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Mound Musings: Good Surprises, Bad Surprises

David Regan

David Regan

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

Hope you all had a Happy 4th of July. As most teams have now played 80-82 games, we're right at the season's midpoint. That's the perfect time to check in on pitchers who have surprised, and those who have disappointed. We'll avoid pitchers who have disappointed due to injury (Roy Halladay) and also will take a peek forward at each player's prospects for the second half.

GOOD SURPRISES

R.A. Dickey, NYM -
This one is obvious. At RotoWire, we projected Dickey for 11 wins and a 3.45 ERA. He's already 12-1, and his 2.15 ERA ranks third in the NL behind injured pitchers Brandon Beachy and Ryan Dempster. His 116 strikeouts are just six fewer than that of Stephen Strasburg, so he's a relatively easy choice for NL Cy Young honors. The cause for his success is clearly his ability to tame the knuckleball and frustrate hitters. Dickey's 12.5 SwStr% ranks second in baseball, just a tick behind Cole Hamels' 12.6 percent. Hs 52.7 GB% is well above average, and he's only walking 5.8 percent of batters faced. He has the confidence in his knuckleball, and though he only throws his 82-85 mph fastball 13 percent of the time, I'm guessing it seems much faster after seeing a mid-70s knuckleball. It's hard to see Dickey finishing 24-2 with an ERA in the low 2.00s, but there's also nothing to suggest that he's about to fall off the cliff either.

Jason Hammel, BAL -
It was difficult to foresee any success for Hammel once he moved to the AL East this offseason, but he already has three more strikeouts than last year in 70-plus fewer innings. He has allowed 12 runs in his last 10 innings coming off allowing zero in his previous 17 frames (two starts), so the consistency is predictably lacking. Hammel, though, has an 8.8 K/9IP and 3.1 BB/9IP while increasing his GB% nearly 10 points over last year to 53.6 percent, and he's improved his velocity across the board, resulting in more swings and misses. I tend to think the improvement is real, but there still will be bumps along the way. Conservatively, expect an ERA in the 4.25 range the rest of the way.

Chris Capuano, LAD -
All Capuano has done for the Dodgers is lead the team in wins (nine) and ERA (2.62) while ranking second in strikeouts with 95. Is he really this good, though? In 2005 and 2006, Capuano showed good promise (4.01 ERA in 69 starts) for the Brewers, before injuries basically wiped out three full seasons. He resurfaced last year with the Mets to win 11 games with a 4.55 ERA, 8.1 K/9IP and 2.6 BB/9IP. It's been more of the same this year, though his ERA is probably not where it should be given a 3.83 xFIP. His consistency, though, gives optimism that he can maintain an ERA near 3.00 the rest of the way. Capuano has yet to allow more than four runs in a start this year and is working on a string of four consecutive quality starts.

James McDonald, PIT -
McDonald has clearly learned from his 31 uneven starts for the Pirates last year, recording a 2.45 ERA, 7.9 K/9IP and 2.7 BB/9IP through 16 starts in 2012. The Pirates hurler clearly deserved the All-Star nod over Lance Lynn, but hey, so did Johnny Cueto and neither pitch for Tony La Russa's former deal. Anyhow, McDonald was twice the Dodgers' minor league pitcher of the year, and now with his new team, he's fulfilling that potential, much to Dodgers fans' chagrin. McDonald's 3.80 xFIP might be a better indicator of what to expect in the second half, but as we can safely assume he'll keep improving, an ERA in the low 3.00s the rest of the way is possible.

Wade Miley, ARI -
It's easy to say that his last start (3.2 IP, 8 ER vs. MIL) is the beginning of the end, but is that truly the case? It's interesting to note that Miley has a 10.24 ERA in two starts against Milwaukee this year and a 2.03 mark in his other 84.1 innings, but the sample size is too small to draw any conclusions. Miley isn't a dominating presence by any means (6.3 K/9IP), but he keeps the ball on the ground and has walked just 5.0 percent of the batters faced. He's not a soft-tosser either, as he averages 91 mph with his fastball, allowing him to get strikeouts when needed. He's an All-Star, but he's also likely a back-end rotation pitcher going forward given the strikeout rate and lack of track record as a top prospect.

Matt Harrison, TEX -
On May 3, Harrison was coming off back-to-back starts in which he allowed 14 runs on a whopping 22 hits over just 8.1 innings, so the speculation was that his job was in jeopardy. Since then, he is 8-1 with a 2.22 ERA in 11 starts, resulting in his first All-Star selection. Harrison isn't an elite fantasy pitcher by any means considering his pedestrian 5.6 K/9IP, but he's generating more ground balls this year (52.1 GB%), which is key in pitching in his home park. In fact, Harrison has allowed just two homers in 50.2 innings at home this season. I'm skeptical he can keep up his recent efforts, but his job security has never been higher.

Others:
Josh Johnson, Fernando Rodney, Chris Sale, Johan Santana, Lance Lynn.

BAD SURPRISES

Cliff Lee, PHI -
Is the explanation for Lee not getting his first win until July 4 as simple as saying that, other than Edinson Volquez, no NL pitcher receives worse run support? That's certainly part of it, but while his walk (1.9 BB/9IP) and strikeout rates (9.0 K/9IP) have been pretty much the same as in recent years, he's generating fewer swings and misses. Lee's 7.9 SwStr% is down from last year's 9.3 percent, but it's not down much at all from where it sat in 2008-2010 when he was putting up elite starter numbers. All in all, I tend to think he's been a bit unlucky (.333 BABIP), and then you have a bullpen that's put up a poor 4.65 ERA. Lee's velocity is spot on from where it was last year, and I really think his luck is going to turn around in the second half, particularly once Ryan Howard returns and Chase Utley is back up to speed. The Phillies might not go anywhere this year, but Lee should still provide very good value over the second half.

Tim Lincecum, SF -
Guessing you expected to see his name here when you saw the title of the article. We could be optimistic and say that his K/9IP is still very good at 9.7 and that his .330 BABIP indicates bad luck, but when 24.1 percent of your batted balls are line drives, more are going to be hits. He's also walking 11.6 percent of batters faced, a mark that compares very unfavorably to the 9.0 percent mark he had entering the season. Let's face it - his velocity is down, his control is erratic and batters are no longer intimidated by him. I don't see him posting a 6.08 ERA the rest of the way, but this was a guy who was briefly the best pitcher in the game and now is no better than the No. 4 pitcher on his own team. And I don't see any signs of that changing this year.

Mike Minor, ATL -
A lot of us were encouraged by Minor's finish last year, as the lefty went 5-1 with a 3.51 ERA over his final 10 starts. That led me to feel pretty good about owning Minor in an NL-only league, only to see him start this year 4-6 with a 6.20 ERA in 15 starts. In 10 of those starts, he's allowed at least four runs, so it's not like the ERA is skewed by a couple poor outings. His 7.6 K/9IP is decent, but when you have just a 35.3-percent GB% and nearly 16 percent of your flyballs go over the fence, your ERA will be severely compromised. I still think he can be an effective NL-only pitcher, but in the games of his I've seen, he needs to do a far better job keeping the ball down.

Ervin Santana, LAA -
You could also throw Dan Haren in here, but we'll go with Ervin. Santana has a 1.12 ERA against the Dodgers and Diamondbacks this year, but a 6.07 mark against everyone else, resulting in a 5.12 ERA all up. His strikeout and walk rates have regressed, though not alarmingly so, but the real impact has been Santana's 1.7 HR/9 rate: 19 home runs in 102 innings is going to hurt any pitcher's ERA. Encouragingly, Santana's GB% is actually up this year, at a career-high 47.9 percent, so assuming he can drive down a bloated 18.5-percent HR/FB rate, his ERA should tumble in the second half.

Clay Buchholz, BOS -
I realize his 2.33 ERA in 2010 was a bit of a mirage given his 3.69 FIP, but I was high on him, even predicting that he could develop into one of the league's better No. 2 starters. Two years later, he's lost two full mph on his fastball and is coming off a season limited to 14 starts (back issues). He did have a run of four stars in May/June in which he put up a 1.45 ERA, but he just hasn't taken a step forward like I expected. Those four starts give me some optimism that once he's over his current illness, he can come back and drive down the 5.53 ERA, but his ceiling isn't what it once was.

Ricky Romero, TOR -
I've always been a Romero apologist, but his act is starting to (finally) wear thin. Love the 8-3 record, but a 5.35 ERA? His velocity has remained relatively stable (down a little), and he's still generating a large number of ground balls (55.2 GB%), but it's the lack of control that's puzzling:

2009 - 4.0 BB/9IP
2010 - 3.5
2011 - 3.2
2012 - 4.7

It was such an encouraging trend until this season. The Jays think Romero's issues are more mental than mechanical, but it's hard to say at this point. I tend to think he'll figure things out in the second half, meaning a 3.50 ERA the rest of the way is possible.

Others:
Ubaldo Jimenez, Ricky Nolasco, Jon Lester, Randy Wolf.

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

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