Commentary

Sixty Feet, Six Inches: Eye on the Cy

Updated: August 14, 2008, 4:34 PM ET
By Christopher Harris | ESPN.com

Is there anything more satisfying than having drafted the eventual Cy Young Award winner in the final round of your fantasy draft? Is there anything that makes you more of a selection stud?

And a follow-up question: Is a guy who pitches for a team that's 11 games under .500 really a shoo-in for the Cy Young?

That's the current thinking about Cliff Lee, whose improbable season continued to get better Sunday, when he threw eight shutout innings against the Blue Jays. Lee's numbers stand at 16-2 with a 2.45 ERA and a 1.08 WHIP, plus he's got 128 strikeouts compared to only 22 walks in 161 2/3 innings. Lee went undrafted in most fantasy leagues (perhaps showing just how much the "experts" know), though I'm in a couple deeper mixed leagues where he went extremely late, and his fantasy teams are reaping the rewards. I've been waiting for Lee to revert to his flyball-intensive ways all year, and it simply hasn't happened. Now I'm a believer. If Lee does win the award, and if the Indians continue to have a losing record, Lee would be the first man to win the AL Cy Young with such a crummy team since Roger Clemens for Toronto in 1997. However, Brandon Webb won his '06 Cy Young with a losing Diamondbacks team.

Top 60 Starting Pitchers

It's getting harder and harder not to believe in Cliff Lee's resurgence this year. (This list is meant to capture value from this point to the end of the season, with last week's ranking in parentheses.)

1. Johan Santana, Mets (1)
2. Brandon Webb, Diamondbacks (2)
3. Jake Peavy, Padres (3)
4. CC Sabathia, Brewers (4)
5. Roy Halladay, Blue Jays (6)
6. Dan Haren, Diamondbacks (5)
7. Cole Hamels, Phillies (7)
8. John Lackey, Angels (8)
9. Tim Lincecum, Giants (9)
10. Josh Beckett, Red Sox (10)
11. Felix Hernandez, Mariners (11)
12. Chad Billingsley, Dodgers (13)
13. Carlos Zambrano, Cubs (12)
14. Ben Sheets, Brewers (16)
15. Cliff Lee, Indians (20)
16. Jon Lester, Red Sox (18)
17. James Shields, Rays (14)
18. Matt Cain, Giants (17)
19. Scott Kazmir, Rays (19)
20. Daisuke Matsuzaka, Red Sox (21)
21. Ervin Santana, Angels (22)
22. Rich Harden, Cubs (23)
23. Javier Vazquez, White Sox (24)
24. Justin Verlander, Tigers (15)
25. Francisco Liriano, Twins (25)
26. Edinson Volquez, Reds (27)
27. Randy Johnson, Diamondbacks (30)
28. A.J. Burnett, Blue Jays (26)
29. Joe Saunders, Angels (28)
30. John Maine, Mets (45)
31. Ryan Dempster, Cubs (31)
32. Zack Greinke, Royals (29)
33. Chris Young, Padres (32)
34. Ted Lilly, Cubs (33)
35. Derek Lowe, Dodgers (35)
36. Jeremy Guthrie, Orioles (39)
37. John Danks, White Sox (36)
38. Justin Duchscherer, A's (34)
39. Jered Weaver, Angels (37)
40. Gil Meche, Royals (40)
41. Mike Mussina, Yankees (42)
42. Roy Oswalt, Astros (44)
43. Matt Garza, Rays (41)
44. Fausto Carmona, Indians (38)
45. Andy Pettitte, Yankees (43)
46. Brett Myers, Phillies (48)
47. Joba Chamberlain, Yankees (46)
48. Oliver Perez, Mets (50)
49. Scott Baker, Twins (47)
50. Jair Jurrjens, Braves (49)
51. Mark Buehrle, White Sox (53)
52. Erik Bedard, Mariners (51)
53. Kevin Slowey, Twins (55)
54. Ricky Nolasco, Marlins (54)
55. Jorge Campillo, Braves (56)
56. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals (58)
57. Jonathan Sanchez, Giants (59)
58. Manny Parra, Brewers (60)
59. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers (NR)
60. Ubaldo Jimenez, Rockies (57)
Can anyone steal the Cy from Lee? Well, this is a column about starting pitching, so I won't dwell too long on Francisco Rodriguez, but ESPN.com's Cy Young predictor claims that K-Rod (46 saves on Aug. 13) actually has the best chance of winning the award at the moment, but that it's a close race with Lee. Guys like Joe Saunders and Roy Halladay are significantly behind. A couple dark horse candidates would include the incredible Mike Mussina, who may post his first 20-win season under the unlikeliest of circumstances, and fantasy whipping boy Daisuke Matsuzaka, who's got an insane 98-to-67 strikeout-to-walk ratio, but is still 13-2 with a 2.90 ERA.

In the National League, things are clearer: At 17-4 with a 2.88 ERA, a 1.13 WHIP and 139 strikeouts and 41 walks in 169 innings, Webb would have to have a monumental stumble over the season's final six weeks not to win his second Cy Young. Tim Lincecum is probably having a more dominant season; he's already got 182 strikeouts, putting him on pace for 247, which would be the majors' highest total since 2004. But otherwise, Lincecum has similar numbers to Webb's, and is pitching for a team that's been out of it since April. When in doubt, the guy from a competitive squad wins. Edinson Volquez has the same problem as Lincecum and hasn't been particularly effective of late. Ryan Dempster and Ben Sheets could make a late push; CC Sabathia has probably been the best pitcher in the NL since the Brewers acquired him, but isn't likely to win the award after spending three months in the other league.

Comings and Goings

John Maine came off the DL Wednesday night to face the Nationals and threw five shutout innings. He allowed one hit and four walks while striking out six and throwing 90 pitches. He's expected to get the Pirates next time out, and should be active in all fantasy leagues. … Tim Lincecum was struck by a Brad Ausmus liner Tuesday night and had to leave his start after just 4 1/3 innings. X-rays were negative, however, and the Giants expect Lincecum to make his next turn in the rotation without issue. … The Tigers considered giving Justin Verlander an extra day of rest because of his "dead arm," but decided against it; Verlander will pitch Saturday against the Orioles. … Aaron Cook's sore back will cause him to miss Thursday's scheduled start against the Diamondbacks. Glendon Rusch will pitch in Cook's stead, while Jorge De la Rosa will go Friday. … Chris Carpenter will miss at least one turn through the rotation, but the Cardinals were pleased to discover that his latest arm issues are muscular, and not related to his Tommy John surgery or his rotator cuff. The team's official Web site reports that the Cardinals do expect to get Carpenter back this season. … Despite the acquisition of Paul Byrd, Clay Buchholz is going to stay in the Red Sox rotation for now. Buchholz has been ungodly bad since returning from the minors: 7.46 ERA, 1.86 WHIP. But because Charlie Zink got lit up in his major league debut, and Tim Wakefield is still on the DL, Buchholz gets a reprieve. Whoever's pitching worse between Byrd (who starts Friday) and Buchholz likely gets bounced from Boston's rotation if and when Wakefield's shoulder feels better. … Aaron Harang returned from the DL Sunday and got absolutely smoked by the Astros, allowing eight runs in four-plus innings. It doesn't look like he'll be any fantasy help at all this year. … Micah Owings is likely part of the Adam Dunn trade, but reportedly hasn't made it through waivers, and so he won't be headed to Cincinnati until season's end. … Jose Contreras tore his Achilles' tendon covering first base in a game last weekend and is out for the year. The White Sox haven't officially announced how they'll fill Contreras' rotation spot long term, though a deal for Jarrod Washburn can't be totally ruled out. Washburn was claimed by someone off waivers, and a deal will have to be worked out by midday Thursday. In the meantime, Lance Broadway will start Thursday for the Sox. … Scott Olsen of the Marlins says his ankle feels fine, and he'll make his Thursday start against the Cardinals. … Tom Glavine will return from the DL on Thursday to face the Cubs. … The Seattle Times reports that the Mariners will send R.A. Dickey to the bullpen and call up Ryan Feierabend to start Sunday's game against the Twins. … Sean Gallagher avoided the DL but missed a start; he'll start against the Rays on Thursday. … Zach Jackson, thought to be a throw-in from the Brewers in the CC Sabathia trade, will be called up by the Indians on Thursday to start against the Orioles.

On The Farm

Phil Hughes pitched 5 2/3 innings Tuesday for Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre, allowing two runs. Considering Dan Giese had to leave the game Wednesday after just 15 pitches because of a sore shoulder, Hughes might make his next start in the majors. At the very least, he appears one more effective rehab start away from another chance in the bigs. … David Price made his Triple-A debut Wednesday for Durham and allowed three runs in four innings while taking a loss. However, he fanned six batters and walked none, throwing 80 pitches. He'll probably need to be a little better in his next outing or two to warrant a quick big-league promotion. … Adam Wainwright continues his rehab at Double-A Springfield, but a few days after saying he'd be groomed to be the Cardinals' closer again, GM John Mozeliak said Chris Carpenter's new arm issues have the team thinking about using Wainwright as a starter again. So now in his appearance Saturday, Wainwright will be used as a starter. … Bartolo Colon pitched three scoreless innings with Triple-A Pawtucket on Sunday, and will make another appearance Friday as he builds his arm strength back up after hurting an oblique in June. He, too, could become an option in the Red Sox rotation before the year ends. … Ian Kennedy got another big league audition last Friday and was awful, allowing five runs in two-plus innings against the Angels. He was shipped back to the minors soon thereafter, and probably won't be heard from in the majors again this year. … The Tigers signed Freddy Garcia to a minor league contract, and will have him start working at the Class A level. The deal is for this year only, so expect Detroit to rush Garcia to the bigs as soon as possible, to try to get something on their investment. … Philip Humber fanned 11 Triple-A batters in 7 1/3 innings while walking just one on Tuesday. The Twins sent Humber to the bullpen last month to figure out his struggles, and it may have worked. … Homer Bailey got sent down to Triple-A again late last week. The bloom is finally and completely off his rose.

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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