CHOOSE: Jordan Zimmerman, Travis Wood, Derek Holland

Jordan Zimmerman

A reader from Colorado wants to know who to favor.

I think it’s fair to say that Zimmerman and Wood are both faves this year among the fantasy cognoscenti. Holland has good stuff but his career has thus far been defined by his failures. Seems to me he’s a good bet to change that this year, too. How do I rank these guys?

Zimmerman was once a phenom and is now a Tommy John surgery survivor. He looked good in limited action after he returned last August. He’s healthy, he seems to know how to pitch, the real question is whether he will stay healthy, and what growing pains he will be subject to his second time through (as they say).

Wood was as successful in the majors last year as he’d been in Triple-A before being called up. He was a second round pick in 2005, not as much a phenom as Zimmerman, but he’s pitched well at every level. One knock is his size. At 5’11 and 170 pounds he’s not your classic scout’s choice. His GB/FB ratio last year was .66, not a nice number for a lefty in a right-handed hitter’s homer ballpark.

Holland’s got more major league experience than Zimmerman or Wood, combined, and has experienced more failure, too. He allowed 26 homers in 135 innings in 2009, his ML debut with Texas. A variety of injuries early last year limited his opportunities, but he allowed less than one homer per nine innings pitched overall, a very helpful sign while pitching in Texas. In his starts last year, however, he allowed six homers in 46.2 innings, and in his career has pitched better in relief than as a starter. I’m not sure that means anything for a guy entering his 25th year, but I’m certainly not saying it doesn’t.

FWIW, last year Zimmerman earned -$3, Wood earned $9, and Holland earned -$1. Those are single-league prices, of course. In the Guide this year I have them priced at $10, $12, and $3 respectively, and for now I’m going to stick with that. I’ll pay that but not more.

Young, talented but untested starters like these are a good place to find breakouts, and there is great excitement in signing this year’s hot young starter, but they also offer wise guys a place to invest a lot of money and lose all of it in a hurry. I think Zimmerman and Wood are going to go in the teens in NL leagues, and Holland could reach double digits with a good spring. That’s fine by me, someone else can take the risk. Much as I like Zimmerman and Wood this year, and I do a lot, it’s a mistake to push their prices up.

The sweet spot in young talented pitchers is volume. Get as many as you can as cheaply as you can and see what sticks. (The funny thing is that in mixed leagues these guys are all marginal, so you might be able to sign them for a buck or two or three. Late in the game, that’s a good signing with upside when you know there will be boring but somewhat reliable veterans to pluck off the waiver wire if you guess wrong.)