Since this is the “pitching” league, I am going to start by taking a look at starting pitching. Long considered the strength of the league, the National League had exactly three starting pitchers who earned $30 or more in 5x5 (Clayton Kershaw, Roy Halladay, and Cliff Lee). The American League had three +$30 earners as well, including the overall leader in the value clubhouse (Justin Verlander, Jered Weaver and James Shields). In fact, the two leagues shared the same number of +$20 earners as well. The National League, however, out-earned the American League overall in pitching by over $150 in value. The National League is still king in pitching.
2011 Cy Young Race
Clayton Kershaw $34, Roy Halladay $33, Cliff Lee $31.
Not surprisingly, the three top pitching earners in 5x5 and the three Cy Young candidates were at the top of the bidding charts this year. Kershaw took a giant step forward last year, striking out 248 batters in 233 innings, and cutting his walk total nearly in half. Halladay put up his fourth consecutive season of$30 earnings and fourth consecutive season of a sub-3.00 ERA. Lee rekindled the magic of 2008 with more consistency, and fewer horrid outings, than 2011. These three are bona fide work-horses and bona fide aces, and deserve to be paid as such.
The (Really Good) Also-Rans
Lincecum does not appear to be the pitcher he was in 2008 and 2009, though, for four months out of six last year, the numbers suggest he is. June (4.88) and September (3.66) were his worst ERA months, but those months are completely different – in June, his walks and strikeouts both spiked up, while in September, his strikeouts fell some. He is also not the same fantasy pitcher, earning only $19 and $20 the past two years. My bid price of $23 reflects some concerns about his health, about the tailing strikeout rates, about the increasing walk rates, and his lack of wins on an offensively-challenged team. The trick to Hamels this year is simple: does the contract talk impact his performance? I think not.
The “$23” Club
Editor’s Note: Craig Kimbrel, to be written about in the “Closer” piece later, also went for $23.
The only price that jumps out to me here is Wainwright. His trajectory put me in a position to buy him early in CBS last year, but I only priced him at $17 coming into the year. Right now, he is only 12 months out from surgery, and I do not think we can count on Wainwright being at full strength this year. Given the prices both before and after Wainwright, I believe the extra money on Wainwright would have been better spent elsewhere. Bumgarner and Cain were both par on my sheet, and Strasburg was actually a $2 bargain off my price. I was uncomfortable saying one more on Strasburg, since he is just not yet a sure thing (Mark Prior, anyone?).
The Rest of the 20s
The price on Beachy is aggressive (and over my price), but I like the play here. The Braves are an improved team (Jason Heyward being healthy would be a big improvement without the additions). The 10.74/9 strikeout rate, coupled with the 2.92/9 walk rate leads me to believe there is room for dominance here. Of course, the larger issue is: do you take all of the potential value out of Beachy with this bid? Hard to say…he only earned $10 in 141 innings last year, so this bid does eliminate a lot of wiggle room. As far as Gallardo is concerned, well, he has trouble translating his stuff into fantasy earnings. I am okay with the price here, but I am still not a believer…just take a look at March/April, June and September to see why. Kennedy is probably a little sore at the room – he only went 21-4 last year and earned $26; a room full of non-believers (including me).
Daniel Hudson $19, Mat Latos $19, Josh Johnson $18, Gio Gonzalez $18, Cory Luebke $18, Matt Garza $18, Tommy Hanson $17, Jordan Zimmerman $16, Chris Carpenter $15
This is an interesting array of pitchers. Gio is the newcomer to the group, coming from the As in the deal that essentially wiped out the Nationals farm system except for Anthony Rendon. He earned $17 and $18 the last two years pitching in Oakland, though his K/9 exploded from 7.7/9 to 8.8/9 last year. He is a hard guy to price, and this is exactly the price I put on him. We’ll see how the National League does with him. Garza earned $15, $15, $15 and $13; never did the phrase “he is what he is” fit more. He is also a huge trade risk, though he’ll earn his share of dollars in the first half of the season. People seemed to fall in love with the Hanson price. Hanson has earned $17 and $12 in his first two years in the league. He only threw 130 innings last year, and already suffered a minor concussion this spring. The one upside is that his elbow is now up above his shoulder, so he could be healthier…I’m still not sold. Carpenter has an interesting career pattern that is worth mentioning: 150IP, 175IP, 215IP…hurt; 182IP, 241IP, 221IP, hurt…192IP, 225IP, 237IP…you fill in the blanks here. I would not touch Carpenter with a 10 foot pole, particularly after he added another 40+ post-season innings. Speaking of 10 foot poles, can you find one longer for Johnson? I mean, heck, he earned $9 in 60 innings last year, but how much can you pay for a guy that seems to just be injured all the time. I would rather speculate about Latos or Luebke. If you can tolerate the high flyball rate from Latos in Great Bandbox Park, he is worth a look. Luebke in Petco, well, is like a lot of pitchers there – tantalizing. The fact that he strikes out over a batter an inning should make this price look good at the end of the year.