Monday, September 26, 2011

Postseason Pitchers in the American League

Two weeks ago, I looked at the baseball standings and figured everything was cut and dried. There were four teams in the National League and four teams in the American League that held nice leads and all that mattered were the individual match ups. Fast forward to now and there is real drama for both wild card slots. The Cardinals are challenging the Braves and the Rays are only a game behind the free falling Red Sox. If you are drafting your Fantasy Postseason teams before the end of the season, you’ll have to factor in the Cardinals and Rays. I will do the same. This is the first of a four-article series dealing with the postseason rosters. Today, I’ll concentrate on pitching in the American League. Tomorrow, I’ll hop over to the senior circuit.

If the season ended today, the Yankees would face the Tigers in the first round, and the Red Sox and Rangers would meet in the American League Divisional Series. The two American League East teams and the Rangers have scored the most runs in baseball, but the Yankees and Red Sox have big problems in the starting rotation. Even ace C.C. Sabathia has been human down the stretch. The big lefty has had some of the best second halves in recent memory, but he submitted a 4.62 ERA in August and 3.08 ERA in September. In his nine starts over the last two months, Sabathia has submitted five quality starts and struck out more than a batter per inning (74 K’s in 68.2 innings), but he doesn’t feel like the sure thing like in the past. I’d consider taking Mariano Rivera as the top Yankee pitcher over Sabathia because the last number 42 has been his usual automatic self. The 41-year-old has converted his last 15 save opportunities and has only given up one run in September. Among the other Yankee starters, it is a grab bag. Ivan Nova seems likely to be their second starter, but he has never pitched in the postseason or thrown so many innings in a season. I’d stay away from Bartolo Colon (6.64 ERA in September) and A.J. Burnett (6.88 ERA after the All-Star break).
The Red Sox fade has been mentioned in many other places, but it all comes down to their starting pitching. They are paying John Lackey and Josh Beckett nearly $33 million and neither has been healthy or effective enough to earn their paychecks (not that how much they make matters to fantasy leagues). Beckett has actually had a pretty good season despite his injured ankle. He missed a start in September, but has a 2.70 ERA for the season with 170 K’s in 187 innings. In five starts against the Yankees, he has submitted a 1.85 ERA and four wins. Beckett has also been excellent against Tampa Bay with two wins and 0.87 ERA over three starts. Beckett did give up six runs to the Orioles in his last start on September 21. Hopefully, Jon Lester’s last start isn’t a harbinger for the playoffs. The 27-year-old southpaw gave up eight runs in 2.2 innings to the Yankees. He has given up 16 runs in his last three starts, which equals his longest streak of non-quality starts (matched in May). Prior to being beaten by New York, he gave up four runs in two consecutive starts against the Rays. I love middle relievers, but would not recommend Daniel Bard who has given up 11 runs in nine innings in September. Jonathan Papelbon only has one save in September, but he has only had two chances. I’d wait to pick Red Sox pitchers since the team seems primed to be swept, if they can make the playoffs.
If the Rays squeeze past the Red Sox, they have a number of excellent pitching options. Their surprise ace this year has been James Shields, who has 11 complete games after completing five games in the first five years of his career. After submitting a 5.18 ERA and 1.49 WHIP in 2010, Shields seemed destined for the dustbin of mediocrity. He has bounced back with a 2.84 ERA and 1.04 WHIP in 32 starts in 2011. “Big Game James” has been beaten by the Red Sox and Yankees in his last two starts and given up four runs in each game. His ERA for the season is almost a run higher on the road (3.35) than at home (2.38). Prior to his September road losses, he beat Texas and Boston at Tropicana Field, and limited both potent offenses to one run. Jeremy Hellickson and David Price make for excellent second and third starters. Hellickson carries the burden of a rookie pitcher who has pitched many more innings than in any other season, but the 24-year-old has actually been more effective after the All-Star break (2.50 ERA) than he was before it (3.21). In four September starts, he has a 2.28 ERA, but just ten K’s in 27.2 innings. Price has not allowed more than three earned runs in his last eight starts, although he did allow three unearned runs (along with two earned) in his last start on September 23 against the Blue Jays. The lefty has 29 K’s in 26.2 innings in September. Closer Kyle Farnsworth is coming back from elbow troubles and a career of being unable to close. He has done a fine job as the Ray stopper this season by converting 23 of 29 save opportunities. His previous career high was 16 saves over 11 seasons as a reliever. Joel Peralta had four saves while Farnsworth was out, and has a 0.90 WHIP with 60 K’s in 66.2 innings.
The Rangers have five starters with 29 starts or more and at least 13 wins, so their starting group has been solid. C.J. Wilson has five straight quality starts, which included two impressive performances against the Rays in early September. The lefty has struck out 41 batters in his last 35.1 innings, and has pitched well against both Boston (1.46 ERA in two starts) and New York (2.25 ERA in one start over eight innings). Derek Holland could well be the Rangers second starter and he has authored a 2.20 ERA over five September starts. The 24-year-old southpaw bounced back from a tough August (5.13 ERA) and struck out at least six batters in each of his five September starts. He was much better on the road (3.39 ERA) than at the Ballpark in Arlington (4.69 ERA). Another lefty, Matt Harrison, has had a breakout season with a 3.46 ERA and 1.29 WHIP in 179.2 innings. Like Holland, Harrison bounced back from a rough August (6.07) with a nice September (2.92). It helped that Harrison faced Seattle twice and Cleveland before they started hitting. Closer Neftali Feliz is one of my favorite pitchers and had a nice sophomore season of closing. He converted 30 of 36 save opportunities and had 50 K’s in 60.1 innings. Darren Oliver is enjoying his third stint with the Rangers over his 17-year career. He has a 2.12 ERA and 1.06 WHIP over 51 relief innings. The former starter has reinvented himself over the last five years as one of baseball’s premier middle men.
I’ve saved the best for last with the Tigers’ Justin Verlander. The American League Cy Young Award winner and potential MVP is having a career year. He has 250 K’s in 251.1 innings and an amazing 0.92 WHIP. He showed he was somewhat human in his last start by giving up five runs to the Orioles. He was coming off a pair of starts in which he blanked the White Sox and A’s over 15 innings. Verlander has at least six strikeouts in his last 18 starts (dating back to a June 19 game at Coors Field). He has a 1.72 ERA in two starts against the Red Sox, but gave up six runs to the Yankees in 12 innings. He should be the first American League pitcher selected. If I were making a top five list of American League pitchers, I’d leave second empty because the gap between Verlander and the rest is that big. Doug Fister has been a nice number two option since coming from Seattle. In his last seven starts, he has allowed four earned runs. Fister has a 0.90 WHIP since joining Detroit. Max Scherzer, Rick Porcello, and Brad Penny have submitted 30 starts each, but Scherzer has the best stats with a 4.37 ERA and 1.34 WHIP. Scherzer gave up seven runs in two innings in his one appearance against Boston, but pitched better against the Rays and Yankees. Jose Valverde has had his best year in the majors with 47 straight converted save opportunities. He has walked 34 batters, but only allowed 50 hits in 70.1 innings.
Posted by Perry Missner