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Bogfella's Notebook: Beware the Blowups

Brad Johnson

For more than 25 years, pitching guru Brad "Bogfella" Johnson has provided insightful evaluation and analysis of pitchers to a wide variety of fantasy baseball websites, webcasts and radio broadcasts. He joined RotoWire in 2011 with his popular Bogfella's Notebook.

A note to readers of Bogfella's Notebook: This weekly Notebook is YOUR forum for discussion and analysis of all things pitching. That's right, FORUM. I check several times daily for comments and questions, whether it's a pitcher you are considering adding or a trade you might offer; bring it up in the Comments section, and the other readers and I will weigh in. Your questions and comments will always get a response. Additionally, as a service to my readers, I post regular UPDATES in the Comments to make sure you are always aware of the latest developments on the mound, so check back all week. I want to thank all of my regular readers, and I want to encourage everyone to post their comments and questions. That interaction is what makes the Notebook both fun and informative! Now let's get started with this week's edition by taking a look at a few recent performances; some good, and some bad:

Some Arms Who Have Made Us Take Notice:

Brandon Morrow (TOR) - I have not previously included Morrow here because I am often accused of mentioning his considerable talents too often. (I plead guilty) But, I was asked to give an analysis of his somewhat bewildering start to this season, so here goes. Has Morrow turned into Mark Buehrle with his subpar strikeout rate? In short, the answer is no. He is making some changes to his approach which suggests he is trying to pitch to contact more often, and that would reduce his pitch counts and allow him to get deeper into games, but the strikeouts will return. The velocity is there, but he is changing speeds more (4-seam fastball usage is down, as he picks his spots to use that lively fastball), he has toyed with a cutter, and pretty much scrapped the slider, and he is throwing hard curveballs (actually a softer version of his slider but with more 12-6 bite and it was working against the Mariners). The "new" offerings are making it more difficult for hitters to recognize what's coming, so there have been fewer line drives, but they are not the reliable wipeout pitches he has used in the past to generate strikeouts. Those will come though as he establishes the modified pitch selection, and gains more consistent command of the entire repertoire (fewer balls out over the plate so fewer home runs). Recommendation: Overall, his strikeout rate may dip a bit, but he will likely end the season averaging a strikeout an inning or better; and with a better WHIP and ERA than in past years. Command of his evolving arsenal, more innings, and reducing pitch predictability are important adjustments.

Matt Moore (TB) - It's all about staying within oneself for many young pitchers, even pitchers with extraordinary ability like Moore. Last week against the Angels, Moore started off well enough. He was staying back, letting his pitches do the work, and the results were very good. However, deeper into the game, he started rushing a bit, getting to his release point early, which takes away some of the zip, diminishes some of the movement, and perhaps most importantly, extracts some of the command out of the equation. Moore actually has a track record of slow starts. He is a rhythm pitcher (many are) and generally April is not his premier month. Everything can be just a tick off in the early going for him, but once he locks in, the rest of the league can burn their bats, because it is show time. He has a rather free and easy delivery, so there is no reason to believe he won't get the moving parts in synch fairly soon. This last start against the Angels was a precursor and suggests he is close. That would fit his normal timeline. Recommendation: Honestly, I would find it hard to believe a Moore owner would be discouraged enough to peddle him this early, but you never know. If you can slyly inquire into the availability of that "over-hyped" kid, by all means, do it!

Chad Billingsley (LAD) - I wanted to watch Bryce Harper's major league debut, so it seemed like a good time to check in on Billingsley as well. While he has had some good performances this year, he has also had some real disasters. But, that has been his history for quite some time. Amazingly, there was a day when people asked me who would be the better pitcher, Billingsley or Clayton Kershaw. It was pretty obvious even then that while Billingsley could be a good one, Kershaw could be great. Alas, Billingsley showed me the same flaws that have made him so frustratingly inconsistent. He lacks command of his fastball, and to make matters worse, he frequently leaves the pitch up in the zone, especially in the early innings. The Nationals are stone cold with the bats, or they could have made him pay a price. He did show some nice downward plane with his curve, but his slider, much like the fastball, was up more often than not. He does have decent velocity (low-mid 90s) but not what it takes to constantly live up above the belt. If he can stay down (he does at times) he can be successful, but if he leaves pitches up, hitters will eventually catch up to them and the results will cost the Dodgers and your fantasy team. Recommendation: He probably fits best as a back of the fantasy rotation starter since his bad outings are difficult to predict - they can come against weak or good hitting teams on any given night. If you have him in your rotation, just accept the fact that he could crash and burn in any given start.

Mat Latos (CIN) - Nobody likes to see their pitcher move from spacious Petco Park in San Diego to a relative launching pad, but Latos moved his tack from the west coast to Cincinnati in a trade this past winter. It's particularly troubling when the pitcher is one who occasionally loses focus on the mound, and that has been Latos' bane in his young career. He has the tools in abundance. His fastball sits mid 90s with life and his hard slider is a true strikeout pitch. The Reds acquired him looking for a true #1 and he has the ability to be just that, if, and it's a big if, he can mature and stay focused. I would compare him to Zack Greinke - loaded with talent (Latos might actually have a bit more), but prone to lapses that can turn a solid outing into a train wreck in very short order. I am hesitant to go all in on a pitcher, regardless of ceiling, if he shows a tendency to get rattled when things get rough. Latos is maturing and there is plenty of opportunity to take the next step, however how he will fare in Cincinnati's hitter-friendly environment is yet to be determined. Recommendation: He's experienced shoulder problems in the past, always a red flag, and he needs to prove that he can rise to the occasion when he finds himself on the mound without his best stuff, or when breaks go against him. That makes him high risk/high reward, so be prepared to experience the good, the bad, and the ugly - potentially all in the same game.

Wade Miley (ARZ) I'll start by saying I really like Miley. Then I will temper that statement with a, but his days as a fantasy asset are likely numbered. He has a decent fastball in the low 90s that can be difficult to pick up out of his hand, a nice change-up that he probably needs to use more often, and both a curve and a slider that can sometimes be too similar in their look to hitters. The real problem, from a fantasy standpoint is ongoing opportunity. The Arizona organization is loaded with extremely high ceiling arms. Miley is well down on the long term food chain, and will likely give way once these other kids (Bauer, Skaggs, Corbin, Bradley et al) are deemed ready. Recommendation: He has some deception in his delivery that helps until hitters build a better book on him, but his breaking pitches may be too inconsistent to assure long term success in a rotation. He should be a nice add over the short term, but be prepared to jump off when he heads to his likely destination in the bullpen.

Endgame Odyssey:

In Washington, Brad Lidge has made his way to the disabled list so Henry Rodriguez is now the full time closer despite the implosion Saturday night. He still has some control issues, but makes up for it by being nearly unhittable most of the time. Mechanical problems have Jordan Walden out of the Angel's closer's role with Scott Downs the fill in, but Walden could potentially be back, and rumors abound that the Angels are seeking alternatives. The Dodgers Javy Guerra blew consecutive saves last week and then gave up a run in the ninth inning of a tie game. It might take a wider crack in the door for Kenley Jansen to take over, but watch this one closely, it's coming. The primary challengers, Brian Fuentes (can't get people out) and Fautino De Los Santos (sent down when he couldn't find the plate) have left Aussie Grant Balfour locked in as the Oakland closer. However, Balfour has now been linked to trade rumors involving the Angels, perhaps merely speculation, but he remains a prime candidate to be dealt at some point this season. In Chicago, Matt Thornton closed out a White Sox win on Sunday while Hector Santiago warmed in the pen. It could be time for a change. As for the Marlins, Heath Bell has been horrible. Steve Cishek might be a good handcuff.

Kid Watch:

Checking in on promising young arms is one of my favorite pastimes, so I wanted to add this Kid Watch feature to the Notebook. With the season now headed into its second month, teams are more likely to start considering kids to replace early season mistakes in their rotations. Shelby Miller may be among the most ready, but St. Louis doesn't have any opening just yet. Even with Carpenter on the shelf, their rotation has performed incredibly well. The Mets' Mike Pelfrey is out for the year, and Chris Schwinden isn't the answer, so how long can it be before we see Zack Wheeler or Matt Harvey get an audition? Unfortunately, they may wait, and give the more advanced but lower ceiling Jeurys Familia a shot first. Is Arizona the land of opportunity? With Josh Collmenter mercifullynow in the bullpen, and Daniel Hudson still on the disabled list, the scramble is on. Wade Miley will continue to get the ball if he continues to perform, but talented lefty Pat Corbin got the call over the higher upside Trevor Bauer. I generally liked what I saw from Corbin on Monday - good (not great) stuff. He showed a fair fastball and nice breaking pitches, but his change was a little inconsistent. He worked both sides of the plate (not afraid to come inside). If he and Miley can pitch reasonably well, it would give the Diamondbacks the luxury of delaying a Bauer recall.

Again, is there a pitcher you would like to see analyzed in an upcoming Notebook? Throw the name out and I'll see what I can do. In fact, I would like to remind readers to check back often as each week's Notebook will feature updates in the comments section on evolving mound situations. And, as always, keep in mind this is an interactive forum, so your comments are always appreciated. I will respond to any comments or questions as soon as possible. Thanks!

For up to the minute updates on all things pitching, be sure to follow @bogfella on Twitter! Get your pitching questions answered, and my take on all the mound related happenings!