Commentary

Sixty Feet, Six Inches: Josh Johnson, Matt Garza rise

Updated: April 14, 2009, 4:12 PM ET
By Christopher Harris | ESPN.com

Because it's early in the season, and because I'm not prone to overreact and rerank many pitchers based on one or two appearances, I will distract you with a non-baseball-related thought and then some responses to a few Conversation comments.

The thought: Do you think Tiger Woods ever looks at Angel Cabrera's calabash belly and says to himself, "Man, I might not actually need these 16-inch biceps"? Think of all the time Tiger spends in the gym, the painful hours he's away from his lovely wife and children, the sweat, the pain, the tears ... and then Cabrera wins the Masters with half a Twinkie sticking out of his back pocket? Oh, the humanity.

Now to your comments about my preseason starting pitcher rankings:

leonmedvec says:
"I didn't see Ubaldo Jimenez in your top 80. Do you think he's that bad?"

Ubaldo Jimenez
Jerry Lai/US PresswireUbaldo Jimenez was sharp in his first game of the year but struggled a bit in his second start.
I don't think he's bad. I think he has a nice career ahead of him. The fact that he became more of a ground-ball pitcher last season (54.4 percent, up from 46.4 percent in more limited work in 2007) obviously bodes well for a guy working at Coors. But I don't trust his control. He walked 4.67 batters per nine innings last season, fifth-worst in baseball behind Barry Zito, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Ian Snell and Oliver Perez. Dice-K excepted, that's not company you want to be in. Jimenez's first start was very nice, but his outing Monday against the Cubs gives you an idea of the roller coaster on which he can take you: 3 2/3 IP, 4 H, 6 BB, 5 K, 3 ER. He would be in my top 100 right now for his upside, but not my top 80.

mcadams4braves says:
"Where's Jonathan Sanchez??"

My God, someone alert the authorities, Jonathan Sanchez is missing. Wait, there he is, getting bombed Saturday by the Padres. (That's not fair: A single April outing shouldn't sway us one way or the other.) The problem I have with Sanchez is similar to the trouble I have with Jimenez: He's a WHIP killer. It was 1.45 last year in his supposed "breakout" campaign. He was moving along smoothly the first couple months of the '08 season, but disaster struck thereafter: He had a 3.97 ERA before the All-Star break but a 7.47 ERA after (while experiencing shoulder soreness). Sanchez is a good strikeout guy, but he gives up a lot of hits, and you must also account for a big innings jump. If you're desperate for K's, you can take a stab, but I'm not hopeful.

singerfolx says:
"Jered Weaver and Kershaw above Zambrano. And they PAY you for your opinion."

First of all, I'm supposed to be getting paid? Honey, get my agent on the phone. Second of all, if you're swayed by Big Z's first two outings, hey, trade for the guy. I'm not. I see a pitcher who's still allowing a lot of baserunners and a pitcher who may be the biggest injury risk in baseball this year. In 2008, he failed to reach 200 innings for the first time in his career as a full-time starter, and he struck out the fewest batters per nine (6.2) of his major league life. We always bash a guy like Chien-Ming Wang, fantasy-wise, because he has no upside in strikeouts. Well, Zambrano may not be at Wang's level yet, and he has fanned 13 in 12 innings so far this year. But I'm worried that won't last, and that he'll wind up back at 6.2. I'm also worried he'll get hurt.

Top 80 starters

Note: Christopher Harris' top 80 starters are ranked for their expected performance from this point on, not based on the statistics they have already accrued. (Previous ranking is in parentheses.)

1. Johan Santana, NYM (1)
2. CC Sabathia, NYY (2)
3. Tim Lincecum, SF (3)
4. Roy Halladay, TOR (5)
5. Jake Peavy, SD (6)
6. James Shields, TB (7)
7. Brandon Webb, ARI (4)
8. Dan Haren, ARI (9)
9. Cole Hamels, PHI (8)
10. Roy Oswalt, HOU (10)
11. Josh Beckett, BOS (11)
12. Chad Billingsley, LAD (12)
13. Adam Wainwright, STL (13)
14. Francisco Liriano, MIN (14)
15. Felix Hernandez, SEA (15)
16. Javier Vazquez, ATL (16)
17. Zack Greinke, KC (18)
18. Rich Harden, CHC (19)
19. Kevin Slowey, MIN (17)
20. Yovani Gallardo, MIL (20)
21. John Lackey, LAA (21)
22. Joba Chamberlain, NYY (22)
23. Derek Lowe, ATL (23)
24. Scott Baker, MIN (25)
25. Cliff Lee, CLE (24)
26. Brett Myers, PHI (26)
27. A.J. Burnett, NYY (27)
28. Gil Meche, KC (28)
29. Ricky Nolasco, FLA (29)
30. Scott Kazmir, TB (30)
31. Justin Verlander, DET (31)
32. John Danks, CHW (32)
33. Ted Lilly, CHC (33)
34. Aaron Harang, CIN (35)
35. Clayton Kershaw, LAD (34)
36. Josh Johnson, FLA (46)
37. Matt Cain, SF (37)
38. Jon Lester, BOS (36)
39. Ryan Dempster, CHC (38)
40. Daisuke Matsuzaka, BOS (39)
41. Wandy Rodriguez, HOU (40)
42. Ervin Santana, LAA (41)
43. Max Scherzer, ARI (42)
44. Edinson Volquez, CIN (43)
45. Jered Weaver, LAA (44)
46. Johnny Cueto, CIN (45)
47. Randy Johnson, SF (47)
48. Matt Garza, TB (53)
49. Chris Carpenter, STL (49)
50. Erik Bedard, SEA (55)
51. Mark Buehrle, CHW (50)
52. Hiroki Kuroda, LAD (48)
53. Carlos Zambrano, CHC (52)
54. Manny Parra, MIL (51)
55. Chris Young, SD (58)
56. Andy Sonnanstine, TB (54)
57. Chien-Ming Wang, NYY (56)
58. Dave Bush, MIL (57)
59. Kenshin Kawakami, ATL (59)
60. Andy Pettitte, NYY (60)
61. John Maine, NYM (62)
62. Jair Jurrjens, ATL (63)
63. Jesse Litsch, TOR (61)
64. Paul Maholm, PIT (65)
65. Justin Duchscherer, OAK (64)
66. Jeremy Guthrie, BAL (68)
67. Oliver Perez, NYM (66)
68. Sean Marshall, CHC (67)
69. Fausto Carmona, CLE (69)
70. John Smoltz, BOS (70)
71. Brett Anderson, OAK (71)
72. Koji Uehara, BAL (77)
73. Bronson Arroyo, CIN (72)
74. Tommy Hanson, ATL (75)
75. Joe Saunders, LAA (NR)
76. Kyle Lohse, STL (NR)
77. Aaron Cook, COL (74)
78. Mike Pelfrey, NYM (73)
79. Jordan Zimmermann, WAS (79)
80. David Price, TB (80)

Fortunes rising

Josh Johnson, Marlins (36). Johnson was dealing against the Mets on Sunday, losing a no-hitter in the sixth and a shutout with two outs in the ninth. We may look back at the end of 2009 and feel rather foolish for thinking Ricky Nolasco was the best fantasy pitcher on the Marlins. If you think I ranked Johnson a little low to start the year, it was because he came back from Tommy John surgery so fast and to such great effect last year, and I worried about his health and control. Those worries don't seem warranted right now.

Matt Garza, Rays (48). Somewhere, Tristan Cockcroft is smiling. Tristan is the foremost Garza booster I know, and I have to admit: He looked great dominating the Red Sox last week. Based on the playoffs last year, it would seem Garza has Boston's number, but what impressed me most was the way he kept his head when a few calls went against him. You could see him fighting it, you could see his famous temper and knuckleheaded self trying to creep back in, but he was able to forget the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune and dominate. He may climb quite a bit higher in these rankings as the calendar turns to May.

Erik Bedard, Mariners (50). When he's healthy and motivated, we all know Bedard is an excellent pitcher, fantasy and otherwise, because he can strike out 10 hitters in any given game. The problem is that part about being healthy and motivated. Well, scratch that, he'll be a free agent next year, so he's properly (shall we say) incentivized to pitch well. But will he pitch through the sore shoulders and balky hips that torpedoed the fantasy seasons of so many of his owners last year? He has 15 strikeouts in 13 1/3 innings, and the A's had no chance against him Sunday. It's pretty obvious that without his injury history, he would be a lot higher than 50th on the list.

Honorable mentions: Joe Saunders, Angels; Kyle Lohse, Cardinals.

Fortunes falling

Brandon Webb, Diamondbacks (7). I'm betting the biggest beef I get from readers this week is not dropping Webb lower. I pushed him down only three spots despite his trip to the disabled list. The Diamondbacks seem to believe he'll miss only one more start, and he got a clean bill of health, shoulder-structure-wise, from both his team doctors and Dr. James Andrews. Webb is calling the injury bursitis, which should go away with some rest. He has had the condition before. He has missed starts before. I'm still betting he'll be fine.

Hiroki Kuroda, Dodgers (55). Another injured pitcher, another trip to the disabled list. Again, this is a drop of only four spots, whereas his fantasy owners probably bitterly want to see him sent further down the list. But he was strong his first time out (4 H, 1 BB, 1 ER, 5 2/3 IP), and the Los Angeles media seem to believe that this oblique injury is no big deal and that he's on the DL simply as a precaution. He should be back in 10 days.

John Lannan, Nationals (NR). I still like Lannan, but maybe he didn't quite belong in my top 80. He's a ground-ball pitcher, which you like. But a closer look at the numbers shows he allowed 14 walks in five September outings last season, which is too many for a guy without big strikeout numbers. I expect he'll get better than his 6.00 ERA and 2.00 WHIP, but right now he seems a little more like NL-only than mixed-league fodder to me.

Honorable mentions: Tim Wakefield, Red Sox; Mike Pelfrey, Mets.

Comings and goings

Cole Hamels seems likely to avoid the DL and could make his next start Thursday against the Nationals. He was terrible in his season opener, an 11-hit, seven-run monstrosity Friday in Colorado. But his elbow is reportedly pain-free, and I'm still not terribly worried.

Scott Baker missed a start last week with shoulder stiffness, but he threw seven effective innings for the Twins' Class A affiliate in Fort Myers and came through fine. He'll pitch Wednesday against Toronto.

Ervin Santana reportedly will begin throwing off a mound within a few days with an eye toward a minor league assignment toward the end of April. If all goes well, he could return in mid-May, along with John Lackey. Kelvim Escobar might take a bit longer.

Max Scherzer will come off the DL on Tuesday to pitch against the Cardinals. His shoulder came through well in his minor league rehab on Thursday, and he'll have huge strikeout upside right away. However, he has shown shaky control during the past month.

Tom Glavine was able to pitch only two innings for Double-A Mississippi on Sunday because his shoulder continued to bother him. This has led to speculation that Tommy Hanson (who struck out 10 in a Triple-A game last week) could come up to the majors when the Braves need a fifth starter on Saturday. But the Atlanta papers seem to believe it's likelier that Jorge Campillo will come out of the bullpen and earn a shot at a rotation spot. Glavine reportedly doesn't think he'll be out long term, but if he's wrong and/or Campillo falters, this could be Hanson's chance.

Eric Stults was good replacing Kuroda for the Dodgers, allowing one run in 5 1/3 innings, fanning five and walking two. If he continues to pitch well in his next two starts and James McDonald struggles, Stults could keep his rotation spot.

Jake Westbrook, who's recovering from Tommy John surgery, is throwing fastballs in extended spring training and believes he's not far away from being able to use his full repertoire. Westbrook is aiming for a midseason return and would be relevant in AL-only leagues. Meanwhile, the Indians placed Scott Lewis on the DL with a strained forearm and have announced Aaron Laffey will take his place in the rotation. Laffey hasn't pitched well since his demotion to Triple-A.

On the farm

• The Rays limited David Price to 74 pitches in his first Triple-A start. He walked two, struck out four and gave up four hits and two runs in 3 2/3 innings.

Ian Kennedy fanned 11 in his Triple-A start Friday. He probably won't pitch for the big league Yankees unless a rash of injuries strikes the rotation, but he could be re-establishing his trade value in case the team wants to make a deal during summer.

• Jordan Zimmermann allowed three runs in 5 1/3 innings pitching for Triple-A Syracuse on Thursday and reportedly will pitch one more time in the minors before making his big league debut.

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

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