Commentary

Sixty Feet, Six Inches: NL rotation breakdowns

Updated: June 26, 2008, 1:39 PM ET
By Christopher Harris | ESPN.com

Before we get to this week's topic, I must cop to writing what at the moment appears to be the stupidest thing ever to appear on ESPN.com. In this space last week, I claimed that Bronson Arroyo was due for a turnaround.

Arroyo's line on Monday night? One inning, 11 H, 10 ER, 3 HR, 1 BB, 1 K. Worst of all, I took my own advice, and started him in one of my personal leagues.

Ugh.

All right, now let's get to a midseason State of the Union: a team-by-team look at starting pitching in the National League (the AL will follow next week). I'm tasked with giving you one interesting rotation quandary per team, and I've ranked them from most to least interesting. Here goes:

Chicago Cubs: Will Carlos Zambrano fall apart? Big Z is on the DL with a sore shoulder, but the Cubs claim that he's avoided any kind of major trouble. Unfortunately, he's been terrible in June, and he's thrown almost exactly 1,300 innings since 2002. His strikeout rate is down, and his walk rate has increased every month this year. Right now, I'm calling Zambrano my biggest potential fader of the second half.

Cincinnati Reds: Will Edinson Volquez win the NL Cy Young? At this point, that's a legitimate question: He's at 10-2 with a 1.71 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and 110 K's in 95 IP. Ridiculous. I've been a doubter all year, and while I give him his props for lasting longer than I thought possible, I still have serious qualms about saying he's going to keep this up. It's a long season.

NL Top 60 Starting Pitchers

Despite a so-so record, Johan Santana remains the No. 1 pitcher in the Senior Circuit. (The list captures value from this point to the end of the season.)

1. Johan Santana, Mets
2. Brandon Webb, Diamondbacks
3. Cole Hamels, Phillies
4. Dan Haren, Diamondbacks
5. Jake Peavy, Padres
6. Tim Lincecum, Giants
7. Tim Hudson, Braves
8. Ben Sheets, Brewers
9. Matt Cain, Giants
10. Carlos Zambrano, Cubs
11. Edinson Volquez, Reds
12. John Maine, Mets
13. Chad Billingsley, Dodgers
14. Roy Oswalt, Astros
15. Aaron Harang, Reds
16. Ted Lilly, Cubs
17. Pedro Martinez, Mets
18. Randy Johnson, Diamondbacks
19. Greg Maddux, Padres
20. Derek Lowe, Dodgers
21. Ryan Dempster, Cubs
22. Brett Myers, Phillies
23. Jonathan Sanchez, Giants
24. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals
25. Chris Young, Padres
26. Brad Penny, Dodgers
27. Randy Wolf, Padres
28. Jair Jurrjens, Braves
29. Aaron Cook, Rockies
30. Johnny Cueto, Reds
31. Hiroki Kuroda, Dodgers
32. Bronson Arroyo, Reds
33. Kyle Lohse, Cardinals
34. Jeff Francis, Rockies
35. Jorge Campillo, Braves
36. Todd Wellemeyer, Cardinals
37. Ian Snell, Pirates
38. Oliver Perez, Mets
39. Ubaldo Jimenez, Rockies
40. Micah Owings, Diamondbacks
41. Scott Olsen, Marlins
42. Wandy Rodriguez, Astros
43. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
44. Andrew Miller, Marlins
45. John Lannan, Nationals
46. Manny Parra, Brewers
47. Jason Bergmann, Nationals
48. Jo-Jo Reyes, Braves
49. Sean Gallagher, Cubs
50. Mike Pelfrey, Mets
51. Max Scherzer, Diamondbacks
52. Chris Carpenter, Cardinals
53. Homer Bailey, Reds
54. Ricky Nolasco, Marlins
55. Joel Pineiro, Cardinals
56. Charlie Morton, Braves
57. Jeff Suppan, Brewers
58. Mark Hendrickson, Marlins
59. Doug Davis, Diamondbacks
60. Rich Hill, Cubs
Arizona Diamondbacks: Will whatever's eating Brandon Webb continue? Immediately after being voted the No. 1 fantasy starter among ESPN.com experts for the rest of '08 (as of June 1, but not by me), Webb entered what he's calling a "dead-arm" phase. He's 2-4 in his past seven outings, and 1-2 with a 5.24 ERA and a 1.34 WHIP in four June starts. The Diamondbacks have a heck of a rotation, but it gets a lot less scary without their ace at the top of his game.

Houston Astros: Is Roy Oswalt on the decline? Oswalt is a guy I argued against ranking too highly before the season started because his 1.33 WHIP didn't match the 3.18 ERA in '07. That's looking like a pretty good prediction at this point, considering he currently sits at a 1.40 WHIP and a 4.77 ERA and 18 homers allowed. Including Wednesday night's loss, Oswalt has allowed fewer than three runs in only three of his 17 starts.

Philadelphia Phillies: Can Brett Myers get his head dislodged from his posterior? I continue to rank Myers among my top-60 starters in baseball because his strikeout rate is still up, his walk rate -- while not great -- isn't a disaster, and he says he's healthy. The key is that Myers's fly-ball rate is almost exactly at his career average, so his major-league-leading 23 homers allowed strikes me as at least a little unlucky.

New York Mets: Will a switch at pitching coach change anything? Johan Santana and John Maine will be fine, but Oliver Perez is on the verge of losing his spot in the rotation, Mike Pelfrey has been underwhelming and Pedro Martinez got crushed last time out by the Rockies. Dan Warthen succeeds Rick Peterson in the Big Apple, and he has his work cut out for him.

San Diego Padres: Can Chris Young return from his brutal skull fracture? Young, of course, was battered by an Albert Pujols liner six weeks ago, and still has to undergo surgery on his broken nose. The Padres hope to get him back after the All-Star break, but he wasn't having a particularly scintillating season before his injury, and one wonders if he can avoid being gun-shy.

San Francisco Giants: Can a bad team continue to boast three positive fantasy starters not named Barry Zito? Tim Lincecum has exceeded even his rosiest projections, and figures to stay hot in '08. Matt Cain isn't destined to win many games, but his strikeout rate is up. And Jonathan Sanchez has been a terrific story, having won five of his past six starts, walking three or fewer in each of his past eight starts and fanning 96 in 95 total innings.

Pittsburgh Pirates: Whither Ian Snell? Snell and Tom Gorzelanny were considered fantasy oases in the Pittsburgh desert, but each has been awful this year. I've long since given up hope on Gorzelanny (55 walks in 77 innings), and as soon as I heard Snell was complaining of elbow soreness after his most recent start, I bumped him from my top-60 starters. If he's right, he's supposed to be a strikeout magnet. But is he right?

Los Angeles Dodgers: Will any of the injured guys be able to help? Brad Penny, usually a first-half stud, is on the DL with shoulder tendinitis. While he's expected to be activated before the end of the month, he currently boasts a 5.88 ERA and a 1.60 WHIP. Hiroki Kuroda has been better than Penny, but he, too, is on the DL with tendinitis, and isn't used to the longer American baseball season. And Jason Schmidt is still recovering from shoulder surgery.

Washington Nationals: Can John Lannan keep it up? Shawn Hill is about to go on the DL, so Lannan has taken over as the Nats' presumptive "ace," which is a little scary. But he's a ground-ball pitcher with good control (28 walks in 89 innings), and he's allowed exactly two earned runs in each of his past five starts. He's only owned in about 5 percent of ESPN.com leagues and should probably be owned in more.

St. Louis Cardinals: Will the Cards get help from their injured veterans? It's hard to believe a rotation that consists of Braden Looper, Todd Wellemeyer, Kyle Lohse, Joel Pineiro and Mitchell Boggs could be anywhere near second place. St. Louis is going to need more starters, and they'd love it if Mark Mulder and/or Chris Carpenter could get back and be effective. Otherwise, you have to believe a trade could be in the offing.

Milwaukee Brewers: Will anyone other than Ben Sheets stay fantasy-relevant? Dave Bush almost threw a no-hitter in his most recent start, but I'm certainly not buying 45 walks in 85 2/3 innings. Manny Parra has won five straight decisions but has a clunky 62/42 K/BB ratio. Seth McClung's numbers look swell, but he's Seth McClung. And Jeff Suppan's WHIP has hovered between 1.45 and 1.53 for three straight seasons.

Colorado Rockies: Will Aaron Cook win 18? Cook has been the Rockies' best starter, which isn't exactly a glowing compliment, but as the team's bats heat up, he figures to continue to get chances for wins. As of Thursday, he stands at 10-5, and any time you sport a sub-4.00 ERA pitching half your games at Coors Field, you're doing something right.

Atlanta Braves: Can Mike Hampton come back? An effective Hampton would be a godsend for the sub-.500 Braves, but then again, it's been about three years since he pitched in the bigs. At the moment, Hampton is throwing in rookie ball, and certainly won't be back before mid-July, even if he doesn't have yet another physical setback. The Braves could definitely use him; right now they're going with Tim Hudson and four unheralded kids.

Florida Marlins: Who'll get called up? Josh Johnson has made it up to Double-A Carolina in his recovery from Tommy John surgery and has performed well, but if Francisco Liriano has taught us anything, it's that it's tough to bounce back quickly from TJ. Sergio Mitre, out with a strained right forearm, is throwing batting practice and could be back by August. And prospect Chris Volstad is back from his triceps injury and also throwing at Double-A, and could make the big league jump like Ryan Tucker did last month.

Comings and Goings

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Felix Hernandez sprained his ankle in his most recent start Monday when Carlos Beltran slid into him, and Hernandez is unlikely to take his turn in Seattle's rotation this weekend. The Mariners think their ace will only miss one start. Meanwhile, Erik Bedard missed his Wednesday start, and isn't likely to take his next turn either, because of his back spasms. The Seattle Times speculates that he could wind up on the DL for the second time this season. … Carlos Zambrano went on the DL last Saturday because of a mild strain in his pitching shoulder, according to the Chicago Sun- Times. The Cubs think he'll be out for the minimum amount of time. … Roy Halladay took a liner off his temple last Friday, but made his start Wednesday night against the Reds. He didn't pitch well (5 ER, 9 H and 4 BB in 6 2/3 IP) but reportedly felt fine physically. … The Red Sox activated Daisuke Matsuzaka for last Saturday's game, and he pulled an Arroyo (in other words, he got rocked). The Sox claim Matsuzaka didn't have any health issues, and that it was just a bad outing. We'll see if it becomes a pattern Friday night at Houston. … The New York Post reports that Oliver Perez could be headed out of the Mets' rotation after getting bombed by the Mariners on Tuesday. … Ian Snell isn't expected to go on the DL because of his elbow soreness, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. The Pirates claim that Snell has "golfer's elbow." (That explains what he's been doing all that time he was supposed to be winning games for his fantasy owners.) Snell is scheduled to pitch again Friday, though as of this writing, the Pirates hadn't decided if they'd scratch him. … Shaun Marcum won't need elbow surgery, according to the Toronto Star, but the Blue Jays still don't know when they'll get their surprising righty back. Marcum hasn't thrown yet since hitting the DL. … Hiroki Kuroda, on the DL with shoulder tendinitis, threw a bullpen session on Wednesday and depending how he feels, could make his next start on Saturday. … Todd Wellemeyer threw a successful bullpen session last weekend and told the Cardinals' official Web site he felt great, which green-lighted Tony La Russa to get Wellemeyer back in the rotation Thursday afternoon against the Tigers. ... Shawn Hill, considered by some (including yours truly) as an NL-only sleeper before the season, seems likely to go on the DL with continued forearm troubles. ... The New York newspapers have made a big deal about the fact that Carl Pavano has a shot to contribute to the Yankees this year. Pavano expects to be ready to go by August, but you'd still have to consider him a pretty long shot. ... John Lannan was hit on the wrist by a comebacker in his most recent start against the Rangers, but X-rays were negative and he's not expected to miss his next start. ... The Reds called up Daryl Thompson from Triple-A and he pitched five scoreless innings against the Yankees last weekend. He's next scheduled to pitch Friday against the Indians. ... The Astros removed Shawn Chacon from their rotation and called up Runelvys Hernandez to replace him. Chacon subsequently got into a wrestling match with GM Ed Wade and was suspended indefinitely by the team. ... In their day-night doubleheader against the Mets on Friday, the Yankees are expected to send out Sidney Ponson and Dan Giese. Ew.

On The Farm

Rays lefty Jake McGee is on the minor league DL with elbow soreness, which may put the kibosh on the idea that he could make his big league debut before September. Meanwhile, David Price and Jeremy Hellickson have each been promoted to Double-A Montgomery. If Price is lights-out, don't be surprised if he gets the call sometime after the All-Star break. ... Thomas Hanson threw a no-hitter and struck out 14 for Double-A Mississippi on Wednesday night. Hanson had struggled a bit since his promotion to Double-A, but the Braves prospect still clearly has as much potential as just about any pitcher in the minors right now. ... The Cardinals hoped Mark Mulder would return from shoulder surgery this weekend, but he experienced back troubles on Monday in a minor league outing. At least it's not his shoulder. ... Ian Kennedy, rehabbing from a badly strained lat, struck out seven in three innings in a rookie league game Monday, and he's expected to move up to Triple-A for a couple more rehab starts soon. ... Francisco Liriano gave up nine hits and six runs, walking one and striking out three on Wednesday night for Triple-A Rochester. It's his second straight poor outing and pretty much nixes the chance he'll be up before the break.

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

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