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Fantasy Baseball Advice: Duke Nukes 'Em

Three weeks later, it's time to revisit Pittsburgh prospect Zach Duke.  On the heels of yet another dominant victory, we'll look at just how sustainable the 22 year-old's success will be.

When we last spoke of Zach Duke, we implored you to pick him up immediately.   The Roto Authority was singing his praises after two excellent starts to begin his major league career.  We did caution that his ERA would certainly not remain near  1.93.  In a way, we were right:  Duke's ERA now stands at a miniscule 0.92 after 39.1 innings pitched.  Duke struck out just two in today's annihilation of the red-hot Braves, but his performance was still excellent. 

We expected the strikeouts to come back down to Earth, but we also expected the ERA to ascend to the 3.50 range.   Duke has been stingy with the hits and walks, and it's paid off so far.  Throwing out his rain delay game, Duke is averaging 107 pitches per game.  Despite Duke's age, Lloyd McClendon is not giving him the quick hook.  Expect Felix Hernandez's debut this Thursday in Seattle to be much the opposite - he will be limited to 80 pitches and is no lock to stay in the rotation. 

So what to do with Duke from a fantasy baseball perspective?  What can we expect from him in the future? 

Let's turn to Baseball Prospectus's forecasting system, PECOTA, for some estimates.  PECOTA foresaw a 3.28 ERA in 133 innings from Duke as a best case scenario, that is, his 90th percentile projection.   He can do that while maintaining pretty much the same strikeout and walk rates.   An ERA in the 3 range is a reasonable projection for 2005.

What about a long-term projection?  PECOTA sees Duke's top comparables as Mark Buehrle, Rick Wise, and Tommy John.   Duke should be happy to be mentioned in the same breath as these guys at the tender age of 22.  So you're looking at a durable pitcher with an ERA below 3.50 for at least the next five years.  Wins may be hard to come by on a team like the Pirates. 

Should you "sell high" on Zach Duke?  It depends.  Duke's 0.92 ERA and perfect record are obviously over his head.  Still, he's yet to have a bad start and many teams will still be facing him for the first time.  He could easily finish the year 10-2 with a 2.40 ERA.  Even if the success is fleeting, what pitcher could give you better numbers?  Not very many.

Don't deal Duke for a pitcher unless you receive a bona fide young ace, such as Rich Harden, Mark Prior, or Johan Santana.  Since these deals are unlikely, consider an up-and-coming can't miss position player.  David Wright and Miguel Cabrera come to mind.  Position players are more reliable and less susceptible to injury, so if you consider yourself a shrewd pitching evaluator, deal Duke for one of these types.  Names like Jeff Francoeur might seem tempting, but you need top-line proven talent to pull the trigger.

Rock N' Roto: Today we are recommending an obscure, rocking album from the band Ozma.  Ozma's 2001 album Rock and Roll Part Three features eleven power-pop tracks reminiscent of Weezer, back when Weezer rocked.  The album features the best baseball song ever recorded, the aptly titled, "Baseball."  Expect plenty of keyboards and vocal harmonies.  This blogger is right - "Baseball" may well be one of the best ten songs you've never heard. 


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