This week's feature is a review of some of my preseason pitching projections and writeups. A look at the hitters will come next week.
Starting Pitching Review
Then: With only 77 wins and a spotty track record when it comes to health, Beckett's Hall of Fame plaque can't be engraved yet. Still, few pitchers over the last 50 years have been as instrumental in two successful championship runs as Beckett, who won all four of his postseason starts for the Red Sox. Overall, he has a 1.73 ERA in 72 2/3 innings during October. Beckett also put together his first Cy Young-quality regular season in 2007, though with 40 fewer innings pitched than C.C. Sabathia, he didn't quite deserve the award. He did go over 200 IP for the second straight year after failing to ever top 180 in his Marlins career. The big change from his rough 2006 was a far superior curveball. He struggled with it in his first year in Boston because the team didn't want him using it on the side, fearing it was what led to his blister troubles. Beckett did have one finger issue last season, going on the DL in mid-May with an avulsion. With no arm problems at all, he looks like a safer pick than ever before. Of course, his price tag is set to skyrocket. That he, unlike some of the circuit's other top pitchers, has no chance of being traded makes him more attractive in AL-only leagues. An even better 2008 season, with a sub-3.00 ERA and 220 strikeouts is possible. Still, it'd be tough to go beyond $27-$28.
Now: Beckett never really found a rhythm this year. He went down in spring training with back spasms and again in August with elbow inflammation. He typically had great velocity when he was healthy, and he practically duplicated his strikeout and walk rates from his outstanding 2007. However, he gave up many more line drives than usual and paid for it with the highest batting-average against of his career. Better fortune when it comes to health would probably allow him to return to 2007 form next year.
Erik Bedard - Mariners - $30 - SP #3
Projection: 17-7, 3.20 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 227 Ks in 211 IP
2008stats: 6-4, 3.67 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 72 Ks in 81 IP
Then: Bedard firmly established himself as one of the AL's better lefties in 2006, but it turned out that he had another step forward left in him. After a poor April to begin 2007, Bedard was the league's top pitcher over the next four months, going 10-3 with a 2.49 ERA. What was arguably the AL's best curveball allowed him to go from a steady eight strikeouts per nine innings in 2004-06 to 11 last year. If not for a strained oblique that cost him September, he likely would have fanned 250 batters. Even with the entire month off, he still finished fourth in the majors. Capable of beating anyone when he's on, he finished 3-0 with a 3.38 ERA in five starts against the Yankees and Red Sox. Bedard shouldn't be in for much of a drop-off this year. The injury will help keep his price in check, though it'll still take a major investment to get him. For all of his talent, Bedard does have spells in which he's not very good. He had a 6.05 ERA last April, and he posted a 7.85 ERA in May 2006. It might be that another stretch like that will keep him out of Cy Young contention this year. Still, with his strikeout rate and the move a pitcher-friendly ballpark in Seattle, he's arguably the No. 1 fantasy starter in the AL.
Now: Bedard said he originally hurt his shoulder on April 26, when he was pitching for the first time in 18 days due to a sore hip. However, he didn't tell the Mariners about it until after his July 4 outing. That ended up being the last time he pitched all year. An MRI showed a frayed labrum, and after a failed attempt to return in September, he ended up undergoing surgery that wasn't quite as severe as anticipated. It's possible that he'll be back around a month into next season, though it's still very much up in the air whether he'll do so in a Mariners uniform.
Fausto Carmona - Indians - $21 - SP #14
Projection: 17-9, 3.49 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 137 Ks in 219 IP
2008stats: 8-7, 5.44 ERA, 1.62 WHIP, 58 Ks in 120 2/3 IP
Then: Carmona's future role was very much in doubt at the beginning of 2007. A dominant setup man and a spectacularly awful closer in 2006, the plan was to try him again as a starter, first in Triple-A. However, he got to open the season in the major league rotation because of Cliff Lee's injury and he went on to pitch as effectively as any American Leaguer. Primarily going with his mid-90s sinker, Carmona not only had a GB:FB ratio better than 3:1, but he was able to miss enough bats entirely to strike out nearly six batters per nine innings. In October, he turned in what was probably the most impressive outing of the postseason when he held the Yankees to one run and three hits over nine innings in Game 2 of the ALDS. He was a major disappointment in the ALCS against the Red Sox because of lousy command, but his stuff is plenty good enough to overmatch even the best offenses when he's on. That he did throw 230 innings -- over 50 more than his previous career high -- is of some concern going forward. Still, his build and ability to get quick outs give him a pretty good chance of staying healthy. He's an option at up to $21.
Now: Carmona's ERA stood at 3.10 before he injured his hip on May 23, but he still had a 23/38 K/BB ratio in 58 innings. After missing two months, he was flat-our terrible the rest of the way, posting a 7.61 ERA in 62 2/3 innings. Spring training will determine whether he's worth investing in next year. The stuff was there this year, but his command was awful throughout.
John Danks - White Sox - $2 - SP #98
Projection: 10-11, 4.48 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 141 Ks in 177 IP
2008stats: 12-9, 3.32 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 159 Ks in 195 IP
Then: Danks had ERAs in excess of 4.00 in each of his last two seasons in the minors and he finished at 5.91 last spring, but the White Sox decided to make him their fifth starter anyway after acquiring him from Texas in the Brandon McCarthy deal. He ended up turning in just eight quality starts, four of them coming consecutively in May. His last win came on July 16, and due to concerns that he had worn down, he pitched only once in September. Danks' future still seems fairly bright. He throws 90-92 mph, and his changeup is a quality offering against right-handers. More consistency with his curve is needed. A flyball pitcher, it's going to be hard for him to ever post a particularly good ERA while pitching at U.S. Cellular half the time. Still, he'll make for an intriguing $1 pick in strikeout leagues. He could post a 4.50 ERA and fan 140 batters.
Now: Credit White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper for helping Danks induce more grounders. He was still a slight flyball pitcher, but he cut his homers allowed from 28 in 139 innings as a rookie to 15 in 195 innings this season. I think it was something of a fluke -- he'll probably give up 20-25 homers if he puts in 200 innings next year -- but he's here to stay as at least a No. 3 and very possibly a No. 2 starter.
Ryan Dempster - Cubs - $0 - SP #182
Projection: 6-9, 4.79 ERA, 1.47 WHIP, 110 Ks in 141 IP
2008stats: 17-6, 2.96 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 187 Ks in 206 2/3 IP
Then: When things went bad for Dempster, they went really bad. Still, the right-hander was 28-for-31 converting save chances, leaving him with four fewer blown saves than new $46 million man Francisco Cordero. Six times he allowed at least three runs, but until fading under a heavy workload down the stretch -- he made 23 appearances over the final 45 days of the season -- he turned in scoreless frames more often than the typical NL closer. Through it all, the Cubs rarely seemed happy with him, and though a rumored in-season move to the rotation didn't take place, the plan is for him to enter this spring as a starter. Dempster last pitched out of the rotation in 2003 and had a 6.54 ERA in 115 2/3 innings for the Reds before undergoing Tommy John surgery. In the six years that he was used primarily as a starter, he had a 5.01 ERA and a 1.57 WHIP, mainly because he walked 4.7 batters per nine innings. His command hasn't gotten a lot better through the years, and since he'll be more hittable while trying to get through six innings a night, odds are that he'll be a worse version of Jason Marquis. Dempster isn't a top reliever, but he's likely to contribute more as a closer than in any other role. Only because there's always the chance he'll move back is he worth taking a flier on.
Now: Bad call. Dempster posted a better ERA this year than he ever did in 10 previous seasons. His OBP against was .302, a huge improvement from his .358 career mark.
Justin Duchscherer - Athletics - $1 - SP #109
Projection: 6-7, 4.20 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 90 Ks in 120 IP
2008stats: 10-8, 2.54 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 95 Ks in 141 2/3 IP
Then: Duchscherer's status as one of the game's most reliable setup men had already taken a hit because of elbow problems before the right-hander was forced to the DL last May with an arthritic hip. Setbacks in rehab caused him to undergo season-ending surgery in July. The plan is for Duchscherer to come to camp as a starter this year, and he'll probably be able to manage his hip condition better while pitching every five or six days. Still, his stuff may not hold up even if his hip does. A curveball specialist with a below average fastball, Duchscherer figures to have trouble making it through lineups three times a day. That he plays in one of the AL's top pitcher's parks would make him interesting if he could be had at a dollar. However, he's probably going to help more in WHIP than in ERA and he won't enjoy the same kind of strikeout rate that he did out of the pen.
Now: Duchscherer was arguably the AL's best pitcher while healthy. He entered the All-Star break 10-5 with a 1.82 ERA, and he finished with a 2.54 ERA even though he had one of the game's toughest schedules. Unfortunately, he didn't pitch after Aug. 18 because of a sore hip that required surgery after the season. The injury makes it more likely that he'll be Oakland's Opening Day starter next year. Had he remained healthy and continued to build up his value, the A's could have moved him for younger players.
Zack Greinke - Royals - $7 - SP #68
Projection: 11-11, 4.28 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 134 Ks in 183 IP
2008stats:13-10, 3.47 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 183 Ks in 202 1/3 IP
Then: His battle with depression apparently behind him, Greinke managed to overcome a disappointing start in 2007 and turn in a fine season that gave him something to build on for this year. Greinke won a rotation spot out of spring training, only to be sent to the bullpen after a 1-4 start that included three very strong efforts in seven outings. It seemed like the wrong way to handle him, but Greinke clearly gained something during his time in the bullpen. That he was topping out at 97 mph as a reliever seemed to give him more confidence to attack hitters than he had while working in the low-90s as a starter. Greinke spent four months in the pen and had a 3.54 ERA and a 55/15 K/BB ratio in 53 1/3 innings. Restored to the rotation in late August, he had a 1.85 ERA in 34 innings over seven starts. Greinke is likely to open 2008 as the Royals' No. 3 starter. He's no lock to keep it together, but since he'll be fairly affordable, he's someone to pursue in AL-only leagues. He's capable of posting a sub-4.00 ERA and striking out 150 batters.
Now: While he didn't get as many victories as he deserved, Greinke was still a reliable mixed-league starter all year long. He maintained a 3:1 K:BB ratio, and he was especially stingy in surrendering home run balls in the second half. I'd still be nervous about making a major investment in him because of his history, but there's no reason that he can't be just as good next year.
Roy Halladay - Blue Jays - $22 - SP #12
Projection: 16-9, 3.49 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 135 Ks in 214 IP
2008stats: 20-11, 2.78 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 206 Ks in 246 IP
Then: Halladay underwent an appendectomy in May and still finished third in the American League in innings pitched. His other numbers weren't up to his usual standards, though, and because he wasn't as efficient as usual, he was forced to throw more pitches per start than ever before (12 more than in 2006). He never complained about any arm troubles, but that doesn't mean much. Halladay spent 2006 pitching through his forearm issues, and he was limited to 21 starts in 2004 by a shoulder strain. There might be more going on in his shoulder or elbow than anyone realizes. He definitely doesn't throw as hard as he once did, though part of that is by choice. Odds are that he'll give the Jays about 220 innings again this year even if he has to fight through some soreness to do it. However, he doesn't look like one of the better investments among the American League's top-10 pitchers.
Now: I think it's safe to assume Halladay was healthier than he had been in years. He raised his strikeout rate about 35 percent over where he was in 2006 and 2007, fanning 7.5 batters per nine innings. It was a Cy Young-quality season, even if he has no chance of winning the award.
Cole Hamels - Phillies - $24 - SP #8
Projection: 14-6, 3.24 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 185 Ks in 178 IP
2008stats: 14-10, 3.09 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 196 Ks in 227 1/3 IP
Then: A healthy Hamels could very well become the NL's top fantasy hurler in 2008. He showed that kind of ability while finishing eighth in the league in ERA and third in WHIP last season, and with the Phillies' offense supporting him, he won more than half of his 28 starts. He does have to overcome pitching in Citizens Bank Park, but it hasn't been a major problem so far. Hamels throws in the low-90s, shows a plus curve and gets strikeouts with the best changeup of any NL starter. Now it just remains to be seen whether he can throw 200 innings. He missed time with a strained shoulder in 2006 and a strained elbow in 2007. Well before that, he suffered a broken left humerus in high school and battled back problems in the minors. If all that isn't enough to scare you off, it's worth going to $23-$24 to get him. He has the potential to win leagues for the brave.
Now: Hamels proved he could stay healthy this season and finished second in the NL in innings pitched behind Johan Santana. He led the league in WHIP and was second with a .227 average against. Still, because he allowed 28 homers, he wasn't quite the dominant fantasy pitcher he could have been. Also, he had to settle for 14 wins, as 11 of his 23 quality starts resulted in losses and no-decisions.
Aaron Harang - Reds - $20 - SP #15
Projection: 16-10, 3.79 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 193 Ks in 221 IP
2008stats: 6-17, 4.78 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 153 Ks in 184 1/3 IP
Then: Harang posted practically identical 2006 and 2007 seasons except for in hits allowed. He gave up 29 fewer hits last season, but it had little reflection in his ERA, mostly because he went from allowing 11 unearned runs in 2006 to four. Even though he rarely exceeds 92 or 93 mph on the gun, Harang is now firmly established as one of the game's top strikeout pitchers. Making his record even more impressive is that he's a modest flyball pitcher working in a home run hitter's ballpark for a team that has consistently run out one of the game's very worst defensive outfields. Never a max-effort guy, he seems like a good bet to stay healthy despite his recent heavy workloads, and it's nice to know he'll continue to help in WHIP and strikeouts even if he gives up a few more homers and his ERA creeps over 4.00. That said, he'll be more expensive than ever this year and he wouldn't seem to have any further room for growth.
Now: Harang was more unlucky than bad early on, going 2-6 with a 3.50 ERA in his first 11 starts. After that came a surprise four-inning relief appearance in an 18-inning game on May 25. He was working on two days' rest, and even though he threw 63 pitches, the Reds had him start on three days' rest on May 29. He gave up at least five runs in five of his next eight starts and then went on the DL with a strained forearm right before the All-Star break. Back a month later, he was lit up in his first two starts before settling in and pitching rather well the rest of the way. One can only guess what kind of season he might have had if not for that relief appearance. He might not have met expectations, but I really doubt he would have finished with a 4.78 ERA.
Then: Even through an incredible streak in which he saw his ERA rise in 18 consecutive starts, Haren led the AL in the category most of the year. He ended up finishing third just behind John Lackey and Fausto Carmona. Haren tied for the major league lead with 28 quality starts, so even when his ERA was rising, it was mostly him giving up two or three runs over six or seven innings. An extremely valuable trade property because he was under control for three years at just $16.25 million, Haren was sent to the Diamondbacks for six players in December. That he's going from one of the best pitcher's parks in the AL to one of the worst in the NL nullifies much of the ERA reduction a pitcher would normally receive with the league switch. However, it does make him a better bet for strikeouts and it could help his win total. He's not quite as good as he showed last year, but he'd be a safe pick at up to $20.
Now: Even though he went from one of the game's best parks for flyball pitchers to one of its worst, Haren's homer total dropped. He allowed 26, 31 and 24 in his three seasons in Oakland. In 2008, he surrendered just 19.
Felix Hernandez - Mariners - $25 - SP #10
Projection: 15-8, 3.40 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 188 Ks in 201 IP
2008stats: 9-11, 3.45 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 175 Ks in 200 2/3 IP
Then: King Felix's second full season got off to a strong enough start, as he pitched eight scoreless innings on Opening Day and followed it up with one of the top-five performances of the year, a one-hit shutout of the Red Sox. He left his subsequent outing with a sore elbow, and while his stuff seemed just fine after he returned four weeks later, he was rarely dominant. In fact, the league hit .295 him. He was better in the final three months, going 10-3 with a 3.70 ERA. Hernandez throws harder than any starter in the game, and as incredible as he's looked at times, he's still as good of a bet to turn into a dominant ace as he was a year or two ago. The first step is for him to overcome Kenji Johjima's shaky game-calling and begin mixing in his pitches better, especially his changeup. With the hype machine dialed down ever so slightly, Hernandez should be targeted on draft day. He's not guaranteed good health, but if he can avoid further arm problems -- and the Mariners have taken pretty good care of him so far -- he's sure to improve.
Now: The subpar WHIP suggests that Hernandez shouldn't have finished with a 3.45 ERA. However, he did allow fewer singles and homers than in 2007. His walk total jumped from 53 to 80 in just 10 more innings of work. However, many of those came in situations in which he could afford it. He walked 31 batters in 101 at-bats with a runner on second or third or runners on second and third. The other 49 walks came in the 658 at-bats in which it made less sense to work around a batter, and judging that the league hit just .223 against him with RISP and .100 with the bases loaded, it seems like he knew what he was doing for the most part. I'll have him in the top 10 again next year.
Randy Johnson - Diamondbacks - $9 - SP #48
Projection: 11-8, 3.99 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 148 Ks in 158 IP
2008stats: 11-10, 3.91 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 173 Ks in 184 IP
Then: The Big Unit demanded and received a one-year extension as part of the trade that sent him from the Yankees back to Arizona. The Diamondbacks were surely expecting more in return. Johnson returned from back surgery as scheduled in late April and took nine of his following 10 turns in the rotation, missing one start due to forearm tendinitis. A herniated disc then put him back on the DL, and he made just one more start the rest of the way. Rather than try to fight through the pain for a team that was very much in contention, he underwent another surgery in early August. Judging him by performance alone, Johnson proved he was plenty good enough to succeed back in the NL after an off year in 2006. He fanned nearly six batters for every one he walked, and he turned in a string of six straight quality starts when his back was at its healthiest. By undergoing surgery early, Johnson improved his chances of being ready for Opening Day. Still, the Diamondbacks may want to keep him in reserve anyway. If they're not going to get 200 innings from him, they'll want to do what they can to have him healthy for the stretch run. Mixed leaguers should gamble a late-round pick on receiving 120-150 quality innings from him. NL-only leaguers might want to drop out of the bidding at $9.
Now: Johnson made about four more starts than anticipated, but this one couldn't have worked out much better.
Hiroki Kuroda - Dodgers - $8 - SP #52
Projection: 12-11, 3.89 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 144 Ks in 199 IP
2008stats: 9-10, 3.73 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 116 Ks in 183 1/3 IP
Then: When Koji Uehara and Kenshin Kawakami failed to qualify, Kuroda became the lone Japanese starter to attract much attention as a free agent over the winter. The Dodgers won a spirited bidding war by signing him for $35.3 million over three years and have penciled him into the fourth spot in their rotation. Kuroda finished 12-8 with a 3.56 ERA, 176 H and 123/42 K/BB ratio in his final season in Japan. He had his best year in 2006, going 13-6 with a 1.85 ERA and a 144/21 K/BB ratio in 189 1/3 IP. The right-hander throws in the low-90s, but neither his slider nor his changeup projects as much of a strikeout pitch in the majors. While he should prove to be a modest success at the bottom of the Dodger rotation, mixed leaguers can do better on draft day.
Now: I should have reread my writeup and projected Kuroda with a weaker strikeout rate. We've seen other Japanese pitchers come to the U.S. and see a spike in their walk rates, but Kuroda demonstrated very good command and had a strong WHIP as a result. He didn't walk more than two batters in any of his 17 starts during the final three months.
Cliff Lee - Indians - $0 - SP #143
Projection: 8-10, 4.68 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 105 Ks in 152 IP
2008stats: 22-3, 2.54 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 170 Ks in 223 1/3 IP
Then: The signs were there after Lee's strikeout rate dropped substantially for a second straight season in 2006, but the left-hander's complete collapse last season still came as quite a surprise. After returning from a strained abdominal muscle that cost him the first month of 2007, Lee seemed to lose confidence in every one of his pitches except his fastball, which was never that good in the first place. Left-handed hitters especially had their way with him. His changeup was still OK against right-handers, but it wasn't enough to keep his ERA under 6.00. The Indians showed their pessimism about his ability to bounce back when they made him available in trade talks over the winter. There was little interest in him, in part because he's due $10.5 million over the next two years. If Lee comes back and has a strong spring this year, the Indians will include him in their rotation. Otherwise, they could redouble their efforts to move him in March, even though it'd be little more than a salary dump. He'd be a lot more intriguing in fantasy leagues with a move to the NL.
Now: Lee won 18 games in 2005, but that came with a 3.79 ERA. There was never anything to suggest he had a season like his 2008 in him. In 2007, he allowed 17 homers and walked 36 in 97 1/3 IP. In 2008, he allowed 12 homers and walked 34 in 223 1/3 IP.
Jon Lester - Red Sox - $6 - SP #71
Projection: 13-11, 4.26 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 149 Ks in 190 IP
2008stats: 16-6, 3.21 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 152 Ks in 210 1/3 IP
Then: It's the stuff movies are made of: a mere 14 months after diagnosed with lymphoma, Lester picked up the victory in the final game of the World Series for Boston. Unfortunately, his reward for pulling off such an inspiring comeback was to have his name get bounced around in Johan Santana trade rumors throughout the offseason. Lester wasn't dominant at all during the regular season, but then again, he was 23 and he didn't exactly have a normal winter in preparation for the campaign. The velocity on his cut fastball wasn't quite where it was previously, something that should change this year. Lester has the stuff to grow into a No. 2 starter if his command comes along. Right now, he's more of a No. 4. Assuming that he stays with the Red Sox, he'll probably be put on 180-inning pace for the year. The win potential would make him more valuable there than in Minnesota, though there is the danger that he could be replaced by Clay Buchholz if he struggles early. At $5 in AL-only leagues, his upside would be worth gambling on. He's not a late-round pick in mixed leagues just yet.
Now: Yeah, he would have been a great late-round pick in mixed leagues. The Red Sox couldn't baby Lester at all with Josh Beckett and Curt Schilling down at the start of the season. In fact, he started two of the team's first four games due to the trip to Japan. He was 1-2 with a 5.40 ERA through six starts, but he allowed one hit in eight scoreless innings against the Jays on April 29 and then threw his no-hitter three weeks later. He ended up allowing one or no runs in 14 of his 33 starts. Tim Lincecum was the only other pitcher to pull that off, and he did it against significantly easier competition.
Tim Lincecum - Giants - $14 - SP #30
Projection: 11-8, 3.58 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 184 Ks in 171 IP
2008stats: 18-5, 2.62 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 265 Ks in 227 IP
Then: Lincecum was arguably the top talent available in the 2006 draft, but nine teams passed, mostly because of the concern about how long the short right-hander with a somewhat violent delivery would last as a starter. The early returns are overwhelmingly positive. Lincecum forced the Giants to call him up by posting a 0.29 ERA in Triple-A last April, and he spent the next 4 « months in the rotation before being shut down for precautionary reasons. Lincecum can dominate with his 94-98 mph fastball and hard curve. His changeup could use refinement, but it's still not easy to hit because batters are always expecting one of his top two pitches. There are times when Lincecum struggles to throw strikes. However, since the league hits just .226 against him, he often gets away with the walks. Because he won't work very deep into games and he probably won't have great run support, Lincecum is likely a year away from being a big winner. However, he could be a stud in three categories this season.
Now: I suppose I should have projected Lincecum for more than 171 innings, but 227 innings? No. The Giants were concerned enough about him that they shut him down after 177 1/3 innings in 2007. It's baffling that the exact same group of people who came to the conclusion that it was a good idea to hold him under 180 innings last year let him throw 50 more innings this season.
Greg Maddux - Padres/Dodgers - $5 - SP #58
Projection: 13-13, 4.15 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 101 Ks in 193 IP
2008stats: 8-13, 4.22 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 98 Ks in 194 IP
Then: Maddux was able to post his lowest ERA since 2004 in his initial season in San Diego, but Petco Park didn't result in quite as good of a season as hoped, mostly because he faltered late. He had his ERA down to 3.68 before failing to last six innings in any of his final four starts. He was at his best during August, going 3-1 with a 2.37 ERA and not walking one batter in 38 innings. Maddux ended up with a 3.59 ERA at Petco, versus a 4.65 ERA elsewhere. Surprisingly, Coors Field wasn't a factor at all. He entered with a 5.95 ERA in eight career starts in Colorado, but he achieved a 3.32 ERA in three starts there last year. Maddux took a one-year deal in the offseason to stay with the Padres. His strikeout rate would have to bounce back in order for his ERA to drop substantially, something that probably isn't happening. He'll get his 13-15 wins and post a strong WHIP, but he won't help enough elsewhere to be of much use in mixed leagues.
Now: If this is the end for Maddux, it's looking like a pretty good swan song. No, the wins weren't there, but he did get the eighth victory he needed to pass Roger Clemens on the last day of the season. He was still a perfectly solid starter, and now he's going to get his first chance to pitch in an LCS since 2001.
Pedro Martinez - Mets - $16 - SP #22
Projection: 12-7, 3.43 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 153 Ks in 155 IP
2008stats: 5-6, 5.61 ERA, 1.57 WHIP, 87 Ks in 109 IP
Then: There was good reason for doubt, but Martinez's return from rotator cuff surgery went without a hitch in September. He was hardly unhittable while working mostly in the high-80s, but he fanned more than a batter an inning, including 24 over 18 innings in his final three starts. What remains to be seen now is whether he'll be able to hold up for 200 innings this year. It's a mark he's reached just twice in the last seven years. Martinez won't dominate while only occasionally touching 90 mph on the gun, but he has enough movement on his cutter and changeup to rack up strikeouts and he can still post an ERA well under 4.00 with a pitcher's park and a pretty good defense on his side. Should he make 32 starts, there's a good chance he'll be a top-10 pitcher in NL-only leagues. Even if he's limited to 25 or so, he'll probably provide decent bang for the buck. It'd be worth going to $16-$17 for him, and mixed leaguers should seriously consider him in the middle rounds.
Now: I really wasn't expecting that. Martinez averaged 90 mph with his fastball and still wasn't any good. I blame poor command and a lack of fastball movement that led to more homers than ever before. He gave up 19 long balls in just 109 innings, matching his total in 217 innings from his first season in New York in 2005. In 1999, one of his best years with Boston, he gave up a total of nine homers in 213 1/3 IP. I think Martinez has enough left in his arm to bounce back in 2009. However, the rest of his body will have a lot to say about it. If he stays in the NL, I'll probably project him for something like a 3.80 ERA in 150 innings.
Daisuke Matsuzaka - Red Sox - $18 - SP #19
Projection: 16-9, 3.84 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 195 Ks in 206 IP
2008stats: 18-3, 2.90 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 154 Ks in 167 2/3 IP
Then: The numbers say Boston's $103 million investment should have performed better. Matsuzaka had a .246 average against in his first season in the U.S., and the 25 homers he gave up was hardly an extreme total. The first thing to look for when the ERA doesn't match the other numbers is how a pitcher did with RISP. Matsuzaka, though, was actually better in those situations, and 15 of the homers he allowed came with the bases empty. The truth is that Dice-K was terribly prone to big innings. He'd have periods in which he couldn't find the strike zone at all for 15-20 pitches, often after he had already thrown three or four clean innings. It happened less frequently as the year went on, and Matsuzaka's problems in August and September appeared to be fatigue related. The only time he was truly on was June, when he had a 1.59 ERA and fanned 42 in 34 innings. With a 91-94 mph fastball and an occasionally outstanding slider, he's capable of setting down top lineups. It's likely that he'll be more comfortable and confident in year two. As strong as he should be in wins and strikeouts, he might be worth $20 or so even with an average ERA.
Now: Even though a rotator cuff strain limited him to 29 starts, Matsuzaka still managed to pitch himself into and out of trouble as often as anyone in the game. He led the AL in walks allowed, but he also finished third in ERA. The league hit .225 off him with the bases empty, .193 with runners on and .164 with runners in scoring position. Hitters were 0-for-14 off him with the bases loaded. It'd be foolish to write it off as a fluke, since he really did pitch differently depending on the situation. However, it's doubtful that the strategy will work quite so well next year.
Mike Mussina - Yankees - $3 - SP #91
Projection: 11-12, 4.63 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 125 Ks in 173 IP
2008stats: 20-9, 3.37 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 150 Ks in 200 1/3 IP
Then: After two years in decline, Mussina bounced back with an excellent 2006, finishing fourth in the AL in ERA. However, it didn't prove to be an extended renaissance. Mussina suffered a strained hamstring in his second start of 2007, missed three weeks and alternated between average and awful over the rest of the year. The Yankees bounced him from the rotation at the end of August, and he made his first ever regular-season relief appearance on Sept. 3. He returned to the rotation in Roger Clemens' place a week later and went 3-0 with a 3.28 ERA in his final four starts to provide some hope going into 2008. With Joe Torre no longer around, Mussina will need to be more effective in order to stick in the rotation. He's too often working in the high-80s these days, and that's just not going to get it done in the AL East. The win potential would make him intriguing if he turns in a strong spring, but he's going to be a long shot to help in ERA.
Now: Mussina reinvented himself at age 39 and put together his first 20-win season. He actually had the third-highest average against of his career (.278), but since he had his best groundball rate ever, those hits didn't do all that much harm.
Roy Oswalt - Astros - $18 - SP #18
Projection: 15-10, 3.49 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 157 Ks in 214 IP
2008stats: 17-10, 3.54 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 165 Ks in 208 2/3 IP
Then: With 112 by his age-30 season, Oswalt is one of the pitchers of his generation with a chance at 250 or maybe even 300 victories. Still, there's good reason to wonder just how long he's going to last. For the first time, his peripherals have weakened to the point at which he no longer comes recommended. With the exception of 2004, his strikeout rate has dipped every season of his career, going from 9.15 per nine innings as a rookie to 6.54 last season. His average against has climbed in the other direction, jumping from .235 to .265. He also finished with his worst walk rate ever last year, leaving him with a 1.33 WHIP that hardly befits an ace. On the plus side, he has turned some of those strikeouts into groundballs. He still does an excellent job of keeping the ball in the park, and he hasn't had any arm problems lately, though he did have a recurrence of his old oblique problems last summer. It's highly unlikely that he'll simply fall apart this year or even in 2009. However, he'll probably continue declining from his peak season of 2005. Expect him to add another quarter-run to his ERA.
Now: Oswalt's ERA took the anticipated jump, but he did provide hope for the future by going 10-2 with a 2.24 ERA after the All-Star break and arresting the decline in his strikeout rate. I'll probably give him a similar projection next year, but I do want to see if the Astros make an attempt to improve their defense.
Jake Peavy - Padres - $32 - SP #2
Projection: 17-6, 3.07 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 217 Ks in 208 IP
2008stats: 10-11, 2.85 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 166 Ks in 173 2/3 IP
Then: Peavy's 4.09 ERA in 2006 never made any sense at all. Seemingly having something to prove last season, the 1999 15th-round pick turned in the best year of any pitcher in baseball, leading the majors in ERA, WHIP and strikeouts and the NL in victories. He did have Petco Park helping him out, but he was 10-1 with a 2.57 ERA on the road. Unfortunately, he couldn't quite get the job done in the Padres' 163rd game of the season, giving up six runs in 6 1/3 innings to take a no-decision in the tiebreaker loss to Colorado. That pushed him over 220 innings for the year, and he topped his previous career high by 20. However, the Padres were still very careful to take care of him. He worked into the eighth inning just once, and the 118 pitches he threw in the finale was his high total of the year. For the first time since 2003, he didn't have any arm problems at all. If he gets to 220 innings again this year, he should remain the NL's top pitcher. He's a little riskier of a pick than Brandon Webb, but he's still a pretty good investment.
Now: Peavy was just as effective as expected, but he missed nearly a month with a strained elbow and was limited to 27 starts.
CC Sabathia - Indians/Brewers - $26 - SP #7
Projection: 17-8, 3.44 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 175 Ks in 209 IP
2008stats: 17-10, 2.70 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 251 Ks in 253 IP
Then: The trends said Sabathia was in line for a breakthrough season if he could stay healthy. His strikeout rate had climbed four straight years entering 2007, and he had the best walk rate and OPS against of his career in 2006. Sure enough, he won Cy Young honors in the AL after establishing new personal bests in wins, ERA, WHIP and strikeouts. He topped his previous high in innings by 31, and he walked batters at barely over 40 percent of his career rate. In fact, his K/BB ratio has gone from 1.9 to 2.6 to 3.9 to 5.6 the last four years. The big cause of concern going forward is that fatigue clearly crept in at the end of the year. In the postseason, he had a 10.45 ERA and a 14/13 K/BB ratio in his three starts versus the Yankees and Red Sox. Still, since Sabathia hasn't had any arm problems since some minor shoulder issues in 2004, he doesn't have to be avoided just because his price tag will be well up. He's in his walk year, and with a potential $150 million contract looming, he'll be especially motivated to put together another big season.
Now: 253 innings. It's the largest single-season total since Livan Hernandez threw 255 in 2004. Including the postseason, Sabathia has thrown 513 innings over two years, the highest total since Randy Johnson in 2001-02. Johnson threw just 114 innings the following season. Mark Buehrle, the last AL pitcher to go over 500 innings in a two-year span in 2004-05, saw his ERA jump from 3.12 to 4.99 in 2006. Livan Hernandez also topped 500 innings in 2004-05. His ERA jumped from 3.98 in 2005 to 4.83 ERA in 2006 and hasn't come back down since. It's just something for potential buyers to think about.
Johan Santana - Mets - $41 - SP #1
Projection: 19-6, 2.73 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 248 Ks in 224 IP
2008stats: 16-7, 2.53 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 206 Ks in 234 1/3 IP
Then: If only we all could have such off years. The odd thing was that Santana, typically a second-half pitcher, had a career-best 10 wins and 2.75 ERA at the break last year. It'd be silly to say he struggled -- he gave up more than four earned runs just twice all season and pitched at least five innings in every start except his last of the year -- but he wasn't his usual self. The one notable exception was on Aug. 19, when he fanned a career-high 17 and pitched eight innings of two-hit ball against the Rangers. Judging by the level of interest he generated in trade rumors throughout the offseason, no teams were especially concerned. Regardless of whether he's a Twin or not, he should enter 2008 as the No. 1 starter on draft lists. He'd be an even stronger pick early in the first round of mixed leagues if he ends up on the Mets, and he'd get more run support if he instead joins the Red Sox or Yankees. It appears to be only a matter of time before he's on the move, and if it doesn't happen before the start of the season, the waiting could take a toll on his performance. Still, since he won't cost quite as much as usual, he comes highly recommended.
Now: The writeup was pre-trade, but the projection accounted for the move. While the ERA was there, Santana wasn't quite the pitcher he was expected to be in his first year in the NL. His strikeout rate took a significant dip, and his WHIP increased for the fourth straight year. Still, he was arguably the league's top pitcher anyway.
Ben Sheets - Brewers - $15 - SP #23
Projection: 12-7, 3.64 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 158 Ks in 168 IP
2008stats: 13-9, 3.09 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 158 Ks in 198 1/3 IP
Then: The good news was that Sheets avoided arm and back problems. Still, it was a third straight year in which he missed a significant portion of the season. He suffered a groin injury in April, dealt with a blister in May, sprained his middle finger in July and strained a hamstring in September. It was the sprained finger that led to his lone DL stint, but it sidelined him for six weeks. When healthy, Sheets was effective, but not dominant. He lost three strikeouts per nine innings from 2006, and his K/BB ratio dropped from 7.7 over the previous three seasons all the way to 2.9. The injuries took more away from his command than his velocity, which seems like good news going into 2008. There's every reason to believe he'll be about as good as ever if he somehow remains injury-free all year. That's an extreme long shot, of course, but he's awfully attractive as a middle-round pick in mixed leagues. NL-only leagues should stop bidding at $15.
Now: Sheets' strikeout rate remained down, but he made 30 starts for the first time since 2004 and was one of the league's most effective pitchers. Unfortunately, a muscle tear in his elbow held him back at the end of the regular season and knocked him out of the NLDS. It's going to be extremely interesting to see what kind of contract he gets this winter.
Justin Verlander - Tigers - $26 - SP #5
Projection: 17-7, 3.30 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 183 Ks in 199 IP
2008stats: 11-17, 4.84 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 163 Ks in 201 IP
Then: Verlander wasn't any more effective last year than as a rookie, but he was certainly more the pitcher it looked like he'd become after he was drafted second overall in 2004. He went from striking out 6.0 batters per nine innings to 8.2, and his average against fell from .266 to .233. Best of all, he remained healthy enough to throw 200 innings. He did lead the majors in both hit batters and wild pitches, but his walk rate held steady. Verlander still has some room left for improvement. He possesses one of the best fastballs in either league, and he can put hitters away with his wicked curve. His changeup is already a fine third pitch. He is the biggest injury risk among the AL's top-five pitchers, but he's a safer pick than he was a year ago. Potentially a better value pick than Josh Beckett or Erik Bedard, he's one to target in fantasy leagues.
Now: Ugh. Verlander made 33 starts, but few of them were any good. In the same number of innings he threw in 2007, he struck out 20 fewer batters and walked 20 more. With the bases empty, he was still a top-notch pitcher, limiting hitters to a .209/.301/.324 line. However, with anyone on base, the league hit .314/.384/.449. It's a new problem for him. In 2007, he was just as good from the stretch as from the windup, and he was actually better with men on base as a rookie in 2006. Let's hope the Tigers' next pitching coach has some idea of how to get him turned around, as the exiled Chuck Hernandez never did.
Edinson Volquez - Reds - $0 - SP #126
Projection: 9-10, 4.47 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, 125 Ks in 171 IP
2008stats: 17-6, 3.21 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 206 Ks in 196 IP
Then: The Reds would have preferred to move Josh Hamilton for a more established starter, but they didn't get the kind of offers they thought they would. They ended up trading him to the Rangers for a 24-year-old with big-time upside who showed signs of putting it together last year. Volquez, who entered 2007 with a 9.20 ERA in parts of two major league seasons, was sent all of the way back to A-ball as Texas forced him to address his command problems. He made steady progress throughout the year and gave up three runs or fewer in four of his six starts after joining the team in September. Volquez has a 93-96 mph fastball, a very good changeup and a decent curve. He'll probably never possess the command to become a No. 2 starter, but he is talented enough to make it as a No. 3 despite a high walk rate. He might be worth using in NL-only leagues by the time the second half starts.
Now: Volquez walked 93 batters in 196 innings, but he was terrific anyway, finishing eighth in the NL in ERA and tied for second in strikeouts. It's worth noting that the league did a better job of making his pay for the free passes as the year went on. After the All-Star break, he had a 4.60 ERA and a 1.46 WHIP in 13 starts. I can see him striking out 200 batters again next year, but he's unlikely to duplicate his 2007 ERA unless he improves his command.
Brandon Webb - Diamondbacks - $25 - SP #4
Projection: 17-10, 3.27 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 177 Ks in 226 IP
2008stats: 22-7, 3.30 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 183 Ks in 226 2/3 IP
Then: Webb couldn't successfully defend his Cy Young Award last season, but once park effects were accounted for, he put up a performance nearly equal to Jake Peavy's. Webb ranked first in the NL in innings, second in wins and ERA and fourth in strikeouts. He also became the 21st pitcher in major league history to amass a 40-inning scoreless streak. His lasted 42 and included three straight shutouts to begin the month of August. Webb's GB/FB ratio declined for a second straight season, but he was still the No. 2 in the majors in that category, right behind Derek Lowe. He doesn't have a history of arm problems and he's exceptionally efficient, so there's no reason to shy away now. Peavy is the only starting pitcher who should go for more in NL-only leagues.
Now: If only I didn't have to project victories.
Carlos Zambrano - Cubs - $23 - SP #9
Projection: 16-8, 3.21 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 190 Ks in 213 IP
2008stats: 14-6, 3.91 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 130 Ks in 188 2/3 IP
Then: How's this for inconsistent? Zambrano's ERA started with a different number every month in 2007. From start to finish, he amassed ERAs of 5.77, 4.72, 2.53, 1.38, 7.06 and 3.44. He led the league in walks for a second straight season, and his ERA increased for a third year in a row. Still, he was able to win 18 games and his lack of efficiency hasn't prevented him from making 100 starts over the last three years. His stuff is as good as ever, so if he's properly motivated, there's nothing stopping him from turning in a Cy Young-quality season. He will get better outfield defense with Felix Pie in center and Kosuke Fukudome in right, and he still helps himself with excellent defense and his ability to hold baserunners (the league is 25-for-54 stealing bases against him in his career). Since he's likely to come at a discount, he makes for a suitable fantasy ace in NL-only leagues.
Now: Zambrano dealt with shoulder problems off and on and failed to pitch 200 innings for the first time in his six years as a full-time starter. He was still great early on, but even with a no-hitter mixed in, he had a 7.28 ERA in nine starts during the final two months. Fortunately, nothing more serious than inflammation and tendinitis was discovered in his shoulder. He should be a fine pick next year.
Some other good projections:
Mark Buehrle - White Sox - $13 - SP #40
Projection: 15-10, 3.81 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 120 Ks in 215 IP
2008stats: 15-12, 3.79 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 140 Ks in 218 2/3 IP
Paul Byrd - Indians/Red Sox - $1 - SP #111
Projection: 11-12, 4.55 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 90 Ks in 188 IP
2008stats: 11-12, 4.60 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 82 Ks in 180 IP
Doug Davis - Diamondbacks - $0 - SP #173
Projection: 8-9, 4.73 ERA, 1.51 WHIP, 105 Ks in 139 IP
2008stats: 6-8, 4.32 ERA, 1.53 WHIP, 112 Ks in 146 IP
Scott Kazmir - Rays - $17 - SP #26
Projection: 11-6, 3.35 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 172 Ks in 156 IP
2008stats: 12-8, 3.49 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 166 Ks in 152 1/3 IP
John Lackey - Angels - $17 - SP #27
Projection: 14-6, 3.59 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 142 Ks in 168 IP
2008stats: 12-5, 3.75 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 130 Ks in 163 1/3 IP
Jason Marquis - Cubs - $0 - SP #153
Projection: 9-12, 4.55 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 90 Ks in 180 IP
2008stats: 11-9, 4.53 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 91 Ks in 167 IP
Randy Wolf - Padres/Astros - $3 - SP #80
Projection: 9-10, 4.26 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 133 Ks in 167 IP
2008stats: 12-12, 4.30 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 162 Ks in 190 1/3 IP
And some not so good:
Clay Buchholz - Red Sox - $13 - SP #39
Projection: 13-8, 3.90 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 164 Ks in 173 IP
2008stats: 2-9, 6.75 ERA, 1.76 WHIP, 72 Ks in 76 IP
Gavin Floyd - White Sox - $0 - SP #224
Projection: 7-10, 5.06 ERA, 1.48 WHIP, 110 Ks in 160 IP
2008stats: 17-8, 3.84 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 145 Ks in 206 1/3 IP
Tom Gorzelanny - Pirates - $8 - SP #53
Projection: 12-9, 3.79 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 130 Ks in 185 IP
2008stats: 6-9, 6.66 ERA, 1.80 WHIP, 67 Ks in 105 1/3 IP
Rich Hill - Cubs - $13 - SP #34
Projection: 13-12, 4.03 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 178 Ks in 199 IP
2008stats: 1-0, 4.12 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, 15 Ks in 19 2/3 IP
Phil Hughes - Yankees - $14 - SP #36
Projection: 13-9, .385 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 166 Ks in 187 IP
2008stats: 0-4, 6.62 ERA, 1.71 WHIP, 23 Ks in 34 IP
Ricky Nolasco - Marlins - $0 - SP #185
Projection: 4-5, 4.68 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 74 Ks in 102 IP
2008stats: 15-8, 3.52 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 186 Ks in 212 1/3 IP
Ervin Santana - Angels - $4 - SP #82
Projection: 10-9, 4.37 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 128 Ks in 171 IP
2008stats: 16-7, 3.49 ERA, 1.12 WHIP, 214 Ks in 219 IP