The ridiculously long Rotographs staff mock draft has finally concluded. As usual, the first mock of the season featured some interesting choices, some great values, and plenty of lessons. Here’s the last set of National League starting pitchers – the first two break downs can be found here: rounds 1-10 and rounds 11-15 – complete with a lot of players who will be on sleeper lists in the coming weeks.
Beckett is one who I could see going much higher in drafts because he’s no longer in the AL East and who I could see going much lower because his velocity dropped rather noticeably last season. He missed some time, though not much, with shoulder inflammation after having lost more than two months of the 2010 season with back issues. While I think the velocity loss that showed up at the end of the season is due in no small part to simple fatigue, it seems clear that something about Beckett’s mechanism just isn’t quite right, and that scares me a little bit.
It’s to Beckett’s credit that instead of continuing to use the same pitch arrangement velocity loss be damned, he used his two-seam fastball, curve, and change-up more frequently than he had in the past. What remains to be seen is if he can be an effective pitcher if he continues to allow contact at an 82 percent rate. I have my doubts.
A prominent feature of this set is pitchers coming off of Tommy John surgery, a category that includes Baker, Beachy, and Luebke. I have issues with all three of them, but not one is due to the fact that they’re coming off of surgery. Yes, some pitchers don’t make it all the way back from Tommy John, but they are by far the exception now, not the norm. Shoulder injuries still scare the heck out of me, the surgical outcomes aren’t nearly as consistent as one might hope yet, but with elbows both the surgery and the rehab process is so codified now that I don’t worry about a pitcher taking more than a few starts to get back up to speed.
That all said, Baker’s flyball tendencies aren’t a great match for Wrigley, Luebke still hasn’t completed a full season as a starter and won’t have a full season this year either, and Beachy will miss the first three months of the season, so each has a reason to be drafted below their true talent level. Still, I like all three, and I would probably draft them in the order they were taken. Beachy’s obviously the best of the bunch, and worth drafting and stashing for those with multiple DL spots, but Baker should prove valuable as he adds an extra strikeout or two with his move to the National League.
I’m not as bullish on Baker this year as I was bearish on him last year because of the aforementioned flyball issues, but his is a case I’ll be watching very closely. Baker had a history of minor elbow issues in spring training – which was part of the reason the Twins didn’t believe he had actually torn his UCL last season – and a history of slow starts to match. His OPS against in March and April is .801, his highest of any month, and he improves consistently through May and June before wilting a little bit in the late summer. My hope for Baker is that finally having his elbow in the correct alignment and the surrounding musculature improved from focused rehab work will mean he comes out of the gate well in the early part of the season rather than starting sluggishly as he has in the past.
The Cardinals have an interesting pair of starters in this set, but if they throw a combined 50 starts this year, I’ll be surprised. Carpenter seems the healthier of the two, but this will be his age-38 season, and that adds its own set of difficulties. The list of comparable players for a pitcher in his late 30s who successfully return from major shoulder surgery is exceedingly short, which doesn’t mean Carpenter can’t do it, it just means that there isn’t exactly a robust path for him to follow. I was the one who grabbed Carpenter in this draft, but I’m not sure I’ll continue to do it; even if he is healthy, his strikeout numbers have been slipping, which makes his upside smaller and the risk less acceptable to me. If I had to guess an outcome for Carpenter, my money would be on a relatively effective season for the Cardinals, but one that disappoints fantasy owners.
With respect to Carpenter’s teammate, Garcia, there’s virtually no one I trust more than Dr. James Andrews, who decided that Garcia’s fraying labrum did not require surgery. I’m not about to dispute Andrews’ recommendation, but I will be watching Garcia’s spring starts with great interest. The simple truth of the Cardinals’ rotation is that they don’t need Garcia if he isn’t ready to go. Adam Wainwright, Carpenter, Miller, Lance Lynn, and Jake Westbrook can hold down the fort and that rotation leaves Joe Kelly out in the cold. If he struggles early or has a setback in rehab, look for the Cardinals to place him on the DL rather than risk him either hurting himself more or pitching the team out of games.
Unlike Beckett, Billingsley didn’t have any noticeable velocity loss before he hit the disabled list last season, but his injuries do appear to be more dire than whatever’s nagging at Beckett. He had two platelet rich plasma injections in the area, which appear to have helped, but his ability to hit the mid-90s in a sim game doesn’t exactly sell me on his ability to make 25-30 healthy starts over the course of a whole season. It isn’t a handcuff situation in the traditional sense, but pairing him with some like Luebke or Beachy might not be a bad way of mitigating the downsides of both. Good or bad, I don’t know that velocity is the right way to guess at Billingsley’s health in spring training and pitch selection data is notoriously skewed in spring training games. This one well might be a case of draft and hope.
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