Sixty Feet, Six Inches: Five impending turnarounds


"The Matrix" sequels were disappointments. The first time I tasted Brussels sprouts was a disappointment. Don DeLillo's haughty mess "Cosmopolis" was a disappointment. Seeing Phil Collins live in concert when I was 13 wasn't a disappointment, but later finding out how terminally uncool that made me was. That "South Park" where they bash hybrid cars was a disappointment. Much as I love Uma Thurman, the film adaptation of "Even Cowgirls Get the Blues" was a disappointment. And not getting to see Matt Berry's face the moment Celtics crushed the Lakers was a disappointment.

And just a week shy of the halfway point of the 2008 baseball season, there have been many starting pitching disappointments. Shall I name a few? Roy Oswalt, Ian Snell, Rich Hill, Yovani Gallardo, Jeff Francis, Tom Gorzelanny, John Smoltz, Kelvim Escobar and Phil Hughes. For some of those names, the season's already done. For others, the chances for a full recovery are looking mighty slim. But I do think there's hope for a few of the first half's letdowns:

Randy Johnson, Diamondbacks. The 70 strikeouts in 68 innings are swell, but the Big Unit hasn't had a WHIP above 1.33 since 1992, and now he's languishing at 1.40? Yikes. He's also on pace to have the second-highest ERA (4.76) of his career (though to be fair, the highest, 5.00, came two seasons ago with the Yankees). But Johnson's dominance is still in evidence, he's inducing many grounders and limiting fly balls at rates consistent with his career averages, and he's still throwing hard, albeit not quite as hard as he did in his recent history (his fastball now averages around 90, compared to 92 over the past few seasons). The reason not to buy low on the Unit is injury fear, and I can't really placate you there, except to say that I didn't think he'd even get this far. But what has me most stoked about improvement here is the luck factor: Johnson currently has a .355 BABIP (compared to a career average of .305) and a strand rate of 62.2 percent (compared to a career average of 74.7 percent). Like several of the other pitchers on this list, he's been unlucky. That should turn around -- provided his back stays attached to the rest of him.

A.J. Burnett, Blue Jays: Burnett hasn't made friends in Toronto lately by openly discussing his desire to play for the Cubs, but frankly, if your league doesn't penalize for a league change, any such trade could only enhance Burnett's value, wins-wise. As things stand, he's lumbering along with a 4.90 ERA and a 1.51 WHIP, and the main culprit has been his control. In '07, Burnett walked 66 in 165 2/3 innings, while in '08, he's walked 47 in just 86 1/3. But his BABIP is .344 (career: .290) and his strand rate is 65.6 percent (career: 71.1 percent). We've also seen a relatively dramatic decrease in grounders (from 54.8 percent in '07 to 47.4 percent in '08), which corresponds to issues with his curveball. Burnett is still throwing 94 mph but hasn't had a great feel for the curve on a consistent basis. Luck should turn around, and if the Jays decide to dump the $24 million he's owed on the last two years of his deal, he could be in line to improve his six wins.

Brett Myers, Phillies: To some extent, I think Myers is suffering from a little Daisuke-itis, which is to say that he's got several good pitches and isn't really committing to any of them. With him, it hasn't been a case of bad luck, it's been a case of homers: As of this writing, he has allowed a major-league-worst 20, contributing to his 5.58 ERA and his 1.54 WHIP. The weird thing is that Myers' strikeouts aren't down (he's got 79 in 92 innings), nor is his velocity. He's just way too hittable, especially via the long ball. After two nice outings on May 30 and June 4, he's been rocked in each of his past two starts. The guy's 27, shows no signs of being hurt, is fanning hitters and hasn't completely lost his control. I'm not saying he's the second-half Cy Young winner waiting to happen, and I'd get him on my fantasy bench for the time being. But Myers fits the profile of a guy who'll turn it around.

Clay Buchholz, Red Sox: The Sox are playing games this season. Josh Beckett could've gone on that season-opening trip to Japan. Daisuke Matsuzaka probably could've pitched through his "sore shoulder." And Buchholz almost certainly could've pitched through his "cracked fingernail." But the team learned a lesson when Beckett was fresh for the playoffs last year: A little missed time in the regular season can be a good thing. There's no question the team wanted Buchholz to work on locating his fastball, and even with Bartolo Colon headed to the DL, Buchholz is going to stay at Triple-A for the time being, allowing Justin Masterson to remain in the bigs. But make no mistake: Buchholz will be back in the second half. In his eight major-league starts before hitting the DL, his BABIP was .376, making him a unlucky rookie. He struck out 43 in 42 1/3 innings while walking 20, and when push comes to shove, I think you'll see Masterson in the bullpen and Buchholz back in the rotation.

Bronson Arroyo, Reds. How many times can this guy appear to save his season, only to submit another stinker? Arroyo posted a god-awful 6.97 ERA and 1.77 WHIP in April; since then, he's been at 4.75 and 1.47. Great? Definitely not. But despite getting roughed up again Wednesday, Arroyo is showing control that's roughly consistent with his past performance and his strikeouts are actually up. What's killed him is a second-worst in baseball .358 BABIP, compared to a .302 career average. Homers have been a bit more of a problem for him in '08 than usual (1.47 HR/9, compared to 1.20 last year), but his strikeout rate is up from 6.66 K/9 to 8.48. Hey, he's a heartburn special, but the supporting stats say Arroyo eventually should trend better the rest of the year.

Comings and Goings

The Yankees placed Chien-Ming Wang on the DL with a Lisfranc problem in his right foot which he suffered while running the bases in an interleague game. Wang probably won't be back until September at the earliest. For the moment, Dan Giese will get a chance to take Wang's spot. Sidney Ponson (see below) might get a crack at replacing Giese in the short term, while Ian Kennedy should return from the DL in July. ... Carlos Zambrano had to leave Wednesday night's game in Tampa because of injury, though Big Z didn't want to get pulled. ESPN's announcers speculated that it might be related to his shoulder because of the way Zambrano was gesturing in the dugout, and last night the Cubs official site confirmed that his shoulder was the issue. As of this writing, though, the scope of the problem is unknown. Jon Lieber might be forced back into Chicago's rotation, making him viable in deeper leagues. ... Fausto Carmona threw a simulated game Monday and later reported soreness in his injured hip, which has the Indians worried his return will be delayed. The original plan was to have Carmona begin a minor-league assignment at the end of this week, but that's on hold. ... The Red Sox put Bartolo Colon on the DL because he tweaked his back during an at-bat in a game Tuesday against Philadelphia. Since Daisuke Matsuzaka will return from his shoulder issue this weekend, and Justin Masterson is pitching well for the big club, the Sox decided not to take chances with Colon's back, despite the fact that the portly righty told the Boston Globe he didn't think he needed two weeks off. ... The Detroit Free Press reports that the Tigers are interested in signing free agent Freddy Garcia, who's recovering from shoulder surgery and hasn't pitched in a full year. Garcia would be eyeing an August return, at the earliest. ... Todd Wellemeyer, about whom I was bashed for not ranking among my top 60 despite his being named the NL Pitcher of the Month for May, is on hold with a sore elbow, and Brad Thompson is expected to pitch Thursday in Wellemeyer's place. It seems like I've written this every week for a month, but remember that Wellemeyer has already exceeded his career high for innings in a big-league season. For now, the Redbirds think they'll get Wellemeyer back next week. ... The Dodgers placed Brad Penny on the 15-day DL with tendinitis in his pitching shoulder. Penny has been a first-half horse for years, so his 5.88 ERA and 1.60 WHIP were of particular concern. There's a chance the team will keep him out until the All-Star Break, though the L.A. Times reports that Penny is pushing to come back before then. ... Hiroki Kuroda, about whom I was relatively glowing a couple weeks ago, had to be scratched from Wednesday's start because of a sore shoulder. The Dodgers have scheduled an MRI for Kuroda, which makes it sound like a DL stint is probable. Eric Stults is already in the team's rotation, and Chan Ho Park seems likely to get a start this weekend. ... The Reds demoted Homer Bailey to Triple-A Louisville just three starts into his major-league recall. This is a last-place team, so one does wonder why the kid is getting the yo-yo, but he was fairly awful posting an 8.76 ERA and a 2.11 WHIP. The worry now is that Bailey might need to go elsewhere to live up to his prodigious hype. ... The Braves called up Charlie Morton last Saturday, and the 24-year-old rookie won his major-league debut against the Angels. Morton isn't an elite prospect (he didn't make Baseball America's top 30 prospects list for the Braves organization), but he was dominating Triple-A (72 strikeouts in 79 innings) and could catch lightning in a bottle while Atlanta is in desperate need of starters. Tom Glavine has a torn flexor tendon and is out until at least after the All-Star Break. ... The Mariners sent Miguel Batista to their bullpen, and moved knuckleballer R.A. Dickey into their rotation. You don't want any part of either guy.

On The Farm

Francisco Liriano was terrific for Triple-A Rochester on Sunday, throwing 7 1/3 innings, striking out five and walking none. Because Nick Blackburn's pitching arm is sore, Liriano could get a call-up this weekend. Keep an eye on this situation. ... The Yankees signed Sidney Ponson to a minor-league deal on Wednesday, which shows just how far the team's starting-pitching fortunes have fallen. The team added Ponson to its 40-man roster, which indicates a willingness to bring him to the majors if and when Dan Giese falters. But even if he gets a call, he almost certainly won't be fantasy-relevant. If former first-rounder Daniel McCutchen ever got tabbed (he's 1-4 in five Triple-A starts, but threw a complete-game shutout last weekend), he'd be a little more interesting. ... The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Mark Mulder threw five scoreless innings for Double-A Springfield last weekend, and consistently hit 90 mph with his fastball. Since Mulder had recently complained of soreness in his surgically repaired shoulder, this is a surprisingly happy turn of events. The team will monitor his next several minor-league starts. Meanwhile, Chris Carpenter had to shut down his throwing sessions because of soreness in his reconstructed elbow, and while Dr. James Andrews pronounced the elbow structurally sound, this could put the kibosh on the idea of Carpenter as a viable fantasy factor in '08. ... Like Carpenter, Jason Schmidt had a setback in rehab and also looks less likely to contribute in '08. The Dodgers' official site reports that Schmidt will completely shut down his surgically repaired shoulder until he has no pain, which isn't currently the case. ... Josh Johnson, who's recovering from last year's Tommy John surgery, is throwing in the Marlins' minor-league system and is currently making starts for Class-A Greensboro. Johnson says he's pain-free and has decent velocity, so he could be back with the big club in August. Meanwhile, Chris Volstad returned to the organization's Double-A affiliate in Carolina after missing a couple weeks with a triceps strain. As did Ryan Tucker earlier this month, Volstad could get a big-league call-up by July.

Christopher Harris is a fantasy baseball, football and racing analyst for ESPN.com. He is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner.
You can e-mail him here.