This post picks out 20 starting pitchers who look like risky propositions in 2009.  It leverages findings from our analysis of previous year pitch counts and how this information can help predict a pitcher’s chance of breaking down (defined as less than 2000 pitches which is ~ 120 IP) or performance drops (0.50+ increase in FIP) in the following season.

The key criteria we looked at are:

  1. % of Curves/Sliders – Above 27% is bad.  Above 30% is worse.  Etc.
  2. Pitch count difference between 2007 and 2008 – Anything above 700 is bad.  Unlike our initial analysis, we factored in postseason pitches as well as estimated minor-league pitches.
  3. First year above the 2,700+ MLB pitch threshold in 2008 – Yes is bad.

If the statistic next to these criteria is in red, that’s bad.  If in blue, it’s okay.  You will find that we will throw in a few other stats along the way like BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) but these serve only as FYIs/additional warnings as our two ‘failure’ measures are luck independent (aside from perhaps some of the HR component of FIP).

Since our previous research showed that about 45% of pitchers follow up 2700+ pitch seasons with seasons of less than 2000 pitches or a +0.50 FIP increase, averages say that 9 of these 20 should ‘fail’.  Our bold estimate is that at least 12 of these 20 will fail with the top 10 having at least 6 that fail.

We apologize in advance for the following:

  • If one of these pitchers is on your favorite real team and/or a keeper on your fantasy team
  • If one of these pitchers is a friend, family member, lover or teammate.
  • If one of these pitchers is you.
  • If you avoid one of these players based on this advice and they prove us wrong.

Now that we got our approach and apologies out of the way, here we go….

1. Armando Galarraga

2008 Curve/Slider % – 39%
2008 Total Pitches:  2,984 (est. 204 in minor leagues)
Difference From 2007:  +2,631 (est. +403 if minor league pitches included)
2008 First Year With 2,700+ Pitches – YES

Part ‘Big Cat’ and part ‘Blownitez’, Armando had an impressive rookie year going 13-7/3.73/1.19 after being acquired in a pre-season trade with the Texas Rangers (one of these days they might actually keep one of their farm-grown pitchers – see Chris Young, John Danks, Edinson Volquez…).

Predicting a fall back for Galarraga is almost too easy.  The 39% curve/slider rate is really high (will elaborate more on this with the next two pitchers on the list) and his pitch count had a nice spike vs. the previous year.  The reason he is #1 is that in the case he doesn’t break down next year (probably close to 50/50), he’ll likely be pulled from the rotation at some point if his ERA matches or exceeds last year 4.88 FIP.  Yes, that’s a 1.15 difference between ERA and FIP which was the biggest gap in the MLB.   His BABIP was a ridiculous .247 (average is around .290).  So this feels a bit like cheating since this is supposed to be only about using previous year’s pitch counts vs. other factors but is it really cheating if you cop to it?

2. Ricky Nolasco

2008 Curve/Slider % – 43%
2008 Total Pitches:  3,243
Difference From 2007:  +2,894 (est. +2,366 if minor league pitches included)
2008 First Year With 2,700+ Pitches – YES

Nolasco showed a little promise in 2006 before an injury-marred 2007.  I doubt very many people expected him to have the breakout 2008 season.  Expectations will be higher in 2009 and the prospects don’t look very good.  He FAR exceeds the year-over-year pitch count and the curve/slider %.   This was also his first season above 2,700+ MLB pitches making him 3-for-3 on the criteria.  Only 10 pitchers in 2005-2007 hit all three criteria.  Here’s the list:

2005 – Joe Blanton, Josh Towers, Bruce Chen, John Patterson
2006:  Ervin Santana, Felix Hernandez
2007:  Adam Wainwright, Rich Hill, Boof Bonser

The pitchers who made it to 2000+ pitches the next year were Joe Blanton, F-Her, and Ervin Santana.  You may recall that Ervin Santana was God awful in 2007.  F-Her and Blanton, who fared okay, at least pitched a number of innings in the minors the year prior (vs. Nolasco’s injury-plagued 2007).

Knowing that it may be tough for some to steer clear of Nolasco, I wrote this poem to help you remember:

Ricky Nolasco
Really pitched fantastico
But he’s not made of elastico
So drafters please watch out

The reason he’s taking a fall
He throws a lot of breaking balls
And his pitch count spiked, making this call
One with little doubt

3. Gavin Floyd

2008 Curve/Slider % – 39%
2008 Total Pitches:  3,235
Difference From 2007:  +2,082 (est. +383 if minor league pitches included)
2008 First Year With 2,700+ Pitches – YES

Floyd was a top prospect that had trouble shaking injuries early in his career (54 IP in 2004-2005) to pitch two injury-free seasons in a row.  While his 2,000+ MLB pitch spike can be downplayed because of 106 IP in the minors in 2007, throwing 39% breaking balls (split close to even between sliders and curve balls) is extremely high for a young pitcher.  Here is the list of starting pitchers with 3 or less seasons of 2,700+ pitches to throw over 35% pitches in a season from 2005-2007:  Casey Fossum (47% – 2005), Tony Armas Jr (36% – 2006), Ramon Ortiz (35% – 2006), Ian Snell (37% – 2007), Boof Bonser (39% – 2007), and Adam Wainwright (35% – 2007).  All six of these players fell back hard the next year – either missing significant time or pitching less effective.

The moral of the story is that a pitcher who throws breaking balls at this high of a rate is running up a debt on their arm that will be paid in the next year (and, possibly, beyond).  I will call it a Faustonian Bargain after the Oriole pitcher (and longtime Cub broadcaster) Steve Stone who blew his arm out throwing 50% curve balls during his 1980 Cy Young year.

Throw in the fact that Floyd had a super-low BABIP (.268) and the safe bet is that he is more likely to be useless in an AL-only league than be useful in a mixed league.

4. Brett Myers

2008 Curve/Slider % – 42%
2008 Total Pitches:  3,739 (est. 442 in minors)
Difference From 2007:  +2,078 (est. +2,520 if minor league pitches included)
2008 First Year With 2,700+ Pitches – NO

The demands of a World Series run the year after a season with 48 of 51 appearances coming in relief does not bode well for Brett Myers in 2009.  He started featuring his slider more in 2006 when his breaking pitch % jumped from 25% to 37% – so perhaps the move to closer in 2007 was a fortuitous one.  But then he goes and throws more breaking pitches in 2008 (est. 1,500-1,600) than total pitches in 2007 (1,193).  Since this effort helped the Phillies win the World Series, they shouldn’t boo him too loudly when he gets slapped onto the DL for an extended period in 2009.  And in case you have a short memory on the dangers of pitchers who are coming off a relief season + full starter season, take a look at the stats of Wainwright, Carmona, and Gaudin in 2008.

5. Ryan Dempster

2008 Curve/Slider % – 27%
2008 Total Pitches:  3,450
Difference From 2007:  +2,420 (est. +2,388 if minor league pitches included)
2008 First Year With 2,700+ Pitches – NO

See the Brett Myers comment regarding the one year delay effect on relievers who move to starters.  I call a Dempster dive in 2009.

6. Andy Sonnanstine

2008 Curve/Slider % – 39%
2008 Total Pitches:  3,183
Difference From 2007:  +1,085 (est. -51 if minor league pitches included)
2008 First Year With 2,700+ Pitches – YES

Is it me or does this guy sound like a 10 year old kid?  Andy Sonnanstine to the principal’s office!  Sonnanstine has the weakest stuff of Tampa Bay’s top four (averages just 87 MPH on his fastball) so he has to over-rely on both cutters (30%) and breaking pitches (39%).  I won’t recycle the earlier points on the high breaking ball rate – I think you get our POV by now.  It seems like World Series teams always have one casualty and he seems like the best bet.  If he somehow manages to stay healthy, I’d expect an ERA closer to 2007’s 5.85 vs. last year’s 4.38 despite the fact that his FIP/BABIP indicates he might’ve had some bad luck last year.

7. Jonathan Sanchez

2008 Curve/Slider % – 12%
2008 Total Pitches:  2,830
Difference From 2007:  +1,825 (est. +1,454 if minor league pitchesvaz included)
2008 First Year With 2,700+ Pitches – YES

Owner of the best Jewish/Latino name since Welcome Back Kotter’s Juan Epstein, Sanchez is the 3rd converted reliever to appear on the list.  He had never pitched more than 70 innings a year prior to last year’s 158 IP.  And a Sanchez inning is a lot more stressful than a typical inning as he piles up a lot of strikeouts (8.94/9 innings) and walks (4.27/9 innings).  He’ll be targeted by a number of drafters since has a high K rate and pitches in the NL W(eak)est.  Send them this post when he goes down with this Nelson Muntz audio clip.

8. Todd Wellemeyer

2008 Curve/Slider % – 24%
2008 Total Pitches:  3,095
Difference From 2007:  +1,715 (est. +1,699 if minor league pitches included)
2008 First Year With 2,700+ Pitches – YES

The 4th converted reliever on the list.  If Andy Sonnanstine sounds like a 10-year old, Wellemeyer sounds like the fat kid at the fraternity house that only goes by his last name and wins all the drinking/belching contests.  The huge pitch spike will likely derail Wellemeyer in 2009 giving Cardinal fans deja vu from 2008 Wainwright.  Unless, that is, Braden Looper shares his secret…

9. Dana Eveland

2008 Curve/Slider % – 32%
2008 Total Pitches:  3,020 (est. 336 in minor leagues)
Difference From 2007:  +2,578 (est. +2,319 if minor league pitches included)
2008 First Year With 2,700+ Pitches – N/A (pitched 2,684 last year)

Eveland came up through Milwaukee’s farm system and went to Arizona in the Johnny Estrada trade and to Oakland in the Dan Haren trade.  After pitching only 37 IP in 2007, he deivered a promising 2008 where his 4.34 ERA in 168 IP underestimated his performance (4.09 FIP).  While his 2008 MLB pitch total is just below the 2,700 threshold, he cleared that if you include 3 minor league starts.  That pitch spike is dangerously high and his reliance on breaking pitches only make it more likely for a fall back in 2009.  I doubt Eveland is really a fantasy option outside AL-only leagues but he is a risk nonetheless.

10. Johnny Cueto

2008 Curve/Slider % – 32%
2008 Total Pitches:  3,036 (est. 204 in minor leagues)
Difference From 2007:  +3,036 (est. +455 if minor league pitches included)
2008 First Year With 2,700+ Pitches – YES

While he sounds like a school bully character that Billy Zabka would play in an 80’s movie (Sweep the leg!), Cueto might need protection from a sore arm.  He’s got a Pedro build and throws more breaking stuff than Pedro did during his durable prime.  I’m not crazy about the pitch count increase or that it was his first year of 2,700+ pitches but the sliders worry me most.  I’m sure Dusty Baker will throw him 120 pitches in a late April game to expedite his inevitable shutdown.

11. Zack Greinke

2008 Curve/Slider % – 31%
2008 Total Pitches:  3,227
Difference From 2007:  1,144
2008 First Year With 2,700+ Pitches – NO

Last time Greinke topped 3,000 pitches (2005), he had a mental breakdown the next year.  He might be headed for a physical breakdown this year.  That’s both a big spike in pitch count and a high percentage of breaking balls.  Of the 10 pitchers who threw 2,700+ pitches, 30+% breaking balls, and had a 700+ pitch spike between 2005-2007, 6 broke down the next year and another 2 saw a 0.50+ increase in their FIP.  If you believe those stats, there is only a 4-1 chance (20%) that Greinke can stay healthy and post an ERA below 4.00.  Okay for a late round play but avoid him in the middle rounds.

12. Ervin Santana

2008 Curve/Slider % – 35%
2008 Total Pitches:  3,526
Difference From 2007:  +917 (est. 414 if minor league pitches included)
2008 First Year With 2,700+ Pitches – NO

Santana bounced back from a Homeschooled 2007 (1-10, 8.38 ERA on road) to have a career year in 2008.  He’s maintained steady pitch counts the last 3 years but his growing over-reliance on his slider (21% in ’06 to 33% in ’08) and near-abandoning of the changeup (9.6% to 3.9%) make him a riskier than average proposition in 2009.

13. Jesse Litsch

2008 Curve/Slider % – 23%
2008 Total Pitches:  3,095 (est 340 iin the minor leagues)
Difference From 2007:  +984 (est. +106 if minor league pitches included)
2008 First Year With 2,700+ Pitches – YES

Litsch was a pleasant surprise for fantasy owners and Jays fans in 2008 – posting 13 wins and a 3.58 ERA in 176 IP.  While his 5.06K/9 IP is pretty ugly, it is the percentage of fastballs (24%) that is downright frightening.  Litsch depends heavily on a cut fastball at the rate of 43% of his pitches.  Combined with the pitch spike, I’d say Litsch is one of those drafted pitchers that may be on the FA wire by the end of April.

14. John Lester

2008 Curve/Slider % – 17%
2008 Total Pitches:  3,758
Difference From 2007:  +2,074 (est. +1,080 if minor league pitches included)
2008 First Year With 2,700+ Pitches – YES

It’s hard to count out Lester given what he’s overcome and he throws a cutter (22% of pitches) instead of a slider.  If he keeps throwing the cutter at that rate, he’s a serious long-term threat (check out Steve Avery and Jim Abbott’s stats after they turned 30).  For 2009, the huge pitch count increase could end up hurting him worse than the grating accents of Sawx fans – Hey Jahn Lestah!  Gid jahb fickin’ beatin’ cancah!

15. Mike Pelfrey

2008 Curve/Slider % – 14%
2008 Total Pitches:  3,323
Difference From 2007:  +2,038 (est. +758 if minor league pitches included)
2008 First Year With 2,700+ Pitches – YES

Pelfrey rebounded from an awful 2007 to regain some of the luster he had prior to that season (although his minor league stats don’t look that great, I suppose it isn’t the first time the Mets oversold a prospect).  From a fantasy perspective, his 110 Ks in 200 IP look awful but he does throw a high number of ground balls (~50%) which limits extra-base hits.  He made this list because of his pitch count spike from 2007 to 2008.  It is the type of thing that makes a borderline draftable pitcher a non-draftable pitcher.

16. AJ Burnett

2008 Curve/Slider % – 30%
2008 Total Pitches:  3,650
Difference From 2007:  +1,001
2008 First Year With 2,700+ Pitches – NO

A perennial risk who has never really put together the Cy Young-caliber season that his stuff hints at.  For a guy with a history of arm injuries and a plus fastball, there is no reason to throw so many curve balls (same thing with Sheets).  The Yanks have a lot more incentive than the Jays to reduce that breaking ball rate but it will likely come at the expense of ERA/WHIP unless he develops another strong off speed pitch (he throws his change-up only 5% of the time and has no split-finger fastball).  He is worth the risk as a 2nd half of the draft selection but the move to the Yanks will likely boost him into the top 100 or so picks.  I’d pass.

17. Matt Garza

2008 Curve/Slider % – 20%
2008 Total Pitches:  3,378
Difference From 2007:  +1,493 (est. +452 if minor league pitches included)
2008 First Year With 2,700+ Pitches – YES

The Twins usually reserve their bad moves for resigning their own free agents (see recent Punto and Kubel signings) but the Garza/Bartlett for Delmon Young/Brendan Harris trade isn’t looking too good for them one year out.  I don’t know if the Veal Hook will improve in 2009 but my bet is that Garza will fall back a bit.  The extended playoff run left him with a small total pitch spike but a large one for MLB pitches.  Think those pitches down the pennant stretch and in the playoffs may have been more stressful than throwing mid-season for the Rochester Red Wings (Twins AAA affiliate) in upstate New York?  It doesn’t help that his 2008 numbers are boosted by a better than average BABIP (.278).

The risk is mitigated somewhat by the fact that he’s young enough to improve and doesn’t overdo it on the breaking pitches thanks to confidence in a fastball that averages 93 MPH.  Risky enough that he isn’t worth reaching for but perhaps worth a flier as a 5th or 6th starter.

18. Javier Vazquez

2008 Curve/Slider % – 36%
2008 Total Pitches:  3,376 (est. 80 in the minor leagues)
Difference From 2007:  -89
2008 First Year With 2,700+ Pitches – NO

Vazquez is as consistent as they come in terms of innings pitched throwing 198+ every year this decade.  He provides better than average Ks and somehwat disappointing ratios to the frustration of statheads.  So why predict a breakdown when he’s moving back to the kinder National League?  Last year’s spike in breaking pitches driven by an overaffection for the slider (increase of about 215 more breaking balls thrown between 2007 and 2008) could have a carryover effect that even CHONE’s optimism won’t be able to reverse.

19. Ted Lilly

2008 Curve/Slider % – 35%
2008 Total Pitches:  3,240
Difference From 2007:  -79
2008 First Year With 2,700+ Pitches – NO

The only player whose name contains two How I Met Your Mother characters, Lilly has been everything the Cubs could have realistically hoped for in his first two seasons.  He has pitched his only two 200 IP seasons and tamed the wildness he experienced in his final 3 years with Toronto (4+ BB/IP with Toronto, down to about 2.5 with Cubs).  The big flashing warning sign with Lilly is his growing reliance on breaking pitches.  In 2006 and 2007, he threw 31% breaking pitches throwing an even split of curve balls and sliders.  In 2008, this moved to 35% with 2-1 slider to curveball ratio.  I imagine a pitcher like Lilly would feel more stress from sliders than curve balls given the lollipop curve he throws (like Barry Zito or David Wells).

He’s come back strong after 30+% breaking pitches in 2006 and 2007 but I don’t think the third time will be the charm.  With a fastball that has decreased in average speed since 2006 (90 to 88 to 87), Lilly is going to have to evolve into a Glavine/Moyer type pitcher in order to stay effective.  Glavine relied heavily on changeups (38% in his last good year with the Mets) while Moyer throws over 50% cut fastballs and changeups.  While Lilly has a changeup (16% of pitches in 2008), I think 2009 is more likely a year of transition (and DL time) than a continuation of his (relative) Cubbie success.

20. Scott Baker

2008 Curve/Slider % – 32%
2008 Total Pitches:  2,596 (est. 80 in the minor leagues)
Difference From 2007:  +597 (est. -91 if minor league pitches included)
2008 First Year With 2,700+ Pitches – N/A (pitched 2,694 in 2008)

Baker had a very nice year under the radar with an 11-4/3.45/1.18 season in 172 IP.  He also has a strong K/BB ratio of 3.36 and had a manageable year-over-year pitch count difference.  But that 32% breaking ball rate makes him a risky bet to avoid significant missed time.

Other notes

Guys who can easily be on this list but I don’t think you’d draft them anyway: Brandon Backe, John Lannan, Brian Bannister, Tim Redding, Greg Smith

Guys who can easily be on this list but we just felt an unquantifiable good vibe about:

  • Tim Lincecum – No doubt that his 3,682 pitch count in 2008 was unnecessarily high.  He threw about 2,900 pitches in 2007 (counting minor league pitches) so the pitch spike is borderline.  Our optimism comes from the fact that he throws fastballs and changeups 85% of the time.
  • Ben Sheets – Spiked 800 pitches to get to 3,000 for the first time since 2004 and threw 33% curveballs.  He’s always an injury risk but we feel like he might have another 200 Inning / 3,000 pitch year in him after all those 1/2 years.  [UPDATE – He might have one of those seasons in him but it’s highly doubtful it’ll be 2009.]
  • Chad Billinglsey – That was a near 1,000 pitch increase vs. 2007 if you factor in the postseason (about 2,500 to 3,500).  20% breaking ball % is fair.  At 6’1″ 245 lbs, just feels like he can handle the load.
  • Kevin Slowey – A 1,378 MLB pitch count increase is ugly although it’s more like a 700 pitch decrease if you factor in his 2007 minor league pitches.  He’s right near the breaking ball % threshold with 26%.  We just love the fact that he had the best BB/9 IP rate (1.35) of any pitcher in the majors with 160+ IP.
  • Randy Johnson – 35% sliders and old as dirt but he’s a freak of nature
  • Manny Parra – Throws five pitches (Fastball, Curveball, Changeup, Split-Finger, and Slider) all for balls (4.07 BB/9 IP).  Big spike in MLB pitch count (2,403) but only 323 if you factor in Minors.  20% breaking ball rate is fair.  Feel like his bigger issue will be throwing strikes in 2009 vs. staying healthy.

Guys who had big pitch count spikes but we feel have no more risk than the average pitcher:

  • Cole Hamels – Jumped from 2,906 pitches to 3,914 pitches (487 in postseason) but he’s mainly a fastball/changeup pitcher (only 14% breaking balls).  Don’t think he can handle another workload like 2008 but he’ll manage an effective 3,000 pitches.
  • James Shields – Another pitcher who relies  heavily on the arm-friendly changeup (~ 30%) over the curveball (10%).  Threw 3,543 total pitches in 2008 but it was only a 366 jump from 2007.  Feel a little uneasy about the prevalence of cut fastballs (19%) and minimial % of fastballs (45%).
  • Edinson Volquez – 3,386 pitches in his first full MLB year is excessive (thanks Dusty!) but he threw around the same number of pitches in 2007 (b/w majors and minors) and – like Lincecum, Hamels, and Shields – throws a ton of changeups (32%) vs. breaking balls (12%)
  • Jair Jurrjens – Taking his minor league pitches into account, Jurrjens pitch total increased to about 800 last year.  Broken record though – 26% changeup, 12% slider.
  • John Danks – A 842 pitch spike but a low % of breaking balls (11%) because of his cut fastball and changeup.
  1. Simply Fred

    Fred Barker says:

    Rudy, I read the first article with awe. Have been eagerly awaiting this follow up. The only pitcher on the list that I had targeted was Ervin Santana. Will replace him with someone not on this list. Excellent analysis. I really appreciate your emphasis on MEASURABLE performance, not just hot air.

  2. big o says:

    interesting .

    i’m hoping that you end up with a corrected score of 95 % .
    don’t know why but i’m still liking greinke … maybe it’s those spooky eyes in his photo …. but i’ve always been inclined to touch that “wet paint” sign .
    though it might go a long way to improving my appearance , i’m hoping i return without paint on my hands or egg on my face.

  3. Tony says:

    The Volquez pitch count is nuts. First full season in the bigs, 3386? WOW

  4. @Fred Barker: Thanks!

    @big o: I wouldn’t take Greinke off my draft list but (my) projections had him as a high 3rd pitcher for a 10-team league. I wouldn’t draft him that high…

    @Tony: Dusty!

  5. Baron Von Vulturewins

    Baron Von Vulturewins says:

    Holy smokes, this is fantastic. All this, plus a How I Met Your Mother reference? (I can’t wait until someone calls up shortstop Robin Barney. Or fleet OF prospect Ranjit Marshall.)

    As we say in NYC, you’ve gone ABCD*, my friend. A.B.C.D.

    There are a few guys here I might have targeted — Vazquez, Lilly, Baker, Greinke — but will now avoid. Plus, I can giggle childishly when some itchy-trigger-fingered Soxhawk drafts Lester in the 6th round. Meanwhile, I will treat myself to a delicious, late-round Kevin Slowey.

    *Above and Beyond the Call of Duty.**

    **No one actually says this but me.

  6. cockyphoenix says:

    hmm I’ve always had an unquantifiable disdain for about 15 of the pitchers on this list, but not Señor Galarraga. Those numbers scare the crap out of me, so

    Mi amigo Armando
    Discúlpame cuando
    Te dejo pensando
    Que no sirves pa’ na’

    Tus lanzamientos
    Me quitaba el aliento
    De verdad yo siento
    Que tu valor ya va

    Y eso también verás
    Cuando roto el brazo está

  7. IowaCubs

    IowaCubs says:

    “Cuando roto el brazo está”
    Wow… very well done, though there seems to be some brutal Pablo Escobar in there somewhere with the broken arm.

    @Tony: @Rudy Gamble: Can we put me officially on the record as saying that D.B. deserves the wrath of Kahn. Just saying the name Mark Prior makes me want to settle in to a nice warm book of Sylvia Plath poetry.

    @Rudy Gamble: Thanks for this awesome article. Not only does it break my heart, but it also serves me a cup of wake the hell up.

    One thing I’d like to see here, Rudy, is a sort of “what this does to their value” sort of thing. What I mean is, if Ted Lilly is normally at an ADP of 185 or so (15th round in 12 player), would you say that this risk devalues him twenty slots or so? I mean, at what point do you pull the trigger on these guys? Or are you going to avoid them all on draft day? Anyone else want to weigh in here?

    The other thing I’d like to see next is injuries to relievers and specifically closers. Carlos Marmol throws that wicked slider like at least half the time and he racked up a huge workload the past two years… Sorta makes me want to draft Gregg or Heilman. Any thoughts on doing a list like this for closers?

  8. Great research Rudy. Your earmarked guys are all getting their own font color on my uber-nerdy cheat sheet.

    I still like Pelfrey as a last round flier. He’s 6’7″ 200 lbs and big country strong (plus I am an unabashed Mets homer) and I don’t see a big risk for breaking down based solely on the boost in pitch count. Of course he won’t get me K’s but he can potentially help in 3 categories.

  9. sean says:

    Rudy, appreciate the caveat to Grey’s unabashed optimism about his mancrushes. Still, I think this list is pretty soft…

    We can exclude these pitchers from our targets based on other reasons:
    152 Floyd — ridiculous BABIP
    161 Myers — wifebeater
    112 Dempster — one fluke season, no renaissance coming
    These guys are late round fliers at best:
    Baker (172), Galarraga (199), Cueto (212), Sonnastine (220), Pelfrey (224), and Litsch (230)
    Plus JOSanchez, Wellemeyer, and Eveland are flat-out undraftable

    So that leaves us with legit concerns about:
    Nolasco, Greinke, ESantana, Lester, Burnett, Garza, Vazquez, Lilly

    Out of that group, only Nolasco, Lester, and Garza are “new to the work.” Lester and Garza throw a lot fewer breaking balls and Garza’s minor league numbers are pretty close. Still, I’ll let someone else reach for these two based on their postseason performances.

    So that leaves me with this haiku:

    Drafted Nolasco
    thinking about his upside
    clogging DL slot

  10. Tony says:

    @sean: Exclude Myers, and why, WIFE BEATER, classic….. LOL

  11. Baron Von Vulturewins

    Baron Von Vulturewins says:

    @IowaCubs: In other words, Rudy, please write a follow-up titled Here’s Your Excuse To Still Draft Ted Lilly, Mr. IowaCubs.

  12. IowaCubs

    IowaCubs says:

    @sean: I wouldn’t call those guys late round fliers. Cueto, Sonnanstine and Pelfrey could end up being very solid fourth starters on a mixed team.

  13. sean says:

    @IACubs: Isn’t that exactly the point of a late round flier? They are being drafted in the late teens and 20s…

  14. tripbs says:

    I too had been anxiously awaiting the results of you last email, and let me just say WOW! I think I have finally found the root cause of my pathetic pitching stats year after year. I think everyone on that list minus Burnett, Dempster and Sonn, were on my target list. Some as sleepers, some as early round targets. I am still sitting here shaking my head at how bad this season could have been. I am going to use this as if it were gospel, and then hope for a follow up next year!


  15. Tony says:

    Don’t take a pitcher til at least the 8th round and you’ll be fine I say…. I’m literally thinking i might wait til later this year. Last year my early take on a pitcher was Verlander… Ughhh (sick) cough cough, Puke, ughhhh (sick) cough cough, Puke…. *repeat* a la Peter Griffin

  16. James says:

    How can you compare Myers to Wainwright, Carmona, and Guadin when they both didn’t have the career pitch counts Myers has in his career. Wouldn’t Smoltz be a better comparison? He didn’t have any problems following his relief stint. I understand Smoltz is a extreme case, and he had a more substantial career, but comparing the three above with hardly any experience is misleading.

  17. tripbs says:

    I agree with not taking a pitcher too early in MOST formats, especially roto. I am in a H2H league that favors top SP, it has taken me a few years of using the format to adjust my thinking. But I agree with you in most leagues SP before the 8th is unnecessary.

  18. Tony says:

    @tripbs: I play in a 12 team H2H league, 20 total cats, 10 pitching, 10 hitting, and hitting is valued much more. People don’t trade big sticks for a pitcher, it just doesn’t happen. So you better have the sticks, cause you’re not gonna deal Johan for a stick later. SP’s are important, but not as important as having a good offense.

  19. willclarkismyhero says:

    Thanks, Rudy. Where was this article last year when my staff looked like this on draft day:


    Obviously a major dissapointment…

  20. Tony says:

    McGowan did dissappoint, and Harang, WOW…. another example of why to wait on pitching.

  21. Fman99 says:

    Yeah, my top 3 last year were King Felix, Harang and Gallardo. You can guess how that worked out for me.

  22. Tony says:

    I had verlander, Felix, gallardo and McGowan…. YICkkkkKKKK…. Thank god i grabbed Volquez, mussina horsed out a good year, picked up owings, and others from hot run to hot run….. First place regular season. KO’d first round of playoffs because I ended up having to throw every guy i had every inning on the last day i pitched 6-7 guys, all i needed was ONE decent outting and every guy gave up like 6 runs, couldn’t lower the ERA, done….

  23. PWNightmare says:

    Like Tony above, I spit my coffee out when I saw Ed’s pitch count from last year: 3386!?! It was, indeed, enough to put the exclamation point in front of the question mark, which I guess really sums up Dusty’s coaching strategy.

    Again, another mind-blowing analysis, guys. Karabell just lost his job… or is getting a raise for his piece entitled “20 Risky Pitchers of 2009”.

  24. tripbs says:

    I’m glad that other site has Karabell. If that other site had info like this it would be rendered useless as everyone in their brother would read it. Keep the good stuff hidden, let ESPN hype “sleeper” picks Davis and Wieters to 2nd round status.

  25. sean says:

    @tripbs: the funniest thing about that other site is that they’ve got ten analrapists — none of whom have a single independent thought.

  26. jamesllegade says:

    I don’t care… I am taking pitchers 17 – 20. But no one else…

    Seems the real danger zone is high bender % and either 1st time 2700 pitches or a big spike in pitches. Oh and the relief stuff. But I can handle a guy tossing spinners if hes not on any of the other watch lists.

    Vazquez in Atlanta is just too perfect.

    Lilly and Baker are available late (feel fine taking risk if it is past the 14th round).

    Garza doesn’t over toss his junk and, well… I’m just sweet on him and you can’t tell me otherwise.

  27. Nick-Name says:

    I was going to keep Nolasco. Now Im nervous!

  28. Eric W says:

    a little surprised dusty bakers whole staff is not on the list. disagree on Jon Lester not that i have stats to back me up but because i high-fived him once and his shoulder seemed pretty strong. Great post

  29. Nick-Name says:

    Hey, apparently there’s another Nick on this thing. Was wondering why my name had so many comments next to it. I need to think of a new name. Any suggestions? (cue scorching burnage)

  30. Eric W says:

    @Nick: go with Nick-name

  31. @Baron Von Vulturewins: ABCD. I like that…

    @cockyphoenix: Bueno!

    @IowaCubs: Thanks. I’d push the top 9 back 7 rounds from where the stats would suggest taking them, the next 7 I’d take 3-5 rounds back, and the last 4 I’d take 2-3 rounds back. So Lilly is still a solid late-round play but I’d be a lot more enthused if he wasn’t so dependent on breaking pitches…

    @Fman99: Not going to argue with a Met fan who likes Pelfrey. Should be available with your last pick or two in a mixed league. Given his K-rate, should we start calling him White Wang?

    @sean: I did my best to focus on pitchers that can conceivably be drafted. Even if they are later-round picks, it’s still worth avoiding risk if possible. You’re also adding a lot of either solid (BABIP) or subjective criteria for why guys aren’t on your draft list.

    @tripbs: I wouldn’t take this as gospel…hell, i wouldn’t take the gospel as gospel. But I’d take this into account – should help when deciding b/w two players…

    @James: Fair point re: Myers. If he had pitched, say, 3,000 pitches in 2008, I’d have left him off the list. But he pitched a LOT last year coming off of that and he’s not Smoltz (who was always the riskiest of the Braves big 3).

  32. Jim says:

    A little surprised Dice-K isn’t on the list, considering his shaky peripherals and control issues last year.

  33. @Jim: Dice-K definitely is risky but not because of his pitch counts from last year. His lucky .267 BABIP and ridiculous 5.05 BB/9 IP are the reasons he’s likely to fall back.

    Although a part of me thinks he might be worth the gamble b/c of his K rate and he doesn’t have a history of such extreme wildness…

  34. Nick says:

    Dude, something strange is going. The other Nick changed his name to Nick-name I think, but that changed the name for my comment too. Freaky!

    Nick J (the one who argues about obscure pitching metrics, projection systems, player raters, etc.)

  35. Grey

    Grey says:

    @Nick: Which other comment was you? About Nolasco? I changed it by accident, and can fix it.

  36. Nick J says:

    No, I was the second one, exclaiming about the existence of another Nick.

    I’m not actually worried about it, though. I just thought it was funny that we were confusing the Razzball system or whatever.

  37. Moonlight's Grahams says:

    R.I.P. Ben Sheet’s 2009…we hardly knew ye.

  38. Ian says:

    Hi Rudy,
    Great article! Burnett had career highs in IP and K’s, so he is bound to hit the DL this year. I don’t think Dempster can go the entire season without being injured either.

  39. Cookie's Monsters says:

    This has to be the best article I’ve seen in my short 1.5 yrs of reading about fantasy baseball….I was targeting and would have been happy to have more than half of these guys next season…now I gotta figure out a plan C

  40. rhymenoceros says:

    I won’t beat a dead horse here, but great article. I’m glad to see a lot of other posters targeting many of these pitchers, because that means many of my other leaguemates will make risky, unwise draft day decisions (nice alliteration…I’m an English teacher). The only two pitchers on my list are Ervin Santana and Javier Vazquez, with Vazquez being the only pitcher I’m still seriously considering.

  41. Simply Fred

    Fred Barker says:

    Rudy, this a bit off target, but didn’t know how else to direct the issue to you. My basic premise is that one should temper projections for pitchers when they move up in the pitching rotation. Example, Verlander, Carmona, etc. did well as back end pitchers in part because they got better run support when facing weaker pitching matchups. When they move up the next year and face tougher pitchers, they weren’t so lucky; i.e. when Lincecum has to face Peavy, Webb, etc. instead of the schmohawks he faced last year, he won’t do so well. Floyd and Lee had an easy time of it with great run support in the 5 hole last year, but move them up and then what? Can you point me to a site where I can readily find run support average for pitchers? Then I can array them by rotation order to see if the premise has merit. (Or, you are intrigued by the concept and you do all the work?) (A fluff article by Sporting News’ Matt Lutovsky reported to ten RSA, Padilla at 6.58, but ESPN reported “RS” for Padilla at 9.37.???) Also, I will research for back years. It looks as if any new 4th rotation starter in the AL central has a better than average chance to floorish given the success of Floyd, Galarraga, Lee, Carmona, Verlander, …?

  42. Simply Fred

    Fred Barker says:

    Discovered that run support can be reported as run support just for the innings pitched (Sporting News’ ‘RSA’ @6.58 for Padilla) or extended per 9 innings (ESPN’s ‘RS’ @9.37). I am probably the only reader who didn’t now this already!

  43. Cory says:

    This is the best article ever written on this site. Very well done.

  44. ep says:

    Great article.
    Looking at all the projections and rankings online, I thought I was the only one who didn’t agree with promoting Nolasco and Lester into the upper echelon. Looks like I found some like-minded folks.
    Came across this site looking for some fantasy baseball rankings, think I’ll stick around for the articles.

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