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Mound Musings: Pitchers for the Stretch Run

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.


Strasburg Watch 2011

The Dodgers scored seven runs off pitchers not named Stephen Strasburg on Tuesday, but how did The Franchise fare in his return from Tommy John surgery? Overall it was a solid performance - 5 innings, 2 hits, no runs, 4:0 K:BB while throwing 40 of 56 pitches for strikes. Strasburg was hitting 96-97 mph in the first inning and mostly 95-97 on the night while topping out at 99. I didn't see quite the jump on his fastball that I did last year, but that's probably to be expected given the surgery and long layoff. There's also a chance he was holding back a little, so all in all, it's hard to ask for much more. He'll get another three or four starts and likely tops out at 80 pitches.

Next let's look at a few options that could help you in each of the five traditional roto pitching categories ...

Strikeouts

Rich Harden, OAK -
Harden's ERA after the break sits at just 4.55, but in 57.1 innings, Harden has 74 strikeouts for a solid 11.6 K/9. He's averaging 91.5 mph with his fastball, which is up a full mph over last year, and he's recorded double-digit strikeouts in two of his last four outings. A Rich Harden that's getting stronger as the year goes on? Harden's control is a bit off recently, so expect a hiccup or two down the stretch, but if you're in shallower leagues and need a strikeout boost, he's your guy.

Ubaldo Jimenez, CLE -
This isn't a trade that's exactly working out so far for Cleveland, but I'm still bullish on Ubaldo. Since the break, his 5.58 ERA and 1.54 WHIP are ugly, but his 69:24 K:BB in those 59.2 innings is still solid. He's sporting a .349 BABIP after the break, which may explain part of the ERA increase, as for his career Jimenez's BABIP sits at a more reasonable .286. There's probably also an adjustment factor switching leagues and teams, and considering Jimenez has posted three straight quality starts, he may have already adjusted. He gets the Twins and White Sox twice down the stretch, and while those teams don't strike out a lot, Jimenez could change that.

Brandon Morrow, TOR -
If you're looking for consistency, move on, but if you want a guy to push your strikeout totals forward, Morrow could be your man. Since the break, Morrow has allowed six runs in two of his starts - against the Orioles and Royals no less. He then had one start against the Rangers in which he allowed just two runs in seven innings with 11 strikeouts. Overall in his 10 starts since the break, Morrow has a 5.04 ERA despite a solid 68:22 K:BB in 60.2 innings.

Wins

OK, outside of the elite starters, predicting who can be of help in wins the rest of the way is a challenge, to put it mildly, but here are a handful of lower-tier pitchers piling up the "W's" recently.

Brandon McCarthy, OAK -
McCarthy is 7-2 since the break, and it's not entirely a fluke, as his 1.10 WHIP and 57:10 K:BB in 66.1 innings support the assertion that he's pitching well. A healthy McCarthy has shown bursts of talent, but injuries limited the large right-hander to just 22 big-league starts prior to 2011. He's been healthier than normal this year, notching 21 starts, but when he has been in there, the results have been solid. His fastball has more life (and velocity - 2 mph more) and his control has been superb given a 1.3 BB/9. McCarthy has also developed a cut fastball that is a contributor to a career-high 47.1 GB%. A lot to like here if he can remain healthy.

Ivan Nova, NYY -
Can Joe Girardi really choose anybody other than Nova as his No. 2 starter for the playoffs? In seven post-break starts, Nova is 7-0 with a 3.45 ERA. His 34:10 K:BB in 47 innings indicates he's not missing as many bats as we would like, but if you need wins, it's not the worst idea in the world to consider a Yankee.

Randy Wells, CHC -
It's hard to bet on the Cubs, but Wells at least has been a bright spot at 6-1 since the break. Wells' 5.8 K/9 and 3.2 BB/9 are decent ratios at best, but at least he's going deep enough into games to allow for the possibility of a W. Digging into his game logs, Wells has struggled against teams like the Brewers, Reds and Cardinals while tossing a two-hitter against the Giants. I'd use him in NL-only leagues, but would hope that I'd have another option if matchups dictated I should pursue one.

Derek Holland, TEX -
He has a great offense and bullpen to support him, leading Holland to post six wins since the break. Holland has had his share of clunkers this year, but he's also notched four shutouts, so clearly the talent is there for Holland to earn his share of wins the rest of the way.

Luke Hochevar, KC -
I've been disappointed by Hochevar multiple times, as I have a hard time letting go of the concept that a No. 1 overall draft pick could be anything but a success (despite many examples to the contrary - yes, you Matt Bush). Hochevar has been a solid AL-only performer over the second half with five wins, a 3.51 ERA, 1.11 WHIP and 56 strikeouts in 10 starts since the break. Hochevar even got a W in a start in which he allowed five runs in seven innings, as the Royals now have some legitimate offensive threats to support their pitchers. Hochevar is schedule to face the Mariners, Twins, Tigers and Twins again down the stretch, so he could be a good play in deeper formats.

John Lackey, BOS -
If you have a team that won't be killed by a potential Lackey ERA/WHIP hit, he has notched six wins since the break, and with the Boston offense at his back, he could be good for another three. If you have the stomach for it and are desperate for wins, give Lackey a shot.

Saves

A few sneaky plays for saves down the stretch.

Fernando Salas, STL -
A lot of owners are jumping ship and grabbing Jason Motte, but Salas still has a 2.44 ERA and 0.96 WHIP and hasn't officially been removed from the closer role. Remember, while Salas was scored upon a couple times already this month, his losing save opportunities is more about how well Motte has been throwing.

Chris Sale, CHW -
I just grabbed Sale in a 12-team mixed league, as he's quietly recorded saves in two of his last four outings while striking out nine hitters in those 4.1 innings.

Steve Cishek, FLA -
The Marlins aren't providing their relievers with many save opportunities, so it's hard to see who is the preferred option here. Leo Nunez has four consecutive scoreless innings since an ugly July outing, so he might be back in Jack McKeon's good graces, but don't sleep on Cishek - 3.15 ERA, 48:16 K:BB in 45.2 innings.

Kenley Jansen, LAD -
Javy Guerra has done an admirable job, but Jansen has a ridiculous 15.1 K/9 and has allowed just one run in his last 22.2 innings. The Dodgers might give him a few save chances the rest of the way.

Santiago Casilla, SF -
He's probably owned in most leagues, but if not, it's sounding like Brian Wilson (elbow) will not return this year. Casilla has Ramon Ramirez (last Giants save) and Sergio Romo to compete with, but even if he's not the full-time closer, Castilla's 1.28 ERA will help.

WHIP

I find it foolish to chase WHIP specifically. Generally, strikeout pitchers with decent control are good WHIP plays. Here, though, are a few pitchers to target for WHIP (second-half WHIP in parentheses):

Gavin Floyd, CHW (1.01) -
Pitching better than 4.15 ERA indicates. I loathe the inconsistency, but the 47:7 K:BB in 56.1 innings is solid.

Ted Lilly, LAD (1.05) -
Frank McCourt hoping he keeps it up so some team will pick up a chunk of the $22 million Lilly is owed through 2013.

Doug Fister, DET (1.08) -
Still don't get this trade for Seattle.

Josh Collmenter, ARI (1.08) -
Deceptive delivery still working.

Javier Vazquez, WAS (0.99) -
Amazingly still available in a 12-team mixed league I'm in ... not anymore.

ERA

If you're looking for sleepers in this category, focus on lesser-known pitchers who have an xFIP lower than their ERA. As discussed earlier this season, this would indicate a pitcher has been pitching well, but experiencing some bad luck on balls in play and/or poor defense. Here are a few worth noting:

Last 30 days xFIP and ERA in parentheses.

Ricky Nolasco, FLA (7.12 ERA, 3.59 xFIP) -
Nolasco has been bit by the home-run ball as well as a low strand rate. His bullpen certainly hasn't been of much help, and while his K's are down a bit, Nolasco's control has been excellent - 1.1 BB/9. Check his opponents the rest of the way, but I'd bet on his past success and give him a shot.

Aaron Cook, COL (7.22 ERA, 4.51 xFIP) -
Sorry, not going here. Cook does a good job generating groundballs, but the K's aren't enough to entice me to gamble on a good ERA the rest of the way.

Chris Capuano, NYM (5.30 ERA, 3.42 xFIP) -
Capuano has been an enigma recently, tossing a two-hit 13-strikeout shutout against Atlanta, and then two starts later allowing six runs in four innings to the Marlins. Capuano gets the Cubs, Nationals, Cardinals and Reds from here on. Not a cakewalk, but he could help in deeper leagues.

Homer Bailey, CIN (5.18 ERA, 4.05 xFIP) -
Bailey in the last 30 days has an 8.5 K/9 and 1.4 BB/9, but that ERA is a direct result of his allowing 1.6 homers per nine innings. Bailey gets a pretty favorable schedule down the stretch, and if the confounding/inconsistent Bailey doesn't rear his ugly head, he could be in line for a strong finish.

Seems like there's something else going on in the sports world Thursday. Ah yes, the return of the NFL. We get a sneak preview of a potential NFC Championship game, as the Saints take on the champion Packers. Sportsbook.com has the Packers favored by 4.5. Both have veteran quarterbacks, great coaching staffs and talent all over the place. I think the Packers win this one, but it's probably close - 23-20 Packers.

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

Follow @vtadave on Twitter.