Commentary

Don't be influenced by wins

Updated: July 28, 2010, 1:11 PM ET
By AJ Mass | ESPN.com

Back in April, Dan Haren barely managed to get through six innings of work against the St. Louis Cardinals. He walked two and allowed nine hits -- including three home runs -- and yet, when he finally got the hook from manager A.J. Hinch, the Arizona Diamondbacks had rallied to take the lead in a game and Haren had "earned" himself a victory.

A little more than two weeks ago, Travis Wood took a perfect game into the ninth inning before finally allowing a double to Carlos Ruiz. However, there was no celebration when he retired the next three hitters in order, stranding the catcher on third base; the game was still scoreless. In fact, not only did Wood receive a no-decision, but the Cincinnati Reds continued to post nothing but goose eggs, eventually falling to the Philadelphia Phillies 1-0 in 11 innings.

Plain and simple, wins, though they make up 25 percent of a starting pitcher's fantasy value in a standard 5x5 format, have little, if anything, to do with reflecting how well a pitcher has actually performed. Yet, ask fantasy owners if they'd be willing to trade a pitcher who is 4-10 for one who is 10-4 and most won't hesitate to pull the trigger. Psychologically, we simply can't get past the "loser label."

The opposite is also true. Look at a winning pitcher like Ubaldo Jimenez, who was 13-1 through his first 14 starts -- the lone loss was a 2-0 road defeat to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Now, after a stretch in which his ERA has risen to (gasp!) 2.75, and he's managed to go "only" 2-1 in his past six starts, suddenly his owners are in a panic? Really?

The fact is, Jimenez is not only still the fourth-ranked pitcher in the ESPN Player Rater, but if we take his 15 wins out of the equation, guess what? Jimenez drops only five spots to No. 9 overall. In the grand scheme of things, that's not so tragic a fall, is it?

However, not all pitchers are spared such a fate. Take away the spoils of victory for these starters, and you may not like what you see:

Yes, even a no-hitter by Matt Garza didn't suddenly send the right-hander rocketing up the charts toward the pitching elite. It didn't hurt him any, but it wasn't a cure-all to a so-so season once you looked past the double-digit win total.

There are many pitchers who have been either unlucky, or perhaps simply haven't received the benefit of run support so far in 2010, but whatever the reason their loss totals keep mounting faster than their wins, these guys have been just as valuable -- if not more so -- than the man who made history for Tampa Bay.

I'd be willing to take my chances the rest of the way with these guys. When it comes to evaluating starting pitching in fantasy baseball, it's best to take to heart the immortal words of Grantland Rice: "For when the One Great Scorer comes to write against your name, He marks -- not that you won or lost -- but how you played the Game."

Four up

Daisuke Matsuzaka, Boston Red Sox: We all know about his problem with the bases on balls. In his past six starts, he's walked at least four batters four times. He's 2-1 in those starts with the victories not surprisingly coming in the games he did not give out the free passes. With Dice-K, it's always going to be about the pitch count and the control, but his overall stuff has been good and his ERA has been on a steady downhill slope.

Tommy Hunter, Texas Rangers: With Hunter's lack of strikeouts (4.62 K/9) and an acceptable home run rate of 1.01 HR/9, we're looking at a pitcher who, for all intents and purposes, is going to be as successful as his BABIP, which so far this season is .234, a good 69 points below the league average. It's high time we all realized the 8-0 start is far from a fluke.

Brett Anderson, Oakland Athletics: It's probably asking too much from the youngster to give you more than six solid innings a pop, especially given the injury issues that have caused him to throw just 7 2/3 innings since the start of May. However, all signs point to his returning Friday, and after 12 strikeouts and only three walks in 13 1/3 innings at Triple-A, he appears quite ready to pick up where his 5.5 K/BB rate left off.

Max Scherzer, Detroit Tigers: Lost in the hoopla surrounding Matt Garza's no-hitter was that Scherzer really made only one mistake of his own -- it just happened to be in the form of a Matt Joyce grand slam. He still walks far too many hitters, but given the .214 batting average against since June 1 to go along with a 2.97 ERA and a near guaranteed seven strikeouts per outing, a little wildness is a small price to pay.

Four down

Edinson Volquez, Cincinnati Reds: Eventually, one should fully expect Volquez to return to the consistency we all remember from his stellar 17-6 2008 season, but it will take time, as all returns from Tommy John surgery do. All optimism to the contrary after his first start against the Colorado Rockies went out the window when the Washington Nationals abused him for six runs in 2 1/3 innings in start No. 2, followed by another stinker against the Brewers on Tuesday night. There will be some good days, but likely surrounded by far more bad.

Ricky Romero, Toronto Blue Jays: While it may be somewhat encouraging that Romero was able to go seven innings in his past three starts, it doesn't totally mitigate his recent 1-4 stretch with an ERA of 6.23 -- and of all stats to lead the league in, wild pitches is probably the last one you'd want on your résumé. A quick look at the remaining schedule for the Blue Jays points to a majority of games against the top-six hitting teams in the American League. Things are not exactly looking up here.

Andy Pettitte, New York Yankees: The groin strain that landed him on the disabled list wouldn't be such a concern, save for the fact that, at 38 years of age, there's every reason to believe the Yankees will play it safe and keep him out for the projected four to six weeks, regardless of how well he says he is feeling. After all, they're eight games clear of the wild card right now and can afford to wait until late August or early September to get Pettitte back on the mound.

James Shields, Tampa Bay Rays: There are few splits that are going to make you want to throw Shields out there for your fantasy team. Forget about pitching him at home, where he's just 1-5 with a 5.59 ERA. Against teams with a winning record, he's managed no better with a 5.27 ERA. Considering how many games are left against the Yankees, Red Sox and Blue Jays, it's easy to predict this story does not end well.

Upgrade your roster

Add: Jake Westbrook, Cleveland Indians
Drop: Joe Saunders, Arizona Diamondbacks

Westbrook is now two full years removed from his Tommy John surgery, and he is getting some mild interest from contending teams as the trade deadline approaches. More important than any results is the fact that in five July starts, he's averaged 108 pitches per outing and has held opposing hitters to a .233 batting average, well down from .297 in June.

As long as he doesn't end up being moved to a cavernous stadium like Chase Field -- a fate that befell Joe Saunders -- Westbrook, who has a career record of 19-9 in August, should provide your fantasy rotation with a well-needed boost from this point forward.

Also consider adding …

Brian Duensing, Minnesota Twins: The southpaw was 5-1 as a starter last season with a 2.73 ERA, with most of those starts coming from August on. Heck, he even started against CC Sabathia and the Yankees in the playoffs, though that did not end well.

This season, after 39 relief appearances and a 1.67 ERA, the Twins decided to swap him into the rotation for an ineffective Nick Blackburn. One start, five innings pitched and one run allowed bodes well for the future provided, of course, the Twins don't decide to swap them back.

AJ Mass is a fantasy baseball, football and college basketball analyst for ESPN.com. You can follow AJ on Twitter or e-mail him here.

ALSO SEE