The season is finally in full swing, and we have some results to sort through, albeit from a very small sample. April is always a difficult month to analyze, both because of that small sample, and because there are so many variables that tend to smooth out as the season progresses. For example, command is typically one of the last things to lock in for a pitcher. Most won't come out of spring training with complete confidence in being able to command their full repertoire, so the early results can be a bit misleading. Even weather can be a factor. Cold, damp nights do not lend themselves to pitchers staying loose, or even on them being able to grip the baseball the way he normally might. That said, there are still some things to examine after just a few days of the 2012 season. This week I'll take a look at a few early performances; some good, and some bad:
Some Arms Who Have Made Us Take Notice:
Tim Lincecum (SF) - Lincecum turned in his best performance of the season Monday night, but "best" doesn't necessarily equal good. There are mechanical problems. So far in 2012, his velocity is down about two miles per hour, and his command of the zone comes and goes. If the past is an indicator of the future, he will soon lock in and be the dominating arm we know and love. However, there is one more piece of information that is a bit disconcerting. Lincecum has scrapped his slider. That's not a pitch most top tier starters would just eliminate. There is nothing to suggest this is the case, but the slider can be very wearing on a pitcher's arm. It's unlikely there is any damage - the Giants would never risk sending him out with that type of injury - but could there be concerns that the slider is taking its toll and could lead to an injury? In any case, without the slider, he will need exceptional command of his fastball and his other pitches, and it's just not there right now. Any change in repertoire requires an adjustment period, but this has to be a major concern for the Giants. Recommendation: You almost have to keep sending him out. He's simply too good to risk having him on your bench when it all comes back together, but it could be a leap of faith every five days.
Yu Darvish (TEX) - Baseball, especially at the major league level, is a constant series of adjustments. Pitchers adjust to hitters, hitters adjust to pitchers, and then the whole process repeats. The most celebrated pitcher to arrive from the Pacific Rim, Darvish is experiencing the most important adjustment period he has faced in his young career. After two starts, he is 1-0 with a 2.20 WHIP, a 4.77 ERA, and nine strikeouts in 11.1 innings. That is not what most fantasy owners were hoping for. However, despite the poor numbers, there have been many positive signs. He has the quality repertoire, but he has yet to consistently spot those pitches. Personally, I have always felt that the move from facing minor league to major league lineups can be a startling revelation for high ceiling pitchers. That scenario is not unlike what Darvish is experiencing right now. Hitters in Japan, and in the minors, do not have the same pitch recognition skills, they are far more likely to chase pitches out of the zone, and mistakes are much more likely to end up in the gaps, or in the seats. There is a fine line between a great pitch and a meatball, and pitchers have to out-think as well as out-battle opposing hitters. In watching him, Darvish definitely has the tools to do both. It's just a matter of adjusting. Recommendation: His adjustment period is likely to be short, so if you own him, be patient, and if you don't own him, your window of opportunity to acquire him could be quite small. In fact, you should be contacting his owner today.
Josh Collmenter (ARZ) - If you use your vivid imagination you could perhaps make statistical comparisons between Collmenter and the aforementioned Darvish. Their WHIP is similar, Collmenter's K/9 and K/BB rates are even a bit better, and even though his ERA is considerably higher, you can write that off to small sample size and bad luck, right? No, and it's not even close. Here is the bottom line. Early in a major league career, if a pitcher can fairly regularly throw strikes, deception will often trump pure stuff. It is actually harder for hitter's to adjust to a deceptive motion, and Collmenter definitely has that. He throws almost over the top - something that is very rare in this day and age - but his stuff is pedestrian at best. His future is probably in the bullpen as a long reliever or possibly as a swingman who can fill in with an occasional spot start. Right now, he is merely a placeholder for the long list of highly skilled starting pitchers who are working their way through the Arizona system. As useful as deception can be, when there isn't an arsenal of quality pitches to back it up, the halo affect will fade, and the league will catch up. He enjoyed a nice run in 2011, but it is very unlikely to carry over to 2012. He may have Darvish-like numbers right now, but he certainly doesn't have Darvish's stuff. Recommendation: There will be Collmenter owners scrambling to deal him very soon, if they haven't started already. They will point to his 2011 numbers, and you may be tempted to "buy low" based on his 2012 start. Don't fall into that trap. If you own him, take what you can get, and soon.
Liam Hendriks (MIN) - He's been briefly mentioned a few times in the Notebook, but he made his first 2012 start against the Rangers this past Sunday. It's time to take a little deeper look. Hendriks pitched well in the spring but was not assured of a rotation spot until injuries entered into the picture. He's still not guaranteed a spot, but it will be hard to take him out if he keeps pitching like he did this weekend. A more likely scenario would have Anthony Swarzak moving to the pen where he has experience. Hendriks is not overpowering - his fastball sits at 91-93 mph - so his strikeout rate will be just average, but he has excellent command of four pitches. He reminds me a bit of Ian Kennedy with his mound presence. He always appears to have a plan, sometimes several pitches ahead. Without the blazing fastball, he just has to stay away from the middle of the plate, and he does that, working inside to righties with his fastball, and mixing in a solid slider to the outer edge of the zone. Against lefties, its fastballs and sliders in and an above average change down that keep hitters pretty consistently off balance. He even mixes in a slow curve from time to time for another look. Recommendation: Wins could be hard to come by in Minnesota, and he has limited experience so there might be some bumps in the road, but he can be a useful back of the rotation arm if you pick your spots. The pitcher-friendly home field is a nice bonus.
Lance Lynn (STL) He's off to a hot start to 2012. After two starts, he is 2-0 with a 0.75 WHIP, a 1.50 ERA and 13 strikeouts in just 12 innings of work. That has certainly drawn plenty of attention, but I am hesitant to give him a full endorsement. Lynn is a work in progress. He actually projected to be a better reliever than starter, but the Cardinals like his durability and propensity to eat innings, so they are working on a reformation of sorts. He used to throw a sinking fastball that was marginal, so they have him throwing more four-seamers now and he can hit the mid-90's with it. He likes to work up in the zone, but doesn't have the stuff to live up there so the coaches are trying to get him to throw on more of a downhill plane. His curveball is coming along, but his change-up is still lagging behind so his arsenal might be a bit limited for multiple trips through a batting order. Recommendation: It all adds up to an adequate #4 or #5 starter who might even find his way back to the pen as the Cardinal staff gets healthy, and more of their high ceiling arms like Shelby Miller reach the majors.
The long line at the MASH unit for closers got a little bit longer with San Francisco's Brian Wilson facing possible/likely elbow surgery. I make Santiago Casilla a slight favorite for saves over Sergio Romo right now, but keep Heath Hembree in mind once he's had a little more Triple-A seasoning. Miami invested a lot of money (and too many years) on Heath Bell and he has been horrible. The contract buys him a very long leash but I'd stay away. With Drew Storen out for a few weeks, and Brad Lidge not displaying his once formidable stuff, look for Henry Rodriguez to start getting a bigger percentage of the save chances in Washington. Sean Marshall has not been anything special for the Reds, and Aroldis Chapman has been overwhelming. Could Chapman's chance to close be coming soon?. It looks like a rather surprising Fernando Rodney is Kyle Farnsworth's fill-in for Tampa Bay, at least for now. Joel Peralta has really struggled so Rodney will keep getting chances. Joe Nathan has been a little shaky in Texas, but should still be safe. If the struggles continue, look for Mike Adams or maybe former starter Alexi Ogando to see some save opportunities. In Minnesota, Matt Capps is a scary proposition, and Glen Perkins has a sore forearm. There is a very big black hole at the back of the Twins bullpen. Hector Santiago showed his vulnerability Monday night. Don't be surprised if there are changes ahead in Chicago.
Checking in on promising young arms is one of my favorite pastimes, so I wanted to add this Kid Watch feature to the Notebook. There are high upside resumes pouring in for Collmenter's rotation spot. Wade Miley may be first in line, but Trevor Bauer (ARZ) is ringing up the strikeouts. He just needs to develop into more of a pitcher to assure success at the MLB level. Also consider lefty Patrick Corbin (ARZ) who may be more ready right now. James Paxton (SEA) has been brilliant at Double-A so far (17 K's in 10 innings with only one run) and could beat Danny Hultzen (SEA) to the majors. Both could be fantasy impact players this year. How about Dylan Bundy (BAL) who pitched six innings without allowing a base runner, and struck out 12 over his first two starts at High-A Delmarva? He won't be up anytime soon, but that's quite a beginning. It's been mixed results for Alex Meyer (WAS) this year. He is a big kid with lots of moving parts to harness, but what an arm! Casey Kelly has been on fire for the Padres Triple-A affiliate, but he had some elbow soreness after his last start. He's close, so monitor this situation. Finally, I get asked a lot about "under the radar" arms so I wanted to throw one out there for the dynasty players. I would strongly suggest adding Noah Syndergaard (TOR) who is currently pitching for Low-A Lansing to your roster if he's available. He is just 19 years old, but has a very live arm, good mechanics, and his secondary pitches already show a lot of potential for someone at such a young age. Lots to like about him!
Have a pitcher you would like to see analyzed in an upcoming Notebook? Throw the name out and I'll see what I can do. In fact, I would like to remind readers to check back often as each week's Notebook will feature updates in the comments section on evolving mound situations. And, as always, keep in mind this is an interactive forum, so your comments are always appreciated. I check regularly and will respond to any comments or questions as soon as possible. Thanks!
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