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2014 Fantasy Baseball: The Fantasy Verdict on Arroyo to Arizona

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A couple of weeks ago the Arizona Diamondbacks spent nearly $24M acquiring the services of Bronson Arroyo and added to an already deep rotation that includes Patrick Corbin, Brandon McCarthy, Wade Miley, Trevor Cahill, and Randall Delgado.  The now 37-year old pitcher is coming off two sub-3.80 ERA, 12+ win seasons and offers Arizona an innings-eating back end starter (has been at or over 200 IP every season since 2005) and insurance for when (not if) McCarthy and/or Delgado decide to visit the disabled list.

What are the fantasy implications of this move for 2014?

Let’s be clear, first of all. You’re not drafting Bronson Arroyo for his strikeouts. That much is certain. He’s a career 5.84 strikeouts per 9 IP guy, and he’s been hovering a bit lower than that the past two years. His 88mph heater doesn’t generate a lot of swings and misses, but he does get by with a nice curve ball (top 12 swing rate and top 30 whiff rate, min. 2000 pitches) and a ground ball-inducing sinker. However, no one will ever mistake him for an elite strikeout artist.

You are drafting him for the elite command he’s displayed the past two seasons. In 2012-13 he posted the best walk rates of his career (1.50 BB/9, only Bartolo Colon and Cliff Lee have exhibited better command over that same period for qualified starters), which helped him post a 3.67 K/BB ratio from 2012-13 (16th overall among qualified SPs).

You’d like to see him generate some more ground balls, and in fact, he’s increased his rate the last three years up to 44.4% (his best mark since 2009), but this is offset by his penchant for giving up the long ball (14% HR/FB rate in 2013). Hitters tend to wait on a (ahem) good Arroyo fastball (low swing rate, low whiff rate), and deposit it in the seats (1.24% HR percentage, highest in his arsenal). The nice part is that, with the move to the desert, Arroyo finds himself moving from a home park with a 112 HR park factor to Chase Field, which has a 103 HR park factor. That should help mitigate some of those problems along with a probable regression in HR/FB rate back to his career norm.

Add to all these positives the fact that he’s been one of the most durable arms in the majors and has notched double-digit wins in 8 of the past 10 seasons (winning 9 games the other two years), and you have the makings of a very low-risk, back-end rotation candidate. He’s one of those unsexy names that just continues to eat innings every five days and get the job done.

However, there are a couple of red flags of which to be aware. First, hitters are swinging less at Arroyo’s offerings (declining O-Swing, Z-Swing, and Swing rates), but making more contact in general, especially on offerings inside the strike zone (92.6% Z-Swing rate last year, the highest of his career). This basically indicates that hitters are being fooled less by Arroyo nibbling around the zone and just waiting for him to throw something for them to hit (as both his Z-Contact and Contact, and Zone rates have increased). He’ll need to do a better job of getting hitters to chase bad pitches at Chase (see what I did) because while Arizona does limit home runs more so than Cincinnati, it is also more friendly in giving up extra base hits than the Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati.

Secondly, as noted by Dave Cameron, Bronson Arroyo is just plain bad against lefties, and his move to Arizona won’t change that. In his career righties have hit .231/.287/.378 against him with an awful .291 wOBA, but lefties have had their way with Arroyo posting a .285/.341/.490 line with a robust .358 wOBA. Most of this has to do with lefties teeing off on his fastball and changeup (both 1.50% HR rates). At this point, Arroyo is what he is, but even a small help from his home environment in limiting home runs to lefties (marginally more than to right handed batters) could actually improve his numbers slightly.

Arroyo is an aging vet whose move to Arizona should do nothing but help him at least maintain his current level of production if not give him the slightest of bumps across the board. If he can continue displaying elite-level command and keep lefties off balance against his fastball and changeup, then there could be some value with an average 360 pick in the draft.

The Fantasy Verdict? Think double-digit wins, an ERA around 4.00, and 100+ Ks. He’s not going to win you a championship but he could keep you from losing it.

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