Commentary

In search of run support

Updated: May 6, 2009, 4:49 PM ET
By James Quintong | ESPN.com

We always want our starting pitchers to go at least seven or eight innings and allow as few runs as possible en route to that win. But often, even a pitcher's best effort could be undermined by a lack of run support from his offense. So while a guy could be sporting stellar ERA, WHIP and strikeout numbers, those pesky wins are sometimes hard to come by.

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It can be a bit more magnified at this point in the season when a guy with a microscopic ERA has fewer wins than a lucky middle reliever, or has a similar record to Sidney Ponson or Mark Hendrickson. Sure, wins can be somewhat fluky, but as long as your pitchers are putting up solid numbers in the other categories, the victories should come.

With that said, here are a few pitchers whose overall numbers should be much better but can blame a lack of run support for their spotty win-loss records.

Dan Haren, Diamondbacks: If you look at his ERA, WHIP and strikeouts, you'd think his record would be similar to Zack Greinke's. Instead, he's just 3-3 despite not giving up more than two earned runs in any start this year. In fact, he lost his first three starts despite giving up four runs, and that's because his team scored only one run in those games. The D-backs' offense has awakened a bit, giving him 11 runs of support in his past two starts, so there is hope that Haren will get more attention for his pitching since his numbers other than wins are pretty amazing so far.

Johan Santana, Mets: At least Santana has a winning record given his ridiculous stats this year, but the Mets have provided him only nine runs of support in his five starts so far. He's done his best to overcome it, though, although his two non-wins came in a couple of fluky situations. His best outing of the year (7 IP, 13 K) resulted in a 2-1 loss to the Marlins thanks to a Daniel Murphy error that led to two unearned runs. And he was set for another win before J.J. Putz blew an eighth-inning lead to the Marlins in his most recent start.

Johnny Cueto, Reds: Once again, he's gotten off to a fast start to the season, but after a choppy first start (4 ER in 6 IP but 9 K's against the Pirates), he has allowed only two earned runs in 26 2/3 innings in four starts. However, he has only two wins to show for it, as the Reds put up just three runs of support, total for the season, before giving him five Sunday. He's looking good again early, and you'd think the wins should come with a little more luck; however, he has faced the Pirates and Astros twice and the Cubs once. Let's see what Cueto can do against other teams.

Cliff Lee, Indians: He got 10 runs of support in his only win of the season at the opening of new Yankee Stadium. In his past three starts, he's gotten just one run of support total despite allowing just five runs in 23 innings. That would explain his 0-2 record in that stretch. Yes, it looks like Lee is on his way back after two mediocre starts to begin the season, but the win-loss total could make him look like a buy-low candidate.

Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers: The overall numbers don't look all that appealing, but that's because of those two awful outings in which he allowed 15 runs in nine innings. However, in his other three starts (including a 13-K gem against the Giants on April 15), he's allowed just two earned runs total and been saddled with three no-decisions. In those games, he's gotten just three runs of support, and the bullpen has blown two leads for him as well. There might be some consistency issues all year long, but Kershaw could be a buy-low guy given some of his bad luck.

And on the flip side, here are a couple of pitchers who have been helped by extra run support, as they sport good records that don't seem to match their other numbers.

Kevin Slowey, Twins: A 4-0 record is a nice way to start the season, even if it comes with a 5.17 ERA and 1.47 WHIP. While guys like Haren, Cueto and Santana struggle with run support, Slowey has gotten a whopping 35 runs in his first five starts (second in the majors to Roy Halladay). That's how he can rack up wins despite two of the victories coming when he's allowed at least five earned runs. Slowey might be hit hard, but he's walked just two all season while striking out 23, and a .374 BABIP suggests that while he's been unlucky in some respects, he's been lucky in others.

Mike Pelfrey, Mets: Pelfrey somehow has as many wins as teammate Johan Santana, but that's because the Mets have given him more than twice the run support of Santana. His 3-0 record is especially puzzling, given his 6.00 ERA, 1.86 WHIP, and most amazingly, a 13:6 BB:K rate. That can't possibly hold up the rest of the year. Even if the Mets continue to hit in front of him, those other numbers are just begging for a few bad outings in the near future.

Fortunes up

Top 80 Starters

Note: Christopher Harris' top 80 starters are ranked for their expected performance from this point on, not on the statistics that have already been accrued.

1. Johan Santana, NYM (1)
2. CC Sabathia, NYY (2)
3. Tim Lincecum, SF (3)
4. Roy Halladay, TOR (4)
5. Dan Haren, ARI (5)
6. Jake Peavy, SD (6)
7. Chad Billingsley, LAD (8)
8. James Shields, TB (7)
9. Zack Greinke, KC (14)
10. Roy Oswalt, HOU (9)
11. Cole Hamels, PHI (10)
12. Felix Hernandez, SEA (13)
13. Josh Beckett, BOS (11)
14. Brandon Webb, ARI (12)
15. Francisco Liriano, MIN (15)
16. Adam Wainwright, STL (16)
17. Javier Vazquez, ATL (17)
18. Rich Harden, CHC (18)
19. Yovani Gallardo, MIL (20)
20. Kevin Slowey, MIN (19)
21. Cliff Lee, CLE (21)
22. Josh Johnson, FLA (28)
23. John Lackey, LAA (22)
24. Joba Chamberlain, NYY (23)
25. Derek Lowe, ATL (24)
26. Gil Meche, KC (25)
27. Erik Bedard, SEA (27)
28. A.J. Burnett, NYY (26)
29. Justin Verlander, DET (37)
30. Brett Myers, PHI (30)
31. Scott Kazmir, TB (31)
32. Aaron Harang, CIN (32)
33. Scott Baker, MIN (29)
34. John Danks, CHW (33)
35. Ted Lilly, CHC (34)
36. Clayton Kershaw, LAD (35)
37. Matt Cain, SF (38)
38. Johnny Cueto, CIN (42)
39. Ricky Nolasco, FLA (36)
40. Wandy Rodriguez, HOU (39)
41. Jon Lester, BOS (40)
42. Ervin Santana, LAA (44)
43. Max Scherzer, ARI (43)
44. Ryan Dempster, CHC (41)
45. Daisuke Matsuzaka, BOS (46)
46. Edinson Volquez, CIN (45)
47. Jered Weaver, LAA (47)
48. Randy Johnson, SF (48)
49. Matt Garza, TB (49)
50. Chris Young, SD (58)
51. Mark Buehrle, CHW (50)
52. Andy Sonnanstine, TB (53)
53. Carlos Zambrano, CHC (52)
54. Andy Pettitte, NYY (55)
55. Hiroki Kuroda, LAD (56)
56. Kenshin Kawakami, ATL (54)
57. Manny Parra, MIL (57)
58. Jair Jurrjens, ATL (59)
59. Dave Bush, MIL (60)
60. John Maine, NYM (61)
61. J. Zimmermann, WAS (79)
62. Paul Maholm, PIT (62)
63. Justin Duchscherer, OAK (64)
64. Jeremy Guthrie, BAL (65)
65. Sean Marshall, CHC (67)
66. Fausto Carmona, CLE (68)
67. Chris Volstad, FLA (70)
68. Kyle Lohse, STL (71)
69. Chris Carpenter, STL (72)
70. Oliver Perez, NYM (66)
71. John Smoltz, BOS (69)
72. Armando Galarraga, DET (73)
73. Koji Uehara, BAL (75)
74. Tommy Hanson, ATL (76)
75. Bronson Arroyo, CIN (77)
76. Tim Wakefield, BOS (81)
77. David Price, TB (80)
78. Brett Anderson, OAK (74)
79. Scott Richmond, TOR (NR)
80. Barry Zito, SF (NR)

Zack Greinke, Royals: Just a couple of interesting notes regarding Greinke's ridiculous start. With his 6-0 record and 0.40 ERA through his first six starts, he is the sixth pitcher since 1969 to win his first six games with an ERA under 1. The previous five (Cliff Lee last year, Randy Johnson in 2000, Pedro Martinez in 1997, Roger Clemens in 1991 and Fernando Valenzuela in 1981) all went on to win the Cy Young Award.

Justin Verlander, Tigers: After a handful of miserable starts to open the season, Verlander is starting to show flashes of what he can do, outdueling the past two AL Cy Young award winners in the process. Last Monday, he struck out nine in seven shutout innings to beat CC Sabathia. He followed that up with a seven-inning, 11-strikeout, two-hit performance to beat Cliff Lee. Verlander has a great ceiling, and he's been amazing at home this year (2-0, 0.95 ERA at Comerica versus 0-2, 11.25 ERA on the road).

Chad Billingsley, Dodgers: Unlike the pitchers mentioned earlier, he's getting hitters out and he's getting enough run support to boost that win total, although the bullpen did cost him another win. He's still averaging more than a strikeout per inning, although he could stand to cut down on the walks a bit. It also helps that Billingsley has feasted on the weak NL West lineups as well as the Astros.

Barry Zito, Giants: Three straight quality starts have many believing we might be seeing a bit of the old Zito. That remains to be seen, but allowing just three runs in his past 20 1/3 innings is a good sign. But to go back to the run-support issue, twice in this three-start stretch Zito pitched seven shutout innings only to see his Giants fail to score while he was in the game, although they won both games in the 10th inning. San Francisco's offense isn't doing him any favors, but Zito is at least making himself an option in NL-only leagues again.

Scott Richmond, Blue Jays: With Toronto searching for usable starting options beyond Roy Halladay, Richmond has helped to fill that void, winning his past four starts and not allowing more than two earned runs in any of those outings. The strikeout rate has been solid, and he's looking like a solid option in AL-only leagues and even some mixed leagues. His ownership rate has risen nearly 16 percent during the past week.

Fortunes down

Oliver Perez, Mets: The team gave him another chance to keep his spot in the rotation, and he responded by going just 2 1/3 innings, allowing four runs, five hits and six walks Saturday against the Phillies, raising his ERA to 9.97. Thus, Perez has been relegated to the bullpen, serving as a situational lefty. The team hopes Perez can figure out his troubles in relief, but for now, he can be safely dropped in most leagues. Taking his place in the rotation is 40-year-old rookie Ken Takahashi, who pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings in his major league debut in relief of Perez.

Josh Beckett, Red Sox: After a stellar start to the season, Beckett has struggled since then, allowing at least four runs in his past four starts. And he was roughed up even worse in his past two starts (8 runs in 5 innings against the Yankees and 7 runs in 4 2/3 innings against the Rays). While he is averaging more than a strikeout an inning, he's also allowed 16 walks in just 28 2/3 innings. There doesn't seem to be anything physically wrong with him, but Beckett does need to figure out what's wrong with his control.

Ricky Nolasco, Marlins: Once again, he's started the season on a bad foot, as his ERA is back above 7 thanks to a shaky outing at Wrigley on Sunday. Nolasco also started last season on a down note but turned it on as the season progressed. His owners have to hope for the same thing, and there are some signs that he could turn it around. First off, his BABIP is a crazy-high .381, so there's a bit of bad luck there. Secondly, he's walked just nine all season, compared to 27 strikeouts, so that's a positive. He's got to take a couple of steps down in the rankings, but he could be back up in no time.

Scott Baker, Twins: Things appeared to be looking up for him in his past start as he took a no-hitter into the seventh inning, but then things fell apart for him afterward and he lost his fourth straight start. While Baker is slowly getting better with each start, it's still tough to trust him, especially since he's already allowed eight homers in his first four outings.

Comings and goings

• The Blue Jays were the latest team to do a major shuffle of their starting rotation. David Purcey, who struggled after a solid first start of the season, was sent down to Triple-A Las Vegas, as were journeymen Brian Burres and Bryan Bullington (who was working mostly out of the bullpen). Replacing them were Robert Ray, who looked OK on Saturday (5 2/3 IP, 4 H, 3 R, 4 BB, 2 K versus Baltimore) taking Purcey's spot in the rotation, and top prospect Brett Cecil (who had an ERA above 8 in the minors this year), who is expected to make his first big league start Tuesday. Despite the bad numbers in the minors this year, Cecil is the guy to watch, especially in keeper leagues.

Carlos Zambrano is headed to the disabled list after he injured his hamstring running out a bunt during Sunday's win against the Marlins. He'll be out 2-3 weeks. Meanwhile, the Cubs are expected to call up Randy Wells to start for Zambrano on Friday. Wells is 3-0 with a 3.13 ERA at Triple-A Iowa this season.

• Welcome back, Jeff Weaver! The veteran righty, last seen in the majors sporting a 6.20 ERA for the Mariners in 2007, is back in the bigs and back in the Dodgers' rotation. Weaver, who pitched four scoreless innings in relief of James McDonald last week, will replace the rookie in the rotation and start Tuesday. Weaver was solid when he pitched for the Dodgers in 2004 and 2005, but he's still a huge fantasy risk given his recent track record.

• The Angels could get Ervin Santana and John Lackey back in the rotation as early as next week. Both pitchers have made progress during their rehab outings as they recover from injuries that have kept them out all season. That will be great news for the Angels, as well as fantasy owners waiting for them to return to action.

• According to the Boston Herald, Daisuke Matsuzaka is expected to make two more rehab outings and is scheduled to return to the Red Sox sometime after May 19, when the team begins a homestand.

• In other injury news, Chien-Ming Wang pitched four hitless innings in extended spring training over the weekend, although there's no real timetable for his return. It does appear, though, that there are still lingering issues with a foot injury that kept him out for the second half last year.

Roy Oswalt was limited to just 17 pitches Saturday because of an extended rain delay in Atlanta. However, because of the short outing, Oswalt will get the start Tuesday, surprisingly becoming a good two-start option this week.

Meanwhile, thanks to the Phillies' rainout Sunday, the team pushed back Cole Hamels' start to Friday as he recovers from an ankle injury.

On the farm

• With the way Tommy Hanson is pitching, he should be making the short trip down the highway from Triple-A Gwinnett to the Braves' big league roster seemingly any day now. Hanson earned his first win of the season last Thursday by striking out nine and allowing no earned runs in six innings at Pawtucket. Surprisingly, Hanson is just 1-3 despite a 1.69 ERA and 38 strikeouts in 26 2/3 innings.

• After a poor start to the season at Triple-A, Homer Bailey has turned things around in a big way. On Saturday, he pitched a complete-game seven-inning shutout as part of a doubleheader. This came on the heels of a 15-K performance on April 26 in just 6 1/3 innings.

James Quintong is an editor for ESPN Fantasy Games.

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