Thanks to Kevin Payne for filling in last week in my absence. I'm still evaluating whether a trip to Disneyland and Dodger Stadium with four young kids was a true vacation, but the time off was nice. Not much has happened since my last installment of this piece well, other than the Cliff Lee trade, the emergence of Josh Johnson as the best pitcher in the NL if not the entire league, and Stephen Strasburg coming back to Earth, at least a little.
Ten burning questions that came to mind as I was planning this piece (and the associated answers):
1. Can Scott Kazmir provide any sort of fantasy value over the second half?
By now it's pretty clear that the Rays won this trade big-time, giving up Kazmir and his eight-figure annual salary for Sean Rodriguez, two others and, most important, payroll flexibility. So can Kazmir at least salvage some value for GM Tony Reagins?
Is "no" a good enough response?
Kazmir's velocity is down not way down, but still the fastball barely averages 90 mph these days. He's also walking far more hitters (4.8 BB/9), and he's become useless against left-handed batters, surrendering a .329 average and 2.2 HR per nine innings. Kazmir has been especially horrible in his last four starts with a 13.72 ERA and 11:12 K:BB over 19.2 innings and may be nearing not only a demotion to the bullpen, but even to Triple-A or an outright release. Both the Angels bullpen and defense have taken steps back this year, but those items alone aren't to blame for Kazmir's lack of success.
Angels owner Arte Moreno has proven he's willing to eat salary for players who aren't getting it done (see Kevin Appier and $16 million), but it would be a stunner if he did so with a 26-year-old left-hander. More likely, expect to see Kazmir in the bullpen soon and if he doesn't turn things around quickly there, the Angels will look closely at options such as Roy Oswalt. From a fantasy perspective, he's worth a bench spot in AL-only leagues, but clearly isn't worth using unless you're shooting for last place and a high draft slot in your keeper league.
2. How good will the Rangers' rotation be the next two and a half months?
That the Rangers have a 3.97 ERA is amazing enough in itself, but that they've done it with one bad start from new ace Cliff Lee is even more impressive. Beyond Lee, here's how the rotation shakes out:
Colby Lewis 3.33 ERA, 105:38 K:BB in 110 innings. Solid No. 2 material, but can he maintain?
C.J. Wilson 3.35 ERA, though 82:55 K:BB in 113 innings has him more of a No. 4. Overachiever.
Scott Feldman 5.32 ERA, 63:33 K:BB in 108.1 innings.
Tommy Hunter 2.34 ERA, but that's in just seven starts. Correction coming considering 4.43 xFIP.
Rich Harden 5.68 ERA and yes, he's hurt. 14 HR and 43 BB in just 65 innings.
Harden should be ready to return soon and likely will bump Feldman to the bullpen unless Hunter regresses before Harden's return. All in all, Lee's 91:6 K:BB speaks for itself, but the Rangers have other pitchers worth looking at here as well. Don't expect much from Harden, as a strained glute (a.k.a. sore butt) can't be solely to blame for Harden's struggles. There's likely something going on with his arm given the fact that in the past, when the arm has been feeling good, the results have been there.
The guy I'm more interested in is Derek Holland. The 23-year-old left-hander has the talent to be the second best pitcher on the roster, though whether he achieves that this year, next or never remains to be seen. Still, that type of upside is worth a gamble.
3. When the heck is Jeremy Hellickson going to make his big league debut?
Answer: as soon as someone gets hurt, traded or suffers an implosion. The first two scenarios are clearly tough to predict, though the Rays could choose to deal from an organizational strength in pitching and upgrade at DH, SS, catcher and/or the bullpen. Wade Davis, though, is a leading candidate to be the guy who implodes. He's been inconsistent for most of the year and holds a 5.9 K/9 and 4.0 BB/9 with an ERA of 4.69. Davis has No. 3 starter upside, but Hellickson could be a No. 2 and quickly given his insane minor league K:BB's over the years 96:16, 106:34, 162:20 (the year the Greg Maddux comparisons began), 132:29 and, this year, 104:26.
4. Is there a pitching prospect close to the big leagues but under most radars we should know about?
Jordan Lyles is quite impressive, and he's in Double-A, but he's still just 19 and probably a year or so away. Rotowire subscribers are a smart lot, so there's no need to mention Aroldis Chapman and Mike Minor (both in Triple-A), so how about Michael Pineda?
The vitals: 21, 6-5, close to 230 according to some reports, pitching in Triple-A.
Pineda reached Triple-A in July after going 8-1 with a 2.22 ERA and 78:17 K:BB in 77 innings in Double-A. With a fastball that reaches the upper 90s, this hard-throwing Dominican might give the Mariners their future No. 2 to Felix Hernandez's No. 1. Pineda had a 26:5 K:BB in his first 19 Triple-A innings before getting knocked around a bit on July 9, so he won't replace Cliff Lee right away. David Pauley will be that guy for the time being, but a 27-year-old getting by with a 5.9 K/9 in Triple-A is only a start away from finding himself back in Triple-A Tacoma.
5. Dan Hudson buy low or simply not ready?
If his first start of 2010 is any indication, it's the latter. Hudson allowed five runs over four innings in a no-decision against the Royals just before the break. That after going 11-4 with a 3.47 ERA and 108:31 K:BB in 93.1 innings at Triple-A Charlotte.
After a rocky April, Hudson blew through the International League, posting a 2.22 ERA in 13 starts with a 90:23 K:BB in 77 innings. Hudson really burst onto the prospect scene last year, rising all the way from Low-A to the majors after posting a 2.32 ERA and 166:34 K:BB in 147.1 innings across four levels. I figured the Sox would make room for him via a trade, but Jake Peavy's season-ending arm injury made Hudson's promotion necessary. I think he'll be fine, but as we saw on Sunday, the growing pains could last for some time.
6. Eight (or seven really) reasons why I like Bud Norris' potential more than most.
-- 92-97 mph fastball more velocity is better than less, all else equal
-- Above-average slider
-- Improving changeup
-- 9.8 K/9
-- .365 BABIP
-- 5.97 ERA, but a 3.99 xFIP clearly he's not a 6 ERA guy
-- He attended college at my alma mater, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo OK, maybe not relevant.
-- Norris also posted a 9.6 minor league K/9, so the stuff is clearly there. He has some work to fine-tune his command, but Norris has shown pretty solid upside.
7. Why the Yankees and Astros will work out a Roy Oswalt and Lance Berkman package.
I'll admit I'm addicted to several baseball sites (Rotowire, FanGraphs, Baseball Prospectus, Baseball America and others), but it's always fun to read MLBTradeRumors.com and speculate on proposed deals.
WWTYD? = What will the Yankees do? That is, in response to losing out on Cliff Lee?
Despite having what appears to be a stacked starting rotation, don't be surprised to see the Yankees pursue another starter and then turn around and deal Javier Vazquez for prospects. We know the Yankees have the wherewithal to take on salary, so what about Roy Oswalt AND Lance Berkman for Jesus Montero and others? Montero could replace Berkman at first base with Jason Castro behind the plate for the Astros. The Yankees would slot Berkman as their full-time DH and Oswalt in the rotation as the No. 2 behind Sabathia. I know, pure speculation that has little to do with fantasy, but it's fun and Oswalt owners in NL-only leagues may want to consider selling in advance of July 31.
The Astros clearly need to be sellers. They won't get anything for Carlos Lee, but Oswalt has some value, and if they can save money to apply toward the 2011 draft and international market by dealing Berkman as well, it's a move that needs to be done. This is a 25-man roster going nowhere, and if you factor in a thin (being nice here) farm system, the Astros are staring at a couple last-place finishes in the next five years.
What are some of your bright trade ideas keeping in mind that they should make sense for BOTH sides?
8. How will the Nationals rotation look a month from now?
Pretty darn good. We need to be cognizant of Stephen Strasburg's workload, but this is a pretty strong rotation:
1.Strasburg may only have 10 starts left before being shut down.
2.Jordan Zimmerman Tommy John survivor already hitting mid 90s. Pounce in keeper and NL-only leagues once he returns in late-July or so.
3.Livan Hernandez Hernandez with a 3.37 ERA at the break isn't something any of us saw coming considering his ERAs the last three years were all well above 5.00, but with a 5.68 ERA in his last six starts, Livan may be just a handful of starts away from a DFA scenario given the number of pitchers the Nats having coming off the DL. Maybe the Dodgers would have some interest.
4.Jason Marquis Early August return from elbow surgery possible, but this is a guy who walked 80 hitters a year when healthy. Not optimistic.
5.Chien-ming Wang That there is currently no timetable for his return from shoulder surgery is concerning. We may have to write off 2010 soon.
6.Scott Olsen Olsen had a five-start stretch from April 25 to May 16 in which he posted a 1.11 ERA and 25:7 K:BB in 32.1 innings before a poor outing against the Orioles and a subsequent trip to the DL with a shoulder injury. Olsen isn't going to live up to his former top-prospect status, but then again, he's showing improvements in his velocity, ground ball rate and command. At a minimum, he's shown enough to be considered a solid No. 4 starter.
7.Ross Detwiler Former No. 6 overall pick has been a huge disappointment, but then again, he's 24, left-handed and Ricky Romero was also picked sixth and he was a late bloomer as well. Just don't count on him for much of anything this year.
Other options include J.D. Martin, Luis Atilano, John Lannan and Craig Stammen, but please don't go there.
If I had to guess, we'll see the Nats rotation shape up as follows:
August Strasburg, Zimmerman, Hernandez, Marquis, Olsen
September Zimmerman, Marquis, Olsen, Wang, Detwiler
9. How would I slot the top 10 starters in the NL right now?
So many good pitchers in the National League this year, but here's a stab at it:
1.Josh Johnson, FLA Not sure I realized he had a 1.70 ERA until Tuesday.
2.Ubaldo Jimenez, COL No chance at 30 wins. Legitimate shot at 25.
3.Tim Lincecum, SF Not throwing as hard this year, but results still very good.
4.Adam Wainwright, STL Look up work horse and see his picture.
5.Roy Halladay, PHI See Wainwright comment.
6.Stephen Strasburg, WAS 300 strikeouts/year coming beginning in 2012.
7.Clayton Kershaw, LAD So much for those command issues. True No. 1 starter now.
8.Chris Carpenter, STL Still a near-ace.
9.Dan Haren, ARI Look beyond the ERA. Having a very good season.
10.Yovani Gallardo, MIL Oblique injury may not be too serious after all.
Apologies to Matt Cain, Cole Hamels, Roy Oswalt, Tommy Hanson and others, but that's how I see em. Josh Johnson's salary will start to escalate significantly next year, but that four-year $39 million deal is looking like an absolute steal. Sure, Johnson could have gone year-to-year and netted a huge free-agent deal, but that assumes that the Tommy John survivor remained healthy. Good deal for both sides given that risk.
10. Is this the real Clay Buchholz?
He didn't appear in the game, but seeing Buchholz introduced as an All-Star on Tuesday had me wondering whether this was indeed his new baseline: 10-4 with a 2.45 ERA. Certainly he's taken a big step forward from 2008's 6.75 ERA, has he not? Let's look at a few other numbers before we conclude that Buchholz is just beginning a string of All-Star appearances.
(If you recall, xFIP is a metric designed to approximate ERA, but measure just those factors (K, BB, HR) that a pitcher can control.)
Buchholz's xFIP the past three years:
2008: 4.28 (ERA: 6.75)
2009: 4.09 (ERA: 4.21)
2010: 4.26 (ERA: 2.45)
Pretty much a 4.00 4.20 ERA pitcher, right? Look also at a strikeout rate that is actually down a tick (6.7 K/9 to 6.3) over last year and a walk rate that is up (3.5 BB/9 to 3.7). Buchholz's velocity has actually increased in each of the past three seasons, so factor in an above-average slide and a changeup that has shown dramatic improvement over last year, and the downside is probably a 4.20 ERA over the second half. Still solid, but barring further (and it's possible) development over the second half, this is a good pitcher, not a great one, at least not yet.