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With the 2009 baseball season quickly approaching I figured we would take a look at who I consider to be the top five lefties (C.C. Sabathia, Jon Lester, Johan Santana, Cole Hamels, and Cliff Lee) for the upcoming season in comparison to their ADP (average draft position) and the three essential items we use to evaluate: K/9, K/BB and GB/FB. I have put together some charts illustrating how they all stacked up in 2008 in a month to month basis. After we look at these I will provide a forecast for what I expect out of each for 2009.
You can see the consistency from all of these guys throughout the season, with even a few crazy spikes and dips thrown in. I also noticed a couple of disturbing trends however and I think these should be noted when preparing to draft, especially pertaining to where some of these guys are being taken. To the forecast we go.
Overall ADP: 16th
SP ADP: 1st
My SP Rank: 5th
Forecast: On the surface, Johan appeared to have a bounce back year from his down (by his standards) '07. He turned in the best ERA of his career and managed to punch out over 200 batters. However, his K/9 slipped to under eight for the first time since he became a full fledged starter. More importantly though, Johan saw his BB/9 increase for the fourth consecutive season. He also posted a K/BB ratio under four for the first time since 2003. Most alarming though was the difference between his FIP (fielding independent pitching) and ERA as it was roughly a whole run. Far and away the largest of this group. On the positive side, Johan pitches in front of one of the better defenses in baseball (12th in UZR) and he did produce GB's at a career best rate of 1.13. If he can continue this and cut back down on the walks he can still be a top five SP in fantasy.
Overall ADP: 32nd
SP ADP: 3rd
My SP Rank: 6th
Forecast: If C.C. had signed in Anaheim, L.A., Milwaukee, or even Boston he would have been number one on my list. But he signed with the Yankees, and as a result, he is going to pay the consequences. What do I speak of you ask? Well C.C. goes from pitching in two relatively favorable pitching parks and in front of two of the better defenses (8th and 14th) in baseball, to pitching in front of one of the worst defenses (28th) a projected hitter's park and the best offensive division in baseball. There is also the risk of his frame and all innings he has logged over the last two seasons (519 including postseason). There is risk with every pitcher though and Sabathia controllable skill set has actually continued to improve and he is in the middle of his prime. The only thing hurting him now is where he will be pitching and how those things will directly affect his WHIP and ERA as both are sure to climb.
Overall ADP: 41st
SP ADP: 4th
My SP Rank: 7th
Forecast: Cole Hamels is probably the toughest call on this whole list for 2009. I like him a ton, but given a few negatives, I can't foresee myself touching him. First and foremost is the home ball park and his FB rate. Now Cole has not been killed by his lack of ground balls but he has almost a dead split for his career and he plays in a true bandbox. This could bite him at any time and I don't want to be on the hook for it. The real red flag though is the large leap in innings pitched. Including post season Cole threw 85.2 more innings then the previous season and most of those were in high stress situations with the playoffs and the pennant race. He does play in front of a top five defense and if he generated some more ground balls he could taken even better advantage of this. When he pitches he will most likely be a top 10 SP next season, but again in a one year league I advise passing.
Overall ADP: 66th
SP ADP: 9th
My SP Rank: 11th
Forecast: I think as you can see with the charts above, Cliff Lee was pretty consistent throughout the season. However, I am even higher on him then most. While some are continuing to believe Cliff was a one year wonder his K/9 ratio was pretty much right in line with his career mark and his BB/9 was pretty close as well in every season except the out of whack 2007 season. So what was different? It was his GB/FB ratio. Lee induced worm killers 46% of the time. His previous career high was 36%. After seeing this I wanted to know if it was legit so I compared his '07 Pitch F/X to his '08 season. Sure enough, Cliff generated a significant more amount of sink and run with his fastball. My guess, he started throwing a two seamer to go along with a cutter and curve that he keeps down in the zone. The reason this is so significant is that it means he will more then likely keep inducing grounders with this improved repertoire at a clip over 1.25. Couple that with a K/9 over 6 and a K/BB over 3 and you have a tier two stud on your hands.
Overall ADP: 101st
SP ADP: 20th
My SP Rank: 13th
Forecast: This is without a doubt the toughest call on the list for where he should be taken. The numbers tell me that if he was to perform at a top ten level next season I shouldn't be surprised. But how do you treat a pitcher who saw a huge jump (70+) in innings pitched but also saw his fastball velocity increase every month. Starting in the 88 mph range and finished around 94 mph. What's to love? Lester started throwing a one seam sinking fastball he claims to have learned from Tim Hudson and this lead to a great GB rate, especially when you consider the Sox finished 3rd in UZR team defense. He also had some great months getting punch outs. What's not to love? Well we have mentioned the IP increase and he still had three months in which his K/BB fell to under three. I see him as the cream of the crop of tier two, alongside Lee, Roy Oswalt, and Yovani Gallardo. The difference with Lester and those guys is he has a chance to be a top five SP.
What does it all mean: A few clear things stand out to me. Firstly, those who draft C.C. expecting an ERA under 3.50 are probably in for a shock. Secondly, Johan being taken ahead of Tim Lincecum, Brandon Webb, Roy Halladay, or Jake Peavy is probably ill advised. Lastly, as deep as tier one, tier two and all the parity running throughout the drafts, there is no reason to take any pitcher before round 4/5, including these five.