Sixty Feet, Six Inches: NL rotation breakdowns
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.
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|
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.
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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.