Sixty Feet, Six Inches: Verlander and Mussina
A first-round draft pick from the 1990 draft, and a first-round draft pick from the 2004 draft top the starting pitching news this week.
The big news of the week is, of course, Justin Verlander's no-no. The sophomore Tiger struck out 12 Brewers, walked four and was still packing 100 mph heat in the ninth inning. Sell high? No way. If Verlander's two losses are taken out of his totals, you wind up with a 1.89 ERA. Verlander is about as elite as they come, 85 percent of the time. The 24-year-old is bound to have a couple more hiccups, but when you can count on a pitcher to be so good the rest of the time, it's easy to forgive. Keeper leagues would have a hard time finding another pitcher that would be better to own.
The less-heralded news of the week, but possibly equally important, is the return to form of Mike Mussina. The Moose is back; with three of his last four starts looking quite remarkable (he had a stinker against Boston). For fun, if you take out the start against Boston, Mussina has a 17-1 K/BB ratio in those three good starts (heck it's 18-5 even if you include the whooping the Red Sox gave him). What has sparked this resurgence? Wil Nieves. That's right; the Yankees' often-ignored backup catcher is Mussina's new personal catcher. Joe Torre put them together for Mussina's last four starts and Mussina's ERA is 3.25 in all six games in which Nieves has been his batterymate. Coincidence? The Yankees don't think so, and neither should mixed-league managers who need some pitching help. Mussina has fallen to just 31 percent ownership in ESPN leagues.
One final "need to know" item, as Chris Capuano is hitting the DL. The team used Carlos Villanueva on Wednesday, and might have to again next Monday if they use Gallardo out of the 'pen this weekend, according to the Brewers' website. The ultimate goal, then, is to get Yovani Gallardo into the rotation. Watch Gallardo's outings as a reliever to see how he'll perform. There may not be many -- if any -- before he makes his first start.
A.J. Burnett, SP, TOR: The shoulder strain is mild and Burnett is not expected to hit the DL, but will instead sit out a week.
Jake Westbrook, SP, CLE: After one or two more rehab starts, the 2004 AL ERA king will rejoin the Tribe. Westbrook hasn't been strong mixed-league material since '04 and is only recommended for deep or AL-only formats, if only because the Indians are going to win games.
Carlos Zambrano, SP, CHC: Koyie Hill to the rescue! Ever since giving Michael Barrett a black eye on June 1, Zambrano has been caught by Hill. And ever since, Zambrano has pitched 14 2/3 innings of eight-hit ball, with two earned runs, 17 strikeouts and most importantly, only four walks. Whatever bats were in his belfry, they are all gone now. As soon as Zambrano stops walking people, you know he is dialed up. Talk of the Big Z apocalypse has been greatly exaggerated. Zambrano is a big guy, with a big arm who can throw a lot of pitches without much trouble. If an owner is buying into the gloom and doom talk and tries to "sell high" off these performances, gladly take them up on their offer.
Brian Bannister, SP, KC: Bannister appears much calmer and more confident on the mound lately. He struggled with the walks as a Met last year, but so far in 2007 has kept his free passes to a minimum. Bannister has allowed one earned run in three May starts. AL-only leagues need to get on board and mixed leagues need to watch to see if the walks stay down.
Kenny Rogers, SP, DET: He's not going to win the strikeout crown, but Rogers has two straight seasons of sub-4.00 ERA and won 17 games with the Tigers last season. The veteran lefty could be back in the Tigers' rotation as early as next week and he is owned in only 3 percent of ESPN leagues.
Sean Marshall, SP, CHC: Three words: not enough strikeouts. One more word: sell.
Jason Schmidt, SP, LAD: Don't give up on Schmidt yet. He has adjusted his between-game workouts to try and preserve his velocity. He was throwing in the mid-80s when the Jays knocked him around on Sunday.
Adam Loewen, SP, BAL: 2007 is over for the Orioles' other Canadian lefty, after season-ending elbow surgery. Loewen and his solid curveball still make a good asset for AL-only keeper leagues.
Homer Bailey, SP, CIN: Is not ready to pitch with baserunners on. A look at his minor league numbers suggests he hasn't had to work from the stretch very often, and the Angels confirmed that Thursday. The Angles ran wild on Bailey and sapped his concentration through the first two innings. After Bailey settled down though, he looked terrific (those last two runs were the bullpen's fault). He is going to be mixed-league worthy once he gets some better matchups and more experience.
Park factor is a term that gets thrown around quite liberally in the fantasy realm, but just how much does it affect pitchers? Well, the tangible number that is used for park factor looks a lot like a percent with the most hitter-friendly park (Fenway) at 1.388 and the most pitcher-friendly (Petco) down at 0.761. What's nice about the numbers is that they are easy to apply to other numbers assuming a percentage. Get it?
OK. Let's say any pitcher's ERA in Fenway is actually 1.388 times what it should be; and any pitcher's ERA in Petco is actually 0.761 times what it should be. To illustrate two examples, let's look at who should have the most extreme splits.
Daisuke Matsuzaka, SP, BOS: The total park factor when you combine all of Dice-K's starts is 1.189. That includes six games at Fenway and seven on the road (including two at the surprisingly pitcher-friendly Rogers Centre). If you made up a stadium with that park factor it would be the fourth-most hitter-friendly park in the majors. Daisuke is the best example of a victim of park effect. If you then weight each start for innings and adjust for PF, his ERA of 4.52 drops to 3.80. Unfortunately, he will continue to throw most of his games at Fenway, just don't doubt him on the road.
Jake Peavy, SP, SD: On the other side of that coin, Peavy watches his ERA climb up from 1.82 to 2.30 when you account for the pitcher-friendliness of his starts. His made-up stadium would have a PF of 0.791, meaning only starting all his games in Petco would be better. More than anything, this number highlights just how amazing Petco has been for pitchers (and how bad it has been for hitters). And yes, Justin Germano's ERA jumps from 2.75 to 3.44 when PF is factored in.
Sean Allen is a fantasy sports analyst for ESPN.com and TalentedMrRoto.com. He can be reached at alla_rino@TalentedMrRoto.com.