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Mound Musings: The Volstad Burlesque Show

Erik Siegrist

Erik Siegrist

Erik Siegrist is an FSWA award-winning columnist who covers all four major North American sports (that means the NHL, not NASCAR) and whose beat extends back to the days when the Nationals were the Expos and the Thunder were the Sonics. He was the inaugural champion of Rotowire's Staff Keeper baseball league. His work has also appeared at Baseball Prospectus.

May's end brings all kinds of wonderful fantasy news and surprises. Teams start priming their minor league pipeline to call up their Super Two rookies. Fluky fast starts begin to look more and more like the real thing. And it's your last chance to pick up players who had rotten starts at anything like a discount, before their bad April stats dwindle in the face of their recoveries in May and beyond.

Since three is the magic number, I've identified three groups of three pitchers to target based on the fact that their recent peripherals are outperforming their actual season stats at the moment. Of course as anyone who's owned Ricky Nolasco the last couple of years knows great peripherals don't necessary translate into fantasy success, but if things were that predictable they'd be no fun. And don't give me none of your small sample size jive either. April was a small sample too, and who's to say it was more meaningful?

SAFE BETS

Ryan Dempster

2011 Fantasy Stats:
3 wins, 6.29 ERA, 1.52 WHIP
May Stats: 7.88 K/9, 1.69 BB/9, 0.56 HR/9

For whatever reason, Ryan Dempster never seems to get the respect he's earned in fantasy circles. He's just about a lock for double-digit wins, very good strikeout numbers and solid ratios, yet at the draft table he gets overlooked while everyone chases the next big thing. He got hit and hit hard in April (42 hits and nine home runs in 31 innings), but things have returned to normal in Dempsterville in May. Cashing in a hot start from the likes of a low-K pitcher like Josh Tomlin or Doug Fister and replacing them with Dempster will probably pay nice dividends the next four months.

Ted Lilly

2011 Fantasy Stats:
3 wins, 4.78 ERA, 1.32 WHIP
May Stats: 6.48 K/9, 1.44 BB/9, 2.52 HR/9

Lilly's another quiet guy who just does his thing and ends up as a valuable asset by year's end. His April was hurt by an elevated BABIP, while his May has been hurt so far by that aberrant HR rate. His strikeout rate, normally somewhere in the 7.0-plus K/9 range, is also creeping back to its usual level (5.85 in April). When his luck starts to even out, you'll want him on your roster.


Ervin Santana

2011 Fantasy Stats:
2 wins, 4.18 ERA, 1.19 WHIP
May Stats: 7.62 K/9, 1.73 BB/9, 1.38 HR/9

With memories of 2009 and even 2007 still lingering, Santana's rough April likely had his owners getting a bit paranoid that he was some kind of Saberhagean freak, doomed to alternate good seasons with bad ones. He's been a stone's throw from dominant in May, though, already getting his overall numbers back to respectability, and I don't believe in that kind of superstitious nonsense (excuse me while I knock on this Louisville slugger I have handy.) Santana's not a pitcher you should expect to get at a discount, but even paying face value for his current numbers could return a decent profit.

RISKIER TARGETS

Erik Bedard

2011 Fantasy Stats:
2 wins, 3.94 ERA, 1.27 WHIP
May Stats: 9.45 K/9, 2.70 BB/9, 0.00 HR/9

There's nothing wrong with Bedard's numbers so far, but that doesn't mean he can't do better. His litany of arm trouble the last couple years have helped fade the memory that at his best Bedard was (and might still be, based on those May results) a Cy Young-level talent. That injury history also tends to make his current owners nervous. Even knowing the risks with him going in, they still have to be wondering if and/or when the other shoe, or labrum, will drop. If you're in a position where you need to take some risks anyway, you might as well take them on a guy who might be an elite-level pitcher if he can just stay in one piece for a few more months.

Edwin Jackson

2011 Fantasy Stats:
4 wins, 4.26 ERA, 1.53 WHIP
May Stats: 6.92 K/9, 2.42 BB/9, 0.35 HR/9

Jackson is a constant tease. He has stretches when he's untouchable, and stretches when he gets not just touched but roughed up. The end result is usually about where he is now ERA-wise. His WHIP, though, is uncharacteristically high due to an inflated BABIP. He's compensated with a deflated HR rate, which is why his ERA is well within his usual range, but it does present an opportunity to get a bit sneaky if you have points to gain in WHIP and have someone of approximately equal value (say, A.J. Burnett?) you can swap him for. And of course, there's always the chance that this is the year he finally puts it all together ...

Jordan Zimmermann

2011 Fantasy Stats:
2 wins, 3.98 ERA, 1.18 WHIP
May Stats: 9.49 K/9, 2.55 BB/9, 0.73 HR/9

Unlike the previous pitchers listed here (and very much like the pitchers who follow him), Zimmermann doesn't have much of a track record of success to fall back on. He looked pretty good as a rookie, had his elbow go ping! and has made only a relative handful of starts since his Tommy John surgery. His April wasn't pretty, as he gave up plenty of hits and runs while seeing a distressing plunge in his strikeout rate to 4.25 K/9, but in May he's looked much more like the pitcher who the Nationals figured would be their future ace until Stephen Strasburg dropped into their laps. The upside in Zimmermann is substantial, and you might yet be able to add him at below-market prices.

LONG SHOTS

James McDonald

2011 Fantasy Stats:
3 wins, 5.51 ERA, 1.54 WHIP
May Stats: 9.53 K/9, 2.78 BB/9, 1.19 HR/9

McDonald's been slowly inching toward Quaduple-A status the last year or so, looking like a pitcher who could dominate the high minors but struggle badly in the majors. As bad as he was in April, though (and he was bad, like more-walks-than-strikeouts bad), he's completely turned things around in May, putting up numbers comparable to his minor league results. Is this level of performance sustainable? Maybe not. Will it cost you much to find out? Not at all.

Jo-Jo Reyes

2011 Fantasy Stats:
0 wins, 4.70 ERA, 1.55 WHIP
May Stats: 6.31 K/9, 1.40 BB/9, 0.70 HR/9

To paraphrase Dexy's Midnight Runners, poor old Jo-Jo Reyes. He's stumbling his way toward Matt Keough's major league record for most consecutive starts without a win, but part of the reason he's even in a position to break that record is that he's a lefty with big league-caliber stuff, though it's stuff he has a lot of trouble controlling. That's why his May walk rate sticks out like a golden thumb. If Reyes has finally started to get a clue where the strike zone is, he could not only cut short his pursuit of Keough but also nail down a regular job in a big league rotation for the first time in his career.

Chris Volstad

2011 Fantasy Stats:
2 wins, 5.73 ERA, 1.48 WHIP
May Stats: 6.95 K/9, 2.05 BB/9, 1.23 HR/9

If Jackson is a tease, then Volstad is the whole damn burlesque show. The former first-round pick has never really done much in the majors to justify the selection, and it seems like the best he could hope for was to become an innings sponge who kept the ball on the ground and minimized the damage as best he could. Suddenly, though, he's upped his K rate to respectable levels while still keeping the walks in check, providing some hope that he can aspire to more than being the next Jason Marquis. He's still too hittable, but any skill growth at all in Volstad is a welcome sight, and he could be on the verge of respectability or better.

Footnote: This wasn't planned at all, but of the nine pitchers in this article, six took the mound Wednesday night: Lilly, Santana, Bedard and all three Long Shots. Five came through with good or better starts, with Bedard's six shutout innings the best of the bunch and only Reyes (five earned runs in three innings) turning in a dud. The combined line for all six: two wins, 3.00 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 24 Ks in 33 innings. Not bad at all.


Mound Musings author Dave Regan is off this week.