Welcome to the 3rd annual stab at highlighting the riskiest pitcher propositions in fantasy baseball.  I say ‘stab’ because I can’t claim success just yet.  It’s easier to do that when you don’t compare your results against any baseline (like Mr. Verducci at SI.com).  The fact is that many pitchers will go on the DL and more than half will regress from the previous years (58% of pitchers who threw 2,700+ pitches saw their xFIP increase the following year between 2005-2010).wi

My focus is on identifying those who 1) are a favorite for a MLB rotation, 2) pitched in the majors last year anscrd had some level of success, and 3) are more likely to miss a considerable part of the season (< 2,000 pitchers or, roughly, missing 1/3 of the season or more) or have a significant drop in their skills (measured as xFIP increased by .75+).  Using xFIP helps to separate a true decrease in performance from just bad luck.

Last year proved to be the safest season for starting pitchers in the last six years.  Only 8 pitchers qualified as a ‘dropoff’ and one of those is a technicality (Joba moving to the bullpen).  The other seven were:  Brett Anderson, Doug Davis, Jair Jurrjens, Jason Marquis, Jeff Suppan, and Javier Vazquez.  Josh Beckett had 2,172 pitches and a +0.66 xFIP to barely escape both thresholds.  The counts for the previous 5 years (with roughly the same amount of qualified pitchers) is:  21, 28, 10, 17, and 19.  Since James ‘Dr. Freeze‘ Andrews hasn’t developed an instant Tommy John surgery, I am going to assume this is a statistical fluke and the ‘dropoff’ rate will stay at about 25% per year vs. 2010’s 11% (8 of 70).

With 2010’s 11% dropoff rate, my list of 20 risky pitchers should have been able to identify at least two of the pitchers.  Now, this is somewhat unfair since Marquis and Suppan were toast going into 2010 and I would’ve never picked them but, anyway, see below for the results.  I suppose I should get some credit for nailing three of my first four picks but I wish I added Javier Vazquez (he was on the 2009 list) and Jar-Jar Jurrjens (14.1% sliders in 2009).

Verdict Number Players
Dropoff 2 (10%) #1 Brett Anderson (1,801 pitches)
#4 Joba Chamberlain (1,170 pitches)
Dropoff but didn’t technically qualify 1 (5%) #2 Ross Ohlendorf (1,771 pitches)
Incorrect But Saw Some Legit Dropoff 5 (25%) #7 Chris Carpenter (+0.46 xFIP increase)
#12 Jorge De La Rosa (2,026 pitches)
#15 Joel Pineiro (2,306 pitches)
#17 Scott Feldman (2,410 pitches, +0.39 xFIP)
#18 Ricky Nolasco (2,476 pitches. +0.27 xFIP)
Close to 2009 Performance 9 (45%) #3 Kevin Correia
#5 Randy Wells
#8 Jason Hammel
#9 Jeff Niemann
#10 Gavin Floyd
#11 Ryan Dempster
#13 Max Scherzer
#14 Ricky Romero
#19 Tommy Hanson
Made Me Look Bad 3 (15%) #6 Adam Wainwright (procrastinator)
#16 Edwin Jackson (-0.54 xFIP)
#20 Josh Johnson (-0.25 xFIP, 2,988 pitches)

* The 11% dropoff rate I quoted is for pitchers with 2,700+ pitches the previous year.  I’ll dip below that threshold to find candidates.  Ohlendorf had 2,693 pitches in 2009.

My criteria for judging a pitcher’s riskiness are elaborated on in this post.  In a nutshell, the two assumptions are:

  • Pitching a full season in MLB is a skill.  A player who has never pitched a full season in MLB is a riskier proposition to succeed at this than a player who has pitched 1 full season.  A pitcher who has pitched 1 full season is less likely to repeat this the next year than someone who has done it for 2 seasons, etc.  Since rookie starters are rarely guaranteed a rotation spot at the beginning of the year, we focus on pitchers with at least one year of experience who have earned a rotation spot and, potentially, your fantasy baseball draft pick.
    • Criteria #1:  Previous year was first full year (2500+ pitches)
    • Criteria #2:  Previous year was a significant leap vs. previous year in MLB pitches (700+ pitches)
  • Sliders are the most effective pitch one can throw but are worse on the arm than fastballs/changeups (note all the sliders on this list).  Pitchers who rely on sliders (15+% of pitchers) take this risk if they feel it’s the only way to reach their expected level of success.  Over time, some pitchers prove they can handle the heavy rate of sliders (e.g., Randy Johnson, John Smoltz, CC Sabathia).  But young pitchers relying heavily on sliders for success are more akin to a kid on his tippy-toes trying to make it on a ride – they can only keep it up so much before they fall below that line or get hurt trying.   (Note:  Surprisingly enough, there is no evidence that curve balls or cutters add any risk – e.g., pitchers who throw 15+% curve balls have a 23% dropoff rate, slightly below the league average.  But I still tread lightly with young pitchers who throw a lot of curveballs or sliders+curves)
    • Criteria #3:  Threw 15+% sliders

Here’s a quick glossary of terms reference below:

  • wSL, wFB, etc. – These stats – grabbed from FanGraphs like just about all the stats in my analysis – estimates the runs saved above average.
  • FIP & xFIP – Fielding-Independent Pitching devised by Tom Tango that uses a formula based on the items under a pitcher’s control (K, BB, IP) to devise a fielding-independent ERA.  xFIP goes one step further by adjusting HRs to the league-average rate.
  • Point Shares – My methodology for estimating fantasy baseball player values.  See here for more info.  You can see 2010 projected Point Share estimates through the 2011 Fantasy Baseball Rankings button in the top menu.

One caveat before I move on to the picks.  ‘Risky’ does not mean ‘undraftable.’  Even the pitchers that satisfy all three criteria have only a 42% chance (based on 2004-2010) of either a significant drop in skills (measured by xFIP) or pitching < 2000 pitches (~20 GS).  And there are other variables that I cannot account for – notably pitching mechanics (here are some interesting articles on it by SI.com’s Tom Verducci and Joe Lemire).  So if you really like a pitcher and you can draft him at fair value, go ahead.  Just try to avoid drafting more than one…

#1 – Brett Myers

MLB Pitches 2009-2010:  1,145 -> 3,457 (+2,312)
2010 was first year > 2,500 MLB Pitches:  No
Slider %:  28%

A ‘Brett’ makes #1 on the list for the 2nd straight year – albeit one with less sex appeal in roto drafts.  This marks a return for Brett Myers who I had #4 on the 2009 list and he responded with an injury-filled 1,145 pitch year.  Last year, he was a workhorse for the Astros (3,457 pitches) and was one of the top 30 ‘best values’ based on his ADP.  But Myers threw 28% sliders and another 20% curveballs to reach that performance level.  Even worse, all his value is tied into those two pitchers as his fastball was worth -14.1 runs vs average as opposed to his slider (+14.7) and curveball (+13.2).  I’d steer clear of him in favor of similarly ranked but safer alternatives.  This is one of those cases where a pitcher treats his elbow like a close family member and that’s not a good thing.

#2 – Bud Norris

MLB Pitches 2009-2010:  954 -> 2,726 (+1,772)
2010 was first year > 2,500 MLB Pitches:  Yes
Slider %:  33%

Look at that – two Astro pitchers at the top of the list.  It’s like Brian McNamee’s 2005 appointment book!  Bud Norris’ 4.92 ERA in 2010 doesn’t look great but his 9.25 K/9 IP does.  Combined with his xFIP of 4.12, Norris is the epitome of a promising late-round pitcher.  And while the pitch increase seems dramatic, he did throw 120 minor league IP in 2009.  The catch is that he’s a similar pitcher to Brett Myers.  His fastball has been below league average throughout his short career with his slider being his only above average pitch.  The list of second year pitchers since 2005 coming off  a 2,700 pitch season with 25+% sliders are: Bronson Arroyo (2005), Nate Robertson (2005), Casey Fossum (2006), Daniel Cabrera (2006), Josh Towers (2006), Ian Snell (2007), Armando Gallaraga (2009), Johnny Cueto (2009), Brett Anderson (2010), and Joba Chamberlain (2010).  The only one of those ten pitchers not to see an increase in xFIP is Joba Chamberlain and he was a reliever.  Eight of these 10 failed to reach 3,000 pitches the next year (Arroyo and Snell were the exceptions).  Houston, we may have a problem.

#3 – Francisco Liriano

MLB Pitches 2009-2010:  2,318 -> 3,021 (+703)
2010 was first year > 2,500 MLB Pitches:  Yes
Slider %:  34%

The Liriano of 2006 finally reappeared last year and he had a fantastic season (3.06 xFIP, 9.4 K/9 IP) somewhat obscured by a rough BABIP (.331) that inflated his ERA to 3.62.  His fastball speed has found its way above 93 MPH after being at 90-91 MPH in 2009-2010.  It’s hard not to look at him and not think of Johan Santana.  That’s the problem, though.  He may be a diminutive Venezuelan lefty in a Minnesota Twin uniform with a similar repertoire as Johan (fastball, slider, changeup) and they may both enjoy a 7th inning arepa but that’s where the similarities end.  During his dominating prime (2004-2008), Johan had an above average fastball and an all-world changeup (averaged +20 wCH).  His slider was his third pitch, both in effectiveness and frequency.  As Santana’s fastball went from 94 MPH down to 89/90 MPH, his fastball and changeup both suffered and have turned him from a great to a good pitcher.  Liriano, on the other hand, depends on his slider for his relative greatness.  His fastball has been slightly below league average in his career (that’s discounting his -25 wFB in 2009) and his changeup has been only slightly above average.  His slider was a +23 runs in 2006 and +19 runs in 2010 and its effectiveness vs. the fastball/changeup explain why he throws it at such a high clip (37.6% in 2006, 33.8% in 2010).  Until Liriano proves his arm can handle back-to-back years with that high of a slider rate, I consider him very risky.  You can say I’m leery-a-no.

#4 – Anibal Sanchez

MLB Pitches 2009-2010:  1,476 -> 3,234 (+1,758)
2010 was first year > 2,500 MLB Pitches:  Yes
Slider %:  25%

Anibal Sanchez posted his first full season with the Marlins in the 5th year since his 2006 debut.  To give some perspective, he was a Marlin rookie the same year as Hanley Ramirez (both were part of the Josh Beckett trade).  He was a solid 2010 sleeper (a year later that I predicted) with 13 wins, a 3.55 ERA (1.34 WHIP), and a solid 7.3 K/9 IP.  The red flag with Sanchez – besides his past injury history – is that he throws 25% sliders (his most effective pitch) and another 10% curveballs.  His fastball was about average last year so it’s possible that he can reduce his reliance on breaking balls but I would expect a drop in K-rate and xFIP if he does.

#5 – Ervin Santana

MLB Pitches 2009-2010:  2,300 -> 3,561 (+1,261)
2010 was first year > 2,500 MLB Pitches:  No
Slider %:  37%

Ervin Santana and Brett Myers are like the Ervin Johnson and Larry Bird of slider-dependent pitchers who have not shown the magic to stitch together two healthy slider-heavy seasons in a row (Myers’ 2003-2006 run was before he started relying on a slider).  Santana’s 17 win 2010 season conjures up memories of 2008 until you see that his K-rate went down (8.8 to 6.8 per 9 IP) and his BB rate went up (1.9 to 3.0).  So the upside is not as high and he still throws a s**t-ton of sliders.  Oh, and his wFB was -13.6 while his wSL was +14.3.  Pass.

#6 – C.J. Wilson

MLB Pitches 2009-2010:  1,299 -> 3,441 (+2,142)
2010 was first year > 2,500 MLB Pitches:  Yes
Slider %:  12%

Everyone who saw CJ Wilson’s successful 2010 season coming, please raise your hand.  While it’s difficult to find a pitcher who successfully converted to an SP after 5 years in relief (Wilson was a SP in the minors), there are a handful of cases where a reliever became a valuable SP contributor the next year:   Derek Lowe (2001) Adam Wainwright (2008), Justin Duchscherer (2008), Ryan Dempster (2009), Todd Wellemeyer (2009), and Brett Myers (2009).  Dempster fared okay his second year as a starter.  Wainwright had a finger issue.  Derek Lowe saw his ERA go up nearly two runs and his xFIP went up +0.44.  Wellemeyer collapsed (+0.72 xFIP).  Myers only managed 1,145 pitches.  Duchscherer didn’t pitch in the majors the next year.  Not a very good track record.  The fact Wilson threw 3,441 pitches in the regular season AND a full slate of playoff games can’t help this situation.  (see 2009 Cole Hamels).  CJ could end up standing for Clubhouse Jester this year.

#7 – Ian Kennedy

MLB Pitches 2009-2010:  28 -> 3,170 (+3,142)
2010 was first year > 2,500 MLB Pitches:  Yes
Slider %:  5%

The ex-Yankee prospect finally delivered on his promise with a solid 3.80 ERA/1.201 WHIP and 7.8 K/9 IP while staying healthy (3,170 pitches, 190 IP) after an injury-plagued 2009.  Another positive is Kennedy’s balanced pitch mix where his league-average fastball (59% of pitches at -0.8 wFB) is complimented by an effective changeup (17% of pitches for a wCH of +16.4) and curveball (17% of pitches for a wCB of +6.3 runs).  If Kennedy can manage another full season like last year, I wouldn’t even consider him for future lists.  But 2nd year pitchers are risky propositions as they haven’t proven they could handle the year-over-year strain – this is especially true for a pitcher who virtually took the prior year off (23 IP in AAA/majors in 2009).  He should come at a cheap price in drafts so I wouldn’t worry about him too much – just try not to pair him with anyone else in the top 10.

#8 – Chris Carpenter

MLB Pitches 2009-2010:  2,670-> 3,549 (+879)
2010 was first year > 2,500 MLB Pitches:  No
Slider %: 20%

Carpenter was #7 on last year’s list for the same reason he’s on the list again – I don’t trust any pitcher who throws over 40% breaking pitches (he also throw 27% curveballs).  Given Carpenter’s injury history, it’s incredulous that he threw 200 more pitches than his younger, also breaking pitch-obsessed teammate Adam Wainwright.  Carpenter’s regression from 2009 (ERA from 2.24 to 3.22, xFIP from 3.38 to 3.84) and his pedestrian K-rate (6.8 K/9) should mean he comes at a reduced price this year vs. in 2010.  But I wouldn’t draft him with Bea Arthur’s d**k…I mean, I wouldn’t screw him with any of my draft picks or auction dollars….aw, you know what I mean.

#9 – Phil Hughes

MLB Pitches 2009-2010:  1,459-> 3,007 (+1,548)
2010 was first year > 2,500 MLB Pitches:  Yes
Slider %: 0%

I apologize to Yankee fans who fear that Hughes’ presence on this list is a sign that we have been acquired by ESPN and are now Yankee-haters.  Not the case.  But read my commentary for CJ Wilson (#6 on the list) regarding the history of converted relievers having back-to-back healthy years.  It is almost as imposing as the Phil Hughes bar in Upper East Side New York that my friend Schultz loves so much.  I love Hughes’ maturity, his pitch repertoire (93 MPH fastball, cutter, curve, changeup), and his run support.  I’ll love him more in 2012 when – either way – he’ll be a less risky proposition.

#10 – Brian Duensing

MLB Pitches 2009-2010:  1,322-> 1,885 (+563)
2010 was first year > 2,500 MLB Pitches:  N/A
Slider %: 20%

If you tell me that you have everything you want and you draft Duensing, well, you don’t get me nor my slightly obscure Beatles references.  I’m digging pretty deep for Duensing since he only threw 1,885 pitches as he was on the Twins-patented “start the season in relief, become an SP midway through the year” plan (see Santana 2003, Liriano 2006).  Duensing managed a 10-3 record with a 2.62 ERA in 130 IP last year – giving him the preseason lead for the 4th slot in the Twins starting rotation.  A cursory glance at Duensing’s advanced stats provides compelling reasons to avoid him on draft day (5.37 K/9, an xFIP of 4.10).  But that stat line isn’t far off from what you’d get from tolerable endgame playes like Pavano or Buehrle.  The reason he is on this list is he had to throw 20% sliders to achieve that unimpressive K-rate and it was his most valuable pitch (wSL of +14.3).  His minor league history shows a similarly unimpressive K rate so there is absolutely no margin for error with this guy.  Maybe he can be Buerhle 2.0 but it’s more likely he’ll be Done.0 at some point this season.

#11 – Brandon Morrow

MLB Pitches 2009-2010:  1,254-> 2,523 (+1,269)
2010 was first year > 2,500 MLB Pitches:  Yes
Slider %: 15%

There are few things more attractive on draft day than a young pitcher with a crazy K rate (10.95 K/9!!!!) and an ADP greater than 100.  It’s so attractive that you can’t pass up a guy like Morrow if you get him at the right price.  That’s why you love him today…but will you love Brandon to-Morrow (it’s a pun and a lyrical reference!)?:  1) 2010 was his first full-season as an MLB SP, 2) He had pitched relief for much of the previous year, and 3) His slider is his most effective pitch and he throws it 15% of the time.  So draft him hoping he’s a lasting treasure but don’t be surprised if 2010 was just a moment of pleasure.

#12 – Mat Latos

MLB Pitches 2009-2010:  869-> 2,965 (+2,096)
2010 was first year > 2,500 MLB Pitches:  Yes
Slider %: 23%

This one hurts more than Morrow.  Latos was awesome last year.  He had four pitches that were above average as far as runs allowed (Fastball, Slider, Curve, Change) with the Fastball/Slider combo ranking in the top 15 (respectively) amongst all starting pitchers.  His 2.92 ERA is mostly legit (3.36 xFIP) and his K-rate is above 1 K per inning (9.21 K/9).  Given he plays in Petco National Park, he is a potential top 10 pitcher for 2011.  But he hits all the dropoff criteria so, if you draft him, pair him with a safer option.

#13 – Jhoulys Chacin

MLB Pitches 2009-2010:  211-> 2,304 (+2,093)
2010 was first year > 2,500 MLB Pitches:  N/A
Slider %: 14%

The player with the fragranciest name west of Aramis is an interesting case study.  His pitch count increase is misleading as he pitched 100 IP in AA the previous year and 35 AAA IP in 2010.  If pitch count isn’t an issue, why in the age of Ubaldo and the humidor would a Rockie pitcher with a K-rate above 1 per inning (9.04 K/9) make the list?  While Chacin may have a similar pitch mix to Ubaldo (both throw 25-30% breaking pitches), Chacin throws 4-5 MPH slower than Ubaldo (96 MPH fastball vs. 91 MPH fastball).  This is one of the reasons why Ubaldo’s fastball was the 2nd most valuable in baseball last year and Chacin’s was league average.  Colorado is a cruel stadium for pitchers depending on breaking pitches (see Darryl Kile).  Unless Chacin can learn to throw harder from Ubaldo or to throw more grounders from Aaron Cook, he’s a riskier play than you might otherwise think.

#14 – Jason Vargas

MLB Pitches 2009-2010:  1,477-> 3,020 (+1,543)
2010 was first year > 2,500 MLB Pitches:  Yes
Slider %: 9%

Despite having the perfect name for a grade school bully (sounds like Scott Farkus), Vargas is like a young Leftosaurus.  His fastball averages 87 MPH and he throws a ton of changeups (29%) though it’s possible this percentage is inflated by miscategorization of his fastball.  Vargas found the perfect home in Seattle and is proof that just about any pitcher could manage a 4.00 ERA in Safeco.  While his 5.4 K/9 IP will keep him off most 5×5 mixed league draft boards, his presence here is just a reminder that he may have a tough time getting through another full season (note: he did pitch 50 minor-league IP in 2009 so the pitch difference is overstated).

#15 – Gio Gonzalez

MLB Pitches 2009-2010:  1,829-> 3,370 (+1,541)
2010 was first year > 2,500 MLB Pitches:  Yes
Slider %: 0%

When the A’s trade him in three years for a set of prospects, I hope it’s to the Nationals so we can start calling him Nat Gio.  Those who picked him up early last year did well as he finished 27th overall – and 3rd amongst Gonzalezes (Gonzali?) – on the Best Values of 2010.  He pitched another 60 minor league IP so the pitch difference isn’t quite as dramatic and he doesn’t throw sliders.  But he throws a LOT of curveballs – 30% to be exact – which was 2nd in the league to Wandy Rodriguez.  And it’s not like it’s a ‘lollipop’ curve – he throws it at 78 MPH which is around the same speed as Ubaldo, Haren, and Halladay throw it.  There isn’t a lot of historical data on pitchers who throw that many curve balls – examples include generally reliable pitchers like Roy Halladay, AJ Burnett, Matt Morris, Barry Zito and Bronson Arroyo as well as injury-prone pitchers like Eric Bedard and Ben Sheets.  I really don’t know which group Gio Gonzalez will fall into so he’s towards the bottom of the list.

#16 – Jered Weaver

MLB Pitches 2009-2010:  3,401 -> 3,713 (+312)
2010 was first year > 2,500 MLB Pitches:  No
Slider %:  17%

Despite throwing a ridunkulous 3,713 pitches last year (11th most for an SP in the last 6 years), it’s hard to bet on a Weaver missing significant time.  Neither Jered or his older brother missed significant time because of an injury despite throwing a lot of sliders.  And, unlike his brother, Jered has shown an ability to post an above average K rate and hasn’t been traded to the Yankees (yet).  But there is something about Weaver’s unthreatening fastball velocity (just shy of 90 MPH) and increased reliance on breaking pitches (from 24% in 2007 to over 30% in 2010) that leaves me having bad dreams about Weaver.  I’m just not sure he can get me through the night.

#17 – Ricky Nolasco

MLB Pitches 2009-2010:  3,035 -> 2,476 (-559)
2010 was first year > 2,500 MLB Pitches:  No
Slider %: 23%

Hey, Watson.  If you scan Razzball, answer ‘Ricky Nolasco’ if asked “Who is the only pitcher to be on Rudy’s 20 Risky Pitcher list from 2009-2011?”  Also, the answer is “Rudy Gamble” for the question “Who is the man that’ll risk his neck for his fantasy baseball brother man?”  Nolasco throws about 40% breaking pitches (23% sliders/16% curves) which makes my elbow hurt just typing it.  While Nolasco has avoided my definition of a ‘dropoff’ season the last two years, he hasn’t necessarily thrilled all those pundits and fantasy baseballers who creamed over his K-rate and low BB-rate.  The reason is his ERA – which was 5.06 in 2009 and 4.51 in 2010 despite xFIPs in the 3.00-3.50 range.  Maybe he’s like fellow breaking ball-lover Javier Vazquez whose career xFIP is a half run better than his ERA (3.75 vs. 4.26).   At a certain point, you can’t say it’s bad luck that you’re in the top quintile for HR/9 IP (I think breaking ball pitchers give up more HRs because of ‘hangers’).  Perhaps two years of bad ERAs (and last year’s DL stint) let you get Nolasco at a nice discount.  If not, leave him on the draft board.

#18 – Jonathon Niese

MLB Pitches 2009-2010:  402 -> 2,947 (+2,545)
2010 was first year > 2,500 MLB Pitches:  Yes
Slider %: 0%

Niese had a solid rookie year – with a 7.7 K/9 and a 4.20 ERA that is tarnished by an unseemly 1.46 WHIP.  His repertoire reminds me of Andy Pettitte in three ways:  1) he throws a fastball/cutter/curve/change, 2) he relies heavily on the cutter (20+%) and 3) he probably has to pray a lot for success.  Niese cutter averaged 85.6 MPH last year which is towards the low end for cutters.  Among those who throw 20+% cutters, here are a few examples:  Halladay averages 91.4 MPH (freak!), Jon Lester averages 89.7 MPH (inspiration!), Brian Bannister averages 88.1 MPH (smart!), and Dan Haren at 86.4 MPH (eh!).  Pettitte got by at 82-83 MPH last year but threw it faster in his prime.  So if Niese experiences any loss in velocity coming off his first full season, whatever effectiveness he had in 2010 will likely disappear.

#19 – Brett Anderson

MLB Pitches 2009-2010:  2,816 -> 1,801 (-1,015)
2010 was first year > 2,500 MLB Pitches:  No
Slider %: 31.3%

Given Anderson was a ‘dropoff’ in 2010, he doesn’t technically qualify as a candidate for 2011.  But you are still going to draft him assuming he is going to give you near 200 IP so he is worth including in the list.  Brett Anderson was a pundit favorite going into last year but his slider rate scared me enough to give him the #1 risky pitcher spot.  After missing about a third of his starts last year, I think he still has residual hype from 2009 to fuel hype around this being a bounceback year.  I say this because no one loves bouncebacks more than Grey and he kept on IMing “He’s sexy.  Draft him!” during our last auction draft.   But take a look at his 2010 results.  In 112 IP, he had a 6.01 K/9 IP.  Blech.  His xFIP was 3.75 but his ERA was 2.80 thanks to an unsustainable strand rate a very low HR rate.  Yes, he’s got great control (1.76 BB/9) but that’s not enough to make him an ace.  This is with throwing 31.3% sliders which is 7th in the majors for pitchers above 110 IP (three above him are on this list:  Norris, Liriano, and Ervin Santana).  I’d maybe take a late round flier on him or bid $2 in a mixed league.  But I wouldn’t invest much more in him until he’s shown he can handle 200 IP with a slider rate that high.

#20 – Clay Buchholz

MLB Pitches 2009-2010:  1,521-> 2,810 (+1,289)
2010 was first year > 2,500 MLB Pitches:  Yes
Slider %: 19%

I don’t particularly hate Buchholz in 2010 despite the fact that he hits all three criteria and – based solely on his ESPN commercials and this photo – he gives off a Beckett-like douchiness.  But I just don’t like 2nd year starters who throw a number of breaking pitches (he also throws a curve 9% of the time).  His 17 wins and 2.33 ERA look awfully good but, like Anderson, he had very low HR and high strand rates.  His xFIP was 4.20 which, coupled with his 6.2 K/9 is just so-so.  He throws fast enough (94 MPH fastball) that he could take a step up in 2011 but I wouldn’t pay market price for him.

  1. Mike from Jersey says:

    I have 4 pitchers on my team im worried about, and I want to know what you think of them:
    Carlos Marmol has thrown atleast 48% sliders 4 years in a row, with a whopping 59%! last year. Is this more irrelevant with closers, or should i be very very worried and try to move him?
    Also Ryan Dempster has thrown 34 and 35% sliders the past 2 seasons. Does that worry you, or do you think he can put together another 200+ innings?
    Yovani gallardo had 37% combined sliders and curves last year. That doesn’t seem terrible, but should i be worried at all?
    And lastly , Josh Johnson. This doesn’t have much to do with his pitch usage, as much as what your thoughts on his health this year?
    I know your probably not a doctor lol, but any thoughts would be greatly appreciated!

  2. Steve says:

    Yikes – a few Grey-faves here. Any rankings revision forthcoming?

    Rudy – is all this built into Point Shares for these particular pitchers?

  3. Regarding Buchholz, don’t forget his ERA was over 5.00 when Victor Martinez was NOT his catcher last year, and Martinez is now playing in Detroit. That worries me as much as his playing in the AL East or all the breaking pitches last year.

  4. NewBVick says:

    That Clay photo is beging for the caption “You Mad Bro?”, ha.

  5. VinWins

    VinWins says:

    I have Liriano on a bunch of teams and was already worried. Now I see Weaver & Gonzalez here as well. Oh, well, maybe they’ll procrastinate like Wainwright.

    I have created a couple of TUNA (Totally Unofficial Not Affiliated) Razzball Commenter Auction leagues. No prizes, no trophies, just some commenters looking for a competitive auction.

    I’ve set the drafts for Saturday, March 12 at 2 pm ET and Tuesday, March 15 at 7 pm ET, trying to avoid conflict with the REAL RCL drafts. So far, we have 4 entrants. Hope to fill the rest today and have the invites out by tomorrow.
    Email me if you are interested. [email protected]

  6. Mr2Bits says:

    Hey Rudy,

    Just finished my keeper draft, 10 team Yahoo league 5×5 and would like your critique?

    I have also have one more pick and wanted to know where you think I could use a filler. I was thinking Cecil,Homer Bailey, Logan Morrison or Buerjos?

    C – Víctor Martínez
    1B – Kevin Youkilis
    2B – Robinson Canó
    3B – José Bautista
    SS – Stephen Drew
    OF – Josh Hamilton
    OF – Corey Hart
    OF – Chris Young
    Util – Aramis Ramírez

    BN – Adam Lind
    BN – Reid Brignac

    SP – Roy Halladay
    SP- Dan Haren
    Sp – Gio González
    SP – James Shields
    SP – Edwin Jackson
    SP – Jonathon Niese
    SP – Mike Minor
    SP – Jorge De La Rosa
    RP – Carlos Mármol
    RP – Joel Hanrahan
    RP – Matt Thornton
    RP – Neftali Feliz


  7. jim says:

    350$ NFBC League, chance to win 50 K
    12 teams, 5×5, start 2 catchers

    1- Tulo SS
    2- R. Howard OF
    3- C. Utley 2B
    4-J. Heyward OF
    5-C. Lee SP
    6-C. Young OF
    7- Y. Gallardo SP
    8- A. Hill MI
    9- M. Young 3B
    10- M. Weiters C
    11- A. Jones OF
    12- B. Gardner-OF
    13- R. Dempster-SP
    14- E. Volquez SP
    15- J. Hellickson SP
    16- G. Sanchez CI
    17- C. Zambrano SP
    18- G. Sizemore OF
    19- J. Peavy SP
    20- T. Snider OF
    21- T. Wood SP
    22- M. Minor SP
    23- J. Aremcebia C
    24- J. Montero C
    25- B. Belt
    26- E. Young JR.
    27- L. Cain
    28. T. Stuaffer
    29- D. Bard
    30- M. Adams

    Well about 20 closers went off in the matter of 2 rounds, and I was on the wrong side of that run. So decided to punt saves and load up elsewhere.
    Opinions wanted.

  8. vinny says:

    Hello All Razzballers,

    I have a nice problem that’s driving me nuts. I can only protect 4 out of these 5:

    Votto, Tulo, Hanley, CarGo, and Halladay. We start two INF at each position and 5 OF. All opinions would be appreciated! Thank you.

  9. J says:

    Hey Rudy,
    I asked Grey, maybe two posts ago, if there was a chance you guys might produce a podcast but I think he was already off the LABR draft. Have you thought about it? I wonder what Grey’s voice is like – Barry White, Screech?
    I heard you on a podcast last year but I can’t remember which one. Thanks for the good work.

  10. Greytech Drafting says:

    Great post Rudy. I think that it almost requires an “@Rudy” from grey since
    Many pitchers I’ve targeted based ongrey’s recommendatioms are on your list.

  11. Eddy says:

    ***4 spots left for Thursday’s Razzmock***

    It takes place at MDC at 7 p.m. EST.

    Password is razzball!

  12. Donnie Baseball says:

    great job, I was waiting for this.

    This is the first year this list hasn’t killed me. Usually about 5 or 6 of my targets are on it, only B. Anderson this year.

  13. Eddy says:

    Who is closing for WAS? I’ve heard that Riggleman is skeptical about making Storen his closer, but he’s listed as CL for the ESPN depth charts.

    And McGee was listed as closer as well, but more people think Farnsworth is going to be the guy.

    I ask because I barely have closers in a newly drafted league. I have both Farnsworth and Tyler Clippard, but McGee is in the pool.

    Should I make a move for McGee and drop Clippard?

  14. Gibby says:


    A few questions:

    In my 14 team H2H league, I drafted Zimmerman and Longo in the first 2 rounds. A guy who was left out in the cold at 3B offered me Kemp for Zimmerman. My current OF is Tabata/Colvin/Werth/BJ Upton. Would you take the deal?

    Also, in another one of my leagues, I got the #1 pick for the first time ever and went with Pujols. What type of value can I get for him? Is he worth 2 top 20 players or am I dreaming?

  15. Eddy says:

    ^^ Wow, just realized that was my first add/drop question of 2011.

    (happy, crying emoticon)

  16. Frank Rizzo says:

    Rudy, with a gun to your head which Oakland SP do you want? It sounds as if you’re pretty scared of Anderson. Is Gio the A’s pitcher to own? He comes cheaper in Yahoo than Anderson by a couple rounds.

    I’ve had a bad feeling about Liriano since news about his shape and offseason lack of effort, as well as how the team is willing to move him. But I had a good feeling about Weaver, until now maybe. I didn’t realize his velocity was below 90. Ted Lilly can do that.

  17. Jeff says:

    I’m in a 16 team 5×5 roto keeper league. We keep 3 players and I kept Votto, Youkilis, and McCutchen. I will be drafting 8th and had a strategy question.

    If the best available player is a 1B, do I take him, or do I go with someone else? Votto will be in my 1B slot and Youlilis at Utility. So if I draft a 1B, he (or Youkilis) won’t be able to start, until Youkilis gains 3B eligibility after 10 games.

  18. OaktownSteve

    OaktownSteve says:

    @Rudy: as an A’s fan, I’m not excited to see two Oaklanders on there. I agree on Anderson, disagree on Gio. I think Gio’s been well handled. I think he threw exactly 200 innings last year which was just the right progression. Also, while his curveball is thrown hard, his hand position is really high on the ball. I’m pretty sure the elbow stress from the slider is hand position related more than velocity; the more the grip/release is on the side of the ball, the riskier it becomes. He’s mechanically sound and a strong kid. I think he’ll give them 200 again this year.

    Also, I have another point shares question, but I don’t want to hijack you post. Ok to ask it here?

  19. Jif & The Choosy Mothers says:

    This type of stuff is another reason why this site is far and above anything else out there.

    Meanwhile, in purely selfish interests, I’m looking for 3 great owners in a competitive 16-team, 12-keeper startup.

    13 of us on board so far and I’ve played against them all – very good guys. This is a $25 league, $260 salary cap, H2H points, payouts to all playoff teams and top scoring team that doesn’t make the playoffs. We’ve put a couple of “twists” in place. Will run on ESPN.

    Questions: e-mail me at [email protected]


  20. Jeff says:

    @Mr2Bits – Youks will not have 3B eligibility in my league for 10 games.

    @ Rudy – Thanks for the thoughts.

  21. Eddie says:

    Drafted last night!!! 16 team H2H keeper league. 2 DL slots. We use points rather than categories, so forget about paucity of saves. How’d I do, gents?!?!

    C: Geovany Soto
    1B: Joey Votto
    2B: Aaron Hill
    SS: Corpse of Miguel Tejada
    3B: Mini Mini Donkey
    OF: CarGo
    OF: Carl Crawford
    OF: Mike Stanton
    SP: Roy Halladay
    SP: Yovani Gallardo
    SP: Daniel Hudson
    SP: Ervin Santana (my only guy on this list)
    SP: Joel Piniero
    RP: Aroldis Chapman
    RP: Brandon League
    B:Juan Pierre
    B: Ike Davis
    B:Jason Hammel
    B: Felipe Paulino
    B:Justin Masterson
    B:Stephen Strasburg
    B: David Aardsma
    B: Jarrod Parker

  22. wilsoniam says:

    rudy, are you hitting the panic on utley yet? i have him in a keeper, and was just wondering if i should move him before serious injury news, or if thats just an overreaction?

  23. papasmurf says:

    I saw somewhere that Gregerson throws 60% sliders?

    He’s an RP so not as many sliders overall, but he also pitches more frequently.

  24. Mr2Bits says:

    Hey Rudy,

    Just finished my keeper draft, 10 team Yahoo league 5×5 and would like your critique?

    I have also have one more pick and wanted to know where you think I could use a filler. I was thinking Cecil,Homer Bailey, Logan Morrison or Buerjos?

    C – Víctor Martínez
    1B – Kevin Youkilis
    2B – Robinson Canó
    3B – José Bautista
    SS – Stephen Drew
    OF – Josh Hamilton
    OF – Corey Hart
    OF – Chris Young
    Util – Aramis Ramírez

    BN – Adam Lind
    BN – Reid Brignac

    SP – Roy Halladay
    SP- Dan Haren
    Sp – Gio González
    SP – James Shields
    SP – Edwin Jackson
    SP – Jonathon Niese
    SP – Mike Minor
    SP – Jorge De La Rosa
    RP – Carlos Mármol
    RP – Joel Hanrahan
    RP – Matt Thornton
    RP – Neftali Feliz


  25. mike from jersey says:

    thanks rudy! And great article!

  26. Wake Up says:

    Thanks Rudy this is one of my favorites every year. I’m curious about leaving Hanson off of this list this year. Last year you were concerned about the huge amount of off-speed pitches that he throws. In 2010 it actually went up. His sliders went up to a crazy 28%, 40% including curves. You mentioned that you hoped that he would throw the change-up a little more, he actually cut it in half and barely threw it at all. He is one of my biggest injury risks this year. Wondering why he is not listed?

  27. dsimon says:

    Do you all have any breakdown of OF by position (LF, CF, RF)?


  28. OaktownSteve

    OaktownSteve says:

    @Rudy: nice work in LABR. Pujols at 40 feels like a steal. If Reyes stays healthy, you guys easily have the best top 3 on offense. Be interesting to read your comments later this week. Couple of those other teams are headscratchers. What’s with the 3 SS guy, for instance?

    As far as curveballs go, it’s an interesting theory. I looked at pitch f/x(assuming that’s where you looked too) for 2005-2010 at all pitchers (not just qualified) and there was hardly any precident for pitchers averaging upwards of 30% curveballs. Among those with the higher percentages there were some arm trouble guys but some of them may have other causes. Sheets for instance, massive workload. Morris, Carpenter, Wainwright feature a high percentage sliders with the curve. Also, with pitch f/x I wonder how accurate the distinction is when you get a pitcher who features two breaking balls like that. Might be more behind the data than just the percentage curves.

    Also notable is that a lot of the very reliable pitchers in the game feature a high percentage curveballs and all throw what I would consider a very traditional hand on top curve. Verlander, Halladay, Lackey, bunch of guys with very sound curveball mechanics.

    Be interesting to see. Hope you’re wrong about Gio!

    I’ll hit you with the point shares question later.

  29. JMonte says:

    Great read as always Rudy!!!

    Nice LABR team you and Grey drafted, can you make any sense of a team spending $100 on SS?

  30. Alex says:

    Hey Rudy,

    Respectfully, if your list last year only had 2 “hits”, why should we assume that your list this year is any more reliable? Also, if you take the top 100 major league starters, which includes all the guys on your list, i wonder what % get injured? That is, does the whole group of top major league starters get injured just as frequently as the guys on your list?? I don’t know the answer to that but 10% from 2010 is not very good…nothing against you or your methodology – predicting injuries is inherently very difficult…but there is a point at which we should just admit these are not very good predictions instead of using them as if they were…

    – Alex

  31. Giant JJ says:

    Great article!
    Xavier Nady is being drafted the 51st 1st baseman and in the late 400s. That seems Very low to me for a 32 year old starter who had good value not long ago before injuries struck. What am I missing that the rest of the country is getting?

  32. Carns says:

    @Gibby- Get Kemp. Now.

  33. Bill Lumbergh says:

    Been offered either Rollins or Phillips for my BJ Upton. 12 team keeper w/9×9 scoring (couple of fielding cat’s). Draft has numerous OF avail, but with 6 2B & 8 SS kept, not much other MI talent available. Thinking I should accept one of the offers, just not sure which one is better.


  34. Francis says:

    I apologize if this has been asked before, but is there a way to get customized categories in the Point Shares spreadsheet – specifically OPS and QS?

  35. amscalone says:

    10 team 10×10 h2h keep 7.

    POST-draft trade.

    longoria (can’t be kept)
    jeter (5th round next year)
    holliday (1st round next year, then can’t be kept)

    alvarez (24th round next year, 23rd in 2012 and then can’t be kept)
    wright (1st round next year, then can’t be kept)
    cano (1st round next year, then can’t be kept)

    I have andrus at ss, hill at 2b and lind at CI (who is also OF elig.), so it would be a straight swap in my starting lineup of the three guys for the three guys.


  36. Jake says:

    Hey Rudy,
    Awesome stuff, thank you! It’s worth noting that current rankings on mock drafts (ESPN & Yahoo) have guys like Lester and Kershaw going late 3rd to early 4th in 12 team snake drafts. This is concerning since I typically would go for my first SP in rd 5. Would you consider, given this rankings trend and including the in depth analysis on many guys you listed above who would normally be around in rd 5/6 for a first SP, taking Kershaw or Lester tail end of rd 3 then resume with nabbing hitters? It may be worth the gamble (pun point as Grey would say) considering that a Kershaw or Lester would yield better stats and a healthier option coupled with some balanced 20/20 – 25/25 hitters in the OF (Krispie, Pence, Choo). Do you think it’s a wiser play to go Kershaw rd 3 then Krispie rd 5 than say having the Dread Pirate in rd 3 and Liriano rd 5? As always, I appreciate your insight…

  37. Jo says:

    @Rudy Gamble: My question is who has a fresh arm and a great slider that’s going to be this years version of Matt Latos or Brett Anderson?

  38. SwaggerJackers says:

    No second post today? :(


  40. Pat says:

    A Phil Hughes bar reference! You the man Rudy.

    I was drinking there during Hughes rookie year and I asked the bar tender, an old lady, if they would do anything special for when Phil Hughes pitched up in the Bronx. She had no idea who he was. I real alcoholic bar that’s for sure.

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