This Week's Scouting Tip: Pitchers of Note in 2011
At this point in the season, like most major league teams, you are probably getting set for a pennant chase or evaluating options for 2012. I thought it might be interesting to take a look at a couple of key categories, for both major league teams, and fantasy teams alike. In these instances, the contributions will probably be as dramatic for both. I'll start with most valuable pitchers in each league, then talk about the biggest surprises - the bright and cheerful kind - and follow it up with the biggest disappointments.
I'll keep it brief, I promise, as I did say I would dedicate this week's Notebook to questions from the readers. Have a pitcher you want to know more about? Maybe he's someone you are considering picking up in a keeper/dynasty or someone you think might be a good choice to target on draft day 2012. Throw the name out there in the comments section below, and I'll have a go at predicting his future. This crystal ball needs the dust brushed off now and again you know. Let's get started.
The Most Valuable Pitcher
Justin Verlander (DET)- It would be pretty hard to argue with this call (don't worry, you'll get your chance with the next pick). Over the weekend, Verlander became the first pitcher since 2002 to log 20 victories before the end of August. He's 20-5, he's already logged 215 innings (he does that pretty much every season), he boasts a 0.90 WHIP and a 2.38 ERA, he has registered 218 strikeouts, and he has his team in first place in the AL Central as they push for the playoffs. Verlander was probably one of the first starting pitchers taken in many drafts, and deservedly so, but his 2011 season stands out as an incredible season, even for one the most reliable pitchers in the game today. He would have to collapse completely to avoid picking up the AL Cy Young award, and he is undoubtedly the lead pitcher on quite a few fantasy teams heading for league championships.
Ian Kennedy (ARZ)- See, I promised I would throw a name out there some could dispute. Here's my case for the Diamondbacks young right-hander … Be honest, how many of you picked Arizona to win (or even be competitive in) the NL West? I didn't either, and I was a huge Kennedy booster. As we swing into September, the D'Backs find themselves atop their division, and Kennedy leads the National League with 17 wins (he's 17-4). He has a 1.12 WHIP and a 3.03 ERA over 187+ innings, while logging 161 strikeouts along the way. Aha, you say! There are pitchers with a better WHIP and a better ERA who have more strikeouts (Clayton Kershaw immediately comes to mind). Using Kershaw (and he is having an incredible season) as the example, where did he go in your fantasy draft compared to Kennedy? My guess is Kennedy was a huge bargain. Taking nothing at all away from Kershaw, in fact he would be my runner-up, but guys like Kennedy win Roto championships.
The Biggest Surprises
Justin Masterson (CLE)- I admit it. I have been waiting for him to stumble. In fact, I am still waiting … just not with the same conviction. His tendency to get hit pretty hard by lefty swingers has been somewhat diminished this season, and although there are lingering signs the vulnerability could come back, he is on track to post the best season of his career. Right now, you have to list him as having taken a major step forward. It will be interesting to see if he can keep the momentum he has established.
Ricky Romero (TOR)- He is right at the top of the “late-blooming lefties” list. There were signs that he was getting it together in 2010, but he has put it together and then some this season. The best part of it is that his second half may be predicting even better things ahead. His strikeout rate is moving up, and his walk rate is headed in the opposite direction. With his stuff (remember the Jays liked him enough to use the sixth overall pick on him in the 2005 draft) he could be a dominant pitcher for years to come.
Michael Pineda (SEA)- He headed into spring training with a short, albeit impressive, minor league resume, and no guarantees of a spot on the major league roster, let alone a spot in the Mariners rotation. By mid-season, the biggest questions were whether he could keep it up, and was he really a talent similar to Felix Hernandez? The answer to both is probably a qualified “no” but that doesn't mean his season was any less impressive. He has perhaps run out of gas and his ceiling is probably a notch below King Felix, but this guy has had a great season, and has a very, very bright future.
Ryan Vogelsong (SF)- It's amazing what a couple of years overseas can do. Vogelsong left for Japan as a journeyman with a questionable future in professional baseball, returned as a longshot to make the Giants roster, and now enters September as one of the best stories in the game. I have taken the opportunity to watch several of his outings, always the skeptic, but he looks to be for real. The first half was a bit much to expect long term, but he has settled in as a solid middle of the rotation pitcher.
Jordan Zimmermann (WAS)- A lot of people predicted good things for Zimmermann, but there weren't many who saw this season coming. After Tommy John surgery erased his 2010 season, you could expect some rough spots and some rust in 2011. There was a little rust early on as he worked on regaining his command, and his numbers have slipped a bit as the season has worn on and the innings piled up, but it was still a great season by every measurement. He is done for this year, but next season he will join Stephen Strasburg in what could prove to be a devastating 1-2 punch.
Vance Worley (PHI)- There was considerable discussion regarding the incredible rotation the Phillies had assembled heading into 2011, but not very much of that attention was directed at Worley. He entered the season in Triple-A with Joe Blanton manning the fifth starter slot. It was probably a bad decision, but injuries gave him the chance to step up and he did just that. While he hasn't made anyone forget about Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee or Cole Hamels, he has made the loss of Blanton much easier to take. Maybe there is something to be said for surrounding yourself with excellence.
The Biggest Disappointments
Francisco Liriano (MIN)- Liriano has been the picture of inconsistency this year and his recurring shoulder problems have earned him a trip to the DL twice. He can be a pretty good starter when he's healthy and I'm sure many hoped he would bounce back this year. It's been a wasted season for the most part, and these types of problems could haunt him for the rest of his career.
Clay Buchholz (BOS)- The Red Sox entered the season loaded - both offensively and on the mound. Buchholz was written in as a huge part of their playoff plans, but back problems have nagged him all year. There is a chance he could come back later this season, but the Red Sox may just want him healthy for 2012. Those optimistic believers have to be disappointed in their return on investment for the current year.
Ubaldo Jimenez (CLE)- Even though he spent most of the season in the NL with Colorado, he was a big enough disappointment to get dealt to Cleveland. His velocity is down, his command has been shaky, and his pitches don't move like they did in that marvelous 2010 first half. It's very likely mechanics rather than an injury (Cleveland surely checked that out very closely), but this year is a write-off.
Ricky Nolasco (FLA)- Nolasco is making a habit of making disappointment lists so far in his career. He has the stuff to be a very good one, and because of that fact there is always someone excited about adding him to their roster on draft day. Throughout the season he will flash that high upside potential from time-to-time, but he always mixes in enough disaster starts to offset any positives. Maybe next year will be the year. But I wouldn't count on it.
J. A. Happ (HOU)- The Astros weren't expected to be a playoff contender in 2011, but they had a few younger players that could be considered building blocks. Happ falls into that category, but very little has gone right for him this season. Too hittable and too prone to giving up big innings, he did little to help the Astros and quite a lot to make a serious dent in the WHIP and ERA of fantasy teams.
Jonathan Sanchez (SF)- He can toss a no-hitter on any given night - in fact he has. But ongoing problems with maintaining a release point have made him a dangerous play for all but the heartiest of fantasy owners. Now he has an ankle injury that will probably mean the end of a lost season. The ability is there. Sanchez continues to tease us, and you have to wonder when someone is going to find the key to his awesome talent.
That's my list. Do you have any others? Now on to the good stuff! If you have a pitcher you would like to discuss, throw the name in the comments section below. I'll give my two-cents and hopefully some other readers will add their thoughts.
For some of the most in-depth coverage of all things pitching in fantasy baseball for 2011, visit www.bogfella.com and be sure to follow @RotoWire and @bogfella on Twitter.