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Bogfella's Notebook: Is Liriano's Resurgence For Real?

Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson

For more than 25 years, pitching guru Brad "Bogfella" Johnson has provided insightful evaluation and analysis of pitchers to a wide variety of fantasy baseball websites, webcasts and radio broadcasts. He joined RotoWire in 2011 with his popular Bogfella's Notebook.


Draft days are behind us, and the next big event, the Future's Game, is right around the corner, but there are plenty of arms to examine and discuss in the major leagues right now. Further, the season has progressed far enough along that we may begin to see some of the very skilled, highly anticipated young pitchers getting a call. Trevor Bauer heads that list, but names like Jake Odorizzi, Matt Harvey, and Danny Hultzen are starting to pop up in the rumor mills too. The Notebook forum is now open for business for this week. 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:

Francisco Liriano (MIN) - Here's another popular name to ponder. Liriano was awful early this season, and even spent some time in the bullpen, but he's back in the rotation now so fantasy owners are trying decide whether we will see the good Francisco or the bad Francisco going forward. His start against Kansas City last week was certainly encouraging - he tossed six innings of one-run ball coming off six shutout innings against Oakland in his first start since returning from the pen. He also notched 17 strikeouts in those 12 innings. It was definitely a step in the right direction, but I will qualify that by saying it was two weaker hitting teams, one of which is extremely free swinging (the Royals), and in watching that game, it was painfully obvious that he still wasn't commanding the fastball, and of course he then followed those two up with another bad Liriano outing against the Cubs. Fastball command is imperative for him to be successful. He needs his slider to be a weapon, albeit one he doesn't want to use too often, and he needs the change-up to work. More patient, better-hitting teams will wait him out if he can't get ahead in counts, and can't consistently spot the fastball in good locations.

Recommendation: I'm not convinced he can lock in and be reliable each time he takes the hill. He's an outstanding pitcher when he's on, but we've all seen how far down he can go when he's out of synch. The slider is still his primary weapon, but he can't overuse it due to injury concerns, so he really needs that fastball command, and it is never a sure thing.

R.A. Dickey (NYM) - Knuckleball pitchers are among the most difficult to evaluate, basically because they don't follow the normal rules. Good velocity can be a bad thing, command means the ball ends up around the plate, but not necessarily someplace that can be accurately predicted, and the hitter usually knows what's coming even without the pitcher tipping the pitch. Regarding Dickey, he has been pretty successful this year, and he can probably be considered a nice option for fantasy teams going forward. Dickey is not a typical knuckleball hurler - he throws the pitch harder than most, and he has a fastball that is good enough to be an "off-speed" pitch of sorts. With the added velocity, the knuckler doesn't break as much as most, but he does have a bit better command of it which makes him a little less erratic from start to start. One other note, Dickey doesn't like to pitch in the rain, so keep that in mind when setting your lineups. Otherwise, consider him a fairly solid back of your rotation option who can give you innings, the occasional standout performance, and a few strikeouts.

Recommendation: It's always nice to have a couple of pitchers who usually get deep into games and provide respectable, if not spectacular numbers. Because knuckleball pitchers are so rare, most hitters don't see them enough to get really comfortable, and that's a huge advantage. Consider him a potentially solid contributor.

Kris Medlen (ATL) - If you are looking for someone who might offer pretty high upside while flying a bit under the radar, Medlen might be your guy. He was just sent down to Triple-A Gwinnett about a week ago, but he's not there to work through problems, he's there to stretch out for a likely move to the rotation in the near future. Atlanta has not gotten the production they were hoping for from Randall Delgado or Julio Teheran, so they are looking for someone reliable they can give the ball to every five days. Medlen fits. He has a live arm, and a deep enough arsenal to be successful as a starter - maybe you remember his solid contribution in 2010 before undergoing Tommy John surgery? He throws strikes, and can miss enough bats to generate a pretty decent strikeout rate, both very positive attributes when you are looking for a plug and play starting pitcher this deep into a season. And, here's another potential bonus for some leagues, he should qualify as both a starter and reliever.

Recommendation: He has made a couple of starts at Gwinnett, and he will probably need a couple more as he builds up stamina. The Braves will probably want him to be comfortable throwing 90-100 pitches before bringing him back up. He's not likely to give you top of the rotation numbers, but he could be a solid guy at the back, the kind of pitcher that can make a nice difference. The biggest concern may be innings, as Atlanta probably won't want to overuse him in his first year back from surgery.

Jeremy Hellickson (TB) - I keep looking for things to like about him, but while I don't see a lot of serious problems, I continue to see him as a pitcher who is outperforming his current abilities. His walk rate is a bit too high, his pitch counts frequently get out of hand, shortening outings, his strikeout rate is a little soft, and yet he boasts a 4-2 record with a 2.65 ERA. In his last start against Miami, he walked a career-high seven and ran up a pitch count of 108 without making it out of the fifth inning. The net result was one earned run. While that was probably an exaggerated example of his command issues, it does illustrate a pretty disturbing pattern. Further, if you combine the number of base runners with a rather high HR:FB rate, it may be only a matter of time before the roof caves in.

Recommendation: I'm going to say the charmed life won't last which makes him a solid sell-high candidate. He is still young, and there is still upside there, however there is a good chance he is overvalued in many leagues. He profiles as a middle of the rotation arm on the high side, and his current numbers may inflate his price tag enough to realize good value if you can deal him.

Trevor Bauer (ARZ) - While he still technically belongs in the Kid Watch notes, the highly anticipated debut of Bauer with the Diamondbacks is probably not far away, so it's an appropriate time to discuss expectations. Bauer was the third pick overall in the 2011 draft, and was generally considered to be the most major league ready. He has walked through Double-A and Triple-A to reinforce that belief. He has all the tools to be sure - a mid 90's fastball with movement, a devastating curve, a plus slider, and a solid change-up. His only real weakness is sometimes inconsistent command. It should be noted, he isn't your everyday pitching prospect, with a very unusual workout routine, and a motion compared to that of Tim Lincecum (which Arizona agreed not to alter before he signed). Lincecum did have a bit better command when he came up with the Giants, but Bauer has similar ace potential, and could make a significant impact from day one. He should get plenty of strikeouts with a very good ERA and WHIP so jump in.

Recommendation: Admittedly, I don't have him in quite the same prospect tier as Stephen Strasburg or Matt Moore, but he is just one notch below which makes him a very appealing target for fantasy owners. He has the stuff to make a splash right away so he's a good grab for this year, and he'll only get better in keeper/dynasty formats.

Endgame Odyssey:

An injured closer returns - Huston Street is back with the Padres making Dale Thayer little more than a consideration should Street get dealt, but there are others making their way back as well. Santiago Casilla is back in the role after recovering from a minor knee injury in San Francisco. The Jays' Sergio Santos experienced some discomfort in his rehab over the weekend which is never a good sign. The Yankees Rafael Soriano will handle the ninth inning for the foreseeable future with David Robertson being his primary set-up man when he comes back, a role Robertson has excelled in and seems more comfortable with. Brad Lidge is back with the Nationals, and Henry Rodriguez is now on the disabled list, but it's not likely to impact closing duties, at least not for awhile. The Nats say Tyler Clippard will remain first call until Drew Storen makes it back in early July. In Tampa Bay, Kyle Farnsworth is progressing in his rehab, but with the surprising season of Fernando Rodney, it's likely he will come back, when he is ready, in a set-up role. The A's are back in flux, with the struggles of Brian Fuentes, so they have opted for a committee approach. Ryan Cook has earned a chance, and is likely to get a sizable portion of the save opportunities, although I still think Brad Peacock might still be a part of this picture at some point. The Mariners hinted that Brandon League could be closing again soon - they want top value in a deal.

Kid Watch:

Let's start this Watch with a name that you probably won't see the majors for a few years - Taylor Guerrieri. He was drafted by Tampa Bay last year, and should be headed to short season ball this month. There has been much speculation about his "makeup/maturity" but no one doubts his abilities. He is probably an excellent flier for dynasty leaguers. The top pitcher in this year's amateur draft is a good one to nab as well. Kevin Gausman, assuming he signs with Baltimore, should make a fairly quick trip to the big leagues. Some arms I think could see the bright lights before too long would include the Mets' Matt Harvey, the Royals' Jake Odorizzi, and perhaps even better, the Mariners could want to have a look at both Danny Hultzen and James Paxton, although Paxton is currently out with a knee injury. Hultzen is at the top of this group, especially long term, but all of them have the ability to fare reasonably well once they arrive. And, keep an eye on Boston's Anthony Ranaudo, who is currently with Double-A Portland. His command has been shaky as he got off to a late start this year due to an injury, but I really like his stuff, and have him ranked a bit higher than many analysts. If he gets it all in synch, he could get a look in September. Finally, look for Liam Hendriks to resurface in Minnesota next weekend. He has gotten it back together in Triple-A, and is worth a flier when he returns.

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!

For up to the minute updates on all things pitching, be sure to follow @bogfella on Twitter! Get your pitching questions answered, and my take on all the mound related happenings!