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Mound Musings: Answering the Mailbag

David Regan

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

I get a lot of questions from friends, colleagues and subscribers. Here are answers to a few recent questions

Who is a great sleeper pitching prospect relatively close to the big leagues?

Robbie Erlin is a pitcher I've had my eye on for a little while. He's 6-foot at most and doesn't offer a big-time mid-90s fastball, but the results have been pretty spectacular. Pitching in the Rangers organization, Erlin offers three solid pitches that he can command to both sides of the plate with ease, and the numbers speak to that:

2010 (Low-A Hickory) 2.12 ERA, 0.93 WHIP, 125:17 K:BB in 114.2 innings

2011 (High-A Myrtle Beach) 2.14 ERA, 0.55 WHIP, 62:5 K:BB in 54.2 innings

2011 (Double-A Frisco) 2.19 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 8:2 K:BB in 12.1 innings

Erlin doesn't turn 21 until October, so a 2011 debut seems rather unlikely, but if he can finish 2011 as strong as he's started, a 2012 debut is possible. He's a 2009 third-round pick out of a Santa Cruz, Calif., high school, and with his polish, he's being fast-tracked by the Rangers.

Are the Padres going to trade Heath Bell, and if so, what is the associated fall out?

Padres' Opening Day payroll the last three years:

2009: $45.9 million
2010: $37.8 million
2011: $43.7 million

With only $13 million committed to four players next year, the Padres have some flexibility, but Mike Adams and Luke Gregerson are going to get big raises in arbitration. Add a likely $10 million annual price tag on Bell for 2012, and something has to give. Gregerson is arbitration-eligible for the first time, so I'm guessing $2 million for him, with Adams in his final year of eligibility and likely due close to $5 million this time around. That would be about $17 million tied up in three relievers, or something in the range of 34 percent of a $50 million payroll. Not happening.

My Take:
Bell is traded to the Phillies next month in exchange for 1B/LF Jonathan Singleton and RHP Jarred Cosart. Bell immediately steps in as the team's closer for the rest of the year, whether Brad Lidge (arm) returns 100 percent healthy or not. Gregerson agrees to a three-year, $14-million extension in winter, while Adams and the Padres settle on a one-year, $4.5 million deal, avoiding arbitration. Adams closes for the balance of 2011 and half of 2012 before he's also traded. I can also see the Rays having interest, and they have the prospect depth up the middle that the Padres really need. We shall see.

Is Scott Kazmir toast?

Hard to say, but early returns aren't promising. A bad back and mechanical issues have hounded Kazmir since the 2009 season, and he's pitching in Triple-A, hoping to return to the major leagues. His first three starts at Triple-A:

1.2IP, 6 ER, 3:4 K:BB

2.1IP, 10 ER, 2:3 K:BB

6 IP, 2 ER, 5:5 K:BB

Start No. 3 is certainly better than the first two, but that's not saying much. Until the Angels see vast improvements in his control, expect Kazmir to remain in the minors. With a 34:35 K:BB, Tyler Chatwood isn't exactly locked in as the No. 5 starter, but Chatwood's 15:8 K:BB over his last four starts shows he's settling in and improving, which is bad news for Kazmir. At age 27, Kazmir might not yet be "toast" as a major league option, but he's lost an amazing seven mph on his fastball since 2004. Reports on his velocity in his most recent start were not available, but he was in the 84-90 mph range in his second start. That's just not going to cut it.

My Take:
Kazmir takes the full 30 days to rehab in Salt Lake before the Angels decide to release him. He then latches on with the Cardinals and is converted by Dave Duncan into a solid left-handed reliever.

What happens to Ryan Vogelsong when Barry Zito returns from the DL?

If not for the following, the question would be a no-brainer considering how well Vogelsong is pitching:

2011: $11 million
2012: $19 million
2013: $20 million
2014: $7 million buyout if option doesn't vest

That is what the Giants owe Barry Zito through 2014. Ugly, ugly numbers.

Here are some better numbers, those of Ryan Vogelsong this year:

1.68 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 42:14 K:BB in 53.2 innings

Manager Bruce Bochy recently promised Vogelsong's spot is safe, even when Zito returns, so that would seem to leave the Giants with a $20 million a year middle reliever/spot-starter. They won't simply cut him, as $57 million is a nice chunk of change. At the same time, I can't help but wonder whether Zito's presence in the bullpen would negatively affect Vogelsong, as having a highly-paid former Cy Young winner looking over your shoulder could be distracting. Ideally, the Giants would trade Zito for a hitter with an equally bad contract, but the only two comparable deals I can think of would be Zito for Vernon Wells or Zito for Carlos Lee, but how does Zito fit in with the Angels or Astros?

My Take:
Zito looked good in his first rehab outing (6.2-2-1-1-0-6), but he'll return as a reliever and remain such until someone gets hurt. Then he'll be shopped hard at the winter meetings in the offseason where he'll be traded with a boatload of cash for a pair of socks and some sunflower seeds.

Is Ubaldo Jimenez back?

2010 first nine starts: 8-1, 0.99 ERA

2011 first nine starts: 0-5, 5.86 ERA

Night and day.

2011 last two starts: 1.13 ERA, 15:0 K:BB in 16 innings (Dodgers and Padres).

Far better results, but one thing to keep in mind is that the Dodgers and Padres rank 25th and 30th, respectively, in the league in runs scored, so let's see how he fares against teams like the Phillies. It's been well-documented that Jimenez's velocity is down this year (93.1 mph avg FB vs. 96.0 a year ago), and in his last start he was in the 92-95 range. That's still plenty fast to be effective, but his slider has also been far slower and less effective, and hitters are hitting line drives at a rate of 20.3 percent of batted balls (16.2 percent last year). When hitters square up the ball like that, bad things happen.

My Take:
Jimenez is still an elite pitcher, but with the unexplained drop in velocity, he's no longer up there with the Lincecums and Halladays of the National League. Pitching well against the Dodgers and Padres is nice, but those are teams that have hitters like Aaron Miles and Jason Bartlett near the top of the order. Jimenez is probably a 3.60ish-ERA pitcher the rest of the way.

Is Alexi Ogando for real?

This winter, the Rangers looked at three things relative to Ogando's 2011 role on the team:

1. The hole left by Cliff Lee.
2. The successful RP-to-SP transition by C.J. Wilson last year.
3. Ogando's solid three-pitch repertoire.

With Ogando 6-0 with 2.20 ERA, call it a resounding success. A .220 BABIP, 6.5 K/9 and 3.66 xFIP suggest some regression is coming, but that's fine, as we know Ogando isn't going to maintain a 2.20 ERA all year anyway. That said, Ogando averages 94.5 mph with his fastball (a small and predictable dip form last year's 96.3 out of the bullpen), and his slider has shown great strides. There's room for improvement in Ogando's changeup (like most pitchers), and should that pitch develop, it could help offset some regression.

Anything interesting in Ogando's splits? Why yes, there is. Versus right-handed batters, Ogando has allowed a .138 average and one homer while lefties hit him at a .214 clip with six homers. A .214 batting average against isn't awful by any means, but if Ogando can develop a pitch that makes him more effective against opposite-sided hitters, that would help tremendously.

My Take:
Ogando continues to be a very good starter. He's been so consistent, going at least six innings in each of his 11 starts while allowing more than two runs just twice. The big question surrounding him, in my mind, is how many innings the Rangers will allow him to accrue. Last year between the high minors and the Rangers, Ogando tossed 72.1 innings. He's on pace for close to 200 this year, so at some point this will have to be addressed. I would venture to guess that the Rangers cap him at about 170 via skipping him in the rotation a handful of times down the stretch.

Is John Danks a good buy-low opportunity?

It was pretty surprising to see Danks dropped in 12-team mixed leagues, but when a pitcher starts a season 0-8, I suppose that's going to happen. Danks, though, posted three straight years of at least 32 starts, a sub-3.80 ERA, and 150-plus strikeouts, so might those folks have been a bit hasty?

Considering his last outing (Win, 7.1 IP, 1 ER, 6:1 K:BB), one would think so, but what do the numbers say? Let's look at a few metrics over the past three years (2009-2011 in order):

K/9: 6.7, 6.9, 6.0

BB/9: 3.3, 3.0, 3.0

GB%: 44.2, 45.4, 44.8

FB velocity: 90.4, 91.7, 91.5

BABIP: .267, .274, .313

A slight dip in strikeouts, but holding steady in walks, ground balls and velocity. What really stands out is the huge BABIP increase. Danks also has an xFip of 4.03 compared to last year's 3.99, so he's pretty much the same guy this year as in the past with the exception of a few more batted balls turning into hits.

My Take:
Don't necessarily expect another .267 BABIP the rest of 2011, but he's had some bad luck and certainly poor run support (17 runs in his eight losses), so an uptick in wins and an ERA in the 4.00 range is possible with a little good fortune.

How directly does a solid GB% correlate to a strong ERA?

It's hard to argue against the idea that groundballs are better for a pitcher than flyballs, particularly in parks where balls carry. Groundballs are usually limited to singles, whereas flyballs can go over the outfield wall for home runs. Groundballs can also turn into double plays, of course. So, if a pitcher keeps the ball on the ground, he's likely to run into less trouble.

How often, though, does a high GB% lead to a low ERA and vice-versa? Because it's beyond the scope of this article, I'm going to hold off on utilizing by college statistics courses, and just look at the top and bottom 15 GB% performers the last three years and cumulative ERA for each group.

Low GB Rates:

2009 36.5 3.70
2010 35.8 3.37
2011 33.2 3.78

High GB Rates:

2009 53.5 3.59
2010 55.5 3.91
2011 56.7 4.06

Pretty easy to see that in each year, extreme groundball pitchers fared better than their counterparts in the extreme flyball arena. These results shouldn't be completely unexpected by any means, but merely serve as a reminder that when evaluating draft picks or trades, that looking beyond ERA in these evaluations is a must. Is it really a surprise that this year's last-place pitcher on the GB% chart (29.0 percent) has a 4.65 ERA after that same guy had a 2.93 ERA just two years ago? I'm speaking of J.A. Happ.

Pitchers with high a GB% and a high ERA: Jake Westbrook, Fausto Carmona, Luke Hochevar, Brad Penny, Ivan Nova these are pitchers worth analyzing further.

Pitchers with a low GB% and a low ERA: Michael Pineda, Jeremy Hellickson, Shaun Marcum, Randy Wolf pitchers to be a bit wary of possibly.

Who are some setup men to target?

Always an easy answer. Target setup men in bullpens where the closer is on shaky ground.

Koji Uehara, BAL Uehara has a 2.36 ERA and 34:5 K:BB in 26.2 innings while closer Kevin Gregg has a 6.9 BB/9.

James Hoey, MIN No idea who's next in line in Minnesota, but I do know that Matt Capps has blown five saves.

Jason Frasor, TOR Jon Rauch is back closing, at least this week. Octavio Dotel could get the next look, but Frasor also has some closing experience to go with his 2.10 ERA.

Wilton Lopez, HOU Melancon has done very well and is in no danger, but he also has no track record while last year, Lopez had a 50:5 K:BB. Brandon Lyon (shoulder) will reportedly be eased back into the closer job for reasons unknown (OK, it's money).

Aaron Crow, KC Joakim Soria is back as closer, but maybe that doesn't last.

Mike MacDougal, LAD Good luck figuring out whether this will ever happen, but MacDougal does have closer experience.

Jason Isringhausen, NYM If K-Rod is traded, Isringhausen is the guy.

Mike Adams, SD See analysis above on Heath Bell.

Sean Burnett and Tyler Clippard, WAS Storen has had his ups and downs recently.

Who are your top 10 pitching prospects at Double-A or above?

Julio Teheran, ATL (AAA) He will play all of 2011 as a 20-year-old, so no need to panic over a pair of underwhelming MLB starts.

Shelby Miller, STL (AA) 6-7-1-1-2-5 in Double-A debut after a 2.89 ERA and 13.8 K/9 in the High-A Florida State League. Could compete for rotation job next spring and doesn't turn 21 until October 2011.

Matt Moore, TB (AA) Strikeout king/left-hander has K/9s the last three years of 12.9, 13.0 and 12.2. He's also dramatically improved his control this year with a 2.7 BB/9 (5.1 and 3.8 the prior two years).

Jacob Turner, DET (AA) Just turned 20 last month, but could see a September call-up given the Tigers' propensity for rushing their young arms.

Martin Perez, TEX (AA) 1.47 ERA in May and a big step forward for the 20-year-old.

Manny Banuelos, NYY (AA) 5.2 BB/9 might mean most or all of the season in the minors.

Dellin Betances, NYY (AA) 23-year-old has 1.99 ERA through nine starts. Would likely get the call before Banuelos.

Mike Montgomery, KC (AA) 5.4 BB/9 seems to indicate there's an injury or mechanical issue. Likely the latter.

Kyle Gibson, MIN (AAA) 2009 first-rounder has 64:11 K:BB in 60 innings. Limited ceiling, but he's polished and ready for Minnesota.

Arodys Vizcaino, ATL (AA) Recent history of arm problems, but when healthy, has a pretty high ceiling.

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

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