May 13, 2010

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Dallas Braden threw a perfect game. Somewhere, Alex Rodriguez weeps.

Braden wasn't the least likely candidate for a perfect game (cough, cough, Ryan Rowland-Smith, cough), but he wasn't exactly a sure bet, either.

Braden isn't striking out any more batters than he usually does and his 3.46 fielder independent pitching rate (FIP) is close to last year's 3.73. So how has he dropped half a run off his ERA? Better control and some good luck. His BB/9 is 1.37, less than half of last year's 2.77.

The good luck part comes as a result of his .245 batting average on balls in play (BABIP). That's well under his career .308 rate and probably won't continue.

Bottom line: Perfect game or not, this is a guy likely to finish with a FIP around 3.80 and a K/9 near 5.50 (Paul Maholm circa 2009). Value him accordingly.

A few other intriguing stories around the league:

48.1/48.1 club

Tim Lincecum and Ubaldo Jimenez have both thrown 48.1 innings so far in 2010 with somewhat similar results.

Here's the full take on Lincecum: He's really good. With a K/9 of 11.92, a K/BB of 6.40 and a non-lucky BABIP of .300, (plus a nearly identical 1.87 FIP and 1.86 ERA) it's hard to imagine anyone being better this year.

Jimenez brings up a more interesting question. How do you value a preseason hyped/ace-in-waiting/dark horse Cy Young contender wholives up to the billing?

There was an avalanche of buzz about Jimenez and he's actually managed to exceed it. Still, he's stranding an unsustainably high rate of base runners (90.0 left on-base percentage), and he's still struggling with walks (3.72 BB/9).

Jimenez is an outstanding pitcher, but if you have the chance to bank on his hot start and flip him for a better starter, (Lincecum, Roy Halladay, etc.) do it.

Special no-K

Nick Blackburn has failed to register a single strikeout in three of his six starts. His K/9 is 2.04, which combined with his 2.50 BB/9, puts him in decent shape for a Fausto Carmona Award (sub-1.00 K/BB, a.k.a. more walks than strikeouts).

Other pitchers fighting for an FCA in 2010:

Rowland-Smith -- K/9: 2.97, BB/9: 4.32Joe Saunders -- 3.72/4.71Carmona -- 3.86/4.08Livan Hernandez -- 2.91/2.91Aaron Cook -- 4.72/4.72Jon Garland -- 5.36/4.50Derek Lowe -- 5.45/4.50

Pitchers flirting with the 1.00 K/BB mark are fantasy baseball kryptonite. They have either ridiculously high BB/9 rates, ridiculously low K/9 rates, or an ugly combination of both. It's safe to say you don't want any of these pitchers on your fantasy team in standard-sized leagues (12-team mixed or smaller).

Mad Max

Max Scherzer, where art thou? So much is wrong with Scherzer's first 37 innings of 2010 ... he might be injured. That may be ultimate fantasy analysis copout, but how else do you explain his performance?

His K/9 is down to 6.08 (9.19 last year), his HR/9 is up to 1.46 (1.06 last year), his GB% is down and his LD% is up, and his fastball has lost some zip, averaging 91.8 mph (93.6 last year). Predictably, his FIP is an unhealthy 5.21.

If Max isn't hurt, there's a major mechanical issue that's sapped both his fastball velocity and his strikeout ability. That needs to be fixed, pronto. Hold onto him due to his potential, but don't start him until he gets his wrinkles ironed out for a couple of consecutive starts.

Has the countdown started yet?

Like a ticking time bomb, it's just a matter of time until reality sets in for some early-season overachievers, and their earned run average (ERA) explodes. These pitchers have the highest negative difference between ERA and FIP so far in 2010.

Livan Hernandez -- ERA: 1.04, FIP: 4.61, difference = -3.57Jon Garland -- 1.71/4.32 = -2.61Tim Hudson -- 2.64/4.85 = -2.21Rich Harden -- 3.53/5.52 = -1.99Mitch Talbot -- 3.43/5.37 = -1.94Jeff Niemann -- 2.27/4.09 = -1.83

For comparison, Kevin Millwood had the biggest negative difference in '09 at -1.13. In '08 it was Armando Galarraga (-1.22) and in '07 it was Jeremy Guthrie (-0.99). Therefore, pitchers with a difference bigger than -1.20 or so should see an increase in ERA sometime in the future.

Other names of note currently sporting an ERA-FIP difference bigger than -1.20: C.J. Wilson, Jaime Garcia, Jimenez, Brad Penny, Doug Fister, Ian Kennedy and David Price.

Jhoulys Chacin, Rockies -- The .204 BABIP and 100.0 LOB% won't last long, but his 9.39 K/9 might. The 22-year-old will have his Rocky starts but he has the sinking stuff to be sort of a Diet Ubaldo Jimenez when he's on.

Mike Leake, Reds -- After two wild starts to begin the season, Leake has a BB/9 of 1.67. He's also posting an impressive 56.0 GB% and has the stuff to excel despite limited strikeout potential. Ride the hot streak.

3.0%: TheHR/FB rate of Brian Matusz. Matusz certainly has talent and he's done an admirable job of keeping balls in the park so far. The problem is his FB%, which stands at 51.6 -- one of the highest rates in baseball. With that many flies, his HR/FB is sure to rise. With that, his FIP should rise too.


Jon Lester, Red Sox -- Lester's BB/9 is still bloated (3.92), but everything else looks solid again after a slow start. His GB% is 53.9, which would be the highest of his career. He's allowed a total of three earned runs in the past 27.2 innings (four starts).

Mat Latos, Padres -- Inconsistency is the way of life with young starters. Latos dominated at Houston May 7 (8 innings, two hits, nine strikeouts, no walks). His BB/9 is down to 2.36 from 4.09 last year.


Felix Hernandez, Mariners -- Earned-run wise, Hernandez's past two starts (12 earned runs) were the worst back-to-back starts of his career. He failed to pitch five innings in either one. He will be better, though his 4.09 BB/9 is concerning.

Clay Buchholz, Red Sox -- Buchholz has regressed from '09 in both K/9 and BB/9, which are not good signs. If he can regain his strikeout ability that he had in the minors or during the '07-08 season, he could get back into owners' good graces, somewhere near a 7.00 K/9.

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