not a terrible idea since he posted decent first-half numbers, but you definitely must wait until he regains his effectiveness on the mound before deploying him anywhere.

Ismael Valdez205.331.7027226450.2
FLO Marlins4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 32P:R    B:R-3-4-1.2-1.2

A line drive broke Vazquez's right leg in his final pre-season game, sidelining him until the second half. Seven ineffective starts later, he headed to the bullpen, where his command completely wilted in September. His failure to net an NRI did not shock me given his continued struggles since joining Texas in 2003, so although I expect to see Valdez in the majors sometime this year, he almost certainly will not return to positive fantasy value in 2006.

Ezequiel Astacio305.671.54662510081
HOU Astros4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 25P:R    B:R-3-3-5.3-5.3

The third player acquired in the Billy Wagner deal, Astacio earned his promotion to Houston after registering a 3.02 ERA on a 57:12 K:BB in 65.2 IP with 53 H and 6 HR at AAA Round Rock(PCL), a park generally tough on pitchers. Astacio actually pitched relatively well for the Astros, holding solid strikeout and walk rates even as a poor ground-fly rate pushed his hit and homer rates to unacceptable levels. Additional seasoning would not hurt him, but since he possesses plenty of upside as a starter and looked relatively strong in relief, Astacio probably belongs on the Astros regardless of his role. Consider a Dollar Days flyer on him as long as your league allows you to reserve or dump players whenever necessary.

Mike Esposito006.752.05592114.2
COL Rockies4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 32P:L    B:R-3-4-2.9-2.9

Please refer to our Post-2005 Prospect Review: Colorado for my comments on Esposito.

Luke Hudson606.381.5753508384.2
CIN Reds4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 28P:R    B:R-4-3-12.9-12.9

In 2004, Hudson managed a 2.42 ERA for Cincy despite a mediocre 38:25 K:BB in 48.1 IP over his nine starts. His qualitative stats unsurprisingly shot through the roof when his command continued disappearing last year. The Reds dropped him from the 40-man roster two weeks ago, giving you a good idea of his immediate prospects with the franchise. Although I see some upside here if he is moved to a low-pressure relief role, Hudson will not help your team as long as he stays with Cincinnati, and he likely offers little to any fantasy owner regardless of his travels this summer.

Jeff Francis1405.681.6212870228183.2
COL Rockies4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 24P:L    B:L-4-2-12.3-12.3

We enjoyed watching Francis burn owners who were foolish enough to roster a rookie Rockies' pitcher last spring, but even a cursory look suggests plenty of fantasy upside whenever he departs Coors. The biggest problem he faces now rests with a rather bizarre split. At home, Francis managed a 4.88 ERA on a 62:25 K:BB in 86.2 IP with 107 H and 9 HR over 15 GS, allowing plenty of hits but otherwise displaying solid skills. On the road, he collapsed to the tune of a 6.40 ERA on a 66:45 K:BB in 97 IP with 121 H and 17 HR over 18 GS. That dramatically elevated homer total suggests significant immediate downside if those struggles carry over to his home starts. Conversely, Francis instead could echo his home stats on the road and emerge as a viable roto option. Despite his minor league dominance, the odds of any Colorado pitcher succeeding on a regular basis remain so low that you simply must avoid Francis until we know which path his 2006 campaign will take.

Oliver Perez705.851.679770102103
PIT Pirates4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 24P:L    B:L-4-3-9.1-9.1

With a draft price pushing $20 or higher in many leagues, Perez destroyed the hopes of thousands of owners by somehow finishing with less roto value than any other Pirate starter. His already troublesome ground-fly rate dropped to .63 and nearly doubled his homer rate to an awful 2.0 HR/9. Perez's walk rate similarly jumped from a manageable 3.7 mark to 6.1 BB/9. Not only was his performance poor, but his IP total also dropped from 196 to 103 courtesy of a naughty laundry cart that possessed the temerity to break Perez's left big toe when the southpaw attempted to punt the mobile hamper. Rather than take advantage of his extended summer siesta to rediscover his missing talent, Perez remained awful upon his return and enters this year with his career at a surprisingly early crossroad. As I fully expect Perez to follow the established slower development path for left-handed pitchers, he seems in severe danger of another wasted season given his poor control and abundant flyballs. Let someone else assume his risks if bidding approaches double digits.

Elizardo Ramirez008.461.939103322.1
CIN Reds4x45x5RARAdj. RAR
Age: 22P:R    B:R-4-5-9.2-9.2

Currently slated no higher than eighth on the Reds' rotation depth chart, Ramirez should spend the majority of 2006 in the minors despite his success last year at AAA Louisville(IL), where he registered a 7-7 record and 3.77 ERA on an 82:18 K:BB in 131.1 IP with 150 H and 14 HR. Only an extended tour of Cincinnati's bullpen bench led to the loss of his rookie status. His difficulties in the majors suggest he will benefit from additional seasoning, though given the downside of pitching at the GAB, I do not expect Ramirez will contribute much fantasy value even if he unexpectedly spends much of the summer with the Reds.

NL Starting Pitcher Week concludes tomorrow.

Today's Fantasy Rx: Post-hype youngsters Edwin Jackson, Jesse Foppert, Ezequiel Astacio, Jeff Francis, and Oliver Perez all still should enjoy extended big league careers. Unfortunately, none of them appears positioned to see much success in the majors this summer, and only Jackson and Foppert possess the necessary support from their teammates to help fantasy teams in 2006. Spending more than a relatively minimal sum on any member of this quintet leaves you little hope of seeing a profit on your investment.

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