January 28, 2004
Reason #4,257 that I am ready for spring – As some of you know, I live in the Northern Minnesota community of Warroad, right on the Canadian border, on Lake of the Woods. This morning, it is a balmy 30 degrees below zero with a wind chill factor approaching 60 degrees below zero! It’s not supposed to even warm up much today. This is ridiculous! I got an e-mail from David, The Baseball Savant this morning telling me that there are just 17 days until pitchers and catchers report! I can’t wait!!!
American League Central Pitchers
Yesterday, I finished a six part series, analyzing the hitters in baseball. Today, I will begin to discuss the pitching staffs of each big league team, again, by division. In other words, my four part series, which became a nine part series, has now become a 13 part series. I was thinking I would be able to do the pitching analysis in two days. However, there is really nothing going on in baseball these days worth discussing. Also, this allows me to be a little more detailed in my analysis of the players. As always, I hope you enjoy what you read.
I want to do this analysis for a couple of reasons. First, I love fantasy baseball and love discussing what I think of certain players. Second, I know that many people who take the time to read baseball sites like this one participate in fantasy baseball leagues as well. And finally… hey, I need to start figuring out a game plan for my fantasy leagues. I am in three of them, each with different formats, so I hope this helps me as much as it helps you!
However, I do understand that not everyone gets into fantasy sports, and that’s OK too. I do not think that my “analysis” will be too “statty” and should be enjoyable for any baseball fan to read.
I know it is early to be talking about fantasy baseball, but I know that many keeper leagues have to turn in their ‘keepers’ this month. Also, aside from Ivan Rodriguez and Greg Maddux, most of the free agents still available will be bit players and may or may not affect some of the comments below. However, there could still be some trades and signings which could alter some of these opinions. For instance, if Greg Maddux signs with the Cubs, it could affect the fantasy value of Juan Cruz or Angel Guzman. It could also affect how Jacque Jones would be valued.
If you have any questions or comments, please e-mail me.
Disclaimer: What you read below are simply my opinions. Obviously I have no knowledge of what will happen in the 2004 season, so please take the information for what it is worth (fun and opinion). Also, these opinions are subject to change as spring training approaches. All players listed are either projected starters, or starters based on my opinion. I will try to project where each player could be drafted, assuming a 30 round draft.
Here is the schedule for this project:
Tuesday, Jan. 20 - Part 1 - American League Central Hitters
Wednesday, Jan. 21 - Part 2 - American League East Hitters
Thursday, Jan. 22 - Part 3 - American League West Hitters
Friday, Jan. 23 - Part 4 - National League Central Hitters
Monday, Jan. 26 - Part 5 - National League East Hitters
Tuesday, Jan. 27 - Part 6 - National League West Hitters
Wednesday, Jan. 28 - Part 7 - American League Central Pitchers
Thursday, Jan. 29 - Part 8 - American League East Pitchers
Friday, Jan. 30 - Part 9 - American League West Pitchers
Monday, Feb. 2 - Part 10 - National League Central Pitchers
Tuesday, Feb. 3 - Part 11 - National League East Pitchers
Wednesday, Feb. 4 - Part 12 - National League West Pitchers
Thursday, Feb. 5 - Part 13 – Rookies and Prospects
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL PITCHERS
Well, we are back to the weakest of the six divisions. It may have seemed that the AL Central was weak in terms of hitting, but I think the below may show that they could be even weaker in pitching. The Twins can count on their Big 3. The White Sox have two quality starters followed by question marks. The Indians have CC and a bunch of uncertainties. Detroit? Well, there is a reason they lost almost 120 games last year. And, for all of the moves the Royals made in the offseason, look at their starting rotation. Will that get you to the playoffs? Good thing their bullpen is so strong!
So, let’s get going on some analysis. If you have any comments, arguments, agreements, questions or anything, please feel free to e-mail me. When this project is complete, I would like to put together a Mailbag issue with many of those comments.
Chicago White Sox
SP – Esteban Loaiza
Going into the 2003 season, Loaiza had a career record of 69-72. In his eight seasons, he had pitched in over 170 innings seven times. He never had a season ERA below 4.13. So, where did his 2003 season come from? Loaiza was 21-9 with a 2.90 ERA. He averaged 8.23 strikeouts per 9 innings, and had never been over 6.19. Normally, one would expect Loaiza to drop back down to his pervious self. However, I saw him pitch a lot last season. He was suddenly throwing 95 mph with control and a sharp cutter. Unless he loses that, he should be successful again. The risk that he won’t be drops him to the 8th round for me.
SP – Mark Buehrle
The 24 year old Buehrle has pitched more than 220 innings the last three years. 2003 was his worst. He went 14-14 with a 4.14 ERA. His strikeout rate has dropped each season. His K/BB rate has dropped, while his opponent batting average has increased almost 50 points. I would expect the same type of numbers in 2004. Wait until Round 12 to pick him.
SP – Jon Garland
Sox fans had hoped Jon Garland would take a step forward in 2003, but he stayed at the same level. In 2002, he started 33 games and was 12-12 with a 4.58 ERA. In 2003, he started 32 games and was 12-13 with a 4.51 ERA. The White Sox hope he improves in 2004, but it is hard to predict that because he only averaged about 5 strikeouts per 9 innings. Wait on Garland until Round 20.
SP – Jon Rauch
Jon Rauch is going to be given every chance to make this rotation. At 6-11, Rauch has big potential, but now he is 25 years old, has already had a torn labrum and really needs to take advantage in 2004. He went 7-1 with a 4.11 ERA in 2003 at AAA. His lone big league opportunity came in 2002. He went 2-1, but his ERA was 6.59. Last round, if at all.
SP – Dan Wright
As the Sox fifth starter last year, Wright started 15 of the 20 games in which he pitched. It didn’t go so well. He was 1-7 with a 6.15 ERA. 2002 was his lone full season in the starting rotation. He finished 14-12 with a 5.18 ERA. His pitching numbers were not much better, he just was the recipient of more run support. Wright is penciled into a rotation spot in 2004, but he will have to do better to contribute. Draft him really late, if at all.
Closer – Billy Koch
Billy Koch was horrible in 2003. In 55 games, he was 5-5 with a 5.77 ERA and just 11 saves. It was a remarkable dropoff, considering in 2002, with the A’s, the hard-thrower was 11-4 with 44 saves and a 3.27 ERA. Who knows what Koch will do in 2004? All I know is that there will be little leeway. He could go either way. He may be worth the risk near Round 20.
Closer – Damaso Marte
Koch may be on a short string because of Damaso Marte. He has been a great set up man the last two years. The wirey left-hander throws gas! Last year, in 71 games, he was 4-2 with 11 saves and a 1.58 ERA. He struck out more than a batter an inning. In 2002, he struck out 10.74 batters per 9 innings and had 10 saves. In other words, Marte could become the closer if Koch struggles at all. Could be an interesting situation to monitor. In leagues where middle relievers are worth anything, Marte will be great. Unless he wins the closer job in Chicago, he is only worth a late-round pick gambling that Koch won’t last.
One 2 Watch – Neal Cotts
In four starts with the White Sox last season, Cotts was 1-1, but his ERA was 8.10. He did strike out 10 in 13 innings with the Sox! However, if you look at his numbers in AA Birmingham last year, Cotts was 9-7 with a 2.16 ERA. In 108 1/3 innings, Cotts struck out 133 batters. The former 2001 second round pick by the A’s will make another big league appearance in 2004.
Team Fantasy Summary -
The Good - Loaiza.
The Bad – Starting Pitchers 4 and 5.
The Questions – Can Loaiza come close to duplicating his 2003 numbers? Will Buehrle pitch like he did in the first half or the second. Can Garland step it up? How will the closer situation play out?
SP – CC Sabathia
Although the 6-7, 290 (yeah right) pound Sabathia continues to get bigger, he also continues to get better! His rookie year, he was 17-5 with a 4.39 ERA and averaged 8.5 K per 9 IP. He received a lot of run support from the Cleveland lineup. In 2002, his strikeouts dropped to 6.4 per 9, and his record dropped to 13-11 because the Indians were not good. Last year, Sabathia finished 13-9, but his ERA was 3.60. Expect a similar 2004 from Sabathia. He will probably pitch well, but the Indians may not be real strong, so his record may not be great. Therefore, wait until the 17th round to pick CC.
SP – Cliff Lee
25 year old Cliff Lee should finally get a full-time spot in the Cleveland rotation in 2004. In his 11 career big league starts, he is 3-4 with a 3.30 ERA. Last year at AAA, Lee was 6-1 with a 3.27 ERA. He struck out 44 batters in just over 52 innings pitched. He is ready and will be very solid. He may not win a lot of games because that is dependent on the offense as well. He is worth a flyer in the 26th round.
SP – Jason Davis
Torii Hunter’s favorite pitcher, Jason Davis started 27 games for the Indians in 2003. He was 8-11 with a 4.68 ERA. He does throw fairly hard, which makes it surprising that his K/9 was just 4.63, while his K/BB is only 1.81. I do think that, at 23, Davis has the ability to be an adequate big league starter. The innings he will get in 2004 will help him get there. However, in 2004, I don’t think he’s worth a draft pick.
SP – Jason Stanford
Stanford was a member of Team USA this past fall. At age 26, he pitched in 13 games, starting 8 of them. He was 1-3 with a 3.60 ERA. In his three-plus minor league seasons, he has always been successful. At 27, this is Stanford’s chance to be in the rotation. I think he will be fine, but his numbers may not great. His ‘other’ numbers are not high enough to predict stardom. I would actually not draft him.
SP – Jeremy Guthrie
Guthrie was Cleveland’s first round pick in 2002 out of Stanford University, where in 2 seasons, he was 26-6 with a 2.66 ERA. 2003 was his first pro season. He started at AA Akron and went 6-2 with a 1.44 ERA. Then he was sent up to AAA Buffalo, where he struggled. He was just 4-9 with a 6.52 ERA. He did not strike out many at either of those levels. He may not start the season in the Indians’ rotation, however, he could get called up early in the season.
Closer – Bob Wickman
The 34 year old Wickman had Tommy John surgery late in 2002, but should be healthy and able to pitch in 2004. In his four seasons as a closer before 2002, Wickman recorded 25, 37, 30 and 32 saves. Wickman has always had solid ERA’s, but his 2.39 ERA in 2001 was well below his career average. This is a team with a number of Closer options, so pay close attention in spring training.
Closer – David Riske
Now, Riske was a bright spot in the Indians bullpen last year. In 68 games, he was 2-2 with a 2.29 ERA. But he was dominant. In his four years in Cleveland, he has averaged 10.3 strikeouts per 9 innings. Opponents hit just .196 off him. His WHIP was 0.96. If he is named the Indians closer, it would not be a risky pick to take Riske in the 18th round.
One 2 Watch – Jose Jimenez
Jimenez comes to the Indians as a free agent from the Colorado Rockies. He was their closer the last four seasons, which, at Coors Field didn’t mean a lot. He recorded 24, 17, 41 and 20 saves the last four years. Part-way through the 2003 season, Jimenez got another chance to be a starter. You remember his No-Hitter for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1999? Anyway, it was a bad year for Jose in 2003. He finished 2-10 with a 5.22 ERA. He may be given a shot to start the season as Cleveland’s fifth starter. Don’t draft him.
One Not 2 Watch – Kazuhito Tadano
The Japanese player is in a video that he is not proud of. Tadana could make the Indians roster as a relief pitcher out of Spring Training, but he is probably, unfortunately going to be answering questions on this for awhile.
Team Fantasy Summary -
The Good – Sabathia and Riske.
The Bad – Pretty much the rest.
Question Marks – Can the young guys improve enough to make the Indians competitive? Who will be the closer?
SP – Mike Maroth
I would like to think that Mike Maroth and his 21 losses in 2003 was a result of a terrible Tigers team. But looking at his numbers, he was not good. His WHIP was 1.45. His ERA was 5.73. He struck out just 4 per 9 inning. I do think that the game became mental for him. There were a lot of games where he pitched well for 6 innings, but then fell apart. Maybe if the team gets better, he will look better. Draft him very late, if at all.
SP – Jeremy Bonderman
The 20 year old Bonderman was removed from the rotation late in the season because he “had pitched a lot of innings.” Uh-huh. The team didn’t want him to lose 20 games last year. He finished 6-19 with a 5.56 ERA. His WHIP was 1.55. Not good. But he did average 6 strikeouts per 9 innings. I do think that Bonderman is going to be a great pitcher. Will it happen in 2004? Probably not. Keep him in your keeper leagues, but don’t draft him until the 28th round in regular leagues.
SP – Nate Cornejo
Cornejo finished 6-17, but did have an admirable 4.67 ERA. He had a year of strange numbers for Cornejo. His WHIP was 1.55 and he struck out just 2 batters per 9 innings. He was very hittable as opponents hit .307 off him, but he only gave up 18 home runs in 194 innings. So what do we expect in 2004? I think we can expect more of the same. Don’t draft him.
SP – Jason Johnson
Johnson was non-tendered by the Orioles after going 10-10 with a 4.18 ERA. From those numbers alone, you can see he is, by far, the Tigers best pitcher. But looking deeper, is he any better? His WHIP was 1.56, worse than any of the others in this rotation. He struck out 5.60 per 9 innings. It could be a long year for Johnson. Draft him after round 26, if at all.
SP – Nate Robertson
Robertson, the 26 year old lefty, started 8 games at the end of the season for the Tigers. He went 1-2 with a 5.44 ERA. I won’t even bore you with numbers. I’ll just say, PLEASE don’t draft him!
Closer – Chris Mears
At AAA, Chris Mears went 5-1 with a 2.78 ERA to warrant a call up to Detroit. He pitched in 29 games, starting three and finishing 16. He went 1-3 with a 5.44 ERA. He got five saves. I don’t know if he’ll be the closer for the Tigers. Either way, he’s not worth drafting.
Closer – Franklin German
The 24 year old German is a big man. At 6-4 and 270 pounds, German could be an intimidating pitcher. In 2003, he pitched in 45 games for the Tigers, finishing 15. In 45 innings, he walked 45 and struck out 41. If he gets some control, he could eventually become a good closer. Much like hard-thrower Matt Anderson. Don’t draft either of them!
One 2 Watch – Al Levine
The 35 year old Levin has been a solid reliever for the past five years. Last year, he split time between the Devil Rays and the Royals and went a combined 3-6 with a 2.79 ERA. He struck out just 6 per 9 innings. He could be another option for the Tigers closer position. The fact that he is “One 2 Watch” says a lot about the Tigers!
Team Fantasy Summary -
The Good – Nothing.
The Bad - Everything.
The Question Marks – Maroth, Bonderman, Cornejo and Johnson have all shown stretches of being quality big league pitchers. Can any one of them improve enough to be considered an adequate pitcher? How are Maroth and Bonderman doing mentally? Who will be the closer and how many opportunities will he get?
Kansas City Royals
SP – Brian Anderson
I think you would have to consider Brian Anderson the ace of the Royals at this point. He had his best major league season in 2003. Splitting time between Cleveland and Kansas City, Anderson finished with a 14-11 record and a 3.78 ERA. He had just 87 strikeouts in 197.2 innings pitched, so he won’t get you a lot of points in the other pitching categories. For his 11 year career, he has a career record of 75-69 with a 4.58 ERA, being primarily a starter. If he can duplicate 2003, he will be a good 25th round pick.
SP – Kevin Appier
The 36 year old Appier is an injury waiting to happen. He signed with his team, the Royals for the league minimum, because the Angels will continue to pay him big money. Last year, Appier made just 23 starts between Anaheim and KC, going 8-9 with a 5.40. He averaged a strikeout every other inning. From 1999-2002, he did average over 32 starts a season. He has had a lot of success in the big leagues. But I think he is done. Wait until really late to draft him.
SP – Chris George
George is a good example of why sometimes win/loss record can be deceiving. In 18 starts in 2003, George went 9-6. Sounds good, right? Check out these numbers: ERA? 7.11. WHIP? 1.75. Batting Average Against? .309. BB/K? 44/39. The really scary thing is that once he was returned to AAA, he went 3-5 with a 7.29 ERA. The Royals lineup should be decent, so he could get similar run support in 2004… if he is in the rotation. Try not to draft him, at least not before the 27th round.
SP – Jimmy Gobble
Gobble got 9 starts for the Royals in 2003. He went 4-5 with a 4.61 ERA. He did give up 1.35 Walks and Hits Per Inning, but opponents batted just .271 against him. In AAA last season, he was 12-8 with a 3.19 ERA. Not a strikeout pitcher, Gobble relies on good control. Draft him before you draft Chris George though!
SS – Kyle Snyder
Snyder is another long, lanky pitcher. He is 6-8 and weighs 220 pounds. He made his first 15 big league starts in 2003 and went 1-6 with a 5.17 ERA. He only struck out 4 per 9 innings. He was 3-1 with a 2.79 ERA in five AAA starts before being called up. Another “Don’t draft him!”
Closer – Mike MacDougal
Mike MacDougal pitched in 68 games last year for the Royals, primarily as a closer. He went 3-5 with a 4.08 ERA. He struck out 57 in 64 innings. MacDougal throws hard, and if he ever gets consistent control of his slider, he could become a very dominant closer. At this stage, I think he would be worth drafting by Round 14.
Closer – Curtis Leskanic
If MacDougal does happen to falter, the Royals have another strong late-inning pitcher in Curtis Leskanic. In 53 games last year (between the Brewers and Royals), he went 5-0 with a 2.22 ERA. He also struck out 50 batters. If he is not a closer, he is still worth drafting in leagues where relief pitchers have value.
One 2 Watch – Jeremy Affeldt
Affeldt will pitch for the Royals in 2004. But in what role? He struggled with blisters when he started, causing him to miss time. Pitching out of relief, he was a dominant left-hander who was able to stay healthy? If he can eliminate the blisters, he could be a very strong starting pitcher, worth drafting in about the 16th round. If they put him in the bullpen, he could be dominant there as well, but his value as a fantasy pitcher would depend on the rules of your league. I would also watch Miguel Asencio as a possible member of the starting rotation.
Team Fantasy Summary -
The Good – Affeldt, Leskanic, MacDougal.
The Bad – George, Gobble, Snyder..
The Question Marks – First, why are Twins fans worried as far as the Royals starting rotation? Do they have the best bullpen in baseball? What will Affeldt’s role be?
SP – Brad Radke
After missing a lot of starts in 2002, Radke came back with 33 starts in 2003. He pitched 212 innings and went 14-10 with a 4.49 ERA. In his 8 full big league seasons (aside from the injury-plagued 2002), Radke has never pitched less than 212 innings. He has always had double-digit wins. He gives up some hits, but walks virtually no one. Hopefully, Radke can put up a full season like his second half of 2003 when he went 9-1 with a 3.24 ERA. Consider drafting Radke after about Round 12.
SP – Johan Santana
Once Santana was finally put in the starting rotation, he came through like an ace. As a starter, Santana was 11-2 with a 2.86 ERA. He also struck out 109 hitters in 110 innings. Combined, Santana was 12-3 with a 3.07 ERA. After the All Star break, Santana was 8-1 with a 3.13 ERA. Now, Santana did have what was termed “minor” elbow surgery in the offseason. I don’t know if there really is such a thing. Hopefully he is 100%. If so, Santana is a Top 10 starting pitcher, worthy of being drafted after the 5th round.
SP – Kyle Lohse
The 25 year old Lohse finished the 2003 season with a 14-11 record with a 4.61 ERA. In 201 innings, he struck out 130 (5.82 per 9 IP) and walked just 45. I think 2004 will be a huge breakout year for Lohse. Really, he only had a back six weeks in 2003 (so bad he was almost removed from the lineup). If he can eliminate that bad stretch, Lohse could be an All-Star. Draft him ahead of Radke, probably after Round 11.
SP – Rick Helling
Splitting time between Baltimore and Florida in 2003, Rick Helling went 8-8 with a 5.17 ERA. When healthy, and when able to stay in the rotation, Helling could give the Twins 200 innings. If he does that, that means that his numbers are pretty good. Helling has won 20 games in the past (1998). His ERA has never been real strong (career average 4.77 ERA), but he has been able to keep his teams in games. I am optimistic about what Helling could provide the Twins in 2004. However, I’m not dumb. Don’t draft him until late!
SP – Grant Balfour/JD Durbin
Part way through the 2003 season, the Twins brass decided to move Grant Balfour to the rotation. He had not started since 2000. At AAA Rochester, Balfour was 5-2 with a 2.41 ERA. He struck out 87 batters in 71 innings. For the Twins, he pitched in 17 games (just one start) and went 1-0 with a 4.15 ERA. He struck out 40 batters in 26 innings. Balfour has the best “stuff” of the veterans vying for the 5th spot in the rotation. Speaking of “stuff”, JD Durbin will turn 22 in Spring Training and he’s got incredible stuff to go with his upper-90s fastball. He has been incredible at every minor league stop since being the Twins 2nd round pick in 2000. He is a combined 31-11 with a 3.03 ERA. He has averaged over 8 strikeouts an inning. In 2003, he was 9-2 (3.09) at Ft. Myers before moving up to AA New Britain where he went 6-3 (3.14). He also performed well for Team USA. Although I don’t think Durbin will be on the Opening Day roster, he should arrive in Minnesota sometime during the season. Consider drafting both of them in the last couple of rounds.
Closer – Joe Nathan
Joe Nathan will probably get the first chance at the Twins closers job in 2004. In 2003, Nathan pitched in 78 games. He was 12-4 with a 2.96 ERA. He struck out 83 batters in 79 innings. That is just a year after arm surgery. I believe he is fully capable of being a successful closer. If he does win the closer’s job, look for 35-40 saves for Nathan, meaning he would be a big-time sleeper in the 13th round.
Closer – Jesse Crain
2003 was a great year for Jesse Crain as he climbed up the Twins organizational ladder. He started the year at Class A Ft. Myers. In 10 games, he was 2-1 with a 2.81 ERA. He moved up to AA New Britain and in 22 games, he went 1-1 with a 0.69 ERA and 9 saves. That meant a move to AAA, where in 23 games, he went 3-1 with a 3.12 ERA. Combined, Crain struck out 114 batters in 84 innings. I believe the 22 year old could be successful as the Twins closer, but as I’ve mentioned before, I would like to see him get a year as a set up man first. Draft him in any minor league draft or keeper league. Don’t draft him in other leagues.
Two 2 Watch – Juan Rincon/Carlos Silva
Two pitchers who have been successful as relievers will also be given a shot at the #5 spot in the rotation. Rincon pitched 85.2 innings in 58 games out of the Twins bullpen last year. He went 5-6 with a 3.68 ERA. By the end of the season, he was put into crucial situations and succeeded. He throws hard and is working on a split-fingered pitch. If he gets that third pitch, he could do well in the rotation. Silva came to the Twins from the Phillies in the Eric Milton trade. In two years in with the Phils, Silva started just one of the 130 games he pitched in. Combined, he has been 8-1 with a 3.84 ERA. He doesn’t strike out many, but he doesn’t give up the long ball often either. Of the two, I like Rincon far better, especially if it is as a starter. But both should be in middle relief and will do well. Don’t draft either, unless they are put in the rotation.
Team Fantasy Summary -
The Good – Santana, Lohse, Nathan and the futures of Durbin and Crain.
The Bad - Helling.
The Question Marks – Can the Big 3 stay healthy and be their best? Who will win the closer role? Who will be the fifth starter? How dominant can Santana be.
Well, that is it for Part 7 of my Fantasy Baseball Preview. I hope you’ve enjoyed it. The same format will be used tomorrow when I discuss the AL East pitching staffs. Please let me know what you think. Any comments or suggestions would be welcomed! E-mail me.
Well, there is nothing else really to even talk about today, so I’m going to call it here! Again, I hope you enjoyed today’s entry. If you have any questions, comments, concerns, arguments or anything, just e-mail me!
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