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Mound Musings: Can they Keep It Up?

David Regan

David Regan is a six-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner, including the 2015 Baseball Article of the Year.

Hopefully, you made it a point to watch Tuesday's matchup in Los Angeles between two of the game's top young pitchers, Tim Lincecum v. Clayton Kershaw. We expected a pitcher's duel (I had the under on total runs – 6.5), but what we received was a whole lot more. That's one of the many things that's great about the game – we can see a mediocre pitcher like Armando Galarraga or Dallas Braden befuddle hitters one night and then see a two-time Cy Young winner get hit hard the next. (As a Dodgers fan, I have my own opinions on how Giants manager Bruce Bochy managed the game Tuesday. With the Don Mattingly play and purposely throwing at Matt Kemp, Bochy won dirty, and I suppose if you're a fan of the Giants, you're happy today. But I digress ...)

I will say that it's just one start, but Lincecum looked awful Tuesday night: 88-91 with the fastball early, and more 87-88 in the fifth inning before he was dispatched after throwing at Kemp and allowing a single to Blake DeWitt. Hopefully for Lincecum owners, it was just "one of those nights." Madison Bumgarner found some of his velocity in the last couple months, so barring a hidden injury, I'd expect the same from Lincecum.

On a non-pitching related note, contusions are bad no matter where they occur on your body, but in the testicles? Hopefully there's plenty of ice wherever Carl Crawford stayed last night.

Note: stats are for the period 7/1 – 7/20

Can they Keep It Up?

Vicente Padilla, LAD (0.87 ERA, 16:6 K:BB in 20.2 IP) – Padilla's 1:5 K:BB last time out wasn't so special, but he's come up huge for the Dodgers after a two-month DL stint. You see what he's done in July, but in his last five outings, Padilla has a 1.30 ERA and 28:5 K:BB in 34.2 innings. He's missing bats (8.0 K/9), minimizing free passes (2.2 BB/9) and throwing harder this year than any point in the last five seasons. As long as he stays healthy and controls his emotions, Padilla's talent is that of a top-30 NL starter, perhaps more.

Randy Wells, CHC (1.66 ERA, 17:4 K:BB in 21.2 IP) – Back when the Cubs had six starter candidates, Wells' job was thought to be in jeopardy. He was 3-6 with a 5.21 ERA, but suddenly the light went on. Wells has been solid in his last four starts. Overall, he's actually been a better pitcher this year than last:

Metric 2009 2010
K/9 5.7 7.1
BB/9 2.5 2.4
HR/9 0.76 0.64
xFIP 4.24 3.72

Expect his ERA to continue to improve toward the 4.00 mark as the year progresses.

Jonathon Niese, NYM (2.08 ERA, 20:4 K:BB in 21.2 IP) – Niese continues to impress despite a fastball that averages a shade less than 90 mph. He's left-handed, which never hurts, and from the data and watching a couple of his starts, Niese's cutter looks like it has improved dramatically. He's shown good command (2.9 BB/9) and has struck out nine in three of his last six starts. Niese is clearly the second-best starter in the Mets' rotation and, unless the Mets make a move for a top pitcher this month, should remain that way.

Barry Enright, ARI (2.89 ERA, 16:3 K:BB in 18.2 IP) – Enright was thankfully (for him) skipped over the unfriendly confines of Triple-A Reno, jumping right from Double-A to the Arizona rotation. Despite having relatively little prospect status, Enright has fared just fine with a 2.66 ERA in four starts with solid peripherals – 8.0 K/9, 2.7 BB/9. This might not be a fluke either considering Enright's Double-A numbers this year (2.88 ERA, 83:15 K:BB in 93.2 innings). I'd be careful calling him much more than a No. 4 starter, but it looks like he's here to stay.

Ervin Santana, LAA (2.31 ERA, 15:9 K:BB in 23.1 IP) – Compared to last year, Santana is allowing a few more line drives and fly balls, but he's also striking out more and walking fewer. That's translated to a 3.63 ERA, a mark that Santana should be able to sustain +/- .25. Santana's velocity (92.4 mph average fastball) isn't likely to move toward his 2008 level (a full two mph higher), but he's inducing more swing-and-misses outside the strike zone this year, and his BB/9 sits at a solid 2.8. I'd be much more worried about Joe Saunders if I were the Angels or a fan of the team.

Ben Sheets, OAK (2.25 ERA, 10:2 K:BB in 20 IP) – Trade interest in Sheets is supposedly growing, but buyer beware. Yes, Sheets has four consecutive quality starts, but in those 26 innings, Sheets has just 14 strikeouts. Not exactly dominant. Sheets used to be such a command guy, once posting an incredible 264:32 K:BB in a single season. Six years and countless injuries later, Sheets has lost more than two mph on his fastball, and his command has regressed to a 3.2 BB/9. His 4.53 ERA is right in line with his 4.49 xFIP, so there's little reason to think he's about to go on a huge run. Expect regression instead.

Any Hope for these Train Wrecks?

Edwin Jackson, ARI (7.16 ERA, 12:11 K:BB in 16.1 IP) – This deal looked bad for the Dbacks at the time, and with the way the principles Jackson and Max Scherzer are pitching, it's looking even worse now. Jackson has allowed just one home run since May 22, but his command has fallen apart. In addition to the three July starts in the stat line above, Jackson also walked eight in his last June start. Jackson averages nearly 94 mph with his fastball, but he doesn't get a lot of movement, and when he's having trouble locating his fastball, this is what happens. I think he'll ultimately be fine, but Scherzer looks more than fine.

Ted Lilly, CHC (8.83 ERA, 14:3 K:BB in 17.1 IP) – I started writing this piece early Wednesday, and Lilly subsequently came out and put up a solid 7.1-7-1-1-1-6 that night against the Astros. Lilly's fastball velocity is down this year, way down – 86.0 mph. His slider was once a plus-pitch, but it's lost its bite and is now below average. Lilly's command is still very good, so he'll use his “veteranness” to his advantage on occasion, but he's essentially turned into a soft-tossing lefty in the mold of Paul Maholm.

Kevin Slowey, MIN (6.88 ERA, 14:2 K:BB in 17 IP) – The 26-year-old Slowey has regressed each of the last two years, with xFIPs of 4.02, 4.23 and this year 4.59. Remember, this was a pitcher who posted this K:BB in the minors three years ago: 154:29. That ratio is still very good in 2010 at 77:20 in 105.2 innings, but he's just too hittable to the tune of a .302 AVG. Slowey's velocity is actually up a tick over his injury-plagued 2009, but what is really interesting is the trend in his GB% the last three years: 36.1%, 32.0%, 27.2%. Slowey was an extreme flyball pitcher in the minors as well, but rode a 1.3 BB/9 to the big leagues and also limited his HR/9 to just 0.50. He's been unable to sustain that rate in the big leagues – 1.2, 1.5 and 1.4 HR/9 the last three years. Factor in that the Twins outfield defense ranks near the bottom in the league, and you can understand where Slowey's struggles are originating. It's hard to see much better than a 4.50 ERA the rest of the way, though he does at least seem to have a secure rotation spot for the time being.

Joe Blanton (5.61 ERA, 25:6 K:BB in 25.2 IP) – Blanton has fared better in his last two starts (both 7-IP, 3-ER affairs), so I would anticipate his 6.03 ERA to continue to drop given his pre-Wednesday xFIP of 4.55. He is what he is – an innings-eater who won't strike out a lot of guys, but will help out in wins and probably won't kill you too bad in ERA and WHIP. One encouraging note: batters are swinging at pitches outside the zone at a 33.2 percent clip versus the 22-24 percent range he's sat in recent years. That indicates he's getting good movement on his pitches, and makes me optimistic he's good for a 4.25 ERA the rest of the way.

Clayton Richard (8.00 ERA, 15:9 K:BB in 18 IP) – I've seen just two of Richard's starts this year that I can recall. The one in Coors Field last week didn't go so well, but I recall him looking good in a start earlier this year. With Jake Peavy on the DL eating up a huge chunk of Kenny Williams' budget, this trade is already a win for San Diego regardless of the players it got back, but when Richard entered July with a 2.74 ERA, it was looking like an absolute steal. Richard, though, has struggled this month to the tune of the 8.00 ERA above. He's not a soft-tosser by any means with a 91.4 mph average fastball, so consider this recent stretch merely regressing closer to his 4.01 xFIP. Expect a 3.75-4.00 ERA the rest of the way.

Doug Fister (6.04 ERA, 14:7 K:BB in 22.1 IP) – Fister posted a quality start Tuesday, but since posting a 2.03 ERA in his first nine starts, Fister not surprisingly has fallen back in his last six – 6.35 ERA. He's done it primary with very good command (1.7 BB/9), a solid GB% (51.4%) and perhaps a bit of luck on balls in play (.280 BABIP). Look for Fister to continue to regress from his 3.56 ERA closer to his 4.27 xFIP.

Down on the Farm:

Jeremy Hellickson has walked nine batter in his last 9.1 innings in Triple-A, but I'd still look for the Rays to explore dealing a pitcher for a hitter (Jayson Werth?). Despite the recent struggles, Hellickson has a 2.56 ERA and 110:31 K:BB in 109 innings. … Michael Pineda is a bit unknown, but he's a top-30 pitching prospect now for the Mariners, and even though he's just 21, we could see him in Seattle soon thanks to this: 109:26 K:BB in 106 innings. He can already touch the upper 90s with his fastball. … For Texas, Tanner Scheppers has a 5.84 ERA as a starter, 1.89 as a reliever. You do the math. … Zack Britton was promoted to Triple-A early this month and has a 1.50 ERA in three starts at his new level. He's already passed Jake Arrietta, and perhaps even Chris Tillman, who I still really like long term. … Remember Thomas Diamond? He was part of the famed DVD trio as a Rangers
prospect, but unlike the other two members (John Danks, Edinson Volquez), his career has fizzled. Well, Diamond is now in the Cubs organization and pitching well. Prior to the All-Star break, he had a 2.86 ERA and 8.8 K/9 in 18 starts. Diamond has struggled a bit lately, but he'd be a good story if he made it to the big leagues. … Mike Minor is just one of many solid Atlanta pitching prospects, but as he's in Triple-A already, the big leagues could come calling later this year.

Bullpen Notes

Juan Gutierrez picked up his third save this week, but that doesn't mean he's supplanted Aaron Heilman as Arizona's closer. Heilman has allowed five runs in 6.1 innings this month while Qualls' ERA sits at 8.35 and Gutierrez at a strong 7.34. Continue to monitor Arizona box scores daily. … Hong-Chih Kuo is already a must-own in NL-only leagues, but given the struggles of Jonathan Broxton over the last couple weeks (13.50 ERA since June 26), he may be worth a flier in shallower leagues. Broxton's velocity has also been down a couple ticks recently. … Mike Gonzalez (shoulder) was activated from the 15-day DL Tuesday and could be back in the closer role in a matter of days. He could also be traded in the next week or even post-7/31 given his $6 million price tag next year should his velocity be back in the 91-93 range. … Carlos Marmol's walk rates the last two years (7.9 BB/9 and 6.7 this year) can't be solely to blame for Lou Piniella's retirement, but one has to wonder if the new Cubs manager will tolerate such a glaring lack of command in his closer. … The White Sox have 2010 first-round pick Chris Sale ready to step in as a left-handed reliever, making me wonder whether a Matt Thornton-Dan Hudson-other player package would be enough to entice the Brewers into giving up Price Fielder. In that scenario, Thornton could be closing games within the next 10 days. Then again, John Axford has zero blown saves and an 11.4 K/9, so perhaps not. … The over/under on whether David Aardsma gets dealt seems to be around 90 percent. In that scenario, his fantasy value disappears and is replaced by that of Brandon League. … Neftali Feliz has allowed seven runs in seven appearances this month, though he's not yet in danger of losing his job. Still, Frank Francisco should be rostered on AL-only squads just in case.