Four days without regular season baseball serves as reflection time for many a fantasy owner. Headed into the second half, we're either looking to make moves to push toward a title, looking to next year or we're still evaluating our needs and how to go about addressing them. To help sort through some of the pitching items, let's look at five topics that are front and center as we head into the second half of what should be an exciting finish.
Who's the Next Big Prospect to Watch?
With Trevor Bauer in the big leagues, Dylan Bundy is the top pitching prospect in the minors. Despite some message board chatter I've seen, I don't expect a teen-ager in High-A to see big league time this year. Could that change come August if the Orioles are somehow still in a position to nab a wild-card spot? Perhaps, but I don't expect that to be the case.
Jake Odorizzi, KC (Triple-A) - Perhaps the Royals, given their track record with pitchers recently, should just go ahead and schedule Odorizzi's Tommy John surgery. He's been a bit more hittable in Triple-A than Double-A this year as evidenced by a 1.44 WHIP, but have you SEEN the current Kansas City rotation? He could be promoted today and be the team's top fantasy starter immediately. ETA: August 2012.
Matt Harvey, NYM (Triple-A) - Given Dillon Gee's injury, expect to see Harvey in New York sooner rather than later, though there's nothing official just yet. Harvey is a No. 7 overall pick with a 9.4 K/9 IP in Triple-A. ETA: Any day.
Danny Hultzen, SEA (Triple-A) - The Mariners have three solid starters, leaving 40 percent of their rotation available for the likes of Hultzen, who had a 1.19 ERA in 13 Double-A starts before his recent promotion. Hultzen would certainly be an upgrade for the Mariners, but he might need a few more Triple-A starts given his 12 walks in 12 innings. ETA: August 2012.
Gerrit Cole, PIT (Double-A) - We likey won't see Cole unless the Pirates are hit hard by injuries. The 2001 No. 1 overall pick was recently promoted to Double-A and still needs a bit of polish. ETA: June 2013.
Second-Half Risers/Fallers ... Advanced Metrics Say ...
For this we will use a simple calculation of ERA less xFIP, with the latter being an ERA approximation based on strikeouts, walks and home runs (in theory, those items a pitcher can control). A high positive ERA-xFIP could mean a pitcher is due for a positive ERA correction, with a high negative being the inverse. (ERA-xFIP in parentheses.)
Tim Lincecum, SF (+2.58) - Lincecum's still-strong 9.7 K/9 gets him top billing on this list, but while a 3.84 xFIP would seem to portend a second-half improvement, bench him until we see at least one solid start against a team not named the Dodgers or Padres.
Jake Arrieta, BAL (+2.33) - Who knows how much longer he'll be in the rotation? Arrieta's ratios are solid at a 7.9 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9, but in his entire career, he's yet to exhibit any consistency. Pass.
Adam Wainwright, STL (+1.48) - Three times this year Wainwright has allowed at least seven runs in a game, but he's also shown several flashes of brilliance. Expect him to get stronger as the season progresses and have a solid second half.
Max Scherzer, DET (+1.44) - I would like to see that 36.7 GB% higher, but the effect of that ratio is lessened by the Comerica Park factor. Bottom line: I love anyone with an 11.2 K/9 and think he could have an ERA in the low-3.00s the rest of the way.
Jeff Samardzija, CHC (+1.20) - Expect his 4.71 ERA to come down. I took some heat for ranking him aggressively in the Value Meter for the first week of July, but then we went out and posted a 2.57 ERA in two starts with a 15:3 K:BB in 14 innings. That took his K/9 up to 8.9.
Ryan Vogelsong, SF (-2.11) - Seems like he was on these lists last year, but the results keep coming anyway. I'm pretty sure he won't maintain a 2.36 ERA, but something in the low-3.00s given the division in which he pitches is doable.
Jered Weaver, LAA (-1.97) - No, Ron Washington wasn't taking xFIP into account when choosing his All-Star starter. Weaver's 6.8 K/9 is rather unimpressive, and he allows more flyballs than average, but when you have guys like Mike Trout roaming the outfield, perhaps that's a plus. Weaver will continue to be good, but just not 1.96 ERA good.
Jeremy Hellickson, TB (-1.52) - It's hard to see how he's maintained a 3.41 ERA in spite of a 5.8 K/9 and 3.6 BB/9, but perhaps a .255 BABIP and 83-percent strand rate helps explain things. Still, I have to think we'll see a 4-plus ERA in the second half unless he starts improving his control to where it was in the minors (2.1 BB/9).
James McDonald, PIT (-1.22) - McDonald's 8.2 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9 are solid, but he gets a slot in this section simply because only 6.4 percent of his flyballs have gone for home runs versus the usual league average that sits in the 11-percent range. Still, even if a few more balls leave the yard in the second half, McDonald has the stuff and confidence to post an ERA in the low 3.00s.
Jordan Zimmermann, WAS (-1.11) - Zimmermann is slotted here due to his relatively low 6.0 K/9, but he walks very few batters (1.8 BB/9) and generates a lot of ground balls (48.8 GB%). He also has a 2.35 ERA in his last six starts, so I see nothing to worry about, even if he's not among the league's elite in terms of strikeouts.
Closers on the Hot Seat
We have three closers listed with "low" stability on our closer grid:
Alfredo Aceves, BOS - Aceves has allowed runs in three of his last five appearances and is just keeping the job warm for Andrew Bailey (thumb). Bailey, though, might not be back until late-August/early-September, so if Aceves needs to be replaced ... could it be Vicente Padilla? Padilla has a so-so 3.94 ERA, but his 32:8 K:BB in 32 innings is good enough for closer material.
Glen Perkins, MIN - Perkins allowed three runs on four hits in an inning in his last outing, though fortunately they were unearned. Still, his WHIP sits at 1.43 despite a 10.5 K/9. The BABIP is a big culprit at .379 versus last year's .317, so he could be a solid closer. If not, Jared Burton is the guy to own. All that said, Matt Capps will return from a shoulder injury Friday. After he proves he's 100-percent healthy, expect Capps to spend July 31 to the rest of the season with another organization.
Bobby Parnell, NYM - Parnell is likely to be replaced by Frank Francisco (oblique) once Francisco returns shortly after the break. That may not be for certain, as Parnell has tossed 8.1 consecutive scoreless innings while allowing just two hits and no walks. He could keep this job the rest of the way potentially.
Other situations to watch:
Anaheim - Split between Ernesto Frieri and Scott Downs.
Arizona - J.J. Putz better lately, but ERA still at 4.50 and David Hernandez has been great - 13.7 K/9.
Chicago White Sox - Can Addison Reed settle into a groove and live up to his spectacular minor league numbers? For me, the answer is "yes."
Chicago Cubs - The "old" Carlos Marmol returned on July 6 (three runs). Who will we get in the second half? Hold onto Shawn Camp in NL-only leagues, and maybe even James Russell.
Houston - Does Brett Myers get traded, and if so, is it Wilton Lopez, Brandon Lyon, or a sleeper that takes over save duties?
Kansas City - Will the Royals deal Jonathan Broxton and give the job to Aaron Crow?
Miami - How long before the projected committee of Heath Bell, Steve Cishek and Juan Carlos Oviedo becomes a committee of one? I have to think Bell gets his job back full-time at some point simply because of his contract, but Oviedo and Cishek should be owned in deeper formats.
NY Yankees - Can David Robertson usurp the job from Rafael Soriano? Soriano has a 1.60 ERA and 20 saves, so it's unlikely.
Oakland - How long until Ryan Cook proves his All-Star selection laughable? OK not fair, but Cook has a 4.9 BB/9. He did look quite a bit better Tuesday night than Justin Verlander, however. At least Cook no longer has Brian Fuentes to worry about, though Grant Balfour could be a threat at some point.
San Diego - Who takes over once Huston Street is traded? With the Padres apparently committed to Andrew Cashner (elbow) as a starter, probably Luke Gregerson. Dale Thayer is another option despite his 4.91 ERA, and lefty Joe Thatcher could see a handful of saves later this year.
Washington - Unless he's not pitching well, Tyler Clippard is expected to retain his closer job even when Drew Storen (elbow) returns. That return could be within the next week, but for now, Clippard is the closer. If the Nationals weren't competing to win this year, I'd say Storen would be back closing sooner rather than later, but with Clippard successful, they may not want to mess with that.
Just How Good ARE these Pirates Starters?
ERA rank: 5th (3.47)
Starters ERA rank: 10th (3.94)
Bullpen ERA rank: 1st (2.63)
A great job by pitching coach Ray Searage, but also quite a bit of maturity from the young starters.
James McDonald - The two-time Dodgers minor league pitcher of the year, McDonald has translated his skills into consistent big-league production for the first time this year. It's easy to say he won't finish 18-6 with his current 2.37 ERA, but these skills are real. See above for further McDonald discussion.
A.J. Burnett - He's 10-2 and Tim Lincecum is 3-10. Incredible. It's not surprising that Burnett is better this year after leaving the AL East for the NL Central, but I sure didn't expect this sort of production. It's a safe bet that he won't win another 10 games over the course of the year, but an ERA in the mid-3.00s is certainly possible.
Erik Bedard - With a 4.80 ERA, Bedard is the surprising weak link. In his last seven starts, Bedard sports a 7.34 mark, giving rise to the question: how much patience can the first-place Pirates have with their left-hander? With Brad Lincoln having some recent success, perhaps the Pirates pull the plug on Bedard if he struggles deep into July.
Kevin Correia - Consistency hasn't been his strong suit this year, but Correia's 4.34 ERA is respectable, and with the Pirates seeming to improve offensively lately and the team having a great bullpen, Correia could win enough games to have to have NL-only value the rest of the way.
Jeff Karstens - Karstens comes out of the break having tossed eight scoreless innings with eight strikeouts against the Astros. He won't give you many strikeouts, but if Karstens avoids the long ball more than he has in the past, he could keep his ERA under 4.00 the rest of the way.
Kyle McPherson could contribute later this year, but don't expect to see Gerrit Cole and Jameson Taillon until this time next year.
We'll take a scattershot approach with this section.
Rest for Dan Haren (back) could do wonders for his second half. ... Probably should have mentioned him in the prospects section, but Tyler Skaggs could debut this year for Arizona despite a crowded rotation. He could be the lefty version of Trevor Bauer. ... Ben Sheets could be better than expected, at least until he gets hurt again. NL-only leaguers should be aggressive. ... I still like Baltimore's Chris Tillman and consider him somewhat of a post-hype sleeper given his disappointing 2012. ... Check out Mat Latos' last three starts - 25 innings, two runs, 25:4 K:BB. He could be a top-five NL starter the rest of the way. ... Call me crazy, but I sort of like Josh Tomlin. Elite control and a decent assortment of pitches. He's missing a few more bats this year, but the HR ball has killed him in the past. ... Drew Pomeranz isn't throwing as hard as scouting reports seem to indicate (avg FBv of 90.1 mph), but he was top pick, so I'll say that he's Colorado's best starter the rest of the way. Perhaps that's not saying much, however. ... Watch Michael Fiers. He can pitch. I worry about the 32.0 GB%, but despite an average fastball, it's hard to not like the 9.6 K/9 and 1.7 BB/9. ... Phil Hughes' velocity is up over last year, and he's had some very good games this year. A big second half could be in order. ... Barring further setbacks, we could see Brett Anderson (elbow) come August. Don't forget about him in deeper formats. ... Too many flyballs and a poor strand rate has killed Joe Blanton's year, but his peripherals are excellent - 7.8 K/9, 1.3 BB/9. ... Roy Oswalt still has the velocity, and his 19:6 K:BB in 23 innings is fine. He's going to have a solid finish. ... Not every top prospect adapts to the big leagues immediately, and Matt Moore is no exception. Still, his fantasy owners could reap the rewards for their patience in the second half.
Regan, a five-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner, was named the 2010 Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year.
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