Splitsville: Mounds of evidence

Matt Buser

Just as with hitters, you aren't going to go far in your fantasy league if you don't look deeper than numbers like ERA, WHIP and Ks when setting expectations for the upcoming season and using draft picks to build your pitching staff. You'll never be right 100 percent of the time in your projections, but your percentage certainly isn't likely to decline because you dig deep into the numbers. We'll discuss a variety of pitchers and their 2007 performances below, breaking down the stats that warrant the extra attention. Feel free to take a look at this spreadsheet for a deeper breakdown of all pitchers who faced at least 50 batters last season.

Bronson Arroyo (SP – CIN)
Arroyo went from being one of the top-ranked SP in the league in 2006 (3.29 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 184 Ks in 240.2 IP) to more of a detriment to fantasy teams in 2007, thanks to a 4.23 ERA and 1.40 WHIP in 210.2 IP. Overall, his K rate, BB rate and HR rate remained practically unchanged, but his BAA (from .243 to .280) and BABIP (from .279 to .317) rose dramatically. A sizeable upswing in baserunners and a drop in LOB% (from 77.9 percent to 74.0) is, of course, a recipe for a spike in ERA. It's worth noting that Arroyo's career mark in LOB% is just under the league average of 70 percent, so he was due for a correction there. It was basically a tale of two seasons in 2007, however – in his first 16 starts (98 IP), his 10.5 H/9, 3.2 BB/9 and 5.2 K/9 resulted in a 5.14 ERA and 1.52 WHIP; over his final 18 starts (112.2 IP), 9.4 H/9, 2.2 BB/9 and 7.2 K/9 led to a 3.43 ERA and 1.30 WHIP. What stood out in the second half? While his K rate improved, he had an unnatural strand rate of 84.7 percent that isn't likely to be repeated. Simply put, don't bank on a return to glory for Arroyo. Set best-case expectations at a 4.00 ERA and 1.30 WHIP.

Chad Billingsley (SP, RP – LAD)
Billingsley had a very productive minor league career, compiling a 3.18 ERA, 1.21 WHIP and 460 Ks in 405.0 IP, allowing just 7.2 H/9, 0.6 HR/9 with 10.2 K/9. His only sub-par number was an above-average 3.7 BB/9. He had a forgettable rookie season at the age of 22 in 2006 (3.80 ERA, 1.67 WHIP in 90.0 IP), thanks in large part to the fact that he walked just one less batter (58) than he struck out (59). He improved his overall numbers in 2007 to a 3.31 ERA and 1.33 WHIP in 147.0 IP, but he was more effective as a RP (3.09 ERA, 1.20 WHIP in 35.0 IP) than as a SP (3.38 ERA, 1.37 WHIP in 112.0 IP). His BB rate as a starter remained sub-par at 4.1/9. The only reason his ERA was as low as it was once he joined the rotation was because of a 82.7 percent strand rate. While it's not impossible for him to maintain a high number, given his effectiveness in limiting opponent OPS, it's much more likely that he'll regress at least somewhat closer to the league average. Only 18 pitchers who made at least 10 starts had a LOB% of 76% or higher in 2007. When it comes to the 2008 season, cautious optimism is about as far as I can go. He's going to compile Ks at a very nice rate and should continue to improve at his young age, but keep expectations for his ratios in the neighborhood of a 3.65 ERA and 1.30 WHIP.

Matt Cain (SP – SF)
Fantasy owners who were expecting Cain to break out in 2007 were ecstatic at the end of April, miserable by end of July and setting expectations at roughly the same place for 2008 when it was all said and done. As of May 1, Cain had a 1.54 ERA and 0.83 WHIP in 35.0 IP. Over his next 95.0 IP, taking him through July 28, he went 2-11 in 13 starts on the strength of a 4.93 ERA and 1.61 WHIP. He turned things around down the stretch, however, compiling a 2.96 ERA and 1.00 WHIP in his final 70.0 IP. His final numbers (3.64 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 163 Ks in 200.0 IP) weren't anything special, but his late season push, along with some very sound metrics, gives renewed hope for 2008. Cain limited batters to a .235 AVG, his OppOPS of .678 ranked 17th among SP who made at least 10 starts, and he made reasonable improvements in his BB/9 (from 4.1 to 3.6). It's doubtful that Cain makes significant improvements in the win column pitching for the Giants, but don't bet against his having that highly anticipated breakout season to the tune of a 3.30 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and 175-plus Ks.

Fausto Carmona (SP – CLE)
Question: where did Carmona's 2007 season come from? His average-ish minor league career included a 4.29 ERA and 1.33 WHIP in 300.1 IP above Single-A, and he was hammered in his seven starts during the 2006 season (6.08 ERA, 1.59 WHIP, .290 BAA in 37.0 IP). Answer: I'm not entirely sure, but I can point out what he did well. He was an incredibly difficult matchup for right-handed hitters (.216 BAA, 0.98 WHIP), although not so much versus lefties (.275 BAA, 1.41 WHIP); his OppOPS (.661) was the seventh-best among pitchers with at least 100 IP. Only one pitcher with more than 50 IP (Cla Meredith at 70.6 percent) induced ground balls at a higher rate than Carmona's 64.4. When he allowed baserunners, he stranded them at a high rate (77.6%). Even if you think the 24-year-old will continue to maintain most or all of those superlatives, one red flag for the upcoming season should be his dramatic uptick in workload. He jumped up to 230.0 IP (including the playoffs) after 102.1 between Triple-A and the majors in 2006. Simply put, the potential for some kind of regression and/or injury significantly limits the chances that I will draft Carmona this season.

Roy Halladay (SP – Toronto)
Before you take Halladay's decline in ERA and WHIP in 2007 (to 3.71 and 1.24 after totaling 3.17 and 1.13 in the previous six seasons) at face value, consider the following: he underwent an emergency appendectomy on May 11, and in his two starts prior to the surgery (May 5 and 10) he allowed 23 hits and 16 earned runs in 10.1 IP (13.94 ERA, 2.42 WHIP). In his other 29 starts, totaling 215 IP, his ratios were right in line with his career numbers (3.22 ERA, 1.19 WHIP). It's true that his K rate has declined in recent seasons, but he finished with an overall Rank of 28 in 2006 despite fewer Ks (132) than he totaled last season (139, season rank of 124). Halladay has as good of a chance as any SP to outperform his current ADP (84.6), provided he can keep his right arm healthy.

Ted Lilly (SP – CHC)
Lilly was superb in his return to the NL, setting career marks in ERA (3.83), WHIP (1.14) and BAA (.236) for seasons in which he's made at least 25 starts. Granted, not many pitchers would suffer with a move from the AL East to the NL Central, and it didn't hurt that No.9 hitters put together a .123/.138/.151 line in 73 ABs. His OppOBP (.286) was seventh-best among pitchers with at least ten starts, thanks to a BB rate that plummeted to 2.4/9 after a three-year average of 4.1/9. What also jumps out as "bound for a regression" was his BABIP of .270, 20 points above his career mark of .290 and 12th-lowest among pitchers with at least 10 starts. I'm not saying that Lilly is in for a collapse to near his career numbers (4.46 ERA, 1.34 WHIP), but I am suggesting that you shouldn't set expectations at a repeat of his career year.

Tim Lincecum (SP – SF)
The Lincecum hype was justifiably substantial leading up to his major league debut and, outside of one rough stretch, he did not disappoint. His abbreviated career in the minors consisted of a 1.01 ERA and 0.79 WHIP in 62.2 IP between Single-A and Triple-A, allowing an amazing 26 hits while striking out 104. He went 7-5 in 24 starts for the Giants, with a 4.00 ERA and 1.28 WHIP after getting the call up in early May. Four horrific starts in June cluttered what was otherwise a brilliant rookie season. From June 3-19, Lincecum totaled 23 Hs, 14 BBs and 22 ERs in 18.2 IP, good for a 10.61 ERA and 1.98 WHIP. In his other 20 starts (including a shaky debut), he tallied a 3.03 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in 127.2 IP, allowing 99 hits while striking out 129. Most of his metrics were outstanding, even when you include his June starts. Among pitchers with at least 10 starts, he was seventh in BAA (.226), seventh in K/9 (9.2), and 15th in OppOPS (.672). His BB rate (4.0/9) was the only real area of concern, but he's got the stuff to seriously limit the damage. An interesting stat: Lincecum issued nearly as many walks (216) as he allowed hits (220) in his three college seasons (combined 342.0 IP), and helped compensate by allowing just 17 HRs and whiffing 491 batters. The Giants shut Lincecum down late in the season, as he had progressed from 157.0 IP in 2006 to 177.1 IP in 2007. There is a general injury concern with him, not because of a history but because he weighs just 170 pounds and reaches the high 90's with his fastball with regularity. Don't let that stop you from grabbing this stud on the fringe of the top 15 starting pitchers. As with Matt Cain, the Giants offense will limit his win total, but a 3.25 ERA and 1.20 WHIP are not out of reach for this 23-year-old phenom, and he's a lock to average over a strikeout per inning.

Dustin McGowan (SP – TOR)
If McGowan isn't on your list of sleeper SPs for 2008, he should be. He went 12-10 with a 4.08 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, .230 BAA and 144 Ks in 169.2 IP in 2007, his first full major league season. He ranked fifth among pitchers with at least 10 starts in OppOPS (.644), in large part due to his being a nightmare matchup for right handed hitters (.198 BAA, 1.02 WHIP). Physically, he's tough to beat &ndahs; he's 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, and mixes four pitches effectively. He was erratic early in 2007 when he had a 5.05 ERA and 1.37 WHIP after his first 13 starts, but was stellar in the second half, posting a 3.29 ERA and 1.10 WHIP in his final 93.0 IP, allowing just 71 hits while striking out 83. His BB rate also improved down the stretch (3.0/9), and continued improvement in that area, along with better success versus lefties, is what will take him to the next level. McGowan is going to be a plus-contributor in WHIP and Ks, and he's got the makeup to get his ERA down to the 3.75 area, as well.

Oliver Perez (SP – NYM)
Suddenly it's not so far-fetched that Perez could someday recapture most or all of his 2004 form (2.98 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, .207 BAA in 196.0 IP). He's only 26 years old and made significant strides in 2007 with the Mets, going 15-10 with a 3.56 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, .229 BAA and 174 Ks in 177.0 IP. That BAA was ninth-best among pitchers with at least 10 starts, and his OppOPS (.696) was 31st, ahead of the likes of Roy Oswalt and Scott Kazmir. What held him back in 2007 – as it has for his entire career – was a high BB rate (4.0/9) and his fly-ball tendencies (47.5 percent versus just 33.1 GB). Perez cruised through the season's first three months. As of July 1, he had a 3.14 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in 94.2 IP (6.9 H/9, 3.5 BB/9). But he spent two weeks on the DL in July because of back stiffness, and he was never the same. In 82.1 IP over the rest of the season, he had a 4.04 ERA and 1.48 WHIP (8/7 H/9, 4.6 BB/9). Clearly, the stuff is still there, as his BAA and K rate can attest to. If he can stay healthy and make even marginal improvements in 2008, then he'll pay serious dividends relative to his current ADP (172.0).

James Shields (SP – TB)
Shields was a revelation in 2007, particularly after his rookie season did little to generate even modest expectations (4.84 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, .288 BAA in 124.2 IP). That's not to say that his 3.85 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and .247 BAA in 215.0 IP last season came completely out of nowhere, however. In his final 176.2 IP in the minors (between Double-A and Triple-A), Shields compiled a 2.85 ERA and 1.15 WHIP on the strength of a strong BB rate (2.0/9), K rate (8.9/9) and HR rate (0.5/9). While he did surrender 28 HRs in 2007 (1.2/9), his BB rate was a stellar 1.5/9 and his K/BB was a sparkling 5.1:1. Those numbers were seventh and third among pitchers with at least 10 starts. And speaking of that HR total: 11 came in a mid-season swoon in which he allowed 39 ERs (7.26 ERA) and 64 Hs (1.47 WHIP) in 48.1 IP over eight starts from June 15 to July 22, including (and ending with) this debacle. In his other 23 starts (13 before, 10 after) he had a 2.86 ERA and 1.00 WHIP, with a HR rate of 0.9/9. If he can avoid another mid-season meltdown in 2008, Shields (current ADP of 117.1) will be a bargain source of serious ratio help while supplying a steady output of Ks.

Adam Wainwright (SP – STL)
Wainwright is another young SP with potential that can be taken at a point in drafts where the risk is minimal relative to the upside (current ADP of 168.8). He was a career starter in the minors (3.76 ERA, 1.25 WHIP in 784.2 IP), but spent his rookie season of 2006 in the bullpen for the Cardinals (3.12 ERA, 1.15 WHIP in 75.0 IP). He stumbled out of the gate in 2007, posting a 6.34 ERA and 1.91 WHIP in his first eight starts (44.0 IP, 4.5 BB/9), but then settled in and was very effective for the lion's share of the season. Over his final 24 starts (17 QSs), he compiled a 2.96 ERA and 1.25 WHIP in 158.0 IP, with a BB rate of 2.7/9. His most redeeming quality is his ability to limit HRs – allowing just 13 in 202.0 IP on the season (0.6/9) after posting a career mark in the minors of 0.7/9. If his control continues to improve and he maintains his exceptional GB% (47.9% in 2007) and HR rate, this 26-year-old will be a top-flight starter sooner than later.

Jered Weaver (SP – LAA)
After a brilliant rookie campaign in 2006 (2.56 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, .209 BAA, 105 Ks in 123.0 IP), Weaver was decidedly average in 2007 (3.91 ERA, 1.39 WHIP, .280 BAA, 115 Ks in 161.0 IP). One reason for the steep decline was likely his exceptional leap in workload during the previous season. He threw just 77.0 IP between Single-A and Double-A in 2005, but stepped that up to 200.0 IP between Triple-A and the majors as a rookie. Perhaps not coincidentally, he was bothered by biceps tendonitis in spring training. It carried over to the regular season – he started slow and never fully recovered. Weaver is a very good pitcher. His minor league numbers were stellar: 2.80 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 200 K in 164.0 IP and his 2006 season wasn't completely a product of good luck, even if his BABIP was low and his LOB% was high. It will once again come down to health for the 25-year-old in 2008, but he's got the ability to post a 3.50 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, and 7.5 K/9.

Dontrelle Willis (SP – DET)
There is a singular "reason" to believe that Willis will return to somewhere near his 2005 form (2.63 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, .243 BAA, in 236.1 IP) – the reason being, if he did it once, he's got the potential to do it again. That's all well and good, but there is a mountain of evidence that suggests that he won't approach those numbers. We can start with the fact that he's averaged 3,557 pitches thrown over the past three seasons, so his arm has some serious mileage on it age the tender age of 26. He's also transitioning from the NL to the AL, so he doesn't get to face pitchers anymore. No.9 hitters had a line of just .085/.154/.127 in 71 ABs in 2007. Incredibly, only one other spot in the batting order (No.6, at .711) had an OPS of less than .817 versus Willis last season. Other poor numbers included the second-most XBH allowed (87), the highest BB rate of his career (3.8/9) and a slight decline in an already below-average K rate (6.4/9). He got worse as the season went on (5.72 ERA, 1.67 WHIP, .313 BAA post-break) and righties absolutely destroyed him (.320 BA, 1.77 WHIP and all 29 HRs). It's true that he could probably win 15 games with the same ratios he posted in 2007, but that won't negate his negative impact, and the likelihood of his missing time with arm issues is greater than his posting even respectable overall numbers.

Justin Verlander (SP – DET)
Verlander figures to be a very good starting pitcher in 2008 … at least for part of the season. In 225.0 career IP before the All-Star break, his sterling numbers include a 3.16 ERA, 1.18 WHIP and .229 BAA; in 174.0 IP after the break, those numbers rise to a 4.50 ERA, 1.44 WHIP and .277 BAA. Verlander's splits were no less significant last season than they were as a rookie. In his first 15 starts, he compiled a 2.78 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in 97.0 IP, but fell to a 4.47 ERA and 1.32 WHIP in his final 17 starts (104.2 IP). His BB rate and K rate actually improved slightly, but his H/9 climbed from 7.1 to 9.0, and his HR/9 went up from 0.7 to 1.0. With that said, we've seen a sizeable rough patch in consecutive seasons, so you can't just dismiss it as a fluke. His decline in 2006 was attributed to shoulder fatigue and considered a not-so-surprising rookie fade, but there wasn't the same scenario to blame in 2007. Verlander did right the ship late in 2007 – over his final seven starts he posted a 2.72 ERA and 1.10 WHIP in 46.1 IP – so all was not lost. Still, he's currently the eighth SP drafted on average, with an ADP of 58.4. Given his season-ending Rank of 79 last season, if he has yet another swoon, then it's unlikely that he'll warrant that high of a draft position.

Carlos Zambrano (SP – CHC)
Zambrano's ERA ballooned for the third straight season in 2007, from 2.75 to 3.26 to 3.41 to last season's mark of 3.95. He remained a tough pitcher to hit. Although his BAA rose 25 points, his mark of .233 was still good for 13th-best among pitchers with at least 10 starts. But let's cut to the chase with Zambrano and discuss his workload. He's averaged 215 IP over the past five seasons and 3,628 pitches over the past three, including a league-leading 3,695 in 2007. That's bound to catch up with him and, just shy of his 27th birthday, it's likely that it already is starting to. He's never been a control pitcher, but his BB rate (4.2/9) was significantly above the league average (3.3/9). His K rate fell from a career-high 8.8/9 in 2006 to 7.4/9, and his HR rate crept up from 0.8/9 to 1.0/9. If the decline continues, you'll be looking at an ERA over 4.00 and a WHIP above 1.35, numbers that will not justify where he is currently being drafted (current ADP of 66.0).