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Mound Musings: Do Ya Feel Lucky?

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.

Do ya feel lucky? Well, do ya ... punk?

Have I ever mentioned that I hate head-to-head fantasy baseball? It all comes down to the fact that it can be hard enough to predict a season's worth of production for a pitcher without putting on a blindfold and throwing a dart to project how he will perform this week. And, are there two starts involved in the crystal ball viewing? It says, "the future is cloudy" but I don't know if that means it's anybody's guess what he'll do or your second start will be rained out so pick someone else. Here's your open forum. What do you think of head-to-head? I'd like to look at several kinds of pitchers to help decide who fits best on a head-to-head team. To start, let's take a look at what can happen on a typical Monday in June:

Some selected games with some not so predictable outcomes:

Lance Lynn (St. Louis) at Colorado -
The undisputed king of unpredictability, gave us a performance to remember Monday night. In four previous June starts, Lynn was 1-3 with a weak 1.47 WHIP but a respectable 3.22 ERA. But, those numbers were greatly aided by his performance against the Nationals on June 13 where he pitched eight shutout innings allowing just two hits and no walks - his WHIP was over 2.00 in the other three starts. He's a two-start pitcher this week, but can you risk it? I mean, one of those starts is in Colorado and even on a good night, with a very steady and reliable pitcher, that is a scary proposition. Did you sit him or start him? The result: a win with eight shutout innings allowing just three hits with no walks and seven strikeouts. Over the full three months of 2014 he has pitched well. He's now 8-5 with a 1.24 WHIP and a 2.90 ERA. I think those will soften somewhat as the season progresses, but I don't think I can predict with certainty which games will most impact that softening.

Zack Greinke (Los Angeles NL) at Kansas City -
While his numbers in four June starts were fairly similar to those of Lynn, for the season (1.16 WHIP and 2.57 ERA) they were actually somewhat better, and on Monday he was pitching in a friendlier environment against a team that has struggled to generate much offense this year. Perhaps even more encouraging, Greinke had allowed more the three runs in a start just once all season heading into that Monday night matchup with the Royals. So with two starts in his book for this week, and a history of at least reasonable predictability, Greinke seems like a virtual plug-n-play choice for this week, right? The result: Greinke coughed up five runs with the Royals smacking 11 hits as he recorded just 17 outs along the way. He didn't walk anyone - thankfully, he didn't need more baserunners - and he struck out four, but he absorbed the loss and didn't do much to help his head-to-head owners. He now sits at 9-4 with a 1.21 WHIP and a 2.89 ERA. That's eerily similar to Lynn. He has something else that is similar. I think his numbers will regress a bit as well - perhaps not to the extent Lynn's will, but I would be a seller on both.

Chris Sale (Chicago AL) at Baltimore -
He has to be considered one of the premier pitchers in all of baseball. He heads into a matchup with the Orioles in Camden Yards with a microscopic 0.75 WHIP and an equally impressive 2.20 ERA. He's tough at home, he's tough on the road; he dominates lefties, and is nearly as effective against right-handed swingers. He missed some time with a flexor muscle strain in May, but that's well in the past and he came back without missing a beat. In my opinion, Sale is one of those pitchers who must be used no matter who he's facing or where the game is taking place. You put him in your rotation on opening day, and barring an injury, you leave him there until the leaves turn red, gold, and brown and fall from the trees. It's that simple. Like any pitcher he'll have some outings go better than others, but he'll rarely throw a real brick into the mix. The order of the day is ... Set Sale. The result: Sale struggles through six innings, allowing a season-high 11 hits, and recording a season-low three strikeouts. He throws strikes, walking just one and hitting a batter, but requires 107 pitches (75 strikes) to cover the six innings. Sale's command was just a hair off and while he was in the strikezone, he wasn't always locating within that zone and therefore had trouble finishing off hitters. He was actually in line for a win, minimizing the damage at two runs, before his bullpen blew the lead they enjoyed when he departed so he came away with a no-decision. That's not bad, but it doesn't meet expectations.

Odrisamer Despaigne (San Diego) at San Francisco -
He's 27-years-old and formerly pitched for the Cuban national team prior to defecting about a year ago. Despaigne has a decent arm, with a reasonably diverse arsenal of pitches, and an often deceptive motion, but was considered a mid-level performer in Cuba with just modest upside, so he signed a minor league contract with the Padres in early May. He made six starts between Double-A and Triple-A, compiling a 1-3 record with a most unappealing 6.03 ERA. There is no doubt pitching at Petco for half of his starts could be a nice boost, but this game is on the road against the division-leading Giants who are 23-15 at home this year. Only a handful of minor league innings in over a year, and not much success in those, he faces the best team in the division in their home park. That doesn't sound like an ideal matchup, does it? The result: Despaigne mixes up a low 90's fastball with a change and a wide assortment of breaking pitches, sometimes in the high 60s, allowing just four hits over seven shutout innings. He only recorded one strikeout, but he didn't walk anyone on his way to his first major league win. There is no question given his eccentric motion and relative obscurity he could be baffling to a team seeing him for the first time, but he would certainly have been a risky play for fantasy owners. He'll get the Diamondbacks later this week. The question is, do ya feel lucky?

So, what's a fantasy owner to do:

The obvious choice is to take Sale who has the skill set to overcome the rare off night. After that, who do you like? Would it be the more consistent Greinke who may not be as likely to give you a dominant performance but also won't be as likely to serve up an implosion, Lynn who liberally mixes in both shutouts and shellackings, or would you prefer to try the relatively unknown Despaigne, which could be akin to throwing a lit match into a pool of liquid - will it explode into flames or stay cool? What would you do?

Some Notable Rotation Ramblings

Bad news in Cardinals Town - they just get Jaime Garcia back following an extended absence due to shoulder surgery, then Michael Wacha runs into shoulder problems, now Garcia is back on the disabled list. And, it's not over yet as Shelby Miller left his last start with back stiffness.

Yu Darvish isn't hitting his spots, and it's having the predictable impact of less effectiveness and higher pitch counts leading to earlier exits. The results haven't been horrible and he has gone through shorts stretches like this before. It's just too risky to ever sit someone with his potential to get it back soon.

Uh oh. Again. The Padres scratched Andrew Cashner from his start this past Monday because of a "sore shoulder" which can mean anything from achy to falling out of the socket. Cross your fingers. The good news is we got to see Odrisamer Despaigne and he looked like he belonged there.

I am a long time Jake Peavy fan, as much for his bulldog approach as his overall skill set. I like guys who attack it. Maybe it's the injuries he has endured, but his velocity continues to slip and he leaves way too many pitches up and over the plate. Right now he is a power pitcher without enough power.
With Taijuan Walker hurling a shutout at Triple-A Tacoma last time out, how long can it be before he finds his way to Seattle? He allowed four hits, one walk and struck out eight. Erasmo Ramirez was just sent down, but in favor of Brandon Mauer, for now. That spot is likely reserved for Walker.

Another I thought would bounce back in a big way has fallen on very tough times. Matt Cain has been a mess almost all year, and like teammate Tim Lincecum, he has displayed very inconsistent command. Of course, even with all of his ongoing struggles, Lincecum can still put up a little no-hitter for us.

Endgame Odyssey

Spin the wheel. Who is today's closer in Anaheim? They tried Cam Bedrosian, and he was already sent back down after getting shelled. They tried Kevin Jepsen, and he promptly blew his audition. Joe Smith is the man of the hour, but he is better suited to set-up duty, and that basically means Ernesto Frieri, with his legendary meltdowns, is probably still their best bet and may be back. ... Spin the wheel, the sequel. This one is set in Tampa Bay. Jake McGee has picked up a save and Juan Oviedo has also grabbed one. Joel Peralta was the most recent addition to Saves Anonymous. It will continue as a committee for now, but they pay Grant Balfour to save games, and I still think he will be back to fulltime duties soon. ... The Giants Sergio Romo has calmed down a bit lately but he still displays some concerning tendencies. He has notched a couple of saves despite being hit hard so beware, this situation has not been fully resolved. ... Mark Melancon is now officially the closer in Pittsburgh. I've pretty much expected this since the season began and while they say Jason Grilli has been "temporarily" removed from the closer's gig, I expect the current status to last. ... He hasn't been dominating, but he has been relatively effective of late, so the Tigers have to be breathing a sigh of relief concerning Joe Nathan's rough stretch. ... It's hard to look at the peripherals of Kenley Jansen and not shudder a little bit - a very high WHIP and a high ERA. However, closer examination suggests he should be doing better than ever. His velocity is up, strikeout rate is up, and walk rate is about what you would expect. The only outlier is his batting average against, which is aided by a ludicrous .451 BABIP. I anticipate a stretch of unparalleled dominance. ... After Hector Rondon allowed five runs while retiring two batters, I think the Cubs closer situation can be summed up as, "are you coming back Kyuji Fujikawa?"