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Fantasy Baseball Insiders: Buy Or Sell? Pitchers Edition

Wed, May 19, 2010

Buy or Sell?

Image courtesy of: Brian

Nearly seven weeks have passed since the 2010 fantasy baseball season began, and now is the time to start making crucial decisions about your team.

With young guns such as David Price and Francisco Liriano living up to recent hype, it’s not always easy to tell which of these hurlers has enough staying power, and which one should be dealt at peak value.

Thankfully, the Insider is here to decipher these tough questions in the pitcher’s edition of Buy or Sell?

BUY
 
• Ricky Romero – The sixth overall pick in the 2005 draft, Romero has become fantasy-relevant in 2010 after an average rookie campaign in ’09. Through eight starts this season, the 25-year-old southpaw has a 2.88 ERA and 1.14 WHIP. His 9.43 K/9 is supported by two 12-strikeout games, one of them in his most recent start against the Rangers.

So what’s changed since last year?

For starters, he’s throwing his fastball less and his plus-changeup more. After coaxing swings at pitches off the plate 24 percent of the time last season, hitters have expanded their zones against Romero 31.2 percent of the time this season (MLB average is 27.4 percent).

After Romero posted a league-average contact rate of 77.9 percent last year, batters are making contact on his pitches just 72.2 percent of the time in 2010, a number topped by only three other starters thus far.

Romero’s .291 BABIP and 76.0 percent strand rate are within reasonable league averages, and his 3.12 expected FIP (xFIP) suggests sunny skies ahead. Most fantasy managers are probably skeptical of Romero’s early-season success, but the data is clear: this kid is for real.

• Francisco Liriano – The 26-year-old’s 2.63 ERA through seven starts has fantasy managers asking: Has the ’06 Liriano finally returned? Well, not quite. But he has made significant strides since his Tommy John surgery more than three years ago, and they’re finally paying off now.

Liriano’s average fastball velocity is back up, and his slider has regained its form as a plus-pitch. He’s coaxing swings a pitches off the plate at an above-average rate, and is pounding the zone with a 62.8 percent first-pitch strike rate (MLB average is 57.9 percent).

In addition to this, Liriano’s strand rate is slightly elevated, but his .335 BABIP actually suggests he’s experienced a touch of bad luck. There remains a slight risk involved with Liriano, but his 3.22 xFIP proves his start to the 2010 season is legit.  

SELL
 
• David Price – Call me crazy, but I’m not buying into David Price’s 1.81 ERA. Don’t get me wrong, because I love the 24-year-old phenom as much as anyone. His current BABIP (.251), strand rate (80.1 percent), and xFIP (3.98), however, all suggest a regression in the near future.

In addition to this, five of his eight starts thus far have come against the Orioles, White Sox, Royals, Athletics and Indians.

Price’s value in keeper and dynasty formats is sky-high, and deservedly so, but look at it this way: Price is currently on pace for 218 innings in 2010 (after working 162 2/3 innings last year). If he finishes the season with a more realistic, yet respectable 3.50 ERA, his earned run average from here on out would be a Joe Blanton-like 4.08.

• Barry Zito – The Giants’ southpaw returned to respectability last year, posting a 4.03 ERA in 192 innings. Through eight starts this season, however, Zito has pitched like it’s 2002, posting a 2.15 ERA and 1.09 WHIP.

Like Price, however, Zito’s xFIP (4.45) signals cloudy skies ahead. His .242 BABIP and slightly elevated strand rate support this theory. In addition to this, Zito’s K/9 has been well below-average. Furthermore, his competition thus far has been quite weak, as five of Zito’s eight starts have come against N.L. teams in the bottom six in runs scored.

If there’s any good news, it’s that Zito seems to have his hammer curveball back. His mid-80′s fastball and average changeup, however, aren’t what they used to be. Now’s the time to swap the recently-turned 32-year-old for a tidy profit, and don’t look back.

• Doug Fister – The Mariners’ towering righty has seemingly come out of nowhere this season, posting a ridiculous 1.72 ERA and 0.94 WHIP through 47 innings. Fister hasn’t allowed more than three runs in a single start, and has lasted at least seven innings in five of his seven starts.

A quick look over his FanGraphs page, however, suggests Fister is nowhere near this good. The 26-year-old’s .232 BABIP is the fifth lowest among starters with at least 40 innings pitched, and his 82.6 strand rate is the twelfth highest among pitchers who meet the same criteria. In addition to this, Fister’s 3.16 FIP suggests the Seattle defense has greatly aided his performance.

Here’s the kicker: Fister’s 4.25 xFIP is 2.53 runs higher than his ERA, a sign that he and his lowly 3.83 K/9 are due for a massive regression.

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