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The Wheelhouse: 30 Teams, 30 Thoughts

Derek VanRiper

Derek VanRiper

Derek is the Senior Baseball Editor for RotoWire.com, where he's been a two-time finalist for the FSWA's Baseball Writer of the Year award, and winner of the Best Football Article on the Web (2009) and Best Baseball Article on the Web (2010) awards. Derek also co-hosts RotoWire Fantasy Sports Today on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio (XM 87, Sirius 210) from 11a-2p ET on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.

The Dodgers have the best record in baseball at 40-24. In June, they have a .232/.322/.328 line as a team. By comparison, the Padres have a .260/.330/.414 line during that span. I will take the side that paying Andre Ethier $85 million over the next five seasons won't ruin the roster in the long run because money does not matter under the new ownership group thanks to the windfall the franchise will be receiving from the TV rights. There will probably be a day in the not-so-distant future where fantasy owners get a discount on Ethier because his real-life contract looks bad on paper.

Plenty of attention is given to Stephen Strasburg's potential innings cap, but without writing a thesis about why innings pitched probably don't matter as much as pitches thrown, check out the Nats' rotation in the P/IP category this season:

Gio Gonzalez, 16.2 (career 17.2)
Stephen Strasburg, 15.9 (career 15.5)
Jordan Zimmermann, 14.7 (career 15.9)
Edwin Jackson, 13.8 (career 16.6)

All four starters are outisde of the top-40 in that category, while Jackson is the lowest in MLB among qualified starters. Given the control issues that Gonzalez and Jackson have had at various points throughout their respective careers, it might be time to give pitching coach Steve McCatty and the Nats' catchers some love here.

The Rangers called up Leonys Martin on Friday afternoon. It will be very interesting to see if he's up for good after hitting .344/.414/.547 with five homers, 22 RBI and seven steals at Triple-A Round Rock. Interestingly enough, Martin was also caught stealing seven times and may have a difficult time earning the green light in Texas as his 19-for-30 mark between three levels last season is a concern.

Even with a blow-up against the Angels on May 28, Phil Hughes has a 3.50 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and 40:11 K:BB over his last seven starts entering Friday (46.1 innings). He may just be one of those pitchers who gives up his share of home runs, however, as he's yielded eight more during that span and at least one in each of his 12 starts this season.

Jason Hammel missed a start in early May with a knee soreness that eventually led to a procedure to drain it. Since being skipped May 9, Hammel has a 31:16 K:BB over 34 innings in his last six starts (4.50 ERA, 1.59 WHIP). In his first six starts of the season, he had a 38:11 K:BB in 38.2 innings (2.09 ERA, 0.98 WHIP).

Maybe, just maybe, three homers in three days will be enough for Brandon Belt to permanently send Brett Pill to the bench.

R.A. Dickey is on pace to return more value than any other starting pitcher in standard 5 x 5 leagues this season. Matt Cain is a close second, while Lance Lynn rounds out the top three.

The $10 FAAB I spent on Fernando Rodney this season may be the best $10 I've ever spent.

Last week, it was concern about Brandon Belt's power that filled this space. This week, it's your turn, Chris Heisey. With Drew Stubbs on the DL, playing time has not been an issue. Unfortunately, Heisey has just one homer in 167 at-bats along with a 7:39 BB:K over 53 games.

Garrett Richards' strikeout rate tumbled after he made the leap to Double-A last season. He's likely headed back to the Triple-A rotation when Jered Weaver is ready to return, but long term there's plenty to get excited about as he's picked up the strikeout rate (7.70 K/9IP) at Salt Lake City. The control is still a work in progress.

No, I did not have Mike Minor active for his 7.1-inning, one-run, five-hit performance against the Yankees on Tuesday night. While active this season for my Staff Keeper League squad (18-team mixed), he's done some serious damage with a 6.98 ERA and 1.47 WHIP around a pair of wins and 51 strikeouts. #pain

Although Gordon Beckham's contact rate (82 percent) is the highest it has been since 2009, his walk rate continues to go through a three-year decline (five percent) and has not significantly improved during his May 1 – present binge. He's hitting .262 with eight homers and 25 RBI over the last 41 games, but his .300 OBP remains a concern. Fortunately for Beckham, the White Sox don't have many options to push him for playing time even if he cools off again.

As noted above, Lance Lynn is killing it this season and 23 strikeouts over his last two starts have likely put his value at an all-time high. Health-wise, the workload is not a huge a concern after he reached 164 innings at Memphis in 2010, but he's on the list of pitchers I am concerned about in terms of effectiveness in August and September as he tossed just 109.2 innings between Triple-A and the big leagues last season after working mostly out of the St. Louis bullpen.

Is the risk of waiting another year to sign worth the potential reward for Mark Appel? Turning down $2.9 million is a big deal, but consider the long-term ramifications beyond injury. Most specifically, with Pittsburgh he would cruise through the minor league system as fast as anywhere else and subsequently start his arbitration clock sooner.

Anibal Sanchez continues to be one of the most underrated pitchers in baseball. Although his strikeout rate has slipped from last season's 9.26 K/9IP to 8.39, he's improved his walk rate for the third consecutive season (2.38 BB/9IP) and is getting groundballs at a career-high 50.2% rate.

The Indians clearly were not convinced that Matt LaPorta's body of work at Triple-A Columbus (.307/.399/.608, 14 HR in 166 at-bats) was the sign of things to come in the big leagues. After being called up June 3, LaPorta went just 2-for-11 and appeared in three games before getting sent back down Wednesday. Meanwhile, Casey Kotchman is slashing .213/.286/.311 for the Tribe.

It was an ugly beginning for Daisuke Matsuzaka on Friday against the Cubs, but somehow he salvaged the outing to contribute a 4.50 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and three strikeouts over a six-inning losing effort. Red light or green light for his next scheduled start Thursday at home against the Marlins?

Playing in an AL-only league with seven bench spots is tough when there is no other means for holding a player on the DL. Brandon Morrow's oblique injury led to DL-player No. 6 on my roster. Likely replacement Jesse Chavez has a 65:15 K:BB in 70.1 innings at Triple-A Las Vegas while making a very successful transition from relief work to starting. Surely, we have all gambled on players with less upside at some point.

The Diamondbacks still look like the most dangerous team in the National League West. Entering play Friday night, they're 8.5 games back of the Dodgers, but they have the pieces to make trades at the deadline, plenty of arms available to contribute in the rotation if needed, and they still haven't received much from Justin Upton, Chris Young (post shoulder injury) or Miguel Montero.

If Jim Leyland were Joe Maddon, how much less playing time would Delmon Young (.263/.298/.394) receive?

Sean Doolittle is not a part of the A's closer committee, but his move to the mound and fast rise to the Oakland bullpen is a great story. Here's a nice piece on Doolittle from Joe Stiglich of the San Jose Mercury News.

Fewer strikeouts and fewer walks have been the course for Wandy Rodriguez this season. Still, he's on track for an xFIP below 4.00 for the fifth straight season and rarely misses starts. There has to be a market for him between now and July 31 and the new regime in Houston will almost certainly find a taker.

Maybe Rickie Weeks is this year's version of Dan Uggla? Through 59 games last season, Uggla was hitting .174/.247/.317 with seven homers and 16 RBI. Weeks' first 59 games this season: .164/.302/.286 with five homers and 16 RBI. If Weeks is going to turn things around, he has to improve his career-low 65 percent contact rate (career 73 percent). You may recall that Uggla hit .267/.349/.531 with 29 homers and 66 RBI over his final 102 games last season.

Count me among those surprised by Jeff Francoeur's 20-homer, 22-steal campaign from a season ago. The price tag wasn't even high on draft day, but that didn't peak my interest. In theory, he still owns those skills, but Francoeur has been pounding the ball into the ground at a career-high 45.2% rate and the results this season (.274/.313/.417 five homers, one steal) are right in line with his career numbers (.271/.313/.432). Meanwhile, Wil Myers' guitar gently weeps in Omaha.

Since going on the road for a series against the Yankees that started May 11, Justin Smoak has slashed .276/.344/.474 with seven homers and 19 RBI (12:28 BB:K, 116 at-bats) over the last 30 games. For a full-season pace, that translates to 38 homers and 103 RBI (65:152 BB:K) over 162 games.

Under what league conditions do you trust Francisco Liriano? 14-team mixed? 18-team mixed? 10-team AL-only? He's carried a 23:6 K:BB over 17.2 innings in his last three starts (OAK, @KC, CHC) and has a career 41:15 K:BB over 34.2 innings against the Brewers (his Friday night opponent). It's interesting to see that his velocity has crept up a bit during those outings as well. Even if he's figured things out on the mound, over/under 100 innings from him the rest of the season?

If you need another reason to fear using your pitchers at Coors Field, consider that the Rockies have the best line in baseball at home this season (.289/.358/.507). Their team OPS at home is 49 points higher than the Cards at Busch and 53 points higher than the Rangers at Arlington.

Who closes for the Padres if Huston Street gets traded (or hurt again)? Dale Thayer gave up 11 runs over eight appearances (5:3 K:BB) after recording his last save May 19. My money is currently on Luke Gregerson, but long term Brad Boxberger and Brad Brach profile as potential options. If the Padres had more healthy arms at their disposal in the rotation, Anthony Bass might be a candidate for a role change as well.

I still like Luis Valbuena. He's not a potential star, but a player with at least some potential for offensive value given that he's eligible at shortstop by default and could see significant time at third base for the Cubs while Ian Stewart is on the disabled list with a wrist injury. The success he had at Triple-A Iowa this season isn't simply the byproduct of being in the Pacific Coast League, as his career numbers include a .304/.385/.476 line over 1,183 plate appearances at Triple-A as a member of the Mariners, Indians, Blue Jays and Cubs organizations.

Follow me on Twitter @DerekVanRiper.