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NL Starters: Day Three
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.

35.  Jeff SuppanSTL CardinalsAge: 31P:R   B:R

Perhaps not quite worth the $42M/4 contact Milwaukee lavished on him this winter, Suppan also hasn't pitched fewer than 188 innings in a season since 1998, providing the Brewers with a welcome tent pole in a rotation ravaged by injuries last summer. A career-best 1.61 G-F compensates for his general lack of dominance by keeping his ERA near 4.00, a respectable accomplishment considering he normally posts a strikeout rate around 5.0 K/9 and a walk rate around 3.0 BB/9. Nothing in these skills offers any significant upside, but I also won't be surprised if Suppan returns 15 wins and a 3.75 ERA, giving him a good shot to turn a few bucks of profit after not costing you much more than $6-8 in most drafts.

36.  Orlando HernandezARI/NYMAge: 36P:R   B:R

Dealt by the White Sox last winter as the primary big league pitcher sent to Arizona in the Chris Young deal a.k.a. the Javier Vazquez deal, El Duque never looked comfortable in the desert, posting an inflated 6.11 ERA despite decent skills. Traded to the Mets for Jorge Julio in late May, Hernandez prospered in his return to New York. He compiled a 4.09 ERA on a 112:41 K:BB in 116.2 IP over 20 GS over the balance of the year while holding his hit and homer rates to welcomingly low levels. Although he missed the post-season with a torn calf muscle, Hernandez still landed a two-year extension with the Mets for over $11M to serve as club's #2 starter until some of the kids develop into superior options. I expect him to remain successful in his current role, so although I wouldn't expend too much of my pitching budget to land Hernandez, he won't hurt for somewhere around $5 even if injuries limit him to 140-160 innings once again.

37.  Rich HillCH CubsAge: 26P:L   B:L

I don't know why Hill suddenly emerged as a dominant starter down the stretch last summer. However, he spent the last two years excelling in the upper minors, including a 7-1 record and a 1.80 ERA on a 135:21 K:BB in 100 IP with 62 H and 3 HR over 15 GS for AAA Iowa(PCL) in 2006. Given that performance, seeing him struggle in Chicago seemed more surprising than the eventual success he enjoyed in the fall. He posted a 2.93 ERA on a 79:24 K:BB in 80 IP with 60 H and 11 HR over 12 GS(13G) in the second half, numbers which give him as much potential as anyone in the Cubs' rotation. Anything less than a strong echo of those stats would shock me, making Hill an excellent pick-up anywhere short of $10 in standard leagues and an acceptable investment at prices into the teens in strikeout leagues.

38.  Jon LieberPHI PhilliesAge: 36P:R   B:L

Philadelphia's acquisitions of Jamie Moyer, Freddy Garcia, and Adam Eaton over the last six months somehow left Lieber out of a job as pitchers reported to camp last week. The Phillies clearly want to deal the veteran despite the massive injury risks posed by Adam Eaton and Cole Hamels, however Lieber's $7.5M salary seemingly precludes deals to most teams. I also don't see a real need for Lieber on the vast majority of clubs, though a trade to the Nationals, Reds, Astros, or Cardinals would make plenty of sense for both clubs. Washington could offer Kory Casto and an outfielder, Cincy possesses an excess of the veteran relievers needed in Philadelphia, Houston at least would deal an outfielder like Luke Scott or Jason Lane, and St. Louis, perhaps the perfect fit for Lieber, should send a couple of bullpen arms from a group that includes Brad Thompson, Josh Hancock, Josh Kinney, Tyler Johnson, and Randy Flores. The odds against Philadelphia opening the year with Lieber on the roster appear very long, and despite his diminished dominance, his outstanding control could allow him to flourish in a friendlier pitching environment. Treat Lieber as a $5 pitcher on the Phillies and a worthy investment as high as $10 someplace like Washington or St. Louis

39.  Matt MorrisSF GiantsAge: 32P:R   B:R

Signing with the Giants for $27/3 last winter looks like a good fit for Morris despite his career worst ERA. He owned a 4.29 ERA in the first half before badly struggling down the stretch, encountering a variety of problems likely attributable to the multiple damaged ribs discovered in Morris at the end of the season. He should return to full health by the spring, giving him an excellent chance to rack another 200 innings with an ERA much nearer his 3.79 career norm, along with perhaps as many as fifteen wins. Morris remains a decent tertiary option anywhere under $10.

40.  Cory LidlePHI/NYYAge: 34P:R   B:R

In the most shocking baseball tragedy since Thurman Munson's plane crash, Lidle, an increasingly passionate aficionado of flying small aircraft, died during the playoffs when his plane crashed into a Manhattan apartment building off the East River. Both Lidle and his flight instructor perished in an incident that received significant press due to obvious concerns about terrorism. The 34-year-old veteran and former replacement pitcher lasted nine seasons in the majors, finishing with an 82-72 record and a 4.57 ERA in 1322.2 IP, respectable marks for someone headed for a AAAA career before the expansion Devil Rays offered him a chance in The Show.

41.  Ian SnellPIT PiratesAge: 24P:R   B:R

Snell eased into the majors, pitching out of the bullpen and then spending the previous September in the rotation before firmly securing a starting job last spring. He registered an impressive 8.2 K/9, along with overall skill rates only slightly below preferred levels. While I don't see him winning another fourteen games without an unexpected boost from the Pirates' offense, Snell should cut his qualitative stats to the point where he could push double-digit value. Still, he looks like more of a long-term investment than someone to target in single-season leagues. Wait until his walk rate clearly improves before considering him as more than a viable fifth or sixth starter.

42.  Claudio VargasARI DiamonbacksAge: 28P:R   B:R

Another unimpressive campaign prompted the Diamondbacks to dispatch Vargas to the Brewers with Johnny Estrada and Greg Aquino for Doug Davis, Dana Eveland, and Dave Krynzel. Simply leaving Arizona should result in improved qualitative stats for Vargas, who quietly improved his skill rates nearly across-the-board. Working under Mike Maddux in Milwaukee should lead to more significant gains, and if Vargas' hit rate also drops this summer as I suspect, he could vault into double-digit value. Buying him anywhere near $5 will look like a great investment by July.

43.  Tim HudsonATL BravesAge: 31P:R   B:R

At least Hudson started more than 27 games for the first time since 2003. Yes, he still pitcher rather poorly, looking nothing like the pitcher who ranked as the American League's second-best starter earlier this decade. High walk, hit, and homer rates combined to leave him with an ERA nearly three-quarters of a run above his previous worse mark. However, his 5.8 K/9 ranks as his second-best mark since 2001, and despite the risk of a steady stream of groundballs finding their way past Atlanta's remade right side of the infield, Hudson appears a really good gamble this spring. Anything less than a return to double-digit value would shock me.

44.  Carlos VillanuevaMIL BrewersAge: 22P:R   B:R

The only real success story among the Brewers' rookie pitchers last summer, Villanueva pitched effectively as both a starter and reliever, though after the acquisitions of Jeff Suppan and Claudio Vargas, he enters camp with little chance of opening the year in the majors. Of course, he'll remain ready at AAA Nashville(PCL), where he registered a 7-1 record and a 2.71 ERA on a 61:26 K:BB in 66.1 IP over 9 GS(11G) in 2006, right after he posted a 3.90 ERA on a 59:14 K:BB in 62.1 IP over 10 GS(11G) for AA Huntsville(SL) last spring. Villanueva appears firmly ready for the majors, but since he barely lost his rookie eligibility, he won't appear on many prospect lists. He nevertheless stands just one injury away from emerging as a fairly valuable fantasy asset, so plan to select him in the reserve round of any reasonable NL deep league.

45.  Ricky NolascoFLO MarlinsAge: 23P:R   B:R

Touted as the sleeper in the Juan Pierre deal last winter, Nolasco broke camp in the Marlins' bullpen, spent six weeks compiling a 3.98 ERA on an 18:6 K:BB in 20.1 IP, and then moved into the rotation for the rest of the season. He fared worse as a starter, allowing high hit and homer rates to push his ERA well above his teammates' marks. Right now he remains slated for Florida's fifth starter's job, but if Anibal Sanchez and Josh Johnson appear healthy at the end of camp, I see no reason that someone like Sergio Mitre or Yusmeiro Petit can't fill that role, allowing Nolasco to close for the Fish. New manager Fredi Gonzalez appears to favor Nolasco over the current end-game quartet of Henry Owens, Matt Lindstrom, Taylor Tankersley, and Kevin Gregg, and although I like the youngsters a lot, Nolasco also could thrive as a closer. Due to his inconsistency last summer, he only warrants a few bucks as a starter, which could look like a giant bargain if a mid-season move to the bullpen boosts him to the $15 level he would merit as the favorite for saves.

46.  Zach DukePIT PiratesAge: 23P:L   B:L

Although we anticipated a slump after the unsustainable 1.81 ERA Duke registered in 84.2 big league innings in 2005, the increase from an 8.3 hit rate to a 10.7 mark gutted his qualitative stats. On the bright side, he only truly slumped in June and July, surging to a 3.65 ERA on a 49:24 K:BB in 99.2 IP over 15 second-half stats. Unfortunately, soft-tossing groundball machines like Duke needs sterling defense to excel, and while Jack Wilson remains a top shortstop, the rest of the infield doesn't exactly impress me. I see $10 as a fairly hard ceiling for Duke, though if he somehow slips under $5, he appears an excellent long-term gamble given his overall growth in recent years.

47.  Noah LowrySF GiantsAge: 25P:L   B:L

Lowry sustained a strained oblique just days after signing a four-year contract last April. He lost a month to the DL, and while he only stayed mostly healthy for the rest of the year, only missing one September start due to a short-term tender elbow, he experienced one of the most inconsistent seasons in the majors. After a 4.26 ERA in May, he managed a 3.64 mark in June, a 5.66 ERA in July, and a 1.86 ERA on August before finally collapsing to a 10.72 mark in September. Considering that those marks really didn't track with his monthly skill rates, and he suffered a significant loss of dominance after two years with a strikeout rate over 7.0 K/9, I see a lot to concern me here. While I suspect he'll rebound to an ERA near his 4.07 career norm, I see no justification for expecting anything more than a return to the mean for Lowry. Bidding into double digits for him in 2007 looks like a definite mistake.

48.  Eric MiltonCIN RedsAge: 31P:L   B:L

Felled last April by a knee ailment requiring minor arthroscopic surgery, Milton returned to the Reds by mid-May and somehow pitched his best ball of the year in his three starts that month. Elbow discomfort in September similarly ended his season a couple of starts early due to another round of minor arthroscopic surgery on his joints, which seemingly leaves him healthy and on track to post a surprisingly strong season just in time to convince another foolish team to overpay for one of the most severe flyball pitchers in the game. Milton remains an awful fit in the GAB, so although he could rebound if dealt to one of the half-dozen NL parks that suppresses homers by more than ten percent, only true gambling owners should run the risk of drafting him this spring. I suspect he'll post his best numbers as a Red this year and will value him accordingly, but due to the risk of him allowing a couple of homers in almost every outing, you also won't see Milton on our roster unless he slips into the reserve rounds.

49.  Chan Ho ParkSD PadresAge: 33P:R   B:R

Seemingly set to watch his career dissipate, Park instead prospered in his return to the National League, displaying some of the best overall skills of his career in the first half before losing much of the second half to the DL due to a rare case of Meckel's Diverticulum, an intestinal problem that required surgery to stop his internal bleeding. Somehow he returned in the fall and even pitched decently in the playoffs, and while the Padres didn't invite him to return, he landed a one-year with the Mets for $3M, making him the easy frontrunner for the fifth starter's job. Given Park's rather respectable skill set and the quantitative upside enjoyed by anyone pitching in front of the Mets' offense, an end-round gamble here could result in double-digit wins with any luck.

50.  Livan HernandezWAS/ARIAge: 31P:R   B:R

Arizona's trade for Byrnes appeared mildly questionable at the time, but since neither Matt Chico nor Garrett Mock appeared likely to receive a long look in Phoenix in the near future, swapping the pitching prospects for one of baseball's most dependable inning eaters. Of course, while Livan hasn't hit the DL, his knee problems contribute to a surprisingly limited upside. Taking a career-worst .87 G-F into the second-best park for homers in the majors isn't a recipe for extended qualitative success. Perhaps the upgrade from the Nationals' defense to the Diamondbacks' D will provide the support Hernandez needs to thrive in his walk year, however I also view $10 as a fairly hard ceiling for the veteran. Bidding much above half that price greatly reduces your chance to see any meaningful profit.

51.  Aaron SeleLA DodgersAge: 36P:R   B:R

The fourteen-year vet actually opened last year at AAA Las Vegas before joining the Dodgers, further illustrating that Sele really just qualifies as roster filler for big league teams. This spring the Mets gave him an NRI for the exact purpose of subbing in the majors if Mike Pelfrey, Phil Humber, or even Chan Ho Park somehow can't win the fifth starter's job. Considering Sele also flopped in Los Angeles as a reliever, he only offers any upside in the rotation, and given his rather complete lack of dominance, he doesn't belong on anyone's fantasy that isn't completely desperate to add wins at any costs.

52.  Miguel BatistaARI DiamonbacksAge: 35P:R   B:R

After spending the entire decade in two of baseball's best batters' parks, Batista signed a three-year deal for $27M with the Mariners that places him in the second best pitchers' park in the game. While his skill trends generally concern me, Batista's solid ground-fly rate and general good health make him a solid fourth starter in AL leagues. Considering his low profile and stable skill set, he should turn a significant profit after not costing you much more than $5 in many leagues.

53.  Tom GorzelannyPIT PiratesAge: 24P:L   B:L

Following a solid AA campaign in 2005, Gorzelanny compiled a 6-5 record and a 2.35 ERA on a 94:27 K:BB in 99.2 IP with 67 H and 4 HR over 16 GS for AAA Indianapolis(IL) last spring. He joined the Pirates on July 1st, pitching respectably for six weeks before elbow stiffness forced him to the DL. While Gorzelanny surprisingly returned for three starts in late September, his success during those starts without any reported discomfort significantly alleviates any injury concerns. Of course, he still doesn't look ready to approach his ceiling as a #2 starter, but spending a few bucks on him appears a good investment, particularly in 5x5 leagues given his minor league strikeout rates.

NL Starting Pitcher Week continues tomorrow.

Today's Fantasy Rx: The prospective free agents here, specifically Jon Lieber, Eric Milton, and Livan Hernandez, all should post decent numbers, but the youngsters offer the greatest potential for profit. Rich Hill and Claudio Vargas in particular appear nicely protected by their respective franchises, and both seem set to blossom thanks to strong skill foundations and intriguing development curves.

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