Fantasy Baseball 2012 Strategy: Examining Last Season’s Lucky Pitchers

Continuing the series that examines lucky and unlucky hitters and pitchers from last season, as well as looking at the potential impact on the fantasy landscape it 2012, we arrive at our second stop: the lucky pitchers.

The first article in the series looked at the lucky hitters of 2011, and the articles to come will focus on the unlucky men of 2011.  Be sure to check all of them out.

But for today, let’s dive into the pitchers who rode a streak of good luck last season.

John Axford

Headed into last season, he was on my list as one of my top closers to draft— undervalued with great numbers and the peripherals to back it up.  Axford proved me right to the tune of 46 saves, 86 K’s and a sparkling 1.95 ERA.  However, while the 6’5 right hander is good, he’s not that good.

john axford fantasy baseball strategy lucky pitchers

While John Axford had a great year last year, expect his numbers to be less than magical this year. (Photo by Royalbroil via Wikimedia Commons)

Sparkling strand rates and HR/FB% will recede in 2012, but they shouldn’t threaten his job.  Just know that a 3.00 ERA is far more likely than a 2.00 ERA for Axford this season.

Ricky Romero

He became a top-notch fantasy option in 2011 with a sterling 2.92 ERA to go along with 172 Ks.  However, Romero was the benefactor of an extremely lucky BABIP, as well as an 80% strand rate.  What this means is most likely a regression to his 2010 stat line.  Expect another solid 200 IP, 170 Ks but an ERA that settles around 3.60.

Heath Bell

Three straight seasons of 42+ saves and an ERA that has not topped 2.71, plus a trade to everyone’s new favorite team, the Miami Marlins, has made Bell and must-have commodity for 2012.  I say, not so fast, my friends.

The 34-year-old Bell showed significant drop-offs in his strikeout ratio last season, as well as an alarming trend towards giving up more line drives and less ground balls.

So how did his final stat line look so solid?  He got lucky.  If his BABIP luck takes a turn for the worse and Ozzie Guillen gets a bit impatient in the dugout, it wouldn’t surprise me if Bell finds himself in the dog house quickly. A final season ERA of 3.5+ would not surprise me.

Francisco Cordero

Most of you probably already know that Cordero is not in line to be a closer this year anyway, as he is second in command to my boy Sergio Santos. (I am all in on Santos this season). Therefore, the main reason I include Cordero on here is to give you extra incentives to go after Santos.

Even if Cordero does miraculously win the closer job coming out of spring training, he won’t hold it for long.  A declining strikeout rate to go along with peripherals that would put his ERA near 4.00 would settle the dispute fairly quickly. Cordero’s ERA was one of the luckiest in the game last season, and Toronto knows better than anyone that his skill set it now better suited for eighth inning duties.

Jered Weaver

The 18-game winner with a sparkling 2.41 ERA last season anchored many a pitching staffs throughout fantasyland. However, his skill set shows that he technically pitched better in 2010, but ended up less fortunate.  The alarming thing here is that Weaver’s skill regression was hidden by lucky BABIP, HR/FB%, and Strand %.  When the luck rebounds in the wrong direction and his true skills shine through, we are looking at a final stat line that looks like the one he produced in 2009.

Ryan Vogelsong

One of the most surprising performances of the 2011 season came from none other than Vogelsong.  While I hate being the bearer of bad news, the charmed season was not as good as one might think.  He benefited from a favorable strand rate, as well as a slight edge in BABIP.  He does not strike out enough batters to qualify as elite in the first place, so with an ERA regression looming, it is hard to justify drafting him at his current perceived value.

Justin Verlander

He was absolutely untouchable last year, and his 250 Ks with a 2.41 ERA are numbers than many owners likely rode to fantasy championships.  However, there are small cautionary signs for 2012.

While he will likely still be an ace, and a staff anchor, let’s not expect a repeat.  His .250 BABIP is unsustainable, and he even got a little help from a generous strand percentage.  Look at the 2010 state line for your expectation, and if you need example of his floor, see 2008.

Jose Valverde

The fiery hurler posted a banner season last year with 49 saves in 49 chances, nearly a strikeout per inning, and an impressive 2.24 ERA.  However, there are noticeable warning signs.  For one, he is 34 years of age.  Second, his strikeout ratio is in a steady decline.  On top of that, a healthy strand percentage regression will skyrocket his ERA back to 3.3 range.

If the skills continue to decline and the luck does not bounce in his favor, be wary of a Valverde meltdown this season.


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