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Mound Musings: Reaching Into the Mailbag

As an analyst and alleged baseball "expert," I get a lot of questions from friends, family and of course our loyal subscribers. "What's up with Pujols?" was a common one a few weeks ago, but my response there was pretty simple: "It's only a month." Pujols has certainly come around. As this is a pitching article, let's touch on a few pitching questions I've had come my way in recent days.

When will Trevor Bauer get the call?

This has to be the most common one in recent days. We posted a player note on Bauer this week that stated (speculated?) that his callup was imminent, but unless there's an injury to one of the existing five starters that I don't know about, I'm left wondering where Bauer would slot in.

Rotation mainstays: Ian Kennedy and Dan Hudson

Big contract/pitching well: Trevor Cahill

Joe Saunders: Saunders has pitched well out of the four spot, posting a 3.65 ERA while improving his walk and hit rates relative to last year - 5.7 K/9IP and 2.2 BB/9IP. Being a soft-tossing lefty, Saunders can be prone to some bad runs, but he certainly doesn't deserve to lose his spot.

Wade Miley: Miley replaced Josh Collmenter and survived a potential challenge from Patrick Corbin thanks to a 2.72 ERA and 1.19 WHIP. Miley throws a couple mph harder than Saunders, but his inexperience leaves him more vulnerable to a challenge from Bauer. A 7.1-inning, 15-groundball performance Wednesday, though, speaks to his effectiveness.

Bottom line: I don't think the Diamondbacks are moving to a six-man rotation, so I say Bauer stays in Reno for now. He's the first callup should someone get hurt or implode, but there's no room at the inn at the moment.

Fact or Fiction: Francisco Liriano can be relied upon again.

At 0-5 with a 9.45 ERA in his first six starts, Liriano was demoted to the bullpen where he subsequently walked seven hitters in 7.1 innings. That was apparently enough for the Twins to move him back to the rotation, particularly considering the desperate state of said rotation. Liriano appears to return a changed man, putting up these numbers in his last two starts:
12 innings, 7 hits, 1 run, 3 walks, 17 strikeouts

Pretty impressive, right? Yes, but considering those two outings were against the only two AL teams worse offensively than the Twins -- the Royals and A's -- I remain unconvinced. Overall, Liriano has an encouraging 9.2 K/9IP, but he's been wild far too frequently. Now, if he can somehow string together a couple good outings against teams that can actually hit, I might revisit my thinking, but for now, I need to see more.

Is R.A. Dickey a legitimate NL Cy Young contender?

Gio Gonzalez would probably be my choice, but at 8-1 with a 2.69 ERA and 70:17 K:BB in 73.2 innings, Dickey is right there among the best pitchers in the National League. Let's look at his last three years:

K/9 BB/9 ERA xFIP SwStr%
2010 5.4 2.2 2.84 3.75 8.4
2011 5.8 2.3 3.26 3.95 7.8
2012 8.6 2.1 2.69 3.12 11.5

The control is still well above average and xFIP supports the assertion that he's dialed up his performance this year. The swinging strike rate has taken a big jump, as hitters are both chasing more balls out of the zone and missing a higher percentage of them. I haven't seen much of Dickey this year, but the only conclusion I can make based on the data is that he's commanding his knuckler better, leading to more missed bats and overall improved results. It's quite unusual for a pitcher to peak at age 37, but knuckleballers are an odd breed anyway. I don't see any reason other than injury why Dickey can't continue to pitch at a high level this year.

Give me a couple relievers I haven't heard of who could come out of nowhere and have value.

I'll give you five ...

Pedro Strop, BAL - OK, Strop isn't too much of a secret, as he's probably next in line behind Jim Johnson, but I like him to sneak in there and have a run as closer at some point this year. Sure, Johnson has 17 saves and a 1.44 ERA, but he also has just a 5.0 K/9IP, and I'm pretty sure a .175 BABIP is unsustainable. Strop averages 96.8 mph with his fastball, and I am an admitted velocity junkie. If he improves his 4.8 BB/9IP, good things are in store.

Manny Corpas, CHC - He should be a familiar name, but it was news to me that he hasn't retired. Corpas had his contract purchased by the Cubs this week, and though he's far down the pecking order, Corpas has experience and only the likes of James Russell and Shawn Camp to leapfrog.

Nate Jones, CHW - Addison Reed hasn't been lights out, so perhaps Jones gets a shot at some point. He certainly has the numbers this year: 97 mph average fastball, 1.61 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 9.0 K/9IP.

Cory Wade, NYY - You might remember Wade from his solid 2008 season in Los Angeles, but he re-emerged last year with the Yankees to post a 2.04 ERA in 40 appearances. It's been more of the same this year - 2.55 ERA, 28:3 K:BB in 24.2 innings. Should Rafael Soriano go down, Wade appears to be the logical replacement.

Sean Doolittle, OAK - Ryan Cook is the more well-known sleeper in Oakland, but Doolittle is an interesting story. He's a converted first baseman who's now throwing in the mid-90s from the left side. This year in the minors, Doolittle put up strong 48:7 K:BB in just 25 innings. That's not a bad K/9IP - 17.2. He then made his big league debut with 1.1 scoreless innings that include three strikeouts. Fun story at the very least.

Who will be better the rest of this year, Brian Matusz or Homer Bailey?

I found this question to be the most interesting, as while I didn't have an immediate answer that I was comfortable backing up with solid data, my gut reaction was to go with Bailey. He's had some success, and when I'm not sure, I have to go with the NL pitcher over the guy who pitches in the AL East, right? Let's look at these two:

Matusz - Matusz was drafted No. 4 overall in 2008, one spot ahead of Buster Posey. Of course, the Orioles have done just fine finding their own franchise catcher, but that's beside the point. Matusz has had a bumpy start to his career. Still, I see a lot to like here. First and foremost, Matusz has improved the average velocity of his fastball from 88.0 to 91.1 over last year, and that's a big factor in his swinging strike rate improving from 5.6 to 7.8 percent compared to last year. He's also improved his control, from 4.4 BB/9IP to 3.6 while generating ground balls at a 36.9-percent rate versus last year's 27.9 percent. I'd still be scared to use him against teams like the Rangers and Yankees, but I'm always bullish on top-five picks, particularly when they show this sort of improvement.

Bailey - I'm a bit less bullish on Bailey, though I am not ready to write off a 26 year-old with his history as a top prospect. Bailey has struck out slightly fewer batters while walking slightly more this year over last, but the inconsistency is just maddening. Witness his last two starts:

at PIT - Complete game, one run
vs. PIT - 3 innings, 8 hits, 6 runs

Bailey's velocity is up a tick (.5 mph) over last year, which I like, but while I think he can have a long career, I haven't seen any indications that a big leap forward is in the offing.

Bottom line: Matusz has a 3.33 ERA in his last eight starts, so I'd give him a shot on my roster over the inconsistent Bailey.

What current bum are you most bullish about for the rest of the year?

Another great question. To answer this one, we first need to define the term "bum." While it's tempting to say that I looked up the term online and saw a picture of Carl Pavano, let's at least be a bit more scientific. Here we'll define it as any starter who qualifies for the ERA title who has a 5.25 ERA or higher. An arbitrary number indeed, but we have to draw the line somewhere. Before you look at this list, hide the women and children:

Name ERA K/9 BB/9 G/F WHIP
Joe Blanton, PHI 5.27 7.1 1.4 0.87 1.36
Juan Nicasio, COL 5.28 8.4 3.4 0.70 1.62
Ubaldo Jimenez, CLE 5.31 5.3 6.2 0.67 1.69
Gavin Floyd, CHW 5.32 7.9 2.3 0.77 1.29
Ervin Santana, LAA 5.33 6.4 4.1 1.11 1.44
Jake Arrieta, BAL 5.53 7.8 3.0 0.88 1.33
Tommy Hunter, BAL 5.59 4.8 2.2 0.92 1.43
Philip Humber, CHW 5.68 7.9 4.3 0.56 1.42
Hector Noesi, SEA 5.81 5.4 3.1 0.62 1.23
Tim Lincecum, SF 5.83 9.8 4.7 0.77 1.52
Max Scherzer, DET 5.88 11.2 3.4 0.65 1.59
Carl Pavano, MIN 6.00 4.7 1.1 0.76 1.40
Randy Wolf, MIL 6.05 5.2 3.8 0.84 1.70
Clay Buchholz, BOS 6.58 5.6 4.2 1.06 1.73
Luke Hochevar, KC 6.63 7.3 3.3 0.76 1.54
Mike Minor, ATL 6.98 7.9 3.3 0.57 1.47

An interesting list. We have a two-time Cy Young winner in Lincecum, a former No. 1 overall pick (Hochevar), a guy who leads the AL with an 11.2 K/9IP rate (Scherzer) and a guy who has a perfect game on his resume (Humber). We have a whole lot of garbage as well. Let's sort through all this:

Starters to buy low on if you can: Lincecum, Scherzer, Floyd

It doesn't matter what Lincecum's ERA is, he still has a pair of Cy Young trophies, so we can't completely discount him. That said, the velocity is down, the control is erratic and we have to be concerned. ... Scherzer has never had a problem missing bats, but the 5.88 ERA is obviously a disappointment. Still, we can attribute much of that to a .387 BABIP and 16.7% HR/FB rate. Both numbers should trend down and bring his ERA down with it. We also have to like his 11.9-percent swinging strike rate. ... Floyd has also had issues with the home-run ball (1.6 HR/9IP), but he also has the the stuff (still like that curve) to go on a great run. Buy.

Cautiously optimistic: Jimenez, Santana

Having his last start pushed back a couple days seemed to help, as Jimenez held a tough Tigers team to one run over 6.2 solid innings on the road. Perhaps this is a start of a nice run. ... Santana has really been on a slide recently, allowing 16 runs in 14.2 innings over his last three starts. Assuming there's no underlying physical issue, Santana should be good for a turnaround at any point, though for now, he's best left on your bench.

NL/AL-only options: Blanton, Nicasio, Arrieta

Blanton has allowed 24 runs in his last 19.2 innings, so if you're like me, you're not using him in any format now. Still, the peripherals have been good (21:4 K:BB in that timeframe), so he should be OK. ... Nicasio is on the DL with a knee injury, but that may ultimately be a good thing for his fantasy owners, as he's been scuffling lately. ... Arrietta has been awful lately as well, though with a 59.5-percent strand rate, he's due for a correction.

Stay away: Hunter, Minor, Hochevar, Pavano, Noesi, Wolf, Hunter

It's pretty tempting to say "nothing to see here, move on," but is that truly the case? Yeah, unfortunately it sort of is, though I do think Minor will be a solid NL-only starter as his career progresses.


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

Follow @vtadave on Twitter.