The volatile part of your baseball team this year will be your rotation. It doesn’t matter how much money you spend on your rotation, there are about a million things that could go wrong with it. Just ask the guy in my NL-only league who last year invested $119 of his $250 budget on Matt Morris, Andy Pettitte, Wade Miller and Woody Williams. Looks pretty misguided in hindsight.
Which brings me to my point. Do not get caught in investing too much in starting pitchers. Detractors can point out that infamous diagram from a fantasy mag a few years ago that showed that drafting two average starters was more beneficial than drafting Roger Clemens and Jaime Navarro. First of all, if you have a shred of dignity, you will not draft Jaime Navarro, or his 2005 equivalent, Josh Fogg.
If you’re in a draft, don’t take a pitcher in the first round. Hitters are far more consistent than pitchers, and play every day. As sure a bet as Johan Santana seems to be, he can go “Roy Halladay” on you in a hurry. Thinking about those two Cy Young winners also brings to me my next point, try not to draft AL starters. This doesn’t apply to the Schilling’s of this world, but why draft a pitcher that will be forced to play against a DH every night? The Al is also far more bopper friendly. Think about it this way, Odalis Perez had the tenth-best ERA in the NL at 3.25. That ERA would have ranked him second in the AL, and that’s only because Johan Santana had a mind-blowing season. Also, expect major dropoffs for NL pitcher going to the AL, such as Carl Pavano and Jaret Wright. And if Roger Clemens can drop his ERA by more than a run going to hitter-friendly Minute Maid Park, then imagine what Pedro Martinez might do at Shea (unless his elbow problems get the best of him first).
What’s the best strategy for building a solid rotation? There is no master plan, but here are a few middle-tier guys I think will have good numbers:
Jesse Foppert (SF): Missed almost all of last season following Tommy John surgery. He struck out 101 batters in 111 innings in 2003, but he was also pretty wild. He has an 11/4 K/BB ratio in spring training, and although Felipe Alou claims to have the rotation decided, Foppert will be too good to keep in the bullpen. Prediction: 12 wins, 4.00 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 150 K.
Horacio Ramirez (ATL): Braves pitchers are good. Draft all five of their starters and you’ll likely guarantee yourself one of the top rotations in your pool. Ramirez is considered to be the wild card on the staff, largely because of his injury woes, but he’s been healthy this spring and is guaranteed the fifth spot. Won’t have too many strikeouts, but could lead the league in ERA. Prediction: 14 wins, 3.00 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 95 K.
Anthony Reyes (STL): OK, he might not start at all this season, but if anything happens to the Cards shaky rotation (stares menacingly at Chris Carpenter), this minor league phenom gets first crack. He currently has 12 K’s in 11 innings in spring, and had 140 strikeouts in 111 innings this season. I suppose he’ll be lucky to get 20 starts this season, but in the late rounds, take him over David Williams or heaven forbid, Ryan Dempster. Prediction: 7 wins, 3.25 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 110 K’s.
Jeff Francis (COL): Yes, I realize where he plays, but with his talent level, a decent season is not out of the question. As an example, take a look at Jason Jennings’ first season at Coors: 16-8, 4.52 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 127 K. Not exactly earth shattering numbers, but Francis is a much better prospect. Playing in similar air at Colorado Springs, he made AAA hitters look silly, sporting a 49/7 K/BB ratio and a 2.85 ERA. Rox pitchers can’t afford to make a single mistake, but I think Francis will survive his first season. Prediction: 12 wins, 4.40 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 175 K’s
Danny Haren (OAK): The Oakland A’s should be considered the 17th National League team, and it’s largely because of their dependence on good pitching. Haren won’t make you forget about Mulder or Hudson, but he keeps the ball in the park, and will have a solid WHIP and K/BB ratio. Prediction: 14 wins, 3.90 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 155 K
John Patterson (WSH): As I shed a tear for the loss of Tony Armas, deep down I cheer at the prospect of Patterson maybe, finally living up to the massive hype as a first rounder. He’ll likely fizzle out long before Armas is ready to come back, but fireballers like Patterson always get a second chance. Prediction: 10 wins, 4.20 ERA, 1.40 WHIP , 120 K.