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Mound Musings: A Look at the 30 Rotations

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.

The trade deadline is always one of the more exciting days for baseball fans, whether your team is in contention and rumored to be pursuing big names, or conversely, if you're looking at building for the future and securing players who may be of no help now but could develop into franchise cornerstones. Other than Jacob Turner and Jean Segura, few top prospects changed hands. We could still see players change teams this month via the waiver process, particularly high-salaried guys who are underperforming but who could benefit from a change of scenery. The names Josh Beckett and Alfonso Soriano come immediately to mind.

That said, now that the dust is relatively settled, let's look at the league's 30 rotations ...

NL WEST

For the Dodgers, the key has to be Ted Lilly. Lilly is scheduled to return from a shoulder injury sometime in the next couple weeks, and with the Ryan Dempster trade not coming to fruition, Lilly is suddenly a key figure in the team's push for a playoff spot. Lilly was 5-1 with a 3.14 ERA in eight starts before getting hurt and could be a boost to your NL-only rotation.

In San Francisco, a lot is riding on the inconsistent arm of Tim Lincecum. He looked solid Tuesday, but more often than not, it seems lately he's been unable to string together even three Lincecum-like starts. Until I see that, I'm not buying.

It's possible the Diamondbacks give LHP prospect Tyler Skaggs the next look over Trevor Bauer. Pat Corbin appears to be next in line, but Skaggs may very well have past Bauer for the next call-up slot. Skaggs just turned 21, but he blew through Double-A hitters with a 2.84 ERA and 9.2 K/9IP in 13 starts and has impressed even more in the thin air in Triple-A Reno with a 2.08 ERA in six outings. He could be a big boost to that rotation later this month.

As for the Padres, it's really hard to say anything nice about a rotation that has Jason Marquis, Kip Wells and Ross Ohlendorf slotted in the 3-5 positions. Even their top two pitching prospects, Casey Kelly and Robbie Erlin, are nursing elbow injuries. I really don't get the Carlos Quentin and Huston Street extensions. This is a team that just needs to blow things up (again) and trade everybody with value while pursuing the Nationals/Astros approach of accumulating high draft picks.

Congratulations to Jonathan Sanchez for somehow managing to be worse in Colorado than Kansas City. Wow, a flyball pitcher with no control of his pitches can't be successful in Coors Field? At least there's some hope with Drew Pomeranz, Alex White and Tyler Anderson.

NL CENTRAL

Expect the Cubs to trade Matt Garza this winter, though I'm still surprised he wasn't dealt July 31. Beyond Garza, Jeff Samardzija has become a pitcher rather than a thrower this year, as I've seen him change speeds with much more frequency and effectiveness, and his split-finger fastball has really developed into a great pitch for him. Mix in a fastball that averages 95 mph and a BB% that's dropped from 13.2 percent to 9.3 percent year-over-year, and he's legit.

In Cincinnati, Homer Bailey has started to show a level of consistency (Tuesday notwithstanding) that we hadn't seen from him heretofore. Barring injury, he's set to make 30-plus starts for the first time in his big league career. His splits are a bit alarming, as he's struggled to a 5.27 ERA and 14 home runs allowed at home versus 2.63 and four homers away from the GAB. I'm not too worried about the splits, as he had back-to-back impressive eight-inning outings at home against the Cardinals and Brewers in July, but if the Reds are going to win the Central, they need Bailey to finish strong.

New acquisition Wandy Rodriguez should help stabilize the back of the Pirates rotation, but the Pirates really need to get James McDonald back on track. McDonald had a 2.37 ERA through 17 starts, but in his last four, he's struggled to an 8.71 mark while walking 19 batters in just 20.2 innings. There doesn't appear to be any sort of injury involved, and I have a lot of respect for the work pitching coach Ray Searage has done, so expect a turnaround promptly.

Astros fans have to feel good about the work that new GM Jeff Luhnow has done since his hire. That said, for the foreseeable future, there's not much in the way of young pitching to get excited about. Bud Norris' 9.1 K/9IP is nice, but he's far too inconsistent to roll with outside NL-only leagues, and Jordan Lyles is just never going to be more than a No. 4 starter. This is digging really deep, but if you want a sleeper, look to Xavier Cedeno as a potential source of saves.

In Milwaukee, I am going to make a point to watch Mark Rogers' next start. He's trying to overcome a series of shoulder injuries to fill the potential he once had as a high first-round draft pick. Rogers hadn't appeared in a big league game since 2010 before tossing five impressive innings (seven strikeouts) earlier this week. What made it really interesting is that Rogers averaged 95 mph in the outing, topping out at 98. He had a 4.6 BB/9IP and 1.2 HR/9IP in Triple-A, so it's best to be somewhat cautious, but I'm really interested in seeing where he goes from here.

Lance Lynn is the key in the Cardinals' quest for back-to-back titles. Lynn was 10-2 with a 2.42 ERA through June 13, but in four of his last seven starts, he has surrendered at least five runs and has a 5.49 ERA. Lynn struggles, and I've seen a couple of his starts recently, when he gets the ball up in the zone. That's when bad things happen. In his four recent poor outings, Lynn has a 0.58 GB/FB rate, while in his three solid performances, that number jumps to 0.85. His velocity and command are still intact, so expect him to make adjustments and improve over the balance of the season. Lynn sits at 121 innings this year versus 109.2 in 2012, so that's something to keep in mind down the stretch.

NL EAST

Obviously, the big issue in Washington relates to Stephen Strasburg's potential/likely innings-related shutdown. I don't think 160 will be the cap, but the organization really does seem committed to shutting him down early. The big issue there is that his replacement, barring an August waiver deal, is likely to be a very unappealing option such as John Lannan.

I really like what the Braves did last month in grabbing Paul Maholm and Reed Johnson from the Cubs. Maholm should help stabilize the back of that rotation. The key here is Ben Sheets. Sheets has tossed four consecutive quality starts since his somewhat unexpected return to the big leagues, posting a solid 23:6 K:BB in 24 innings. His velocity is down from his heyday, but the control remains, and he should be a solid option in most formats barring injury.

I'm not sure what the plan is in Philadelphia, but their rotation remained surprisingly intact through the trade deadline. Why deal Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino while holding onto the likes of Joe Blanton? Anyway, the thing to watch here is the status of Roy Halladay. Manager Charlie Manuel suggested this week the Phillies could shut Halladay down once the games become meaningless. We'll see if that truly happens, but Halladay owners might want to be ready to not have his services come September.

With the Mets fading in the East, it's seemingly unlikely we'll see top prospect Zack Wheeler join Matt Harvey in New York. The Mets hope to see Johan Santana (ankle) in the next week or so, and he's worth targeting. The time off might have done him some good, as he was terrible in his final three starts before hitting the DL - 12.2 innings, 25 hits, 19 runs.

It must be awful to be a Marlins fans (any of you out there?) these days. At least they have Jacob Turner, and with Giancarlo Stanton (knee) returning soon, they should also have a decent offense down the stretch despite shipping Hanley Ramirez and Omar Infante out the door. Turner could start for the Marlins on Friday, and he's worth grabbing as a potential high-upside pickup.

AL WEST

With a 5.97 ERA for the Angels, it seems only a matter of time before Ervin Santana is passed up by Garrett Richards. Richards was sent to Triple-A on Thursday because Dan Haren is ready to return to the rotation, but Richards likely will be back in the rotation if Santana is sent to the bullpen. Santana is missing fewer bats, missing the strike zone with increased frequency and is allowing nearly two home runs every nine innings. Don't be surprised to see him in the bullpen soon.

The A's rotation is booked solid, but it wouldn't be surprising to see Travis Blackley work his way into the bullpen or Triple-A given his past numbers. The beneficiary? Perhaps Triple-A pitcher Dan Straily. All Straily has done this year is post a 175:37 K:BB in 138.1 innings at the two highest minor league levels. He's quickly become one of baseball's top pitching prospects.

In Danny Hultzen, James Paxton and Taijuan Walker, the Mariners have one of baseball's top trios of pitching prospects, but can we expect anything from them this year? Hultzen's Triple-A ERA sits north of 5, while Paxton and Walker both remain at Double-A. Hultzen probably will make a cameo next month, but don't expect this group to be a fixture until sometime in 2013.

With the acquisition of Ryan Dempster on Tuesday, the Rangers have a solid top four, but with Roy Oswalt shifting to the bullpen and seemingly needing a move back to the National League, Scott Feldman becomes a key guy for the Rangers. Feldman has allowed just one run in 15 innings over his last two starts, so he's probably an upgrade over Oswalt. Martin Perez could be another option, but I think he's overrated. Yes, we's just 21, but at some point you have to produce, and Perez has a 4.29 minor league ERA and 1.48 WHIP.

AL CENTRAL

Phil Humber appears to be the odd man out in Chicago due to the acquisition of Francisco Liriano. Chris Sale has already topped last year's innings total (71) by 53, so giving him rest prior to his next start is a no-brainer. Given his age (24 next year), Sale will be a Verducci effect candidate (under age 25, 30-plus innings increase year-over-year) in 2013. Problem is, he's the team's best pitcher and the White Sox are trying to win a division title. I'd sell high on Sale given that he might have a few starts pushed back/skipped down the stretch. After watching his last start, he could be running out of gas.

In Cleveland, Justin Masterson pitched pretty well for a year and a half coming into 2012, so at the magical age of 27, he was on my sleeper list this spring. That's what makes his 4.47 ERA such as disappointment. He just doesn't seem to trust his stuff, as his BB/9IP has spiked a full 1.0 over last year's 2.7.

Anibal Sanchez is obviously a key figure for the Tigers in their quest for a title, and after allowing five runs in six innings in Toronto his first time out, he's not off to the best of starts. Still, Sanchez recorded three consecutive quality starts prior to the trade, and with a better offensive team behind him, he should see his value actually increase despite the move to the AL.

Scott Diamond is really the only Twins pitcher to own, but should we really be excited about a pitcher who posted a 5.56 ERA in Triple-A last year? I think he's pitching well over his head, and with the Twins going nowhere this year, don't expect his 9-4 record to improve much.

Speaking of terrible rotations, I can't in good conscience endorse any pitcher wearing a Royals uniform. You could make the argument that the best three pitchers in their organization are ehabbing from Tommy John surgery - John Lamb, Danny Duffy and Felipe Paulino. Perhaps 2012 No. 1 pick Kyle Zimmer should be proactive and have the procedure even if his elbow feels 100 percent.

AL EAST

The Orioles' Chris Tillman interests me as a post-hype sleeper. Tillman has a 2.70 in 27 innings over five starts since rejoining the Baltimore rotation, though a whopping nine earned runs also should factor into your evaluation. Tillman is a former top prospect in the Seattle organization, and unless the data is wrong, he's averaging a whopping 93.7 mph with his fastball versus an 89.5 mark last year.

If the Red Sox are going to make a run, they are going to need Jon Lester to step up in a big way. a .331 BABIP offers encouragement that he could finish strong, but unless Lester can do a better job keeping the ball in the ballpark, his struggles will continue. I tend to gravitate toward struggling pitchers who both have been successful and still have their velocity and control. That is Lester.

The Yankees have four pitchers who have at least 10 wins and 18 games started, so they are pretty set. Freddy Garcia has been good enough lately in the five spot, but the key guy in New York is Philip Hughes. Hughes has been hurt by the long ball often this year, serving up 25 homers in just 121.1 innings, but his ratios are the best of his career - 7.9 K/9IP, 2.2 BB/9IP. Hughes has allowed six homers in his last three starts, but it hasn't prevented him from allowing three runs or less in each of his last six starts. He looks poised for a strong finish, particularly if he can tame the long ball.

Jeremy Hellickson looms as a key figure for the Rays down the stretch. I've been disappointed with his lack of control as a big leaguer, but after a 3.9 BB/9IP in his first 16 starts, he's walked just one in his last three (18.1 innings), so perhaps he's figured out some things. Hellickson had a 2.1 BB/9IP in 580 minor league innings, so there's plenty of reason to think his recent control is for real.

Carlos Villanueva is the interesting guy in Toronto's rotation. Since converting to the rotation, Villanueva has a 3.15 ERA and impressive 35:10 K:BB in 34.1 innings over six starts. He occasionally touches 90 mph with his fastball, so a starter with less than lights-out stuff in the AL East is a scary proposition, but Villanueva wouldn't be the first pitcher to go from being a solid reliever to a solid starting pitcher.

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

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