STARTERS: Early 2013 Rotation Anchors
The following article appeared in the September 26, 2012 edition of Sports Weekly.
Thinking in advance about building your 2013 starting rotation can give you a leg up on your competition.
Some will do this by looking at pitchers' win-loss records or ERA. You know by now that those marks are misleading. They are shaped by factors that are outside of a pitcher's control, such as his lineup, defense and bullpen. We prefer to look at a pitcher's base skills, such as his strikeout rate (K/9), walk rate (BB/9) and command ratio (K/BB). Our research has shown that good base skills often lead to good surface stats, such as ERA.
Let's use this method to target young, under-the-radar starting pitchers around whom you can build your 2013 starting rotations (statistics through September 23.)
Lance Lynn (RHP, STL) showed signs early this season of becoming an impact starting pitcher. Then he lost his rotation spot in August after posting a 6.66 ERA and 1.91 WHIP that month. Truth be told, Lynn has been excellent in every other month. He has been a strikeout machine. He owns an 8.0 K/9 or higher in each month. All of his problems have come against left-handed bats, against whom he has a poor 6.1 BB/9 and low 1.3 K/BB.
Very few starting pitchers have been better against righties than Lynn. He has a 9.9 K/9 and 1.1 BB/9 against them. Finding a third pitch to complement his fastball and curveball might do the trick. Do not be surprised if Lynn breaks out with a 3.50 ERA and 200 strikeouts in 2013.
Jake Arrieta (RHP, BAL) went from the Baltimore Orioles' opening-day starter to a stint in Class AAA by midseason. With a 5.96 ERA and 1.36 WHIP during his time with the Orioles, it might seem easy to label him a disappointment. But Arrieta has demonstrated excellent skills this season, including an 8.4 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9. Those stats indicate his ERA should have been under 4.00.
His fastball also has been impressive. It has increased 1 mph to an average velocity of 93. His ERA has been inflated by an extremely low 57% strand rate, a measure of the percentage of his baserunners who were left stranded on base. Arrieta will be a premium buy-low target heading into next season.
Derek Holland (LHP, TEX) quietly has been one of the American League's most skilled starting pitchers in the second half. He posted a nifty 4.8 K/BB in August and has shown a similar mark in September. And his raw stuff is better than you would expect from a lefty. His average fastball velocity of 93 mph is one of the 10 fastest in the AL among qualified starting pitchers.
If you wrote him off because of his 5.10 ERA and 1.33 WHIP in the first half, it is time to take another look. With continued good health, Holland has the goods to be a rotation anchor in 2013 as he enters his age-26 season.
Ivan Nova (RHP, NYY) had a 4.94 ERA and 1.46 WHIP. He will not be considered a target by many fantasy owners heading into 2013. But there are several reasons to think he can take a step forward. He has a nice 8.1 K/9 and 2.8 K/BB. All of his problems have come at Yankee Stadium. He has a 6.08 ERA at home because of an extremely high home run rate. He sports an average fastball velocity of 93 mph, so his strikeout spike is supported by his raw stuff. Nova is another pitcher who will enter his age-26 season with a lot of upside.
Phil Hughes (RHP, NYY) also has an ERA above 4.00. Like Nova, Hughes will carry a lot of profit potential heading into next season. He has posted an elite K/BB of greater than 4.0 in three separate months. Hughes is another who has been victimized by homer-friendly Yankee Stadium. He has given up two homers per nine innings in his home starts. If Hughes can find a pitch that induces more ground balls, he could emerge quickly as an upper-rotation starting pitcher.
Homer Bailey (RHP, CIN) has been electric during the last three months. His monthly K/BB has been 3.6, 3.8, and 4.3 since July. This has helped him generate a 3.28 ERA and 1.25 WHIP since July 1. Those marks would be even better if he could find a way to limit the home runs he allows at home. He has a 5.05 ERA and 1.9 HR/9 at Great American Ball Park. Bailey has improved his ERA in each of the last four seasons. Do not be surprised if he continues that trend next year.
Marco Estrada (RHP, MIL) does not get much fanfare. He did not stick in the Brewers rotation until late June, and his 4-6 win-loss record is far from enticing. That said, Estrada is one of a select number of starting pitchers with a 5.0 K/BB or higher. His dominance of right-handed bats is unparalleled. He has an amazing 12.0 K/BB against them, thanks to a 72/6 K/BB in 69 innings pitched vs. righties. And he is far from helpless against lefties. He owns a 9.0 K/9 and 2.9 K/BB against them. At 29, Estrada is a late bloomer who does not get the attention he deserves.
Kris Medlen (RHP, ATL) has been the game's best starting pitcher in the second half. He has a 0.72 ERA and a 0.80 WHIP during that period. While those marks have been helped by an abnormally high percentage of runners stranded on base, Medlen's 8.8 K/9, 6.5 K/BB and high ground-ball rate all confirm he has sub-3.00 ERA skills. He also dominates left-handed and right-handed batters to a similar degree. Medlen won't have as many wins and strikeouts as other starting pitchers because he was not used as a starter for the entire season, so he might actually remain undervalued heading into 2013.
Mike Minor (LHP, ATL) has turned his season around in a big way. After carrying a 6.20 ERA and 1.47 WHIP in the first half, Minor has flipped those numbers to a 2.37 ERA and 0.89 WHIP since July 1. The key for him has been improved command. He has doubled his K/BB between the first and second halves. He owns a 3.8 K/BB since July 1. If he can bring his 5.9 K/9 and 3.6 BB/9 while pitching from the stretch closer to his 8.2 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9 marks with the bases empty, Minor could break out with a 3.50 ERA in 2013.
Jeff Samardzija (RHP, CHC) came out of nowhere to become one of the Chicago Cubs' best starting pitchers this season. He had a 3.81 ERA and 1.22 WHIP in 175 innings pitched. Those numbers were no flukes, either. They were driven by an elite 9.3 K/9 and solid 3.2 K/BB. In fact, Samardzija used his mid-90s fastball and strikeout-inducing splitter to generate a minimum 9.0 K/9 in every month except for one. His emergence this season was for real, and his combination of elite, raw stuff and top-shelf skills gives him even more growth potential heading into next season.