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Mound Musings: Questions for the Second Half

David Regan

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

I'll be off next week, taking in the All-Star festivities at the happiest place on Earth, Las Vegas, so I'll let this week's article serve as a look ahead to the second half. Hope you all enjoy the game because you know, this time “it counts.” I'll probably end up putting some money on Prince Fielder to win the Home Run Derby, Matt Kemp to be the MVP (yeah, no Dodger bias there) and, just for fun, Rickie Weeks to hit the first home run. Other possible bets:

Derek Jeter to make the first error

Pitching should rule, so I'll go with the under on total runs (not sure on the number yet)

Bet the NL because it has Clayton Kershaw – I kid, but the AL roster is a bit left-handed hitter heavy, and I like Kershaw, Cliff Lee, Jonny Venters and Cole Hamels to contain the AL hitters. Brian Wilson over Craig Kimbrel, Bruce Bochy? Really?

Any other bets you're looking at?

As for pitching, here are some stories and situations that I'll be keeping a close eye on as we transition into the post-break period.

Can Ryan Vogelsong keep it up?

Vogelsong's ERA by month:

April: 1.74
May: 1.78
June: 2.53
July: 2.70

The upward trend was expected given that hitters hadn't seen anything from him in several years, but it's not a disturbing upward trend. He's still very good, and now, an All-Star. He has walked four batters in each of his last two starts, which is slightly disturbing. In addition, a 3.62 xFIP suggests further ERA correction, and his 7.3 K/9 and 44.0 GB% are both good, but far from elite. A .256 BABIP and 82.8-percent left-on-base rate are further proof that there is an element of luck involved. Don't let that negativity take away from what has been a great baseball and life story this year, but temper expectations to a 3.25-3.50 ERA range the rest of the way.

Who are the five most valuable non-closer relievers?

We take this from a fantasy perspective of course, and relief pitcher value is all about the opportunity to close games. I see these five as getting that opportunity in the second half:

Mike Adams, SD –
Let's be realistic. Eight games isn't an insurmountable lead, but with rookie Anthony Rizzo not hitting, no one sans Ryan Ludwick with more than five home runs and an offense that ranks dead last in the NL and 29th in baseball ahead of only the Mariners, the Padres are going nowhere. Adams is one candidate to be dealt, but he's under team control for another year while Heath Bell is an impending free agent. I think Bell gets dealt to the Yankees for a prospect or two, and Adams takes over as closer by July 31.

Joe Nathan, MIN –
This one may be closer than we think to happening, as Matt Capps has struggled mightily recently, resulting in his ERA increasing to 4.79. Nathan, meanwhile, has allowed just one base runner in his last four innings and is clearly next in line to close. Then, of course, you have the matter of his 250 career saves, which should increase in the second half. The Twins could also leave Capps at closer in the hopes that he turns things around and builds some trade value. With the Twins 7.5 games out of first place, they could be sellers in a couple weeks.

Wilton Lopez, HOU –
Mark Melancon has allowed eight runs in his last 5.2 innings while posting a 4:7 K:BB, so he's probably on shaky ground. Lopez had an ugly four-run outing on June 26, but he's allowed one run in his last four innings and was the producer of a stellar 50:5 K:BB in 67 innings last year. Expect Lopez to lead the team in saves the rest of the way.

Joel Peralta, TB -
Kyle Farnsworth has tossed two scoreless innings in July after allowing a run in five of eight appearances, so maybe he's OK, but he did walk as many batters in his last outing (two) as he had in his previous 37 appearances. It's not a stretch to think he could find himself on shaky ground later this year. It's not a given, as he still has a 2.08 ERA and 0.89 WHIP, but impossible? No. Peralta likely would close should Farnsworth falter.

Kenley Jansen, LAD –
This one is far from a sure thing with Hong-Chih Kuo and Jonathan Broxton (assuming he's not done for the year with his elbow issue) as options along with Javy Guerra. That said, the second half in LA will be about the future, and with Broxton a free agent after this season, the future is up in the air. Jansen could pitch the ninth in the second half. He clearly struggled earlier this year and got hurt, but since returning from the DL, Jansen has eight scoreless innings with a 9:3 K:BB. A lot depends on Kuo's heath and effectiveness over the second half, but Jansen piling up saves is a possibility.

What rookie pitchers are looking at a second-half innings cap?

Current number of innings in parentheses (hopefully, not too many guys I left off).

Michael Pineda, SEA (108) –
Felix Hernandez threw 191 innings in his first full big-league season, but that was after building up to 172.1 the previous season. Pineda, on the other hand, tossed 139.1 innings last year, so I have to think he'll be limited to something in the 180 range in 2011. That would be 10 or 11 more starts unless the Mariners (three games out) decide to push their luck and make a run at the Angels and Rangers.

Zach Britton, BAL (103.2) –
Britton has scuffled a bit lately, but he did toss 153.1 innings last year, so he's probably good for 180-190 in 2011. The Orioles likely would consider skipping him a couple times over the course of the second half to limit his innings and give him a breather, but that's about it.

Rubby De La Rosa, LAD (79.2) –
De La Rosa seems likely to stay in the rotation for an extended period with Jon Garland (shoulder) done for the year. That said, De La Rosa threw just 110.1 innings last year, making him a prime candidate for an August shutdown given he's a big part of the future for a team going nowhere in 2011.

Tyler Chatwood, LAA (95) –
Chatwood tossed 155 innings between three minor league levels last year, so he's not a huge risk to be shut down early in 2011. If he's skipped once or twice, he should reach 180 innings and the organization will be fine with that.

Juan Nicasio, COL (98.1) –
Nicasio notched 177.1 innings last year, so I wouldn't anticipate any sort of 2011 cap. He's not Jhoulys Chacin, but Nicasio should have plenty of success via a 2.2 BB/9, 45.7 GB%, and a decent 6.5 K/9. His xFIP sits at 3.47.

Dillon Gee, NYM (94.2) –
With an 89.7-mph average fastball, a 3.6 BB/9 and a .248 BABIP, Gee has been seemingly quite fortunate to be 8-2 with a 3.47 ERA. Expect a 4.00-4.25 ERA the rest of the way. With 194.1 innings last year, there should be no need to cap him this season.

Jeremy Hellickson, TB (103.2) –
After 155.2 innings last year, Hellickson shouldn't be limited too much in the second half. Expect far better than a 3.4 BB/9 the rest of the way given his minor league track record.

Is Justin Masterson for real?

We knew Masterson had talent back when he was a prospect in the Red Sox system, but this? Wednesday, Masterson held the Yankees to a measly three hits over eight shutout innings. Sure, he may be forever knows as the guy who gave up Derek Jeter's 2,997th career hit, but he's also a pretty good pitcher – 2.66 ERA and an 86:38 K:BB in 121.1 innings. I said before the season that the key to Masterson's success would be finding a way to get left-handers out, and he still is searching for that pitch, having allowed a .306 average versus a .189 mark against right-handers. We can cite a couple reasons for Masterson's success – improved velocity, a strong ground ball rate of 55.2 percent and improved control via a 2.9 BB/9 (3.7 in 2010). His 6.4 K/9 isn't spectacular by any means, so Masterson will have the occasional off game, but a 3.50 ERA the rest of the way is easily doable, and 3.25 is possible.

What pitching prospects will we see in the second half?

We've already seen baseball's No. 1 pitching prospect, Julio Teheran, make his debut, and we could certainly see him return if injuries strike or Derek Lowe is traded. Prospects who could debut in the next couple months include:

Matt Moore, TB –
You just can't stop this guy right now. Moore put up a 7-1-1-1-1-10 line Wednesday to lower his ERA to 2.14. The impressive numbers are just too numerous to mention, but in his last 10 starts, Moore has allowed one run or less in nine games, with two given up in the other one. He's left-handed and despite being in Double-A, he is ready whenever the Rays need him.

Jacob Turner, DET –
The Tigers have never had a problem rushing top pitching prospects, so why start now? Turner, their first round pick (No. 9 overall) in 2009, has a 3.49 ERA and 79:29 K:BB in 100.2 innings in Double-A. The Tigers would be advised to think long-term here, but with the issues they've had in the rotation, we'll see if they can heed that advice.

Kyle Gibson, MIN –
His ERA sits at 4.17, but an 86:22 K:BB in 86.1 innings is more indicative of the type of season he's having. Gibson's upside is below that of the first two prospects on this list, but he's in Triple-A now, is polished and should see the big leagues later this year.

Alex Torres, TB –
With 50 walks in 85.2 innings, control issues have plagued Torres all season. He's balanced that with 92 strikeouts and just three HR allowed, resulting in a .347 ERA. The control issues are nothing new, but if something clicks soon, Torres could find himself in Tampa Bay.

Brad Peacock, WAS –
Peacock had a 4.50 ERA between High-A and Double-A last year, so he was far from my radar. Back in Double-A this season, the 23-year-old's numbers are just unreal – 10-2, 2.01 ERA, and a 129:23 K:BB in 98.2 innings. Peacock has a 1.54 ERA at night and 3.14 ERA during the day (blue eyes?), and he's allowed a mere .200 average versus left-handed hitters. With these numbers, expect the Nationals to consider having him skip Triple-A entirely. Look for him soon.

Neil Ramirez, TEX –
Ramirez hasn't pitched since June 28, and in that game he went just two scoreless innings, so there's likely some sort of injury. Assuming it's not serious, Ramirez should get a look in Texas later this year. For Triple-A Round Rock, Ramirez has a 3.80 ERA in 68.2 innings, and he's doing a good job missing bats with a 76:32 K:BB. Ramirez wasn't pitching great before the injury, but he should be able to make his big-league debut later this summer, especially given Derek Holland's struggles.

Jair Jurrjens – we all say a correction is coming, but is it, and if so, what should we expect?

It isn't quite Delino DeShields for Pedro Martinez, but getting Jurrjens in exchange for Edgar Renteria is looking like one of the majors' best (or worst depending on your perspective) deals of all time. Jurrjens improved to 12-3 Wednesday after holding the Rockies to one run over six innings to lower his ERA to 1.87. So why the “hate”? First, Jurrjens doesn't throw hard, averaging just 89.4 mph with his fastball versus 91-plus in previous years. Many other reasons:

Line drive rate is up from 18.1 percent to 21.9 percent year over year

Strikeouts are down – 5.4 K/9 (6.2 career)

Groundball rate is a decent but not spectacular 43.9 percent

He entered Wednesday with a 3.67 xFIP versus a 1.89 ERA

Easy to look at the numbers and figure the ERA is a lock to rise, and it very well may be, but that doesn't take away from the fact he's still a very good young pitcher. Jurrjens had a 2.60 ERA versus a 4.28 xFIP for the Braves in 2009, so he's shown he can outperform his peripherals, but can he do it again? Easy answer is “no,” especially given his 19:14 K:BB in 31.2 innings over his last five starts, but he's not going to fall apart, either. A 3.00 ERA the rest of the way is within the realm of possibility.

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

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