Francisco Liriano (ESPN: 13 percent owned, Yahoo!: 37 percent owned)
I get the sense that if I were to go on a 2500 word rant about Liriano’s inconsistency and how frustrating it is to own a pitcher who can either make or break a rotation I’d probably find a fair amount of support in the comments. For sanity’s sake, I’ll save that for another time, but that doesn’t change the fact that Liriano’s last 8 weeks are the kind of puzzle that makes me want to swear off fantasy sports.
Spring Training stats aren’t indicative of the season to come — this we all know — but after a spring that showed promise, Liriano has completed inverted those numbers. Over 25 spring innings, Liriano walked just five hitters while striking out 33; he allowed not a single home run. He has made three starts so far this year, lasting a total of 11.1 innings, and has walked nine, struck out just eight, and allowed a pair of home runs. Even allowing for the increased level of competition, a 0.89 K/BB ratio is very, very bad. Control is obviously the biggest issue with Liriano right now, but it’s not trivial that his velocity looks like it’s sitting closer to the level he had in 2011, when he was worth 1 WAR, than it was in 2010 when he was worth 6 WAR.
If there’s any hope for Liriano, it’s that his velocity does appear to be trending up, albeit slowly. If he can get his fastball in the strike zone in the 93-94 range, it makes his slider and changeup that much better and gives him a chance to find something resembling usable form again. Staring long enough at his heat maps so far could give the impression that he’ not missing by that much and that a small adjustment would get him back in the strike zone, but I’m not buying in. Liriano is available in 87 percent of ESPN leagues and 63 percent of Yahoo! leagues and I expect that number to go up before it goes down. Leagues with a freakishly deep bench can stash Liriano and hope, but I’m skeptical he’s even worth that.
Jake Peavy (ESPN: 32 percent owned, Yahoo!: 50 percent owned)
Staying in the AL Central, but on the complete opposite end of the spectrum from Liriano is Peavy. Through three starts, Peavy has struck out almost 30 percent of the hitters he has faced while walking less than 3 percent. His velocity is up over last year and is now at the highest level since he came to the White Sox in 2009. The biggest change for Peavy is his health. After detaching his lat in 2010, Peavy was shaky in 2011, for reasons I can certainly understand. A lat detachment is not only a major injury; it is also a relatively rare one. Unlike something like a torn labrum or torn UCL, Peavy wasn’t able to point to a set of players who have successfully returned from a detached lat, something that may have made him a little more nervous about going all out shortly after his return.
I had the chance to see him in person Wednesday night against the Orioles and was suitably impressed. Peavy mixed his pitches well, generated 12 whiffs, and allowed very little hard contact. Endy Chavez’s double in the second inning was the hardest hit he allowed all night and at no point did it look like it was going to leave the yard. The hardest thing about Peavy’s outing was determining whether the numerous balls on the edge of the infield should be scored as pop-ups or shallow flyballs.
I’m always nervous about recommending White Sox’s pitchers for the same reason I give their marginal hitters the benefit of the doubt: They play in one of the most hitter-friendly parks in the majors. Peavy has only given up one home run so far, but with his flyball tendencies, it isn’t hard to see that rate rising rather rapidly during the warmer summer months. Even with that potential looming in the future, Peavy is worth rostering in all but the shallowest leagues. He seems to have his good offspeed pitches back and those will help him generate more than enough strikeouts to compensate for a small rise in his ERA.