With almost 10 percent of the season on the books, Chris Carpenter is on the DL, San Diego reliever Cla Meredith is tied for the MLB lead in wins with three, and Zach Greinke is an early favorite to win the MLB pitching triple crown. Will any of these still be true when we get to October? Let's answer some questions that have arisen from the early results of the 2009 season.
Are the top six MLB starting rotations in terms of ERA -- KC (2.76), LAA (2.86), LAD (3.13), PIT (3.16), SEA (3.35) and STL (3.36) -- really this good?
KC: No. Kansas City's starters have gotten off to a hot start with five wins and a strikeout per inning (75 K in 75.0 IP). This won't last. Not because of Gil Meche and Zach Greinke -- both of whom have been heading towards this type of breakout season -- but because the Royals' offense is 24th in batting average and 23rd in runs scored and because Kyle Davies won't keep this up. He's my number one "sell high" candidate of the season because he's always been a first-half pitcher, righties are still hitting him hard, last year was his first MLB 100+ IP season, he gets hurt by hitters with runners in scoring position and his walks and home runs will return and come back to haunt him.
LAA: No, but help is on the way. The Angels are a surprise because of the health problems they've had with their rotation (I am in no way minimizing Nick Adenhart's untimely death as a "health" issue). They expect Ervin Santana and John Lackey to being rehab assignments soon and Kelvim Escobar -- barring his usual setbacks -- should return in May. However, Dustin Moseley is now on the DL with elbow tightness. The way Joe Saunders and Jered Weaver have been holding down the fort in their absence, don't expect Moseley to be back in the rotation soon. And while they make for great stories, avoid Darren Oliver and Shane Loux.
LAD: Yes. The Dodgers are where they're supposed to be, even with HirokiKuroda -- who isn't expected back this month -- on the DL. Every Dodgers' starter, including former star of Mask and Pulp Fiction, Eric Stults (hmm, I may have that wrong), has value in mixed leagues. However, it's likely James McDonald that takes a seat when Kuroda returns. And if Randy Wolf is available (he was in my leagues this morning), he's worth a pickup until he breaks down.
PIT: No, but one of their pitchers is.Paul Maholm hasn't been dominant in terms of strikeouts, but he has been relatively unhittable. There's no reason he can't keep it up, but whether his team can keep giving him wins is another issue. Ian Snell, however, is a starter who has never seen a seasonal WHIP below 1.33, and shouldn't be picked up just because he beat the Braves, a team he regularly, well, whips. Just play him against teams he can beat like MIL, SD, SF, TEX, CLE and COL. Think about selling high to address another need like speed, power or completing your all-Cabrera team (don't laugh, I've done it). Zach Duke is all about location, and when he misses, teams score runs. He should have more value this year, but just beware the occasional blowup on days when he isn't locating his pitches, something you won't know until the game has started.
SEA: Yes. The Mariners are the only AL West team above .500, and their starting pitching is no fluke. Felix Hernandez is pitching to form and Erik Bedard, who should have had this season last year except for injury issues, will be a great source of strikeouts and wins (I seem to remember saying that in my preseason column). The question is whether Jarrod Washburn is really going to be this good. Currently he has a WHIP of 0.71 and batters are hitting less than .200 off him. So no, he isn't that good, but he still will be improved over last year. But having said this, don't hand Seattle the AL West yet. Endy Chavez's evil twin will not keep this, Adrian Beltre and Ichiro are slowing down, and let's face it, any team banking on Russ Branyan to fill an offensive need will only break your heart.
STL: Yes, but they can't afford another SP on the DL. St. Louis will have a good rotation as long as Dave Duncan is around. He preaches first pitch strikes, no walks, and staying in the strike zone. As I said in the preseason, Kyle Lohse is in a breakout year. Adam Wainwright is pitching like a true number one, despite having St. Louis' best pitcher, Chris Carpenter, on the DL until May-ish. Carpenter still has value, so don't dump him. Wait until his second DL stint to do so. Interestingly, after his first good outing, I got a trade offer of a reserve middle infielder and Chien-Ming Wang for Carpenter. Of course I didn't take it, and I like to think Carp is doing more for my team by being on the DL than Wang would have done been healthy. And what about callup PJ Walters? Good, but not strong. He may get wins on the strength of the Cards' offense and defense, but don't expect another 7/2 K/BB game. Keep an eye out for Mitchell Boggs, who could sneak in as early as this weekend.
Is Chien-Ming Wang really this bad?
Yes. A couple of years ago I wrote an article about whether someone can strike out as few batters as Wang and still keep winning. The answer was you can get away with it for a year or two, but eventually you regress and become Kirk Reuter and Russ Ortiz. Wang has officially regressed. Yes, he was injured last year, but it was his foot. There shouldn't be any problem with his arm mechanics, despite what the Yankees are trying to tell us. My favorite stat is that in three "starts" (not sure if we can call them that), Wang had a total of 23 called strikes. In a single game between NYM and MIL last weekend, Johan Santana had 22 called strikes and Yovani Gallardo had 26. Wang is not missing a lot of bats, but even when he's on, he'll hurt you in the strikeout category. Cut bait.
Which Tim Lincecum is the real one?
We haven't seen him yet. I'm not talking about the video game commercial where Tim is followed by his digital doppelganger (a fantastic name for a Guitar Hero band, by the way), but the one that struggled in spring training and his first two starts, or the one that ate the Diamondbacks' lunch while Doug Davis was eating the Giants' dinner. For a power pitcher like Lincecum, it comes down to strikes. Last year on average Lincecum threw 63 percent of his pitches for strikes. In his first two games this season he threw 56 percent strikes against Milwaukee and 54 percent against San Diego. Neither start went well. Against the D-backs, he threw 76 percent, which explains his dominance. Staying above 70 percent is likely unsustainable, but he should settle back into the mid-60's (like, say, Dennis Hopper). Since the Diamondbacks aren't that tough a test, he may experience another hiccup getting to the mid 60's. So wile expecting the same strikeout numbers as last year, realize his wins will suffer until the Giants' offense wakes up.
Who has the better young rotation: the A's or the Tigers?
The Tigers have the better Top Three, but the A's are stronger top to bottom. We knew the A's improved their offense but decided to stay pat on their pitching by relying on their Young Guns: Dallas Braden, Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson, Dana Eveland and Josh Outman. The group is a combined 1-5, and none of them are a lock to stay in the rotation. However, this group likely does improve with Cahill (despite a dreadful 13 BB against only 5 K) and Anderson having the highest upside. As the Oakland team finds its identity the rotation should see more success. In Detroit, Armando Galarraga, Rick Porcello and Edwin Jackson have all shown they can control a game and are dark horse candidates to be the best 1-2-3 in the AL (Justin Verlander is currently in the mix, but he's not been at their level this year). In fact, word is that the worst trade of the offseason (or best if you're a Tigers' fan) was giving up Jackson, who is still only 25. Galarraga has been nothing short of spectacular and Porcello has been great for a 20-year-old, and was simply left in too long in his first start. None of these three should be available in single or mixed leagues.
Did I just blow my team by trading [fill in name of position player stud here] for Josh Johnson?
Absolutely not. A healthy starter will get about 34 starts, but no one will get 34 wins. Cliff Lee's freakish '08 season of 22-3 in 31 starts is an aberration as most good pitchers lose 6+ games, or about a month of starts. Johnson pitched well last year and he's picking up where he left off. Sure, he got hammered by the Nationals (as they say, that's why they make them play the games), but he only made two true mistakes, and he made them early: the grand slam to Austin Kearns and walking the pitcher. After the second inning he settled down and was unhittable. So Johnson will have a strong year, but in my opinion, only because he can strike batters out. This Marlins team has gotten off to a hotter start than they deserve, and the lack of good defense will be their undoing. So the only other Florida starter I'd consider would be Chris Volstad as the rest -- including Anibal Sanchez -- will see dropoffs in results as the season wears on.
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