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AL Starters: Day Four
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.

46.  Casey JanssenTOR Blue JaysAge: 25P:R   B:R

Outstanding command pushed Janssen from the Midwest League to the majors in barely a year, and although Janssen didn't emerge as rotation solution for Toronto last season, his 4.85 ERA on a 32:8 K:BB in 42.2 IP with 47 H and 3 HR over 9 GS for AAA Syracuse(IL) suggests he doesn't need much more seasoning. Few young pitchers possess his ability to deliver consistent strikes, and when coupled with a 1.80 G-F, his downside appears welcomingly shallow. The problem is that Janssen's lack of dominance makes him a bad fit in a hitters' park like the Rogers Centre, though he at least owns the skill foundation to overcome that disadvantage. Perhaps the best news for Janssen is that the signings of John Thomson and Tomo Ohka, coupled with the emergence of Shaun Marcum last fall, give him additional time to continue developing in the minors before the Jays truly need him to fill a starting slot. He could return to positive fantasy value as soon as this summer, so consider spending a late reserve round pick on Janssen if you're seeking pitching depth.

47.  Paul ByrdCLE IndiansAge: 35P:R   B:R

Seemingly just a placeholder until Fausto Carmona or Adam Miller demands a rotation spot, Frasier realistically enters the year as the Indians' #4 starter, possessing an excellent chance to convince Cleveland to exercise his $8M option for 2008. Jake Westbrook almost certainly will depart as a free agent after the season, and with an improved Indians' defense likely to reduce Byrd's 11.7 hit rate, thus returning his ERA to his 4.32 career norm, he'll look like a great fit on the club's increasingly youthful pitching staff. Byrd appears an excellent target as your fourth or fifth starter, easily worth of the $5 he should cost in most leagues.

48.  Cha Seung BaekSEA MarinersAge: 26P:R   B:R

Returning to AAA Tacoma(PCL) for a second summer led to a much better result for Baek, who compiled a 12-4 record and a 3.00 ERA on a 103:37 K:BB in 147 IP with 133 H and 17 HR allowed over 24 GS. Prompted to replace Jamie Moyer in the Mariners' rotation, Baek similarly improved on his previous performance in the majors. He appears perfectly prepared to start in the majors, and although the acquisitions of Jeff Weaver, Miguel Batista, and Horacio Ramirez will send Baek to Tacoma once again, he appears at the top of the list when Seattle seeks the inevitable injury replacements during the year. While even spending a reserve round pick on Baek in the spring seems overkill, you still should remember to target him when he appears on your free agent lists during the season.

49.  Zach MinerDET TigersAge: 24P:R   B:R

Initially acquired from Atlanta with Roman Colon in the Kyle Farnsworth deal in 2005, Miner spent most of 2006 as Jim Leyland's key swingman, pitching great in the bullpen and tolerably as a starter despite a high ERA in the latter role. He posted a surprisingly balanced skill set, and after taking into account his 2.82 ERA on a 40:21 K:BB in 51 IP over 9 GS for AAA Toledo last spring, I consider Miner the leading replacement candidate should any Tigers' pitcher hit the DL. Unfortunately for Miner, he otherwise should head back to Toledo given Detroit's impressive bullpen depth. Right now he doesn't look like anything more than roster filler until he begins posting better qualitative stats in the majors.

50.  Rich HardenOAK AthleticsAge: 24P:R   B:L

Right now Harden appears a worse fantasy investment than lower profile teammates Dan Haren, Esteban Loaiza, and Joe Blanton. Yes, he certainly possesses the most upside in the rotation courtesy of an impressive 8.3 career strikeout rate. Harden also failed to pitch 175 innings over the last two seasons combined, suffers from control problems, and although his elbow appears healthy for now, few pitchers create a similar level of trepidation in us. While he qualifies as someone in whom we want to believe, his struggle to stay on the field leaves us completely unwilling to invest the $12+ price he invariably costs. Unless you see the bidding on Harden stalling below that level or head into an auction with a keeper roster so loaded that you can afford to waste $15 if he heads to the DL, let someone else spend the money for the Harden headache. Under no circumstances should you spend more than $20, and as a general note on AL pitchers, unless bidding on Johan Santana or a closer, I see no logical rationale for bidding above $30 under any circumstances. No regular Rotohelp reader should ever catch themselves with, say, a $40 Harden on their roster. You can always spend the money on offense and then trade for pitching during the season.

51.  Joe SaundersLA AngelsAge: 25P:L   B:L

The twelfth player selected in the 2002 draft, Saunders completed his return from arm surgery in 2003 to emerge as the Angels' sixth starter. He registered an extremely impressive 2.67 ERA on a 97:38 K:BB in 134.2 IP over 20 GS(21G) with 117 H and 12 HR allowed in the tough pitching environment at AAA Salt Lake(PCL). Taking Bartolo Colon's rotation slot in the second half, Saunders demonstrated decent all-around skills, convincing the club to retain him given the health issues of Colon and Kelvim Escobar. Drafting Saunders for anything under $5 should give you good value in 2007 and a superb long-term asset likely to net you massive in-season improvements if you shop him to rebuilding clubs.

52.  James ShieldsTB Devil RaysAge: 24P:R   B:R

I admit that a few of Rays' young right-handers tend to blend together in my mind, but after spending last spring dominating International League hitters and the rest of the season posting comparably impressive numbers in Tampa, Shields should stand out in everyone's opinion. We just haven't seen many Devil Rays' pitchers post both a 7.5 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9 in their rookie campaigns. Shields compiled a 2.64 Era on a 64:6 K:BB in 61.1 IP over 10 GS for AAA Durham in 2006, earning a promotion to the Rays' rotation at the end of May. Despite suffering from general inconsistency, Shields otherwise only appears to need better defensive support to emerge as a capable #2 starter behind Scott Kazmir. After years of attempting to avoid Tampa pitchers, we finally see a couple of young guns worth places on your roster. Pushing toward $10 for Shields is a decent idea in keeper leagues, though holding the line around $6 makes more sense in single-season competitions.

53.  Gustavo ChacinTOR Blue JaysAge: 25P:L   B:L

Effectively guaranteed a rotation spot as the only decent southpaw starter in camp, Chacin nevertheless faces significant obstacles in his quest to replicate his 2005 success. Last year he averaged barely five innings a start while watching his strikeout, walk, homer, and ground-fly rates all slump to relatively unacceptable levels. Elbow problems also sidelined him for the majority of the summer, so although he rebounded in the second half, Chacin's questionable command remains a significant source of concern. Only risk rostering him in leagues where you possess a sufficiently impressive qualitative base that you can afford to chase wins with a starter likely to post below-average marks in both ERA and WHIP.

54.  Jeff KarstensNY YankeesAge: 24P:R   B:R

Please refer to our Post-2006 Prospect Review: New York(A) for my comments on Karstens.

55.  Luke HudsonKC RoyalsAge: 29P:R   B:R

Dumped last spring by new Reds' management more comfortable with veteran mediocrities, Hudson quickly landed with the Royals, he broke camp in the majors yet pitched terribly for the first month of the season. Two months at AAA Omaha(PCL) resulted in a 2.80 ERA on a 21:7 K:BB in 35.1 IP over 2 GS(13G) that earned him a another shot in Kansas City, whereupon Hudson blossomed into the club's most reliable starter in the second half. He posted a 4.79 ERA as a starter, along with a 55:30 K:BB in 88.1 IP over 15 GS, numbers that while not impressive, represent marked improvement from most Royals' starters last summer. Although I can't recommend him as more than a decent reserve-round option right now, Hudson enters 2007 as Kansas City's #3 starter and just might approach double-digit value with any luck.

56.  Mike MarothDET TigersAge: 29P:L   B:L

Maroth excelled last April, slumped in May, and then needed arthroscopic surgery to remove bone chips in his left elbow. He missed over three months of action, didn't make the playoff roster, and now enters the season in theoretical competition with Zach Miner for a rotation slot. Of course, Maroth will start this year barring a complete breakdown, so I see no reason he shouldn't rebound toward his pre-injury numbers. That still doesn't make him a good gamble in most leagues, but he at least shouldn't hurt you and might add a dozen wins to your ledger.

57.  Daniel CabreraBAL OriolesAge: 25P:R   B:R

Among our top breakout candidates headed into 2006, Cabrera's participation in the WBC seemingly wrecked his season, leading to a disastrous first half that saw him post a 5.15 ERA on an 88:70 K:BB in 80.1 IP, along with spending three weeks on the DL with shoulder inflammation in May. His wildness led to a demotion after the All-Star break, which apparently provided the needed wakeup call as Cabrera compiled a 4.07 ERA on a 27:9 K:BB in 24.1 IP over 4 GS for AAA Ottawa(IL). The 25-year-old quickly reemerged as a potential ace for the Orioles, even carrying a no-hitter into the ninth inning against the Yankees in his final start of the year. With a full winter to recover and no WBC distracting him this spring, Cabrera again appears poised to emerge as a top starter, warranting bids approaching $10 in all AL leagues due to the upside he possesses if his control ever improves.

AL Starting Pitcher Week continues tomorrow.

Today's Fantasy Rx: Joe Saunders and James Shields seem to possess the most upside of the lower profile pitchers discussed above, but despite their promise, they don't really compare to the true sleeper here. While a lot of people still might like Daniel Cabrera, I look at his skills and see a budding Cy Young contender, possibly as soon as 2007 if Leo Mazzone manages to tweak his control. Cabrera probably ranks as our favorite sleeper among all AL pitchers right now, and we highly recommend bidding that extra buck to secure his services for your team.

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