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Mound Musings: Digging For Buried Treasure

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.

Digging For Buried Treasure

Winning in fantasy baseball often comes down to grabbing a guy (or letting him go) at the right time. The best trade partners are those who lack patience and confidence in the players on their roster, making them anxious to unload a quality player who has gone through a rough stretch, but is now ready to get it back together. Pitchers are frequently the bane of owners who are quick to pull the chute, and that's what we're here for. Who are some of the best candidates to turn around a poor first half as the season heats up? Let's look at a few arms you might want to check on during the second half.

Rick Porcello (Detroit Tigers)

Yes, he is still frustratingly inconsistent. He was battered regularly early on, had a very strong stretch, and just when you thought he had arrived, he was handed a couple more beatings. Don't give up. There are so many positives here, the future is looking brighter all the time. It will require patience, and a high level of conviction, but I remain convinced his believers will be rewarded. An improving strikeout rate is just one of many positive signs, but while the Detroit infield defense is always going to be a WHIP concern, the offensive support he can get will probably lead to a few more wins.

Matt Cain (San Francisco Giants)

One of the things that will become obvious on this list is a need for a pitcher who has struggled with command to get everything back in synch. Cain is a prime example. For most of the first half, Cain has been far more hittable than you would normally expect. There has been nothing to suggest he is dealing with any type of minor injury, yet his command has been spotty at best. That creates three problems: higher pitch counts, more frequently pitching behind in the count and more mistakes left out over the heart of the plate. The results are predictable. However, Cain has a reasonably sound motion that should lend itself well to minor mechanical adjustments, and his more recent outings suggest the corrections are being made. The old Cain may be just around the corner.

R.A. Dickey (Toronto Blue Jays)

Actually, Dickey is just one of several Blue Jays arms I considered putting on this list. His knuckleball has more velocity and more dance so he has been progressively more effective recently. Look for that to continue, and a resurgent Toronto offense will also help his cause. The ERA he had last season with the Mets is unlikely to happen now, but his other peripherals could be in line with 2012. But, also consider Brandon Morrow, J.A. Happ and Mark Buehrle -- they could step it up in the second half if the pieces fall into place. Both Morrow and Happ should be back soon, maybe just after the All-Star break, so watch their rehab progress.

Ian Kennedy (Arizona Diamondbacks)

I have been a big fan of Kennedy since I first started tracking him when he was in the Yankees system. And, because he doesn't have the huge arm, making my watch list was not an especially easy accomplishment. He has a very impressive approach to his work on the mound. He normally works two to three pitches ahead, and every pitch seems to have a clear purpose. That is not something you see every day. I watch him and think of Greg Maddux. Maddux was the paramount "thinking" pitcher, and while Kennedy may not reach his level of expertise, there are some parallels. Because he doesn't have overpowering stuff, his command must be razor sharp, and for the most part it has not been so far this season. I have a hunch that could change, and with his demeanor, he could be a force again.

Matt Moore (Tampa Bay Rays)

Moore is something of a question mark here -- not because I think there is any doubt about his potential ceiling, but because his value could vary widely from league-to-league. He was on a roll to begin the season, and then the command issues that have become somewhat problematic resurfaced. High pitch counts meant early departures, and high walk rates inflated his WHIP, and those things could, in some leagues, have led to some disillusionment. He is a very young southpaw, and as we have discussed many times, that is frequently a definition for inconsistency during development. Moore has the highest ceiling of any pitcher on this list, and if you can acquire him at even a modest discount, I would jump at the opportunity. If you can do it in a keeper league, the buy recommendation is even more emphatic.

Cory Luebke (San Diego Padres)

I already own Luebke in leagues where I have had the roster flexibility to stash him away, and while I was hoping he would be back by now -- he has had some minor setbacks -- the Padres are being understandably conservative with his rehab. When he does return, he probably will be a bit rusty and he will be on a pitch and innings limit. That said, he was the best the Padres had when he was healthy, and he has the Petco advantage, so I am optimistic. Luebke is the type of pitcher who could be completely forgotten in some leagues, and he is also the type of pitcher who could give a fantasy team a nice boost in August and September. Admittedly he would likely have to be considered a high risk/high reward flyer, but I'd take a chance.

Erik Bedard (Houston Astros)

This one is not for the faint at heart. A bad team, and an injury-prone lefty who can suffer bouts of wildness from inning-to-inning is potentially volatile in a best-case scenario. However, Bedard has quietly posted some intriguing results lately. In four starts prior to last Tuesday, he pitched just over 19 innings, allowed five runs (four earned) and struck out 20 for a 1.86 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP. That's close to vintage Bedard. Then in his last outing it was six walks in less than six innings. When he can throw strikes early in the count, and with his full repertoire, he actually has some of the most devastating breaking stuff around. I certainly won't call him a sure thing to help your rotation, but if you need more than a little boost, more like a miracle, have a go.

Some Notable Rotation Happenings:

Jake Arrieta (CHC) -
He's been one I have watched for quite a long time, and now he gets a change of scenery. He moves away from the more potent AL East lineups, but into a less than ideal scenario with a weaker defense, and an organization that hasn't always fared very well with young pitchers. He needs to show me he is radar worthy.

Scott Feldman (BAL) -
Going from one of the worst teams in baseball to a team with a much better lineup -- both offensively and defensively -- helps, so it's hard not to expect him to at least maintain his momentum. However, the AL East, as mentioned, is no picnic, and I think some of his recent success is a little smoke and mirrors.

Taijuan Walker (SEA) -
Still keeping an eye on the blue-chip kids, Walker has made a smooth transition to Triple-A after a recent promotion, but I really don't expect to see him in Seattle before September. He and Danny Hultzen figure to be the ultra-high quality compliments to Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma as soon as next season.

Ross Detwiler (WAS) -
He's one of those LEWD (LEfties Without Direction) cases right now, but I expect him to be back in synch before too long. For whatever reason, young southpaws are especially prone to losing their release point, and when the command goes away, the results always suffer.

Lance Lynn (STL) -
It sounds a lot like an instant replay. He starts out the season 10-1, and looks like an ace doing it. Then, he becomes more and more hittable, the strikeout rate dips, and he magically turns into a back-of-the-rotation arm. I have mentioned before that I watch him again and again, and he just doesn't excite me.

Derek Holland (TEX) -
Continuing our theme of sometimes erratic lefties, Holland could easily slot into the potentially big second-half starters discussed above. He has the stuff, as he showed last season, and on and off this year, but remember, you will have to take the good with the bad.

Homer Bailey (CIN) -
He is quite capable of pitching like he did in the no-hitter every time he takes the mound. Will he? History says not likely. Several peripherals show improvement, but in his last seven starts, he has been drubbed three times, was decent in two, excellent in one and then the no-no. Is he Jeckyl or Hyde next time out?

Endgame Odyssey

The Cubs found at least a temporary taker for Carlos Marmol -- the Dodgers, so he is unlikely to close anytime soon -- but what about Matt Guerrier who came over to the Cubs? If they deal Kevin Gregg, a real possibility, Guerrier could actually wiggle into the closer scenario, even though the name being tossed around is Blake Parker. ... J.J. Putz has returned to the Diamondbacks. He was thrust right back in the closer's role, but didn't look sharp so they'll go back to Heath Bell, for a brief encore. ... Almost as soon as Koji Uehara was anointed the closer in Boston, the team ran up a string of save chances. He did well, but his iffy durability did come into question after pitching four times in five days. He's good enough to do the job, but the Red Sox will have to monitor his workload. ... Tommy Hunter was recently left in to collect a two-inning save even though Jim Johnson hadn't pitched for the Orioles in a couple days. Johnson was back for the next save opportunity so maybe it was just an extended mental break for Johnson who had struggled a bit of late. Just something to monitor. ... The Mariners say Tom Wilhelmsen could be close to reclaiming the closer's gig. Their fill-in options weren't all that impressive, so him rediscovering the strike zone will surely be seen as good news.