Rookie pitchers just not worth it

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This past weekend was on RotoExperts' Think Tank with hosts Jon Phillips and Scott Engel. While the event sometimes resembled Burt Reynolds and Dom DeLuise on Johnny Carson (ask your parents) than a fantasy experts' roundtable, we did address some good pitching issues that could help you. Go to RotoExperts Think Tank to hear it. I enter about 15 minutes into the hour-long show.

As I mention at the end of my segment, this week I'm going to look at the strategy of drafting over-hyped rookie pitchers rather than going for the surer thing. Keep in mind this column looks at the issue from a non-keeper league point of view. In keeper leagues, the issue is about price, availability and how long you can wait for the rookie to pay off for you.

Last week I said be cautious in terms of starting rookie pitchers, especially those phenoms that get called up after they lay waste to minor league batters. Cases in point this year are the Rays' David Price and the Braves' Tommy Hanson, whose careers may be inextricably bound after this season.

Both were hyped coming out of spring training and were drafted in almost every fantasy league. Both were then sent down so their teams could "protect their arms" (which translated into "save money by delaying their MLB years of service"). Both were taken in almost every fantasy draft or auction in anticipation of being impact starters this year. And both have gotten off to mediocre starts:

Price: 1-0, 4 GS, 19.0 IP, 2.37 ERA, 1.63 WHIP, 26 K, 18 BB, 2 HRHanson: 1-0, 2 GS, 11.2 IP, 6.17 ERA, 1.80 WHIP, 10 K, 6 BB, 3 HR

The stat that sticks out for both is their WHIP, which is inflated by walks. For Price, his inefficiency means he's hitting 100 pitches too early and has so far not gotten out of the sixth inning. In fact, he's gotten the hook twice before notching five complete innings, which means he's been in no position to get his owners a win. Hanson, on the other hand, has been challenging batters and losing. His three-HR effort in his debut against Milwaukee was humbling, but his 2.47 WHIP against the Orioles in his second game was down right emasculating.

If you've started either of them, they have hurt you. In fact, you would have been better off with Jason Marquis, Scott Feldman or Clayton Richard, all guys you could have picked up off the waiver wire (and perhaps still can). Of course in the long term Price and Hanson have higher ceilings, but right now we're almost halfway through the season, and you have to ask yourself, how long can I wait for those ceilings to be reached?

Every year fantasy spundits (my term for sports pundits) list their top pitching prospects for the season and, as we get through spring training, those lists are solidified. I consulted various sources and created a list of the top starting pitching prospects for the 2007 season. The pitchers are listed in general order of expectations by the sources I consulted, with their '07 stats following:

Phil Hughes (NYY): 5-3, 13 GS, 72.2 IP, 4.46 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 58 K, 29 BB, 8 HRHomer Bailey (CIN): 4-2, 9 GS, 45.1 IP, 5.76 ERA, 1.57 WHIP, 28 K, 28 BB, 3 HRMike Pelfrey (NYM): 3-8, 13 GS, 72.2 IP, 5.57 ERA, 1.71 WHIP, 45 K, 39 BB, 6 HRDaisuke Matsuzaka (BOS): 15-12, 32 GS, 204.2 IP, 4.40 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 201 K, 80 BB, 25 HRTim Lincecum (SF): 7-5, 24 GS, 146.1 IP, 4.00 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 150 K, 65 BB, 12 HRYovanni Gallardo (MIL): 9-5, 17 GS, 110.1 IP, 3.67 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 101 K, 37 BB, 8 HRJason Hirsh (COL): 4-7, 19 GS, 112.1 IP, 4.81 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 75 K, 48 BB, 18 HRJeff Niemann (TB): DNPMatt Garza (MIN): 5-7, 15 GS, 83.0 IP, 3.69 ERA, 1.54 WHIP, 67 K, 32 BB, 8 HRAndrew Miller (DET): 5-5, 13 GS, 64.0 IP, 5.63 ERA, 1.75 WHIP, 56 K, 39 BB, 8 HR

First, Matsuzaka stands out as the only one that gave good value in multiple categories. We could easily argue that despite MLBPA rules that defined him as a rookie for his years of service (he's a rookie until he exceeds 50.0 IP or 45 days on the 25-man roster) and award eligibility, he wasn't a rookie prospect in fantasy baseball terms like the others on that list. Also, the Red Sox didn't pay a multi-million dollar posting fee for a prospect. They expected him to jump right into the rotation, and he did. So let's take Matsuzaka off our list.

Second, none of the rest of the pitchers reached 10 wins. Lincecum probably gave the best value because of his strikeouts, but if he were taken high and hoarded away, that pick (or money) could have been used on a more established player, and you could still have gotten the same stats out of say, Wandy Rodriguez or Ian Snell. Gallardo also gave some value, but those numbers could have been found on the waiver wire in May.

Hughes, Bailey and Pelfrey were all disappointments, but even worse, '07 has been Bailey's most productive season so far. I remember drafts in '07 and the moans from those who had him in their queue when he was taken a round early. Of course this is just a single season, but it's a good illustration that in non-keeper leagues, you're probably better off going after established talent rather then putting your (blue) chips on a pitching prospect, especially if they break camp going back to AAA.

Now that I have you convinced rookie pitchers aren't worth the paper they're printed on, I ask you if you remember the rookie class of 2006, which included Justin Verlander, Jered Weaver, Anibal Sanchez, Josh Johnson, Matt Cain, Chad Billingsley, Francisco Liriano, Jon Lester and Scott Olsen. So yes, there was a little value available in rookie pitchers that season. In fact, there's a debate whether it created as many good arms as the '99 season, which included Tim Hudson, Freddie Garcia, John Halama, Roy Halladay, Scott Williamson and Kris Benson.

My vote goes to the '06 crop, but we need a little more distance from '06 to determine how good those pitchers are (serendipity note: the '99 class technically includes Matsuzaka who was the JPL rookie of the year in '99 for the Seibu Lions). But realize there's a reason we remember the '06 and '99 rookie pitcher bumper crops, much like the '83 NFL quarterback class and the '84 NBA draft class: They are few and far between. So sure, you can get lucky and find yourself surrounded by great rookie pitchers like in '06, but odds are you'll end up in the middle of an '07 season where you should have let them go and used the waiver wire.

Just out of curiosity, I checked out the rookie seasons of 10 notable pitchers (again, "rookie" is the first season they hit 10 GS). An asterisk means they're a member of the 300-win club for men.

Sandy Koufax ('56 BRD): 2-4, 10 GS, 58.2 IP, 4.91 ERA, 1.62 WHIP, 30 K, 29 BBBob Gibson ('60 STL): 3-6, 12 GS, 86.2 IP, 5.61 ERA, 1.67 WHIP, 69 K, 48 BBTommy John ('64 CLE): 2-9, 14 GS, 94.1 IP, 3.91 IP, 1.40 WHIP, 65 K, 35 BB*Nolan Ryan ('68 NYM): 6-9, 18 GS, 134.0 IP, 3.09 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 133 K, 75 BBBert Blyleven ('70 MIN): 10-9, 25 GS, 164.0 IP, 3.18 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 135 K, 47 BB*Roger Clemens ('84 BOS): 9-4, 20 GS, 133.1 IP, 4.32 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 126 K, 29 BB*Greg Maddux ('87 CHC): 6-14, 27 GS, 155.2 IP, 5.61 ERA, 1.64 WHIP, 101 K, 74 BB*Tom Glavine ('88 ATL): 7-17, 34 GS, 195.1 IP, 4.56 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 84 K, 63 BBJohn Smoltz ('88 ATL): 2-7, 12 GS, 64.0 IP, 5.48 ERA, 1.67 WHIP, 37 K, 33 BB*Randy Johnson ('89 SEA): 7-9, 22 GS, 131.0 IP, 4.40 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 104 K, 70 BB

Not really season stats that would win your league, are they? I like the fact that the Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz trio didn't get 20 wins together, nevermind separately. But again, this points out the difference in strategy between keeper and non-keeper leagues.

So if you're looking for someone else to contribute while you wait for Hanson and Price to grow up, here are a few names. Besides the already mentioned Marquis, Feldman and Richard, take a look at the following starters: Jose Contreras, Brad Bergesen, Joe Blanton and Jeff Niemann. All are pitching well right now and can fill in, especially if the matchup is favorable (or if you're looking for someone to replace Francisco Liriano on your squad).

No sooner was I singing the praises of Johan Santana then he pitches like Carlos Santana (I'm thinking of "No One to Depend On" or "Evil Ways"). Word is he's still favoring that knee and has a finger blister, which would shut down Carlos as well, come to think of it. Whatever his ailment, I've never seen him hit so often as he was against the Yankees last weekend. There is talk he misses his next start, but I'd be surprised if he didn't hit the DL. So you Santana owners should consider doing two things: (1) sit Santana until he shows he can keep men off base again, and (2) consider picking up Pedro Martinez, as I just can't see the Mets passing up on him now.

As always, thanks for reading and for your notes. I'll be out of the country the next couple of weeks, but will be back in July. Hope everyone is having a safe and fun summer.