We're going to change things up a bit in this week's edition of the pitching report. Usually we highlight a starter or group of starters having a good year, focusing on guys who might be considered surprising, and analyze the numbers to try to explain why they're doing so well and if they can continue to achieve the same level of success for the rest of the year.
Now that we're into the second week of June, though, we should have recalibrated our expectations for every player in the majors. With a ton of new arrivals, whether it be prospects or players returning from injury, on the horizon, it makes sense to turn our attention to them this week. While the prospects have received a ton of ink from the baseball press, one pitcher who we've already seen dominate at the major league level has received relatively little fanfare. He's the one who is not only capable of making a big impact, but can also be one of the best pitchers in the league for the remainder of the season. I'm talking, of course, about the Yankees' Michael Pineda.
No doubt you remember Pineda's stellar rookie season with the Mariners in 2011. He went 9-10, but remember that's the same team on which went 14-14. Pineda had a 3.74 ERA, 3.42 FIP and 173 strikeouts against just 55 walks in 171 innings. The Yankees, desperate for some youth in their rotation, sent prized catching prospect Jesus Montero to the Mariners for Pineda in one of the greatest challenge trades in recent memory, only to see Pineda miss the entire 2012 season with a torn labrum. Seventeen months after the trade occurred, he's finally just about ready to make his debut with the Yankees.
Pineda made his first rehab start with High A Tampa Sunday, giving up an unearned run on two hits and one walk. He struck out four batters in his 4.1 innings, and he threw 42 of his 68 pitches for strikes. Also, according to reporters in attendance, his fastball topped out at 95 MPH, right in line with where he was before the injury.
Even with this good news, his return isn't exactly imminent. General Manager Brian Cashman said Pineda would need about five or six rehab starts before officially donning the pinstripes for the first time. That would have him on track to make his debut sometime right around the All-Star break. Still, now is the time to act. Quite frankly, he should have been drafted in most competitive leagues, and certainly any league that goes deeper than 12 teams, because we knew before the season he'd be making his debut sometime in midsummer if everything stayed on track. However, he remains widely available no matter where you host your league, but with his name back in the news, though, that won't remain the case for much longer. Zack Wheeler, Gerrit Cole and Tony Cingrani are rightfully getting a lot of attention this week, but Pineda is the guy who can truly help put a team over the top if he pitches like his 2011 self. Make the move for him now.
Starting pitcher barometer
• Hyun-Jin Ryu, Los Angeles Dodgers -- Ryu held the Braves to one run on six hits over 7.2 innings his last time out, giving him a 2.72 ERA, 3.08 FIP and 1.11 WHIP on the season. In that start against the Braves, he struck out six and walked just one, running his K/BB ratio to 3.2 for the season. Almost everything that could go wrong for the Dodgers has this season, but hitting on Ryu has been one of the few bright spots. He has given them quality starts in 10 of his 13 outings, and one of those that fell short was a 5-inning, 2-run start.
• Kris Medlen, Atlanta Braves -- If his last two starts are any indication, Medlen may finally be getting his disappointing 2013 season on the right path. He has beaten the Pirates and Dodgers in his last two turns, allowing just one unearned run on 12 hits with 12 strikeouts in 13.2 innings. Medlen has fallen short of expectations this year thanks largely to a strikeout rate that has fallen to 17.7 percent from 23.1 percent last year. His fastball sat at 89-90 in his last two starts, and he was able to post two of his five best swinging-strike rates of the year. Neither are the sure signs of a breakout, but both are encouraging.
• Anibal Sanchez, Detroit Tigers -- It's time to start considering Sanchez in the "Best Pitcher in 2013" discussion. Get past that 6-5 record and focus on his 2.65 ERA, 1.79 FIP, 1.09 WHIP and 98 strikeouts against just 19 walks in 78 innings. His BABIP is .325 and his strand rate is 73 percent, so he hasn't been fortunate by any stretch of the imagination. Unsurprisingly, his fastball is at a career-high average of 92.3 MPH. He has an outrageous 13 percent swinging-strike rate, and is getting 1.3 ground balls for every fly ball. No matter how you slice it, Sanchez has been a machine this year. He has had very successful seasons in the past, but at age 28, he's finally coming into his own.
• Gio Gonzalez, Washington Nationals -- While he has been an effective pitcher for a long time, 2012 was easily the best year of Gonzalez' career. It was also the first year he struck out more than nine batters per nine innings and walked fewer than four per nine. He's having a fine season, but his strikeouts are back down to 8.58 per nine innings and he's walking 4.06 batters per nine. As such, his ERA is up to 3.59 and his FIP is at 3.72, up from 2.89 and 2.82 last year, respectively. He also has a .248 BABIP and 72.8 percent strand rate, so there's a chance he's been a bit lucky, too.
• Matt Moore, Tampa Bay Rays -- After starting 8-0, Moore has had two terrible starts in a row, first allowing six runs in two innings against the Tigers then getting shelled by the Orioles for eight earned in five innings. He's issuing 4.57 walks per nine innings, driving his WHIP all the way up to 1.35. His K/BB ratio has fallen to 1.83 from 2.16 last year, while he's fanning about a half batter fewer per nine innings. The possible source of the problem is his fastball velocity, which is down a full two MPH from last year. You probably can't get fair value for him in a trade right now, but it might be worth seeing what his market is like.
• Jason Vargas, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim -- I wouldn't have thought to include Vargas in this, but then I noticed that he's owned in 35 percent of Yahoo leagues and 66 percent of CBS leagues. That's way too much for a pitcher who doesn't strike anyone out and has a 3.71 ERA, 4.19 FIP and 1.43 WHIP. I can't figure out why he's so widely owned when he offers very little upside and has only really contributed to ERA and wins this year. If you're one of the many who owns Vargas, it's OK to let him go. Trust me.
What a relief
• Fernando Rodney has turned things around of late, allowing just two hits and two earned runs in his last eight appearances. He has 10 strikeouts and four walks in that time frame. Joe Maddon always expressed confidence in his closer, but it wasn't hard to see him losing his job after getting shelled for a large chunk of May. Now, he's safely in the ninth-inning chair. Crisis averted.
• It's hard to see the Rockies sticking with Rex Brothers in the ninth when Rafael Betancourt returns from the DL, but they could certainly justify the decision. Brothers has allowed just one earned run in 28.2 innings, has yet to allow a homer, and has 28 strikeouts. Betancourt had been good, but not great, before hitting the DL, and has a 3.20 ERA and 2.86 FIP this season.
• Finally, if you're scouring the wire for saves, your best bet right now might be Hector Ambriz. He's not a closer, but he'll get chances for Houston when Jose Veras is unavailable. With most other situations settled for the time being, that's about the only place owners can find a speculative save or two until something else shakes. Rest assured, it will.