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Friday, March 19, 2010

Joba v. Phil - Back end fantasy value

Editors note -- I have picked up a fantasy baseball writer freelance gig with where this article will eventually appear. I will be cross-posting my fantasy baseball articles between here and RotoInfo for most of the baseball season.

Quick question: what wins championships?

If we are talking the World Series, that would be frontline starting pitching. The Yankees powered their way to ring No. 27 last year on the arms of CC Sabathia, AJ Burnett, Andy Pettite and Joba Chamberlain last year, getting nominal production from their fifth starter slot in the rotation.

More pertinent question to our goals at RotoInfo: what wins fantasy baseball championships?

There are a plethora of answers to that question, but what it all comes down to is depth. Your team can have Albert Pujols and Roy Halladay and then a bunch of schmucks and easily finish last in the league, frustrating your fellow owners in the process while you stubbornly refuse to trade the best players even though a decent swap might bring some balance to your squad.

This is where skill and knowledge comes into play in your draft – looking for value in the later rounds at the backend of major league rotations.

An overlooked but productive fifth starter can be a godsend to a fantasy baseball squad. In this respect, let’s take a look back at the Yankees rotation heading into 2010.

1 – Sabathia
2 – Burnett
3 – Javier Vazquez
4 –Pettite
5 – Chamberlain or Phil Hughes

Do not castrate me here, Yankee fans. The No. 2 through No. 4 starters can put in a different order but the fact of the matter is that it is Sabathia and everyone else.

What we are looking at here specifically is the Chamberlain/Hughes battle for the fifth spot. Let’s take a look at last year’s numbers.

Chamberlain –
32 appearances (31 starts), 157.1 innings, 9 wins, 6 losses, 4.75 ERA, 1.544 WHIP, 4.82 Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), 133 strikeouts, 76 walks, 7.6 K/9 1.75 K/B

51 appearances (7 starts), 86 innings, 8 wins, 3 losses, 3.03 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 3.22 FIP, 96 strikeouts, 28 walks, 10 K/9, 3.43 K/B

There are some striking numbers in each of those lines. Foremost, the Yankees deployment of the “Joba Rules” really hampered Chamberlain last year. It is very rare to see a pitcher with 31 starts with only 157.1 innings pitched. Chamberlain did not even qualify for the ERA title (one inning pitched for each team game played or 162 innings). Chamberlain only pitched in seven games last year where he had 100-plus pitches and had the rest of his appearances in the 76-100 range.

Talk about kid gloves. By the end of the season Chamberlain was a wreck. His velocity was down, his location was off and he was generally ineffective.

On the other hand, the Yankees season turned when Hughes was placed into the setup spot in front of Mariano Rivera in the Yankees bullpen. Hughes only had 37 less strikeouts than Chamberlain in 71.1 innings and posted an ERA+ of 141 compared to Chamberlains 90 (think of 100 as the average).

As Hughes and Chamberlain battle it out for the fifth spot in the Yankees rotation, keep a few things in mind. First, when Chamberlain was used primarily as a reliever, his core numbers were much better (171 ERA+, 1.256 WHIP, 10.6 K/9, 3.03 K/B in 42 appearances with 100.1 innings in 2008). Hughes has not been stretched out (if that is what the Yankees would call their handling of Chamberlain) in the rotation on a full time basis. Who is to say that if Hughes becomes the starter this year and Chamberlain the setup man that there numbers would not be identically reversed from the roles they played in 2009?

Away from numbers, the buzz this spring is that Hughes has looked good and he is working on a changeup to compliment the rest of his repertoire. On the flip side, until Wednesday, there were significant concerns about Chamberlain the loss of velocity on his fastball this spring. Chamberlain then went out and struck out five in four innings while allowing a run against the Phillies on Wednesday to jump back into the picture.

Back to finding fantasy value at the backend of rotations. There are some sleepers out there that will fall in the draft. Look out for the Nationals John Lanaan in the last round or on the waiver wire or someone like Houston’s Wandy Rodriguez who is one of the best pitchers that no one seems to notice. Clay Buchholz is a solid bet in Boston. Good pitchers are never quite as valuable when they are on horrible teams. Keep an on the wire to see who gets the Yankees fifth starter spot and take him at the backend of your draft.

If you really want to cover your bases, take them both. Whoever loses out of the rotation will be Rivera’s primary setup guy and (depending on your league format) setups guys can provide value in the leveraged situations.

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