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2012 Draft Prep: Finding positive in inconsistency

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When assembling our Fantasy rosters, we ultimately want our draft picks and auction dollars to yield the most productive pitchers possible. All things being equal, though, we'd like our hurlers to be dependable as well. Especially in Head-to-Head leagues, where an erratic pitcher can ruin an entire week with a horrendous start, consistency has its allure.

Not all inconsistencies should be treated the same way. Last season, David Price had a poor month of July, but it appeared to be simply the evening out of some statistical fluctuations (namely in his home run per flyball ratio). Other times, pitchers are slow out of the gate once they return from a health-related absence, much like Ubaldo Jimenez was early last season when he came back from a thumb injury.

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Then there are pitchers like Derek Holland, who seem to actually be two pitchers in one -- a good version and a bad version. Holland and Justin Masterson turned in very similar seasons last year in terms of Fantasy value, but Masterson had relatively few outstanding performances and total meltdowns. Conversely, Holland tossed four complete game shutouts to go along with four games in which he failed to pitch more than 3 1/3 innings.

Many times, though, when a pitcher like Holland unexpectedly blows up and then looks like Roy Halladay his next time out, there's a reason behind it. In Holland's case, he had pitched exceedingly well against the poorer teams he faced but frequently got clocked when facing the likes of the Yankees and Rays. Even if that tendency continues into 2012, it doesn't make him undraftable in standard mixed league formats. In fact, it may even give him a little extra value in leagues with reserve slots. If owners are cautious with Holland for the weeks in which he faces tough opponents, they will get the "good Holland" in his other weeks without taking the risk of having to eat the stats of the "bad Holland."

There are several types of "manageable inconsistency," and I'm highlighting three of them here. First, there are the Holland types who have feasted on weak lineups but have given Fantasy owners headaches when they face a stiffer challenge. The second group consists of pitchers who have lopsided splits against either righties or lefties, dominating hitters on one side of the plate while getting pasted when facing hitters on the other side. Finally, there are the pitchers who have been especially vulnerable when starting in hitter-friendly venues.

We'll take a look at a quartet of pitchers in each group. Many of the dozen pitchers featured here have value in deeper mixed leagues, and all have the potential to be useful in those formats, at least in selected weeks. It's just all in how you use them.

Inconsistency based on quality of opposing team

Shaun Marcum, Brewers: In his first season in the NL Central, Marcum fattened up against weaker divisional rivals like the Astros, Cubs and Pirates, but he couldn't muster a sub-4.00 ERA against either the Cardinals or Reds. According to Baseball-Reference.com, Marcum's ERA against under-.500 teams over the last two years (3.11) is 84 points lower than his mark against teams that were .500 or better, whereas a typical split would be in the 50-to-60 point range. Fortunately, Marcum should continue to get plenty of easy starts within his own division this year. Given his recent history, owners in standard mixed leagues should consider sitting him when he has a strong lineup to face.

Derek Holland/Colby Lewis/Matt Harrison, Rangers: Even with the Angels adding Albert Pujols this offseason, the Rangers should have the most potent lineup in the AL West hands down. That puts Texas' pitchers in an enviable position, since they will never have to face most of the toughest hitters in their own division. All three of the returnees to the Rangers' rotation -- Holland, Lewis and Harrison -- posted lower ERAs within their division than outside of it last year. Each one also compiled an ERA against losing teams that was at least a run lower than their ERA against teams that reached the .500 threshold. Holland and Lewis are both close enough to being borderline starters in standard mixed leagues that owners have reason to sit them with unfavorable matchups. Harrison can go undrafted in those formats, but given his success against some of his weaker opponents, he is an ideal pitcher to stream into your rotation when a favorable matchup is on the horizon.

Inconsistency based on lefty-righty splits

Jeremy Hellickson, Rays: Much has been made of Hellickson's low strikeout rate last year, but he was really only a contact pitcher when he faced lefties. His command was superb against righties, as he struck out 78 batters with only 25 walks. Versus lefties, Hellickson's K-to-BB ratio was a horrifying 39-to-47. According to PitchFX data from BrooksBaseball.net, Hellickson had less horizontal movement on his curveball against lefties, and as a likely result, he generated whiffs at a rate nearly half of what he got against righties. As impressive as he was overall, winning the AL Rookie of the Year Award, he is young enough to get substantially better, especially against lefties. Still, until we see some evidence that he is making progress, Fantasy owners -- especially in shallower formats -- should look for alternatives in weeks when Hellickson is set to face lineups with significant lefty threats, like the Yankees, Red Sox and Indians.

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James McDonald, Pirates: Charlie Morton's difficulties with lefties are well-documented, but he's not the only Pirate with matchup issues. McDonald is notoriously wild, but his BB/9 rate of 3.4 against righties was respectable. That rate mushroomed to 5.3 against lefties, who also clobbered McDonald for a .302 batting average. McDonald is no world beater, even against righties, but he can help enough with strikeouts to be worth using in mixed leagues for weeks when he faces righty-heavy teams like the Brewers and Cubs.

Chris Volstad, Cubs: Volstad is currently the favorite to land the Cubs' fifth starter job, but after three straight disappointing years with the Marlins, the former first-round pick is of little interest to most mixed league owners. As a sinkerballer, it's been an unpleasant surprise as to how homer-prone the tall righty has been, but the damage has been done overwhelmingly by left-handed batters. Though he has faced lefties just 22 more times than righties over his career, Volstad has given up 49 of his 72 homers to lefties. He's lived up to his prospect billing against righties, so like McDonald, he should fare well against the Brewers, as well other teams lacking a serious lefty power threat, like the Nationals and Astros. That makes Volstad a stream-worthy option in deeper mixed leagues.

Randy Wolf, Brewers: It's not just righties who sometimes have funky splits. Wolf was tough on his fellow lefties last year, as he has been over the course of his career, but righties hit him hard. As most lineups are laden with right-handed hitters, there won't be too many weeks where Wolf won't be a risk, but he will be a viable pitcher in standard mixed leagues in a few spots. The interleague schedule gives Wolf and the Brewers the Royals and Twins as opponents, and both teams rely heavily on lefty bats for their thump.

Inconsistency based on venue

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Ryan Vogelsong, Giants: In his first exposure to the majors roughly a decade ago, Vogelsong was vulnerable to the long ball. In his most recent incarnation, he has been much better at inducing grounders, but pitching home games at AT&T Park was also a key to Vogelsong's success last year. He allowed only 0.5 home runs per nine innings at home while putting up a 1.1 HR/9 rate on the road. Even if Vogelsong regresses this year, he will be worth starting in most mixed leagues, at least in the weeks where he pitches at home.

Luke Hochevar, Royals: Remember how Hochevar finished strong last year, compiling a 3.49 ERA over his final 10 starts? An increase in strikeouts played a huge role, though we still have to see if he can sustain an increased rate into this season. What we already know from Hochevar's longer track record is that he is a much better pitcher at home, and most of his best starts down the stretch in 2011 happened in Kansas City. Benefiting from a home park that squelches home runs, Hochevar has allowed 20 fewer homers at Kauffman Stadium than on the road over his career, even though he has pitched 64 1/3 more innings at home. Hochevar isn't being drafted in many standard mixed leagues, but his splits make him a useful starter to pick up in weeks when he gets home starts.

Jason Vargas, Mariners: Like Vogelsong and Hochevar, Vargas has been reaping the benefits of pitching at a venue that does not reward power hitters. While the whole Mariners' staff gets a boost from playing at Safeco Field, Vargas is probably helped the most. With Michael Pineda gone, he enters this season as the team's most flyball-prone starter. Vargas has a career 3.63 ERA at Safeco, and that mark would be even lower if he could have stranded more than two out of every three baserunners at home last season (per FanGraphs.com). The lefty has gotten thrashed when pitching in bandboxes like Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, Yankee Stadium and U.S. Cellular Field, but at home and at other pitchers' parks, Vargas has been reliable enough to use in many mixed leagues.

Josh Tomlin, Indians: After a poor second half last year in which he posted a 5.26 ERA, Tomlin has become a forgotten man this spring. He pitches too much to contact and allows too many homers to be drafted in standard mixed leagues, but last season's 1.08 WHIP shows that there is value to be had. As a flyball pitcher, Tomlin generally fares well at Progressive Field and at other pitcher-friendly stadiums, and fortunately for him, the AL Central offers two road venues -- Kansas City and Minnesota -- that are tough on power hitters. In 16 starts at those three parks, Tomlin registered a 3.43 ERA last season, allowing only nine homers over 102 1/3 innings. Tomlin is worth considering as a waiver wire pickup, even in standard mixed leagues, when he starts in these and other pitcher-friendly venues.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us on Twitter @CBSFantasyBB or Al Melchior at @almelccbs . You can also e-mail us at fantasybaseball@cbsinteractive.com .

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Player News
Report: Orioles in 'continuous dialogue' for Chris Tillman's extension
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/28/2015) The Orioles and pitcher Chris Tillman are reportedly engaged in "continuous dialogue" for a long-term extension and have been for the past several weeks, according to the Baltimore Sun.

Tillman signed a one-year, $4.315 million deal in January to avoid arbitration and the discussions for a new deal are still considered preliminary, according to the report.

Tillman posted a 13-6 record in 2014 with a 3.34 ERA in 34 starts.


Tigers bullpen decision coming down to Ian Krol, Kyle Ryan
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/28/2015) Tigers manager Brad Ausmus is running out of time to finish off his bullpen for Opening Day. The final bullpen role will likely be a left-handed pitcher and is expected to come down to Kyle Ryan and Ian Krol, according to MLB.com.

"If I'm there, hopefully it's a good situation, whether it's long or short," Ryan said. "For them to have enough confidence in me to go into Spring Training as a reliever, and actually for them to believe that I might be able to make the team as a reliever, that makes me proud."

Ryan has given up seven runs on seven hits in 11 innings of work this spring. 

"When he throws it right, it's good," Ausmus said of Krol. "He has a tendency to occasionally slow his arm down on his cutter and curveball. He did it a couple times today. But when he doesn't slow his arm down, it's very good."


Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson continues to make his case
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/28/2015) Dodgers outfielder Joc Pederson still doesn't know what his role will be when Opening Day rolls around, but he's showing he belongs on the roster, reports MLB.com.

"There's always stuff I need to work on, and I need to continue to impress," Pederson said after launching his fifth home run of the spring Saturday, boosting his batting average to .373.

Manager Don Mattingly remains quiet on what he will do when the decision has to be made, but Pederson is doing what he can to impress.

"[Opening Day] is out of my control," Pederson said. "It's something you dream about as a kid, playing in the big leagues, and you do anything you can to make that dream come true."


Angels P Matt Shoemaker gives up three runs in loss to Dodgers
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/28/2015) After pitching six scoreless innings in his last start, Angels pitcher Matt Shoemaker struggled a bit in the team's 5-4 to the Dodgers, reports MLB.com.

Shoemaker gave up three runs on four hits in six innings, striking out two. One of the hits he surrended was to Joc Pederson on a two-run homer.

The 28-year-old completed last season with a 3.04 ERA, 124 strikeouts and only 24 walks.


Reds third baseman Todd Frazier feels ready for Opening Day
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/28/2015) Reds third baseman Todd Frazier feels his swing has come back and is ready to tackle the long haul ahead of the regular season, reports MLB.com.

"It comes quick, like usual," Frazier said on Saturday morning. "I get goose bumps thinking about it right now -- another year, it's crazy."

Frazier struggled early in spring training, but has rebounded to go 8 for 23 in his last seven games.

"I hit in the Minor Leagues for about 10 at-bats [on Friday], just to try and feel it back-to-back. I do, and I feel really well," said Frazier, who is batting .262 in 14 games this spring. "I feel like if I had to play tomorrow [in the regular season], I'd be ready to go. It's all about preparation, and offseason stuff. I feel like it's so far, so good."


Angels OF Mike Trout homers in loss to Dodgers
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/28/2015) Angels outfielder Mike Trout homered in Saturday's 5-4 loss to the Dodgers, reports MLB.com.

Trout, 23, robbed the Dodgers' Alex Guerrero of an extra-base hit in the first inning, making it a successful day for him, despite the loss. 

This spring he has a batting average of .477 with four home runs and 14 RBI. 


White Sox hope to have David Robertson, Jake Petricka back by Opening Day
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(3/28/2015) Two key members of the White Sox bullpen are working their way back from forearm injuries, but manager Robin Ventura is confident he'll have both back by opening day. 

Closer David Robertson is scheduled to pitch on Sunday. 

“We’re trying to make sure we’re extra careful with him,” Ventura said, per Comcast's Dan Hayes. “He doesn’t seem to be concerned about it as much as we do."

Setup man Jake Petricka isn't as far along as Robertson. He played catch on Saturday for the first time in five days.

The Sox are taking it slow, so that the team will have both pitchers for Opening Day as well as the rest of the season. 

"You’re just making sure you’re cautious enough that you feel good about when (they go) out there that there won’t be any setbacks,” Ventura said. 


Indians pitcher Zach McAllister fans nine in outing Saturday
by Brandon Wise | CBSSports.com
(3/28/2015) Indians pitcher Zach McAllister went five innings Saturday against the Brewers, allowing two runs on six hits with nine strikeouts. McAllister, who is expected to make one more start before Opening Day, touched 97 mph with his fastball in the appearance, according to Cleveland.com.

"He's been impressive and he's been doing it all spring," said Francona. "He's not just throwing strikes, he's down in the zone when he wants to and then he can elevate with some velocity. I think his hard work is really paying off."

McAllister has felt he always had the added velocity.

"Throughout my career I've always felt I've had a little more (velocity) in there if I could maintain it," said McAllister. "For whatever reason, whether it's being more consistent with my delivery or my arm action, I'm just trusting that when I let it go it's going to go where I want it to go. I'm not trying to place anything."


Pirates Pedro Alvarez looking to stick at first base
by Dave Peters | CBSSports.com
(3/28/2015) Pirates first baseman Pedro Alvarez is hoping to stick at his new position after converting from third base, reports triblive.com.

On opening day, Alvarez will be the team's 54th first baseman in its 129-year history.

“It's a matter of getting used to seeing the field from that point of view,” Alvarez said. “I need to get the reps in so the responsibilities that come with playing that position become second nature to me.”

Pirates general manager Neal Huntington talked about the team's past efforts of platooning the position.

“You can't develop something you don't have. You can't buy something you can't afford,” general manager Neal Huntington said. “That's why we've tried to platoon. Over the last couple of years, we've realized that's a challenge for a National League manager. Platoons are much harder here than they are in the American League, especially with a one-dimensional player who can only play one position.”

The hope around the organization is that they can get quality production from Alvarez.

“Our hope that is between Pedro Alvarez and Corey Hart, we'll get quality major league production,” Huntington said.

The 28-year-old is batting .306 with two home runs, nine RBI and eight strikeouts this spring.


Pirates pitcher Charlie Morton can't find a rhythm Saturday
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(3/28/2015) Pirates pitcher Charlie Morton tossed six innings Saturday against the Blue Jays, allowing six hits, including two home runs and no strikeouts. Morton, who is fighting for a spot in the starting rotation, is still recovering from labrum surgery six months ago.

"Physically, Charlie is in a good place," manager Clint Hurdle said to MLB.com. "He is trying to make some mechanical adjustments in his delivery, but we don't have any health concerns about him."

Morton isn't worried about fixing mechanical issues just yet.

"Now is a tough time to put a lot of emphasis on mechanics," said Morton. "I gotta go pitch, adjustments or no adjustments."


 
 
 
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