The questions in the comments section are flowing hot and heavy, and that's a very good thing. That's the whole idea behind this forum-style column. Given that, I will try to highlight pitchers who are frequently asked about. If your pitcher is killing your WHIP and ERA, is there something to hold onto, hoping that it's about to get better? Or, if you found yourself owning one of the pleasant surprises of the early weeks of 2012, will it last, or should you cash in your chips and collect the profit before the market collapses? That's what we're all about here - this forum is the place to discuss the mound trends across baseball. Always remember, knowing what a guy has done is not nearly as useful as knowing what he is likely to do going forward. So, let's get started with this week's edition by taking a look at a few recent performances; some good, and some bad:
Some Arms Who Have Made Us Take Notice:
Chris Capuano (LAD) - He was very near the top of my list when I announced my $1 pitching staff just before the season began, and he certainly has not disappointed so far. It appears he is getting more comfortable after so many injuries prior to last year. His walk rate is down somewhat, and he is keeping the ball in the park - something he struggled with in 2011. Dodger Stadium helps, and I will also mention here that I am a believer in synergy with pitching staffs. That is, pitching in a good environment helps all of the pitchers involved. Being on a staff with Clayton Kershaw, and in an organization which focuses on quality pitching can make all of the pitchers a bit better. Being fair and balanced, Capuano has probably benefitted from a pretty soft schedule as many of the teams he has faced so far have been struggling at the plate, but he has a solid strikeout rate and quality stuff so he is a good candidate, if he stays healthy, to post respectable numbers all season. Recommendation: Because I am not 100% convinced his lower home run rate will endure long term (he still gets too much of the plate at times), and higher pitch counts sometimes mean shorter outings, he remains best suited to matchup starts against weaker teams, and in favorable ballparks like Chavez Ravine. However, in deeper mixed leagues he deserves a regular turn.
Dan Bard (BOS) - He's a starter, he's a reliever, he's a starter again? That's how it went early in the season, and to be honest, it may go that way again very soon. The bottom line is, Bard is a two-pitch pitcher with spotty command and a very live arm who has been asked (although he is 100% in favor of the opportunity) to take that late inning reliever profile into the starting rotation. As a result, he has posted subpar numbers, especially with regard to his walk rate and strikeout totals. For a long time, Bard was seen as the future closer for the Red Sox, but they named him as a rotation regular prior to this season, and that's where he's been pretty much since opening day. In seven starts, he has walked four or more hitters four times, and because he has been forced to back down the lively fastball, and mix in more of his inconsistent secondary pitches, his strikeout rate is at a low point compared to his pre-2012 rate. In essence, they have taken a relatively reliable, quality reliever, and transformed him into a mediocre, at best right now, five inning starting pitcher. Recommendation: The Red Sox are beginning to acknowledge his limitations, and while the acquisition of Andrew Bailey probably takes him out of the closer mix long term, Bard may move back to the bullpen, perhaps even closing until Bailey is ready to come off the disabled list since his rotation replacement could be their current closer, Alfredo Aceves. Regardless, at this point he has limited value for a fantasy team.
Carlos Zambrano (MIA) - There is good news and bad news on the Big Z front. He has a sparkling 1.96 ERA - that's the good part - but he has also walked 22 hitters in 55 innings, and general lack of consistent control has kept him from pitching as deep into games as you would like. With just 41 strikeouts, his stuff is not really what it was earlier in his career. Perhaps best of all, he has generally maintained a more mature mound demeanor when his stuff hasn't been there. That can't be overestimated in relative importance. Zambrano needed a change of scenery, and like many pitchers have done when leaving the Cubs organization, his overall performance has improved. However, there are signs that a regression is in order. If he doesn't throw more strikes, especially early in counts, his slightly diminished stuff may not keep him out of trouble, even in the very pitcher-friendly new ballpark in South Florida. Recommendation: While it's good to see him staying on an even keel while on the mound, the high pitch counts and general lack of command probably make him an excellent "sell high" candidate. Many fantasy owners bought into him in the past, sure he would be a top tier starting pitcher. Seek them out and see if they still believe.
Justin Masterson (CLE) - Many fantasy owners felt like 2011 was a breakout year for Masterson, but early returns in 2012 suggest last season may have been a bit of an outlier for the Indians' innings eater. He has always had a major vulnerability, and it has been exposed again this year, so his 2012 numbers are more comparable to seasons prior to the last one with a poor WHIP (1.50) and a poor ERA (5.04) - nearly identical to his 2010 stats. In fact, while he has been a little less hittable this year, his walk rate is considerably higher (he walked only 65 in 216 innings in 2011 and has already walked 29 in just 55 innings this season) so things could actually deteriorate further. Masterson does not have a reliable out pitch to use against left-handers (they are hitting a robust .308 against him this year) so he very often struggles against lineups filled with quality lefty swingers. In major league baseball, that is most lineups on any given night. He has not had so many problems throwing strikes in the past, so the walk rate could improve, but it could also be a symptom of trying to stay away from throwing hittable pitches, so there is a potential trade-off to consider when assessing his performance this year. Either option makes him a risky play, so it's not something that is likely to help him a great deal going forward. Recommendation: Masterson is a veteran now, so he is unlikely to display a significant change in overall tendencies. If he can refine his secondary pitches or somehow develop an out pitch to use in critical situations against lefties, his high groundball rate could play very well, but those are becoming less and less likely to happen as he gets deeper into his career.
Jason Vargas (SEA) Vargas is one of those interesting pitchers who generally catches my attention, but then sometimes fails to pitch to his abilities. I was able to watch a few innings of his game against Colorado (at Coors Field so no easy assignment), and he again showed some positive tendencies. He threw a lot of fastballs, something he can get away from at times, and those helped him both get ahead in counts, and made his off-speed stuff more effective. He's certainly not overpowering, so good command and keeping hitters off balance will always be a key to his success. If he stays with this formula, and consistently throws strikes early in the count, he can be pretty effective, especially in his friendly home park. He just needs to keep it simple. Recommendation: He isn't going to miss a lot of bats with his average stuff, but he can give your fantasy team quality innings with a decent WHIP and ERA. Obviously Seattle isn't going to get him a load of runs too often, but he should get a few wins. In deeper mixed or AL-only leagues he can be a very useful back of the rotation guy as long as he does just like he did in Colorado - keep it simple.
In what could be a defining moment, the White Sox called on Addison Reed to close a game last Friday in which the first two scheduled hitters were left-handed. He easily converted the save, and it just may be his ticket to regular closing duties. In a similarly interesting development that night, the Angels used Scott Downs in the eighth inning of a developing save situation, while Ernesto Frieri was warming for the ninth. They scored three runs in the inning to eliminate a save chance, and manager Mike Sciosia said after the game Downs is still the closer, and it was "just a matchup thing" but it's very possible that Frieri is getting closer to regular end-game action. Sean Marshall struggled Saturday, and the Reds hinted it might be time to try Aroldis Chapman. He actually closed out Sunday's win, and is a good bet to be the guy for the rest of this season. In the nation's capitol, Henry Rodriguez has had a serious problem finding the strike zone (and the catcher's glove) lately, and the Nationals could very well consider a committee if he doesn't get it together soon. The Mets' Frank Francisco appears to be holding onto the closer's gig in New York, albeit by a thread. Keep an eye on this one.
Checking in on promising young arms is one of my favorite pastimes, so be sure to check this Kid Watch feature of the Notebook to keep tabs on kids on their way up. One of the most asked about pitchers is the Orioles Dylan Bundy. His numbers so far this year have been almost unbelievable, and he is a VERY good prospect. However, be warned, those numbers can be misleading. Right now Bundy is way too advanced for the competition he is facing. Think of it as watching Justin Verlander pitch against your local junior college team. It's good for Bundy's confidence, and it is an opportunity to work on things, but he needs to see tougher competition soon, and it's likely they will move him up before too long. Similarly, Arizona's Trevor Bauer was dismantling Double-A hitters, and the D'Backs just moved him up to Triple-A Reno. In reality, the Double-A competition might have been a bit better, but he is now pitching in a much more hitter-friendly environment, something he will be faced with when he arrives in Arizona. His time is coming, and this move suggests it may be coming sooner rather than later. I still think there is a decent chance the Mets bring Matt Harvey up in the next few weeks, especially with their depleted rotation. Colorado's Drew Pomeranz is at Triple-A, doing well, and refining his skills but it sounds like the Rockies prefer he stay there awhile. Keep him on the radar.
Again, is there 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 will respond to any comments or questions as soon as possible. Thanks!
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