Mound musings: '09 studs and duds
Now on to my team-by-team notes. We'll take a look at 30 pitchers who've shown good progress and highlight another 30 for opposite reasons.
Most improved: Scott Kazmir
Took a step back: Jose Arredondo
After posting a 5.92 ERA in 20 starts for Tampa Bay, Kazmir's recovered nicely with a 2.01 mark in five starts with the Angels. He did have five quality starts (QS) in six attempts prior to the deal, so it's been a solid second half for the lefty. It's hard to see him being too undervalued next year despite an overall ERA that currently sits at 5.06. Arredondo's pitched fairly well this month and has a solid 44:19 K:BB in 43 IP on the year, but his ERA still sits at 5.86. No guarantee he takes over for Brian Fuentes come 2011.
Most improved: Andrew Bailey
Took a step back: Gio Gonzalez
I can't give the AL ROY to a reliever, but Bailey's been a huge performer for the A's this year (1.88 ERA, 89 strikeouts). He'll be back closing in 2010. Gonzalez showed flashes and has a 9.2 K/9, but the A's expected more than a 5.73 ERA from the 24 year old. He'll compete for a rotation spot next spring and still has promise.
Most improved: David Aardsma
Took a step back: Brandon Morrow
J.J. Putz's replacement has been a real find for the Mariners as Aardsma's notched 36 saves with a 2.00 ERA and 10.2 K/9. He'll be back closing in 2010. Hopefully, the Mariners have finally settled on Brandon Morrow as a starter, as all this jerking around between the rotation and bullpen hasn't helped his development.
Most improved: Scott Feldman
Took a step back: Kevin Millwood
Feldman's 17 wins and 4.02 ERA have been a huge reason why it took until late September for the Rangers to be eliminated from the playoff picture. With a 5.3 K/9, I see him as more of a No. 4/5 starter than a front-of-the-rotation option in 2010. Millwood will be back in Texas barring a trade as his $12 million option has vested. He had an ugly stretch recently, but has rebounded to allow just two earned runs over his last two starts. Still, he probably won't find up on too many of my teams next year barring a trade back to the NL.
Chicago White Sox
Most improved: Gavin Floyd
Took a step back: Octavio Dotel
Floyd hasn't improved his wins and ERA numbers, but if you're looking toward 2010, I'm looking more at the improvements in his strikeout (6.3 K/9 to 7.6) and walk rates (3.1 BB/9 to 2.8). He's turned into a solid No. 3 starter. Dotel, meanwhile, has regressed in both of those areas and isn't getting save opportunities with Bobby Jenks sidelined.
Most improved: Chris Perez
Took a step back: Fausto Carmona
Perez had allowed just two runs in 22 2/3 innings before a recent slide, but despite a 4.50 ERA with the Indians, he's looking like the club's future closer with an 11.1 K/9. Carmona, on the other hand, continues his mediocrity with a 6.62 ERA and almost as many walks as strikeouts. Don't bank on a big turnaround in 2010.
Most improved: Edwin Jackson
Took a step back: Armando Galarraga
With a 3.36 ERA in 32 starts, Jackson's become a solid No. 3 / borderline No. 2 since coming over from the Rays. Most notable is the drop in walks (3.8 BB/9 to 2.9), and though he's struggled at times since the break, I like him quite a bit going forward. Galarraga? Not so much. Sure, he's struggled with a sore elbow, but even prior to that, he was far from the guy who was the team's most consistent starter (3.73 ERA) a year ago. I don't see him back in the rotation next year.
Most improved: Luke Hochevar
Took a step back: Brian Bannister
[Insert joke here about K.C.'s most improved player having a 6.24 ERA]. Hochevar's admittedly had his bad outings. In fact, in one-third of his 24 starts, the former No. 1 overall pick's given up six or more runs. Why the optimism? A 104:43 K:BB is actually pretty good, and he has a shutout and a 13-strikeout game to his credit. Expect continued improvement in 2010. Bannister, though, failed to show the progress we hoped due to a lack of a true out-pitch.
Most improved: Brian Duensing
Took a step back: Francisco Liriano
Duensing's taken a slight step back lately, but is still 5-2 with a 3.69 ERA in 83 innings. I'm not that optimistic on him long-term due to a poor strikeout rate, but he should be a decent AL-only streaming option in 2010. Liriano? Who knows? Perhaps he's still salvageable, but I'm done waiting to return to 80 percent of the form he showed as a rookie. If he does, I'll have to deal for him because he won't be on any of my teams. Burn me once ...
Most improved: Bradley Bergensen
Took a step back: Chris Ray
With a 3.43 ERA, Bergensen demonstrated the ability to get guys out, just not via the strikeout (4.7 K/9) as much as I'd like. Still, I saw enough to believe he'll be in the Baltimore rotation next year as a No. 5 starter. For a team that isn't expected to contend next year, don't expect a high-priced closer to replace the not-fit-for-the-role Jim Johnson, so guys like Chris Ray and Cameron Mickolio should compete for the job in spring training. Ray could turn things around, but a 6.65 ERA isn't quite what we were hoping for in 2009.
Most improved: Clay Buchholz
Took a step back: Daisuke Matsuzaka
It took longer than I'd have liked, but Buchholz is firmly established as the club's No. 3 starter this year and for 2010 barring a big-name free agent signing. Dice-K? He should be better next year, but did you expect 18-3 again from a guy with a 5.1 BB/9 and .267 BABIP? Not I.
Most improved: Philip Hughes
Took a step back: Joba Chamberlain
Hughes has been a beast out of the bullpen, but we don't know his 2010 role as of yet. The Yankees could stick both he and Chamberlain in the bullpen or flip-flop them and return Hughes to the rotation. Either way, it's hard to not be bullish on Hughes' long-term upside. Joba? He wants to stay in the rotation, but it'll be up to his bosses to determine his best fit long-term. I'm just an analyst, but I say that future is as Mariano Rivera's successor. We shall see.
Most improved: Jeff Niemann
Took a step back: Andy Sonnanstine
From having to compete for the No. 5 starter job in the spring to leading the team in victories with 12, it's been a nice season for Niemann. As a former top pick, injuries set him back for a couple years and he was headed towards being bust material, but 12-6 with a 3.94 ERA in 30 games is a nice first full season. He'll be back as the team's No. 4 or 5 starter again in 2010. One guy who won't be back is Sonnanstine (6.84 ERA). There are simply too many arms in the organization with more talent. Look for him to be dealt prior to the 2010 season.
Most improved: Marc Rzepczynski
Took a step back: Scott Downs
With a 3.67 ERA in 11 starts, Rzepczynski has a place in the 2010 rotation according to manager Cito Gaston. He struck out nearly a batter an inning (8.8 K/9), and if he can just lower those walks (4.4 BB/9), he could be a solid No. 3 in time. Downs finishes with a respectable 3.09 ERA, but toe and hamstring injuries as well as Jason Frasor limited Downs to just nine saves. I don't see him as Toronto's closer in 2010.
Most improved: Juan Gutierrez
Took a step back: Max Scherzer
With a 4.11 ERA, Gutierrez hasn't been perfect, but he's yet to blow a save (eight tries) while striking out 65 in 70 innings. Chad Qualls is expected to be ready for spring training, but at this point it seems unlikely he'll be returning to Arizona due to his escalating salary. Gutierrez is the logical in-house replacement, though the D-Backs seem likely to bring in some competition. With a 4.12 ERA and 174 strikeouts, Scherzer wasn't awful by any means, but he didn't take that big step forward like I hoped he would. That could come in 2010, though.
Most improved: Jason Marquis
Took a step back: Aaron Cook
Marquis has stumbled a bit since the break, going 4-6 with a 4.46 ERA, but overall, he's headed to free agency with a solid year under his belt. Let's see now if someone overpays for one good year. Cook, meanwhile, missed a month with a shoulder injury and has regressed in terms of both wins and ERA. He's still generating groundballs and his K/9 actually went up (4.1 to 4.6) over last year, so a bit of a rebound seems likely.
Most improved: Clayton Kershaw
Took a step back: Chad Billingsley
Kershaw's far from a finished product (4.8 BB/9), but a 2.89 ERA for a 21-year-old isn't chopped liver. Look for continued progress next year and keep in mind, he's nearly four years younger than Tim Lincecum. Billingsley's seen slight regression in most categories, and he's not exactly finishing strong. At 25, it's likely his best is yet to come, but if the Dodgers are to develop a No. 1 starter from within, it's probably going to be Kershaw.
Most improved: Kevin Correia
Took a step back: Chris Young
Twelve wins and a 3.89 ERA over 32 starts has to be far more than GM Kevin Towers and fantasy owners were expecting from Correia. He's just 29, so perhaps he won't regress too much next year. He'll be a part of the team's rotation from day one. Meanwhile, Young continues to struggle with injuries, but the talent and ballpark are too intriguing to ignore completely next year.
Most improved: Jonathan Sanchez
Took a step back: Randy Johnson
Sanchez has made nice progress since the break, lowering his BB/9 (vs. the first half) from 5.3 to 4.3 and increasing his K/9 from 9.0 to 10.8. If he can find that illusive consistency next year, the Giants will have baseball's top 1-2-3. The Big Unit? Done.
Most improved: Randy Wells
Took a step back: Ryan Dempster
The 27-year-old rookie Wells has been a huge surprise this year, winning 11 games with a 3.18 ERA. Though, he isn't quite that good (5.3 K/9), so expect some regression. Dempster? He's dropped from 17 wins to 11 and added over half a run to his 2.96 ERA from last year. He'll continue to be a solid performer over the next couple years, though 2009 will probably be his high-water mark.
Most improved: Homer Bailey
Took a step back: Micah Owings
Bailey has a 4.78 ERA in just over 100 innings, but in his last eight starts, the former top prospect is 5-1 with a 1.89 ERA and 46:15 K:BB in 52 1/3 innings. He's not that good obviously, but it's hard to not like his chances in 2010. Owings? Look for a permanent move to the bullpen after a 5.74 ERA as a starter and 1.20 mark in 15 innings as a reliever. Oh, and he's slugging .509 at the plate this season.
Most improved: Bud Norris
Took a step back: Roy Oswalt
Norris finishes with a 4.53 in 55 2/3 innings, and while he's had his share of bad games, he does finish with an 8.7 K/9. If he can just cut his walks and long balls a bit, Norris can finally provide Houston with a reliable third starter option. Meanwhile, Oswalt's posted a career-high 4.12 ERA with just eight wins and a 6.9 K/9. A slight improvement next year wouldn't be a surprise, however, as he's still just 32 and the organization has to hope improvement in his sore back results in a better 2010.
Most improved: Yovani Gallardo
Took a step back: Manny Parra
The 204 strikeouts and 3.73 ERA are liking just the beginning for Gallardo, who should be the staff ace for years to come. The Brewers weren't so lucky with Parra (6.16 ERA), though his last start (7-4-2-1-1-8 vs. PHI) was impressive. He could be a bit of a post-hype sleeper, so track his progress next spring.
Most improved: Zach Duke
Took a step back: Paul Maholm
From five wins and a 4.82 ERA to 11 and 3.94, Duke's turned things around rather nicely. His 4.5 K/9 will never have him as an elite starter, but at least he's serviceable again. Maholm's gone in the other direction with a 4.44 ERA (from 3.71). Expect more of the same inconsistency in 2010.
Most improved: Joel Pineiro
Took a step back: Todd Wellemeyer
Pineiro, a free agent-to-be, picked a good year to post career numbers (15 wins, 3.44 ERA), and though he's struggled this month (1-3, 4.94 ERA in six starts), he's been a solid No. 3 for the Cardinals. Given his 4.3 K/9, some regression can be expected next year. On the flip side, Wellemeyer's ERA is up over two full runs over last year's 3.71 mark. Expect the 31 year old to have to compete for a big league job next spring.
Most improved: Rafael Soriano
Took a step back: Derek Lowe
Soriano's proven in the past that, when healthy, he's among the league's best relievers. His 11.9 K/9 ranks second in baseball behind Jonathan Broxton's 13.5 for pitchers with 60-plus innings, and as a pending free agent, Soriano should be looking at a nice raise in 2010. Lowe has his customary 15 wins, but his 4.55 ERA would be his highest mark since 2004, and his strikeout rate has taken a big dip from 6.3 K/9 to 5.1. At age 36, it's pretty clear his best years are behind him, though he should be good for another couple decent seasons.
Most improved: Josh Johnson
Took a step back: Chris Volstad
Johnson's recovered quite nicely from his Tommy John surgery, going 15-5 with a 3.08 ERA and 186 strikeouts with perhaps one start to go this year. I suppose it's not too surprising he's had this kind of year when healthy, but he'll shoot up the draft boards in 2010. Marlins fans have to hope the team can afford him now. Volstad had a promising beginning to his career last year, with a 2.88 ERA in 84 1/3 innings, but he's been so bad since July (9.45 ERA) that he may have to compete for a job next year.
Most improved: NA
Took a step back: Oliver Perez
I tried. I really tried. But there wasn't really anyone worth mentioning here in the "improved" category. At the same time, you've got a multitude of busts to choose from — Perez, Mike Pelfrey, John Maine, Bobby Parnell, etc. We'll go with the one with the highest salary — Perez. He did manage an 8.5 K/9, but we'll spare you the gory details on his other numbers. I guess we just have to hope his sore knee is a primary contributor to his difficulties this year. I'll have him on my 2010 radar simply for his strikeout ability, but you don't need me to tell you to exercise caution.
Most improved: Joe Blanton
Took a step back: Brad Lidge
J.A. Happ could have easily earned the nod here over, but Blanton gets it courtesy of a drop in ERA from 4.96 to 3.95. He's compensated for a somewhat disturbing drop in his GB% from 44.3 to 39.7 with a sharp increase in his K/9 (5.1 to 7.6). He's also putting fewer runners on base via the walk. He should be as solid as they come for No. 3 starters again next year. There isn't much more I can add on Lidge than has already been written. I suspect some sort of nagging injury as it simply is unexplainable to see a guy go from being baseball's top closer one year to a historically awful closer the following season. Expect a rebound in 2010.
Most improved: Ross Detwiler
Took a step back: Scott Olsen
It was tough to find a "most improved," so we'll go with the small sample size and talk about Detwiler, who, if you recall, was the sixth overall pick in the 2007 draft (ahead of Madison Bumgarner and Jason Heyward, among others), so he has some talent. He's still filling out his 6-foot-5 frame, but I like the lefty's long-term upside. He's also sporting a 2.41 ERA in 18 2/3 innings this month. He should be a member of the rotation from day one next year. Olsen had surgery to repair a small labrum tear in July and is looking like waiver wire material in 2010, even in NL-only leagues.
Article first appeared 10/1/09