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Mound Musings: Working Around Trouble

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.

Situational Pitching -- Working Around Trouble

A couple of weeks ago I took a look at one key situation when determining whether a pitcher is more or less likely to be successful - putting hitters away with two strikes. Obviously the more successful the pitcher is when he gets a hitter down, the more successful he is likely to be long term. This time I'd like to look at something that is generally on the flip side of that equation. Which pitchers can tighten the screws when there are runners on base?

It happens to every pitcher, but the better ones can work around trouble and minimize or even eliminate it. I don't mind a pitcher who allows a two-out single with the bases empty, but it hurts when I start squirming every time a batter steps into the box with ducks on the pond. That pitcher isn't as likely to find himself in my fantasy team's rotation. Give me a lot of those guys who don't get rattled and work around the trouble time and time again. Let's get to it:

The star of the two-strike party, you may remember, was Felix Hernandez who had a batting average against of .100 when he had two strikes on the batter. You better square it up early in the count, or you could often look forward to a leisurely trip back to the dugout. I suppose it shouldn't be too surprising to find that Hernandez is also one of the stingiest hurlers with runners on base too. With runners on, hitters are scratching out just a .197 average, and perhaps even more impressive, have hit just two home runs. That's dynamic, but there are a handful of other arms who have enjoyed similar success.

Lower batting averages and keeping the ball in the yard with runners on is an excellent combination, and there are six pitchers (including Hernandez) who have batting averages against below .200 while also generally avoiding multi-run home runs. Perhaps the best of this elite group in 2014, is Johnny Cueto of the Reds with a .192 batting average against, and having allowed just one home run in that situation. That's certainly a formula for avoiding big innings.

A couple of the others are certified aces like Clayton Kershaw (.183, 5 HRs) and the injured Masahiro Tanaka (.192, 3 HRs) but there are also a couple of potential surprises who make the list like Garrett Richards (.194, 3 HRs) who seems to be finding his way onto all sorts of lists that include top tier starters, and the Royals' young southpaw Danny Duffy (.177, 2 HRS) who is renewing a lot of the hype that accompanied his arrival before injuries slowed his developmental progress. And, a couple of other big names just missed the .200 average against qualifier - Chris Sale (.203, 4 HRS), Cole Hamels (.207, 5 HRs). and a bit of an anomaly in Scott Kazmir who sports an excellent .207 average, but has served up a high 12 home runs.

To provide a frame of reference, pitchers at the other end of the spectrum would feature names like Ricky Nolasco (.333, 8 HRs) who has a well-deserved reputation for coughing up big innings, and a couple of Blue Jays' hurlers - R.A. Dickey (.296, 11 HRs) and Drew Hutchison (.303, 10 HR) - who seem to have gotten into the spirit of home run fireworks similar to the displays that are frequently a part of Toronto's offense. However, the king of cough this season has to be the Diamondbacks' Vidal Nuno who carries a below average .278 batting average against in these situations, but has served up an astounding 14 long balls with runners on. In fact, it's even more amazing when you consider he has pitched just 124 innings this season.
The "aces" often fit these parameters and they aren't going to be a surprise (or cheap) on draft day, but watch for the pitchers like Richards and Duffy who display similar abilities to avoid those big innings and perhaps you can uncover a star in the making and get them on your roster before the competition has caught on. That's value, and that's the winning formula in fantasy.

Some Notable Rotation Ramblings:

The aforementioned Garrett Richards left his last start Wednesday in the second inning after suffering a nasty knee injury. He suffered a patellar tendon tear and needs season-ending surgery. He'll be out 6-9 months, but the Angels think he could return during spring training.

The Phillies' A.J. Burnett is reportedly considering retirement after this season despite a player option in his contract that would net him in excess of $10 million. Unless he is dealing with significant injuries, that would seem to be a lot of money to walk away from. Look for one more year.

Hisashi Iwakuma tossed yet another gem earlier this week, with eight shutout innings and 11 strikeouts, but he didn't get a chance to complete the domination when he came up limping slightly following the last out in the eighth. He is scheduled to face the Red Sox Sunday, and the latest word is he likely will.

The Dodgers have been collecting some pretty fringy arms for use in the back of their rotation, and Roberto Hernandez has surprisingly done fairly well. But I question whether he or Kevin Correia can contribute a great deal to the Dodgers (or fantasy owners) down the stretch.

I'm going to give my "Finally" award to the Twins' Phil Hughes. He hasn't been overwhelmingly great, but his K/BB of 140:15 has been, and I think he'll get better as his confidence grows. I expect him to take another step forward in 2015 and will be hoping to land him again for a value price on draft day.

I have already been asked about Mike Fiers - The Sequel. You'll remember he was the talk of the fantasy world after a few amazing starts a couple years ago, but then he faded from view. He's at it again, and while I don't necessarily think he will disappear this time, don't expect this level of success long term.

Since moving from St. Louis to Boston, Joe Kelly has been one of the more unpredictable hurlers around. I was patiently waiting for him to return from the disabled list, but the results since have been a mix of extremes - horrible to very good. I do think that will even out but it's been a little frustrating.

Endgame Odyssey

It seems some of the still undecided closer gigs are becoming clearer as one or more of the candidates struggles. Matt Lindstrom of the White Sox, step forward, you aren't helping your cause. Jacob Petricka will continue to close for the immediate future. ... Similarly, Joe Nathan could be unseated as the closer in Detroit, but Joakim Soria is hurt, and Joba Chamberlain has done nothing to elicit much confidence. ... Nobody has stepped up to claim the Rockies' gig from LaTroy Hawkins, but there could be a suitor out there lurking. Rafael Betancourt is on the road back from Tommy John surgery and should see Colorado in September. ... The Angels' Huston Street has hit a couple of bumps in the road recently, and being a non-traditional closer, those bumps can make owners nervous. He's been here before many times and I doubt there is anything to worry about as long as he is healthy. ... I'm not quite sure what to make of the end game in Tampa Bay. Jake McGee is the top guy, but he has seen multiple inning outings, and occasionally gets called earlier in the game. He's their best option and remains the one to own for Rays' saves. ... Neftali Feliz continues to scuffle, but the Rangers are in no hurry to make a change. However, if he doesn't get it together over the next few weeks they will almost surely explore options during the off-season. ... Aroldis Chapman has been dealing with a balky shoulder for a few days but says the pain is gone and he should return to his closer's role soon. Great news, but whenever that would "shoulder" pops up I get nervous. ... Trevor Rosenthal has such overwhelming stuff he can often get away with very inconsistent command, but he is beginning to question himself and that need to be fixed soon. He can do it, he just needs to believe that.