Young Hurlers Lead List of 2010 Upgrades

With the season coming to a close, let's look forward and assess value for 2010. We'll start by handling the pitchers this week here and in Wednesday's AL Stock Watch. Next week, we'll close the book on our baseball coverage for the 2009 season by looking at key NL and AL hitters.

Upgrade

Adam Wainwright, P, Cardinals: He is one of the most underrated starters in the NL, and his numbers are that of a number one fantasy starter (18-8, 2.59 ERA, 191 Ks). Still, guys who are bigger names (Santana, Haren, Carpenter) will probably be picked before him. There is always great depth in the middle rounds for pitchers, and you should be able to find a top option like Wainwright if you're willing to wait.

Tommy Hanson, P, Braves: I fully expect the hype machine to be churning next spring around draft time, most likely vaulting Hanson into the top six or seven rounds of most fantasy drafts. While I don't think he'd be a reach here, and fully believe there will be improvement on is '09 season (10-4, 2.85 ERA, 100 Ks), you'll be paying full value for his services. Expect a great follow-up, but get any thoughts of a bargain out of your head.

Clayton Kershaw, P, Dodgers: The young southpaw took some major leaps forward in '09, posting a sparkling 2.89 ERA and striking out 167 batters in 159 innings pitched. The downside to the season is his modest 8-8 record and 4.87 BB/9 rate, which is on the high side. His low innings total should drive down his value heading into next year, making him a major middle round bargain. In another two or three seasons, he'll be a fixture in Cy Young discussions. Next year is the last chance to get him at a decent price.

Max Scherzer, P, Diamondbacks: Sticking with the theme of young hurlers with upside who you may still get at a discount, Scherzer certainly fits the bill following his promising '09 season (9-10, 4.06 ERA, 168 Ks). “Mad Max” is still figuring things out as a starter, and should only improve with more time in the rotation. Grab him as a No. 3 fantasy starter heading into next season and hope his upside will result in a greater return.

No Change

Cole Hamels, P, Phillies: Statistically speaking, this was a pretty status quo year from the Phillies ace, as his 3.63 FIP is actually the best of his entire career. Ignore the chatter about his drop in velocity (90.2 MPH in '09, 90.4 MPH in '08), as well as the decline in strikeout rate. Expect a similar season to his '09 campaign, around 200 innings, double digit wins and a strong K/9 rate.

Ricky Nolasco, P, Marlins: A 2010 “Portfolio S” candidate (a term coined by my colleague Michael Salfino that states a person should use the previous seasons draft sheet to find bargain talent coming off a bad year). On the surface, his numbers look pretty ugly (12-9, 5.34 ERA), but his FIP tells a more accurate story of how he pitched (3.50). If you can grab him as the later rounds begin, you're getting a steal. He is far better than his '09 numbers indicate.

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Johan Santana, P, Mets: I don't question his talent, but I do question his health, which lands him here. Will he return to form after surgery to remove bone chips? Is there any further structural damage? Will this cause a change in his stuff/approach or be no big deal like when he had a similar procedure after the '04 season? Until further notice, drafting him as highly as in the past is too big a gamble. 

Johnny Cueto, P, Reds: What happened to the K/9 rate (8.17 in '08, 7.00 in '09)? Also of concern is his drop in velocity, down to 92.8 MPH in '09 from 93.4 MPH in '08. His FIP of 4.60 makes him an average pitcher at best. With those other numbers declining, I'd draft him only during the end game in normal mixed formats and hope for drastic improvement and dramatic profits.

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