Avoiding Those Ticking Time Bombs
Last week we talked about looking for buried treasure - pitchers who have the potential to provide a nice boost to your fantasy rotation during the second half of the season. However, let's be honest, buried things can be treasure, but they can also explode and make a real mess of things. Is that guy on a roll with a sparkling ERA and a load of wins going to keep it up, or is his day in the sun nearly over? Let's look at a few arms you might want to avoid over the second half.
Lance Lynn (St. Louis Cardinals)
Lynn is something of a regular on this list, and he will probably keep appearing here until he proves he doesn't belong. I have always been somewhat in doubt of his ability to get people out on a consistent basis, even when things are going well. But, as the seasons wear on, he typically wears down, and his breaking pitches lose some of their snap while his fastballs, straighten and drift up in the zone more often. He will no doubt have his strong outings, but don't be surprised if he gets torched a couple of times along the way and his overall peripherals soften. Lynn has been pretty consistent in his second half swoons, perhaps he just doesn't have the legs that are so important, but he will need to show some stamina to take the next step.
Bartolo Colon (Oakland A's)
At 40 years old, Colon is enjoying one of his best seasons, but there are some telltale indications that it won't last, at least not at its current level. His strikeout rate is declining, and he has been a little bit lucky on balls in play. Colon hasn't been a flamethrower in years, and he survives now on pinpoint command (his BB/9 rate is a microscopic 1.12). Fewer base runners in a pitcher friendly home park is a solid formula for success, but he can be somewhat hittable at times, and without the strikeout pitch to get out of jams, there is a good chance he is going to suffer through some ugly innings. With his control I wouldn't expect an implosion, rather a gradual adjustment to the norm, which would likely make him an average starter at best in most formats.
Dan Haren (Washington Nationals)
With the exception of a solid season in 2011, Haren has been on a gradual skid for a few years now. He's lost a couple of miles per hour off his fastball, and he now makes more mistakes in the strike zone, not surprisingly, becoming more vulnerable to the long ball. He's only 32, but he has become pretty fragile with back ailments, a chronic hip problem, and some minor - at least so far - shoulder woes. His numbers on the year (1.47 WHIP and a 6.00 ERA) wouldn't normally qualify him for this list, but he makes it to be sure everyone keeps in mind that sometimes pitcher's values remain artificially high despite significantly diminished performance, just because of their name/reputation. Don't get caught in that trap.
Anibal Sanchez (Detroit Tigers)
Injuries, even seemingly minor maladies, often contribute to a pitcher's downfall. Haren, mentioned above, likely fits there, but other pitchers are extremely risky propositions because they have missed considerable time over multiple seasons. Sanchez is the poster-child for this profile. There are others, the Pirates Francisco Liriano immediately comes to mind. Sanchez has a balky shoulder, and he has already spent time on the shelf with a "minor" shoulder strain. It is my opinion that the words "minor" and "shoulder" should never be used in the same sentence. If he is now, and can stay healthy, he's a top-of-the-rotation gun, but I am pessimistic. If you are counting on him leading the way in the second half, it might be wise to have a Plan B ready to go.
Tyler Chatwood (Colorado Rockies)
Chatwood is considered an upper-level prospect - he's still just 22 - and he has pitched pretty well in a less than inviting environment so there are those starting to take some notice, but I question his ability to reach top-of-the-rotation status. He still lacks the consistent command to maintain his current level of effectiveness, which is anchored on keeping the ball in the yard, and keeping walks to a minimum. Neither of those is very likely to continue. He does keep the ball on the ground, but he doesn't miss many bats, and he hasn't really been a strikeout pitcher anywhere in the upper minors or the majors. His pitch counts are frequently inflated, so he doesn't often last deep into games, so I am going to stay away. There are better young arms out there.
Scott Feldman (Baltimore Orioles)
The Orioles are in the thick of things in the always volatile AL East, and Feldman was acquired to provide some depth to their starting pitching. He's a big guy, but he basically throws marshmallows, and while the O's now provide a much better lineup behind him, he also has to face much tougher batting orders day after day, and do it in a pretty hitter friendly environment. That won't work for him. One big season (2009) brought him some attention, but he hasn't come close to repeating it, and he's unlikely to do so this year despite getting off to a fairly good start while with the Cubs. Look for his walk rate and ERA to climb and his mediocre strikeout rate to either remain steady or dip. In fact, I actually considered a few Orioles starters for this list. Jason Hammel, Miguel Gonzalez and, to a lesser extent, Chris Tillman all had a shot to be here.
Justin Masterson (Cleveland Indians)
Let me begin by saying Masterson is considerably better than he has been in the past at handling left-handed batters. Now I can continue with a clear conscience and say I don't think he is where he needs to be in order to avoid some potentially ugly stats going forward. It's no secret in the game. Teams load everyone that even looks like a lefty-swinger into their lineups, and right-handers are posting anemic stats against him. His walk rate is up a bit this year as he stays away from the tougher lefties, and his strikeout rate has spiked as hitters try to chase those pitches out of the zone, but I don't think he can maintain his level of effectiveness against either hand long term. If he ever develops a reliable lefty-weapon he can throw for strikes, watch out, but he's not there yet.
Some Notable Rotation Happenings
Shaun Marcum (NYM) - He's done for the season, which means the Mets could be auditioning for a rotation spot later this year. Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler are already in the Apple, and I don't see the Mets trying their other blue-chipper, Noah Syndergaard before September, so there isn't likely much to get amped about.
Sonny Gray (OAK) - The A's have brought him up, and he is supposedly going to work out of the bullpen initially, but he has considerably more upside than some of the current Oakland starters, so he's worth a flyer. It shouldn't be too long before he takes a regular turn, and given the cushy home field, he could be useful in fantasy circles.
Kevin Gausman (BAL) - The Orioles used him out of the bullpen for awhile, and they have now sent him back to Triple-A Norfolk, presumably to keep him stretched out. As mentioned earlier, Baltimore has some potentially shaky rotation pitchers, and Gausman is several notches above any of them. He should be back soon.
Ricky Nolasco (LAD) - He was clearly the "good" Ricky in his first start for the Dodgers, but we've all seen this before. There is no question the change of scenery will probably help him long term, still I'm not ready to label him reliable just yet. There will be fantasy suitors for his services, but I would hesitate to take the chance.
Justin Verlander (DET) - I was getting a bit concerned about Verlander's performance, so I thought I better have a look. I watched three or four innings of his start against the White Sox, and he looked pretty much like the Verlander we love. I switched to another game and the wheels came off in the seventh inning. Guess I need to revisit him.
Gerrit Cole (PIT) - The Pirates are considering sending him down during the All-Star break, but there is nothing to indicate he won't remain in the Pittsburgh rotation. While Cole is not quite ready to deliver on his lofty potential, he can probably still be a useful arm in most fantasy formats.
Yu Darvish (TEX) - The Rangers put Darvish on the DL with a slight strain of his right trapezius muscle, but it was almost procedural. He will miss his start this week, but should be back in the rotation right after the All-Star break. He has shouldered a heavy workload and this may be a good chance to give him a breather.
Joe Nathan just saved his 30th game for the Rangers, so he's as locked-in as you can be, but Joakim Soria is now back, and I have to believe he is going to get into the saves mix somewhere, sometime ... Antonio Bastardo picked up a save Tuesday, but it wasn't without some damage. With Jonathan Papelbon (who took this night off after pitching in four of their last five games) involved in ongoing trade talks, Bastardo could be the interim closer at some point, but he is a very weak option ... Quick, name the closer with 42 straight save conversions (dating back to last season). It's Grant Balfour, and it's very hard to argue with that kind of success ... It's been Francisco Rodriguez rather than Jim Henderson closing in Milwaukee, but that could be a showcase scenario. Look for Henderson to reclaim the job ... Heath Bell is back in the end gamer's seat in Arizona, but he's just keeping it warm until J.J. Putz is full strength. Look for Putz to be back in the saddle after the All-Star Game ... Casey Janssen was a little shaky Wednesday night, and Steve Delabar came on to finish off a save. Delabar is clearly the first option for the Jays after Janssen, and with Janssen's ongoing iffy health, he might be worth watching.