A good fantasy team is made up of steady performers that create above average stats and hot players who are rode until they cool off. The problem, sometimes, can be figuring whose cold start has turned around and whose hot start has fizzled, especially when you look at stats for the whole season. That's makes the "Last 30 Days" and "Last Week" stats for starting pitchers of great value.
So let's look at the best performances of April and compare them to the best performances of May to see if we can identify the steady starters and the ones whose hot and cold starts have changed temperature.
For April, the highest number of starts was five, so I'll define a "best April performance" as recording at least 3 wins and (1) at least 30 or more strikeouts, or (2) a sub-4.00 ERA.
Zach Greinke (KC, 5-0, 0.50 ERA, 44 K)Chad Billingsley (LAD, 4-0, 2.14, 34)Felix Hernandez (SEA, 4-0, 2.38, 36)Roy Halladay (TOR, 4-1, 3.75, 32)Johan Santana (NYM, 3-1, 1.10, 44)Yovani Gallardo (MIL, 3-1, 2.86, 34)Armando Galarraga (DET, 3-0, 1.85, 24)Kyle Lohse (STL, 3-0, 1.97, 19)Dallas Braden (OAK, 3-2, 2.10, 18)Zach Duke (PIT, 3-1, 2.43, 16)Adam Wainwright (STL, 3-0, 2.76, 25)Joel Pineiro (STL, 4-0, 3.76, 6)Scott Richmond (TOR, 3-0, 2.70, 20)Mark Buehrle (CWS, 3-0, 3.00, 17)Paul Maholm (PIT, 3-0, 3.09, 12)Jerrod Washburn (SEA, 3-1, 3.42, 17)Joe Saunders (LAA, 3-1, 3.41, 9)
The list has to begin with Greinke, who had as close to a perfect month as possible. Santana would be up there with him if his bullpen had been better. It is disconcerting to see pitchers like Pineiro and Saunders on the list with under 10 strikeouts. Also, Dan Haren, Tim Lincecum and Javier Vazquez came close to getting on the list, but will just have to settle for "solid" April performances. Sure they pitched well, but remember, we're talking about best fantasy worth, not who has the most talent.
For May, the highest number of starts was Carl Pavano's 7, but most good starters had 6, so I'll define a "best May performance" as recording at least 4 wins and either 35 or more strikeouts or an ERA of 4.00 or lower.
Justin Verlander (DET, 5-0, 1.52, 56)Rick Porcello (DET, 5-0, 1.50, 20)Carl Pavano (CLE, 5-1, 3.60, 34)Johan Santana (NYM, 4-1, 2.43, 42)Roy Halladay (TOR, 4-0, 1.76, 36)Edwin Jackson (DET, 4-2, 2.34, 36)CC Sabathia (NYY, 4-1, 2.56, 37)Matt Cain (SF, 4-1, 2.45, 28)John Maine (NYM, 4-1, 2.75, 26)Ted Lilly (CHC, 4-2, 3.32, 36)Matt Palmer (LAA, 4-0, 3.76, 26)Derek Lowe (ATL, 4-2, 3.76, 16)Kevin Slowey (MIN, 4-1, 3.86, 25)Jason Marquis (COL, 4-2, 3.83, 20)
So wait, where's Greinke? Of course you're happy with his May performance (3-1, 1.57 ERA, 44 K) but he's suffering from the Jake Peavy Syndrome: No matter how dominating a starting pitcher you are, you can't be your team's offense, defense and bullpen as well. Peavy's been solid (73.2 IP, 84 K, 3.67 ERA), but only has a 5-5 record. Compare that to Bronson Arroyo who has been mediocre (65.0 IP, 32 K, 5.12 ERA) but has a 7-3 record. Again, as a fantasy player you don't care about talent as much as you do about results.
So back to Greinke. Despite having those great numbers (okay, so his ERA has ballooned 200 percent to 1.57 since April...), he only saw three wins in six tries. As a member of the Royals rotation, he will see sure wins slip away, and as I said a few weeks ago, this team will get worse as the season wears on. Greinke is still great for strikeouts and likely ratios, but if you can trade him for a good pitcher and a bat, I'd likely take that action.
Halladay and Santana are the only two that made both lists, which from a fantasy standpoint doesn't mean much to you because either you drafted them or you didn't. These guys should stay at the top all year and are the prohibitive Cy Young favorites.
What jumps out in the May list is that three of the top six -- using my rankings -- are Tigers. That's either a huge turnaround from last year, or a trip in Doc Brown's DeLorean to 2007. Either way, I say Detroit keeps it going through the rest of the summer, and Verlander sees 16-plus wins, which is what I said in the preseason. Jackson was lights out in the spring and has kept it going. Porcello is a rookie and will likely see his ups and downs during the season, but stick with him.
The Pavano resurgence is surprising, and frankly I don't buy it. In winning five of seven starts he had good run support and the only game he lost was the only one where the team didn't score five runs or more. Sure, you can't separate him from his team, but he's not pitching well enough for me to jump on the bandwagon.
Slowey gave up five earned runs in each of three of his first five games, which has weighed down his ERA. But since then it's not been the numbers that have been impressive, but whom he has beaten -- Boston, Milwaukee, and Detroit -- in addition to a quality start no-decision at the Yankees. I say there is another pitcher who is the ace of this staff (see below), but Slowey is good enough for any fantasy team in any league.
Face it, May was a bad month if your nickname was King (isn't that right, LeBron?). Felix Hernandez took a nose dive in May, and the problem was efficiency. He needed 121 pitches to get through 3.1 more innings in May than he needed in April. Sure, those strikeouts help your fantasy cause, but he's very hittable right now. Speaking of the Mariners, Jarrod Washburn wasn't bad in May, but he just couldn't buy a win. That's probably going to be a problem for the whole staff. However, keep an eye on Jason Vargas who is having the season I thought he would last year (I would have won a money league in '08 if he had pitched like this). He should be gone in AL only and is worth an end of the bench spot in mixed leagues.
Armando Galarraga went 3-0 in April, and then 0-5 in May. His April ERA was 1.85 while his May one was 8.49. Yeesh. The problem is more hits and less strikeouts. The Tigers have enough good pitchers that you shouldn't worry about chasing Galarraga.
The A's pitching staff had the worst ERA in the AL, and Dallas Braden did his part by approaching 4.86. It's looking like the best pitcher in that rotation is Josh Outman (2-0, 2.45 ERA), but this team probably turns the corner in the next 30 days. Look for Outman and Trevor Cahill to lead the charge.
Quick, who tied the Tigers for the best staff ERA in the AL? The Texas Rangers. Yeah, that is unexpected, but I'm not buying it. As the summer heats up the balls will fly out of that stadium, taking Brandon McCarthy's ERA with them. Kevin Millwood? His ERA in May was double that of April. Vicente Padilla has a home ERA of 6.75. What's more, Matt Harrison has looked great in May (3-2, 3.82 ERA), but righties have a 1.83 WHIP against him (that's not a typo). And last I checked, the majors were full of righty batters. If you have them, trade them.
So we know who has been good, but who's the next guy that's going to bust out and have a great June or July? A few pitchers were knocking on the door of our lists, and if I had to pick the most likely to break down the door (and actually, I have to), they would be:
Cole Hamels (PHI) and Josh Beckett (BOS): I've put these two together because they had head-scratching starts to the season, but both are coming around. Both play for teams that will win much more than they lose and both will help you in strikeouts. If you didn't make a play for them a few weeks ago, the trading window may be closed.
Randy Wolf (LAD): Wolf looked good last year, but we all thought it was an aberration. However, he's dealing again. What's more, he's blown away lefties and is unhittable in day games. Expect a good four-win month this summer.
Johnny Cueto (CIN): I was high on Cueto in spring training and he's been improving as the season goes on. His WHIP fell in May while his ERA went up, but it's still under 3.00. If we could add his ability against righties to Wolf's dominance of lefties we'd have ... well ... Johan Santana. Expect a nice five-win month.
Nick Blackburn (MIN):Francisco Liriano and Scott Baker have been awful while Blackburn and Slowey have quietly been steady. As the season has worn on batters have hit Blackburn harder, but they've been getting on base less frequently, with the net effect being in his favor. He still may have a blowup where he gives up two homers in a game, but he should see good wins through the rest of the season. Just keep in mind he's only middling in strikeouts.
Cliff Lee (CLE): Not a bold pick, but his team will get better as the offense picks up. In May, he had a 2.57 ERA but only saw one win. Expect a five-win month out of him some time this summer (presumably when he doesn't face Detroit twice and the Yankees once like he did in May).
Chris Carpenter (STL): It's easy to say that only a stint on the DL kept him from being on either list, but the DL is a real possibility with Carpenter. However, I'll go on the assumption he can put a month together on the mound and say he'll be Johan-esque this summer.
J.A. Happ (PHI): I know, I know, two weeks in a row. But he and Hamels will help the Phillies open up a lead on the Mets and Braves causing the former to trade for some big-name slugger in the next month (I'll go out on a limb and say Aubrey Huff).
Matt Palmer (ANA): Before you run out and pick him up, realize he's at the bottom of this list for a reason. He's been hittable and won and lost games he shouldn't have. However, if you have the luxury of putting him on your bench, start him at home (1.02 WHIP at home vs. 1.38 away) and against the occasional easy team on the road. It's not a foolproof strategy and his win at Yankee Stadium speaks to the contrary, but give it a shot if you need wins.
I wanted to list several Giants starters, but that offense has no pop in it. If the Giants trade for a big bat, Tim Lincecum will be the biggest beneficiary, but also give Barry Zito and Jonathan Sanchez some thought.