Yes, I do know that the Most Improved Player is an NBA award. Perhaps most Major League Baseball fans don’t really care which player is most likely to see an upswing in his numbers this year, but us fantasy sports nerds sure do. In a league full of sharks, your season will hinge on identifying talent that is undervalued. I think Jason Jennings is one of those guys.
I was just able to pick up Jason in round 24 of my fantasy draft. I suppose a look at the raw numbers bears that out. Since his 2002 Rookie of the Year performance, Jason’s ERA went north and stayed there, and his wins decreased.
Last year, despite winning nine games and losing thirteen, he pitched a career-high 212 innings and kept his ERA below 4.00 for the season. Not only was that his best average since joining the Rox, he became only the second pitcher to hit that mark in Denver, joining Joe Kennedy (2004).
The key to all of these stats is not a number, but a word: Denver. The Mile High City air turns good pitchers into mediocre pitchers, and mediocre pitchers into horror shows. Jason Jennings’ ability to rebound from three disheartening seasons to post career highs shows me a player who is mentally strong and adaptable. He obviously learned a little bit about how to pitch smart, since he couldn’t bend the rules of physics.
Now comes the trade to Houston. Remember all of those stories about the Rockies putting baseballs in humidors to give them more movement? Well, Houston is one giant humidor. Minute Maid ballpark might have a retractable roof, but humidity don’t care about no roof. The atmosphere might not be as swampy indoors as it is outdoors, but compared to Colorado, it will feel like the Mosquito Coast.
Perhaps my case would be stronger if Jason hadn’t pitched so well in so many losses, but there’s so much room for improvement, despite the venue-appropriate ERA in Colorado, that I think the difference will be striking. Like I said, Mr. Jennings learned how to pitch in Denver. Throwing harder just causes injuries up there. Getting movement on a ball in Houston should feel effortless to him after his experiences in the mountains. He’ll also have a much better hitting lineup to shore up any incipient wins. Minute Maid Park does not particularly favor pitchers, but it’s orders of magnitude better than Coors Field in that respect.
So, that’s my guy. Most of you have probably done your fantasy drafts already, but maybe you can still get your hands on him for nothing before he starts turning in steady performances night after night.
Note: For more reliable analysis and all the bells and whistles, consult The GNUru. Where I use Voodoo Sabermetrics, he uses cold, hard, rational thought.