ESPN Bottomline 2.0

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

The Perfect Game Mirage: Dallas Braden

A lot of mid-season fantasy baseball is about chasing mirages. You think you see something in a young, unheralded prospect who has had a good week getting time filling in for a veteran and you go pick him up off the waiver wire only to have him bat .178 for the next three weeks and get designated for assignment.

Or maybe you see a seldom used veteran get a chance to start and put up some decent numbers. Marco Scutaro was a late bloomer. So was Denard Span. Then you have also-rans like Nick Green for the Red Sox last year or Darnell McDonald this year who, despite some dramatics, are not worth a spot on your fantasy roster. That does not mean that somebody in your league is not going to put him on his roster.

But, by far the biggest mirage that gets fantasy owners frothing is when a marginal pitcher comes out of nowhere and throws a no-hitter, or in Dallas Braden’s case, a perfect game. There was a fairly good chance that Braden was available in your league as he was owned in only 65 percent of owners in ESPN free leagues earlier this week. He saw a spike in ownership right after the perfect game and a lot of activity on the trade line.

But, other than Braden making some early season waves when he became irate with superstar Alex Rodriguez for crossing the mound when returning to first base from third after a foul ball, there has not been much to Braden to remark upon in his career. The question becomes: is Dallas Braden really a guy you want to go out of your way to acquire at this point in the season?

The answer is that he is in the middle somewhere. If he is not on your roster, I would not go out your way to get him. He is a good option in deeper mixed leagues or as an waiver acquisition during two-start weeks but there are a fair amount of starting pitchers you can find at this point in the year with middling strikeout numbers and a couple of wins to their name. At 4-2 with and ERA of 3.33 (a Fielding Independent Pitching line – FIP -- of 3.45 indicating the level he is actually pitching at on an ERA scale) he is pitching about half a run better than his line last year of 3.89 (3.73 FIP which is rare that the number would go down instead of up, especially considering his park weighted xFIP was at 4.80) and his peripheries say that will probably drop to at least the 3.90 range sometime within the next month.

Now, that is pretty good when looking at backend fantasy options. But within a standard 5x5 roto world, there is more to it than just ERA. He plays for the Athletics, a team that has trouble hitting and has averaged 3.9 runs per game of support for him through his career (4.2 this year). League average tends to be around 4.42. He had five “tough losses” last year in 22 starts. A “tough loss” is categorized as a loss for a pitcher when he has registered a quality start (6 IP, 3 ER or less). This year he has one in seven starts so wins can be a concern.

He is a starter, so saves are out of the question as a value category so he should provide good WHIP and strikeout numbers to be of value. This year, his WHIP is fantastic at .96 through 46 innings pitched. He has reduced that this year by dramatically reducing his walks per nine innings from 3.14 in 2008 to 2.77 in 2009 and then cut in half to 1.37 this year. For a guy with a history of walking guys in the big leagues, it is hard to imagine that he can keep his walks per nine under 2.00 for the year and hence his WHIP will adjust correspondingly. Braden also has a batting average on balls in play (BABIP) of .245, about .55 below league average and .63 below his career average of .308. Put these two stats together and it says that he is pitching a little over his head in terms of his historical reference points.

Braden’s career major league strikeout per nine innings ratio is a very mediocre 5.65 even after he put up great strikeout numbers through the minor leagues. This year he is right at his average at 5.48 so he is not a guy who will really help you get ahead in the strikeout category. He will help you tread water, certainly, but a roster full of Bradens would be destined to finish the bottom half in that statistical category.

It is not unheard of for a pitcher to really start tuning it up in his mid to late 20s. Braden is 26 and due for some type of breakout, even with his relatively mediocre stuff topping out at 87 miles per hour with his fastball and a deceiving if overly unimpressive slider. He could turn into a late-career Tom Glavine type or even Jamie Moyer but that is not exactly the type of comparison a 26-year-old pitcher with 53 career MLB starts under his belt wants to hear.

Think of Braden like Aaron Laffey with an attitude. Baseball-Reference.com lists Laffey as one of Braden’s top comparables with a 972 similarity score (1000 would be an identical player). Then ask yourself, how much do I really want to trade for Aaron Laffey?

This article will appear on May 12 at RotoInfo.com. Dan Rowinski is a columnist for RotoInfo.com and can be reached at DanRowinski@RotoInfo.com.

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