Archive for July, 2012

Monday: 07.30.2012

10 Injured Pitchers on the Way Back

It seems like somebody or somebodies of consequence succumb to injury daily during the dog days and wind up on the disabled list. Subsequently that puts a strain on waiver wire availability as we see fewer and fewer attractive options.  Some leagues will always have someone worthwhile, but others are riddled with retreads and those who are actually getting hurt because roster space becomes too precious to hang onto the disabled.  As Roy Oswalt has proven once again tonight (8 ER on 11 H in 5.3 IP), pitching at anything less than 100% is difficult, even for a former star.

With that in mind, understand that these arms may deliver nothing of value once they return (if they return) to the hill.  However, as we end the final third of the season, taking chances on upside can be the difference between winning a title and not, securing a money spot or waiting for a check in October that isn’t coming.  Here are 10 pitchers in various states of disrepair and of various talent levels who could be had for free in a good number of leagues (or at a discount via trade) and end up delivering some high quality innings for you.  Keep in mind that some of these guys are still quite some time away, so plan accordingly to that end.

Brandon McCarthy

Out Since: June 19th w/shoulder injury

Status: Literally just started his rehab start as I’m typing this

Availability: On 44% of rosters in Yahoo!; 46% in ESPN

He was hoping to avoid a rehab start altogether, but it wasn’t to be so he’s starting for Sacramento tonight (Monday evening) and if all goes well then he should take his turn with Oakland later this week.  If you think the injuries for McCarthy have been frustrating for you as a fantasy manager of him, try actually being him.  I imagine it is especially trying to get in a groove only seemingly every time off the DL only to keep going back on a few weeks later.

When on the field, he has been straight-killin’ it this year with a 2.54 ERA and 1.21 WHIP in 78 innings.  He was white-hot before hitting the DL the most recent time with a 1.35 ERA and 0.80 WHIP in 20 innings across three starts.  Strikeouts aren’t really his thing (usually ranging 6-6.5, which is average to slightly below depending on year), but thankfully neither are walks (2.2 BB/9 this year after an amazing 1.3 last year).  Love that park, plus the sweet-swingin’ A’s might line him up for a few more Ws, too.

Brandon Morrow

Out Since: June 11th w/oblique injury

Status: On rehab assignment touching 95 MPH

Availability: On 78% of rosters in Yahoo!; 55% in ESPN

Two things have plagued Morrow as a starter: walks and injuries.  He has been improving yearly with the former including a huge step forward in 2012 (2.8 BB/9; 8% BB rate) and appeared to be ready for a full-fledged breakout season before the oblique sidelined him back in June.  After fanning just 12 in his first four starts (27 innings in all), he fanned a much more Morrow-esque 55 in 51 innings spanning eight starts.  Check your wire if you have roster space as he is out there in some league, but most likely you’ll have to see about netting him at a discount* via trade.

*admittedly that discount is probably shrinking now that he is on rehab

Jaime Garcia

Out Since: June 5th w/shoulder injury

Status: Started his rehab on Monday w/2.3 scoreless

Availability: On 38% of rosters in Yahoo!; 29% in ESPN

Before finally hitting the DL in early June, Garcia labored through a pair of ugly starts, the latter of which he probably never should have made as he had already been skipped in the rotation after the shaky outing against the Phillies on May 26th.  In fairness, it’s pretty easy for me to say that now and the Cardinals were working with a helluva lot more information than I have now or did at the time.

I don’t think Mike Matheny would’ve let his guy go out there if he thought it would eventually put Garcia down for two months.  If you discount the Houston implosion right before the DL, Garcia was essentially having his 2011 season again.   Now is the perfect time to scoop Garcia up on the sly, especially if you have a free DL spot dying to be utilized.

Shaun Marcum

Out Since: June 14th w/elbow injury

Status: Looking to start a rehab this weekend; could be dealt during waivers deadline in Aug.

Availability: On 68% of rosters in Yahoo!; 64% in ESPN

Don’t ask me how/why he is on so many more teams than these other three.  I guess it could be his strong strikeout totals (8.4 K/9, 23% rate) that standout above the other three (especially since Morrow got a late start on his) while his ERA, WHIP and walk rate are in the neighborhood or better than them as well.  But still, I’m surprised so many have held on as there wasn’t much good news throughout July.

Things are looking up now and Jon Paul Morosi of FOXSports speculates that he could be a waive trade candidate.  That would surprise me.  There might be around $2.5 mil owed to him depending when he hit waivers, but that’s it as he is set to be a free agent this winter so surely some wildcard contender would claim him to block a trade to their opposition if he came available.  For our purposes, his venue doesn’t much matter, as long as he is back on the field there is bound to be some worthwhile production.

Ted Lilly

Out Since: May 23rd w/shoulder injury

Status: Started his rehab Sunday and will probably need a couple outings (results)

Availability: On 42% of rosters in Yahoo!; 37% in ESPN

Lilly had developed one of the most stable skillsets in the games the last several years, but unfortunately those skills have tumbled significantly in 2012.  Of course, it’s also been a tiny eight game sample and his numbers are heavily influenced by outings of six and five walks in Houston and in Arizona so it’d be a bit premature to bury him.  Meanwhile, he has enjoyed success (3.14 ERA, 1.13 WHIP) in spite of the 5.7 K/9 and 1.6 K/BB in 49 innings. I would still take a shot on a healthy Lilly in 12 team leagues or higher.  I think he is still a spot starter at best in 10-teamers so no need to rush out and get him before he gets back to the Dodgers.

Brett Anderson

Out Since: June 5th, 2011 w/Tommy John Surgery

Status: Has made 2 rehab starts has a few more slated in AAA before heading to Oak.

Availability: On 4% of rosters in Yahoo!; 0% in ESPN

One of the brighter young pitchers in the game, Anderson fell victim to the Slider Monster who ate his elbow up after he threw the pitch a career-high 40% of the time in his 83 innings last year.  He is working his way back from Tommy John and could be this year’s Tim Hudson, who put together seven strong starts down the stretch in 2009 in his return from TJS.  Jordan Zimmermann was OK in his seven starts in 2010, but better in a real-life aspect than a fantasy one.  Stephen Strasburg was unreal in five outings a year ago, but he’s on a different level than those other guys.

The issue for Anderson is where he fits into the rotation, especially with McCarthy on the way back.  Of course neither McCarthy nor Bartolo Colon are models of health so I’m sure the situation will work itself out by the time Anderson is officially back.

This next group of guys are a good further away, so I’m just putting them on your radar to either make a note about or stash in deep leagues if they’re available and you desperately need pitching.

Jeff Niemann

Out Since: May 14th w/broken leg

Status: Threw a bullpen, simulated gm on tap followed by rehab; looking at late-Aug. return

Availability: On 3% of rosters in Yahoo!; 0% in ESPN

Coming back from a non-arm injury gives Niemann a leg up on the others listed, but he is still looking at a late-August return so there won’t be much time for him to contribute once he is back.  He was in the midst of following up his strong second half from 2011, too, before the freak accident with the broken leg derailed his 2012.

Tim Stauffer

Out Since: May 14th w/elbow injury

Status: Threw a bullpen last week, rehab forthcoming & return slated for late-Aug.

Availability: On 8% of rosters in Yahoo!; 19% in ESPN

Stauffer appeared to be getting his career, one plagued with injuries, back on track after a breakout season at age 29 in 2011 that saw him throw 186 strong innings with a 3.73 ERA and 1.26 WHIP.  Injuries limited him to just 14 innings from 2006-2008, including a completely missed season in 2008, so even working his way back into effective relief was a win for Stauffer.  Hopefully he gets back in time to make 6 or 7 starts to close out the season especially since 15 of their 26 September games are in Petco Park.

Jhoulys Chacin

Out Since: May 1st w/pectoral muscle injury

Status: Made it through his first rehab pain-free; slate back mid-Aug.

Availability: On 16% of rosters in Yahoo!; 5% in ESPN

Even when he makes it back, how much can he be trusted in that park the way it’s playing this year?  With the margin for error virtually non-existent in Coors Field these days, his elevated walk rate is especially treacherous (4.3 BB/8 career; 5.5 this year).  When he’s on, he can be a big strikeout guy, but at 24 he is still very much a work in progress.  This is more for keeper leaguers who are playing with an eye on 2013 as I wouldn’t trust my contending ratios to Chacin in Denver coming off of injury.

Rubby de la Rosa

Out Since: July 31st, 2011 w/Tommy John Surgery

Status: Slated for rehab in return from Tommy John

Availability: On 0% of rosters in Yahoo!; 0% in ESPN

It remains to be seen whether or not he will pitch in the majors at all in 2012 and then if he does, his role is undecided.  He could just get his feet wet as a reliever, though his long-term outlook remains in the rotation so this would be another one for keeper leaguers with an available spot for a highly talented youngster.  I am a huge fan of this 23-year old going forward, but he might not pay major dividends until 2014.

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Sunday: 07.29.2012

Double Entendres for the Win!

Brian Anderson, color guy for the Tampa Bay Rays, caught himself in a hilarious double entendre when discussing Miss USA Laura McKeeman (who works for FOX Sports w/Anderson & Co.) and his dad.  Enjoy.

Click here if the audio player doesn’t work.

Also see: McKeeman throw the first pitch in Miami.

Tuesday: 07.24.2012

Rod Allen on Delmon’s Patience

When Mario Impemba and Rod Allen began talking about Delmon Young‘s … ahem free-swinging ways… on Tuesday night’s telecast, Rod could barely contain himself at the sight of Young’s walk count for the season.  Witness aurally below:

Click here if audio player doesn’t work.

Tuesday: 07.24.2012

Is Pitching More Plentiful Today?

If you randomly placed a 4.00ish ERA starting pitching into the free agent pool back in 2007, that guy would go for a mint during FAAB with more than half of the league placing a bid.  The final bid would likely be someone’s entire budget.  Of course a 4.00ish ERA starter would never just sit out there when the league’s starters were pitching to a 4.64 ERA.  The league followed up with a pair of 4.46 seasons before the first “Year of the Pitcher” in 2010 when average ERA for starters was 4.16, including a 4.07 in the National League.

Last year was the apex of this run with the league turning in a 4.08 mark and the NL actually going sub-4.00 at a seemingly insane 3.95 given what we became accustomed to in the late-90s and early-00s.  In fact, this piece is about what we have become accustomed to and how that shades our view of this drastic change in run environment.  Placing our 2007 example in this year’s free agent pool leaves him there for the foreseeable future with nary a bid as his 4.00ish ERA simply doesn’t make much of a dent in a mixed league except for maybe the worst team or two in the league.

In this heavy-pitching era we’re dealing with, you will often hear “there is plenty of pitching so…” followed by a strategy to eschew pitching in some form or fashion.  But is there plenty of pitching?  Is this new environment offering more individual chances to secure above average pitching or does the rising tide lift all boats and simply change the benchmarks?  And since those benchmarks changed so drastically in short order, has the fantasy community at large simply not quite adjusted their eyesight in turn?

That doesn’t mean that every guy with a 4.00 or greater ERA should be cut instantly, but those carrying ERAs up in that range should be offering something else of note since that figure has gone from “all formats must-start option” in the late-90s to “solid mid-rotation option” in the mid-00s to “better have very positive indicators for the future, a gaudy strikeout rate or a good WHIP” today.

So let’s take a quick look at ERA specifically and see how it has evolved in the last six seasons including so far in 2012 and get a better feel for whether or not the changed run environment has indeed made pitching plentiful or simply altered the view of what good is for a pitcher.

First, a simple look at ERA by league and as a whole since 2007 for all starting pitchers:

This shows us how ERA standards have changed both by league and as a whole in the last six seasons.  The sharp uptick in the AL this year is definitely interesting.  Not entirely sure what to make of that increase.

Next, let’s look at how many pitchers there are who have an average or better ERA with a qualifying amount of innings (at least 162 IP).  Obviously not all of these guys would be getting used in every fantasy league as formats vary greatly, but this gives an idea of how many generally acceptable options there are in the pool by year.

The first takeaway is the fact that the number of average or better SPs by ERA has been the exact same the last two years as it was in 2007 which lends credence to the notion that pitching isn’t exactly plentiful so much as our benchmarks are vastly different.

Since plenty of non-ERA qualified starters get used at any point during the year, I lowered the threshold to 120+ innings and again looked at those with average or better ERAs.  This gets all of those fantasy all-stars who come out of nowhere in June and excel yet don’t register enough innings to become ERA qualified by season’s end.

We see here that not only are there not more above average ERA options in the pool, but that 2010 and so far this year deliver the two smallest outputs of the six seasons analyzed.   In the first three years, there was an average of 78 pitchers with an average or better ERA and 120 or more innings of work.  The last three years have an average of 74 propped up by last year’s 79.  This year is obviously incomplete, but we would need to see 10 more pitchers meet the thresholds this year to get the average up to 78 over the last three years.

This study, while far from extensive, does seem to suggest that we aren’t in a pitching rich environment in terms of quantity.  The quality may be higher especially with seemingly every other pitcher carry 95+ velocity, but the idea that you can wait deeper into your draft to start composing your staff appears to be misguided.  If you waited until the 9th-10th round before getting your first starter back in 2007, you can still employ that strategy, but the improved league ERAs don’t make it easier to wait until the 12th-13th round for that first starter.

Wednesday: 07.18.2012

The All Legitimate Team

Content has been light this week as I prepare for a job interview.  Might sound weird as a standard interview is usually a 20-30 minute Q&A.  This one is a 3-hour extravaganza, my third round with this company in which I’ll be presenting a demo so that’s why this is the first piece of the week.   I’ll have plenty the remainder of the month including a planned top x SP list after the trade deadline.  I’m not sure if I’m going to go 50, 100 or >100.  I’m waiting until the trade deadline is completed because I don’t want to do some detailed list I’m proud of only to have it change drastically if 7-10 pitchers change locales.

I gave you the Hail Mary Team last week and now I’ve got a team of players who had great first halves whom I believe in and would have no problem targeting via trade which would essentially be “buying high” or simply holding onto them the remainder of this year as opposed to getting out from under a potential regression.  I am not going to go in-depth with the reasoning as I did on the Hail Mary team in large part because their numbers speak volumes for the player.

HITTERS

Catcher – Yadier Molina – I covered him in depth at the end of June and he hasn’t slowed down since with three more bombs in the subsequent 10 games.  Plus this isn’t an out-of-nowhere season, he’s been building up to this for years save a 2010 blip.

First Base – Allen Craig – Yes, I am going to list the entire Cardinals team.  The return of Lance Berkman has some freaked that Craig will lose gobs of playing time, but I just can’t see how the Cards could bench their best hitter statistically (specifically by OPS+) for any more than a day here and there.

By the way Berkman is right on Craig’s heels for that OPS+ title on the team at 152 (Craig is 154) so he is hardly the one headed to the pine, either.  Honestly, they should just take the defensive hit and put Craig at 2B.  His bat is so far ahead of Daniel Descalso’s that it would be worth it.  Maybe see if Craig has another off-day mixed in soon and then pounce in hopes of catching someone a bit fearful.

Second Base – Jason Kipnis – Through 124 games of his career, he is pacing toward a .275-101-24-91-33 line.  That’s incredible regardless of position, but definitely gets an added bit of greatness at second base.  He is one of those cases where his ranks in things like OPS, wOBA and wRC+ don’t tell the story of his fantasy value.  Robinson Cano is first in those and first in 2B fantasy value, but Kipnis if around fifth or sixth in those stats yet second in fantasy value because obviously his R, RBI and SB contributions aren’t encapsulated in those metrics.

Shortstop – Asdrubal Cabrera – Kip’s double play mate is putting a season comparable to his 2011 breakout in terms of pure production (OPS, wOBA, wRC+), but his fantasy value is down thanks in large part to evaporation of his speed component.  After matching his career-high with 17 a year ago, he’s down to just two this year and a horrible rate at 2-for-5.  Having swiped 17 in 2009, maybe he only steals in odd-numbered years.  Beyond that, he is a safe bet for power production at short.

Third Base – Todd Frazier – I composed this list prior to Joey Votto’s injury, but now Frazier’s inclusion is even more of a no-brainer since his path to playing time is no longer reliant upon Dusty Baker realizing how cooked Scott Rolen is, at least temporarily with Votto done for 4-6 weeks (and we all now how lame injury estimates have been this season).  Frazier has one of the better home run rates among batters with 210+ plate appearances (he has 212).  His rate is on par with the likes of Adrian Beltre and Yoenis Cespedes and he’s tracking ahead of Carlos Gonzalez.

Outfielder – Austin Jackson – An improved approach, advancing power and inclusion on a strong offense leading to plenty of runs scored (8th highest total in baseball despite playing 69 games… of course, Trout is 2nd in 69 games so there’s that) make Jackson a reliable, yet unspectacular option.  I watch him day in and day out and I’m a complete believer.  I was an early adopter here as I legitimately saw differences in his approach back in April.  I know that’s sort of a backpat, but I’m proud that my amateur scouting eye appears to be progressing, plus if you listen to the podcast, you know I’m not above a backpat or 12, lol.  I try to do it tastefully!  He’s unspectacular in that he doesn’t do any singular thing extremely well (‘cept defense, which doesn’t count in 99.8% of leagues).  He’s quite Chooish in that respect.  More on that in a bit.

Outfielder – Shin-Soo Choo – It’s been a bit!  Choo is back.  After a disastrous 2011 that included an embarrassing off-the-field event with a DUI and an injury-marred poor performance on field, he is back to being the steady .300-20-20 guy.  He actually isn’t pacing to hit any of those marks, but I’m using that as more of a descriptor since it paints a cleaner picture than .296-18-18.  Batting leadoff, he has traded some RBIs for runs, just as you would expect with that kind of move.

Outfielder – Josh Willingham – When you put up 29-98 on Oakland in 136 games, a move to Minnesota isn’t scaring anybody in terms of production.  His power plays anywhere and the perception of Target Field eating up all power is a bit misguided fueled by the struggles of Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer there.  It dominates lefties, but its 95 home run park factor for right-handers isn’t awful.  Below average sure, but not suffocating like Oakland’s 82 factor.  A trade out to a contender would seemingly only help matters.

Outfielder – Jason Kubel – A little nicked with a hamstring, but set to avoid the DL and return Wednesday night.  I didn’t love the signing this winter if only because they had a perfectly capable outfielder in Gerardo Parra who was less of a bat than Kubel, but a much better fielder.  Kubel’s bat has always intrigued me and return of his 2009-level batting average has made him a very strong outfield contributor who does everything but run.  As a lefty, his move from Target Field to Chase Field (114 LH HR factor) has been a huge boon.

Outfielder – Tyler Colvin – Let me qualify this a bit.  With this “team” of players, I have been endorsing their current level of production or at least a reasonable facsimile (90-95%) of it.  I feel the same way about Colvin’s power which is what earns him a spot on this list, but his .294 batting average is definitely susceptible to plummeting.

He is an incredibly free-swinger which can work quite well especially in somewhere like Coors Field, but he can go ice cold, too, as he did in pretty much all of 2011.  He hasn’t been a complete product of Coors (.833 OPS on the road) which definitely helps, but having half of his games in Coors keeps his floor at a palatable level.

PITCHERS

Several of the pitchers to make this “team” were covered in my 24 to Target piece a while back, so I’ll reference you to that piece for the likes of Johnny Cueto, James McDonald and Cole Hamels who are all part of this team (what, Hamels? WEIRD!!!!).  Here are the other six candidates:

R.A. Dickey – Duh.  I’m not breaking ground here, is anyone not bought in on Dickey?  Despite giving up five in three of his last four outings, I’m not particularly worried and maybe it presents a better opportunity to buy if the guy who has him is skittish.  He still had a 7.0 K/9 and 2.3 K/BB in those games.

Gio Gonzalez – I didn’t include him in the 24 to Target list because I didn’t want to just litter it with studs because you’re going to pay a pretty penny with stud arms like that in the trade market.  That I said, I do believe in his step forward this year and I think there is even more to his game as he continues to refine his control.

Chris Capuano – A sleeper-type for me coming into the season, he has exceeded expectations and I see no reason he can’t remain incredibly effective for the duration of the season.  Home run suppression is the key between Capuano having a solid ERA and a great one.  He’s at a career-best 0.9 HR/9 resulting in a career-best 2.75 ERA.  Though his ERA is nearly two full runs lower than last year’s effort, I don’t think he is a complete fluke you should be fearful of in trade talks.

Ryan Dempster – I don’t think he’ll maintain his scoreless innings streak the rest of the season or even pitch at a 1.86 clip for his ERA, but he has a great base of skills that have been remarkably consistent and even seen a nice uptick this year so he should be a bankable starter with a low-3.00s ERA or better the rest of the way.  Obviously a deal to a contender should improve his chances to scoop more wins, too.

Vance Worley – WHIP is the “runs scored” of pitching.  I think it gets overlooked by many.  If it’s incredible, like sub-1.00 great, then it is noticed and same on the opposite end of the spectrum if it’s at 1.40ish or higher, but anything in between is kinda igored.  Not by everyone, but it certainly doesn’t stand out like wins, ERA and strikeouts.  Worley’s WHIP is his downside right now at 1.38 while everything else has been pretty solid (wins are light, but that’s because Philly has been broken for most of the year) and worth buying in on.

You can’t just chalk his WHIP up to a .315 BABIP and call it bad luck.  A lot of that is the fact that hitters can square his sub-90s heater up and get a good rip (evidenced by his 26% line drive rate) so if those aren’t at-‘em balls that the defense can turn into outs, his WHIP will be susceptible.  I think he can chisel it down a little bit to around 1.30, so if WHIP is a sore spot, then this isn’t someone for you.  But I think he’s a legitimate, bankable mid-level starter as his regression from 2011’s breakout is about what I figured we’d see.

Mark Buehrle – As a strikeout-lover, I rarely invest in Buehrle types especially inning or start cap leagues, but you cannot deny how incredibly consistent he has been throughout his career.  Now in the generally easier league with a pitcher’s park for half of his games, he has been able to post his best ERA since 2005 thanks also to some improvements in his skills.  He isn’t flashy and you don’t want to invest if strikeouts are your need obviously, but otherwise he is your guy.

Thursday: 07.12.2012

The Second Half Hail Mary Team

Your team sucks.  Way to go, idiot.  You are wallowing near or at the bottom of the standings with seemingly no hope.  It’s a redraft league so you don’t even have the option of trading for the 2013 which can be a fun exercise once you realize a season is lost.  So what do you do with the second half?  Hint: ignore your team and start looking for sleepers who will definitely fail in fantasy football is not the answer.  No, the answer is you throw conservatism out the window and chuck some Hail Marys to see if you can make a run.  Cross-sport reference!!!!

As dire as the situation may look now, there is time.  It’s not exactly the halfway point, four teams have played 87 games and all but two have (Washington & Kansas City at 83 & 84, respectively) played 85 or more, but a lot of baseball is still going to be played.  There will be plenty of Cinderella stories in October about a team that was buried at the All-Star Break only to surge through the standings in the dog days of summer en route to an improbable victory.  Let’s make that your story.

Presenting the Hail Mary Team for 2012.  This group of strugglers contain a ton of upside if they can reach previously established heights in the coming months.  Honestly, if you are one of the teams looking up at most of the league in your standings, you probably have a couple of these guys on your team.  They came into the season with elevated expectations and have failed to meet them for a bevy of reasons.  Their price tags have lowered (and if they haven’t, just pass, because there’s no sense paying full price) and with nothing to lose, they could be your ticket to a much better slot in your standings.

CATCHER Carlos Santana

He’s been wretched this year after a great 2011 season.  And it’s not just the concussion that sidelined him near the end of May as he was horrible in that whole month leading up to the injury (.233/.314/.344).  The concussion may be exacerbating the situation, but it’s just been a rough go since a solid .262/.417/.446 line April suggesting that maybe something other than the concussion is in play.  Nevertheless, this is a power force at a scarce position who can be a big time run producer if he gets back to the guy we saw in his first 201 games spanning part of 2010 and all of 2011: .244/.362/.459 with 33 HR and 101 RBI.  Brian McCann got some consideration, but his surge before the break (.421, 4 game HR streak w/11 RBI) likely allayed the fears of many and ate into any discount you could’ve gotten previously.

FIRST BASE – Ike Davis, Eric Hosmer

Both guys have been hot of late, but such wretched starts have their overall lines still in shambles resulting in their appearance on waiver wires in shallower leagues and making them available for little more than a song in leagues where they are on a roster.  Davis has a very healthy .294/.351/.635 line with 7 HR and 28 RBI in the last month so his price might be one of the higher ones on this list comparatively speaking, but I’d be willing to pay it as long as it still represented a discount against preseason expectations.  He’s been a bit Dan Uggla-esque circa 2011 where the batting average was just awful, but the power was still present.  I’m not sure he’s going to run off a 33-game hit streak like Uggla did, but who cares?

Hosmer ripped off a 3-hit game in Yankee Stadium in late May, his first of the year, and that seemed to be something of a turning point for his season.  From that game on: .289/.352/.430 with 4 HR, 19 RBI and 7 SB in 165 plate appearances.  He is still toting a .231/.299/.371 season line, though, which is why he still qualifies for this team.  Like Davis, he will be on the higher end of the cost spectrum among this list of players, but he should still be available at a sharp discount compared to the preseason which is what makes him a worthy Hail Mary target.

SECOND BASE – The Weekeseseseses, Rickie & Jemile

The Brothers Weeks have been awful this year lending to the decimation of the second base this year which could’ve been a plentiful position had players met or at least been near expectations.  Surges from Aaron Hill, Neil Walker, Jason Kipinis and Jose Altuve are only masking failures of the brothers, Dustin Pedroia, Ian Kinsler and Dustin Ackley instead of adding depth.  Back to these two, though, with Rickie first.

Injuries have always been a problem as he has just one season with more than 129 games played, otherwise he has usually performed quite well as long as he is on the field.  Until this year.  Even a depressed offensive environment can’t mask his woes as he checks in just under the Mendoza Line at .199 with just 8 HR and 6 SB in 81 games.  He hit 20 HR in 118 games last year, so even doubling his current output would be short of expectations.  He’s running at the same clip as last year, but he’s not really a speed asset these days anyway, that’s his brother’s area of expertise.

Speaking of Jemile, he has been an abomination thus far.  Imagine he were even average, the A’s might be above .500.  As it is, they are right at the mark and his return could help them stay there or exceed the level going forward.  The real bummer is that his poor half has overshadowed the huge gains in walk rate (up from 5% last year to 11% this year) paired with a small improvement in strikeout (down 1% to 13%).  If Dee Gordon can lead baseball in stolen bases (30) with a .280 on-base percentage, Weeks should have more than 12 with a more palatable .312 OBP.  He is an easy target if steals is a category where you’re severely lagging.

SHORTSTOP – Alexei Ramirez

When Ramirez ended up April with a paltry .498 OPS, some may have seen that as a prime buying opportunity as he routinely takes a while to get going.  Over his career, April is easily his worth month checking in with a .561 OPS compared to .721 or better in every other month peaking with .822 in July.  He sputtered to a .581 mark this May.  He improved to .678 in June so he is progressing, but not nearly as rapidly as usual.  In a scant 7-game sample for July, he is at 1.057 so maybe he finally ready to let loose.

The power has been noticeably absent throughout with just two home runs.  He has run a bit more to help alleviate a bit of the damage checking in with 10 SB, three more than all of last year in a full season.  He has long been one of those guys who is much better as a fantasy asset than as a real life one with only one season over 99 OPS+ (104 as a rookie).  He had become a bankable 15-70-10-80 with an average around .270.  It will take a helluva rally to get there this year, but if he just performs to the levels we have seen in the past, he will be a positive asset at shortstop at a nothing cost.

THIRD BASE – Ryan Zimmerman

I was surprised the other day when I heard some fantasy analysts dismissing him as a non-entity.  The basic premise was essentially that he’s never been any good so why are folks still hung up on him?  That’s just crazy talk.  He was excellent in 2009-2010 and was tracking toward another great season last year when injuries cut it short.  He hasn’t been good this year and I think injuries are a big reason again as he had a DL stint back in late April through early May and then he took a while to get going once he was back.

I’ll grant that he isn’t the sturdiest guy around.  That seems to come with territory when dealing with defensive stalwarts like Zimmerman, but he is definitely a damn fine hitter capable of big numbers.  In fact, he has been hot of late starting with a Coors Field trip (always a nice remedy for a hitter) totaling 14 games in all during which he has hit .333/.394/.683 with 5 HR and 18 RBI.  He has a 1.003 OPS with 3 HR in the non-Coors part, so don’t worry that he is Brandon Mossing us.  His bottom line is still gruesome (.694 OPS) enough that the price won’t be too steep.

OUTFIELD – Cameron Maybin

Proponents of Maybin’s are pointing toward last year’s second half dash to the finish that saw him swipe 28 bases after the break with an improved .268 average (up from .259) and hoping he has another such run (pun fully intended) in him.  The talent is there in glimpses, but those are all too brief because even when he’s hitting the longest home run in Chase Field, he’s still only carrying a .212 average.

Ichiro Suzuki

This is probably just the decline of a 38-year old former star, but it’s hard not to look at his 39 SBs from just a year ago and dream of him stealing 20+ in the second half.

Shane Victorino

He has been a far cry from what we expect in the slugging department thanks to a precipitous drop in triples as he has just two after leading baseball two of the last three years and notching 10 in the third of those seasons.  Aside from that, he hasn’t been awful save a little batting average misfortune.  I think the perception of his struggling is stronger than the truth of it as he already has as many steals (19) as he did in all of last year and his eight homers are just off of last year’s pace.  Try to prey on the trade rumors swirling about and his benching the other day for not liking his slot in the order as well as the general Phillie malaise that has seemingly stunk up every non-Hamels entity.

Bes Jond Unnings and D.J. Jupton

Paired together for obvious reason, Desmond Jennings and B.J. Upton have been colossal disappointments this year, though like others in the list they have run enough to stem the tide a bit on their being fantasy sinkholes.  Both have 15 SBs, impressive more so for Jennings coming in eight fewer games, but both are still on the wrong side of .680 OPS to date.  It looks even worse if you extend back into September for Jennings as he jumped off a cliff after a blazing hot run from late July through August.

Meanwhile, no one is expecting anything batting average-wise from Upton, but what is with the power outage?  He’s been around a 20 HR hitter the last two years which combined with his speed and 80ish runs driven in and scored made the batting average plenty palatable.  He’s now on pace for 13, down 10 from last year, but he can string together some 4-5 HR months and rally to or above 20 if he’s right.  Both of these Rays have plenty of upside that make gambling on them easy, especially at a discount.

Nelson Cruz

He has been lying in wait just ready for a Cruzian streak.  It may be bubbling up near the surface, too, as he entered the break with three multi-hit games including four doubles, but no homers.  When he gets hot he can carry a fantasy team so he is an easy inclusion even though he hasn’t been as rotten as the others with a 99 OPS+.  You may have to package one of your few worthwhile assets to get him and someone else on this list.  It could pay major dividends with a monster like Cruz.

PITCHING

Tim Lincecum

Duh.  Just look at the track record, I don’t really need to tell you why he’s a Hail Mary candidate.

Dan Haren

Currently injured making it a nice time to strike.  For the purposes of this exercise it also helps that he was terrible for five starts (8.67 ERA) before finally hitting the DL with a balky back.  His brilliant track record and the glimpses of greatness this year when healthy make it clear that he is still someone worth targeting.  The rest will hopefully get him back to 100% and he will return to his previously established level of excellence.

Rickey Romero

Let’s be honest, he didn’t really earn a 2.92 ERA last year from a skills standpoint. He still got the 2.92 ERA and I’m sure it helped many a fantasy team, but expecting that this year would’ve been silly.  Similarly, he isn’t a 5.22 ERA pitcher, either.  The skills have deteriorated this year without question, but not 5.22 deterioration.  His control is all out whack with a career-worst 4.7 BB/9.  That points to a potential mechanical issue which hopefully can be identified and corrected.

Unfortunately, the bubonic plague is sweeping across the Toronto rotation so injury could be an issue, too, but he doesn’t seem to be laboring or hurting when I view his starts with my amateur scouting eye.  A 3.50 ERA from a workhorse who will put himself in position for decisions (and ideally wins given their stout offense) can go a long way toward fixing your flailing staff.

Derek Holland

We saw last year, specifically in the second half and playoffs, what he can do when he is click.  His skills are in line with last year’s save a bit of home run trouble which has no doubt led to his inflated 5.05 ERA.  He quietly came off the DL just before the break and had a quality start, strike quickly before he strings a few together and saps up any discount via trade or starts getting scooped up off the waiver wires.

Doug Fister

The infield defense has struggled as planned and Fister has been a prime casualty, but that isn’t the only factor as a 17% HR/FB rate has led to a 1.2 HR/9 rate.  That factor should regress, especially for a groundball artist (2.2 GB/FB ratio), and that will cut into his 4.75 ERA.  Completing the Hail Mary pass would be a tightening up of the defense allowing him to pitch to a level on par with his skills which would be around 3.45 or better.

Francisco Liriano

Personally, I don’t think he should be trusted, but we are talking Hail Marys here.  He has a 3.12 ERA and a strikeout per inning in his seven starts since returning to the rotation.  We know the upside he has when everything is going perfectly.

Ubaldo Jimenez

Is he the next Liriano after his fall from grace last year?  Probably so, but like Liriano he is streaking in his last seven with a 2.93 ERA and 44 Ks in 46 innings.  In fact, they both started their streaks on June 5th so they are even more similar this year.  They both have ace upside.  Doesn’t mean they’ll will reach it, but the chance is there.

Ervin Santana

He likes to throw a stinker season in every once in a while to keep everyone honest I guess, but his capability is a commodity as proven in three of the previous four years from 2008-2011.  Unsurprisingly home runs were his issue in 2009, too, so figuring that out will be the key to his potential success going forward.  He doesn’t quite have ace potential because he peaks around 6.8-7.0 K/9, but with the Angels clicking, he can run off a bunch of wins with quality ratios if he gets himself figured out.

Clay Buchholz

Another guy I don’t really buy into, but people I respect do and besides, I’m trying to fix your crappy team not mine.  Even including the thrashing he suffered right before hitting the DL, he had 3.35 ERA and 5-1 record (including 4 straight Ws) in eight starts whittling his ERA from 9.09 to 5.53 in the process.  He is currently sitting on the DL with terrible bottom line numbers making now the best time to strike if you are interested.

Wednesday: 07.11.2012

The Worst Day of the Year

Today is the stupidest day of the year (and you’re not far behind, tomorrow, so stop looking so smug).  The Wednesday after the All-Star Game is the one day on the calendar without any major sports which makes it extremely stupid.  I’m more concerned with the utter lack of baseball games (save your AAA All-Star Game, people) and this year is even worse as the break has been extended through Thursday.

I am torn on this change.  Usually there are 6-7 games on Thursday which is entirely unfair to the teams who have to play while others get another day of rest.  Selfishly I was always glad to see baseball return, but how was that not an all or nothing day?  They landed on the side of nothing so we’re stuck with two baseball-free days.  This is like giving Jesse Pinkman a wheelbarrow full of meth for nearly three months and then none for two days.  This isn’t going down from wheelbarrow to radio flyer red wagon to a bucket full to a handful, just wheelbarrow to zero.

So to help get you through this mess, I have 26 games from the first half that contain some of the best, most exciting baseball we have seen thus far.  Obviously the viewing of these games will require an MLB.tv subscription which you should already have secured back in February (yes, February), but just in case you haven’t it is on sale for $80 bucks.  That’s a steal in my opinion and no, I’m not being paid by MLB to say that.  It’s seriously the best purchase I make yearly, except for the food that keeps my beagle alive.

(in chronological order)

Motown Mash

April 7thMiguel Cabrera & Prince Fielder hit 2 home runs apiece in 10-0 rout of Boston – box, video

Sure, this first one is a bit homerish (pun intended), but two of the biggest stars in the game were paired together this offseason when Fielder signed in Detroit and everyone was excited to see them as a 3-4 combo in the Tigers lineup.  They didn’t wait long to display fireworks (2nd game of the year) and they did so against one of the better pitchers in baseball in Josh Beckett.  Lost in the mix is the Tigers bullpen cobbling together 5.3 scoreless innings.  It’s easier with a huge lead, but it was only 2-0 when Doug Fister left with an injury.

Wild One in Comerica

April 8th – Tigers win a thriller in 11 to secure sweep of Boston – box, video

No, this isn’t going to be 27 Tigers games.  It is merely coincidental that the first two involve my favorite team.  But I stand by the selections.  Who doesn’t like watching Boston get smashed 10-0 and who doesn’t like watching Boston’s hearts get ripped out in extra innings?  Textbook win-win.  Lost in the shuffle of allowing 13 runs is that Vicente Padilla (4 IP, 4 K) and Franklin Morales (2 IP, 3 K) threw six shutout innings.  Thankfully Mark Melancon is a thing.

So Aroldis

April 11thAroldis Chapman fans 5 of the 7 batters he faces in a Reds walkoff win – box, video

The feature of this game doesn’t start until the eighth inning, but it is a nice 3-3 battle between the Reds and Cardinals before that including a 4-hit day from Joey Votto.  The only thing lacking is the trademark 100+ MPH heat of Chapman, but he does sit 96 with his fastball and threw strikes in 63% of his pitches.

Cain & Lee Go 19 Scoreless

April 18thCliff Lee goes 10 and Matt Cain goes 9 in an 11-inning gem – box, video

If you don’t love a 1-0 duel between aces then you probably don’t love baseball.  Neither ace figures into the decision as this one goes 11, but what a great game between a pair of the game’s finest on the mound.  Perhaps some foreshadowing was seen in this game as Melky Cabrera turns in a 3-hit day in a game that saw just 13 hits in all.  A few weeks later he notched 476 hits in May alone and capped off his first half with an excellent All-Star Game that included the best shoes of the night.

Humber Humbles Mariners                       

April 21stPhilip Humber is perfect in the Emerald City – box, video

The key component of the Johan Santana trade finally pays dividends… for a different team.  The degree of difficulty certainly wasn’t highest as he cut through the Mariners lineup, but Humber isn’t exactly Halladay either so no need to discount his achievement.  Furthermore, if perfect games were easy against crappy lineups, we would see 7-10 a year.  While no-hitters and perfectos have been a bit more frequent in this new pitching age, they are still far from common.  I love the symmetry of Humber’s perfect line that included nine punchouts, too: 9-0-0-0-0-9.  He’s been far from perfect since (7.47 ERA), but on this day he shone brightly.

Yu Takes New York

April 24thYu Darvish fans 10 Yankees in 8+ scoreless – box, video

Darvish had an inauspicious start to his MLB career with an ugly debut against the Mariners followed by better, but still far from special starts against the Twins and Tigers.  He walked four or more in each of those three starts so a visit from the Yankees looked like it could be troublesome.  Of course, whenever you really think something will happen in baseball, the opposite often comes through instead.  Darvish was masterful as he scattered seven hits and two walks in 8.3 scoreless innings.

The Kid Cometh

April 28thBryce Harper makes his surprise debut in LA – box, video

Not only is it Harper’s debut, but Stephen Strasburg is on the mound for the first place Nationals who are facing the first place Dodgers with Vin Scully calling the game.  It really doesn’t get more basebally than that.  Chad Billingsley was hitting on all cylinders, too, and this was actually one of his best outings of the year.  If all those individual components aren’t enough (stop being greedy, jerk), there is the fact that it was a thrilling extra-inning game that was capped off with a Matt Kemp walkoff home run.

The Hittingest Game of the Year

May 2ndRoy Halladay & Tommy Hanson fall apart in an 11-inning, 15-13 battle royale – box, video

Remember what I said about things sometimes not living up to the hype?  Pitting stud arms like Halladay and Hanson together in a battle of division rivals has all the makings of a 2-1 gem.  This game was actually scoreless through two innings which makes the 15-13 score even more impressive.  It was Carlos Chooch Ruiz’s coming out party as he went 3-for-5 with two doubles, a homer and seven RBIs.  Every starting position player had at least a hit, six had 3 hits and five others had a pair of hits.  Oh, and it ends on a walkoff home run by Brian McCann Chipper Jones.  May 2nd was an incredible day of baseball.

Weaver Solves the Twins

May 2ndJered Weaver joins the no-hitter party and comes a walk shy of perfection – box, video

Like whoa, Scoob, the Twins couldn’t earn a single Scooby Snack against Weaver on this night.  The rarity of this game wasn’t so much the no-hitter as it was the Angels winning without the aid of Mike Trout.  Trout had been up for a few days at that point and was inexplicably given a day off.  Fortunately the offense got loose on Liam Hendriks en route to a 9-0 smash job.

Boston Marathon

May 6th – The O’s & Sox go 17 as two position players pitch and one doesn’t succeed – box, video

Neither starter made it through five, but then runs were in short order for quite some time.  There were eight scoreless innings from the 9th thru 16th innings and except for a run for each team in the eighth, there would have been 11 scoreless.  Adrian Gonzalez and Chris Davis both went 0-for-8, but Davis was given the opportunity to make up for his failures and did so with two scoreless innings and ended up with the win.  In fact, Davis exacerbated Gonzalez’s horrible day by striking him out in the 17th.  If you have a free six hours and seven minutes, enjoy this epic.

Hamilton’s Career Day

May 8thJosh Hamilton mashes 4 HR in Baltimore – box, video

This was the eighth game of an incredible 16-game hitting streak by Hamilton during which he hit .424/.493/.966 with 10 home runs, 26 RBIs, 15 runs scored and 64 bat tosses.  This looked like the jump off toward an all-time season, but he cooled off bit in June.  Alas, he is still pacing toward shattering the tossed bat record and putting it out of reach forever as most players know how to hang onto their bats or understand the value of using aids to do so like pine tar since chucking your bat into the stands three or four times a night isn’t ideal from a safety standpoint.

Almost Nothing

May 18thJustin Verlander comes within two outs of no-hitting Pirates – box, video

See, I went nine games without a Detroit game.  There is a no-hitter watch every fifth day when Verlander toes the slab and he showed why again on this Friday evening in Detroit.  He walked the second batter of the game taking perfection out of the equation and the Pirates would go another five innings without a base runner (Andrew McCutchen walked in the 7th) and seemed poised to go hitless until Josh Harrison’s dumb face stepped up to the plate in the ninth.  He stuck his bat out (probably a stupid bat, if I had to guess) and made some fluky, lame-o contact with the ball for a cheapie single up the middle.  I’m not mad, I swear.  SHUT UP!

Maximum Strikeouts

May 20thMax Scherzer registers 15 Ks (all swinging) in a comeback win against the Pirates – box, video

After going nine games in between Tigers mentions you know I had to go back-to-back with ‘em.  Scherzer set the bar for strikeouts on the season (which would be matched, but not topped thus far) with a dazzling performance against the Pirates.  Even seven innings of two-run ball only took his ERA down to 5.73 after an awful April, but including this game he has a 3.56 ERA in his last nine starts with 73 Ks in 55.7 innings (11.8 K/9).

The Most Mike Trout Game Ever

May 20th – The rookie phenom flashes all five tools in San Diego – box, video

Yeah, the Angels lost (3-2) and I actually can’t remember if Trout makes any special defensive plays (two of the five tools are throwing ability and defense) , but if you want a single dose of what he brings to the table, at least offensively speaking, then this game is for you.  In this 13-inning affair, Trout goes 3-for-4 with two singles, a home run, an RBI, two runs scored, two walks (one intentional because teams are scurrred) and two stolen bases.  He also plays centerfield, leftfield and then centerfield again.  Versatility is his middle name (don’t check that).

MeMooreial Day Sale

May 28th – Two promising lefties fan a combined 25 in only 14 innings of work – box, video

Yeah, I realize I’m trying too hard with that headline but just… shut up, please (I said please!).  On the opposite end of the spectrum from that Coors Field Home Run Derby is this Memorial Day throwdown between Chris Sale and Matt Moore, who both sliced up the opposition in a breezy 2-1 game that took just over two and a half hours.  Sale drew the attention for his 15 Ks in 7.3 innings en route to a win, but Moore was impressive with 10 Ks in 7 innings in what was easily his best start to date topped only by his 7 shutout innings against Miami a few weeks later.

More Like No-han

June 1stJohan Santana blanks Cards for first no-hitter in Mets history – box, video

Santana gave everyone the easiest headline of the year by having a first name that starts with something that rhymes with “no” and then throwing a no-hitter.  As his pitch count mounted (thanks in large part to 5 BB), everyone wondered if Terry Collins was going to leave him in for the chance at history, but I’m pretty sure he’d have had to fistfight him to bring him out of that game.  It was a special game and while there was a blown call on what would’ve been a Carlos Beltran hit, I don’t think it takes away from greatness of this one.  Definitely watch the Mets broadcast on this one.  Not just because the special event is happening to them, but because they have the best team this side of Scully.

Free Baseball in DC

June 5th – Mets/Nats play a seesaw extra-inning battle that features 7 ties/lead changes – box, video

I love games that have multiple ties/lead changes during the extra innings portion and this game features just that with scoring in the 10th and 12th innings.  Five of the 13 runs scored occur after regulation.  There are several would-be heroes throughout the game before, yep you guessed it, Bryce Harper comes through with the walkoff win.  It helps that he ends up the hero, but any game with seven Harper at-bats can’t be bad.

Strasburg Dominant for Six

June 8thStephen Strasburg fans 13 Red Sox in just six innings of work – box, video

It wasn’t best start of the year, but it was impressive to watch Strasburg slice his way through the Sox lineup for six strong innings.  He caps the outing by striking out the side twice en route to his 7th win of the season.  Additionally, Harper shines again with a 3-for-5 effort that includes a double and home run with three RBIs and two runs scored.  All that with Fenway Park as the backdrop.

A Team Effort in Seattle

June 8thKevin Millwood leaves early passing a no-hitter to the bullpen – box, video

The peak of Millwood’s season is undoubtedly his filthy four start run that saw him go into the Bronx, Coors Field and Arlington as well as host the Texas Rangers yet come out on the other side with a 0.67 ERA.  He was brilliant for 27 innings with a 0.74 WHIP and 20 Ks.  After a stumble against the White Sox, he was back at it on this night against the Dodgers throwing six no-hit innings with six punchouts and a walk before succumbing to injury and turning the game over.  Charlie Furbush, Stephen Pryor, Lucas Luetge, Brandon League and Tom Wilhelmsen combined for three no-hit innings of their own (Pryor’s two walks being the only blemishes on their collective record) to complete the team no-no.  Adding to the drama is the fact that it was a scoreless game through six and a half innings before Kyle Seager’s RBI single plated Ichiro for the game’s only run.

Cutch Clutch

June 10thAndrew McCutchen drives in all three for Pirates as they draw tied for 1stbox, video

This game is the Pirates season in a nutshell: a big effort from A.J. Burnett and McCutchen leads the offense.  They haven’t been the only the two to lead the team, but it’s an apt microcosm.  Cutch went 2-for-3 with a double and homer, a walk, all three RBIs and a run scored in the 3-2 win.  This was their first day in first place for the season and only a tie at that, but they entered the break with spot all to themselves.  They fell back to second the day after this game and stayed there until early July when again a McCutchen performance led them during a Burnett start.  I didn’t include that game because Burnett was actually knocked around a bit.

Astros Get Cained

June 13thMatt Cain pitches the game of the year (so far) going perfect with 14 Ks – box, video

The Giants scored in the first five innings of this one so the result was never really in question, but it didn’t take away from Cain’s special night.  There were incredible defensive plays to save the perfection, too, including the last play of the game.  Of course Melky Cabrera has a multi-hit game, too, pushing season batting average to 2.498 (yes, he gets nearly 2 ½ hits per AB).

Dickey Doubly Dominant

June 13thR.A. Dickey gets lost in shuffle of Cain, but 1-hits TB with 12 Ks – box, video

June 18th – Dickey repeats his 1-hit feat five days later for the home crowd – box, video

Before Cain’s perfection Dickey limited the Rays to a single hit, and a dubious one at that, fanning 12 and extending his scoreless* streak to 33.3 innings.  Then five days later, he went four no-hit innings before yielding a single to Wilson Betemit.  He upped the ante strikeout-wise, this time punching out 13 and extended the innings streak to 42.3.  It would last two innings into his next start as the CC Sabathia-Dickey showdown on Sunday Night Baseball failed to live up to its billing.  Back-to-back one-hitters are impressive for any pitcher, but there is an added amount of excellence to Dickey’s as a knuckleballer.

*earned runs only, he allowed an unearned run in the TB outing

Anything You Can Do…

June 22ndChris Sale and Zack Greinke go toe-to-toe in a good ol’ fashioned pitcher’s duel – box, video

Sale wound up on the wrong end of this duel, but it was an excellent game as a current ace and potential future ace matched each other pitch for pitch in a 1-0 game that went 10 innings.  There were more innings (10) than hits (9).  Sale leaned on the strikeout with seven in eight innings while Greinke was less-reliant on them netting just four in nine, but still felt plenty dominant inducing tons of weak contact.

That Was Quick

June 29thAaron Cook mows down the Mariners with an 81-pitch shutout – box, video

Cook is one of the premier groundball artists in the game and this actually wasn’t even his best shutout in terms of fewest pitches.  He has a 79-pitch shutout under his belt from his time back in Colorado and a 74-pitch complete game (during which he allowed two runs).  If you want to watch a team just get decimated in a brisk 2 hours and 18 minutes, this is your game.

Coors Field Trolls All of Us

July 1stKip Wells and Drew Pomeranz somehow headline a 2-0 game in Coors Field – box, video

What?  Really?  I am sure bettors lost tons on the over with this one, even if it was an over/under of 15.  Wells hadn’t pitched in the majors in two years and had been awful when he did from 2004 through 2009 yet he throws up seven scoreless in Coors Field.  Pomermanz is a promising rookie, but Coors has been chewing up established veterans let alone promising rookies this year so this had trouble written all over it.  So of course he throws six strong allowing just an unearned run on two hits and three walks.  It is easily the best trolling by a stadium since Veterans Stadium was seriously used for actual sporting events for 30+ years.

Tuesday: 07.10.2012

For Sale: Quality Arms

The Colorado Rockies pitching staff is a mess right now.  They have a league-worst 5.26 ERA which eclipses second-worst Minnesota by 0.40 thanks in large part to their home ballpark ignoring the current state of baseball as a pitcher’s dreamland and playing like the early 2000s Coors Field.  To wit, their home ERA is 5.87, nearly a full run worse than Minnesota 4.91 (yikes, I thought they had a pitcher’s park?).  They are more than two runs worse than the 3.78 NL average at home.

While they are better on the road at 4.57, they are still nowhere near the 4.19 NL (and league, in this case) average.  So we can’t just pin the blame on Coors Field and be done with it.  That environment certainly isn’t helping matters, but an overwhelming lack of talent is the real problem here.  Yet I can’t help but think that perhaps they would be better off if they stopped giving away talent for absolutely nothing.

FELIPE PAULINO

The Rockies acquired Paulino from the Houston Astros for Clint Barmes in November of 2010.  It was a small move, but definitely one where they got the upside even before the 20/15 hindsight.  Paulino labored a bit through 92 innings (5.11 ERA, 1.54 WHIP), but the upside was there in a 27-year old who averaged 95.5 MPH on his fastball with a groundball lean.  He needed to learn how to work with runners on (59% LOB in ’10), but the 4.36 xFIP pointed to promise.

Barmes, meanwhile, was a glove-only shortstop as he followed up his 23 home run season of 2009 with just eight.  In fact, his OPS+ of 82 showed that even the 23 HR season wasn’t terribly special and his 67 OPS+ in 2010 only punctuated that fact.  Even before either suited up for their new teams, this looked like a strong move for Colorado with the potential to be a truly great one if Paulino could figure it out.

Something stood out from Paulino’s time in Houston: he seemed to really struggle as a reliever.  Granted the samples were tiny (21 total innings across three years), but he was just insanely bad compared to when he was starting.

Something about relieving just didn’t seem to sit right with Paulino.  You might think that slotting him in relief would work, maybe add a tick or two to his 95 MPH heat and allow him to become a dominant force out of the bullpen, but at the same time it was probably best to explore the starting option with him given the aforementioned velocity he carried as a starter.

The Rockies were set on the relief role for Paulino and in 18 outings he posted an ugly 7.36 ERA and 2.05 WHIP across 14.7 innings.  Outings of five and two runs in 0.3 of work for each definitely inflated the numbers of his small sample, but alas the Rockies had seen enough.  In fact the 2 ER/0.3 IP outing was his last as with the team, they were done with him

OK, so find another team willing to take a shot on the 95 MPH flamethrower and get an upside prospect or team-controlled major leaguer in return, right?  Or just sell him to the Kansas City Royals.  After 4.3 innings of scoreless mop up work in his first outing for the Royals, they made him a starter full-time and immediately saw glimpses of his potential.

Including the relief outing, Paulino opened his KC tenure with 12.3 scoreless innings and had a 1.29 ERA in 21 innings through the relief outing and his first three starts.  He was up and down the rest of the way, but more good than bad with only a couple of true flameout starts (including one in Oakland, oddly enough).  He closed the season with four really strong starts yielding a 3.75 ERA and 1.17 ERA in 24 innings, but more importantly an 11.6 K/9 and 4.4 K/BB.

Unfortunately injuries delayed the start of his 2012 season and then ended it way too prematurely, but he was headed for a breakout season posting a 1.67 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 9.3 K/9 and 2.6 K/BB in 37.7 innings of work before succumbing to an elbow injury that many believe will end up being a Tommy John Surgery.

That doesn’t change the fact that the Rockies gave up on him after less than 15 innings of crappy relief and got nothing in return.  He may have eventually gotten injured in Colorado, too, but that outcome of an injury doesn’t change the fact that their process was horrible especially since they started off on the right foot by trading a piece that they had no use for in Barmes to get Paulino..

FRANKLIN MORALES

Morales was a product of the Rockies system and was heavily lauded as a future star.  Kevin Goldstein had him first in the system in 2008 as a five-star prospect and slotted him 13th overall on his top 100 list that year.  Baseball America also had him first in the organization and liked him even more on the bigger scale tabbing him as the 8th-best prospect in baseball that year.

Control was a major issue for Morales coming up with walk rates ranging from 4.2 to 6.9 BB/9 in his five stops en route to his 2007 big league debut (a year before the glowing ratings from prospect mavens).  In eight starts down the stretch, Morales was great for the Rockies including a stretch of 20-scoreless than spanned three outings (of 5, 6, and 6 IP) and three innings of a fourth.  His peripherals weren’t flashy (5.9 K/9, 1.9 K/BB), but a 55% groundball rate aided him to a 3.43 ERA.

He opened 2008 with an outing of six scoreless innings before imploding and walking four or more in three of his next four starts.  The Rockies pulled the plug in April after a 6.39 ERA in 25.3 innings and sent him to the minors where he finished the implosion (5.47 ERA, 6.8 K/9, 1.0 K/BB).  He opened 2009 with another gem, but left his second start with a shoulder strain.

He wouldn’t start another game for the Rockies.  He spent some time in the minors in 2009 before coming back as a reliever.  He wasn’t too bad to close out 2009 and even closed for a spell.  He would pitch another 42.7 innings in 49 appearances over 2010 and 2011 with rather awful results: 5.48 ERA, 1.64 WHIP, 8.0 K/9 and 1.2 K/BB.  Nevertheless, he was a 25-year old lefty throwing 94+ MPH so there was still some hope.  Alas, the Rockies jettisoned him to the Red Sox.

That’s OK, surely they picked up a nice upside lottery ticket of their own in return given Morales’ youth, handedness and velocity.  What’s that?  They got actual lottery tickets?  Like Paulino, Morales was sold and unsubstantiated reports suggest that the Rockies spent the money on Powerball tickets during the last big drawing.

He was instantly better with the Red Sox slicing two walks off of his rate down to 3.1 in 32.3 innings out of their bullpen late last year.  He pumped his strikeout rate up to 8.6 K/9 as well.  After getting 23.7 more innings of solid relief out of him this year (3.04 ERA, 20 Ks), the Red Sox have given him another shot at starting.

The early returns are encouraging.  He brilliant through the first three before stumbling against the Yankees against whom he allowed four home runs in just 3.3 innings.  Even still, he has a 4.22 ERA as a starter (not bad especially when considering the 6 ER dud vs. NYY) with a ridiculously impressive 1.17 WHIP, 11.0 K/9 and 5.2 K/BB in 21.3 innings.  And the Rockies got nothing for this guy.  OK, not nothing, they got cash, but that’s really nothing on the baseball landscape.

Rotoworld posted an update (I don’t see a way to link to individual updates from RW) under both Morales and Paulino’s profiles around the time they were being shopped that included this nugget: “The Rox are fed up with both pitchers, but they’re both out of options and they don’t want to lose them without getting anything in return.”  Whoops.  Didn’t quite achieve that.

The real question is why were they so fed up with the two?  It seems both were given awfully short leashes before being cast out for some money.  For an organization that has long been starved for pitching, how can you really justify giving up on one of the hardest throwers in baseball (Paulino) and a young lefty with his own incredible velocity (Morales)?

While that issue likely falls at the feet of Dan O’Dowd and his front office team, the coaching staff doesn’t get off scot-free as both pitchers began exhibiting some of their potential immediately after they left Colorado.  First off, I think they improperly deployed both.  But even when the Red Sox used Morales as a reliever, he was much better with them.  How did they instantly cut his walk rate like that?  That can’t be blamed on Coors Field.

I don’t have all the answers here, but these look like a couple of inexcusably bad moves on the part of the Rockies.  And I didn’t even dive into the case of Esmil Rogers who was recently sold to the Indians and instantly turned into a far better pitcher than he was with Colorado.

His scant 13.3 inning sample isn’t enough to make any sweeping judgments from, but again, how does he go from a 4.5 BB/9 (and 6.3 in 25.7 IP this year) with the Rockies to 0.7 with the Indians?  How is a 96 MPH hurler just sold away for no talent in return?  I realize there are more hard throwers available these days (seems every pen has a 95+ guy or three), but that doesn’t mean they should be given away.

Maybe it is time for a full scale regime change within the Rockies from top to bottom as they simply don’t seem to be making the most of their talent whether when deploying it on the field (coaching) or when turning into assets once they deem it to no longer worthy of the organization’s time (front office).

 

Friday: 07.6.2012

Kate Upton in Detroit at Comerica Park

Coming back from break to start the bottom of the eighth, Fox Sports Detroit clued viewers in on a special guest in the ballpark as supermodel and native Michigander (born in St. Joseph) Kate Upton was shown with friends enjoying a Tigers win.  I spontaneously combusted immediately, but now I’m back.  She (unsurprisingly) looked great in her Tigers hat as she and her friends sang “Don’t Stop Believin'” by Journey… a Comerica Park (and any Detroit arena/stadium for that matter) staple.  Now, for your viewing pleasure:

Wednesday: 07.4.2012

Paul’s 24 to Target

(Ed. note – This will likely be it for the week on PaulSporer.com.  I was going to split it up, but decided to give you all 5,000+ words at once.  I may have something up for Friday, otherwise look for my stuff at BP and then back here next week.)

We have flipped the calendar to July, we’re officially beyond labeling a player’s stat line as a hot or cold “start”*, the All-Star break is right around the corner and trade season is kicking into high gear in both fantasy and real baseball.  With that, I wanted to take an opportunity to highlight my favorite starting pitcher trade targets.  Why 24?  Because it’s my favorite number, that’s really the only reason.

* let’s be honest, this probably should’ve stopped around Memorial Day, but I heard it a lot throughout June.

There is a range of talent within this list so it’s not just a bunch of aces leaving you saying, “No f’n duh!” though some will be entirely unsurprising (“what, Paul likes Hamels?? Weeeiiirrrdddd”), but they represent the group of guys I’d be buying via trade or definitely hanging onto if I already had them on my team.

They aren’t necessarily ranked in order, but look at it more as a talent spectrum with the better guys clustered near the top and the riskier, less-established arms in the 20s.  The exclusion of guys doesn’t mean I don’t like them (obviously acquire Justin Verlander if you can at a reasonable price, but he’s guaranteed to cost two arms and nine legs), these are just my 24 favorites to target.

1. Cole Hamels – I didn’t waste any time with him, did I?  I still don’t think he is universally treated like the ace that he is and that means you may not have to pay ace-level prices for him via trade.  This is especially true with Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee pitching at peak, which they obviously aren’t with the former on the disabled list and the latter struggling at times and not getting any support when he’s excelling.

This doesn’t mean you are going to steal him from a leaguemate for Carlos Lee and Justin Masterson, but he rarely costs a price commensurate with his value like a Verlander or Stephen Strasburg.  He is a four-category star (10 wins even on the Phillies, while Lee has 0 showing you just how random the stat can be) with bankable strikeouts, ERA and WHIP and pacing toward a career-high in wins after reaching 15 just once in his career.

2. Madison Bumgarner – Despite posting great ratios (2.96 ERA, 1.15 WHIP) in his first four starts, his peripherals were a bit wobbly (4.6 K/9, 1.6 K/BB) which was a bit unnerving especially for those expecting an ace-level season out of him.  Since then he has a 2.81 ERA and 1.03 WHIP backed by 8.5 K/9 and 5.4 K/BB rates in 86.3 innings of work.

That is despite giving up exactly four runs in five of the 12 outings.  He has been virtually unhittable in the other seven giving up an average of 1 run (four w/1 ER, one w/2 ER and a shutout).  He has three double-digit strikeout outings in that span as well.  In short, he has been the beast we were hoping to see in 2012.  The best part is that he is just 22 years old so he works for those trading for 2012 and those trading with an eye on 2013.

3. David Price – Price is rounding into form as the season wears on.  While his strikeout rate and WHIP improve month over month, his ERA is incrementally on the rise, though a 3.29 peak as we saw in June is hardly reason for concern.  I’m far more interested in the first two factors as he continues to miss more bats and allow fewer baserunners.

As the Rays move toward being whole again (namely getting Evan Longoria back) and stabilizing the defense, his and this next guy’s improved groundball rates will pay bigger dividends.  This franchise isn’t used to spotty D in recent years, but the shuffling in and out of reserves who were supposed to play sparingly throughout the year has compromised their usually razor-sharp defense.   Price could actually get better in the dog days and improve upon his 2.92 ERA, while this guy almost assuredly will…

4. James Shields – Another guy that anyone who has read my work for a while is completely unsurprised to see gracing a list like this.  I’m a huge Shields fan and while things haven’t gone exactly according to plan this year, I foresee improvements in the near future.  He, too, will benefit from a more solid defense as his groundball rate is at a career-high 54%, up from last year’s 46% which was a previous career-high.  Meanwhile he has improved his strikeout rate with only little harm to his walk rate (2.8 BB/9, up from 2.4).

He is the first guy on the list who you can probably acquire at a significant discount compared to his value since the 4.04 ERA and 1.40 WHIP are pretty ugly right now.  The danger is that this become a mini-2010 as his skills were great that year yet he ended up with a 5.18 ERA and 1.46 WHIP.  I don’t see a 5.18 ERA coming, but he needs the defense to start turning his groundballs into more outs and he himself needs to sharpen up with runners on.  I believe he will.

5. Johnny Cueto – Being the unabashed strikeout love I am, you might be surprised to see Cueto on this list, but I just love what he is doing these days.  I’ve watched his last few outings to get a better feel for the 2012 iteration and I came away impressed.  What he lacks in strikeouts (6.6 K/9), he makes up for in groundballs (49%) which is my second favorite skill of a pitcher.  He has a four-seamer and sinker that both sit around 93 MPH and he peppers the zone with both.  Meanwhile he pounds his 83-84 MPH changeup low in the zone, but also down out of the zone (22% of them are out of the nine square strikezone).

He continues to lower his walk rate, too, dropping down to 2.1 BB/9 this year making his strikeout rate more palatable.  He is going deeper into games this year as well averaging 6.7 innings per outing, a number on the rise yearly since 2009.  His next hurdle is a 200-inning season, a figure he is tracking toward this year (on pace for 223 innings in 33 starts).  Obviously if strikeouts are your main need, Cueto isn’t for you, but he delivers everywhere else.

6. Josh Johnson – The start of a player’s season, whether good or bad, can have a lasting effect that often skews the perception of that player for the rest of the season.  Take Johnson for example.  I think a lot of folks in the fantasy community would say he’s having kind of a “meh” season (if not worse) if you asked them their thoughts on him without showing them a stat sheet.  If you brought his 3.80 ERA and 1.37 WHIP into the mix, they would probably feel justified in their assessment.

However, a look into his game log shows that he struggled to work the kinks out after spending most of 2011 on the shelf, but turned a corner in early May and has been quite excellent since then.  The Padres tattooed him for six runs in 2.7 innings in Petco back on May 4th pushing his ERA up to 6.61.  To that point, he had gone more than six innings just twice and completed the seventh just once.  Since then he has a 2.47 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in 66 innings across 10 starts going fewer than six innings just once and going seven or more in six of the 10.

His strikeout rate is at 7.8 K/9 in that stretch with a strong 3.0 K/BB.  The strikeouts aren’t up a ton from those first six starts (7.5 K/9), but his walks are done a ton (2.2 K/BB) as he has walked 19 in the 10 starts after 12 in those first six.  He isn’t 100% back to 2010-2011 Josh Johnson, but he isn’t far off and I wouldn’t be surprised if he ran off a stretch of vintage JJ starts at some point later this season.

7. Yovani Gallardo – I know I have been beating this drum since early May, but if you lift Gallardo’s two starts against the Cardinals and look at his numbers, he has a 2.80 ERA and 1.24 WHIP.  His walk rate also drops from 4.1 BB/9 to 3.7.  I realize you can’t cherry-pick starts, but if you just avoid his St. Louis starts (he’s always struggled against them), then Gallardo is still the stud we expected him to be this year.

Even with the Cardinals starts, his bottom line numbers are palatable (3.87 ERA, 1.39 WHIP), though hardly star level.  His walk rate has regressed severely after he showed tons of improvement down to a very strong 2.6 BB/9 last year.  He can be successful walking that many, but it obviously eats into his margin for error.  He can be a star if he just gets it back to 3.5 or better.  I am still all-in on Gallardo.

8. Mat Latos – I have stood by Latos all season long and it is finally paying big dividends with back-to-back complete games (1 ER in each).  Home runs look like the primary culprit for his 4.42 ERA as he has allowed 1.6 HR/9, however it isn’t really a consistent issue so much as it is a few bouts of gopheritis really hampering him.  He has allowed 2+ home runs three times this year and those are three of his four worst outings (the other was against those blasted Cardinals).

He allowed five solo shots to the Rockies (not in Coors believe it or not), three in Cleveland and a pair to the Astros at home.  In those outings, he gave up five, seven and five earned runs.  Also of note is that his problems are incorrectly being tied to his shift into the Great American Ballpark.  He has actually fared much better at home (3.47 ERA) than on the road (5.92) despite a better strikeout rate (9.7 compared to 7.4 at home) and nearly equal K/BB rate (3.2 compared to 3.3 at home).

His 3.61 road xFIP suggest brighter days ahead away from home.  Meanwhile, after an ugly 5.7 K/9 in April, he has a 9.4 K/9 in 69 innings since so he could be in for a huge second half as an across-the-board contributor.  On the heels of those complete games, his price has likely risen, but you may also have the effect of some wanting to parlay the outings into an opportunity to dump Latos at a peak.  I think there are more peaks in his future.

9. Adam Wainwright – Getting pummeled by the Pirates (7 ER on 11 H in 5 IP) might seem like the end of the world for someone of Wainwright’s caliber, but you might be surprised to learn that the Pirates scored the most runs in baseball during the month of June (146) and led the NL in home runs (39).  So it’s not as bad as it would seem at first blush.  Wainwright has been a rollercoaster ride during his return from Tommy John Surgery, which shouldn’t be too surprising.

Expected him to be vintage Wainwright right out of the gate would be stupid.  So while the peripheral skills have been pretty close to 2009-2010 Wainwright, he still has his off games.  For example, he had a stretch of four starts in June where he posted a 2.70 ERA with 27 Ks in 27 innings, but he sandwiched that run with a pair of 7 ER outings (including the most recent one against the Pirates).

He is still a work in progress in terms getting back to his elite level, but I think the flameout starts will be fewer and farther between as the season wears on.  I think the Cardinals have handled him masterfully with just two starts over 110 pitches and only seven over 100.  He didn’t even hit the century mark until his sixth start.  As much as they need him with Chris Carpenter and Jaime Garcia on the shelf, they know that pushing him beyond his limits will only result in him joining his fallen teammates on the disabled list.

10. Ian Kennedy – Kennedy was amazing last year, there is no denying that: 2.88 ERA, 1.09 WHIP and a 21-4 record in 222 innings.  He had an 8.0 K/9 and 2.2 BB/9.  His BABIP, LOB and HR/FB rates all beat league averages which aided his 2.88 ERA compared to his 3.50 xFIP.  His skills have actually been a tick better this year (8.1 K/9, 2.0 BB/9) yet his ERA has skyrocketed to 4.20 thanks in part to a leveling out of his BABIP, LOB and HR/FB rates.  His 3.96 xFIP says the ERA probably regressed a bit too far.

These are skills to invest in and now is the optimal time with his ERA up over 4.00.  You’re unlikely to find someone selling him at a bargain basement price, but there is no way you still have to pay for 2011 Kennedy and he could be that guy from here on out.  We even saw glimpses of it in June, but he was just inconsistent as you can see from earned runs allowed in the month: 0, 6, 2, 5, 1.

He seems to have worked through the home run issue that got him throughout May as he allowed 2 HR in three of his six outings.  And as a flyball pitcher in that home ballpark, home runs will be a big key to his success for better or worse.  I’m betting on better.

11. Matt Garza – Cherry-pick alert.  Garza was brilliant through his first seven starts (2.58 ERA, 1.04 WHIP) before suffering through his worst two outings of the years during which he allowed 13 runs (12 earned) in eight innings thanks in large part to five home runs.  Since then, he has been solid with a 3.72 ERA and 1.09 WHIP in 36.3 innings.  The kicker?  Those two outings were against Houston and Pittsburgh, both on the road so you can’t blame the wind in Wrigley.  Minute Maid can be prone to longballs, but PNC Park is a pitcher’s haven.

I know boiling it down to two starts seems simplistic, but he allowed five of his 12 home runs in that outing and he has been a 3.09 ERA, 1.09 WHIP pitcher outside of those outings.  He basically had a bad week.  A couple of rough outings can still skew the bottom line enough to distort how good someone has been as I mentioned with Gallardo and his St. Louis starts, and also Garza in these two starts.

12. Matt Moore – I know better than to jump on the hype train with unproven pitchers, but I still fell victim to it with Moore.  His incredible stretch at the end of last year was a limited sample, but he was so good and those flawless mechanics are hypnotizing.  As much as I bought in on him, I was at all surprised to see him stumble out of the gate because that’s just how it goes so often with inexperienced pitchers.  That said, he is immensely talented and even while struggling he was showing positive signs.  I firmly believed early on that he would get better as the season progressed.

So far that is how it has played out.  He sprinkled a few good starts in during his first nine, but still finished the run with an ERA slightly north of 5.00 at an ugly 5.07 in 49.7 innings.  He hadn’t completed seven innings to that point.  He did so for the first time in his 10th start (the incredible Memorial Day showdown between he and Chris Sale) and has done so three other times since then, too.  In those seven starts, he has a 3.18 ERA in 45.3 innings with 45 strikeouts and just 18 walks (compared to 27 in those first 49.7 innings).

Moore still has room for growth this year, specifically with the walk rate as a 3.6 BB/9 (his rate in the 45.3 IP sample) is hardly special.  You aren’t going to see Moore discounted even a little bit in keeper leagues (which doesn’t deter me from buying), but the ERA north of 4.00 after 95 innings has very likely lowered his price (which was sky-high on draft day) in re-draft leagues and I’d be ready to take advantage of that.

13. James McDonald – I am not averse to buying high on guys when I believe they are for real and as the driver of the James McDonald Bandwagon, I obviously believe in him, but his inclusion is as much about letting fantasy managers know they don’t have to sell high for fear of a second half implosion.  There were 16 pitchers with a sub-3.00 ERA last year and there are 21 in the 2012 group.  There is no reason McDonald can’t be one of the 2012 group by season’s end.

For me, command and control were the missing ingredients for McDonald to reach his potential so it’s no surprise that chief among his improvements this year include a career-best 2.7 BB/9, down from 4.1 BB/9 a year ago.  Meanwhile, his breaking stuff has been downright unhittable, especially his curveball.  In the 73 plate appearances ending on a curveball, batters have a .096/.096/.192 line with 31 strikeouts.  They haven’t fared much better against his slider: .143/.194/.222 with 29 strikeouts.

This isn’t smoke and mirrors.  He has made some real improvements as a pitcher and should remain a quality asset for the remainder of the season.

14. Jonathon Niese – Niese is posting a career-high strikeout rate thus far at 8.6 K/9 aiding career-bests in ERA (3.55) and WHIP (1.27), too.  The intriguing part is that he is some home run bad luck (19% HR/FB rate) away from an even lower ERA as we see from his 3.36 xFIP.  Always a groundball pitcher, Niese has taken it to new heights the last two years at 52% and 51% the last two years (identical 1.8 GB/FB rates).

Niese is hovering around 50% availability at ESPN and Yahoo! and I just don’t get it.  This lefty seems to be improving year over and year, plus at 25-years old, he has keeper potential, too.  He is someone to invest in regardless of league type.  By the way, I typed the Niese portion on Tuesday afternoon and then he went out and threw eight innings of 1-run ball against the Phillies.  Not the stiffest competition, but that should cut into his availability at ESPN and Yahoo!, so act quickly.

15. Dan Haren – I know, you’re surprised that Haren wasn’t listed immediately after Hamels.  I haven’t completely lost faith in my boy Haren, but I am at least a bit concerned.  I know he was dealing with some back soreness early in May when he labored through a trio of starts that he would normally cut through with ease (6.61 ERA at Min, vs. Oak and at SD).  He bounced back with a 1.29 ERA in his next three including outings against the Yankees and Rangers.

Since then he has just been bad (7.94 ERA in four starts) and while you can give him a break for going into Coors, that one was actually his best outing in terms of earned runs (4).  He allowed five earned runs to the Dodgers which I believe accounted for 68% of their June runs.  Through it all, he is still fanning more than last year (7.7 K/9) and maintaining an elite K/BB ratio (3.7) and I just can’t quit him.

His value may never be lower so now is the time to buy in if you’re a believer like me.  I also typed Haren’s piece Tuesday afternoon and he went out and had yet another garbage outing further depressing his value.  You may have to hold your nose while proposing a trade to acquire him, but I don’t think we’re at Tim Lincecum levels with him.  The All-Star break will hopefully help him get right.

16. Jordan Zimmermann – I put some lofty expectations on Zimm heading into the 2012 season and he has essentially delivered.  No one is complaining about a 2.77 ERA and 1.15 WHIP, but a meager 4-6 record and modest 6.0 K/9 have kept him from a truly special season.  The former is hardly his fault as the Nats don’t have a great offense and have often scratched out wins late in the game.  The latter seems to be more of a choice by Zimmermann.

He seems to be one of those guys who will go for the strikeouts when he needs them and take them when hitters are vulnerable, otherwise he is plenty happy to induce weak contact and conserve pitches through shorter at-bats. He has outings with 9,7, 6, 6, 6, 6 & 5 Ks all in seven or fewer innings.  He also has a pair of 1 K outings during which he induced 16 and 14 groundballs, including his start in Colorado where keeping the ball down is paramount to succeeding (to wit he threw seven 1-run innings).

He is probably going to be a guy in the 6.0-6.5 K/9 range, which I can live with if he maintains a 50% or better groundball and sub-2.0 BB/9 rates to go with it.  He essentially becomes a Cueto-type at that point.  These kinds of guys have to be seen to get a better handle on their game because those who just look at the stats will be unsatisfied and automatically assume regression is coming since their ERAs have such big splits from their xFIPs.

17. Edwin Jackson – He was in the midst of a special first half before falling victim to Coors Field (8 ER in 3 IP).  In his other 14 starts, he allowed more than three runs just twice.  He continues to develop as a pitcher and get incrementally better.  For the first time since his season in Detroit, he has a WHIP that doesn’t hurt you, in fact it is very helpful at 1.13.  He has become a rather reliable asset since 2009 and at 28, there is still a bit of upside, too.  That is exactly the kind of guy to invest in, especially since he never carries an exorbitant price tag.

18. Phil Hughes – Home runs are really the only thing keeping Hughes from a great season.  He gave up at least one in each of his first 12 starts, snapped the streak for just a game and then gave up four to the Braves during a home run derby in Yankee Stadium with temps pushing up toward 100.  He doesn’t get a reprieve just because of the park and weather, though, if for no other reason than the fact that he will have to deal with both all season long.

He has finally had back-to-back homer-less games and unsurprisingly he has managed 16 innings of 2-run ball with 12 strikeouts and just two walks.  And both games were at home, so that is also encouraging.  He came out of his May 1st start with a 7.46 ERA, but has a 3.34 ERA since despite that stretch including outings with seven and six earned runs.  In other words, he has been great in his last 11 starts.

A heavy flyball pitcher with home run issues in that ballpark means there is probably a cap on how low his ERA can go (probably around 3.70 or so).  To reach that mark for the season he would be around 3.00-3.10 the rest of the way, but even if he is just a 3.70 guy for the remainder of 2012, he still has plenty of value with his strikeouts (8.5 K/9) and heightened win potential as a Yankee (9 W already this year).

19. Gavin Floyd – Despite the best strikeout rate of his career (8.3 K/9) and a walk rate right in line with what we have come to expect from Floyd (2.7 BB/9), he has posted his worst ERA since 2007 (4.91).  He just hasn’t been consistent this year.  Every time he appears to get going, he flames out for a start or three.  So why am I buying?  Well, apart from the quality skills profile (which also includes a consistent groundball lean; 1.1 GB/FB this year), Floyd has also shown himself to be a better pitcher later in the season.

For his career, he has a 4.87 ERA, 6.8 K/9 and 2.0 K/BB in 620 first half innings and a 4.06 ERA, 7.4 K/9 and 3.1 K/BB in 435 second half innings.  Half-season trends aren’t the most stable splits so I don’t trust them blindly, but Floyd’s skills are such that I would be buying anyway and his penchant for turning it up in the second half only adds to the desire to acquire him.

20. Doug Fister – One of the worries for the 2012 season was that the infield defense of the Tigers would heavily impact both Fister and Rick Porcello negatively as groundball pitchers.  Unfortunately, that has played out as both have bloated .339 BABIPs with Fister allowing 10.7 H/9 and Porcello at 11.2 H/9.  Still, I look at Fister’s peripherals and see someone who has to be better than his 4.61 ERA.  He has a 7.6 K/9 and 3.8 K/BB in 54.7 innings, but the hits just pile up and lead to meltdown innings.

Anecdotally, the defense has extended approximately 53 of the 55 innings he has pitched in with poor defense giving the opposition a fourth, fifth or twelfth out.  Rumors are swirling that the Tigers will look to address second base during the trade deadline and hopefully they look for a defense-first option.  Jhonny Peralta has been fine at shortstop, not great and not awful (-0.1 UZR), but the corners have been as bad as feared with both Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder posting -3.6 and -3.9 UZRs.

UZRs aren’t terribly trustworthy in full year samples let alone three month samples, but as someone who has watched every Tigers game, those numbers feel pretty accurate.  All that said, the defense was garbage during his first eight starts and he had a 2.72 ERA.

His start in Texas was the worst of his career and that can’t be laid at the feet of the defense and he followed that up with an outing that just went off the rails after three excellent innings.  He was singled to death in fourth inning some of which was poor defense.  Anyway, I’m rambling at this point.  On the heels of two of the worst starts in his career, now is the time to buy.  He will be fine with these skills.

21. Jarrod Parker – A hard-throwing super prospect with great stuff and a favorable home park is easy to get behind.  Walks are an issue (4.4 BB/9), but he showed some improvement there from May to June (he only had six innings in April).  I think they will remain his biggest issue this year, but that park can cover a lot of mistakes so the key to his success will be keeping his head afloat on the road which he has done with aplomb thus far including seven shutout innings in Coors Field.

He has given up more than two runs just twice this year (though both were 6 ER outings) leading to a 1.54 ERA in seven home starts.  Both of the ugly outings are on the road, but he has still maintained a 3.74 on the road.  At the very least, he is a worthy home-only spot starter for those of you in leagues where such roster management is possible (10/12 mixers, ideally with daily transactions).  I also see him adding strikeouts as the season wears on, too.

22. Michael Fiers – Where the heck did this guy come from?  At 27, Fiers feels like a journeyman, but he was drafted at 24 so it’s not like he has labored through the minors year after year.  He raced through the minors with impressive numbers at each level, though his age kept him from being much of a prospect and likely had some discounting the performance.

He doesn’t have overly impressive stuff, either, which is another reason he wasn’t exactly a blue chip prospect for the Brewers.  You can’t argue with the major league results, though.  It has been a tiny 39-inning sample, but he is striking out 9.4 per game and walking just 1.8 leading to a 2.29 ERA and 1.07 WHIP.  He has been a good bit below average with his HR/FB rate (4%), especially as a flyball pitcher so we can probably expect some regression there.

But the skills are rock solid and he should be usable across all formats even if he is more a 3.60ish ERA pitcher the rest of the way.  He has shown to have strong command and control throughout his pro career and a deception in his delivery that keeps hitters guessing.  Those elements do a lot to cover up a lack of raw stuff.

23. Brandon McCarthy – It’s not about skill with McCarthy, it’s all about health.  And right now, his health simply cannot be relied upon.  That makes him a worthy trade target though because it lowers the price.  By the way, if for some reason it doesn’t lower the price in your league, then just move on.  Love the pitcher, love the potential, hate the shoulder.  I didn’t deep dive into the numbers here because there is no real need, they’re great and they will likely continue to be great when he is pitching.  It’s just a matter of keeping him on the field consistently.

24. Joe Blanton – Maybe I’m just being sucked in by an NL-best 5.9 K/BB (OK, not maybe, I am), but I think Blanton’s best work is still ahead of him.  He doesn’t walk anyone (1.3 BB/9, also an NL-best) and he misses plenty of bats with a 7.7 K/9.  His 9.6% swinging strike rate is on a four year rise, too.  On the downside, perhaps he is finding his pitches in the zone too often as his 19 home runs and 115 hits are also “lead” the NL.  Of course, you don’t want to be leading those categories.

The control is there, he can miss bats and he limits walks, but in order to push these skills into better results, he needs to show some better command and put the ball where he wants it more often within the zone as opposed to where the hitters want it.  He is a speculative play worthy of NL-only leagues or deeper mixed leagues.  If you’re in dire need of WHIP with few options available to you, you could do worse than Blanton (1.25) especially since he brings some potential ERA upside along with him.

This will likely be it for the week on PaulSporer.com.  I was going to split it up, but decided to give you all 5,000+ words at once.  I may have something up for Friday, otherwise look for my stuff at BP and then back here next week.