Pitcher perfect

Team USA was competitive in its World Baseball Classic semifinal until manager Davey Johnson either forgot or ignored the single-elimination nature of the event. He left starter Roy Oswalt on the mound too long in the fourth inning, enabling Japan to bleed in more runs even though the hurler was spent. While it's convenient to blame Johnson, his hands were tied the entire tournament by conditions set forth by the MLB clubs that loaned their players and by those that didn't. He was given a team created to participate, not to win.

The starting rotation -- consisting of Oswalt, Jake Peavy, Ted Lilly and Jeremy Guthrie -- were not the best available (Lilly isn't even the best starting pitcher on his team), and amassed an ERA of 8.55 and a WHIP over 2.00. None were in shape to get through five innings, never mind pitch deep into a game. On the other hand, the bullpen played well, with a good-but-not-great ERA of 4.36. To make matters worse, the Orioles practically begged team officials to return Guthrie three days before the semifinal was played, even though he had openly lobbied for the honor to wear a Team USA jersey.

Next time, perhaps America's team should consider using a college starting pitcher or two who will give it their all and be honored to play. Then the bullpen can do its job.

Now if the infield could just catch the ball.

Last week we looked at NL rotations, so this week let's take a peek at the AL.

SP1: Jeremy Guthrie SP2: Koji Uehara SP3: Rich Hill SP4: Adam Eaton SP5: Danys Baez Also: Mark Hendrickson

Wins will be hard to come by in a division with Boston, New York and Tampa Bay. Jeremy Guthrie is the only Orioles pitcher worth considering in mixed leagues, but keep an eye on how the WBC affects his performance. Koji Uehara is not a young pitcher, and has already been injured. Don't be in a hurry to draft him. Rich Hill is also ailing, which may give Mark Hendrickson an early shot at the rotation. Management is intrigued by Adam Eaton and Alfredo Simon, but you shouldn't be. Brad Bergesen has been the Orioles' best pitcher in spring training and with all the injuries could see a callup in a month or two.

SP1: Josh Beckett SP2: Daisuke Matsuzaka SP3: Jon Lester SP4: Tim Wakefield SP5: Clay Buchholz Also: Brad Penny

Curt Schilling announced his retirement from pitching. If there is a higher power out there, please don't let him become a color commentator. Josh Beckett has been great in spring training, but Jon Lester has been just as good and Clay Buchholz has been even better. Lester is a great value candidate while Buchholz -- if in the rotation -- will be a great sleeper play. Every year we think it's Tim Wakefield's last, but with Justin Masterson and Junichi Tazawa waiting in the wings, we might finally be right. Brad Penny could still work his way into the rotation, which would give him some value in AL-only.

SP1: Mark Buehrle SP2: John Danks SP3: Gavin Floyd SP4: Bartolo Colon SP5: Jose Contreras Also: Clayton Richard

Mark Buehrle may be starting to break down physically after eight straight years of 200+ IP. There is talk of moving him down in the rotation order to save him, but this whole situation screams "Run away!" If Buehrle is moved down, it will make Jon Danks and Gavin Floyd a formidable top of the rotation. Both are primed for breakout seasons, and Danks should be taken by the sixth round in mixed leagues. If you're considering Bartolo Colon for your rotation, you're in trouble (even in you're the Chicago White Sox). Jose Contreras' innings decreased for the third straight year. Remember the Cuban defector is 37 years old.

SP1: Cliff Lee SP2: Fausto Carmona SP3: Carl Pavano SP4: Anthony Reyes SP5: Aaron Laffey Also: Jensen Lewis

The new and improved Cliff Lee is for real, and you might be able to steal him in the fifth round in drafts. Fausto Carmona is a good play as this offense will score runs. Anthony Reyes experienced a renaissance with the Indians in '08, but was that the honeymoon that comes with changing leagues. He has been tough this spring, but he's still a late-rounder. Let someone else take him early, but draft him for your fifth or sixth SP. No one has stepped up for the SP5 spot, so don't chase any of them.

SP1: Justin Verlander SP2: Armando Galarraga SP3: Jeremy Bonderman SP4: Edwin Jackson SP5: Nate Robertson Also: Rick Porcello

As I said in my preseason column, Justin Verlander is set to rebound, but that bullpen will still blow many leads. Along with Verlander, Armando Galarraga is likely the only other mixed-league worthy Detroit SP. Jeremy Bonderman appears back on track for the start of the season, but remember he has never gotten his ERA below 4.00 in his career. I know everyone has raved about Edwin Jackson, but I'm still not buying it. Nate Robertson is the Tigers' least-bad option at SP5, but Rick Porcello could get a chance. Dontrelle Willis isn't an option as a starter, but -- and this is total speculation on my part -- perhaps he gets a chance to close when (not if) Brandon Lyon gets hurt or gives up another four homers in a row.

SP1: Gil Meche SP2: Zack Greinke SP3: Kyle Davies SP4: Horacio Ramirez SP5: Brian Bannister Also: Luke Hochevar

Gil Meche pitched well last year with 14 wins, but arguably pitched better in '07, when he got 9 wins. The difference was three-fold: he had a much better K9 in '08; the Royals were a better team in '08; and Joakim Soria was the closer the entire '08 season. Despite his awful spring numbers, expect about the same from Meche this year, making him a good SP2 for your team. Zack Greinke's '08 numbers were eerily similar to Meche's but with better control. He is also a good SP2 for you. Brian Bannister appears to be going in the right direction with his pitching, but not to the level he was as a Mets prospect. If I had to pick between the bottom three of the rotation and Luke Hochevar in an AL-only league, I'd take Hochevar.

SP1: John Lackey SP2: Ervin Santana SP3: Joe Saunders SP4: Jered Weaver SP5: Dustin Moseley Also: Nick Adenhart

While John Lackey is slated as an SP1, he's really an SP2/3, and won't be worth his draft position. Beware his dropping K/9 which is now below his career average. Ervin Santana seems to do well in even-numbered years, so he'll start '09 on the DL with an MCL sprain. It's risky to take him speculatively before the tenth round in a mixed league. Joe Saunders is a safer bet than Dustin Moseley, but comes at a higher price. Both are better than Jered Weaver, who has been living off his reputation. I got killed last year by being high on Nick Adenhart, but this year he's posed to have fantasy value.

SP1: Francisco Liriano SP2: Scott Baker SP3: Kevin Slowey SP4: Nick Blackburn SP5: Glen Perkins Also: Kevin Mulvey

Yes, Francisco Liriano is back and worth taking in the first four rounds in mixed leagues, but don't expect a repeat of '06 numbers. The good news is that this is a strong rotation, top to bottom, and the bullpen should preserve the lead. The bad news is that the wins likely get parsed out evenly among SP2-5, and that makes the SP2/3 have the same value as SP4/5. Your best bets are Scott Baker and Kevin Slowey and keep in mind that even though Glen Perkins is good, he won't help you at all in strikeouts. Don't worry about Nick Blackburn's knee issues. He'll be ready for the season.

SP1: CC Sabathia SP2: A.J. Burnett SP3: Chien-Ming Wang SP4: Andy Pettitte SP5: Joba Chamberlain Also: Phil Hughes

In '08 Sidney Ponson was third in the rotation with eight wins. Now the Yankees have two SP1's, with CC Sabathia (SP1+) and AJ Burnett (SP1-). Chien-Ming Wang's lack of strikeouts will never justify his high draft position. Andy Pettitte is pushing 37 and has pitched 200+ innings for the past four seasons. I don't like his chances to get another 200+ innings this season. Joba Chamberlain has been heading in the right direction this spring and with the pressure taken by the two aces on the staff, is an easy 10+ win play.

SP1: Justin Duchscherer SP2: Sean Gallagher SP3: Dallas Braden SP4: Dana Eveland SP5: Trevor Cahill Also: Gio Gonzalez

Justin Duchscherer claims he no longer feels pain in his elbow and may be a couple of weeks away from returning. I get nervous about mystery ailments that cure themselves, and keep in mind that even as an SP1, he has never thrown 150 innings in a year. The bottom of this rotation gets cloudy. The most talented pitcher is Gio Gonzalez, but he's sidelined with a stiff shoulder. Edgar Gonzalez has more MLB innings than the rest, but not talent. Trevor Cahill and Josh Outman have pitched well, and AL-only players should give Outman serious thought, but keep in mind Cahill is the lone righty.

SP1: Felix Hernandez SP2: Erik Bedard SP3: Carlos Silva SP4: Jarrod Washburn SP5: Brandon Marrow Also: Ryan Rowland-Smith

Felix Hernandez has had a WHIP of 1.34 or higher and none of his numbers have approached his 2005 season. Worst of all was the ballooning of his BB/9 to 3.59. He won't be worth the high draft pick. Erik Bedard will likely slip in your draft and you should get him. What can I say about Carlos Silva that some fantasy player hasn't screamed whiled checking his ratios? Stay away from him. The only value Jarrod Washburn has is if he gets traded at the deadline. Brandon Morrow has been battling forearm soreness, which may be a one-way ticket to the bullpen.

SP1: James Shields SP2: Scott Kazmir SP3: Matt Garza SP4: Andy Sonnastine SP5: Jason Hammel Also: David Price

The Rays got it done last year with solid starting pitching and phenomenal relief pitching. Like Minnesota, the wins will be distributed among the starters bringing their value down some. James Shields probably will create the most fantasy value in this rotation this season, with David Price potentially second. However, it's a gamble to take him before the tenth round as he could spend a month or two in the minors (yes, all us fantasy players think he should start yesterday). If Scott Kazmir could stay healthy, he'd be the highest-value Ray, but he can't, so he won't.

SP1: Kevin Millwood SP2: Vicente Padilla SP3: Matt Harrison SP4: Brandon McCarthy SP5: Scott Feldman Also: Jason Jennings

I can't stress enough how much Texas pitchers will hurt your ratios for little or no benefit in wins or strikeouts. If you're really looking for a name or two from the Rangers, I'll give you two. First, Vicente Padilla keeps doing serviceable work, no matter what park he pitches in. He'll be about average in strikeouts, but he'll eat innings for a team that will score runs. The other is Matt Harrison, the former Brave who got his feet wet in '08 by amassing 9 wins in 15 starts. Like Padilla he won't give you great strikeouts, but he's improving rather than declining (you hear me, Kevin Millwood?).

SP1: Roy Halladay SP2: Jesse Litsch SP3: David Purcey SP4: Scott Richmond SP5: Brad Mills Also: Brian Burres

Roy Halladay has pitched almost 700 innings in the past three years and is approaching 32. He likely can pull off another 200+ season in '09, but it will catch up to him. Jesse Litsch and David Purcey have both looked strong this spring, but playing against the Rays, Red Sox and Yankees all year will put a ceiling on their wins. The SP4 and SP5 spots are a mess, but we know two pitchers who won't be considered. The first is Matt Clement who has looked awful this spring. The other is Casey Janssen, whose shoulder problems have removed him from the running for a rotation spot. Scott Richmond has yielded some good control numbers lately and is worth watching.

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