As we approach the mid-way point of the season, let's look at the key pitching headlines from the first half of the 2009 baseball season:
NOT AS HANSON AS HE LOOKED
Uber-pitcher Tommy Hanson finally got his call-up and coughed up three homers to the Brewers. I imagine Tom Glavine at home thinking, "I could have done that." Thanks to Chipper Jones, Hanson escaped with a no decision; but for those fantasy players that started him, it hurt. And since you likely drafted Hanson, you've had to use a bench spot for him all year. At this point you would have been better off picking up fellow Braves rookie Kris Medlen when I (a-hem) told you too. But Hanson did look unhittable after retiring the first nine batters, so he does have the skills that we've been told he has and should deal if he gets comfortable at the major league level.
The first lesson with new players, though, is no matter how good a rookie pitcher is in the minors, have patience and watch the first appearance with him on your bench. If anything, he may be on a pitch count a la David Price and therefore not in a position to get the win anyway. Having said that, there are a flock of rookies that have made an impact (and should continue to do so) and have been wonderful waiver wire pickups: J.A. Happ, Rick Porcello, Randy Wells, Sean West and Matt Palmer. All of these guys should be off the waiver wire, likely in that order.
IT'S HARD OUT THERE FOR A GRAMP
Old age is revered in some societies, but not in ours and not in the Majors. Glavine was kicked to the curb by the Braves and has likely pitched his last game. Randy Johnson took a third of the season to get five wins to reach 300, and just got beat by the Marlins, a team that couldn't hit left-handed pitching even if they used a cricket bat. Roger Clemens is also likely done, but that's more because of what he said than where his skills are. Jamie Moyer is being hit harder than Mike Tyson hit Andy Galifinakas (you have to see that movie!). With all those rookies playing so well and certain career-extending substances being banned, this may turn back into a young man's game.
OH WHAT A TANGLED WEBB WE WEAVE ...
... when our third round stud is forced to leave. If you drafted or paid for Brandon Webb this season, you got 4.0 IP and 6ER, with no wins and 2 K before he hit the DL. How's that working out for you? Webb's been the biggest pitching bust in the NL, and his return from the DL is till in question. And when he does return, it will be to a team that loses more than it wins, and rewards its starters with an awful bullpen. Face it, he might end the year with less value than Bartolo Colon. Wow, that hurt saying out loud.
The second biggest busts in the NL are Roy Oswalt and Rich Harden. Harden has found his usual spot on the DL, but even before then he had an ERA over 4.00, which is very un-Harden-esque. Oswalt, however, has been healthy and has usually given up 3 or 4 runs a game. He followed a 1 ER performance against the Rockies with a 6 ER one against the Pirates. While Oswalt has been plain mediocre, he does have one redeeming split: in night games, he has an ERA of 3.86 (vs. a day ERA of 6.38). Someone in that infield (including perhaps Oswalt) needs better shades. If you're stuck with Oswalt, try to start him at night, but remember he plays for a team that will not reward him with a lot of wins.
RETURN GUIDELINES FOR TOMMY JOHN SURGERY EXPANDED TO "SOMETIMES NEVER"
Francisco Liriano was rushed, then babied, then rushed again after his Tommy John surgery. Even though everyone proclaimed him ready (I'll take my lumps for singing in that chorus), he has been the AL's biggest disappointment. While 55 K in 64.2 IP is salvageable, his measly 2 wins and awful ratios are not. It's hard to dump him, but he hasn't shown any signs of turning the corner, unless perhaps he's turning the corner into a brick wall.
Tied for second is a triumvirate of studs who hit the DL this year: Ervin Santana, John Lackey and Scott Kazmir. The first thing to note is that since the Angels are above .500 and only 4.5 games out of first, Mike Scioscia should be AL manager of the year and perhaps the decade (although Joe Maddon's results with the Rays last year were legendary). Santana and Lackey are back, but have been spotty. Both are worth keeping for now (as is Kelvim Escobar who just returned) and since no one put the Angels away, with the staff back together they should take the AL West with the A's being their real competition. And for those of you that have Daisuke Matsuzaka and Jon Lester, yes, it does stink to be you right now (here's hoping Lester's almost-perfecto against Texas was his turned corner), but Boston can make any pitcher a winner.
SOME NOT SO MARQUIS NAMES
For every Webb and Liriano killing your team by submarining your pitching (both on and off the mound), there are unexpected waiver-wire gems that are making you competitive. However, keep in mind that it's a long baseball season and sometimes these darlings are no more than sell-high candidates before the window closes.
In the NL, Jason Marquis had registered eight wins (the most in the NL) but his control (39 K vs. 28 BB) shows he hasn't been anything special. And like all Colorado pitchers, he's getting hit hard at home (5.34 ERA). But so far he's made the most of his road starts and is playing for a team that has the smell of a winning streak coming. I say he keeps doing this all year long and is worth a pickup, but don't expect him to continue to lead the NL in wins.
Another NL over-achiever has been Zach Duke who has been the true anchor of the Bucs staff rather than Paul Maholm. However, I'd be more comfortable if Maholm were leading the Pirates with six wins rather than Duke. The latter is headed for a fall as lefties are killing him (1.56 WHIP) and teams will catch on.
In the AL, the intriguing over-achiever is Carl Pavano who has six wins for a bad rotation. I previously said I don't buy the renaissance for Pavano, but each week he proves me wrong. The Indians will get better unless they have a fire sale, so he should see more run support. But I just don't buy that a 33-year-old pitcher who has thrown only 45 innings the past two years will be able to keep this going much past 100 innings (if that much). Expect a drop off in production or the obligatory DL stint to derail his feel-good story.
Jarrod Washburn is the other overachiever in the AL, who may have some hidden additional value. This is his walk year and the way he's pitching, it would be a surprise if he didn't end up in a Yankees or Mets uniform in late July. Hold onto him expecting a better situation soon.
REDS WINNING BATTLE OF OHIO
If you had asked at the beginning of the season which Ohio team would have the better starting the rotation, you would have likely picked the Indians over the Reds. However, this is why they make them play the games (I get half credit as I wrongly thought Cleveland would be better than it is, but also said in March that the Reds staff would be strong). The Reds' starters are 24-21 with a 4.25 ERA while the Indians' are 15-22 with a 5.47 ERA.
The key to the Reds' staff has been a lucky Bronson Arroyo (a 5.00 ERA should not yield 7 wins in 12 GS), a dominating Johnny Cueto and a serviceable Aaron Harang. Keep an eye on manager Dusty Baker and the pitch count for each of them, but they should continue to give you the same numbers the rest of the year, especially Cueto who should have a breakout summer.
On the other hand the Indians have demoted Fausto Carmona to rookie ball, Anthony Reyes and Scott Lewis to the DL, and have had to rely on Pavano. The hidden gem (hidden in plain sight, that is) is Cy Young winner Cliff Lee who is only 3-6, but had made 10 straight quality starts. Even if you're not a fan of the QS stat, it illustrates that Lee has been the victim of run support and a sorry bullpen, despite the Indians being among the league leaders in runs. In fact, Lee's been the second unluckiest pitcher in Majors just behind the Cubs' rookie Randy Wells. Somewhere Johan Santana is breathing a sigh of relief that his '08 campaign is over.
GREINKE (DOESN'T) TAKE A HALLADAY
The reason they don't award the Cy Young award in May is because it's a long season and no one should be rewarded for a hot start they can't sustain it. Zack Greinke has been solid for a bad team and his April numbers were Hall of Fame caliber. But he's gone from excellent to very good while Roy Halladay has been consistently great (10-1, 2.52 ERA). Just keep in mind he's the first pitcher to hit 100 IP and has thrown a total of almost 700 innings the last three years. If Halladay hits the DL, then the door would open for Edwin Jackson (6-3, 2.16 ERA) who has been a great pickup for the Tigers.
And if you're wondering about the NL Cy Young, it's a two-horse race between Johan Santana (7-3, 2.00 ERA, 89 K) and Chad Billingsley (7-3, 2.59 ERA, 85 K), unless of course you include relievers, then Jonathan Broxton deserves a mention (6-0, 13 Sv, 1.24 ERA, 47 K).
IF I WERE A CARPENTER ... I'D BE ON THE DL
In the last section I would have mentioned Chris Carpenter (4-0, 0.71 ERA, 0.63) as an NL Cy Young candidate, but the 34-year-old can't stay healthy enough to be dependable. Those of us with him know that it's a deal with the devil: when healthy he'll carry you, but he won't be healthy enough to carry you to first place. My advice is don't trade him as that will only ensure he doesn't go on the DL. And you'll hate yourself for trading him away more than you'll hate yourself for holding onto him if he goes back on the DL. Other injury risks currently on the DL include Rich Harden, Justin Duchscherer and Anibal Sanchez. Duchscherer may return soon, but there may be no room in the rotation or in the ninth inning, so he may become a setup man again.