Fantasy baseball: Pitching harder than ever to come by

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Fantasy baseball: Pitching harder than ever to come by
May 1, 2013, 1:45 pm

It’s been more difficult in 2013 than in any recent season to find quality starting pitching in fantasy baseball.

Sure, there are the top-tier guys, the Felix Hernandezs and Clayton Kershaws and Justin Verlanders, but after the sure-things there have been a lot of guys you’d be better off leaving on the waiver wire.

The middle tier of starting pitchers, the guys you can usually count on for a quality start or two every week off the wire, just haven’t performed.

Here’s a quick example: Starved for arms to lower my overall ERA, I picked up Jorge De La Rosa against the Dodgers on Tuesday night. De La Rosa had made four straight quality starts and was again looking like the pitcher who went 16-9 with 193 Ks in 185 innings in 2009. I’d never have pulled the trigger had he been pitching at Coors Field, but this game was against a scuffling Dodgers lineup in spacious Dodger Stadium.

De La Rosa’s line: 4 IP, 11 H, 6 ER, 2 BB, 1 K.

OK, fine. De La Rosa has never pitched well against LA, so maybe the Dodgers are in his head.

But Dillon Gee against the Marlins on Wednesday ... has to work, right? The Fish are without Giancarlo Stanton and have exactly zero players who would start in an even average major-league lineup. Gee had to succeed.

And yet Gee allowed three runs and four baserunners in the first inning against a Miami team that had scored eight first-inning runs all season.

These are just two of many pitchers who’ve been wildly disappointing through the first month. Here are some others: Matt Cain, Cole Hamels, R.A. Dickey, Gio Gonzalez, Kris Medlen, Yovani Gallardo, Brandon Morrow, Roy Halladay, Ian Kennedy, Josh Johnson, Dan Haren, Ryan Vogelsong, Brett Anderson, Jarrod Parker, Josh Beckett, Brandon McCarthy, Edwin Jackson, Matt Harrison, James McDonald.

The list goes on and on. Unless you were gutsy enough to take Matt Harvey or Matt Moore early, smart enough to draft Hisashi Iwakuma or Carlos Villanuva while others said “Who?,” or lucky enough to land Shelby Miller or Tony Cingrani in the first few weeks, you’re probably struggling with pitching, too.

Runs per game were up from 4.16 last April to 4.26 this April. Batting averages are up, OBPs are up, slugging percentages are up and strikeouts are down.

Finding diamonds in the rough isn’t as easy as it used to be. The pitchers occupying your waiver wire are likely guys like Barry Zito, McCarthy, Tommy Hanson, Mark Buehrle – pitchers you might talk yourself into for a start here or there but wouldn’t trust against a good lineup or in a hitter’s park. The three new Angels starters – Hanson, Joe Blanton and Jason Vargas – exemplify the risk of snagging a waiver wire starter.

For this reason, it is more logical than ever to load up on stellar closers and attempt to win saves each week. If your league use K/9 rather than total strikeouts, that’s yet another reason to go with relievers.

But if you’re like me, with a few elite starting pitchers on your roster but a bunch of iffy guys after that, focus less on strikeouts and potential and go with guys you know will win some games and pitch six or seven innings – the Bronson Arroyos and Jake Westbrooks of the world. Go for the single, not the home run. Those boring names will give you a clunker here or there, but it’s still better than playing matchups and trusting pitchers who just aren’t too talented.

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