Felix Hernandez or Masahiro Tanaka? Johnny Cueto or Adam Wainwright? With two weeks until the All-Star Game, the potential starting pitchers for each league are clear. Hernandez, Tanaka, Cueto and Wainwright have separated themselves from the pack in their respective leagues. Clayton Kershaw has pitched as well, if not better, than Cueto and Wainwright, but his stint on the disabled list at the beginning of the year likely cost him any chance to start the All-Star Game. So will it be Hernandez vs. Cueto? Hernandez vs. Wainwright? Or will it be Tanaka vs. the Cincinnati or St. Louis ace? Let’s take a look at the numbers.
You’ll notice that win-loss record is omitted in the above table. While that will likely factor into the decision, this isn’t about who will start, but who should start, and win-loss record should not have any impact on who starts the All-Star Game, wins the Cy Young Award, or anything else that determines who is a good pitcher.
Beginning in the American League, there really isn’t much difference between Hernandez and Tanaka. They have identical ERAs, and nearly identical WHIPs, strikeout totals and differences between strikeout rate and walk rate. Fangraphs, which uses FIP for its WAR calculation, prefers Hernandez, while Baseball-Reference, which uses runs allowed and adjusts for opponents, team defense, park and role, grades Tanaka better. Truthfully, Hernandez’ and Tanaka’s stats are too similar to definitively say one deserves it over the other. Given Hernandez’ far superior FIP and 13 more innings thrown to date, he gets the nod here. Don’t worry, Tanaka, you’ll be the first man in out of the bullpen.
The decision in the National League seems a bit clearer. Cueto bests Wainwright in all stats other than FIP and bWAR, and Wainwright barely edges him in the latter. Cueto has had just one true dud of a start this year, and his 15 quality stats in 17 outings this year. He has gone at least seven innings in 12 of his starts this year, allowing a total of 13 runs in those starts. Wainwright, too, has been his team’s best player this year, but Cueto has been just a touch better.
John Farrell and Mike Matheny will both have tough choices, but it’s supposed to be hard to pick an All-Star Game starter. Matheny will likely be tempted to go with his guy, and the Cardinals have already proven themselves sensitive to the idea of All-Star starters after their self-created flap over the Brewers satirical political ad encouraging people to vote for Jonathan Lucroy over Yadier Molina. If either of the managers read this column, however, here’s a vote for King Felix and Cueto, the best starters in their leagues in the first half this year.
Pitchers of the Week
Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers –Last week: 15 IP, 2 W, 21 K, 0.00 ERA, 0.93 WHIP
How does one follow up a no-hitter that should have been a perfect game? Well, if you’re Clayton Kershaw, you go out and shut down your next two opponents with the ho-hum ease of a kid in the Little League World Series who has developed two or three years faster than his peers. Kershaw shut out the Royals for eight innings, allowing six hits while fanning eight last week. He then struck out 13 batters in seven scoreless innings against the Cardinals. He very well could win another Cy Young even though he spent six weeks on the DL.
Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners –15 IP, 2 W, 15 K, 1.20 ERA, 0.67 WHIP
Apparently, a seven-inning, two-run, six-hit, six-strikeout performance against the Red Sox didn’t measure up to King Felix’ standards, so he went about rectifying that his second time out last week. He dominated the Indians, allowing just one hit in eight shutout innings, fanning nine batters. In 128 1/3 innings this year, he has a 2.10 ERA, 0.92 WHIP and 137 strikeouts against 22 walks.
Josh Tomlin, Cleveland Indians –9 IP, 1 W, 11 K, 0.00 ERA, 0.11 WHIP
Tomlin was one of our recommended stream pitchers over the weekend, and he came through in a big way for anyone who took the plunge. He was masterful in a one-hit shutout over the Mariners. Tomlin struck out 11 and didn’t walk a batter, allowing just a leadoff single to Kyle Seager in the fifth inning. He threw 77 of his 111 pitchers for strikes, earning a game score of 96. However, don’t expect this to last. The Mariners are one of the lesser offenses in the league, and Tomlin had surrendered 13 earned runs and 28 hits in 15 innings over his previous three starts.
Pitchers of the Weak
Shelby Miller, St. Louis Cardinals –7 2/3 IP, 6 K, 10.57 ERA, 2.74 WHIP
Miller has been a major disappointment for the Cardinals and his fantasy owners this year, continuing that unfortunate trend last week. He allowed nine runs, 13 hits and eight walks in 7 2/3 innings against the Rockies and Dodgers. The six-run outing in Los Angeles was the sixth time his year he has allowed at least four runs in a start.
C.J. Wilson, Los Angeles Angels –8 2/3 IP, 1 W, 7 K, 10.38 ERA, 2.31 WHIP
Wilson had a pair of terrible starts last week, allowing six runs on nine hits to the Twins in five innings, then surrendering four runs on seven hits in 3 2/3 innings in Kansas City. His offense bailed him out against Minnesota, scoring seven runs off Kyle Gibson in the first two innings to get Wilson a win and help him salvage a sliver of fantasy value in the week. The back-to-back ugly starts increased his ERA to 3.90 from 3.34.
John Lackey, Boston Red Sox –8 2/3, 1 W, 5 K, 11.42 ERA, 1.85 WHIP
Lackey’s week was quite similar to Wilson’s. He also gave up double-digit earned runs -- 11, in his case -- and saw his ERA jump by more than half a run during the week. He was also gifted a win thanks to a big game from his offense, with the Red Sox lighting up Chase Whitley for five runs in four innings to get Lackey a win. He’ll try to get back on track against the Orioles on Saturday.
Buy, sell or hold
Buy: Jesse Hahn, San Diego Padres
In three starts with the Padres this season, Hahn has done enough to earn the trust of owners in most mixed leagues. He is 3-0 with a 2.38 ERA, 3.06 FIP, 1.06 WHIP, and 27 strikeouts in 22 2/3 innings. Hitters have managed just a .191/.269/.274 slash line with three extra-base hits against the 24-year-old righty. He has had nice matchups with the Mets and Mariners (his third start was against the Giants), but two of his three starts have come away from the confines of Petco Park.
Hahn did well in 11 appearances – eight starts – at Double-A San Antonio, putting up a 2.11 ERA, 2.83 FIP, 1.25 WHIP and 33 strikeouts in 38 1/3 innings. His fastball sits in the low-90s, typically coming in at about 91 mph, and he features a deadly curveball that has saved him 3.26 runs per 100 offerings in his brief time in the majors. No fantasy owner has ever really suffered from trusting a starter on the Padres (those of us who invested in Josh Johnson this draft season notwithstanding). Hahn is widely available and worth an add in most formats.
Sell: Danny Duffy, Kansas City Royals
Duffy has been great his last three times out, allowing a total of three runs in 20 innings. He has struck out 19 batters, walked six and surrendered just 12 hits to the White Sox, Tigers and Dodgers, all of whom are in the top 11 in the league in wOBA. If you own Duffy, you may very well be getting offers on him now. Now might also be the perfect time to sell. Duffy’s 2.69 ERA is belied by a 3.86 FIP, and he’s scheduled to face the Indians and Tigers in his next two starts.There’s a chance you won’t be able to get anyone to take him off your hands two weeks from now. This is not a sell-at-all-costs proposition, but be aware that the best of Duffy could be in the past. If I’m invested, I’m making him available.
Hold: Cliff Lee, Philadelphia Phillies
Lee was off to a, more or less, typical Lee season before elbow problems slowed him down and forced him to the DL. He threw a simulated game last Friday, and reported no ill effects, and will throw another before going out on a rehab assignment. If all goes according to plan, he’ll rejoin the Philadelphia rotation sometime in July. That also means he’s likely to be a popular trade target for someone trying to buy an ace at a discounted price. Don’t let the opportunity to divest from an injured player blind you to how much Lee can do for you when he comes back from the DL. While you should be open to offers, remember that Lee had 61 strikeouts in 68 innings and a 3.18 ERA before going to the DL.