May 19, 2010

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Anyone with a reliable internet connection can go online and look up the league leaders in strikeouts from a given season and begin formulating a fantasy pitching strategy based on the who's who of punch-outs. Of the top-10 starting pitchers in total strikeouts from 2009, all 10 reached at least 200 Ks, while fully 40 starting pitchers reached at least 150 strikeouts. The fact remains that a great many elite fantasy pitchers accumulate significant numbers of strikeouts.

Ideally, a starting pitcher will contribute in four of the five standard pitching categories. However, when all the elite strikeout arms have been exhausted (and rest assured they will be), successful fantasy owners will have the foresight to recognize the value in starters who may not be capable of mowing down the opposition with every turn on the mound. While not amassing grandiose strikeout totals, many of those same pitchers can still contribute to fantasy teams in other ways. The key to success is knowing which non-fireballing starters have the potential to make a fantasy team better, while others may, in fact, make a team worse. Further, knowing which key indicators to look for (e.g. K/BB ratio) can go a long way in formulating a blueprint for victory. Really ... just ask future Hall of Famer Greg Maddux.

Carl Pavano, SP, Minnesota Twins. In a rotation that also features soft-tossers Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey and Nick Blackburn, it was abundantly clear that the Twins were going to have to rely on more than strikeouts to neutralize the opposition in '10. Enter Pavano. He has been something of a surprise for Minnesota and for fantasy owners. A 4-3 record doesn't fully illustrate just how useful Pavano has been. A 3.30 ERA and 1.10 WHIP have given fantasy owners everywhere reason to smile. And, if not for one poor outing against the Kansas City Royals (of all teams), Pavano's season would look even more impressive. His K/BB of 4.86 is fourth best in the game. Further, among the top five in K/BB, only Pavano has a K-rate under 7.50, meaning he's throwing strikes, and throwing them effectively. It's a strategy that suits Pavano's makeup as well as fitting the makeup of the Twins franchise.

Mat Latos, SP, San Diego Padres. Currently on pace for just 128 strikeouts, some fantasy owners might be inclined to overlook the 22-year-old Latos. His K-rate sits at a fairly modest, albeit useful, 6.53 (6.80 career), but his K/BB is 3.56, due in large part to impeccable control. Averaging just 1.87 BB/9, it appears that Latos will be an asset for fantasy owners looking for help with WHIP. His current 0.97 WHIP is second only to Tim Lincecum among all major league starting pitchers. Impeccable control is its own reward -- a fact that Latos owners are rapidly learning.

Shaun Marcum, SP, Toronto Blue Jays. A 2-1 record helps disguise what has been a very nice start to the '10 season for Marcum. He has gone overlooked in many fantasy leagues despite a great start to the season. It's possible that he's been overshadowed by some of the bigger named pitchers that happen to play in the same loaded division, the American League East. However, with a 2.78 ERA and 42 strikeouts through his first 55 IP, he's more than holding his own with the best of them. A 3.50 K/BB is a fairly accurate measurement of just how good he's been. However, it's not Marcum's gaudy strikeout totals (or, lack thereof) turning heads. Rather, it's Marcum's control (just 1.96 BB/9) that points to continued success. Coupled with a potent Jays offense, it's possible that Marcum could be on the verge of a big year.

Fausto Carmona, SP, Cleveland Indians. In '07, Carmona totaled 19 wins with a 3.06 ERA and ended the season among the names being talked about as potential Cy Young Award candidates. Not only did he not win the award in '07, he went on to fizzle into obscurity, going 13-19 with a 5.89 ERA in the two seasons since. However, a mildly productive start to this season has some wondering if the '07 version could be enjoying a resurgence. At 4-1 with a 3.33 ERA, it does seem possible. However, a closer look at the numbers reveals just a 1.24 K/BB. Further, he's totaled just 26 strikeouts over his first 51.1 IP, making him a poor source of Ks for fantasy owners. With a BABIP of .261 to date, things seem likely to take a turn for the worse.

Tim Hudson, SP, Atlanta Braves. Hudson's 2.41 ERA is down more than a full run from his brief '09 number. Further, at 4-1 he's already rewarded fantasy owners with some sought-after wins. However, Hudson's been pitching through a bit of luck. A .224 BABIP is artificially aiding his ERA, while his strikeout numbers have fallen off quite dramatically. His 3.96 K/9 is easily a career-worst, and his K/BB sits at a miserable 1.21 -- not the kind of numbers that support sustained fantasy success. With an Atlanta Braves team that struggles to generate run support for its pitchers, darker days may lie ahead for Hudson.

Joe Saunders, SP, Los Angeles Angels. Talk about unimpressive ratios; one number in Saunders' stat-line really stands out. His 1.00 K/BB is among the worst in the league among pitchers with at least 25 innings pitched. Saunders' low K-rate (4.17) is troubling in its own right, but his BB-rate sits at 4.17, as well, and that number is well above his career level of 2.99. After having won at least 16 games in back-to-back seasons, largely because of an ability to successfully pitch to contact and limit walks, it seems Saunders has taken a big step back in '10. The increased BB totals have already caused his ERA to rise to 4.96 this year after averaging a 3.98 mark over the past two seasons.

Damian Schaab is a senior writer for, and member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. Visit today to ensure total fantasy sports dominance.

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