The American League Rookie of the Year award may have gone to Neftali Feliz last season, and deservedly so, but the two sophomores I’m looking most forward to following this season are Wade Davis and Brian Matusz.
Each pitcher resides in the middle of our AL starting pitching rankings, and each also have the unfortunate assignment of playing in the American League East this season. Neither the Rays nor the Orioles will depend on the performances of these starters to succeed – the Rays are too good and the Orioles have too many other problems – but both will get ample opportunity to add on to their successful rookie campaigns.
Wade Davis was recently named the Rays’ third starter, behind David Price and James Shields. That may be less indicative about his ability than it is about the Rays’ concern over number four starter Jeff Niemann. In any case, the team has confidence that Davis will improve upon last season. Davis’ ERA last season was a bit of a mirage, thanks to the Rays outstanding defense, as his FIP and xFIP were noticeably higher. However, he did start to improve as the season progressed, posting a 3.55 ERA in his final 18 starts along with a FIP’s of 4.03 and 3.64 in August and September. The strikeout numbers (6.05 K/9) were down from what you’d expect from a young fastball pitcher. R.J. Anderson noted last season that Davis got to an o-2 count on hitters 25% of the time, but was only able to get a strikeout in less than 31% of those at bats; Major League average is 42%. That’ statistic isn’t a bad thing for a young pitcher. It shows he has the skills and promise to strikeout a good number of batters, he just needs to make a few adjustments. With one full season under his belt, and another spring under the tutelage of Joe Maddon and Jim Hickey, Davis should take a step forward and become a solid middle of the pack fantasy starter.
It’s not easy to quantify how much effect a managerial change has on a team. There’s not a simple WAR stat for skippers after all. That being said, the August addition of Buck Showatler seemingly changed every aspect of the Baltimore Orioles for the better, including Brian Matusz. The Orioles top prospect had a OK start to the season (4.18 ERA in 8 starts) but then started to struggle, resulting in a roller coaster first four months. Seriously, look at his monthly ERA’s for April-July: 4.40, 7.50, 3.69, 8.10. Those ugly numbers weren’t due to the Orioles defense either, as his FIP and xFIP weren’t great either. Then August came around, Showalter took over, and Matusz took off. He had ERA’s of 2.43 and 1.80 the final two months of the year. His HR/9 also dipped below 1.00 for the first time in three months.
Like Davis, you should see considerable improvement from Matusz in 2011. His K/9 was a respectable 7.33 last season, and improved command of his changeup could help that number increase. The Orioles are going to be improved this season but wins will still be hard to come by, which will hurt Matusz value. He won 10 games last year, so an improvement over that should be expected, but don’t set your sights too high. The ability to blossom into a number 1 starter is there, so draft accordingly, especially in keeper leagues.