If you haven’t looked at it yet, just know that the starting pitching pool is pretty deep this season. Fantasy junkies everywhere should be looking forward to their draft, if they haven’t drafted already, of course.

There are some pretty good sleepers in the pool. I’m a big fan of Brandon Morrow and Brandon Beachy, and I’m of the mind that Madison Bumgarner could contend for the National League Cy Young this year. 

But this is not an article about sleepers you should be targeting. This is an article about sleepers that you shouldn’t be targeting.

There are five risky starting pitchers that spring to mind. I’ll count ’em down and explain why they’re so risky.

5. Hiroki Kuroda, New York Yankees

Hiroki Kuroda has a career ERA of 3.45 in four season, he’s coming off a season in which he posted a career-low 3.07 ERA, and he’s joining a Yankees team that is going to score a ton of runs.

So what’s not to like, you ask?

A couple things, really. Despite his low ERA, Kuroda had trouble avoiding the fat part of the bat in 2011. His HR/FB rate climbed to a curiously high 11.3 percent, resulting in a total of 24 dingers hit off Kuroda. That’s not a huge surprise given the fact Kuroda’s ground-ball rate went from better than 51 percent in 2010 to 43.2 percent in 2011.

In his first three seasons in Los Angeles, Kuroda had a habit of posting an ERA lower than his FIP. In 2011, it was the exact opposite. His FIP was 3.78, significantly higher than his ERA.

Keep in mind that all of this was happening in the National League West. The American League East is an entirely different animal, and the same is true of the American League as a whole. Kuroda will be very vulnerable in 2012.

4. Trevor Cahill, Arizona Diamondbacks

Trevor Cahill was one of the best-kept secrets in baseball in 2010, as he won 18 games, with an ERA under 3.00. The A’s enjoyed more of the same from Cahill in the first half of 2011, as he won eight games with a 3.12 ERA.

After the break, Cahill had an ERA close to 6.00, and hitters hit over .300 against him.

The key in Cahill’s regression for 2010 to 2011 was an increase in his BABIP (batting average on balls in play). In 2010, Cahill’s BABIP was .236. In 2011, it was .302.

That increase was bound to happen given Cahill’s tendency to induce ground balls, and it’s an increase a lot of fantasy experts saw coming. All they had to do was look at Cahill’s FIP of 4.19 in 2010, which was way higher than his ERA. In 2011, Cahill’s FIP was 4.10, pretty much even with his ERA.

In other words, the pitcher that we saw in 2011 is the true Trevor Cahill. The 2010 version of him was a fluke.

3. Ricky Nolasco, Miami Marlins

Fantasy players and experts alike would like nothing more than to see Ricky Nolasco recapture his 2008 form, which led him to a 15-8 record, a 3.52 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP.

Nolasco hasn’t been the same in the three years since, and that’s due in large part to bad luck. He’s consistently kept his FIP in the 3.00s, yet his ERAs have stayed steady in the 4.50-5.00 range. 

The trouble with Nolasco is that hitters just don’t seem to be fooled by his stuff anymore. His BAA in 2008 was .239. It increased to .259 in 2009, .273 in 2010 and .295 in 2011.

A steady regression like that can’t be blamed entirely on bad luck. At some point, you just have to shrug you shoulders and come to the conclusion that Nolasco just isn’t as good as he looked in 2008.

Somebody in your league will overdraft him based on that season. Don’t be that guy.

2. Daniel Bard, Boston Red Sox

Now we’re getting into true wild-card territory, an area where Daniel Bard looms large.

Bard established himself as one of the most dominant relievers in the last two seasons, using his high-90s fastball and nasty slider to punch hitters out and set things up for Jonathan Papelbon. With his stuff, Bard was pretty much born to pitch out of the pen.

Bard will be starting for the Red Sox in 2011, mainly because they don’t have any better options. 

There’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding Bard. We don’t know if his fastball velocity is going to hold up over six or seven innings, or if he can even last that long on a consistent basis. His secondary pitches will have to be better, and the fact that Bard has never really had to use them before means he’s dealing with quite the learning curve.

Somebody will go for Bard because of a) his fastball and b) the fact that he plays for the Red Sox. Don’t be tempted to beat anybody to the punch.

1. Neftali Feliz, Texas Rangers

If Bard makes the cut for being a risky reliever-turned-starter option, then it’s only fair that Neftali Feliz be put on this list for the same reason.

There are two reasons I’m ranking Feliz ahead of Bard. The first is that people are more likely to reach for him in your draft, and the other is that there are legit reasons to doubt his ability to handle starting duty.

The Rangers tried Feliz out as a starter last spring, ultimately deciding they liked him better in the bullpen. The experiment seemed to throw Feliz off, as he wasn’t throwing very hard in the first half of the season and he wasn’t striking hitters out like he did in 2010.

Feliz was more like himself after the All-Star break, but the pitcher we saw before the break was a precursor to the pitcher we’re going to see starting in 2012. He didn’t throw as hard and he wasn’t controlling the ball very well.

Hitters had an easy enough time hitting that pitcher in a single inning. Just imagine what they’ll be able to do over five or six innings.


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