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Mound Musings: Kershaw Drops the Walks

David Regan

David Regan

David Regan is a five-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner, and was named the 2010 Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year.

A few random thoughts before I get into a group of pitchers who have seen their fortunes rise and fall in recent weeks/months...

The Twins own Gavin Floyd – 13 runs in 12 innings over his last two starts...Manny Acosta notched the save for the Mets in an extra-inning game on Wednesday, so who knows what will happen in New York should Hisanori Takahashi struggle or punch someone...I got to see Bryce Harper play this year when the College of Southern Nevada came to my stomping ground in Northern Nevada. Harper went 0-for-5 that day in a year in which he batted .443/.526/.987 with a homer every 7.4 at-bats and just three fewer total bases than his 228 at-bats. Poor timing on my part I guess...Scott Kazmir has eight strikeouts in 16 innings since returning from the DL. Not exactly the same guy who fanned 239 just three years ago...As big as he is, I don’t get how Joe Mauer has just eight homers all year...I understand the Rays’ dilemma, but I also fail to understand how Jeremy Hellickson is not one of the organization’s top five starters.

Randy Wolf has a 2.67 ERA in August, so perhaps it just took four months to realize pitching in Miller Park wasn’t the same as taking the hill in Dodger Stadium...Shallower leagues will want to make sure Andrew Bailey (oblique) wasn’t dropped. Bailey could return in under a week...Bryan Bullington’s 8-2-0-0-1-5. He turns 30 in September and had all of 50 big league innings entering 2010 despite being a former #1 overall pick, but maybe this start isn’t too flukish considering he hit 94 with his fastball in the eighth inning...Aroldis Chapman will be called up on September 1 to work out of the bullpen. I’m still not sure I agree with using him as a reliever this year simply due to organizational need, but then again, the Reds are in a pennant race...James McDonald has a 20:4 K:BB ratio and 2.55 ERA in three starts with the Pirates. Watching him pitch, I’m left wondering where THAT curveball was in a Dodger uniform.

The Jered Weaver Category

Clayton Kershaw, LAD - Chosen three slots ahead of Tim Lincecum in the first round of the 2006 draft, Kershaw may be the better option here on out and he’s still just 22. While Dodgers fans may have been playing the “what if…” game when Lincecum was winning back-to-back Cy Youngs, Kershaw has clearly been the better pitcher lately. This year, his command has improved from 4.8 BB/9 in 2009 to 3.8 this year, including 2.6 since June 4. With his command where it needs to be, Kershaw appears poised at a run at the 2011 Cy Young award assuming his offense can get him a few runs and the volatile Dodgers bullpen stabilizes.

Jered Weaver, LAA – I had him pegged as a solid No. 2 starter prior to this year, but he’s taken his game to a new level, increasing his K/9 rate from 7.4 to 10.0. Weaver leads the league in strikeouts and should be right there in the Cy Young discussion.

Dan Hudson, ARI – The trade to the NL automatically increased his fantasy value, but he’s been better than advertised, going 3-1 with a 2.12 ERA and 27:4 K:BB in his first four starts for Arizona (29.7 innings). I’ve said all along his ceiling is that of a solid No. 2 starter, but perhaps it’s more of a so-so No. 2. What does that translate to in terms of production? An ERA in the 3.75 range, 160 strikeouts in about 200 innings pitched, and a WHIP in the 1.20 range.

Hisanori Takahashi, NYM – With Francisco Rodriguez not an option the rest of the way, the Mets bullpen (and team) is in a bit of turmoil. Takahashi emerged this week as Jerry Manuel’s favorite to close games, though Manuel didn’t exactly give him a ringing endorsement, saying "For the most part he'll be the guy if he's fresh and the matchups look favorable for him.” That could open up the door for the likes of Pedro Feliciano if the Mets are facing a left-hander; and should Takahashi struggle, Bobby Parnell could also factor into the mix.

R.A. Dickey, NYM – It’s far too simplistic to point to Dickey’s 4.5 K/9 since the All-Star break and predict he’s going to fall off the map. Dickey has been a godsend for the Mets, posting a 2.43 ERA in 17 starts on the year, and he’s coming off a complete game, one-hit shutout of the Phillies. [Note: This doesn’t include another impressive start on Wednesday night.] That wasn’t luck. That was a knuckleballer coming into his own. Don’t make the mistake of lumping Dickey in with Tim Wakefield. Dickey is nearly nine years younger at age 35, and he throws his knuckler more than 10 mph faster and his fastball more than 11 mph faster. Charlie Hough was an All-Star at 38 and led the league in innings pitched the following year before retiring at the age of 46, so while I can’t say Dickey is going to pitch another 11 years, he should be solid for at least another three-to-four.

Jeanmar Gomez, CLE – The Indians roster is littered with No. 4 and 5 starters, but Gomez is at least rising to mid-rotation status. In five starts with the Indians, Gomez is 3-1 with a 1.84 ERA and 15:7 K:BB in 29.1 innings. The lack of strikeouts points to a coming ERA correction, but he’s also just 22 and there will be plenty of opportunity to add velocity (via strength) to his 6’4” frame.
Drew Storen, WAS – Tyler Clippard has turned things back around lately, but Sean Burnett picked up the loss on Wednesday, likely further cementing Storen as the Nats’ closer. Storen has allowed just two runs in his last 9.1 innings and has a great chance to be the team’s closer for the next decade.

Brett Myers, HOU – I’m going to go ahead and chalk up Myers’ struggles the past three years to injuries, as he has thrown the ball this season like the guy we saw early in his career with the Phillies. A 3.13 ERA and a walk rate that sits at just 2.6 per nine innings (versus a 3.1 career mark) led the Astros to hand Myers with a nice three-year extension recently.

Wilton Lopez, HOU – Lopez has a 2.94 ERA and impressive 39:5 K:BB in 50 innings, and after flying under the radar all year, Lopez gained the attention of fantasy owners after recording a save on Tuesday. Matt Lindstrom has allowed seven runs in his last 2.1 innings, so he’s probably on closer hiatus, leaving Brandon Lyon to share closer duties with Lopez. We’re not sure now this will play out the rest of the year, but it’s worth a speculative pickup to find out.

Brad Lidge, PHI – In 6.1 innings in the month of August, Lidge has not allowed a run. In fact, he has given up just two hits and has a 7:0 K:BB ratio. That’s a level of dominance we saw from Lidge a couple years ago, but it’s the first appearance of the “old Lidge” this season. While the usual small sample size caveats apply, I’ve been pretty impressed with what I’ve seen recently, particularly with his slider.

Jonathan Broxton, LADHong-Chih Kuo has looked a bit mortal lately, and since being removed from the closer role, Broxton has recorded three straight scoreless innings. Given Broxton’s past successes, it’s likely only a matter of time until he’s back closing out the few Dodger wins we’ll see from here on out.

The K-Rod Category

Tim Lincecum, SF – The drop in velocity since his rookie year is troubling enough (avg. fastball velocities from 2007 on: 94.2, 94.1, 92.4, 91.3), but factor in more walks, more line drives, and a HR/FB rate that’s normalized from the 5.5% range in prior years to 9.5% this season and you have a pitcher who has taken a step back. Hitters are also making better contact when they do swing, and though all this is troubling, I’m not quite ready to say he’s on a gradual decline at age 26. Still, for a guy who had been the consensus top fantasy pitcher the previous two years, that’s far from the case now. Is he even top 10 anymore?

Brian Matusz, BAL – Matusz has a 7.27 ERA since the All-Star break and a 5.28 mark on the year, ranking him as one of my more disappointing pitchers this season. Sure, not all guys come in and go all Jeremy Hellickson on the league, and yes, the AL East is tough, but after a 1.90 ERA in the minors and three strong major league starts at the end of last year, I expected more in 2010. Doesn’t mean we won’t see it in 2011, but maybe it will take Matusz a bit longer to reach his potential.

J.A. Happ, HOU – With a 2.93 ERA last year despite a 4.48 xFIP, we figured Happ’s chances at a sub-3.00 ERA again this year were slim, but Happ’s 27:27 K:BB in 34.2 innings doesn’t exactly support maintaining a 3.38 ERA. A soft-tossing lefty who has trouble throwing strikes and allows more flyballs than the average pitcher is a guy I want no part of.

Javier Vazquez, NYY – Vazquez was never a “blow ‘em away” type pitcher, but this year his velocity has fallen off the table. He has lost a little on his fastball the last couple years, but after averaging 91.1 mph with the fastball a year ago, Vazquez sits at a paltry 88.8 mph this year. Factor in a BB/9 rate that’s jumped from 1.9 last year to 3.7 in 2010 and you have a guy who you really have to question in terms of effectiveness going forward.

Doug Fister, SEA – First nine starts: 2.03 ERA. Last 11: 5.88. In between he had a DL stint for shoulder fatigue, but the real reason for Fister’s regression lies in the 3.8 K/9 he was carrying at the same time he had the 2.03 ERA. Simply, he isn’t that good and now we’re seeing that reflected in the numbers.

Josh Beckett, BOS – Beckett is being paid like an elite pitcher, but at least this year, he’d be lucky to be considered the third best Boston starter. Since returning from a back injury, Beckett has a 5.34 ERA in five starts, but I’m somewhat optimistic considering the 28:7 K:BB he has in those 30.1 innings. He’s also faced the Rangers and Yankees away from Fenway Park in his last two starts, venues that are tough for most opposing starters. I think he’ll be fine.

Mike Leake, CIN – Leake notched a quality start last time out, but he’s clearly scuffling after starting the year with a 2.22 ERA in his first 11 starts. The league has seen more of his stuff and he’s likely tiring a bit in his first pro season. Remember, this is a guy who went right from the campus of Arizona State to a major league rotation, so cut him a little slack. If you don’t own him, hope for a less-than-stellar finish to 2010 in the hopes that it suppresses his 2011 draft stock.

Philip Hughes, NYY – 86 innings last year, 134.2 in 2010. It’s a bit simplistic to blame Hughes’ 4.81 post-break ERA (really only one bad start) on the jump in innings, but this IS significant – 8.1 K/9 prior to the ASB and just 5.1 since. To me that indicates fatigue, and while I think Hughes is still worth starting in most formats from here on out, we could see him skipped/pushed back now and then as well.

Alfredo Simon, BAL – Simon is not “guaranteed” every save chance going forward according to manager Buck Showalter, so hopefully by now you’ve bumped up the values of both Mike Gonzalez, and to a lesser extent Koji Uehara.

Tom Gorzelanny, CHC – Gorzelanny has been one of the few reliable options for the Cubs this year, but he’s going through a bit of a rough patch recently with a 6.04 ERA in his last four starts. There’s no one reason for his struggles, but in those four starts, Gorzelanny has a 0.53 GB/FB rate versus an overall 0.76 mark. I think he’ll be a solid streaming option going forward, but we’re not seeing the guy who fanned 26 in a three-start stretch in early May.

Jeremy Bonderman, DET – Bonderman got our hopes up with a 1.33 ERA in May, but he’s been a disaster ever since with ERAs of 5.08, 7.77, and 5.82 the last three months. Odd thing is, Bonderman’s GB% and K/9 rates have increased in each of the last two months. The problems: a BB/9 rate that has also being increasing along with HR/FB rates of 15.2% and 20% in each of the last two months. Because he’s still missing a few bats, I’m somewhat optimistic, but far less so than I was in May.