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NL Starters: Day One
by Tim Polko

Today's Fantasy Rx

National 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.

1.  Chris CarpenterSTL CardinalsAge: 31P:R   B:R

Rather than convincing any free agents to sign in St. Louis other than Kip Wells, Ryan Franklin, and the injured Mark Mulder, the Cardinals, who owned Carpenter at a total of $15M for the next two years, foolishly gave their injury-prone ace a massive new contract that pays him $19M through 2008 and then nearly $15M a year until 2011. The good news is that Carpenter owns simply outstanding all-around skills, and despite persistent health concerns, averaged thirty-one starts over the past three years with an ERA near 3.00. Right now that performance certainly justifies a $65M/5 deal. However, adding that extra expenditure while simultaneously refusing to pay the going rate for any other veteran just doesn't make sense, particularly since heading into the season with a rotation of Carpenter, Anthony Reyes, Wells, Adam Wainwright, and probably Braden Looper both will tax the bullpen and place plenty of additional pressure on Carpenter. Unless similarly-minded owners let you steal him near $20, let someone else take the risk of drafting Carpenter while you instead look toward Brandon Webb and Roy Oswalt if you want a true ace to anchor your staff.

2.  Brandon WebbARI DiamonbacksAge: 27P:R   B:R

The deserving NL Cy Young winner enters 2007 as the Diamondbacks' undisputed ace despite the additions of Randy Johnson, Livan Hernandez, and Doug Davis to the rotation since last summer. With a 4.06 G-F meshing perfectly with an impressive young infield, Webb's 2006 performance might rank as his baseline fantasy output for the next five years as the Diamondbacks' young studs develop into an offensive juggernaut. I wouldn't rule out a 25-win season for Webb before 2010 as few pitchers possess such a similarly limited downside. We rarely push above the teens for starting pitchers, but if you want to spend for an ace, Webb's overall development justifies bids to $25.

3.  Roy OswaltHOU AstrosAge: 29P:R   B:R

Inking Oswalt to a five-year, $73M contract last August ranks with the best moves in franchise history for the Astros. Plus, after watching Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens likely depart for good this winter, Oswalt appears prepared to emerge as a perennial Cy Young favorite. Perhaps his career-low 6.8 K/9 qualifies as a warning sign, but he also added career-best marks of a 1.5 BB/9 and a 1.52 G-F to his skill set, further reducing the risk of drafting him. With an improved Houston offense ready to propel Oswalt back toward 20 wins and every expectation for him to experience continued qualitative success, consider him one of the safest $20 bets in baseball.

4.  Bronson ArroyoCIN RedsAge: 29P:R   B:R

Boston seemingly betrayed Arroyo by signing him to a three-yea deal for $12M a year ago and then dealing him to the Reds for Wily Mo Pena only two months later. However, Arroyo prospered in the NL, earning an All-Star berth and emerging as the Reds' ace, which apparently convinced Wayne Krivsky to give him $25M for a two-year extension that doesn't begin ungil 2009. Despite a strong skill foundation that suggests Arroyo's effectiveness shouldn't waver significantly, an IP surge from an average of two hundred innings a year to over 240 IP carries plenty of injury risk, especially considering he threw more pitches per plate appearances in 2006. I can't justify bidding much past $15 despite the qualitative promise offered by the addition of Alex Gonzalez to the Reds' infield defense.

5.  John SmoltzATL BravesAge: 39P:R   B:R

I nearly offered a rather pessimistic analysis of Smoltz's fantasy chances for 2006, but after considering his performance since returning to the rotation in 2005 and his consistently superb skills over the past few years, he just might emerge as a great bargain this spring. Yes, he turns 40 in May, but with pending free agency giving him a shot at one more significant contract, as well as an excellent shot at the Hall of Fame, he has every motivation to excel this summer. Even the outwardly reasonable sum of $15 appears a little low when considering that Smoltz saw his ERA rise nearly half a point last summer despite overall skill improvement. Anything less than a strong echo of his 2006 numbers would surprise me.

6.  Aaron HarangCIN RedsAge: 28P:R   B:R

After spending a few seasons gradually developing on the Athletics and Reds, Harang blossomed last summer, hitting career-best marks in nearly every category while even leading the NL in strikeouts. Cincinnati rewarded him with a four-year contract that averages over $9M a year, a fair price given his age, increasing dominance, and history of good health. While all pitchers in the GAB still generally concern me, especially after supplanting Coors as the league's best hitters' park in 2006, Harang's overall fantasy potential warrants a respectable budgetary outlay in most leagues. I wouldn't push past $15, but bidding into the low teens appears perfectly justified by this performance.

7.  Carlos ZambranoCH CubsAge: 25P:R   B:S

While the Cubs' ace and pending free agent managed a career-best 8.8 K/9, he also saw his walk rate hit 4.8 BB/9 and his ground-fly rate fall to 1.24 G-F, his worst mark since his debut. Back problems also troubled him throughout September, really worrying annoying paying attention to the 841.1 major league innings he accumulated prior to turning twenty-five last June. Of course, since Zambrano also remained extremely effective after a rough April, he only needs to avoid the DL to spend the next decade as one of baseball's best pitchers. With no arm problems on his record and a build that seemingly supports his development on the mound, he certainly deserves no less than $15 bids in every league.

8.  Derek LoweLA DodgersAge: 33P:R   B:R

Lowe essentially repeated his 2005 campaign, except this time improved his record from 12-15 to 16-8 while halving his homer rate and slipping down to a 5.1 K/9. Of course, with a 3.99 G-F and a 2.3 BB/9, few pitchers in baseball appear safer bets. The Dodgers' likely offensive problems should cost Lowe a few wins, but he otherwise only appears likely to experience a mild decline in effectiveness. Purchasing him at any price shy of the teens looks like a good investment for a #2 starter capable of anchoring your ERA and WHIP.

9.  Chris YoungSD PadresAge: 27P:R   B:R

Stolen from the Rangers last winter with Adrian Gonzalez and Terrmel Sledge for Akinori Otsuka, Adam Eaton, and Ben Killian, Young unsurprisingly blossomed upon moving from baseball's second worst pitchers' park to the best. A .49 G-F isn't a problem in PETCO as the Padres' defense significantly lowered his hit rate, snagging nearly everything that didn't make it over the wall. Unfortunately, minor thumb and foot problems slowed him in the first half, and then a strained shoulder muscle sidelined him for a week in August, flaring up once again during the playoff. The good news is that he appears fully healthy now, making anything less than a strong echo of his 2006 numbers highly unlikely. I won't be surprised if he approaches $20, joining Jake Peavy to give the Padres a superb 1-2 punch to complement veterans Greg Maddux and David Wells, as well as the much younger Clay Hensley.

10.  Jason SchmidtSF GiantsAge: 33P:R   B:R

Moving down the coast just to sign a three-year contract doesn't strike me as a great move by Schmidt given his questionable health history, but if he avoids the DL, he also should flourish in Los Angeles. Although winning more than fifteen games looks like a stretch given the team's likely punchless offense, we could see him finish among the league's top ten pitchers in both ERA and WHIP. Yet with a worrisome flyball trend leaving Schmidt at risk for a homer spike, he also looks unlikely to exceed his 2006 fantasy value, and between the injury risk and his inconsistent control, you should let someone else overpay for the Dodgers' new ace.

11.  Dave BushMIL BrewersAge: 26P:R   B:R

Despite registering very solid minor league stats as a former college closer, Bush never really caught my eye until joining the Brewers last year in the Lyle Overbay deal. While his ERA remained surprisingly high all year, he followed a 106:28 K:BB in 124.1 first-half innings with a 60:10 K:BB in 86.2 IP after the break. On the balance of the season, he also bumped his strikeout rate to 7.1 K/9 and his ground-fly rate to a 1.44 mark, both career bests. With equally impressive walk and hit rates further burnishing his skill set, Bush probably ranks as the most likely NL pitcher to emerge as a fantasy beast in 2007. A $15 Bush just might net you $25 in stats.

12.  Greg MadduxCHC/LADAge: 40P:R   B:R

Not that Maddux needed to pad his stat line in any way, but after leaving the Cubs with nothing from the Dodgers other than Cesar Izturis, he continued his trek out west by signing in San Diego, providing himself a simply superb environment for his march to 350 wins. Of course, with only a declining strikeout rate offering any indication of skill degradation, we likely will see Maddux post his best numbers since departing the Braves this year, particularly since the Padres offer an outstanding pitchers' park and topnotch bullpen, neither of which benefited Maddux in any of his previous twenty-one seasons. Rather than merely looking at 350 wins to outdistance Clemens, winning fifteen games for three more years, a feat Maddux accomplished in eighteen of the last nineteen seasons, would place him third on the all-time wins list, an accomplishment that would set him apart from every pitcher since Walter Johnson. Bet on him at least approaching that level by bidding him into the teens in every NL league.

13.  Roger ClemensHOU AstrosAge: 44P:R   B:R

Last weekend Clemens gave 4-1 odds against him pitching in 2007, and although I suspect receiving a potential $15M from the Red Sox, Yankees, Rangers, or Astros for as few as fifteen regular-season starts and another shot at a ring will bring him back, why take the chance? Yes, you should spend your first reserve-round pick on him in any standard league. The chance of grabbing a $10 pitcher with that pick certainly seems worth the risk of receiving nothing from that roster spot for a few months. However, I see no reason to bid more than a buck or two in leagues where he qualifies for the auction, and in straight drafts with limited reserve rosters, burning that roster slot on him leaves you at a significant disadvantage. As one of the two best pitchers of the last eight decades, Clemens deserves the chance to set his own schedule, but don't let the hope of him anchoring your staff down the stretch otherwise hamstring your draft strategy in any way. Discount his potential $15 value roughly 80% in AL leagues and 95% in NL leagues due to both the possibly of him not pitching and the chance of him joining the other league.

14.  Chris CapuanoMIL BrewersAge: 28P:L   B:L

A slightly higher ERA hid otherwise impressive growth from Capuano, who cut his walk rate from 3.7 BB/9 to a 1.9 mark. If his homer rate hasn't skyrocketed in the second half, he would have finished the year with an ERA near 3.50 and possibly as many as fifteen wins. With no hint of injury on his recent record and the support of an improving offense, Capuano could approach $20, earning a nice profit considering he generally shouldn't cost much more than $15.

15.  Josh JohnsonFLO MarlinsAge: 22P:R   B:L

The highly unexpected NL ERA leader for much of the first half despite spending April in the Marlins' bullpen, Johnson started losing effectiveness in the fall before a forearm strain ended his season in mid-September. Recent reports regarding discomfort in his biceps further concern me even considering his relatively light workload to date, as he also just turned 23 last month. Johnson may excel if healthy, but with two apparently separate arm problems limiting his work over the last six months, even bidding into double digits to roster him just doesn't make sense.

16.  Jake PeavySD PadresAge: 25P:R   B:R

Peavy suffered slight skill erosion across the board, though even his overall WHIP spike doesn't explain an ERA over a half run higher than his skill rates predict. Another possible WBC victim, shoulder tendonitis also slowed him in the first half, and then a couple of minor injuries to his extremities limited him down the stretch. However, with an outstanding overall skill set and an average of thirty starts in each of the last four seasons, few pitchers possess Peavy's upside. Consider a salary anywhere under $15 an absolute steal for this perennial Cy Young contender.

17.  Tom GlavineNY MetsAge: 40P:L   B:L

After four years in New York, Glavine unsurprisingly chose to remains with the Mets rather than returning home to Atlanta. Even a mediocre campaign should provide him the ten wins he needs to ice his Hall of Fame case, but with Pedro out for much of the first half, the Mets really need Glavine to remain the club's ace a little while ago. Of course, considering he remains one of the best April pitchers in the game and posted his best overall skill set this decade in 2006, I expect at least a respectable follow-up campaign. Consider him a good buy anywhere in single digits, though remember to deal him before summer if he dominates in his initial appearances as usual.

18.  Brett MyersPHI PhilliesAge: 26P:R   B:R

Arrested in June for assaulting his wife outside Fenway Park, Myers then missed the first couple weeks of July on the inactive list, encountered a nasty bout of gopheritis in August, and finally rebounded with his best overall month of the year in September. He fared much better during the off-season as Kim Myers convinced authorities not to prosecute Brett in October and the Phillies awarded him a three-year contract for $25.75M earlier this month. Myers entered camp clearly at the front of a reloaded rotation, and although pitching in Philadelphia still limits his upside, he at least won't hurt you for $10.

19.  Anibal SanchezFLO MarlinsAge: 22P:R   B:R

Last winter I though the Red Sox erred by dealing Sanchez instead of Papelbon or Lester given the higher upside suggested by their respective development to date. Of course, Josh Beckett still seems a good fit in Boston, but Sanchez, who truly burst onto the baseball scene in September with the first no-hitter in the majors in more than two years, could be a special player for the Marlins. He even posted a 3.26 ERA on a 92:27 K:BB in 85.2 IP with 82 H and 7 HR over 15 GS for AA Carolina(SL) before his promotion to Florida. The problem for Sanchez is that not only did he experience shoulder discomfort last month, he also shot from 136 IP in 2005 to 200 IP last summer. He also just turns 23 this week, and considering his previous injury issues, I see every reason to avoid him this spring. Bidding beyond the $6-8 range, particularly in keeper leagues, seems unnecessarily aggressive given Sanchez's merely mediocre skill set in 2006.

NL Starting Pitcher Week continues tomorrow.

Today's Fantasy Rx: Last week the top tier of AL starters appeared full of overvalued #2 or #3 starters potentially not even worth double-digit bids, leading me to recommend targeting several lower-profile starters to fill your rotation. National League pitchers head in the opposite direction as guys like Chris Young, Dave Bush, and Jake Peavy easily could emerge as the best values if they cost you roughly what they earned in 2006. Targeting almost any starter in one of the league's six established pitchers' parks won't hurt you, but first place teams likely will search for the bargain potential ace, and given the skill level and development of many of the pitchers discussed above, I suspect that the two under-30 starters from today that cost the least in your league will anchor the pitching staff of your champion.

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