Talking Baseball

Your weekday baseball fix. Some days.

Posted by Dave on Saturday, January 31, 2004

Brandon Funston: Tons of Fun or a Ton of Garbage?

Before I start, I'd like to make the reader aware of the writers' dedication to this blog. It's 2:20 AM on Friday night and I'm starting this post. Suffice it to say that no one should be starting a post when it's "night" and the clock reads a time that ends in "AM." Actually, it's a pretty regular event around these parts - most of us here realize that living is better than unconsciousness (Next time someone tells you they enjoy sleeping, ask them if they've ever been conscious while asleep. That'll promptly shut them up). Note the dedication to post even on Friday night, the night when a majority of college students are forced asleep (read: passed out). Though I'm not a big participant (not big enough to be forced asleep, anyways), Friday night is something of my modern day Shabbat. The night of rest, the time to relax, the time when I'm not obliged to post. Most of the time, I love writing this stuff. My satisfaction writing these posts is only rivalled by my desire to read my fellow bloggers' articles. Tonight, however, my stomach is grotesquely full of pizza, I'm tired, and it's my Shabbat (my Shabbat differs entirely from the Jewish Shabbat for two reasons. First, I can turn lights on and off, carry around things, etc. Second, I'm not quite Jewish, not anymore anyways)! My main motivation for writing is to keep the consistency with Talking Baseball. I want us to be accountable for an article every day. It's idyllic, but, at the very least, I want to save my Get Out Of Jail Free card for a rainier day (or maybe a day at Rainier with Mom).

Brandon Funston, the fantasy sports expert over at ESPN.com, recently declared his top 75 fantasy starting pitchers. Mark Prior is unarguably the top fantasy hurler. He's superb across the board: 18-6, 245 K's, 2.43 ERA, 1.10 WHIP. These numbers also don't capture the fact that he has not had any arm trouble (other than a run-in with...some 2nd baseman last year...gold star to the reader that e-mails us with the answer) and he's also still presumably improving (generally pitchers keep improving until about age 30 - Prior's only 23. Though improvement from him is nearly inconceivable, it's certainly possible). Only one spot further down the list, however, is Funston's first flagrant fallacy: Randy Johnson. Sure, this is the same guy who, prior to last year, posted five straight 300 K seasons and (talk about effective/durable); but this is not your mom's (or, at least, your older brother's) Randy Johnson. For the amnesiacs out there, Randy Johnson was hurt last year for a significant portion of the season. This wouldn't be so much of a problem (Schilling was fine whence returning) if it weren't accompanied by a few alarming factors: Declining K/9, increasing H/9, and increasing age (a.k.a. "getting older"). This table, from Baseball Cube (check out the new links - someone let me know if there's a better Player Contract page out there), summarizes succinctly the three big problems:

Year Age H/9 K/9

2001 38 6.54 13.43

2002 39 6.82 11.56

2003 40 9.87 9.87

Randy was winning Cys in 2001 and 2002 (and 1999, and 2000, incredibly (that's four in a row - I didn't even notice)), but the world was too busy admiring him to see the start of his potential deterioration. RJ is getting older, it's easier to get hits off of him, and he's striking out fewer people. Granted, his BB/9 is decreasing as well, counter-balancing some of the effects of his worsening stuff, but it's quite probable he's lost some of his effectiveness.

His declining effectiveness is only part of the problem though - he's seemingly becoming injury-prone. The first pitcher you select in fantasy should be reliable for 200+ IP, and a solid year. I can hear it: "What about Pedro?" Well, Pedro has had a documented history of health problems, but in the last 8 years, he's failed to reach 29 starts in a season only once. That cannot be true of someone regarded as a frail pitcher. Anyways, your high draft picks need to be super-dependable people and after Randy's injury last year, he's simply not as dependable as he once was. He's getting older, his body is starting to wear, it seems. This fact, coupled with the increase in ineffectiveness certainly demerits him from his position as fantasy's #2 starter.

Why take Randy when you have these other options at your disposal:
Roy Halladay: This guy has finally fulfilled his potential after all these years. Though he only ranked 15th in ERA last year at 3.25, he'll post some solid K's (204 last year) and a nice WHIP (1.07 is nothing to sneeze at). The best part, however, is the offense he's playing for. Realistically (I'm being dead serious), he could go 25-4 this year.
Jason Schmidt: A flamethrower who finally put it together last year. Miniscule ERA and WHIP (2.34, and 0.95) and nice strikeouts (202). Has some injury concerns (he suffered from some forearm issues last year) but he's dealt with that in the past and it seems to be a non-concern. He plays for the Giants, a quality team, so he'll realistically go 20-5 this year. The best part about Schmidt, however, is the fact that he plays in a great pitcher's park, which almost insures a low ERA and WHIP for a pitcher of his caliber.
There's also Pedro, Hudson, Schilling, and Vazquez. I would place all 4 above RJ, I think. I'm simply too risk averse with those early-round picks to take a guy like RJ. It's not inconceivable that RJ could fizzle into oblivion this year, given his age. Will he? I doubt it. He'll probably finish with numbers similar to 18-7, 250 K's, 2.80 ERA, 1.10 WHIP. Are these numbers, with his added injury-risk, befitting of the 2nd-best fantasy starting pitcher? Certainly not.

I'll end with this because it's one of the incredible set of statistics I've ever seen: Harken back to 1998, when Randy was traded to Houston. He pitched flagrantly (this word favorably substitutes for "very," in my opinion. If you haven't noticed my flagrant use of it, you're flagrantly stupid) well, clearly, but check out his ERA+ during that 11 game period! 318! For those unfamiliar with ERA+, the NL Cy Young winners the past three years posted 184, 190, and 183 for ERA+. 318 is simply phenomenal. If the ERA+ doesn't illustrate RJ's domination in Houston, check out the rest of his numbers. Wow.

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