With decisions forthcoming on All-Star rosters, allow me to take the opportunity to construct my perfect rotation and seven-man bullpen for each league. This list might not be the 24 best pitchers in baseball, as I'm not slotting starters as relievers, but I thought it would be fun. As I begin, I have no idea how this will look in the end.
1 – Roy Halladay, PHI – No pitcher in the game I'd rather have at the top.
2 – Cliff Lee, PHI – He's pitching fairly well lately.
3 – Clayton Kershaw, LAA – Stuff still filthy and now he has above-average control. Sky is the limit.
4 – Cole Hamels, PHI – Didn't plan on three Phillies in this rotation, but he's clearly deserving.
5 – Tommy Hanson, ATL – Wanted a young guy with some upside, and he certainly has it.
Mop-up guy – Sean Marshall, CHC – 2.23 ERA and former role as a starter makes me think I could use him for 100 innings a year if needed.
Long man – Tyler Clippard, WAS – I like that he can go multiple innings. Good to have a reliever with that level of flexibility.
LH MR – Eric O'Flaherty, ATL – Overshadowed by the kids, but he has a 1.21 ERA.
RH MR – Brian Wilson, SF – Leads the league in saves, but his 5.1 BB/9 is a bit much for me to trust him over the closer I went with.
Setup man – Jonny Venters, ATL – Hard to say he's not the best reliever in baseball, bad recent outing notwithstanding.
Setup man – Mike Adams, SD – How good is the Padres bullpen? 40:5 K:BB in 36.1 innings.
Closer – Joel Hanrahan, PIT – 1.21 ERA and no blown saves. With Heath Bell taking a step back, Mike Adams represents the Padres in my bullpen. Hanrahan is an unconventional choice here, but it's justifiable.
1 – Justin Verlander, DET - At or near the top of all major pitching leaderboards. A true workhorse.
2 – David Price, TB – The token lefty. Like CC Sabathia as well, but Price is younger and just a touch better.
3 – Felix Hernandez, SEA – I know his 3.35 ERA isn't great, but I'm going with the track record.
4 – Jered Weaver, LAA – 1.97 ERA and right in the Cy Young discussion.
5 – Dan Haren, LAA – Tempted to go with Michael Pineda for the upside, but couldn't ignore Haren's numbers.
Mop-up guy – Aaron Crow, KC – Just love his arm and the fact he can go multiple innings. I'd convert him back to the rotation next year, but that's just me.
Long man – David Pauley, SEA – 1.44 ERA and can go multiple innings. Nice find for the Mariners.
LH MR – Tony Sipp, CLE – 2.41 ERA and 0.89 WHIP. A few too many walks, but overall a solid season to date.
RF MR – David Robertson, NYY – 1.15 ERA and 14.4 K/9 in a breakout year.
Setup man – Jonathan Papelbon, BOS – 40:6 K:BB in 30 innings.
Setup man – Scott Downs, TOR – 1.69 ERA and seems recovered from early-season injury. I just feel comfortable having him on my squad.
Closer – Mariano Rivera, NYY – Still the best in my book.
Fun stuff, and thanks for indulging me, but I'm sure you are looking for some fantasy takes, so let's get to that. We won't have a lot of structure this week, but the scatter-shot approach has been well-received in the past.
Tyson Ross, OAK – I'm actually looking forward to Ross' return from an oblique injury, though it may not happen for another couple weeks still. Ross had a string of four quality starts (1.69 ERA) before getting hurt in mid-May, so he's a nice AL-only grab if available.
Bartolo Colon, NYY – Colon is nearing a return, and there's the possibility he could be available in shallower leagues. We're not sure if Colon had a chance to get another shot of stem cells while he was out.
Rubby De La Rosa, LAD – DLR turned in the best outing of his career Wednesday with seven one-run innings against the Twins. Sure it helped that the Twins had guys like Hughes, Tolbert, and Repko in the lineup, but it's still an impressive outing. I like his long-term prospects quite a bit, and the forearm trouble he had a few starts ago is no longer a problem.
LOB% (or strand rate) is a metric we don't often look at, but it measures the percentage of base runners a pitcher strands. If a pitcher allows 100 base runners and 30 score, then his LOB% is 70 percent. Historically, 70 to 72 percent is average. A pitcher with a lower-than-average rate probably has a high ERA (more runners are scoring). But LOB% can be expected to regress to the mean, which means a low-LOB% pitcher can expect his ERA to improve once his strand rate corrects. The inverse would of course apply to pitchers with a high (80+ percent) LOB%.
Let's look at the top 10 on each side and consider if other factors might shield them from a significant ERA correction.
High LOB% (potential ERA regression coming)
Jeff Karstens, PIT (85.1%) – With a lack of a solid career track record and a 5.6 K/9, like you (I hope), I'm skeptical.
Wandy Rodriguez, HOU (85.0%) – It's been a solid season for Rodriguez, who has a 7.4 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9. An 85-percent strand rate isn't maintainable, but he can dial it up on occasion with men on base and get the critical strikeout.
Jair Jurrjens, ATL (83.7%) – Incredibly, Jurrjens has allowed more than two runs just twice (three and four) all year. Credit an improved walk rate and, yes, a slower fastball (down from 91.1 to 89.4). More contact (fewer strikeouts) has led to a 2.07 ERA. Considering his 3.81 xFIP, a correction will eventually happen, but, having watched him pitch a couple times this year, he's really exercising command that we haven't ever seen from him. Expect a 3.25-3.50 ERA the rest of the way.
James Shields, TB (83.5%) – We can't wholly credit a high LOB% for Shields' breakout 2011 season, so what else is going on here? His walk, strikeout and groundball rates are slightly improved, and hitters aren't making as good of contact against him. What really stands out, though, in looking at the pitch data is that Shields' changeup ranks second in baseball to that of Felix Hernandez AND Shields is throwing it with far more frequency. That's helped elevate his other offerings and has made him into one of baseball's best pitchers.
Josh Beckett, BOS (82.4%) – Health has been the key here, as these results are far from surprising given his underlying talent and past successes. This should continue.
Ricky Romero, TOR (81.8%) – Romero was already good, and now he's raised his average fastball from 90.8 mph to 92.4. This will help offset the coming correction in his LOB%. He's also generating a ton of ground balls and has cut his BB/9 from 3.5 to 3.1. Good stuff.
Gio Gonzalez, OAK (80.9%) – Very high on Gio, as I think he can take that next step (as Clayton Kershaw did) and show big improvements in his control. He's already done that, dropping from a 5.1 BB/9 in 2009 to 4.1 marks in each of the last two years. Still room for big improvement, though. Gonzalez is also throwing harder this year, so he should be just fine despite an expected dip in LOB%.
Jhoulys Chacin, COL (80.9%) – I like that he's increased his GB% from 46.6 percent to 59.5 percent year over year, but a .226 BABIP is obviously not sustainable. The LOB% likely comes down, but so does the 17.7% HR/FB rate. This should all even out and result in an ERA in the 3.50 range the rest of the way.
Jered Weaver, LAA (80.7%) – Weaver's pre-2011 LOB% is 76 percent, so this number is far from a concern. With Scott Boras as Weaver's agent, I wonder what sort of deal he'll get as a free agent after 2012. Maybe Mark Cuban will have interest in keeping Weaver in SoCal.
Jon Lester, BOS (80.2%) – Lester had an ugly May (5.50 ERA), but he's turned it around this month with a 2.89 ERA. Lester should remain among the league's best, regardless of his strand rate.
Low LOB% (potential ERA improvement coming)
Fausto Carmona, CLE (58.5%) – Carmona has an xFIP of 3.98 versus an ERA of 5.89, so he's a prime candidate for improvement. That said, his groundball rate used to sit well into the 60-plus-percent range but has regressed to the mid-50s in recent years (57 percent this year), and that's leading to more home runs. Still, he'll likely see that ERA continue to drop.
Javier Vazquez, FLA (61.6%) – Vazquez seems to always appear on these lists, so I'm not going to wager a whole lot on his returning to his 2003 form any time soon.
J.A. Happ, HOU (63.3%) – His fastball sits in the upper 80s but has enough deception to post a 7.9 K/9. Poor control (4.4 BB/9) hurts, as does a 30.1 GB%, though the flyballs haven't killed him too much considering Minute Maid Park's new reputation as park neutral. Of course, having the speedy Michael Bourn out there to track down flyballs doesn't hurt either. Happ should continue to be a solid middle-of-the-road guy with the intermittent shutout and occasional 3-9-7-7-4-1 type game.
Ubaldo Jimenez, COL (64.8%) – His numbers overall are unimpressive, especially the velocity, which is down about a full three mph over last year. He's gotten fewer ground balls and strikeouts with more home runs and far fewer swings and misses. That said, Jimenez's last five starts totaled a 2.43 ERA and a 29:7 K:BB in 33.1 innings. He may not be all the way back compared to the first half of last year, but he's getting there.
Tim Hudson, ATL (65.1%) – Huddy has a 3.30 xFIP, so even with a LOB% correction, he should be fine.
Matt Garza, CHC (65.3%) – Few analysts are higher on Garza than me, and that's due in large part to his 9.4 K/9. That's not the only reason, however. I'm not sure this pace is maintainable, but Garza has his GB% at 50.4 percent versus sub-40-percent marks the previous two years. Very bullish here.
Luke Hochevar, KC (65.6%) – Yes, he was drafted No. 1 overall, but there's just no consistency here, and despite a solid fastball/slider combination, he has just a 4.3 K/9. I think ultimately he's converted to a reliever, with possible closer potential.
Brian Duensing, MIN (65.7%) – He is what he is, a solid No. 4/AL-only starter, nothing more.
Jeff Francis, COL (65.9%) – Love the 1.8 BB/9, but this appears all smoke and mirrors given his "fastball" that sits in the 83-87 range.
Jake Westbrook, STL (66.3%) – A 4.7 K/9 and 3.8 BB/9 are poor ratios, but Westbrook's saving grace continues to be his ability to generate grounders – 62 percent of batted balls this year. Westbrook, though, remains a risky NL-only play given he's allowed four runs in each of his last three starts.
Jonny Venters suddenly looks human, allowing six runs in his last three appearances. He may get a little extra rest in the next few days. ... Jordan Walden's three-game blown saves streak ended Wednesday as he touched triple digits against the Nats. It helps Walden's case that the Angels have ho real secondary option. ... Brad Lidge (elbow) begins a rehab assignment next week, and it's possible he could be the team's closer by mid-July considering all the injuries the Phillies have had in their bullpen. Stash him on your DL if you can. ... Ryan Franklin was released this week and could be headed for retirement. Some team could give him a shot to pitch at Triple-A, but that's about it. ... Joe Nathan looked very good against the Dodgers (insert joke here) on Tuesday, hitting 92-94 mph consistently with his fastball. He's worth tracking as a possible second-half closer. ... In Craig Kimbrel's last nine innings, the Atlanta closer has not allowed a run while surrendering just one hit with a 17:3 K:BB. Combine that with Venters' struggles and Kimbrel's job security has never been higher. ... Francisco Rodriguez is on pace to exceed the number of games finished that would trigger his $17 million option. There's simply no way the Mets let that happen. He'll be traded next month, potentially to a team with an established closer. Trade him while you can. ... Kyle Farnsworth has walked just two batters in 32.2 innings this year. He has allowed runs in five of his last eight appearances, so perhaps he's throwing too many strikes, but this is just a great story considering how maligned he was with the Yankees, and how Farnsworth put down the bottle recently. ... Frank Francisco appears to be the new Toronto closer, though there's no official word. ... Michael Stutes is worth a little FAAB this week, as there's certainly no guarantee that Antonio Bastardo gets 100 percent of the Phillies' save opportunities. ... Javy Guerra has a legitimate shot at keeping the Dodgers closer job given Jonathan Broxton's (elbow) recent setback. That said, Hong-Chih Kuo retired the side in order in his last outing, striking out two. He could be in the mix as well. ... Koji Uehara should be owned already in AL-only league, but despite Kevin Gregg being the inferior pitcher, no change in roles is on the horizon. ... Fernando Salas has brought a modicum of stability to the Cardinals bullpen, but his time may be running short. Salas has a 5.11 ERA this month, while Mitchell Boggs has allowed one run in nine innings with a 9:3 K:BB. Speculate on Boggs in deeper formats.
Regan, a four-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner, was named the 2010 Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year.
Follow @vtadave on Twitter.