|Max Scherzer facing Royals (Icon/SMI)|
Max Scherzer | Detroit | SP
2009 Final Stats: 9.2 K/9, 2.8 K/BB, 4.12 ERA
1. Mark Prior 2003: 2.13
2. Jake Peavy 2005: 2.22
3. Frank Tanana 1975: 2.55
4. Jake Peavy 2004: 2.87
5. Pedro Martinez 1996: 2.91
6. Dwight Gooden 1984: 3.01
7. Jim Maloney 1963: 3.16
8. Mark Prior 2005: 3.19
9. Max Scherzer 2009: 3.33
10. Tim Lincecum 2008: 3.33
Strikeouts have been typically higher in recent years, but it’s still significant that only 30 times has an ERA qualifier of seasonal age 24 or less posted a K/9 rate of 9.0 or more, and Scherzer’s 2009 was the 26th-best. Arguably much more important is that only eight pitchers had lower BB/9 rates than Scherzer among those 30. (see top 10 above)
So, Scherzer is a young pitcher, throws hard, posted a historically significant strikeout rate, and has a great pedigree going back to at least college, when he was regarded as one of the nation’s top arms. Why would Arizona even consider trading this guy for Edwin Jackson, whose second-half performance looked remarkably similar to his performances before his “breakout” first-half in 2009? Well, we can be pretty sure it wasn’t because he was reading The Hardball Times, Baseball Prospectus, and fangraphs.com (which he reportedly does). “Pitching for FIP” was already trendy for most pitchers before the term was popularized, since it involves striking people out, not walking batters, and keeping the ball down … and every pitcher knows that K’s are $$, and the other two elements any pitching coach reiterates anyway. The only real worry with Scherzer is his “sloppy” delivery, and the thinking by many that he’ll end up in the bullpen.
For a one-year fantasy pick, Scherzer should be great. As mentioned last week with Valverde, the Tigers may have lost some defensive ability with their offseason moves, but they still won’t be butchers. And the park difference for Scherzer should more-or-less make up for the league shift. Add another year of maturity, and there’s little reason to expect anything other than a solid 200-IP season with good strikeout numbers and a very good ERA and WHIP. The Tigers don’t have much offense, but with the White Sox apparently trying to collect the guys on the bottom of the WAR rankings, and KC still searching for its first clue, he should log his share of wins. We’re not even slightly worried about his delivery. It may increase his chance of breaking down, but all pitchers are fragile, and some guys with suspect deliveries stay consistently healthy, while some guys with picture-perfect deliveries (a la Mark Prior) break down for no apparent reason. The difference in “chance to get injured” for one season is not something which would cause us to worry.
David Aardsma | Seattle | RP
2009 Final Stats: 10.1 K/9, 2.4 K/BB, 2.52 ERA
The old saw is that pitching is all about confidence. And few things can inspire confidence in a pitcher like seeing a Grand Canyon-sized ballpark with an outfield patrolled by the likes of Franklin Gutierrez and Ichiro. And all but scrapping his breaking pitches and throwing heater after heater (87% of the time, per fangraphs.com, in 2009) worked wonders for him. A lofty flyball percentage of almost 54% kept things exciting, but most of those went to die in the gloves of the rangy outfielders in spacious Safeco.
It’s not unheard-of for relievers to become dominant after overcoming control problems in their youth, a la Bobby Jenks and Matt Thorton of the White Sox, or another former Mariner, J.J. Putz. But, there are also plenty of examples of one-year wonders, pitchers like Derrick Turnbow, who posted a career-best 3.2 BB/9 at age 27 (he was over 4.5 BB/9 in the minors), only to revert to his wild ways and succumb to injury woes. Considering that Aardsma was this author’s No. 1 “Miss” of the 2009 season, in terms of projecting players, as he was ridiculed with the monicker “BB-rdsma,” it would be easy to assume that he’s going to be another Turnbow story. And the fact that he only allowed four HR in all those fly balls (4% of fly balls were homers) does suggest some correction in the stats. But we’re not going to sell short the value of confidence here. And defense. And a big ballpark. Look for him to be a solid middle-of-the pack closer again in 2009.
David Price | Tampa Bay | SP
2009 Final Stats: 7.2 K/9, 1.9 K/BB, 4.42 ERA
Similarly to Matt Wieters, there was probably no way David Price could have lived up to his hype. But how do we evaluate him now? The (primarily or wholly) formulaic forecasting done by various sources such as BIS (The Bill James Handbook, CHONE, Marcel, and GP) all seem to indicate that WYSIWYG—a pitcher with an ERA around 4.5 or just under (his xFIP was 4.49 in 2009). But the “Fans” polling at FG suggests a reasonably dramatic improvement in 2010, to an ERA of well under 4.0.
When I began writing this, I assumed that Price had seen tougher-than-average competition in 2009. But it turns out it was even tougher than I’d guessed. The first query I did on the BP “Pitcher Quality of Opposition” was with 120 IP minimum, and he’s tops on that list, with an average opponent OPS of .776 in 2009. And there were 108 such pitchers in MLB, going all the way down to a .707 mark against. Also, his second half was far better than his first half, when he was—essentially—just getting his feet wet in the majors. In the second half, his batting line against was a very good .241/.296/.380. Not to jump to any conclusions, but that’s a lot better batting line than fellow lefty and Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee sports for his career. And Lee’s frequently been near the bottom of the AL Quality of opposition listings (during his AL seasons, of course).
The last two “linked” fangraphs.com stories about Mr. Price (August and September) talk about “missing groundballs” and “missing sliders,” but this is a guy who held his own in baseball’s toughest division in his rookie season, and showed development over the year. His velocity on his fastball averaged almost 93 mph. For fantasy purposes, the quality of opposition won’t get any easier, especially with some noted RH bats who hit lefties joining the division in Beltre, Cameron, and Atkins. Now, we were the first to roll our eyes at the over-hype status Price had, but we see him as a great candidate to “break out,” even with the adverse setting. He’ll probably be better to own in a simulation-game context, one which adjusts for things like opposition strength, ballparks, etc. And we’re not suggesting he’ll be a No. 1 or even No. 2 fantasy starter for a team trying to compete in all 10 categories, but he could be a good No. 3, and in some leagues he won’t be “priced” as such (no pun intended), due to his “disappointing” 2009.
Neftali Feliz | Texas | SP
2009 Final Stats: 11.3 K/9, 4.9 K/BB, 1.74 ERA
GP 2010 starts off about Feliz, “He is the greatest thing ever. No, really.” At the risk of falling into the same “trap” as people did with David Price a year ago, Feliz really has shown enough to be considered among the best pitchers in baseball already, and he’ll be just 21 on opening day! Now, extrapolating “he’s the best” to fantasy results is more problematic. He went backward in innings in 2009 missing some time with a minor injury and logging just 108 IP after 127 IP the year before. And don’t expect the Rangers to take chances—if he adds 40 innings in 2010, it would be a shock; a total under 140 is more likely. And some more bullpen time is a possibility, though the organization will give him every opportunity to be a rotation anchor instead. Anyway, while he really is awesome (without cheapening the word), it’s very possible that he won’t be a pitcher to target in a 2010 fantasy draft. It will all depend on how others view him.
Billy Butler | Kansas City | 1B
2009 Final Stats: .301/.362/.492
Few things are more rewarding for an organization than seeing a highly regarded first-round pick round his game into shape and become a star. Many of the game’s best hitters entered the draft out of high school, and were known to have a high likelihood of being middle-of-order hitters even at such a young age. Butler was one such player, and that he fell to 14th in the 2004 draft is a symptom of ever-present concerns over his defense. But hit he can, and he’ll be just 24 in 2010. His second-half stats were particularly good, as he raked at a .314/.385/.540 clip.
The reports out of KC were that Butler was becoming a much better fielder this year at first base, but his +/- and UZR show a slight decline, though there wasn’t much data before 2009. First base defense is very tricky to measure, so we’re going to assume that the “lyin’ eyes” reports are at least as valid in this case, especially since the sample size isn’t huge nor does his defense rate out as being horrible (just below average at -7 runs/150). Whatever it is, he’s entrenched at 1B, as the organization believes he’s fine there and there really isn’t anyone else (yes, we know that Kila Ka’aihue is rotting away in Triple-A like some leftovers from a great restaurant that Dayton Moore forgot he had in the fridge). If the Royals didn’t have the idea that “upgrades” including Yunieski Betancourt, Scott Podsednick, Josh Fields, and Chris Getz were what they needed, it would be easier to get excited about Butler. But, playing in obscurity, he may come cheaply on draft day; just remember that he won’t get the runs or RBI of a player on a better team, even if he hits .310 with 30 HR, which is distinctly possible for him.