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Mound Musings: Starters, Relievers and Stuff

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.

If you've read my stuff much over the years, you may have an inkling of my fandom. I'm a life-long Dodgers fan who enjoyed the glory years of Tommy Lasorda and the O'Malley family. I also suffered through the Fox regime trading Mike Piazza without the knowledge of the classy Fred Claire while subsequently hiring "The Sherriff," Kevin Malone (what's he up to these days?). But in my lifetime, very few ownership situations are as disastrous and embarrassing as that of the McCourts. The anti-Donald Sterling crowd may disagree, but some of the things that have come to light since the owners' high-profile divorce are downright ugly. I could go on and on (trust me), but let's just say that today, I'm a bigger Bud Selig fan than most. Final word: my recommendation on who oversees the Dodgers: Peter O'Malley.

.321/.383/.672

That was Brandon Wood's batting line as a 20-year-old in the High-A California League in 2005.

Fast forward six years and Wood was designated for assignment Wednesday after batting a combined .168/.197/.259 with an ugly 153:13 K:BB in 464 at-bats over parts of five big-league seasons. Wood likely will wind up with a non-contender hoping for a lottery ticket, but this just goes to show you that even hitting prospects with gaudy minor league numbers aren't a sure thing.

Anyway, back to pitching…

I don't really have a set topic this week, so I'll touch on a number of issues – Josh Beckett's hot start, the situation in the back-end of the St. Louis bullpen, a handful of prospects to watch for and whatever else tickles my fancy.

Beckett's Back

Josh Beckett is a 20-game winner, four-time 15-game winner, World Series hero and owner of seven seasons of 150-plus strikeouts. But last year he was hurt and awful, with a 5.78 ERA. This spring it was more of the same on the hill, and Beckett had the added obstacle of a concussion after being hit in the head by a ball in batting practice. So, of course, he goes out thoroughly dominates the Yankees and Blue Jays in his last two starts after a mediocre first outing in Cleveland. For the year, Beckett has a 1.80 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, 10.4 K/9, and 3.2 BB/9.

He's doing all this with slightly less velocity – 92.6 mph average fastball vs. 93.5 last year – but 92.6 mph is plenty. Yes, a .217 BABIP will result in some ERA correction, but if it holds, Beckett's 53.5 GB% would be far and away a career high. He's had some issues with the long ball in his career, so if this trend of more ground balls holds, that will help offset the coming BABIP correction. Bottom line: I think he's in for a very big year, with an 8-2-0-0-1-10 effort against the Yankees likely to be looked upon as the game in which he gained the confidence to push for a strong season.

Rotation Notes

Don't look now, but Luke Hochevar has a 16:4 K:BB in 25.2 innings. That's still only a 5.6 K/9, but this is a former No. 1 overall pick. As a side note, I wonder where the Royals would be today had they drafted Tim Lincecum, Clayton Kershaw or Evan Longoria instead of Hochevar that year ...

Only one starter in baseball is throwing harder than David Price (94.5 mph). The Pitcher? Rookie Michael Pineda at a whopping 96.1 mph. It's surprising to see “only” a 7.5 K/9, but keep in mind that Pineda is essentially learning on the job here. The sky is the limit.

Guessing Jered Weaver is going to get a nice contract once he's eligible for free agency after next season. Weaver is 5-0 with a 1.23 ERA in five starts and leads the majors with 39 strikeouts. Guessing also that Scott Boras will compare him to Nolan Ryan instead of his brother Jeff.

Pretty sure Charlie Morton's 3.33 ERA won't last. He's getting by throwing his fastball 88.1 percent of the time, and he sports a 12:15 K:BB. He does have a good fastball, but the lack of use of his secondary offerings suggests his long-term home is in the bullpen.

Cliff Lee has a 4.19 ERA, 12.1 K/9 and 0.9 BB/9 with a 2.02 xFIP. Safe to say that ERA is coming down.

A lot of great Mike Leake jokes floating around. My RotoWire colleague Chris Liss had a good one: "Leake is the rare pitcher who also contributes in steals." Bottom line, though: He was caught RED-handed.

Justin Masterson is 4-0 with a 1.71 ERA. His 15:9 K:BB in 26.1 innings indicates that won't last, especially if he continues to struggle versus left-handed pitching.

Brett Cecil has a 6.85 ERA with diminished velocity, leading to the possibility that he's either injured or headed for a Triple-A stint. Should that happen, the Jays could turn to Zach Stewart who has a 2.89 ERA in three Double-A starts.

You know that old adage "you can never have enough pitching"? Here's Exhibit A: In a six-game period, the Cubs might possibly start Casey Coleman, James Russell and, gulp, … Ramon Ortiz. Next up: Jeff Suppan and Zach Duke?

I'm a hesitant buyer on Chris Narveson in deeper leagues. Narveson has a 2.19 ERA in four starts with a 23:11 K:BB in 24.2 innings. He also is a soft-tosser (87.8 mph) with an average groundball rate and a few too many walks. I like left-handers and all, but good luck figuring out when Narveson won't get hammered.

Goodbye Franklin, Hello ... ?

It's pretty easy to see why Ryan Franklin is no longer Tony La Russa's choice to close games:

ERA: 11.57
BS%: 80 (four of five)
WHIP: 2.14

Now that Franklin's out (temporarily?), let's look at potential successors and handicap this race. Manager Tony La Russa is playing coy and not announcing who is next up, but let's see if we can find out who the next closer might be:

Mitchell Boggs
(9 IP, 2.00 ERA, 12:3 K:BB) – Boggs hasn't allowed a run since Opening Day and his strikeouts have come in bunches, so he's probably the favorite. Boggs had a solid first full year in relief last year (3.61 ERA, 7.0 K/9, 3.6 BB/9), and he seems to have found a home at age 27. Boggs picked up the save on Wednesday. Odds of closing: 8/5.

Jason Motte
(7 IP, 2.57 ERA, 3:4 K:BB) – Nice ERA, but the lack of strikeouts hurts his chances. Odds of closing: 2/1.

Miguel Batista
(7 IP, 1.29 ERA, 4:4 K:BB) – Hard to really count on Batista long term, but a 1.29 ERA and years of experience could get him a look. Odds of closing: 6/1.

Eduardo Sanchez
(3 IP, 0.00 ERA, 8:0 K:BB) – The rookie Sanchez is a strong closer-of-the-future candidate, but it's likely La Russa will go with someone with a bit more experience, at least initially. Still, of the nine outs Sanchez has accumulated, eight have come via the punch out. Keep a close eye on him. Odds of closing: 50/1.

The odds that this could be a committee approach may be even higher than 8/5, so bottom line, we'll have to wait and see. That said, I've already grabbed Boggs in a couple leagues.

So far this year, we've already seen big impacts from pitching prospects such as Zach Britton, Michael Pineda, Tyler Chatwood and Kyle Drabek. So who are in the next wave that we could see coming up sometime this year?

My top 10 prospects expected to make an impact this year (note that Julio Teheran and Shelby Miller top my personal rankings, but I don't expect much from either until 2012):

Matt Moore (TB) –
All Moore did was amass more than 200 K's in the minors last year (13.0 K/9), so he's probably on most of your radars already. The Rays are set in their rotation, but James Shields is a trade candidate and Jeff Niemann has a 6.32 ERA and a history of injuries, so there should be an opening at some point this year.

Jacob Turner (DET) –
We've seen how quickly the Tigers promote their pitchers (Rick Porcello, and going back a ways, Jeremy Bonderman), so it wouldn't be a surprise to see this 20-year-old former No. 1 pick get a look. His 1.80 ERA and 20:3 K:BB in 19.2 Double-A innings makes it more likely that he will.

Mike Montgomery (KC) –
Montgomery is said to have the most upside of the quartet of young Kansas City left-handers. He's a 21-year-old left-hander in Triple-A, but 10 walks in 15 innings indicates at least a couple months of polish are needed.

Manny Banuelos (NYY) –
Banuelos gained a lot of attention this spring and could be in line for time in the Bronx despite his age (20).

Martin Perez (TEX) –
A 1.38 ERA through three Double-A starts for the 20-year-old. He's young and developing, but the stuff is there to retire big league hitters now.

Mike Minor (ATL) –
Minor should be next up in the event of an injury or Brandon Beachy implosion.

Kyle Gibson (MIN) –
It's pretty much a given that Nick Blackburn, Brian Duensing or Scott Baker will pitch poorly enough to give someone else a chance, and that could be Gibson, the Twins' top pitching prospect. He had a 2.96 ERA over three minor league levels last year.

Jenrry Mejia (NYM) –
He has a 0.98 ERA in three Triple-A starts, and with the Mets unlikely to compete this year, they may choose to let Mejia develop as a starter in Triple-A for most of the year.

Alex White (CLE) –
The former first-rounder profiles as a No. 3 starter, and that could come by July.

Rubby De La Rosa (LAD) –
De La Rosa has electric stuff, and while the Dodgers are set in the rotation with Jon Garland back, there's bound to be an injury.

Bullpen Notes

Well, so far at least, I was wrong on the Rays' situation. I figured the Rays had already seen what Kyle Farnsworth brought to the table as a closer (not much) and would start with Jacob McGee in the role. Well, Farnsworth now has four saves and a 1.42 ERA and is locked in.

Drew Storen may have overtaken Sean Burnett as the Nationals' primary closer. Storen notched his second save of the season Wednesday, lowering his ERA to 0.77 in 11.2 innings. Burnett has a 3.24 ERA, so he hasn't been awful, but Storen is the future.

There can't be a Dodgers fan in existence that doesn't cringe these days when Jonathan Broxton enters the game with a lead. Broxton has allowed runs in half of his eight appearances and has had just one 1-2-3 inning. Broxton's fastball has dropped three full mph over where it was in 2009, but at 94.8 mph, it's still more than adequate for a top-tier closer. Problem is, he's catching far too much of the plate, and he's not fooling anyone. With Hong-Chih Kuo (back) on the DL and Kenley Jansen struggling, it's tough to really know where the Dodgers would turn next. Kuo should be back soon, so that point is probably mute, but maybe Matt Guerrier would get a temporary look.

Don't forget about Andrew Bailey (forearm). He appears set to return near the end of the month and should eventually take over from Brian Fuentes as closer. In fact, Bailey could be a nice DL stash in 12-team mixed leagues.

If you're looking for a closer sleeper in deeper leagues, how about Sergio Santos? A few stats on White Sox relievers:

Matt Thornton
– 7.94 ERA, 5:4 K:BB in 5.2 IP

Chris Sale
– 6.23 ERA, 10:2 K:BB in 8.2 IP

Jesse Crain
– 1.93 ERA, 11:2 K:BB in 9.1 IP

Sergio Santos
– 0.00 ERA, 11:4 K:BB in 8.2 IP

Santos sits in the mid-90s with his fastball, and while I'm optimistic that Thornton and Sale will turn things around, maybe Santos gets a look in the role.

Brandon Lyon notched his fourth save of the season Wednesday, lowering his ERA to 4.26 in the process. Lyon, though, is always going to be near the top of the Closer Deathwatch list, and with Wilton Lopez out indefinitely with an elbow injury, Mark Melancon is a reliever to look at as a possible source of saves later in the year. Melancon has a 2.08 ERA and 9:2 K:BB in 8.2 innings.

In Toronto, Frank Francisco was activated from the disabled list Wednesday and it should only be a matter of time before he's closing and Jon Rauch is not. It might be a week or two, but Francisco is probably the best option in the ninth.

I'm a bit worried about Joakim Soria. Yes, he did notch his fifth save of the season on Tuesday, but that's come with a 5.59 ERA. It gets worse when you look at his other numbers:

K/9: 4.7
BB/9: 4.7
xFIP: 5.34
Line drive rate: 21.9 percent (up from 17.0% in 2010)
GB%: 40.6 (down from 48% in 2010)
Avg fastball velocity: 90.1 mph (down from 91.9 mph last year, 91.4 mph career)

Less zip on the fastball and more flyballs leads me to think he's either hurt or struggling with his mechanics. Soria has a great track record over the previous four years, so I'm inclined to cut him some slack, but for the first time in a while, I'm actually interested in who his potential successor would be. Instead of bums like they've had in the late innings in the past, the Royals are actually loaded with several intriguing bullpen arms:

Jeremy Jeffress –
Jeffress has a 6:6 K:BB in seven innings with a 2.57 ERA. Jeffress is averaging a lofty 97.2 mph with his fastball, so if he can get that command in order, look out.

Tim Collins –
Few pitchers capture my attention like this guy. Listed at 5-foot-7, 155, Collins is realistically 5-6 at best. That said, he's already struck out 14 batters in nine innings. Problem is, he's also walked eight while allowing 10 hits. No chance he closes anytime soon.

Aaron Crow –
The former first-round pick has taken quite nicely to the bullpen and should stick there long-term. Crow has yet to allow a run in 10.1 innings with a 12:4 K:BB. Factor in mid-90s stuff, and he should battle Jeremy Jeffress for closing duties down the road.

Edge here is to Crow, who should already be owned in AL-only leagues.

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

Follow him on Twitter @vtadave