Last week we had a perfect game. That should be in the Notebook, right? Yep, and it is, with Philip Humber being the lead pitcher in our weekly analysis. Actually, the weekend had more than its share of surprises. Besides Humber's perfecto, Carlos Zambrano, Paul Maholm and Mike Pelfrey all had exceptional outings. There were disasters as well, just ask Rick Porcello, and of course, there were plenty of end game implosions to further muddle a few closer situations. In prehistoric times, a simple eclipse could send our ancestral fantasy owners scrambling into caves, but in the modern era, a weekend like this just reminds us how unpredictable our favorite sport can be. And, it's all the more reason to step back and evaluate April on the mound. This week I'll again take a look at a few recent April performances; some good, and some bad:
Some Arms Who Have Made Us Take Notice:
Philip Humber (CWS) - It doesn't get any better than "perfect" does it? Obviously not, but that doesn't mean the pitcher of a perfecto is a good bet to continue on that course. Keep in mind, a couple recent perfect games were authored by Dallas Braden and even though it didn't count, Armando Galarraga. Neither of them are hot commodities these days. In fact, Galarraga recently called his buddy Ozzie Guillen hoping Ozzie could help him get a job in the Miami minors. Humber was a buzz word early last year too, and he pitched relatively well before his so-so stuff started catching up to him. This year, he was only owned in a small percentage of leagues before his big game, and where owned, was rarely in that team's lineup. He has just an average repertoire, allows a few too many hits, and walks a few too many with command of secondary pitches that comes and goes. He fares reasonably well when he keeps the ball down, inducing groundballs, a benefit in his home park, but he is unlikely to maintain a good strikeout rate. Basically he has to stay down for his stuff to get people out, and he doesn't do that often enough. Recommendation: All the kudos in the world for that perfect game, but he is still a fourth or fifth starter on a major league team, and a minimally risky spot starter or AL-only rotation filler for fantasy rosters.
Rick Porcello (DET) - While the aforementioned Humber was twirling his gem, Porcello was already icing his arm after an implosion of epic proportions. He allowed nine runs (only eight earned) in one-plus inning of work before his day mercifully ended three batters into the second inning. So who do you want on your roster, Humber or Porcello? For me, it's Porcello, and it isn't even close. Porcello has had outings like this before. In fact, he had them with some regularity, but the thing to note is they are coming less and less frequently these days. He is just 23 and already has a lot of major league innings - call it baptism under fire. I'll admit it, the Tigers are a tough organization for me to analyze. They routinely rush very talented kids to the majors and let them get beat on while they learn. Porcello is a quality arm with an above average arsenal he is still learning to use. His strikeout rate will climb, and his WHIP and ERA will come down - it's all a matter of predicting when. His first two starts of 2012 showed a glimpse of what's there. Here's an interesting point to ponder: Porcello arrived in Detroit after less than a full season in the minor leagues (in the Florida State League no less). While he was a bit older when he did it, another Tigers hurler followed that path - one year in the minors, most of it at Lakeland in the Florida State League - his name was Justin Verlander. Recommendation: All you have to do is watch closely to see the talent. I am not predicting Verlander-like performance, but he will likely be a very useful middle of the fantasy rotation starter before too long. I'm buying, and hopefully low.
Tommy Hanson (ATL) - Hanson was awesome when he was pitching regularly, and he looked like he would only get better. Unfortunately, injuries to his back and shoulder have created major concerns regarding his durability. This is a mechanical thing. Hanson has an unorthodox delivery, and he compounded the stress on his shoulder with limited use of his lower body in his throwing motion. The Braves have done some work on that motion, working to build up his legs, and create more drive from his lower body, and they have made his delivery even more compact. It is likely minimizing the stress, but it has also had an impact of his command. His walk rate is up, and his pitch counts are limiting his ability to get deep into games - both are concerns from a fantasy standpoint. Further, his velocity is down considerably as his fastball is averaging only about 89 mph. That suggests his success early this season could be more a by-product of the deceptive, unorthodox delivery than his once overpowering stuff. That would be a huge red flag with regard to his ongoing success. Good stuff usually endures, deception generally does not. Recommendation: The command issues are a bit worrisome, but I am more concerned about the significant dip in velocity. If the new, healthier mechanics can't generate the same velocity, he could find himself fighting an up-hill battle as the deceptive aspects of his motion wear off. The time to sell could be soon. Watch for a jump in velocity in his next outings or jump ship.
Erik Bedard (PIT) - More proof that you can't tell a pitcher from his W-L record. Bedard has now made four 2012 starts and he has a 0-4 record to show for it. That's certainly somewhat disappointing, but the 2.63 ERA suggests it could be better - especially if the Pirates start hitting, even just a little bit. In those four starts, the Pirates have generated a grand total of three runs. Ouch. Perhaps more importantly, he has gone to the mound every five days, and with his injury history, that is a huge plus. If there is any concern, it would be his walk totals and pitch counts. Bedard pitches "backwards" that is he uses his breaking pitches to set up his fastball. You can watch him briefly and have a good idea what to expect in a start. If he is hitting his spots consistently with the curveball, he is probably going to have a strong outing. If that command is spotty, he may produce respectable numbers, but a higher pitch count will bring about an earlier departure. He's been back long enough now to offer some hope that the injuries are behind him, and his free and easy delivery bodes well in that respect. Recommendation: He's unlikely to be the Bedard of his early years - not nearly so dominant. However, the Pirates offense isn't as bad as it has looked, and Bedard's command could sharpen a bit, making him a pretty nice middle of the fantasy rotation arm.
Marco Estrada (MIL) With Chris Narveson now on the disabled list, most of the chatter about his replacement was focused on youngster Wily Peralta. Not so fast. It was Estrada who actually got the first start in Narveson's place, and he posted some very encouraging numbers with only one run allowed and nine punch outs against Colorado. He can legitimately generate close to a strikeout an inning and has the quality stuff to keep the hits down and can consistently throw strikes. His Achilles heel has always been the long ball so he will need to keep that in check. He only went five innings in that first start and will need to be stretched out, but the Brewers are happy he stepped up so they can give Peralta (and their other promising young arms) more time to develop. Recommendation: Estrada has deeper mixed league value if he stays in the rotation - somewhere he should have probably been all along over Narveson who could be facing season-ending shoulder surgery. His value as a swingman could eventually hurt his chances to remain in the rotation, but he is worth an add.
With San Francisco's Brian Wilson out for the season, it looked like Santiago Casilla was going to be the guy, but then Bruce Bochy used everyone in the ninth inning of a game so the ugly "committee" word resurfaced. And, the injury list isn't getting any shorter as the Blue Jays new closer Sergio Santos hit the disabled list this weekend and is on a no-throw program for a couple of weeks. Francisco Cordero is the benefactor, albeit not a very strong one, for saves while he is out. In Washington, Brad Lidge has really been scuffling and Henry Rodriguez almost has to start getting a bigger percentage of the save chances. What a disaster in Boston. The pen blew a 9-0 lead against the Yankees with closer Alfredo Aceves contributing to the amazing melt down. Daniel Bard headed back to the bullpen, at least for today, and could be closing someday? It's anybody's guess. The Mets closer situation could be clouding over with Frank Francisco and his achy knee failing to lock down games. Jon Rauch, assuming they don't believe it's time for another Bobby Parnell audition, would be the lukewarm favorite to take over if his health (and performance) doesn't improve. And, if Francisco's knee becomes a serious problem, there is a dark horse possibility (see Kid Watch below). Perhaps the most reliable closer has been the Orioles Jim Johnson. He is 7-for-7 in save opportunities and has a 0.00 ERA. Those numbers won't last, but he's about as locked in as a closer can be right now.
Checking in on promising young arms is one of my favorite pastimes, so I wanted to add this Kid Watch feature to the Notebook. Word is Jarrod Parker will join the A's to start on Wednesday. Since having Tommy John surgery, he has fallen a bit off the radar, but he remains one of the best young arms in the game. Don't pass him up! The Rangers have been patiently waiting for Martin Perez to take the next step in his development, but he is still very inconsistent with his command and clearly not MLB ready. The worst kept secret in baseball is Trevor Bauer. He has dominated (understatement) Double-A and its getting more difficult for Arizona to delay his MLB debut. He still needs to learn pitching to contact, but he'll be up fairly soon. The Pirates continue to handle him with care, having not allowed him to pitch past the fifth inning in any minor league start, but Jameson Taillon is a future beast. He's unlikely to be up before the end of 2013 at the earliest, but you want him when he arrives. The Royals Jake Odorizzi is at Double-A Northwest Arkansas now, but he might sneak up for a look with the big club later this season. His off speed pitches are improving and he is at the top of Royals prospect food chain. Finally, how about another candidate to close first and start later? The Mets have a viable closer candidate in highly regarded prospect Matt Harvey. He has the stuff to close right now, but his change-up might not be quite ready for the rotation. He should see New York this season, probably as a starter, but you never know.
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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