Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Breakout Candidate: Rick VandenHurk (RHP, Marlins)

You don’t have to be a veteran fantasy player to know that Ricky Nolasco is probably going to be much more valuable in 2010 than his 5.06 ERA in 2009 would indicate. While that information is useful, that’s not a level of analysis about which I’m interested in writing. No, in my Breakout Candidate pieces, I’m going to be looking deeper into the player pool for pitchers that may be had cheaply in deep mixed, NL only, and AL only formats.

With that said, today I’m going to look at one of Nolasco’s teammates, RHP Rich VandenHurk. VandenHurk features a 91-92 MPH fastball, an 84 MPH slider, a 70 MPH curve, and an 84 MPH changeup. In 2009 he went to the slider more than twice as often as he had in previous seasons.

VandenHurk turns 25 on May 22nd and has a three-year MLB K/BB trend of 1.71, 2.00, and 2.33. Given that combination of age and encouraging trends in strikeout and walk rates, VandenHurk may very well be on the verge of a breakout. The one facet of VandenHurk’s game could most easily prevent this from happening is his tendency to give up fly balls. VandenHurk gave up fly balls on 50% of all balls put in play against him in 2009. If you don’t think an extreme fly ball tendency can’t be the undoing of a pitcher with a stellar K/BB, you probably didn’t own Scott Baker last season.

Another source of worry is health. VandenHurk threw just over 100 innings at various levels of the Marlins’ organization in 2009. He missed 60 days with a sore right elbow in 2009.

Here’s what VandenHurk did last year:

MLB: 4.30 ERA, 7.52 K/9, 3.22 BB/9, 58 2/3 IP
AAA: 2.87 ERA, 7.69 K/9, 2.41 BB/9, 59 2/23 IP

…And what the leading projection systems think he’ll do this year:

Ron Shandler's Baseball Forecaster: 125 IP, 7.8 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, 4.18 ERA, 1.27 WHIP
Bill James' Baseball Handbook: 121 IP, 8.9 K/9. 3.9 BB/9, 4.39 ERA , 1.36 WHIP
Baseball Prospectus/PECOTA: 125 IP, 113 K, 56 BB, 4.38 ERA, 1.40 WHIP
CHONE: 117 IP, 8.5 K/9, 4.0 BB/9, 4.85 ERA, 1.44 WHIP

I’m expecting VandenHurk to end 2010 with an ERA in the low fours, showing up on a lot more radars as a sleeper candidate in 2011 fantasy drafts. If you’re in a keeper league, now is the time to stash. For VandenHurk, it only gets better from here.

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