Commentary

All-Star starting pitchers reviewed

Jackson, King Felix nice selections; Wakefield, Marquis choices questionable

Updated: July 7, 2009, 4:05 PM ET
By Christopher Harris | ESPN.com

60 Feet 6 Inches

Let's get this out of the way. I'm a Red Sox fan, and even I don't think Tim Wakefield has any business being on the American League All-Star team. I think Joe Maddon looked at his options and decided he didn't want to give one of his primary AL East rivals any extra motivation.

Wakefield is 28th in the American League in ERA (4.30). He's 25th in WHIP (1.35). Sure, he's wedged in a four-way tie for the league lead in wins, but isn't Maddon supposed to represent a new generation of stats-savvy managers who can see past the antediluvian notion of won-loss record? After all, the Red Sox have given Wake 7.54 runs per nine innings pitched, the highest run support in the major leagues. On Maddon's part this is a bald-faced play to lull Boston into a happy slumber shoehorned into a Lifetime Achievement Award.

What else is there to say about the starting pitchers who made the '09 All-Star teams? Let's take a look.

American League

Josh Beckett, Red Sox: Beckett had the good fortune of getting his one terrible month out of the way early. After posting a 7.22 ERA and a 1.81 WHIP in April, Beckett's cumulative numbers stand at 3.67 and 1.22 to go with 99 strikeouts in 105 1/3 innings. He deserves the nod.

Mark Buehrle, White Sox: Buehrle is the ChiSox's only representative, a factor that excuses his good-not-great underlying numbers. His batting average on balls in play is .260, which explains why his overall BAA is .242, his best since '01. Personally, I'd have picked Jermaine Dye over Curtis Granderson, and then Kevin Millwood over Buehrle. But it's not an outrage.

Zack Greinke
Paul Jasienski/Getty ImagesZack Greinke has come down to earth after a huge start, but he's still deserving of an All-Star berth. However, what will the second half bring?

Zack Greinke, Royals: Greinke wasn't the same guy in June as he was in April or May, and unless those 10-strikeout games return, I don't think he wins the Cy Young. But he obviously belongs in St. Louis.

Roy Halladay, Blue Jays: Another no-brainer. Doc hasn't looked himself in his first two starts back from the DL, but assuming he gets back on track going forward, he's my fave for Cy Young.

Felix Hernandez, Mariners: Would you believe this is King Felix's first All-Star nod? Seems like he's been before. Anyway, 114 strikeouts in 116 2/3 innings is pretty good.

Edwin Jackson, Tigers: The fact that Maddon is Jackson's former manager probably guaranteed this selection, but thank heavens for that. All you need to know about why this guy is suddenly a very good pitcher? In '06, his walks-per-nine was 6.19. So far this year it's 2.59. He's figured it out.

Justin Verlander, Tigers: Verlander is leaking oil a little bit headed into the break, having failed to notch a quality start in three of his past four outings. What looked like a possible Cy campaign is fading, but you have to reward the guy for a ridiculous 130 strikeouts in 109 1/3 innings.

Tim Wakefield, Red Sox: I've said my piece. If Millwood goes for Buehrle (despite getting shelled Monday night), then Jarrod Washburn goes for Wake.

National League

Chad Billingsley, Dodgers: The 1.20 WHIP is just 10th in the National League, but Billingsley's 115 strikeouts in 120 1/3 innings cinched his spot. Realize, though, that this isn't the no-brainer it might appear to be at first. Billingsley is second in the NL in walks, just one behind teammate Clayton Kershaw.

Matt Cain
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesThe surface numbers say Matt Cain is a definite All-Star, but the underlying stats say he could be a bit lucky.

Matt Cain, Giants: I've been skeptical all year that Cain will keep this up, considering his artificially low BABIP (.266, 13th in the majors) and high strand rate (86.1 percent, highest in the majors). But his ERA is in the mid 2.00s, he's fanning people and he has 10 wins. He deserves the gig.

Dan Haren, Diamondbacks: He could be the second straight guy to win the NL Cy Young pitching for one of the league's worst teams. This just in: 119 strikeouts and 15 walks is ridiculous.

Josh Johnson, Marlins: No arguments with Johnson. His fastball has been incredible this year, and he's in the top 10 of all major stat categories in the National League.

Ted Lilly, Cubs: I was ready to rail on Lilly's selection, but he's Charlie Manuel's only Cub. Lilly probably hasn't been one of the NL's eight best starters, but Manuel's only other option probably would have been Derrek Lee, and Manuel already took about 700 first basemen. So we'll let this one stand.

Tim Lincecum, Giants: He might be pitching better in '09 than he did in '08. I still have niggling doubts about his innings, but otherwise, yes.

Jason Marquis, Rockies: Here's where it gets interesting. Yes, if Manuel had left Marquis off the team, there'd have been a hue and cry, because he has a big league-leading 11 wins. But Marquis has a 3.61 ERA, a 1.30 WHIP and 54 strikeouts and 38 walks in 117 1/3 innings. Is that really better than Yovani Gallardo's 2.75 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and 114 strikeouts and 46 walks in 104 2/3 innings? The only place Marquis tops Gallardo is in wins. By three.

Johan Santana, Mets: If ever there was a year to leave off Johan, this was it, but the fact that the Phillies manager was picking the team ensured Santana's selection. Call it a Wakefield West. By his prior standards, Santana is having a subpar year, but let's face it: Picking a guy with a 3.29 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP isn't an outrage. Still, this spot should have gone to Javier Vazquez, who's third in the NL in WHIP, second in strikeouts and seventh in ERA, but who of course is stuck with that 5-7 record, compared with Santana's 9-7.

Fortunes rising

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. Tim Lincecum, SF (1)
2. Dan Haren, ARI (3)
3. Johan Santana, NYM (2)
4. Roy Halladay, TOR (4)
5. CC Sabathia, NYY (5)
6. Josh Beckett, BOS (6)
7. Yovani Gallardo, MIL (8)
8. Justin Verlander, DET (7)
9. Felix Hernandez, SEA (9)
10. Chad Billingsley, LAD (11)
11. Zack Greinke, KC (10)
12. Josh Johnson, FLA (12)
13. Javier Vazquez, ATL (13)
14. Adam Wainwright, STL (16)
15. Jon Lester, BOS (17)
16. Roy Oswalt, HOU (21)
17. Matt Cain, SF (15)
18. Cole Hamels, PHI (14)
19. James Shields, TB (18)
20. John Lackey, LAA (19)
21. Chris Carpenter, STL (23)
22. John Danks, CHW (24)
23. A.J. Burnett, NYY (26)
24. Ted Lilly, CHC (28)
25. Ricky Nolasco, FLA (29)
26. Francisco Liriano, MIN (30)
27. Matt Garza, TB (31)
28. Erik Bedard, SEA (34)
29. Clayton Kershaw, LAD (35)
30. Cliff Lee, CLE (20)
31. Kevin Slowey, MIN (22)
32. Joba Chamberlain, NYY (27)
33. Derek Lowe, ATL (25)
34. Scott Baker, MIN (33)
35. Wandy Rodriguez, HOU (36)
36. Scott Kazmir, TB (39)
37. Jered Weaver, LAA (32)
38. Edwin Jackson, DET (37)
39. Max Scherzer, ARI (42)
40. Johnny Cueto, CIN (40)
41. Jordan Zimmermann, WAS (43)
42. Rich Harden, CHC (38)
43. Carlos Zambrano, CHC (41)
44. Hiroki Kuroda, LAD (44)
45. Mark Buehrle, CHW (47)
46. Ryan Dempster, CHC (49)
47. Aaron Harang, CIN (46)
48. Jair Jurrjens, ATL (51)
49. Gil Meche, KC (52)
50. Tommy Hanson, ATL (59)
51. Gavin Floyd, CHW (57)
52. Chris Volstad, FLA (48)
53. Joe Saunders, LAA (50)
54. Ubaldo Jimenez, COL (61)
55. Edinson Volquez, CIN (60)
56. Randy Wolf, LAD (64)
57. Kevin Millwood, TEX (54)
58. David Price, TB (53)
59. Joe Blanton, PHI (66)
60. Nick Blackburn, MIN (67)
61. Andy Pettitte, NYY (58)
62. Rick Porcello, DET (63)
63. Zach Duke, PIT (62)
64. Kenshin Kawakami, ATL (55)
65. Randy Wells, CHC (70)
66. Ervin Santana, LAA (65)
67. Randy Johnson, SF (45)
68. Jarrod Washburn, SEA (73)
69. Ricky Romero, TOR (74)
70. John Smoltz, BOS (56)
71. Jason Marquis, COL (NR)
72. Jose Contreras, CHW (NR)
73. Vin Mazzaro, OAK (69)
74. Mike Pelfrey, NYM (NR)
75. Tim Wakefield, BOS (75)
76. Glen Perkins, MIN (79)
77. Carl Pavano, CLE (NR)
78. Bronson Arroyo, CIN (68)
79. Paul Maholm, PIT (71)
80. Joel Pineiro, STL (80)

Tommy Hanson, Braves: Hanson had a 26-inning scoreless string snapped during a no-decision Saturday against the Nationals, but he's still making his fantasy owners smile. Like many kids who are pushed to the majors perhaps a half-season before they're ready, Hanson is prone to inefficiency, and he hasn't fanned hitters at the rate I'd hoped (he has 23 strikeouts in 36 innings). But he has a couple of speeds on his fastball and a nasty mid-80s slider that has served as his out pitch so far. Hanson's ownership in ESPN.com leagues is finally up over 50 percent, but it should be much higher. He should be owned in all leagues.

Jason Marquis, Rockies: Marquis did it again Monday night, going eight shutout innings against Washington. This is getting ridiculous. Now he's the big league leader in wins, with 11. He doesn't strike out many hitters (he's just over four whiffs per nine innings, his lowest rate since 2003), but he's using his sinking fastball to induce grounders (his 57.7 percent ground-ball rate is second in the majors, behind only Joel Pineiro). There's a bit of luck here: His home run-per-fly ball rate is just 9.4 percent, while pitching half his games at Coors Field, and this is a guy who regularly posted mid-teens in that stat with the Cardinals. Still, he's too hot to ignore. He's available in about 70 percent of ESPN.com leagues, and if you're floundering around for some quality innings, you could do worse.

Jose Contreras, White Sox: The phrase "you could do worse" isn't often attached to Contreras' name, but I have him ranked for the first time all year. In five starts since being recalled from the minors, Contreras has a 2.17 ERA and an 0.78 WHIP, plus he has fanned exactly eight batters in three of his past four outings. This shocking development has left the fantasy world justifiably sluggish, and perhaps the only reason I ranked Contreras is because the other candidates were equally odious. Still, at some point a performance like this stops being a fluke. He's another guy I don't trust very much, but if you're desperate …

Fortunes falling

Cliff Lee, Indians: Lee might still have an ERA under four, but his WHIP stands at an ugly 1.41 that's reminiscent of his pre-Cy-Young days. Yes, his batting average on balls in play is an unfortunate .339, so maybe he hasn't pitched 1.41 bad. But the biggest difference in Lee this year is that the amazing control he displayed in '08 just isn't there. He's walking a full batter more per nine innings, so while he never kills you with a six-walk game, he also has five starts this year with three walks or more. He did that only three times in 31 starts last season. Don't worry; he's not terrible. It's just that after two poor starts in a row, I felt an adjustment was necessary.

Randy Johnson, Giants: Johnson had to come out of his start Sunday in the fourth inning because of what the Giants initially called a strain in his left shoulder. Catcher Bengie Molina told the San Francisco Chronicle on Monday that he had concerns Johnson's injury could be serious, and the Big Unit underwent an MRI on Monday afternoon. As of this writing, the results of that test weren't known, but Johnson did go on the DL. The worry is that this injury could be significantly worse than just a two-week affair. The Giants haven't announced who'll start in Johnson's place, though recently bullpen-bound Jonathan Sanchez is a candidate. I'm keeping the Unit on the list with the hopes that he can come back in a few weeks. But I'm worried as are, I'm sure, the Giants.

John Smoltz, Red Sox: I went on the Fantasy Focus show Monday and picked Smoltz over Marquis this week. D'oh. I was heartened by what I saw of Smoltz in a rain-shortened outing against the Orioles last week, but he gave it all back Monday night against the A's. He looked terrible. The fastball still has some pop, but his breaking stuff was inconsistent, and Oakland's hitters pounded it. I don't think this outing will be the definite norm for Smoltz going forward, but the fact is this is how he's looked in two of his three starts this year. That inconsistency isn't going to make him many fantasy friends.

Comings and goings

Erik Bedard will return to the Seattle rotation against this old team, the Orioles, on Tuesday night. Apparently Bedard threw an impressive side session, one that indicates he understands he's in a contract year. I'd get Bedard back in my lineup right away.

• One of my favorite underrated starters coming into the season, Kevin Slowey, went on the DL this week with an injured wrist. He underwent an MRI on Monday and the test showed a minor strain. All in all, this is actually rather good news, as it explains why Slowey took such a dramatic downturn over his past couple of starts. In the meantime, Anthony Swarzak got the call back to the big club in Minnesota.

Ervin Santana came off the DL last Friday and needed 99 pitches to go five innings, during which he allowed six runs (four earned), eight hits, three walks and struck out five. The best news that came out of Santana's return was that he didn't appear to re-injure himself. To make room in the Angels' rotation, Sean O'Sullivan was sent down to Triple-A.

• The Tigers will skip Rick Porcello's final start before the All-Star Game. Jim Leyland told the Detroit Free Press that the issue isn't related to performance, but rather a desire to limit the innings of the 20-year-old rookie. To this point, he's thrown 87 innings over 16 starts so far this year.

• The Blue Jays put surprising Scott Richmond on the DL with tendinitis in his pitching shoulder, and recalled Brad Mills to start last Thursday night. Mills was excellent in that game, but emerged from the start with sore ribs, meaning Marc Rzepczynski will be called up to face the Rays on Tuesday night. Right now, the Jays are calling Richmond's shoulder injury minor.

• As many observers expected, Jake Peavy's injured ankle needs to be immobilized for at least a couple of more weeks, which pushes his timetable back to the middle of August at the earliest.

Brandon Webb has decided against surgery on his ailing right shoulder. Instead, he'll continue to rest and then begin the rehab process again in a month or so. Webb still thinks he can pitch by the end of the year, but with the way the Diamondbacks' season is going, they might not bother. To me, it sounds like he's done for the year, though if you're in a deeper league with bench spots, I guess I don't hate holding onto him.

Koji Uehara has a torn flexor tendon in his pitching arm and is expected to miss another two months. He won't require surgery, but he'll have to shut it down completely for a few weeks, and then he'll need to strengthen his arm from scratch.

• The Mets are moving Tim Redding out of their rotation, and trying Oliver Perez in his spot. Perez will face the Dodgers on Wednesday. Considering Redding's ERA is around 7.00 and his WHIP is above 1.50, you can't really quibble with this decision. But Perez didn't really recapture any magic in the minors, either. Desperate deep-leaguers can take a shot, since we know Perez is capable of going on crazy streaks.

• So much for the Chien-Ming Wang resurgence, such as it was. The Yankees put Wang back on the DL on Sunday, this time with a shoulder strain. He reportedly won't pick up a baseball in the next week or two, and might not be ready to return to the majors until August. There isn't a lot of reason to own him in a fantasy league right now. In his place, it's assumed that either Sergio Mitre or Alfredo Aceves will start for New York on Thursday. Phil Hughes is evidently pretty entrenched as a setup man in the Yankees' bullpen.

• The Brewers announced that Dave Bush isn't ready to return from the DL this week, and that it's more likely he'll come back a week or two after the All-Star break. In the meantime, Milwaukee is casting about for effective starting pitching, and there are rumors that Manny Parra, who looked good (finally) in a minor league start last Friday, could get the call once again. The truly desperate could try Parra. He's got a great arm; he just doesn't seem to know where the ball is going.

• The A's put Dallas Braden on their bereavement list Monday, meaning he'll miss his scheduled start Tuesday in Boston.

Rodrigo Lopez was Philadelphia's choice to take Antonio Bastardo's rotation spot Friday, and Lopez responded with a nice game against the Mets: 6 1/3 innings, 4 K's, 1 BB, 6 H and 2 ER. I'm highly skeptical he can keep this up using his bevy of junk, but he almost certainly earned himself some more big league work with this outing.

• Think the league is getting suspicious about Eric Milton's second straight 15-day DL stint? The Dodgers' sometimes-fifth starter came down with another mysterious back injury this past weekend, meaning he left L.A.'s active roster and Blake DeWitt returned to his role on the Dodgers' bench. Milton almost certainly isn't actually hurt, and should return after the break.

• Stop me if you've heard this before, but Justin Duchscherer has reportedly been cleared to recommence his throwing program again after his back checked out OK last week. All he's done at this point, however, is throw long toss, so he's quite a way from pitching in the majors.

Shawn Hill of the Padres underwent Tommy John surgery last week and is out for the season.

• ESPN's own Jayson Stark reports that teams have been told Ben Sheets won't be able to pitch in 2009. If you're holding onto him in a non-keeper fantasy league, probably time to let go.

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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