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Mound Musings: Philly Phantastic

David Regan

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

As I sit here writing, I'm coming off watching the disaster that is Charlie Sheen's "20/20" interview. Sheen wants a 50 percent raise to return to "Two and a Half Men," making me wonder what would happen if I got myself a briefcase full of coke and a handful of porn stars and demanded a similar raise from RotoWire. We'll probably never find out, so while we mourn the retirement of Garrett Anderson, it's on to this week's Mound Musings.

This week's article has no agenda, so we'll go random ...

Cole Hamels is almost an afterthought given the state of the Phillies rotation, but if he's the team's second-best starter, I won't be shocked. First are the early reports out of Phillies' spring camp that have Hamels looking stronger and his stuff looking better than ever. Second, and perhaps more important given that we hear that type of happy talk every year, Hamels had more strikeouts than any NL starter after the All-Star break last year. Hamels was just 5-4 during that stretch, but also had a 2.23 ERA and impressive 104:22 K:BB in 96.2 innings. He'll be hurt by the long ball on occasion, but entering that so-called magical age 27 season, expect huge things.

One pitcher I look forward to seeing a full season from is Madison Bumgarner. After all the hand-wringing over his diminished velocity last spring and in 2009 when he averaged just 89.2 mph with his fastball in the big leagues, Bumgarner made some adjustments and brought that speed up to 91.3 mph last season. Over 18 starts, Bumgarner posted a 3.00 ERA and 86:26 K:BB in 111 innings, sitting in the 92-94 mph range in his final regular season start. The Giants probably will keep him in the 170-innings range, but a 3.25 ERA and 140 strikeouts seems likely. Ultimately, I think he's the Giants' No. 2 starter, and that's a huge compliment considering how much I like Matt Cain and Jonathan Sanchez.

Between them, Cliff Lee, Roy Halladay and Cole Hamels totaled 45 walks over the second half of 2010. By himself, Bud Norris had 46. Yet I still like Norris in deeper leagues. Norris' control fell apart (6.6 BB/9) in September/October, but in August Norris recorded an 8.5 K/9 and 2.8 BB/9, so perhaps it's a matter of consistency. It's too bad that there's really no scenario in which we can imagine the Astros will be anything other than awful in 2011, so figure Norris racks up a healthy amount of strikeouts while finishing with single-digit wins.

Deviating from the pitching theme, I see that Gordon Beckham's ADP is 225 and change. This for a former No. 1 pick who needed all of 58 minor league games and more than held his own as a 22-year-old in the big leagues, hitting .270/.347/.460 with a 0.63 EYE. Yeah, he was awful last year, but he's put on 15 pounds this winter and came to camp stronger than ever. I'm buying this "best shape of his life" story, but only because of Beckham's track record pre-2010.

I find it hard to believe the Mariners would send Michael Pineda to Triple-A Tacoma to start the season. Pineda, who tossed a pair of scoreless innings Wednesday, is the second most talented pitcher in the entire Seattle organization. I get the whole "delaying arbitration/free agency thing," and yes, he's just 22, but a 154:34 K:BB in 139.1 innings last year in the minors pretty much indicates the guy is ready. Pineda is a top-five pitching prospect, but I guess when you have Luke French to round out your rotation, you can afford to stash a Pineda in Triple-A.

Brandon Morrow fanned four batters over three innings Wednesday in his spring debut. Morrow is an attractive fantasy target for his strikeouts alone (178 in 146.1 innings last year – a 10.9 K/9), but he's also unfairly criticized for a lack of control. Morrow was really handled poorly after the Mariners drafted him No. 5 overall five years ago, a draft that later saw the likes of Tim Lincecum and Clayton Kershaw selected. Morrow's fluctuating roles (starter, reliever, closer) had to have hurt his development somewhat, as now that he knows what his new organization, Toronto, has in mind for him, he is able to focus on getting better in that role alone. One negative has been his control, but there are some neon signs pointing to rapid improvement there as well, as is demonstrated by his BB/9 rates:

Pre: 2010: 6.2
April-2010: 5.1
May-2010: 5.6
June-2010: 2.7
July-2010: 3.5
August-2010: 3.0
September/October-2010: n/a- innings limit reached

Against the Yankees last year, Morrow had a 40:9 K:BB in 27.1 innings, so though it's a tough division as always, his stuff plays well against any lineup.

I'm on board with the Aaron Harang / Petco Park reclamation project. Harang did see a dip in his peripherals last year:

2002 7.4 5.2 1.4 0.8 0.26 1.57 0.3 70.60 4.33
2003 5 2.2 2.2 1.3 0.29 1.41 0.31 66.20 4.59
2004 7 3 2.4 1.45 0.27 1.43 0.3 73.00 4.68
2005 6.9 2.2 3.2 0.94 0.26 1.27 0.3 74.60 3.67
2006 8.3 2.2 3.9 1.08 0.26 1.27 0.31 73.80 3.68
2007 8.5 2 4.2 1.09 0.24 1.14 0.29 74.00 3.71
2008 7.5 2.4 3.1 1.71 0.28 1.38 0.31 73.60 4.79
2009 7.9 2.4 3.3 1.33 0.28 1.41 0.33 75.70 4.14
2010 6.6 3.1 2.2 1.29 0.3 1.59 0.34 69.40 4.6

Strikeouts were down and walks ticked up while home runs held steady. Harang's velocity was in line with prior years while batters batted a career-high .301 against him. Some of that can be explained via a .338 BABIP, but simply, Harang was clearly more hittable last year. On a more positive note, his GB% crept closer to his 2003-2007 level, and not only is he in a far more favorable ballpark, the Padres defense looks to be among the league's best.

Nice rebound by Craig Kimbrel Wednesday after a tough debut (HR to Fernando Martinez). Kimbrel and Jonny Venters will reportedly share closing duties until one emerges as "the guy." I like Kimbrel a bit more in this two-horse race, as he has the far better minor league track record (sub-2.00 ERA, 14.4 K/9 to Venters' 4.11 ERA and 6.6 K/9). That said, Venters did have 93 strikeouts in 83 innings for the Braves last year in a stunning rookie season, so he's not easily discounted.

Five runs, four earned for Josh Johnson in 1.1 innings Wednesday. I hope he keeps getting shelled leading up to an NL-only draft I have in a couple weeks.

One interesting name in the boxscores Wednesday was John Lamb. Lamb, No. 19 on John Sickels' Top-100 list, isn't a classic power lefty, but he'll dial it up to 95 at times with excellent command. He's only 20, but Lamb is advanced enough to open 2012 in the Royals rotation. Wednesday, Lamb struck out the side against the Dodgers and is a guy to keep an eye on in keeper leagues.

The Brewers don't appear inclined to agree, but Manny Parra should be competing with Chris Narveson for the No. 5 job. Only five pitchers with a minimum of 120 innings had a K/9 rate better than Parra's 9.5 last year, and though control is clearly an issue, can't the Brewers find a coach to help Parra with his mechanics? Guess not…

I'm not nearly as bullish on C.J. Wilson as others, though I would call his transition to the rotation a big success. Wilson is unlikely to sustain a 5.3-percent HR/FB ratio (average is usually around 11%), and, combined with a 4.1 BB/9, pitching in that ballpark leaves me to think 15 wins and a 3.35 ERA are not repeatable.

It will be interesting to see what Dave Duncan can do with Jake Westbrook this year. Westbrook ranked fifth in the league in GB% last year at 56.4 percent, but he's far from dominant (5.7 K/9) and his control is good, but not great (3.0 BB/9). If Westbrook can get that strikeout rate above 7.0, perhaps the Cardinals won't miss Adam Wainwright quite as much. OK, that's unlikely, but still ...

A Handful of Sleeper Relievers

Jordan Walden, Angels –
At best, Walden is third in line in Anaheim and could even open the season in Triple-A, but he was bringing it in the upper 90s last year along the way to recording a 13.5 K/9 in his 15.1 big league innings. Kevin Jepsen appears to be next in line should Fernando Rodney falter, but that could change.

Bobby Jenks, Red Sox –
The Red Sox have to be the favorite in the AL East, so why trade their closer? I can think of $12 million reasons to go with a declining Jonathan Papelbon. It seems unlikely right now, but should a reliever like Felix Doubront emerge as a consistent force, might the Red Sox deal Papelbon and open the role for the likes of Jenks or perhaps Dan Bard if he's deemed "ready" to close?

Tony Sipp, Indians –
There isn't much in the way of competition for Chris Perez in Cleveland, but Sipp could be the guy if a new closer is needed. A couple of ugly 2010 peripherals (1.7 HR/9, 5.6 BB/9) are at least partially offset by a 10.2 K/9 career major league strikeout rate. If he can turn around his command, Sipp could have some AL-only value.

Daniel Cortes, Mariners –
David Aardsma is recovering from offseason hip surgery, and though we don't have a definitive timetable for his return, expect him to miss at least a month. Because Aardsma isn't exactly Mariano Rivera, that opens the door for Brandon League to get his shot. League, though, posted an unimpressive 6.4 K/9 last year while Cortes struck out 104 batters in 101.2 innings overall. Cortes was inexplicably traded by the Royals to the Mariners for Yuniesky Betancourt, but don't hold that against him.

Wilton Lopez, Astros –
Anybody think Brandon Lyon is a lock to last the season as Houston's closer? Same here. Lopez, meanwhile, was very good last year with a 2.96 ERA and impressive 50:5 K:BB in 67 innings. You'd like to see better than a 6.7 K/9 from your closer but again, it's not like Mariano Rivera is ahead of him.

Ryan Webb, Marlins –
There is a pretty good chance Leo Nunez gets dealt this year, as he's a Marlin and he's making $3.65 million coming off a solid (3.46 ERA, 71:21 K:BB in 65 innings) season. That would presumably leave veteran Clay Hensley as the closer, though Hensley's ability to again post a 2.16 ERA at age 31 has to be questioned. Third in line could be Webb, who the Marlins obviously liked enough to be willing to part with Cameron Maybin. Webb is an extreme groundball pitcher (62.3 GB% in 2010) with less than dominant stuff but solid control. A step forward this year puts Webb in the "closer of the future" mix.

Top 10 Starters with the Lowest BABIP:

These are pitchers you'd expect to regress given a BABIP-only focus – not something I'd recommend, but it makes it worth digging a big further into these hurlers.

Minimum 120 innings.

1. Trevor Cahill, A's - .236
– Maybe a slight step back (especially in wins), but should be offset in part by further improvement given his youth.

2. Bronson Arroyo, Reds - .239
– Not touching him this year. Would rather have seen the Reds let Aroldis Chapman start and spend Arroyo's money on the bullpen or offense.

3. Ted Lilly, Dodgers - .247
– Diminishing velocity should be at least partially offset by pitching in Dodger Stadium, but team should regret three-year deal by mid-2012.

4. Tim Hudson, Braves - .249
– Someday he'll fall apart, but probably not just yet. Still, for an extreme groundball pitcher to now have Dan Uggla up the middle can't be a good thing.

5. Jonathan Sanchez, Giants - .252
– Not too worried here.

6. Matt Cain, Giants – .252
– Cain had a .263 BABIP in 2009, so this isn't a big concern. He was able to offset diminished velocity with an improved changeup that he used more in 2010 than in any other season.

7. Roy Oswalt, Phillies - .253
– Probably the team's fourth best starter, but that only means he's probably the best No. 4 starter in big league history. Most notable about Oswalt's 2010 is that his 8.2 K/9 was his best mark since his 2001 rookie season.

8. Jeremy Guthrie, Orioles - .254
– Buyer beware. He's in Baltimore to eat innings and be a placeholder. Nothing more.

9. Tommy Hunter, Rangers - .255
– He'll make the rotation, but anything approaching 13-4 this year? Uh no.

10. Ian Kennedy, Diamondbacks - .265
– Like him, don't love him. Too many flyballs in a ballpark where that's not a good thing.

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