Welcome back to the Notebook, where I will try to highlight pitchers who are frequently asked about by you, the readers. 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:
Phil Hughes (NYA) - Very little is as frustrating as a pitcher who consistently gets ahead in the count, and then fails to finish off the hitter. Hughes is the poster child for that anomaly. I watched him again Monday night against the Angels. His teammates gave him a 3-0 lead, and he promptly allowed four runs even though he was almost always ahead in the counts. His pitch sequencing wasn't effective, primarily because he had no confidence in his off-speed pitches and the hitters sat on his fastball, especially after he had two strikes. When he threw a change-up, it was often up in the zone, and it even appeared he might have been tipping them to the hitters. He threw some nice curves, but he used the pitch sparingly until later in the game, and almost never late in counts. Basically, early on, he threw fastballs, and he was in the middle of the plate far too often with his 91-94 mph fastball that doesn't have near enough jump to overpower batters. He is going to have to show he can throw his secondary pitches effectively, or he'll struggle often.
Recommendation: He's still young (just 25) and the Yankees are committed to letting him learn the finer points of starting, but it's time to show progress. He has an adequate fastball, his curve would be effective if hitters felt they needed to respect it, but without a better change-up, he will be vulnerable. I would be inclined to take a chance on him, but be ready for a rollercoaster ride.
Brian Matusz (BAL) - In 2010 Matusz was one the pitchers I was extremely high on. He was showing tremendous potential and things looked good for him to become the ace of the Orioles staff. Then 2011 rolled around, injuries sapped his strength, and worse, his delivery ended up way out of synch. It was one of the worst seasons I can remember for such a talented arm. Now we are into 2012 and its time to see where Matusz is in his attempt to regain the magic. I watched part of his start against the Royals (and have watched parts of a couple of others) and I would have to say he is getting it back. It's not quite there yet, but it's coming. His velocity is back - he is consistently sitting 91-93 with his fastball, and his breaking pitches have good bite. Overall, my biggest concern was his change-up. The differential was there, but it looked to me as if he was tipping it. A little note for when you are watching a game - if you see hitters move their hands back on a change-up (rather than swinging from the set position) it usually means they have read the pitch, and are adjusting to the speed. I was curious, so I checked his splits and found that right-handers are hitting him hard, not too surprising when his primary off-speed pitch isn't fooling them.
Recommendation: He will likely have his bad days as he continues to get everything back in synch. He should handle lefties just fine, but he could struggle when opposing team's load the lineup with right-handed hitters to neutralize all but his fastball. I think he will be back, just not yet.
Ryan Vogelsong (SF) - When Vogelsong first returned from Japan prior to last year, nobody paid much attention. In fact, he bounced around a bit before ending up with the Giants. Then he got off to an incredible start, and the question has been asked again, and again - is he for real? I check in on him every now and then just too see, and each time the answer is a qualified yes. Somewhere between leaving MLB and returning, he learned how to pitch. Today, his game is about changing speeds, moving the ball in and out, and generally keeping the hitter off balance, and he's pretty good at it. He walks a few more than I would like, and that stat is up a bit this year, but he missed the first couple of weeks of the season with back spasms so he could still be shaking off rust. He's not a big strikeout pitcher, but he keeps the ball in the park (his home field helps with that to be sure), and he does a good job of minimizing the damage when he does find himself in trouble.
Recommendation: He's not going to be your ace (or the Giants' ace), but he typically keeps his team in games, and avoids the disaster starts that can be devastating to a fantasy team. He's now a "smart" pitcher, and that is just what he needs to be in order to have continued success.
Brandon Beachy (ATL) - Not many undrafted pitchers make it to the top of the game, but that's what Beachy is attempting to do. So how does a pitcher with his apparent ability go undrafted? He was primarily a position player in college, only pitching in relief occasionally. He has a solid, albeit sometimes a bit straight, fastball that sits 91-93 on most nights, and he has average breaking pitches that he doesn't command all that well. So far it sounds like a late draft choice at best. However, he has one of the best change-ups in the game right now. And that has him making it all look easy. I have consistently said I don't think he can keep up the incredible level of performance he is displaying. Good as that change-up is, and it certainly makes his fastball that much better, he is still pretty much a two-pitch pitcher. There have been some warning signs. His strikeout rate is down some, and his walk rate is a bit higher. Major league hitters are beginning to adjust, and while they have to respect the change-up he will throw on any count and in any situation, they can time the fastball if they are patient at the plate. To build on what he has accomplished, he will probably need to refine the breaking pitches, and get them into the hitter's consideration set.
Recommendation: A change-up that good will keep him from dropping too far off the grid so he'll remain a solid starting pitcher going forward. However, there is likely to be some regression so his value may be at its peak right now. If you drafted him as a #4 or #5 in your rotation, you are getting good value, but if another owner wants to pay #2 or #3 value for him, I'd jump.
Dan Haren (LAA) I took the opportunity to have a look at Haren last Thursday in Seattle, and so how does a 14-strikeout, complete-game shutout still leave one a little bit concerned? His velocity is still down somewhat from previous seasons, and his pitches often lack the sharp movement that has always been a trademark. Seattle is not a strong hitting team to say the least, and he benefited greatly from a generous vertical strike zone in this game, getting a lot of borderline calls, especially down. That is a huge variable given his generally reduced movement as he is more hittable if forced to get the ball up. He still stays around the plate so walks are not too problematic, and he has the veteran savvy to adjust as needed, but he is just not quite the same as he was.
Recommendation: Haren is not the pitcher he was, at least not so far this season. Not overpowering, he must rely on location and movement to be successful. The location is pretty much still there, but the movement has lost something, and if he has to throw strikes rather than relying on hitters chasing balls slightly out of the zone, he could struggle at times.
The White Sox finally discovered what everyone in baseball has known since spring training - Addison Reed is their best option at closer. Look for him to keep the job long term. I have to wonder how long it will be before the Angels come to the same realization about Ernesto Frieri? It's close to happening, and maybe it has happened, albeit not publicly as yet. Maybe a better question is what the future holds for Jordan Walden? If I am the GM of another team, I am on the phone testing the Angels resolve to see how serious they are about keeping him out of high leverage situations. Henry Rodriquez was apparently too wild to keep the gig in Washington, so enter Tyler Clippard, and on some days, Sean Burnett as co-closers. Not many teams have avoided the end game shuffle, and another one fell into step over the weekend as the Mariners removed Brandon League from the role. Look for Tom Wilhelmsen to get the first crack at filling in although others may get a look as well when the situation dictates it (perhaps Steve Delabar against lefties). With Chance Ruffin struggling at Tacoma they lack any really standout choices right now so this could be a very fluid situation. Miami's Heath Bell was removed from save situations on back-to-back days after failing to take charge. Although he converted one Monday, he could be taking another sabbatical if he doesn't settle in soon, which would mean opportunities for Steve Cishek. And, the Cubs have removed Rafael Dolis from the closer mix. Shawn Camp and James Russell will share the duties for now, but Carlos Marmol is closer to regaining the job if he can get healthy, and shows anything even resembling reliability.
Checking in on a promising young arm 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. The Twins' Liam Hendriks struggled earlier in Minnesota, but he keeps piling up quality innings at Rochester. He should be back soon, and remains an intriguing option. The Yankees top pitching prospect, Manny Banuelos, has been shut down indefinitely with left elbow soreness. The good news is an MRI showed no structural damage, but they will understandably proceed with caution. Seattle's promising southpaw, James Paxton, left his last start with a knee injury. Hopefully it's nothing serious as he would be a likely candidate to get a look with the big club later this season. It might move Danny Hultzen up a bit on the timeline. The Dodgers Nathan Eovaldi has pitched very well at Double-A Chattanooga, and he will start this week in place of the injured Ted Lilly. He's throwing strikes this year, and if that carries over to Los Angeles, he's intriguing.
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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