May 04, 2010

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Remember this spring, when every expert in sight told you not to reach too high for pitching? I hope by now you're reaping the rewards of that philosophy. I don't say this because I just watched Johan Santana get pounded for 10 earned runs in under four innings, or because fantasy "aces" Josh Beckett and Jake Peavy both have ERAs over 7.00 and WHIPs over 1.70. No, the main reason to avoid large investments in pitching is because there is so much of it. I'm not even talking about pitchers like Jaime Garcia and Brian Matusz. You could see them coming. Much more obscure names seem to be popping out of the woodwork on a daily basis.

Yes, Tim Lincecum and Roy Halladay are two of the best pitchers going, but are they a better value than Wade Davis? After outdueling Zack Greinke Sunday, Davis has a 3-1 record and 2.79 ERA. Take out that first shaky start against a tough Yankee lineup and Davis' numbers look even more impressive. More promising is that his minor league numbers suggest his current 6.95 K/9 should start creeping closer to last year's 8.92. Davis will still have to face the Yankees a few more times, but the AL East doesn't look so imposing now that the Boston offense has lost its bite.

Another young AL hurler on the rise is Oakland left-hander Gio Gonzalez. Though his 4.40 BB/9 is still too high, he's managed to bring it down from a career 5.30 mark. His strikeouts are also down, but still at a solid 8.48 per nine innings. Gonzalez is just a thrower who is beginning to learn how to pitch. Liken him to Jonathan Sanchez in the NL. Both are high-octane lefties who bring the Ks, but have struggled for consistency. Sanchez put it all together in the second half of '09. Gonzalez is in the process of doing it now.

There are young aces popping up in the NL as well. He hasn't gotten much press because of a bad start in Colorado, but Chris Volstad is putting it back together after a huge step backward in 2009. After Saturday's complete game four-hitter, Volstad stands at 2-2, with a 4.45 ERA, which would be 2.89 were it not for the Colorado outing. The 1.11 WHIP demonstrates just how well he has pitched. Volstad makes a sneaky mixed league play when matchups are right.

Those same Marlins cast off Scott Olsen, and after two bad outings to start the season; it looked like a solid decision. In his last two starts though, he's looked like the top pitching prospect he used to be. In those starts, Olsen has pitched 13 innings without allowing an earned run, while striking out 12 hitters with just four walks. Olsen is probably still a little too dangerous for mixed league usage, but NL-only owners should start paying attention.

Maybe you can't find that one good starter to bolster your staff and are contemplating a streaming strategy. Look no further than San Diego. PETCO Park has made Wade LeBlanc and Clayton Richard look like Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain. After three starts filling in for Chris Young, LeBlanc may have earned a permanent rotation slot. He's 2-0 with a 0.51 ERA and 16 Ks in just over 17 innings. Last year's 3.71 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in 46 innings suggest he may be for real. Richard hasn't been quite as impressive, but after six shutout innings Friday night, he now has a 2.01 career ERA in 53.2 innings at PETCO. Package those two together and you get a Cy Young caliber pitcher if you only start them at home.

Jonathan Niese hasn't been dominant, but you have to like the way he has minimized the damage. After a couple of shaky starts to begin the season, Niese has allowed just two earned runs in his last three starts for the Mets. He's also averaged over a strikeout an inning in those three starts. Niese has allowed too many baserunners, but he seems to have gained confidence with his recent success. This could very easily be the start of a 14-win season.

Waiting for value among pitchers also extends to the closing ranks. Two of the best closers thus far have been Carlos Marmol and Andrew Bailey. Neither has received many save chances, but have contributed in other areas. Marmol's 25 strikeouts puts him ahead of Phil Hughes, Matt Cain, and Barry Zito; three starters off to very good starts. Bailey was an injury concern heading into the season, but has yet to give up an earned run in 8.3 innings. The A's are competitive with a lackluster offense, so the opportunities should come.

One pitcher who has received way too much hype is Fausto Carmona. Yeah, he's 3-1, but the ERA is on the rise after being pounded by the Twins Friday night. This is all coming from a pitcher who has posted WHIPs over 1.60 in each of the last two seasons. If I'm going to take on that kind of risk, I at least want some Ks out of the deal. Carmona has managed just 15 punchouts in 33.3 innings. That's taking pitching to contact to extremes. The main reasons for his "success"; a .240 BABIP and a 5.4 percent HR/FB rate. I'm not going to bet on those numbers remaining where they are.

Another pitcher who gets way too much fantasy love is Felix Hernandez. Settle down, I know he's good ... he's just not great. Every expert in existence had him as a Top 5 starter this preseason, but his peripherals didn't warrant it. His numbers this year look amazingly similar to those he posted in '07 and '08, when he was a good, but not a great fantasy option. Expect his ERA to be closer to the mid-threes of two years back than last year's mid-twos. Last year's 3.09 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) shows that he was a bit fortunate. Expect a few more clunkers like Saturdays outing against the Rangers, as luck starts evening out.

After posting great numbers during his rehab, Daisuke Matsuzaka laid an egg in his debut Saturday. Assuming he's healthy, expect better numbers from here on out. The WHIP is always going to be a problem, but he should contribute nicely in wins and strikeouts. Mixed Leaguers can hold off, but those in AL leagues need that kind of upside in their rotations.

Don't forget to check out our Xclusive Edge Rankings for help with tough lineup decisions.

* All statistics current as of May 2.

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