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AL Starters: Day Two
by Tim Polko

Today's Fantasy Rx

American League Starting Pitchers with Positive Draft Value

Quick Key to the tables:
P = Pitches.  B = Bats.  Age = Player's Age as of October 1, 2006.
Proj. = Rotohelp's projected 2006 stats and fantasy values for each player.
2006 = Each player's final 2006 stat line and fantasy values.
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.  
4x4 = BA, HR, RBI, and SB in 12-team, $260 leagues with 23-man rosters.
5x5 = BA, HR, RBI, SB, and R in 12-team, $260 leagues with 23-man rosters.
RAR = Runs Above Replacement; aRAR = RAR adjusted 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.

20.  Jose ContrerasCH White SoxAge: 34P:R   B:R

Contreras signed a three-year extension last April that keeps him in Chicago through 2009 for only $29M, far below what he might have earned as a free agent this winter. Yes, he followed his second-half surge in 2005 with a second-half slump in 2006, but other than a pinch nerve that cost him two weeks in May, Contreras suffered no significant injury to justify his problems. The ERA spike seems mostly due to a general loss of dominance, and considering only five AL starters compiled better all-around skill sets, Contreras remains a shockingly safe investment, a pitcher quite likely to contribute 200 innings with an ERA around 4.00. Bid to $12 without hesitation.

21.  Scott KazmirTB Devil RaysAge: 22P:L   B:L

The Rays' young ace vastly improved in his second full season. He hiked his strikeout rate from 8.4 to 10.1 K/9 while concurrently cutting his walk rate from 4.8 to 3.2 BB/9. Injuries unsurprisingly caused Kazmir's biggest problems as after the break a stiff neck led shoulder soreness and eventually shoulder inflammation that necessitated a DL trip. While he returned for a couple of August starts, he missed all of September due to Tampa's understandably extreme caution regarding his health. Kazmir currently appears fully healthy, and despite just turning 23 last month, he now enjoys the offensive and defensive support necessary to fuel a fantasy value spike. Pushing to $15 still seems too much of a risk, but if he stalls at any price below the teens, take the chance.

22.  Kevin MillwoodTEX RangersAge: 31P:R   B:R

Following this winter's spending spree no one can fault the Rangers for awarding Millwood $60M for five seasons a year ago. Other than a strained biceps that slowed him slightly around the All-Star game, Millwood probably posted his best all-around season in years even though his ERA shot upward after he won the AL ERA title in 2005. He didn't suffer from a massive hit or homer spike, so while he no longer offers much guaranteed qualitative help, the fifteen wins Millwood offers makes him a very useful third or fourth starter in any league. I see no problem landing him at any price below the teens.

23.  Randy JohnsonNY YankeesAge: 43P:L   B:R

The deal that returned Randy to his Arizona home this winter fairly shocked me, but I understand why the Diamondbacks sought to add another stabilizing veteran to ease the transition into the majors for Dustin Nippert and Micah Owings. Dealing Luis Vizcaino, Alberto Gonzalez, Stephen Jackson, and Ross Ohlendorf realistically cost the club little more than depth, and now hopefully the Snakes' fans will complain less when the team's youngsters exhibit the inevitable growing pains on the field. From a performance standpoint, simply shifting from the AL East to the NL West should cut his ERA by a half-point. Losing dominance also hasn't reduced Randy's fairly good overall skills, leaving only his homer rate as a particular source of concern. He certainly isn't the $25 beast of year's past, but bidding into the teens, particularly in 5x5 leagues, appears warranted by the performance of this seemingly ageless 43-year-old.

24.  Jon GarlandCH White SoxAge: 27P:R   B:R

Suffering a decade of regret following Garland's trade to the White Sox for Todd Noel nevertheless hasn't convinced me of the 27-year-old's virtues. He hasn't held a strikeout rate over 4.8 K/9 in the last three years, leaving him entirely dependent on a Chicago defense that completely let him down last summer. Simply combining solid control with an average homer rate doesn't make Garland a pitcher worthy of significant fantasy bids. The three-year deal he received in 2005 may keep him on the White Sox through 2008, but even his impressive second-half rebound can't convince to ante anything much over $10 for Garland, who possesses the type of skill set that could let him approach $20 or $0 if suffers any extended bad luck on base hits.

25.  Jamie MoyerSEA/PHIAge: 43P:L   B:L

I never expected to see Moyer depart Seattle after the decade he spent establishing deep community roots in the Northwest. However, with the Mariners stuck rebuilding, the club offered him a chance to play for a contender, and he accepted a trade to the Phillies that netted Seattle only a couple of A-ball pitchers for one of the three most popular pitchers in club history. Moyer unsurprisingly impressed as part of the impressive tradition of southpaw starters improving upon their respective moves to the Senior Circuit. He managed a 1.63 G-F that limited the longball while otherwise demonstrating little overall skill change. That success shockingly landed the 44-year-old, 20-year vet a two-year extension for all of $10.5M that gives him a chance to approach 250 career wins, an amazing accomplishment for a soft-tosser whose career didn't really blossom until he joined the Mariners at age 33. I still can't recommend you target anyone with this skill set who pitches in CB Park, but if Myer somehow stalls around $5, consider chasing the 12 wins he can contribute to your team.

26.  Jake WestbrookCLE IndiansAge: 29P:R   B:R

One of no more than a half-dozen pending free agent pitchers capable of turning an outstanding 2007 campaign into a mighty bounty on the open market, Westbrook appears fully capable of posting a 3.50 ERA while winning 20 games. He hasn't pitched fewer than 210 innings since 2003, owns a 2.77 G-F that understates his ability to limit home runs, and only saw his ERA stay over 4.00 last summer due to a defensive letdown that boosted his hit rate from 9.3 to 10.5 K/9. With a reconstituted lineup, defense, and bullpen offering the best overall support since Westbrook reached Cleveland, he could clear $20 with any luck, making him an outstanding buy for the $12 or so he should cost in most leagues.

27.  Josh BeckettBOS Red SoxAge: 26P:R   B:R

Somewhat forgotten in the Daisuke Matsuzaka hype, Papelbon's return to the rotation, Lester's recovery from cancer, and all the drama that invariably follows Schilling, Beckett generally only appeared in discussion this winter when someone sought to criticize the Red Sox for dealing NL Rookie of the Year Hanley Ramirez and the no-hit stuff of Anibal Sanchez for a starter with a 5.01 ERA in Boston. The good new for Red Sox Nation is that other than a shocking homer rate spike, Beckett basically maintained his impressive skills while exceeding 200 innings for the first time and signing a remarkably reasonable three-year extension for only $30M. Few pitchers possess the upside of the 2003 World Series MVP, and anyone who nearly single-handedly prevented the Yankees from winning another Series deserves plenty of leeway from New Englanders. Along with the near certainty of winning 15-20 games, Beckett appears fully capable of cutting a run from his ERA, giving him the potential to double his 2006 roto value this summer. I consider paying anything less than $13 to acquire this once-and-future ace a welcome bargain for someone to front your pitching staff at half the cost of the AL's current top pitchers.

28.  Vicente PadillaTEX RangersAge: 29P:R   B:S

Awarding Padilla $33M over the next three years may seem almost as foolish as the Rangers' Chan Ho Park deal, but other than a worrisome downward trend in his ground-fly rate, Padilla might just remain successful in Arlington. He boosted his strikeout rate to 7.0, his best mark since 2001, while allowing fewer walks than in 2005 despite pitching fifty-three more innings. The problem is that although Padilla objectively appears a decent investment for Texas, the perils of pitching at Ameriquest significantly limit his fantasy usefulness. Stop short of $10 when he hits your auction block unless you already own a couple of qualitative studs to balance Padilla's annoying ERA and WHIP.

29.  Felix HernandezSEA MarinersAge: 20P:R   B:R

Considering Hernandez won't turn 21 until the first week of this season, I feel comfortable advising you to ignore his disastrous April and May last year. He posted a 5.78 ERA on a 63:23 K:BB in 62.1 IP with 73 H and 11 HR for two months, then quickly reemerged as King Felix by registering a 3.91 ERA on a 107:37 K:BB in 128.2 IP with 122 H and 12 HR over the balance of the year. Hernandez even enters 2007 as the most tenured Seattle starter following the departures of Jaime Moyer and Gil Meche. As his skills tracked closely with his 2005 rates and he avoided injury thanks to the Mariners' extreme caution down the stretch, he appears poised to post nothing less than a 200 IP season with an ERA around 4.00. Don't treat him as a top starter quite yet, but other than the persistent health concerns accompanying any pitcher who reaches the majors at Hernandez's age, bidding to $15 appears justified by his development to date.

30.  Cliff LeeCLE IndiansAge: 28P:L   B:L

The three-year, $14M extension Lee signed in August simply makes him an outstanding bargain for the Indians since the free agent market seemingly doubled the price of good pitchers over the winter. While Lee no longer looks like a future ace, dragged down mostly by a persistent .75 G-F and a dropping strikeout rate, he doesn't walk many batters and only really needs strong defensive support to keep his ERA under 4.00. I expect he'll receive the needed help from the Indians' fielders this summer, making Lee nearly certain to slide back below 4.00 and boosting his fantasy value into the low teens.

31.  A.J. BurnettTOR Blue JaysAge: 29P:R   B:R

Perhaps Burnett didn't earn his salary last season, but with the same $44M for four years left on his contract that Gil Meche will average over the next four seasons, Burnett comparatively appears an excellent investment for Toronto. Few pitchers possess his combination of high strikeout and groundball rates, and with the improved control he demonstrated last summer, Burnett only needs to avoid the DL to contribute plenty of value to the Blue Jays. Of course, the elbow injury that troubled him last summer seemed mostly due to the continued straining of scar tissue. While that could lead to more problems in the future, Burnett appears fine for now, allowing me to recommend him at any price shy of the teens, a feasible target if your league distrusts historically unhealthy pitchers.

32.  Ted LillyTOR Blue JaysAge: 30P:L   B:L

While nothing in Lilly's skill trends truly portends a breakout campaign, everything about his move to Chicago strikes me as very favorable for fantasy owners. Lefties heading to the National League already enjoy a nice honeymoon, and given the increasing disparity in offense from the Junior Circuit, even summer days with the Wrigley wind blowing straight out don't concern me. Lilly registered a 7.9 K/9 in 2006, his best mark since leaving New York, and with Wrigley appearing more welcoming than the Rogers Centre in nearly every respect, consider him a bargain at anywhere around $10. We expect to push at least a couple of bucks higher for a pitcher we consider a superb sleeper in any league.

33.  Javier VazquezCH White SoxAge: 30P:R   B:R

Somehow Vazquez's move to his fourth team in four years resulted in his lowest homer rate in several seasons though he still couldn't drag his ERA below his career norm, now at 4.35. The White Sox also will regret the deal that brought him to Chicago for years to come considering they sent Chris Young to Arizona, creating an unnecessary long-term outfield hole. Fortunately, Vazquez remains a solid starter likely to contribute 200 league-average innings and the potential to challenge for a Cy if his consistency ever improves. Considering he posted his second-worst ERA of the decade despite his best all-around skill set since 2001, he looks like a great target to fill the middle of your rotation for about $12.

AL Starting Pitcher Week continues tomorrow.

Today's Fantasy Rx: Josh Beckett and Felix Hernandez both seem decent sleepers at the moment, but if one other owner in your league shares that opinion, both budding aces quickly could see their salaries sail far past their worth. Consider Jake Westbrook and Ted Lilly the real bargains among today's pitcher as the former pitches for free agent riches while the latter appears surprisingly undervalued considering all he brings to the NL table after years of facing far tougher competition in the Junior Circuit.

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