RotoWire Partners

Mound Musings: Observations at the Break

Kevin Payne

Kevin Payne

Kevin has worked for Rotowire just under a decade and has covered basketball, baseball and football. A glutton for punishment, he roots for his hometown Bills, Sabres and the New York Yankees. He hosts the RotoWire SiriusXM show every Wednesday and Friday and you can follow him on Twitter @KCPayne26.

RotoWire Senior Baseball Writer Dave Regan will return next week.

Mr. Regan is on what is probably a well-deserved vacation, so I am pinch-hitting for him this week. This week I'll run off some of my random pitcher thoughts, looking at both the second half and to next season, which is already in the minds of many fantasy owners in keeper leagues. The All-Star break is a great time to deal; the days off without a fantasy relevant game is the perfect opportunity to deal with fellow owners.

Brandon Morrow will be higher on my draft sheet than most for next season. Some forget he was once a top pitching prospect (the fifth overall pick in 2006), so the pedigree is there. The change of scenery from Seattle to Toronto has helped tremendously, and he has improved his game. First, he's striking out almost two more batters per nine innings (10.03) while walking almost a batter and a half less. He's done a good job of keeping the ball in the park, lowering his HR/9 rate to .66 from last year's 1.29 mark. Despite lowering his LD% and raising his GB%, his BABIP sits at .339, showing he's been a bit unlucky to this point. Morrow's control has improved steadily since May, lowering his BB/9 rate from 5.59 percent to 2.73 percent to 1.50 percent each month. I'm not a huge fan of pitchers in the AL East, but if he continues these positive trends I'll snag Morrow after the top-40 SPs are off the board next year. ...

Another target for next year is Justin Masterson. For the record, I wrote this section before Tuesday's debacle in Texas, which is never a good start during the dog days of July. Masterson struggled early this season, posting a 5.68 ERA in April and a 5.87 ERA by the end of May. He's dropped that mark by more than a run since to 4.85. His numbers are very odd; his K rate dropped each month from April to June 11.37 percent, 7.79 percent and 4.96 percent. However, he's been a much better pitcher, lowering his LD rate those same three months 24.6 percent, 18.0 percent, 6.1 percent - while raising his GB rate 57.9 percent, 64.0 percent and 72.7 percent. These numbers help explain his BABIP's drop from .448 to .383 to .260 each month. Basically, he's stopped trying to strike everyone out and worked on pitching - inducing ground balls, which has translated to better success. Lefties are also killing him, posting a .315/.251 lefty/right split. Masterson, who throws with a three-quarters arm delivery, has worked recently to stay on top of the ball better to ensure he gets the proper sink on his pitches. I'm not a fan of his second half this season; he pitched only 129.1 innings last year, which likely means the Tribe will limit his innings this year, probably by skipping a start here and there toward the end of the season. However, the white gloves should be off next year, and if he can find a happy medium between strikeouts and ground balls, he got at least top-50 upside for your squad. ...

Two pitchers I love for the second half and could be traded for are Scott Baker and Ricky Nolasco. Both pitchers are in their late 20s, which is the prime age for a starting pitcher. If I had to choose, it's a pretty easy call to say that Baker would be the pitcher you'd have to give up less to acquire via trade. So let's start with ol' Scotty. He sports a 4.72 ERA, though his xFIP is almost a run lower at 3.75. This year, his HR/FB is at a four-year high, and he's lowered his walk rate and raised his strikeout rate from last year when he finished with a 4.37 ERA. His .338 BABIP can be explained by an almost four percent increase in his line drive rate. Both the BABIP and line drive rate are also four-year highs, suggesting a correction could be coming. Baker started slowly last year, dealing with shoulder woes during spring training but finished strong as evidenced by his 2009 second-half numbers (3.28 ERA and 1.17 WHIP). He has to love new Target field as his home/road split shows (3.28/6.55 ERA). Baker's last two years have seen much better road splits (4.17, 3.95 ERAs) so, again, expect that to improve. It wouldn't surprise to see him put up a sub-3.80 ERA/1.20 WHIP in the second half, making him a top-30 starter. As for Ricky, he had a similar 2009 season as Baker, posting a 5.76/4.39 pre/post All-Star Break split. He was even sent down to New Orleans to work on his mechanics, which helped his turnaround (remember the 15-K performance on Sept. 30?). These numbers, as well as a sharp difference between his 2009 ERA and xFIP (5.06/3.28), led to his sleepers status for this season. Well, to this point he's been somewhat of a disappointment as his 4.69 ERA indicates. He's been much better recently, trying to make good on his preseason walk goal, with a 28:2 K:BB ratio in his last three starts, all wins. Last season he struck out at least seven batters in nine of his final 15 starts, and his current HR/9 rate of 1.74 should improve toward his 1.28 career mark. Nolasco has top-25 upside for the second half. ...

One player who could have easily been named an All-Star is Joaquin Benoit. His 13.32 K/9 is not only higher than any AL All-Star reliever - Matt Thornton (12.14), Joakim Soria (11.16), Neftali Feliz (9.97), Mariano Rivera (8.64), Jose Valverde (8.03), Rafael Soriano (7.99) - but it leads all American League relievers. His problem is the lack of innings pitched (25.2), which likely hurt any type of All-Star consideration. In fact, for pitchers with at least 20 innings he leads the majors in WHIP (0.51) and is second in ERA (0.70). When he has allowed base runners, he's been perfect with 100 percent LOB mark. Obviously these numbers are due to regress in the second half, but if anything happened to Rafael Soriano, he'd likely be the next choice to close for the Rays. ...

If you read any of my other work on RotoWire, you'll know my lack of love for C.J. Wilson's prospects for the second half due to the lack of innings pitched the last two years (120 total). I'd stay away from first-year rotation pitchers for the second half Mike Leake, Mat Latos, Philip Hughes, Jaime Garcia and Ian Kennedy come to mind quickly. ...

Is throwing a perfect game a good thing? Both Dallas Braden and Armando Galarraga have struggled since their gems (and yes, I realize Galarraga technically didn't get one). Since his perfect game bid, Galarraga has gone 1-1 with a 5.61 ERA in six starts. Meanwhile, Braden hasn't been quite as bad but has seen his Athletics lose all eight of his starts (4.31 ERA) since his perfect game. Galarraga was sent down to Triple-A Toledo and Braden is currently on the DL. ...

Is there any doubt that Daniel Bard (1.99 ERA/.836 WHIP) is a better pitcher than Jonathan Papelbon (3.71 ERA/1.150 WHIP)? Giving closers long-term deals is rarely a good idea, but I think Bard's presence played into the Red Sox only giving Papelbon a one-year contract last offseason. Of minor concern is Bard's 40 appearances so far this season after he made only 49 in 2009. I'd give it a 50/50 chance that Bard and his 97.8 mph average heater is closing in Boston next year. Owners in keeper leagues, take note. ...

Sticking with the closer theme, now would be a good time to make some speculative pickups if you're looking for second-half saves. While Evan Meek gets a lot of potential-closer hype based on his strong first half stats (.96 ERA, .851 WHIP), it's just as likely that Joel Hanrahan gets first crack if Octavio Dotel gets dealt. Meek got the one save opportunity when Dotel was away from the team, but Hanrahan had pitched the three prior games deeming him unavailable. After a rough April, Hanrahan has only given up two earned runs over 14 innings since June 1 with a sparkling 16:1 K:BB ratio. Hanrahan continues to be the eighth-inning guy while Meek pitches the seventh, suggesting that it'll be Hanrahan and not Meek if Dotel is dealt. ...

Another good speculative pickup for saves is either Drew Storen or Tyler Clippard. Matt Capps has rewarded owners beyond their wildest dreams thus far, but the Nats are playing for the future, and Capps will probably be dangled as trade bait. I'm leaning toward Storen to take over should the chance arise. Many prognosticators warned about Clippard's usage (43 appearances), and perhaps it's catching up with him (seven earned runs in his last 5.2 innngs), though the Nationals blamed his recent problems on a now-fixed mechanical flaw. If Storen (46.4% GB rate) ends up with the job this year and runs with it, I'd have him in my top-10 relievers next year. The starting pitching should be much more potent with a healthy Scott Olsen and Jordan Zimmerman in the rotation. That Strasburg kid might throw a handful of potential saves Storen's way too.

Top Fantasy Baseball Player News