30 Questions: What can we expect from the starting rotation?
Thirty teams, 30 burning fantasy questions. Throughout the preseason, we put one of these questions to an ESPN.com analyst for an in-depth look at the most interesting, perplexing or dumbfounding fantasy facet of each major league team.
Paul McCartney and Wings. Dorothy Parker and the Algonquin Round Table. Raisin Nut Bran and all other breakfast cereals. Sometimes in a given group, there is excellence, and then there is everyone else.
When the Mets traded for Johan Santana, they acquired the best starting pitcher in fantasy baseball, and took pressure off the rest of their rotation. Does that mean the rest of this question-mark-laden starting staff automatically becomes more valuable? Well, did joining Wings make Joe English a better drummer? Not necessarily, but more folks did get to hear him pound away on "Listen To What The Man Said." So let's take a look at the rotation behind Santana to see if these pitchers deserve your fantasy attention come draft day.
Pedro Martinez: In his 28-inning September return from rotator cuff surgery, Pedro featured a predictably "slow" fastball (in the 90-mph range) but had awesome breaking stuff, and he posted a 2.57 ERA with 32 strikeouts and seven walks. He's 36 now, so his velocity likely won't come back, and if you're planning to take him in the first 10 rounds of your mixed-league draft, cut it out. He's never going to be as dominant as he was before all the injuries. But Martinez isn't going to walk many hitters, so his WHIP will probably tango with 1.15 and a strikeout per an inning is still within reach. The question is: How many innings will he pitch? I believe 150 is a good bet, which is enough to make Martinez a solid pick in rounds 11 through 13 of a mixed draft or rounds 6 or 7 in an NL-only draft. ESPN Fantasy's official projections: 148 IP, 10 W, 161 K, 3.10 ERA, 1.28 WHIP.
John Maine: Maine was amazing in the first half of '07 -- 10-4, 2.71 ERA, 1.14 WHIP. Then he fell off a cliff, to the tune of 5-6, 5.53 ERA and a 1.45 WHIP after the All-Star break. Maine told reporters that he had a bad hip all season but it didn't bother him much until July. Maine is still young -- he turns 27 in May -- so another performance spike is possible. Even as he struggled late in '07, his strikeout rate increased, boding well for 2008. He deserves to be selected after Martinez, but not long after. In ESPN.com's late-February mixed and NL-only mock drafts, Maine went less than 10 picks after Pedro. The similarities in owners' expectations for the two are understandable. Both guys have high-K potential and pitch for what should be a winning team. They also both have the potential to blow up in fantasy owners' faces. In Maine's case, the worry is that he fails to get his breaking stuff over, leaving him to serve up a relatively hittable fastball. ESPN Fantasy's official projections: 183 IP, 13 W, 156 K, 4.18 ERA, 1.28 WHIP.
Oliver Perez: You can have Perez. I've been burned by this nutjob too many times. I know he won 15 games in 2007. I know his ERA was 3.56. But New York City's EKG skyline is less up-and-down than ol' Oliver. By all accounts, Perez has a great fastball/changeup combo from the left side that baffles hitters, but his bouts of wildness are legendary. He walked five or more batters seven times in his 29 starts last season. That isn't exactly Daniel Cabrera territory, but it's not good. He, too, will probably give you a strikeout per an inning, but watch out for his mounting fly-ball tendency -- his fly-ball percentage jumped from 46.8 in '06 to 50.4 in '07. Realize also that Perez's "expected ERA" was more than a run higher than 3.56 last season. Personally, I think it's nuts to take Perez at all in a mixed draft; if you're so inclined, don't select him before the 20th round. He'll obviously be owned in all NL-only leagues, but I wouldn't take him before the 10th. ESPN Fantasy's official projections: 178 IP, 12 W, 170 K, 4.40 ERA, 1.43 WHIP.
Mike Pelfrey: Pelfrey has been a top prospect for a few seasons, but he spit the bit in 2007, to the tune of a 5.57 ERA and a 1.71 WHIP in 72.2 big league innings. He throws a good, hard sinker. But he didn't have much luck getting many secondary pitches over the plate last year, which led to hitters' success. Pelfrey is still just 24, so it's not like he can labeled him a bust, but it's also about time for him to make this rotation for good. He'll compete with El Duque for the fifth-starter job, and given Hernandez's lingering foot issues, Pelfrey has a legitimate chance. His excellent 2006 minor league season, mostly at Double-A, gives him a ton more upside than El Duque and makes him a more viable late-round flier. You probably don't need to draft him in a mixed league, but in an NL-only league, something after the 20th round sounds about right. ESPN Fantasy's official projections: 120 IP, 6 W, 74 K, 5.55 ERA, 1.71 WHIP.
Christopher Harris is a fantasy baseball, football and racing analyst for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writing Association award winner across all three of those sports. You can e-mail him here.
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