Here comes that crystal ball again, this week to see if we can uncover some pitchers who pitched well early on, but figure to cool off as the summer heats up. As the season progresses, there are a lot of factors that can contribute to performance, both good and bad. Our objective here is to see if we can spot some warning signs for a slip.
Most of the pitchers I will look at are not household names, at least not in households without some serious baseball junkies. These will typically be late round selections or even waiver wire pickups that went on a run in the first half and made themselves fantasy relevant. In some cases, they have become key contributors to both their major league team, and the fantasy owners lucky enough to own them. Obviously a few of the 2011 mound surprises will carry on and remain fantasy assets, however others have provided hints that they could experience a drop-off in performance as the season moves forward. Those are the guys we want to identify.
Twelve arms I feel could suffer a decline in performance in the second half:
Jeff Karstens (PIT)
Upside: Sometimes teams ignore the experts' predictions for a poor season and forget they were destined to be also-rans. When it happens, pitchers like Karstens can start believing they can win, and it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Despite having rather ordinary stuff, he has kept the Pirates in games and will attempt to continue that trend as Pittsburgh fights to stay in the playoff race.
Downside: He's actually the poster child for the majority of the overachieving Pirates rotation. Karstens, Morton, Correia, and Maholm all present a strong possibility for regression in the second half, and unless they are putting something in the water in Pittsburgh, you can expect to see some far less attractive numbers. Karstens might be slightly less vulnerable than the others, but he is not totally immune.
Kyle Lohse (STL)
Upside: The Cardinals have not played up to expectations so far this season. Ace Adam Wainwright went down with an injury before the season began, and Albert Pujols has been hurt while not really performing up to his standards. That said, expect St. Louis as a team, and perhaps many of their individual players to pick up the pace. Lohse could potentially get caught up in that surge.
Downside: He got off to a great start, however he has just average stuff so expecting him to maintain his first half pace is probably a little too optimistic. He could be useful in very deep leagues, but his strikeout rate makes him less appealing, and his WHIP is always a concern because he can simply be too hittable. Label him an emergency option for your fantasy team.
Ricky Nolasco (FLA)
Upside: The upside is always the same with Nolasco - when you put him in your rotation, you could be lining up a dominating performance that will generate a major uptick in your team's stats for that game or week. I don't think I have to discuss the flip side of that coin, as anyone who has ever owned him can relate far more graphic horror stories about his less than glowing starts than I could offer here.
Downside: Perhaps one of the biggest fantasy teases in history, he has had his ups and downs punctuated with a few superb outings, but we have seen it all before and in most cases, he comes tumbling back down - often in the most devastating "crash and burn" sense of the word. Granted, he has some obvious talent, it just rarely manifests itself long term so I would recommend letting someone else ride this roller coaster.
Fausto Carmona (CLE)
Upside: He has a nasty sinker that can be very difficult for major league hitters to handle. I have to admit, it takes a lot for a sinkerball specialist to make my recommended list. While they can be very good at times, something as seemingly insignificant as too much rest can add a couple of miles per hour to their offerings, and at the same time eliminate most of the sink that makes them effective.
Downside: Carmona has slipped from opening day starter to the fifth slot in the Indians somewhat shaky rotation. He is back from a stint on the disabled list, but if his performance doesn't improve, he could find himself in the bullpen. Remember, a sinkerball pitcher with inconsistent sink is the definition of volatile. He has not shown the ability to stay consistent so he's another good one to avoid.
Aaron Harang (SD)
Upside: Many people expected a huge turnaround with the move to Petco Park, and for the most part, they were somewhat rewarded for their optimism. After all, predicting a better season for him was not a real stretch - his past few seasons have offered very little opportunity for further regression. If he stays in San Diego, a lot more of those long flyballs will continue to find gloves, but a few more could leave the yard too.
Downside: Harang is still far too hittable, and he is unlikely to ring up enough strikeouts to ever be a force in the fantasy game. He is performing better to be sure, but don't get too giddy, there is still plenty of time for the real Harang to resurface, especially if he gets dealt outside the comfy surroundings of the Padres pitcher's paradise. Monitor his situation as the trade deadline approaches, and be careful in picking and choosing the best spots to use him, even if he is not traded.
Jeremy Hellickson (TB)
Upside: Every year the spring fantasy drafts feature a few players who create incredible hype as owners speculate on who might have a big positive impact on the coming season. Hellickson was one of those few in 2011, and justifiably so. He has very good stuff, and can probably look forward to a very bright future so he's probably not someone to cut loose if you are playing in a keeper or dynasty league.
Downside: Like many young pitchers, he faces a second half of dealing with hitters who are making the necessary adjustments to his offerings. While I believe he will come through this challenging time, his numbers down the stretch could suffer and he may not be the safest play, especially against the more potent offenses. In redrafts he could be a good sell high candidate, but keep in mind, he does have both the stuff and the mound presence to be very valuable long term.
Josh Collmenter (ARZ)
Upside: The Diamondbacks don't have many viable options, and being in the thick of the NL West race, they are somewhat compelled to ride Collmenter's success. Ian Kennedy and Dan Hudson are front line starters, but Joe Saunders, Zach Duke, Barry Enright and their other potential starters make Collmenter look like a very good alternative. That could continue getting him the ball every fifth day barring any acquisitions.
Downside: It's hard to list a person on this list when you really enjoy watching him pitch, but the tantalizing straight overhand delivery he has become known for is probably not going to protect him from hitters adjusting to his less than dominating stuff. He has shown a tendency to be vulnerable later in starts as hitters start to see the ball better, and he may eventually be destined for the pen where he is not so exposed. Hopefully the Diamondbacks will continue to extricate him from games when the trouble begins.
Brett Myers (HOU)
Upside: He is still capable of a good outing now and then, but he doesn't appear to have the necessary focus, perhaps because when he does throw a good one, the Astros often find new and unusual ways of losing. Myers might benefit from another change of scenery, but there hasn't been much talk of him moving. When he keeps the ball out of the middle of the plate, he can be a viable option, unfortunately he doesn't do that often.
Downside: Pitching for a bad team has its obvious drawbacks, but pitching poorly for a bad team makes the guy a fantasy anchor. As mentioned, Myers will likely throw an occasional good game, but he will also throw in enough stinkers to make you forget those helpful starts. He allows too many hits, far too many of which sail off into the sunset, and does not get enough support to be of much value.
Alexi Ogando (TEX)
Upside: There has been a lot to like about Ogando this season. He has been very effective, even pitching in a very hitter-friendly home park. He has two outstanding pitches that he can generally throw for strikes; however that positive is also the concern. Long term success does not usually come with just two consistent pitches. He will be tough on hitters as long as he can at least occasionally mix in more off-speed stuff, but without them, Arlington is a very dangerous place to pitch.
Downside: Yes he has a lot of talent, but he has been providing numbers that are probably not sustainable, not yet anyway. Ogando still needs more reliable secondary pitches, and there have been discreet signs the league is finding that out. Add the fact that he is likely to be facing an innings limit at some point this year, and his value, at least for the rest of this season, drops quite a bit.
Justin Masterson (CLE)
Upside: Much like the Pirates in the National League, Cleveland has surprised many with their early season run. Masterson (and a few other arms) has been an integral part of that surge. He is the type of pitcher who can get in a groove and stay there for awhile so he can't be discounted when he is pitching well. However, he has a few vulnerabilities that could make it difficult for him to stretch the success out for a full season.
Downside: I don't expect him to totally implode, but I don't expect him to maintain his early season performance either. Masterson has always struggled against left-handed hitting, and while he has shown considerable improvement, he is still too vulnerable to those lefty bats. At the very least, he should probably be avoided when he faces heavy hitting lineups that can stack their batting order with left-handed swingers.
Tom Gorzelanny (WAS)
Upside: Gorzelanny has been pretty lucky so far despite an unflattering W-L record, but his command is likely to be an ongoing problem. He allows too many baserunners to avoid serious damage for long stretches so he will need to throw a higher percentage of strikes to keep his ERA respectable. He can accumulate a few strikeouts which could help, but using him as anything but a match-up spot starter is taking a risk.
Downside:The Nationals are building for what could be a pretty promising future, but Gorzelanny isn't likely to be a key component. As their young pitching talent develops, He could eventually be squeezed out along with guys like Jason Marquis and/or Livan Hernandez. Even Chien-Ming Wang will soon be an option. The ballpark helps, and the team is exciting, but expect regressions in WHIP and ERA, and a reduced role.
Phil Humber (CWS)
Upside: There weren't too many who predicted this level of success for Humber. In fact, he wasn't really a rotation consideration until Jake Peavy was forced to start the season on the disabled list. Since then, Humber owners hold their collective breath as he spins another quality start. He has a superb curve that is his bread and butter, and he throws quality strikes. It's possible he will continue to enjoy some success.
Downside: He is one of the few things that have gone right for the Sox this season, however he is likely to regress at some point in the year. He does have that very nice curve, but his overall repertoire is just average so the dangers of pitching in his home run happy ballpark are always going to make him a risky play. He's likely best suited to a swingman role long term, but the Sox will let him try to prove otherwise.
Some short takes:
Roy Oswalt (PHI) - Oswalt has been out with back woes that were a serious threat to his season, but all reports suggest he has bounced back and should be back soon. He should slide back into the Phillies amazing rotation, and provide them with yet another arm pointing to a post season appearance. Put him back on the radar.
Clay Hensley (FLA) - He was a pretty decent starter a few years back before arm problems took him out of the mix. With Leo Nunez on an ongoing trade watch, he was considered the first option in the end game, but the Marlins have decided to see if he can get back to starting. He has the repertoire and early results are encouraging.
Blake Beavan (SEA)- I'm not so sure Beavan is a strong option long term, but he has pitched well enough to make one of the more established arms like Erik Bedard or Jason Vargas viable trade candidates. In many ways Seattle has become the San Diego of the American League and any pitcher is worth a look.
Ross Detwiler (WAS) - Pitching pretty well in relief and biding his time as he is ultimately destined for the rotation. A deadline trade could do it, or the impending innings limit on Jordan Zimmerman could be the trigger. Regardless, he will be there later this year, and should be a middle-of-the-rotation regular for the Nats next season. He's worth grabbing.
Aaron Crow (KC)- This is really a heads up for 2012. Crow has been exceptional as a set up man for Joakim Soria, spending the season in the bullpen for some on the job training to make up for his lack of time in the minors. The Royals will move him back to starting next year, and he has the talent to move right to the top of their rotation.
Jason Frasor (TOR)- It's the time of the year to speculate a bit on possible closer movement so let's start by looking at a real longshot. Frank Francisco isn't the answer, Jon Rauch really is a set up man, and Octavio Dotel is, well, Octavio Dotel. Frasor has had brief trials before with mixed results, why not another try? Monitor his usage.
Sergio Santos (CWS) - He has been fairly solid since stepping into the closer's role, but he is still a mound neophyte and some inconsistency was to be expected. He has an awesome slider, but it can wander away at times and he becomes far less effective. Matt Thornton is semi-sharing closing duties for now, but Santos should still be the guy.
Kenley Jansen (LAD) - Jansen remains my choice to close in Los Angeles. Also still pretty new to the mound, he is very fast and a little wild, but he is also almost unhittable when everything is working. Javy Guerra has the gig right now, but he is only a couple of stumbles from giving way to the Dodgers closer of the future.
Rex Brothers (COL) - Would the Rockies love to move Huston Street to free up some cash in their tight budget? Yes, they would, and it's very possible Brothers would get the first shot at closing if Street hits the road. He has been very reliable to date and has steadily moved into more and more critical game situations. Be ready to jump on.
Matthew Moore (TB) - And finally, you all know this name by now. He isn't likely to collect any saves, but the Rays have said they might follow their familiar pattern, and bring him up in September to throw a few innings in relief. If you are in a keeper and need him to appear in a game to be roster-eligible, be ready for his first MLB pitch.
For some of the most in-depth coverage of all things pitching in fantasy baseball for 2011, visit www.bogfella.com and be sure to follow @RotoWire and @bogfella on Twitter.