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Scouting Pitchers: NL Season Preview

James Benkard

James Benkard

James Benkard writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

Scouting Pitchers: NL Season Preview

Here are some more observations, thoughts and opinions about 42 National League starters. These short looks are intended to flesh out these pitchers' repertoires and their potential for success in 2010. I have used as a springboard for these mini-essays the work I have done in the past on many of these pitchers, as well as my usual piecing together of their stuff from looking at them throw via MLB.com. Other scouting blogs are also useful, as well as interviews with the pitchers done by their local papers.

CHEAT SHEET:

Top picks: Carlos Zambrano, Tommy Hanson, Tim Hudson, Chad Billingsley, Ricky Nolasco

Modest value in 2010: Brandon Webb, Johnny Cueto, Hiroki Kuroda, Mike Pelfrey, Randy Wolf

If you must draft a rookie: Stephen Strasburg

Arizona:

2006 Cy Young Award winner Brandon Webb is working his way back from shoulder surgery, and will take the mound competitively in May. He'll be gunning for a new deal - from another team, it sounds like - so the team and Webb won't be babying his recovery. When healthy, Webb throws sinkers in the high 80s and curves and changeups in the high 70s. He is uncannily efficient (15.0 P/IP). 180 innings, 12 wins, 3.85 ERA.

The Diamondbacks are counting on Ian Kennedy to be their fourth starter. A first-round pick in 2006 out of USC, he commands his 86-92 mph fastball well. Kennedy also throws a low-80s changeup, an 80-83 mph slider and a 72-76 mph curve, but none of them are outstanding. Kennedy missed almost all of 2008 with an aneurysm in his pitching shoulder. With only 60 major league innings, it's hard to say he'll be anything other than a fifth starter prone to the home run ball - but it sure looks that way. 180 innings, 4.85 ERA.

Billy Buckner has a little sink on his 87-93 fastball, and a 79-83 mph slurve that he over-uses. Buckner will be called on to hold down the fifth starter spot until Brandon Webb is healthy. Never a hot prospect, Buckner toiled in Triple-A from 2007 until 2009, logging 325 innings in the difficult Pacific Coast League. He has been lit up this spring (11.45 ERA). His stuff profiles as a reliever's, and that's the role Arizona in which will place him as soon as they can. 100 innings, 5.50 ERA.

Atlanta:

It's hard to find much fault with Tommy Hanson's rookie year, as he improved his control over the course of the season. His fastball is 91-96 mph, and his 81-87 mph slider is a strikeout pitch. He can vary the depth of its break. Hanson can also strike out hitters with his mid-70s curveball, and he has a low-80s changeup. He was even efficient (15.5 P/IP) as well in 2009. My only concern is his motion, as his arm coils up a bit. For now, though, it's smooth sailing: 200 innings, 15 wins, 3.35 ERA.

Tim Hudson rebounded so well from August 2008 Tommy John surgery that the Braves rewarded him with a new three-year, $27 million deal last November. Down the stretch in 2009, he was tossing 90-93 mph four-seamers and 83-86 mph cut fastballs in to right-handers. Hudson also has a mid-80s slider that looks almost like a cut fastball, a low-80s splitter, and now and then he dusts off a 73-76 mph curve. He's the picture of a wily veteran: 200 innings, 14 wins, 3.75 ERA.

Although Jair Jurrjens was outstanding (14-10, 2.60) in 2009, some caution is advised in 2010. He dealt with some shoulder pain early in camp which has reportedly cleared up. Jurrjens is still coming off a career high in innings (215), and his delivery is short-armed. As long as he can stay healthy, Jurrjens can ride his low-90s fastball and 80-83 mph changeup  to success. Jurrjens throws all his pitches with the same motion and doesn't mind pitching inside. 165 innings, 3.75 ERA.

Kenshin Kawakimi is a decent endgame option, as he pitches in a big ballpark and has been reasonably durable in his career. He throws a moving 88-92 mph fastball, mid-80s splitters and sliders, and a tantalizingly slow 70 mph curveball. Kawakimi's splitter could be a changeup, but Japanese pitchers prefer the split. He was removed from the rotation last September. 165 innings, 3.90 ERA.

Chicago Cubs:

Carlos Zambrano has looked very good in Cactus League play, allowing just one run in his last 15 innings while striking out 10. He looks smoother than he did in 2009, with more downward angle on his pitches and rhythm to his delivery. Zambrano has one of the most difficult repertoires in baseball to scout, but I gave it a crack last year: he primarily throws a 90-93 mph four-seamer, mid-80s cutter,  and a 77-85 mph slider. We know he can pitch when he's mad, and he'll be furious this year: 210 innings, 14 wins, 3.50 ERA.

Last year, Randy Wells parlayed his 80-84 mph slider, 86-90 mph fastball and 82-84 mph changeup into a very solid rookie year (12-10, 3.05 ERA in 165 innings). Wells is sort of a nightmare for a fantasy writer to forecast. When you consider his raw stuff, lack of history as a hot prospect, and Jon Lieber-type motion, our guts tell you to run screaming in the other direction. However, Jon Lieber was once Randy Wells, too. I'll play it safe, saying he'll contribute a full year but that hitters will catch up to him: 170 innings, 4.15 ERA.

Tom Gorzelanny rejuvenated his career in 2009 for the Cubs, throwing 91-93 mph with his low-70s curve and 77-82 mph slider. I had some nice things to say about him in 2007, while not liking his delivery. He had a good camp (3.07 ERA) but won't be given a lot of rope by Lou Piniella. 145 innings, 4.15 ERA.

Cincinnati

Johnny Cueto should rebound from resting this winter. He pitched 160 innings in 2007, then 174 and 171 the last two years. He also threw 31 innings in winter ball in 2007 and made a start for the Dominican in last spring's WBC. Cueto had a hip flexor problem last August, and was blasted for two months (8.20 ERA). He was back at 91-95 with his upper-80s slider and low-80s changeup in September. His slider backs up on him too often, and Great American Ballpark doesn't help fly ball pitchers. 190 innings, 13 wins, 3.90 ERA.

Aroldis Chapman has generated major buzz since defecting from Cuba in July 2009, and his stuff this spring has proven worthy of the hype. He has been sitting at 93-96 mph and touching 98 with his fastball, and his upper-80s slider has the look of a major strikeout pitch. Chapman also throws an 88-90 mph changeup, and reportedly has a cut fastball. I am a little concerned about how his arm lags behind his body in his delivery. For now, he has been compensating for this with his great arm speed, but it could cause him shoulder problems. A little time in the minors won't hurt: 100 innings, 9 wins, 3.90 ERA.

For the first spring in his career, Homer Bailey looks like he will head north with the Reds. He is in the low 90s now, and can dial it up to 96 on occasion. I did an extensive report on Bailey last summer, during which I mounted my usual cautionary soapbox against the split-finger. Bailey's slow (73-77 mph) curve is a marked contrast to his fastball, and if he has a splitter working, batters will have to wait that much longer to decide whether to pull the trigger. Big repertoire, small ballpark - you decide: 165 innings, 10 wins, 4.00 ERA.

Colorado:

I think Ubaldo Jimenez will contend for the Cy Young in 2010. He throws all sorts of nasty stuff: a mid-90s fastball, 85-89 mph sliders, 77-82 mph curves, as well as a sinker and changeup. To make matters worse for hitters, Jimenez is totally unpredictable with his pitch selection. The further he gets into his career, the more his control has improved. He looks pretty free and easy this spring, and the Rockies should have an improved offense. 225 innings, 18 wins, 3.15 ERA.

Jorge de la Rosa was terrific in the second half of 2009, going 10-2, 3.46. The Mexican's 193 strikeouts were ninth in the NL, and his loss to a groin injury helped sink the Rockies in the NLDS. Right-handers chase de la Rosa's 85-88 mph slider into the dirt, and he has plenty of fastball (93-95 mph). He also has a nice changeup, but I am unsure how much he throws it. I like his motion a lot. I will take a closer look at de la Rosa this year: 190 innings, 3.95 ERA.

Jason Hammel throws in the low 90s with a big 73-78 curveball and a mediocre 85-86 mph slider. The curveball is his strikeout pitch. Although he has come to camp in great shape and has a 12-0 strikeout-walk ratio, I'd be cautious about trusting Hammel too much. He tangles his arm some at the midpoint of his delivery, and his mechanics on his breaking pitches look questionable to me. 110 innings, 3.90 ERA - and the DL by July.

It will be a season of getting the rust off the gears for Jeff Francis, who missed all of 2009 with a shoulder injury. He won 17 games in 2007 with an 89-91 mph fastball, 78-81 mph changeup and a hittable 80-86 mph slider. Friends don't let friends: 150 innings, 5.15 ERA.

Florida:

Fresh off his four-year, $39 million contract extension, Josh Johnson will anchor the Marlins' staff. He is already up to 95-95 mph with an 87-88 mph slider, MLB.com reports. Johnson admits that he has had problems with his changeup. There weren't many holes in his game in 2009, as he his highest ERA of any month was 3.86. Johnson pitches upstairs with his fastball as well as anyone, setting up his slider, which he doesn't mind throwing to left-handers. 210 innings, 15 wins, 3.00 ERA.

Ricky Nolasco has had an excellent spring, going 3-0 with a 1.78 ERA through his first 30 innings. After being bombed back to the minors in early 2009, he is now listed as the Marlins' #2 starter. Nolasco regained command of his 90-93 mph fastball after being sent down, and he alters the spin on his 84-87 mph slider to make it effectively more than one breaking pitch. He is one of the few right-handers who can throw a backup slider effectively to left-handed hitters - it has the effect of a changeup. He also throws a low-70s curve and changeup. 200 innings, 15 wins, 3.85 ERA.

Anibal Sanchez will hope to avoid taking an extended trip on the disabled list for the first time in four years. He locates his 88-93 mph fastball well, although it is fairly straight, and mixes in a slider at 80-84 and a 73-77 mph curve. Sanchez did pitch well down the stretch in 2009, but I'd take a wait-and-see approach to make sure he can stay healthy: 140 innings, 4.25 ERA.

Chris Volstad throws a moving fastball in the low 90s with a high-70s curve and an occasional changeup. I profiled Volstad at this time last year. It's hard to know just what to make of him, as he has some positives - he throws strikes, has been healthy, pretty efficient, and has a decent G/F ratio - and some significant negatives - he was hit hard in the second half, and doesn't have a knockout pitch. 160 innings, 4.50 ERA.

Houston:

In my 2008 profile of Wandy Rodriguez, I noted my admiration for his 72-78 mph curveball and 87-91 fastball but didn't anticipate he would turn in a 205-inning, 190-strikeout year. Rodriguez now commands his curve extremely well, throwing enough strikes with it so that right-handers bite on it as it dives into the dirt. Can he keep this up? My guess: 190 innings, 13 wins, 4.05 ERA.

Brett Myers has been hit pretty hard this spring (6.05 ERA) while throwing 88-91 mph with low-80s sliders and changeups. He left his March 25 start with a groin injury, will pitch for an aging team in a hitter's park, and once threatened to knock a reporter out. Are you getting my drift? 150 innings, 4.75 ERA.

The Astros are hoping to get 160-180 innings out of Bud Norris, who piled up 175 in 2009 between Triple-A and the NL. He throws four-seamers from 93-96 and a two-seamer at 88-90, although perhaps the velocity on his four-seamer just fluctuates. Norris leans heavily on his 83-87 mph slider, and it does move almost like a cut fastball. I'm not optimistic about his long-term health as a starter, as his arm drags behind his body. 100 innings, 4.70 ERA.

Felipe Paulino has a great arm, regularly pumping it in there at 92-96 mph with an 83-87 mph slider. He has pitched well this spring (3.78 ERA) and will have first crack at the #5 starter role for Houston. If Paulino can refine his low-80s changeup, he'll be an option for 2011. I think he has a better chance of staying healthy than Bud Norris: 155 innings, 10 wins, 4.50 ERA.

Los Angeles:

Chad Billingsley is on the rebound, with a 1.86 spring ERA. I profiled him here in 2007. Billingsley doesn't throw 93-95 any more, probably as a result of his workload in high school and his reliance on his 88-92 mph cut fastball instead of his four-seamer. Billingsley still has his 70-79 mph curve and 80-88 mph slider, a compact motion, and a good Dodger team behind him. 200 innings, 15 wins, 3.65 ERA.

Hiroki Kuroda looks to be a bargain as well in 2010, as he looks free and easy in camp (2.51 ERA in 14 innings). He relies mainly on a 90-93 mph fastball and a low 80s slider, although he throws an 80-86 mph forkball as well. Kuroda missed half of 2009 with injuries, but they were non-arm-related. Japanese pitchers tend to age well, and bounce back from injury years: 190 innings, 13 wins, 3.90 ERA.

Vicente Padilla is starting his first full year for Los Angeles, and will rely on his high-80s slider and 90-94 mph fastball. He has shown a good curveball and changeup in camp, as well as thrown strikes. Joe Torre named Padilla his Opening Day starter, which seems bizarre to me - but Torre also basically sat Greg Maddux in the 2008 NLCS and Chad Billingsley in the 2009 NLCS. 175 innings, 11 wins, 4.00 ERA.

Milwaukee:

There aren't many bargains on the Brewers staff, but Randy Wolf has had an excellent camp (1-0, 1.13 ERA) and looks like he will justify at least the first year of his contract. He is pitching now at 86-89 mph with a curveball, slider and changeup. Unlike many left-handers, he can thrive up in the strike zone. Wolf was very efficient in 2009 (15.3 P/IP), but the Brewers' defense in 2010 will be inconsistent. 195 innings, 13 wins, 3.85 ERA.

New York Mets:

John Maine will look to put two years of shoulder problems behind him in 2010. When healthy, he throws 90-93 with a mid-80s slider that he tips off by wrapping his wrist.  Maine can pitch up effectively, and his slider resembles his cut fastball. He has not started the year that well, going 1-2, 7.94 in spring training. 180 innings, 4.10 ERA.

I believe Mike Pelfrey would be better served starting over in another organization, not that the Mets are going to move one of their few young low-cost starters. Pelfrey was hit hard in 2009 as he strugged with command of his 84-83 mph slider and fell back on his fastball, which is now down to 91-94. As I recall it, Pelfrey was given the message in camp last year by manager Jerry Manuel that his sinker could basically carry the day. That turned out not to be the case. He is now working on his breaking stuff. 195 innings, 10 wins, 3.90 ERA.

Mystery man Oliver Perez has been sitting at 88-91 this spring, and the Mets are crossing their fingers that he can find the control that earned him a three-year, $36 million deal a year ago. If he has recovered from his patella tendon problem, Perez has two breaking balls and a slider in addition to his crossfired fastball. There's just too many question marks in this case: 145 innings, 4.75 ERA.

Philadelphia:

The Phillies are stocked with veteran starters, but they hope J.A. Happ will give them from post to post the same success that he did in 2009. Happ throws an 88-92 mph four-seamer, and is working on a two-seamer to go along with his high-70s curve and changeup. Happ looks like he will have a career as a starter, but his motion is nothing special, and his fastball doesn't have much movement - which is probably why he's learning a sinker. 175 innings, 12 wins, 4.00 ERA.

Pittsburgh:

Drafting Paul Maholm won't win your many fantasy titles, but he is a fairly stable commodity. Maholm's stuff all looks alike, which works both for and against him. He throws in the high 80s with curves and sliders in the high 70s. 180 innings, 4.10 ERA.

Ross Ohlendorf came over to Pittsburgh from the Yankees in the Xavier Nady deal of 2008 and did a nice job in 2009 out of the rotation, going 11-10, 3.92 in 29 starts. He throws a big-breaking 71-82 mph curveball to go with his 87-93 mph fastball and an occasional low-80s changeup. I'm skeptical of him building on his success, but he could stay where he is: 170 innings, 10 wins, 4.10 ERA.

St. Louis:

Brad Penny has been healthy and thrown strikes this spring (2-0, 6.10), and one assumes working with Cardinals pitching guru Dave Duncan will take care of the rest. Penny threw well for San Francisco at the end of 2009 after being released by Boston. He was at 93-97 mph with a low-80s slider and high-80s changeup. Penny doesn't have the prettiest delivery, and he has been on the DL six times. 180 innings, 10 wins, 3.90 ERA.

San Diego:

Mat Latos has been lights-out in Arizona (2-0, 1.93), but has been rested the last few days with a tight elbow and will consequently start the season in Triple-A. He will still make big contributions to the Padres this year, with his 94-96 mph fastball and 80-84 mph slider. Latos is able to pitch and succeed in the strike zone consistently with his fastball, the mark of a power pitcher. It would help him to refine a changeup. 150 innings, 3.75 ERA.

Chris Young will be the titular ace for the poor Padres, and will try to rediscovery his 88-93 mph fastball after losing the last half of 2009 to shoulder surgery. Young throws a good high-70s changeup, as well as mediocre 77-82 mph curves and sliders. His motion is short-armed. Young will essentially pitching for free agency this year, as San Diego is not likely to pick up his $8.5 million option as long as they are losing 100 games, which they will this year. 180 innings, 12 wins, 3.90 ERA.

Clayton Richard will try to transition from prospect to starter after being dealt from the White Sox last year. He has good velocity for a lefthander (92-96 mph), and throws an 82-86 mph slider and an OK changeup at 82-84. He's pretty top-heavy in his delivery, leaning on his arm more than I like to see in a starter, and he tips his slider. If he sticks as a starter, it will be after staying healthy and refining his command: 165 innings, 4.50 ERA.

San Diego native Kevin Correia had surprising success in his 198 innings of 2009, posting a 3.91 ERA and striking out 142. He works with an 88-92 mph fastball, 81-85 mph slider and mid-70s curve. Correia controls his stuff well, and keeps the ball on the ground (1.40 G/F). He has been effective in camp, walking just one hitter all spring. Still, his motion isn't pretty, and his slider backs up on him too often. 120 innings, 4.80 ERA, and one trip to the DL.

San Francisco:

What to make of Barry Zito? A losing pitcher since coming to San Francisco (31-43, 4.55), he has lost his fastball but still battles with his 71-77 mph curve and changeup. Zito rarely cracks 90 any more, so his command needs to be fine. It's hard to say that the Giants will support him any better than they have, given the poor output of their farm system. Zito seems to have stabilized, but that doesn't mean you have to draft him: 180 innings, 4.35 ERA.

Washington:

The prospect everyone has been waiting for, Stephen Strasburg, will likely make his major league debut in mid-May after blowing away some minor league hitters with his 95-98 mph fastball and 90-93 mph slider. Strasburg also throws a 78-82 mph curve and a low-80s changeup. It's hard to say what can hold him back besides the arbitration clock: 150 innings, 150 strikeouts, 3.25 ERA.

 

Article first appeared 3/30/10