- FanGraphs Fantasy Baseball - http://www.fangraphs.com/fantasy -

Volquez and Billingsley: NL Starting Pitchers

Edinson Volquez

Part of me is still uncertain about whether Volquez is the type of pitcher who will see a big change pitching in PETCO, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my years playing and writing fantasy, it’s that Padre pitchers are usually worth giving the benefit of the doubt. Volquez pitched well in his first two starts this season, both at home, notably striking out 15 hitters between the two starts, but perhaps more importantly, he generated a fair amount of groundballs in both starts.

PETCO maybe forgiving of long flyballs, but if Volquez is giving up that kind of contact, even the park’s ample pastures may not be enough to hold the ball, but that doesn’t mean PETCO’s park factor is irrelevant to him. One thing we may be seeing with Volquez is increased aggressiveness because he knows he has the space to make a mistake, even though that additional aggressiveness is actually producing more strikeouts and groundballs than long flies.

Disappointingly, he’s still walking way too many hitters and while he’s working around them so far, too many base runners are the first ingredient in the recipe for a disaster start. Volquez’s next start will be an interesting one, as it will be his first start away from home. Chavez Ravine isn’t the most hitter-friendly park that Volquez will pitch in this year, but it lefties will be able to punish Volquez’s mistakes in a way they just can’t in San Deigo.

At the very least, Volquez is worth playing at home. I’ll be watching next week’s start carefully to see if he changes his approach away from home and if he’s worth starting even when the Padres are on the road.

Chad Billingsley

A full turn through most team’s rotations, Billingsley turned in the best start of any National League pitcher and only Jered Weaver really has a claim on a better start across baseball. Dominating a Padres offense that doesn’t quite rise to the level of fearsome may not have been the most impressive way to start the year — in this Olympic year, there ought to be a penalty for low degree of difficulty — but the way he did it certainly is enough to raise a few eyebrows. His 11 strikeouts are great, as are the eight groundball outs he recorded, but the most interesting part of his start was the walks.

Since 2008, Billingsley’s K/BB ratio has been trending in the wrong direction at a rather precipitous rate, which is what happens when the numerator gets smaller and smaller and the denominator gets bigger and bigger. Owners certainly love to see 11 Ks, but the bigger development to me is that he walked just one hitter, whom he then erased with a double play. Billingsley only had three starts last year in which he walked one or fewer hitters, and in none of those starts did he make it into the eighth inning. Three times in 2011 did he make into the eighth inning with a pair of walks, so there’s certainly something to be said for the fact that when he’s efficient, he pitches deeper into games, though that’s hardly unique to him.

I’m wholly unwilling to let one start change how I feel about Billingsley. He had a three-hit, two-walk shutout on April 17 of last year, it didn’t portend anything about the way the rest of his year went, and it was even against stiffer competition. It’s going to take more than a couple good outings to make me think that Billingsley is on his way to reversing the three years worth of declining performance. That said, his walks are one of the two things I’ll be watching closely in the coming days — the other is Ryan Dempster’s strikeout rate — because if he can keep them down, he could become a great trade candidate.

NB: I feel it worth mentioning that while he’s owned in 99+ percent of ESPN leagues, he is available in 22 percent of Yahoo! leagues. If he pitches well again on Wednesday, it might be worth striking while the iron is hot if he’s hanging out on the wire.