No matter how much offseason research I do or how many mock drafts I participate in, I never know exactly how I feel about a player until it comes time to actually make a pick on draft day. Having made some of those decisions already, I am certainly getting a feel for which players I really feel comfortable with picking and which players I am avoiding all together. Today I'll look at three pitchers that I am routinely targeting in rounds 15-plus (using ESPN Average Draft Position)
Francisco Liriano (209 ADP)
Call it an official man-crush. I was very down on Liriano early last season because of his problems with home runs allowed and lack of command. Those problems didn't improve much the rest of the season and he ended with a 5.80 ERA, 1.55 WHIP and 1.88 K/BB rate. Clearly Liriano is not the pitcher he was before Tommy John Surgery, however, it was the adjustment to becoming a new type of pitcher rather than his stuff that was the main issue. This winter Liriano decided to trust in his stuff once again. He started to throw strikes and started seeing results (47 strikeouts to only 5 walks in 37 innings). In ten innings this spring Liriano has struck out 16 while walking only one.
Even with his struggles last season Liriano still struck out over eight per nine innings pitched, good for a top 30 rank in that category. Even more impressive was his whiff rate or swing-and-miss rate. Opposing hitters swung and missed 26 percent of the time, which was the fourth best whiff rate in baseball, even slightly better than that of Tim Lincecum.
It appears that Liriano has his confidence back, which could make all the difference. Before surgery Liriano had great command so there is a very good chance that he can make a major improvement in walk rate this season. If that happens he has the ability to easily turn into a top 20 fantasy starter with potential for much more.
Aaron Harang (230 ADP)
Dusty Baker has never done any favors for his pitching staff. He has worked Aaron Harang in relief after only three days rest as well as had him go back out to the mound after a two-hour rain delay. Whether or not these incidents had a direct effect on Harang's numbers over the past two seasons can be debated, but they certainly were out of the norm for a pitcher that is supposed to be the ace of a Major League staff.
Despite his 4-plus ERA's in back-to-back seasons, Harang still posted very good K/BB rates. Last season his K/BB rate was good enough for a top 20 ranking in Major League Baseball. Despite good command and above average strikeout numbers Harang fell victim to a .339 BABIP against in 2009, which was the highest BABIP against of his career. That number should come down in 2010.
Last season Harang had a better strikeout rate and better walk rate than John Lackey and CC Sabathia. He also received the third worst run support per game in 2009.
There is a good chance that Harang can provide late value and post a sub-4 ERA with good strikeout numbers this season.
Hiroki Kuroda (ADP 221)
Interestingly, Kuroda doesn't seem to get the respect he deserves. He has posted back-to-back seasons with an ERA in the 3.70's along with very respectable WHIP numbers. Last season Kuroda missed time, but it was from being struck in the head by a line drive, not anything to do with his arm or body.
The one thing Kuroda doesn't do is get a lot of strikeouts, but he has great command and generates a ton of ground balls (about 50 percent in his first two seasons). Below is an interesting comparable when it comes to K/BB rate (2009 stats)...
Player A: 6.67 K/9, 1.84 BB/9, 3.63 K/BB, 49.5% GB%
Player B: 6.73 K/9, 1.78 BB/9, 3.79 K/BB, 55% GB%
Player A is Hiroki Kuroda.
Player B is Chris Carpenter.
This is in no way saying that Kuroda is going to have a Chris Carpenter-like season or that Kuroda is as good a pitcher as Carpenter, but it does show how Kuroda's skill set is good enough to be very effective.
While Kuroda isn't going to be a front line fantasy starter, he is a nice option to round out the back end of any rotation.