It's getting late in the year, and thus increasingly difficult to come up with interesting and/or provocative topics for this column. I think about pitching a lot, so there are always questions running through my mind about certain guys, situations or just general things I observe.
Here are 10 of those things for your consideration:
Time to worry about Stephen Strasburg?
In his first start in 20 days (shoulder issues) on Tuesday, Strasburg allowed six runs in just 4.1 innings against the Marlins. It was by far his worst start as a pro and leaves the phenom with a 5-3 record and 3.07 ERA. So anything to worry about here? Not really. Strasburg's first pitch of the game was a 99 mph fastball and he typically sat in the 98-99 range early and finished a couple ticks lower at 95-97. What was off was his command, as just 60.7 percent of his pitches went for strikes compared to 65.9 percent in his previous nine starts. I'd be a lot more worried about the shoulder if he was in the 92-94 range, so go all in his next start as he faces the strikeout-prone Diamondbacks.
Are there any pitching prospects still in the minors we need to keep an eye on for THIS year?
Now that Jeremy Hellickson has been called up, there is no clear-cut pitching prospect that is a lock to be a strong fantasy contributor down the stretch. Here are my top 10 prospects at the Double-A level or above:
1. Julio Teheran, ATL (AA) – 138:33 K:BB in 119 overall innings for this impressive 19-year-old. Struggled in first Double-A start and then didn't allow a run in his next two. Likely not in line for a big-league debut this year, but if injuries strike ...
2. Jordan Lyles, HOU (AAA) – Nine strikeouts over six innings in Triple-A debut and reportedly being considered for a big-league job at some point this year. That he's still just 19 makes it all the more impressive. Ultimately, I see him as a very strong No. 3 or potential No. 2 starter.
3. Mike Montgomery, KC (AA) – Lefty with a 1.76 ERA in 15 starts, but elbow issues probably lead the Royals to exercise caution and push MLB debut to 2011. Could get a cup of coffee, but that's about it.
4. Kyle Drabek, TOR (AA) – One earned run in last 18 innings and likely not in Triple-A simply due to the harsh pitching environment that is Las Vegas ... or heck, perhaps he has a thing for the $10 blackjack tables at the Bellagio, and the Blue Jays are just being cautious. Regardless, he's about big league ready and could see time later this year.
5. Aroldis Chapman, CIN (AAA) – If you're worried about his long-term prospects considering he's pitching out of the bullpen in Triple-A, don't. The Reds didn't sign him to a $30 million contract to limit him to 70 innings a year. Chapman should get the call any day and who knows, perhaps he puts himself in the mix for a save or two down the stretch.
6. Kyle Gibson, MIN (AA) – The Twins got a top-10 talent at No. 22 overall in last year's draft with Gibson, who slid due to concerns about his arm. No issues this year, as Gibson has a 3.10 ERA and 7.7 K/9. He has excellent command and should slot in as a No. 3 starter in 2011/2012. This year? Probably won't see him.
7. Martin Perez, TEX (AA) – 5.87 ERA, but who cares when he's still just 18 with glowing scouting reports? Hasn't shown enough to warrant a 2010 call-up, but should debut at some point in 2011.
8. Michael Pineda, SEA (AAA) – 137:30 K:BB in 126 innings for a 21-year-old who throws in the mid 90s. Pineda has flown a bit under the radar this year, but he gives the Mariners their best chance at having a long-term solid No. 2 to Felix Hernandez.
9. Randall Delgado, ATL (AA) – Probably "only" the Braves' fourth-best pitching prospect, but Delgado would be No. 1 in many other organizations. He's had some command issues in his brief stint in Double-A, and considering how loaded the Braves are with talented young pitching at all levels, don't expect to see him in 2010 or perhaps even 2011.
10. Zach Britton, BAL (AAA) – Once Bradley Bergesen turns back into Bradley Bergeson, the door should open for Britton, likely later this month. He's a mid-rotation type guy, perhaps a left-handed version of Jake Arrieta.
Of the group, Britton, Pineda and Lyles are the most major-league ready, and if I had to rank them on upside, it would probably be Pineda, Lyles and then Britton.
What are a couple bullpen situations worth monitoring?
Taking a look at the RotoWire Closer Grid, which I maintain by the way, we see three situations rated as "Very Low" in terms of the closer's job stability:
Baltimore – Alfredo Simon is clearly on thin ice having allowed runs in three of his last four appearances. New manager Buck Showalter said recently that Simon is not "guaranteed" every save opportunity. That would seem to open the door for Mike Gonzalez to get his job back, and considering Gonzalez has allowed just one run in his last seven innings, he should be the closer sooner rather than later. Gonzalez is on waivers, but considering his $6 million price tag for next year, a team claiming him seems unlikely. He could still get dealt if the Orioles want to pick up a bunch of his contract, but a trade is more likely after the season with Gonzalez being given a chance to finish this year strong and build up his value. I still think David Hernandez is the team's closer of the future, but he's on the DL with an ankle injury.
Washington – Manager Jim Riggelman hasn't designated an official closer, but all signs point toward Drew Storen. What signs you ask? These:
1. Storen was a top-10 draft pick
2. Storen received the team's last save opportunity (Aug. 6)
3. Tyler Clippard had a solid 2.5 months to start 2010 but hasn't been as good since
4. Sean Burnett is left-handed and is more of a situational reliever
5. Storen is simply the best pitcher of the three
Oakland – Andrew Bailey (oblique) continues to increase his throwing distance, so he's probably a couple weeks from a return. In the meantime, Mike Wuertz is probably the one to own, though Craig Breslow could factor into the mix as well.
Milwaukee – There's little doubt the going-nowhere Brewers will give Trevor Hoffman every opportunity to record at least three more saves to reach the 600 mark. John Axford has been the far better pitcher this year, but Hoffman has been better lately (please ignore his last outing when taking that in), so the Brewers really have little to lose by giving Hoffman more opportunities.
Yunesky Maya – worth a flier?
I admit that I know less about this guy than I do about what women are thinking most of the time, but he's worth a look. Maya is a 28-year-old (we think) Cuban defector who is said to have the upside of an Orlando Hernandez. That's worth a bid in NL-only leagues once Maya is put on the 25-man roster. When that happens is up to him, as he'll start in the minors with a late-August target for his big league debut. Maya was impressive (1.23 ERA) in a brief (7.1 innings) WBC stint last year, but he's a bit of a wild card. Still, he was considered one of Cuba's top starting pitchers the last few years and is worth an NL-only bid should he get promoted this year.
Who are my top five Cy Young candidates in each league?
This is always fun, so here goes:
1. Adam Wainwright, STL
2. Josh Johnson, FLA
3. Ubaldo Jimenez, COL
4. Chris Carpenter, STL
5. Tim Lincecum, SF
This one isn't a slam dunk, but with Wainwright being neck and neck in terms of ERA and strikeouts, it's the 21 innings Wainwright has on Johnson that sways me in the Cards' ace. Jimenez is in the conversation considering his 17-3 record and 2.55 ERA, but he's third in this race.
1. Cliff Lee, TEX
2. Jered Weaver, LAA
3. CC Sabathia, NYY
4. Felix Hernandez, SEA
5. Jon Lester, BOS
I'm not sure this will be the case at year's end, but as of the penning of this piece, Lee has more wins (10) than walks (nine) to go with 136 strikeouts. That's enough for me to make him the overwhelming favorite to win the trophy. Due to an early-season injury, Lee has five fewer starts than Felix Hernandez, but he's been so good, that there really is no one else to consider.
Is Mike Pelfrey back? ... or did he never leave?
Pelfrey entered his Tuesday start without a win since June 25 and a 7.74 ERA in his previous nine starts dating back to the time he was 9-1 with a 2.39 ERA. Pelfrey had an ugly 18:19 K:BB in those 43 innings before putting up a 7-4-0-0-1-4 against the Rockies last time out. I haven't really seen any plausible explanation for the turnaround, so I'll remain cautious. The truth about Pelfrey likely lies somewhere in the middle of early season Pelfrey and recent Pelfrey.
Is Brandon Morrow really this good?
Yes, this is the guy the Mariners drafted ahead of Tim Lincecum and Clayton Kershaw and subsequently jerked around for three years and traded for a slightly above-average reliever in Brandon League. Morrow is this good. Only eight starters in the game average more on their fastball than Morrow's 93.6 mph, but up until this year, Morrow had zero command of his fastball (or any other pitch really), as his BB/9 prior to 2010 sat at 5.8. That same number is 4.0 in 2010 and that same number sits at 2.8 in his last eight starts. Confidence, command and knowing what his role is going to be this year and in the future has to help. By this time next year, the Blue Jays could have one of baseball's deepest rotations should Kyle Drabek live up to his potential.
Any starters in Cleveland worth paying attention to?
Right now, the Cleveland rotation consists of the following five:
Not a whole lot to get excited about there, though Tomlin is somewhat intriguing. He sports a 2.79 ERA in three starts, and, more important, has shown very impressive K:BB rates in the minors:
2007: 109:31 in 131.1 IP
2008: 112:17 in 109.2 IP
2009: 125:27 in 145 IP
2010: 80:33 in 107.1 IP
On a more serious note, Tomlin has been charged with felony assault due to a June altercation in a nightclub, but we haven't heard what the resolution will be in that case. This is probably nothing to worry about, as how often do these things result in anything serious for athletes? Gomez has a 1.56 ERA in his three starts, but that comes with a 4.7 K/9, so his success won't last. He also had a 5.18 ERA in Triple-A, so I wouldn't expect much there either.
Any injured pitchers coming back by year's end worth paying attention to?
Derek Holland is in the minors rehabbing knee and shoulder injuries and could be the guy to replace Rich Harden should Harden struggle in the next week or two. ... Andy Pettitte is close to returning from a groin injury and should be a solid contributor down the stretch. ... Wade Davis and Jeff Niemann were just placed on the DL with shoulder injuries, though either sounds really serious. We have to wonder whether the Rays aren't better off with Jeremy Hellickson and Andy Sonnanstine in the rotation. ... I wouldn't count on Carlos Silva (heart condition) until early September, and even then, it's a stretch to think he'll have much success down the stretch given the struggles he was having prior to the DL stint. ... The San Diego Chris Young could return from a shoulder injury in September, but considering he's made all of 33 big league starts since 2007, it's tough to be optimistic. ... Kyle Lohse was impressive in his last Triple-A rehab start and should get a look in NL-only leagues.
Who are my bigger disappointments and what can we expect from them the rest of the year?
Zack Greinke was the obvious candidate in the AL for some regression after posting a 2.16 ERA last year versus a 3.15 xFIP. To go from that to a 4.14 ERA and 3.77 xFIP, however, is a big disappointment. Greinke could just be frustrated with the continual losing, but while his command and fastball velocity haven't taken hits as compared to 2009, he just hasn't been as crisp with his pitches this year. One glaring metric, as measured by FanGraphs, is Greinke's ability to get batter to swing and miss. O-Contact% measures contact rate by batters on pitches outside the strike zone while Contact% measures contact rate on all pitches swung at. Last year those two metrics for Greinke were 56.1 percent and 77.7 percent, respectively, while in 2010, they've increased significantly to 71.4 percent and 84.3 pecent. He's still very good, but the dominance just hasn't been there from start to start.
Over in the NL, Dan Haren is a tempting name to slot here given his 4.60 ERA, but he's in the AL now and a 141:29 K:BB would seem to indicate success is in his future. Thus, Randy Wolf gets this honor. Wolf was given a $27 million deal after a strong season in Dodger Stadium, but he's been a complete bust in Milwaukee. For Wolf, the issues are obvious – spike in his walk rate (2.4 BB/9 to 3.9), more home runs and ever-decreasing velocity. Wolf is smart enough to get by with an 88.3 mph average fastball, but this year his curveball has regressed from above average to well below. Wolf has a 1.83 ERA in his last three starts, so perhaps there's light at the end of a dark tunnel. Wolf has a 5.02 xFIP versus a 4.81 ERA, so it's not like he's been unlucky, but I'll go with his track record the last couple years and say that he should be a solid NL-only and deep mixed league option down the stretch.