- Christopher Harris, Fantasy
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They can't all be Zack Greinke, folks.
Unfortunately, not every major league pitcher can decide, "I'm finished allowing you mortal hitters to score runs against me. From this day forth, I shall no longer tolerate any form of offensive rally." Alas, sometimes good pitchers start stinky.
Our duty today, then, is to find the best bounce-back starting pitcher candidates around: guys whose values won't get any lower than they are right now, and in whom (despite often crummy numbers) I continue to have faith. Now that we're just a couple of weeks from June, it's time to start molding your fantasy team: trading for value, giving up on the unsalvageable and undoing your April mistakes. Among such work comes a quest for (to one degree or another) reclamation projects. Here are seven. Because, as I say, they can't all be Greinkes.
Cole Hamels, Phillies. If the Hamels owner in your league is still feeling skittish, go get the big lefty. The Philly ace has a 5.04 ERA and a 1.45 WHIP, which makes it look like he's been awful. He hasn't. He has a 9.2 K/9, a 2.1 BB/9, a .362 batting average on balls in play (BABIP), and if you remove those disastrous first two outings from way back in the first week in April, Hamels' ERA drops to 2.18 and his WHIP to 1.11. There are always health concerns with Hamels, but not enough to make me fear trading quarters on the dollar for him.
John Danks, White Sox. Despite his 4.82 ERA, 1.37 WHIP and two wins in seven starts, I continue to rank Danks in my top 30. Why? Because he has 34 K's and just 11 BBs in 37 1/3 innings, an 8.2 K/9 and a 2.7 BB/9 that actually compares favorably with his breakout 2008 season. Don't be fooled into thinking Danks was just a one-year wonder. He's going to be big eventually this season.
Kevin Slowey, Twins. What has two thumbs and is the biggest Slowey apologist in the world? This guy. And I don't care. Slowey was awesome against the Yankees this weekend and didn't get a win to show for it, but he has 35 K's and 5 BBs in 48 IP, and as I mentioned last week, his BABIP is very unlucky (right now it sits at .362). Better times are ahead, despite Slowey's 4.50 ERA and 1.44 WHIP.
Max Scherzer, Diamondbacks. I'm two days late with this one; when I decided I'd use this theme for my opening to Sixty Feet Six Inches this weekend, Scherzer was actually the guy I had in mind, then he went out Saturday and threw six shutout innings against the Braves in a 12-0 pasting. That helped bring Scherzer's ERA down to 3.35, which probably doesn't gain him entry into the "grievously undervalued" neighborhood. But I still think there's room for improvement on his 1.33 WHIP. Scherzer is so exciting as a fantasy (and real-life) prospect because he's got that elusive combination of strikeout and grounder potential: coming off his 10.61 K/9 performance in 56 big-league innings last year, he's got a 7.9 K/9 this year to go with a 45.4 percent ground-ball rate. That percentage puts Scherzer in baseball's top 40.
Gil Meche, Royals. I kind of dissed Meche in last week's column, at least insofar as I dropped him from a lofty-ish perch in my April rankings. But I still have him in my top 40 among starters, despite his 4.60 ERA and 1.43 WHIP. Meche is second in baseball in ground-ball rate, behind only Derek Lowe, and he's got a .346 BABIP, 16th-unluckiest among all starting pitcher qualifiers, and a 61 percent strand rate, seventh-unluckiest in baseball. Put that together, and Meche definitely fits the characteristics of a bouncer back.
Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals. Little Z wasn't on the fantasy world's radar screen 12 months ago, but a fast-rising 2008 season and a strong '09 spring suddenly put him in the horrid Nats' plans for this year. So far, anyone who has ridden Zimmermann hasn't been happy: he's got a 6.35 ERA and a 1.50 WHIP. But there's lots of good news here, too. Zimmermann has a .354 BABIP, a 14.7 percent HR/FB (average is usually around 10 percent) and most importantly an 8.5 K/9 with a 2.9 BB/9. I know he's a rookie, but those peripherals make me think he's been a bit snakebitten.
Ricky Nolasco, Marlins. If Meche has been unlucky, someone is carrying around a ladder under which Nolasco has constantly been walking throughout 2009. Headed into Monday night's start against the Diamondbacks (which was rained out), Nolasco had a 52.7 percent strand rate, worst in baseball, and a .387 BABIP, third-worst in baseball. His 7.6 K/9 and 2.6 BB/9 deserve a lot better. I don't think Nolasco suddenly returns to being the automatic stud he was after the All-Star break last year, but he's much better than his 7.78 ERA and 1.68 WHIP show.
• Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers (37): Kershaw flirted with a no-no through seven-plus innings Sunday against the Marlins, fanning nine and walking four. While the kid's control still isn't where it should be -- he's walked four batters in a game four times in eight starts -- Kershaw is proving to be every bit the strikeout pitcher we imagined, having fanned 48 in 45 innings so far this year. Because Kershaw is only 21, there's a temptation to question how many innings the Dodgers will let him pitch later in the year, but between Double-A and the bigs last year, he tossed 179 innings. That could very well put him in line for 200-plus K's here in '09.
• Edwin Jackson, Tigers (72): Who are you, and what have you done with Edwin Jackson? The beat just goes on for the 25-year-old righty, as he fanned six and walked zero against Oakland over the weekend, allowing one run in seven innings. That's five quality starts in eight games, compared to 15 quality starts in 32 outings while pitching for the Rays last season. More importantly, Jackson has a 1.9 BB/9 for 2009, compared to a 3.78 last year and a 4.52 for his career before '09. I must say I'm still a bit skeptical, but how can you not be impressed by a guy who's becoming a high-K, low-BB pitcher before our eyes?
• Jorge De La Rosa, Rockies (75): Speak of the devil. De La Rosa flashed some improving skills in the first half of 2008, then started to deliver on them after the All-Star break, allowing a 3.08 ERA and a 1.33 WHIP after the Midsummer Classic. In theory, DLR has always been an intriguing guy: left-handed and capable of striking out or inducing a grounder, two skills that are highly prized at Coors. In his past two games, he has fanned a combined 22 hitters while walking only one. That's probably as good as it'll ever get for DLR, and he needs more run support to win some games. Still, until he cools off (and he probably will), he's worth owning.
• Roy Oswalt, Astros (22): It's not like Oswalt was terrible Saturday against the Cubs: three runs, seven strikeouts and zero walks in six innings. But it's the homers that have me spooked. He gave up another Saturday, this time to Micah Hoffpauir, which means he has not allowed a dinger in only three of his nine starts, and has allowed 10 in 50 innings. In 2008, he allowed 23 in 208 2/3 IP, and in 2007, he gave up 14 in 212 IP. At his current pace, you're looking at 40 taters in '09. Yikes.
• Scott Baker, Twins (40): Slowly, slowly he creeps down my board. The reason he's not plummeting is the potential I saw May 8: seven scoreless innings against the Mariners. The reason he's going down at all? He followed that fine performance up with a stink bomb on Thursday against the Tigers. His WHIP is still "just" 1.31, and he's fanned 25 in 33 2/3 IP, putting him less than one K/9 off last year's pace. But this hasn't been bad luck (his BABIP is .300): he's just way too hittable. I still have believe he's going to make someone a pretty happy fantasy owner in the second half. But right now, I admit it's tough to trust him.
• Andy Sonnanstine, Rays (63): Outside the fact that Sonnanstine got a hit in Sunday's game because of a lineup snafu that forced the Rays to use their pitcher to hit, Sonnanstine has been pretty awful in '09. He's another guy who figures to see better things ahead: His control has been too good for too long for him to be struggling like this. (Plus realize that his BABIP is a terribly unlucky .371, and his strand rate is an unlucky 59.1 percent.) I wouldn't dump him, provided I had bench space for him, but you probably can't have him in your active lineup right now. That 7.36 ERA and 1.79 WHIP is just messy.
Comings And Goings
• Erik Bedard missed a start against the Red Sox this weekend because of an injured hamstring, but the Tacoma News Tribune reports that Bedard isn't expected to miss any additional time. Beware, of course. This is Erik Bedard we're talking about.
• The Cubs are expected to bring Carlos Zambrano off the DL Friday to face the Padres, according to the Chicago Tribune. Zambrano hasn't pitched in the majors since May 3 because of an injured hamstring.
• Chris Carpenter will come off the DL Wednesday to pitch against the Cubs. Carp has been out since April 14 with a torn oblique muscle, and apparently the Cardinals are secure enough in his health that Carpenter won't have to pitch any sort of minor league rehab outing before returning.
• The Red Sox believe they will have Daisuke Matsuzaka back as soon as Friday against the Mets. The Boston Globe reports that Dice-K, who last appeared in a big league game on April 14, threw five scoreless innings for Triple-A Pawtucket on Friday. Curse you, World Baseball Classic.
• The Dodgers announced that Hiroki Kuroda felt good after pitching three simulated innings Monday, which clears the way for him to start a minor league rehab on Friday. There's a chance Kuroda could be back by early June.
• Edinson Volquez came out of his Saturday start in the sixth inning because of back spasms. The Reds reportedly believe Volquez won't have to miss any additional time.
• Chien-Ming Wang threw seven shutout innings for Triple-A Scranton/Wilkes Barre on Sunday, which brings his total to 16 scoreless innings overall during his rehab. That doesn't automatically mean he'll be dominant when he makes his major league return, but it's a nice sign. The New York Daily News believes Wang's next appearance will be for the Yankees.
• Eric Stults of the Dodgers, who features a surprising 3.82 ERA and tossed a complete-game shutout of the Giants a couple weeks ago, could miss Wednesday's outing because of a sore thumb. He'll attempt to throw in the bullpen Tuesday and see how bad the injury is. There's a chance Jeff Weaver could start in Stults' place.
• The Marlins activated Andrew Miller from the DL and he faced the Dodgers on Saturday. He allowed two runs in five innings in that outing.
• Rich Hill made his first appearance for the Orioles on Saturday against Kansas City, notching a win. Hill walked two and struck out six Royals in 5 2/3 innings.
• Luke Hochevar was momentarily a cause celebre about a week ago, bringing some gaudy Triple-A numbers back to the majors. But the former No. 1 overall pick has looked awful once again and probably doesn't need to be owned in fantasy leagues. If you feel like hanging on, though, the Royals evidently will give Hochevar at least one more outing in the bigs to right the ship.
• The Blue Jays' deal with the devil continues, as the immortal Robert Ray threw eight innings and allowed one unearned run against the White Sox on Saturday. Between Ray and Brett Cecil, Toronto is getting production from absolutely unexpected sources, though counting on it to continue may be foolhardy. The team activated Ricky Romero from the DL over the weekend, but assigned him to Triple-A Las Vegas. GM J.P. Ricciardi has proclaimed that the Jays will keep their current rotation until someone pitches his way out of it.
• The Braves will call up Kris Medlen to serve as their fifth starter in place of the ineffective Jo-Jo Reyes (6.58 ERA, 1.42 WHIP), who will be sent to the bullpen. Medlen will make his major league debut Thursday at home against the Rockies. It's notable that while Atlanta keeps waiting for Tom Glavine to come back and act as the fifth starter, Tommy Hanson continues to languish at Triple-A.
• Jeremy Bonderman is reportedly throwing in the low-90s and will make a rehab start for Triple-A Toledo this week. If he has no setbacks in these final stages of recovery from his shoulder surgery, Bonderman could return to the Tigers in about 10 days.
• Indians prospect David Huff made his big league debut over the weekend and got lit, giving up seven runs in 3 2/3 innings against Tampa Bay. The former supplemental-rounder is expected to stay in the majors for at least a few more starts.
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.
Christopher Harris looks at seven starting pitchers who are due to bounce back after some slow times to open the season.