AL Confidential: American League Starting Pitching: Welcome to the Cesspool…

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by David Velardo

AL starting pitching is a necessary evil. (I guess) I wish it would be not necessary at all. Experts of this sport usually preach what? A 65%-35% hitter to pitcher ratio of auction dollars spent. Me? Personally? When it comes to starting pitching in the AL I shrink that 35% to about 15%. I know that might sound like a recipe for disaster, but let me walk you through the landmines of what is known as American league starting pitching.

Most roto leagues use a 9, 10 or 11-man pitching staff. Pitching categories vary and can usually include saves, WHIP, ERA, strikeouts, wins or some Dr. Frankenstein creation variation of wins such as wins-losses or 2x Wins-Losses… Some leagues have even begun to consider holds. Some leagues, to hedge teams against eschewing starting pitching, install a minimum innings requirement so no one can load up their pitching staff with middle relievers and closers. Now why would anyone do that? Have you seen some AL rotations lately? They are sickening. Cy Young is spinning in his grave due to what AL pitching has become in this day and age.

A casual look through rosters of American league teams reveals the following: (WARNING: not for weak stomachs) Arrieta, Bergesen, Matusz, Porcello, Coke, Penny, Duscherer, Blackburn, Slowey, Burnett, Colon, Garcia, Nova (No one will fault you if you need to run to the nearest trash can so you can hurl). But oh we haven’t had enough, by the time you are done reading this list you will be more frightened then when the Linda Blair spider walked across the floor in The Exorcist.

McCarthy, Carmona, Masterson, Carrasco, Talbot, Tomlin, Francis, Hochevar, Davies, Chen, Kazmir, Webb, Litsch, (Do you have the dry heaves yet?) Should I go on? Oh c’mon, buck up… just a couple more…

Repczynski, Millwood, Mazzaro, Holland, Hunter, Drabek… The famous comedian George Carlin had a classic joke about doctors: “Somewhere in the world there is the world’s worst doctor… and someone has appointment with him tomorrow.” Well, somewhere in the American League exists some of the worst starting pitchers in the world… Most of us will be using them in an attempt to compete this season. Scary, huh? What happens if any of your stud muffins listed above get injured? Wow!

There are so few aces left in the AL, though due to player movement (Halladay last season, Lee, Marcum, Grienke, etc.) the AL starting pitcher stud class has shrunken. Bad hitting is always more valuable (to me) than bad pitching. For example, even the under achieving, .236 hitting BJ Upton will contribute to your cumulative hitting categories such as steals, runs, etc.. However James Shields and his 5+ ERA and 1.4+ WHIP will not help you much if at all. Sure he chipped in with 13 wins, but for 200+ innings of such a poor WHIP and ERA, were those 13 wins really worth it? That crashing sound you heard was your point totals in the ERA and WHIP categories. Now Shields is usually considered better than that. However what if you were the guy in my league who kept Shields last year at $23? Don’t worry, he is still alive, he was wise enough to trade him somewhat early in the year, after realizing his almost fatal mistake.

Pitching is so fickle, even for the stud class. Last season in my league I was in the hunt. I was trying to win or at least finish in the money. Our final trade deadline for the year is usually around August 11th. Teams not in contention are selling non-keepable players such as Haren for $32, Lester for $16 (last year of his contract) or CC Sabathia for $31. So in needing to strengthen my AL SP for the stretch run, I did it, I dealt off spare parts and extra hitting for those three.

I already had Beckett for $31 coming off the DL (last time I auction a pitcher that high ever AGAIN) so I was salivating at having Beckett, Lester, Haren and Sabathia for the final six weeks of the season. Pop the cork, send me the prize, I was ready to claim the title… Well you may recall, these four “stud” class pitchers who went for a collective $110 in the auction, were very ordinary. They didn’t even move the needle 1-2 places in the standings in our categories. Even CCss season on the whole, 3.41 ERA and 1.2 WHIP really isn’t worthy of his perennial $30+ salary. For that money you want Doc Halladay numbers.

Always keep an eye on the waiver wire. Since AL starting pitching is so unpredictable, you might be able to find quite a handful of serviceable arms there. For example, owners who picked up Jason Vargas were rewarded with 192 innings of 3.78 a ERA and a 1.25 WHIP. Or owners who picked up Brett Cecil got 15 wins and a 1.33 WHIP. CJ Wilson was also available post auction in most leagues. He had a stellar season (15 wins, 3.35 ERA and 1.25 WHIP). So keep your eyes on the waiver wire as there are always useful, serviceable innings available, which is great so you don’t have to waste precious draft picks or auction dollars on poor performing American League starting pitchers.

Aside from the obvious gross contributions most AL SPs give to us owners, what are MLB owners thinking with the wages they are paying some of these stiffs? Kevin Millwood earned $12 million last season (4-16, 5.51 ERA and 1.51 WHIP) and Jake Westbrook earned $11 million (4.22 ERA, 1.34 WHIP only enhanced after he left Cleveland). A.J. Burnett had to work for the paltry sum of $16.5 million dollars in 2010 (5.26 ERA 1.52 WHIP). I need to stop this review right now as my weakened stomach can’t take it anymore. Whatever became of the starting pitcher who threw 300+ innings in a season? They threw 300+ innings with great numbers too. I truly believe with my 68 mph heater and my devastating slow curve still in effect I can lock in a 5.52 ERA and 1.5 WHIP at my ripe old age of 44. Hell I will do it for free. Where do these “professional” athletes get off? Why are they so horrendous?

Now that that is out of my system, be very aware of such the fine line you must walk when considering AL starting pitching. Even the so called “locks” (Haren, CC, Beckett, Lester, et al) leave you a small margin for error. Do you really want to spend your precious dollars or draft picks on these so called locks and be left holding the bag when they don’t give you stellar numbers?

Take my advice, stack your hitting and closers.  Fill out your roster minimum requirements with late or low cost starting pitching candidates (because at the end of the day will there really be that much of a difference between Scott Kazmir or Kevin Millwood?). As much as your league allows, fill out your reserve roster or extra spots with extra hitters. Any weaknesses you develop in starting pitching, you can then try to improve by dealing your excess hitting for pitching. Realize that the American League average for ERA last year was 4.14. This would generally place your team 8th in the ERA category of a ten team rotisserie American League format.

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