Mound musings: Hitting the midseason mark
AL - Zack Greinke, KC - It's hard to argue with this one given that Greinke leads the AL in ERA (2.00), ranks third in strikeouts (120) and has walked a scant 19 guys. Oh, and he has 10 wins if you care about stuff like that in handing out hardware. Greinke's a more-modest 6-4 with a 2.63 ERA since his 4-0, 0.00 start, but he's still deserving. Rounding out the top five: Roy Halladay, Felix Hernandez, Justin Verlander and Joe Nathan.
NL - Dan Haren, ARI - This one was quite a bit tougher, but it basically came down to two guys for me, Haren and Tim Lincecum. Lincecum has 22 more strikeouts than Haren in the exact same number of innings (121) and both have equally-impressive ERAs, with Haren having the 0.07 advantage at 2.16. What slants me to Haren is him holding batters to a .194 AVG vs. Lincecum's .218 (with remarkably similar .315 and .317 BABIPS for the two), and that Haren has walked half as many batters (15) as Lincecum. Haren's also getting two fewer runs a game from his offense than Lincecum, furthering the pressure to not make mistakes. Again, a close call, but Haren gets the nod. Rounding out the top five: Lincecum, Matt Cain, Javier Vazquez and Yovani Gallardo.
AL - Mariano Rivera, NYY - This is no lifetime achievement award here, as I couldn't give this to anyone other than a guy with the same number of walks (three) as decisions (1-2 W/L). Rivera's 42:3 K:BB is just astonishing, and if it holds, his 10.9 K/9 rate would be the best mark of his career. I can see the argument for Joe Nathan here as well (1.35 ERA, 43:7 K:BB), but it's Rivera by a hair: Rounding out the top five: Joe Nathan, Andrew Bailey, Jonathan Papelbon and Brian Fuentes.
NL - Jonathan Broxton, LAD - This would've been a no-brainer prior to Sunday's meltdown, but this award is for a full half-season (grammar police, please chime in there), so Broxton gets the nod courtesy of a fastball that averages close to 98 mph and a second great pitch, his slider. No reliever comes close to Broxton's 65 strikeouts and his 14.8 K/9 is far and away the top rate in the game. Sunday's disaster saw Broxton's ERA jump from 2.10 to 2.72, but I expect we'll see it in the low 2.00s by year's end. Rounding out the top five: Heath Bell, Ryan Franklin, Francisco Cordero and Huston Street.
AL - Rick Porcello, DET - After shutting out the Red Sox in his last start, Brett Anderson may be on his way to becoming the best rookie pitcher of 2009, but for his work over the season's first half, that honor goes to Porcello. In losing his last two starts, Porcello may have hit a bit of a wall, but that's no unexpected for a guy who skipped both Double-A and Triple-A in winning a rotation spot this spring. A 47:31 K:BB doesn't impress, but his stuff should allow him to improve that mark as he matures, and he's already generating a ton of groundballs (2.42 G/F). Porcello will have his next start skipped, as he's already hit 87 innings after throwing 125 last year. Rounding out the top five: Andrew Bailey, Brett Anderson, Trevor Cahill (trend developing alert) and Koji Uehara (apologies to Josh Outman).
NL - Randy Wells, CHC - I was rather critical of Lou Piniella's decision to tap Wells over Sean Marshall as his No. 5 starter, but a 2.48 ERA in 11 starts validates Lou's confidence in the youngster. Wells is 26 with just a so-so minor league track record (hence my preseason skepticism), but as long as you're aware the regression has to be coming, you'll be more than satisfied with Wells' production as a rookie. Rounding out the top five: Jordan Zimmerman, Tommy Hanson, J.A. Happ and Kenshin Kawakami.
SURPRISE OF THE YEAR
AL - Andrew Bailey, OAK - No AL reliever has more strikeouts than Bailey's 57, and while he did strike out a hitter per inning in Double-A last year, it was hard to see this coming considering his ERA that year was 4.32 with a 4.6 BB/9. He's simply been fantastic this year and should solve the A's revolving door at closer for a while, at least until Billy Beane gets a trade offer he can't refuse.
NL - Jason Marquis, COL - Amazingly, Marquis had a 2.51 ERA in 29 innings in Coors Field prior to the Rockies picking him up in the deal involving Luis Vizcaino this past winter, and the success has continued. A 11-5 record with a 3.61 ERA isn't exactly supported by a 54:38 K:BB and 4.1 K/9, but he keeps the ball down and that's been good enough. Lots of NL-only league Marquis owners are winning their leagues right now, though this can't continue (can it?).
BUST OF THE YEAR
AL - Armando Galarraga, DET - A few guys with ERAs better than Galarraga's 5.03 ERA - Brian Tallet, Vicente Padilla and Trevor Cahill. Certainly unexpected. Galarraga's walks are up and strikeouts down, but he's allowed just one run in each of his last two starts despite a not-so-great 12:7 K:BB. His velocity is actually slightly up over last year, so a decent second half wouldn't be a surprise.
NL - Todd Wellemeyer , STL - Maybe it's because I own Wellemeyer in my Strat-o-Matic league, but after posting a 3.71 ERA a year ago, I'd hoped he'd build upon 2008. Wellemeyer, though, ranks No. 89 of 91 pitchers who qualify for the ERA title with a 5.58 mark (only Jamie Moyer and Bronson Arroyo are worse). Wellemeyer's walked four batters in three of his last four starts, something that obviously needs to change before we see some improvement.
MOST LIKELY SETUP TURNED CLOSER
AL - Jim Johnson, BAL - No, the Orioles don't have to deal George Sherrill who they control through 2011, but they'll certainly be listening. There isn't a contender out there who couldn't use a very good left-handed reliever in the late innings.
NL - John Grabow, PIT - Matt Capps is under team control through 2011, but he's going to start getting expensive, so if a contender offers up a decent package this month, Capps could be on the move. Grabow and Joel Hanrahan would probably be the top remaining options for saves, with Grabow seemingly having the advantage.
TOP RETURN FROM INJURY
AL - Shaun Marcum, TOR (Tommy John surgery) - Marcum is full speed ahead for an August return after undergoing the procedure last September. Cross your fingers and hope Marcum's return from TJ goes smoother than that of Francisco Liriano.
NL - Tim Hudson, ATL (Tommy John surgery) - Hudson appears on track for an August return, but reports have that return coming as a reliever. The Braves are pretty stocked in the rotation, and Hudson might not have the arm strength to be a solid starter until next year, but don't rule him out having some NL-only value at some point in 2009.
AL - Scott Baker, MIN - Baker ranks No. 84 of 91 pitchers that qualify for the ERA title with a 5.31 mark, but he's certainly far better than that. Over 2008, Baker's improved his BB/9 from 2.2 to 1.9 and his strikeout rate has remained stable at 7.4 K/9. Look for him to turn around a low 64.4-percent strand rate and have solid second half.
NL - Kevin Correia, SD - Correia sits at 5-7 with a 4.58 ERA, but over his last seven starts, he has a 3.63 ERA and 38:8 K:BB in 44.2 innings. Combine that with the fact he'll be pitching another eight or so games in Petco Park and you have your sleeper.
SECOND HALF BUSTS
AL - Kevin Millwood, TEX - Millwood has a 3.34 ERA this year and a 5.07 mark in 2008. Yet, he's striking out fewer batters (5.4 K/9 vs. 6.7), walking more (3.1 BB/9 compared to 2.6) and his FB% is up from 33.9 to 37.7. Sounds like a recipe for an ERA correction, especially factoring in a .272 BABIP. He has the experience and track record to have a strong second half, though the numbers certainly point to a regression.
NL - Zach Duke, PIT - You could include Jason Marquis here, but we'll go with Duke. He's a pretty easy target given the improvement in his ERA over 2008 from 4.82 to 3.28, as his strikeout rate is up just a tick, walks are about the same, as is his HR rate. He's benefited from a .273 BABIP, so while he's locating his pitches better, the stuff just isn't there to continue at his current pace.
Baltimore Big Three - A.k.a. Chris Tillman, Brian Matusz and Jake Arrieta. Tillman and Arrieta have reached Triple-A while Matusz was recently promoted to Double-A. All three rank in my top-10 pitching prospects and all are going to be a huge part of the future success (or lack thereof if they get hurt) of the Orioles in the A.L. East. Don't expect to see Matusz until 2010 when all three could and should compete for rotations spots in spring training. Tillman and Arrieta, however, should see some time in the second half, but perhaps not until September, as the Orioles really have no need to bring them up any time soon.
Neftali Feliz, TEX - Pitching out of the bullpen in Triple-A, though his long-term future is as a starter. With a fastball that approaches triple digits, he's a top-five pitching prospect, but he's also just 20 years old, so don't expect any sort of fantasy contribution until 2010. There's only an outside chance Feliz winds up closing games should Frank Francisco get hurt later this year.
Wade Davis, TB - Davis is on fire lately, having posted a 2.14 ERA in his last seven starts. He's also managed a 48:12 K:BB in those 42 innings after recording a 32:25 mark in his first 10 games (53 innings). He's blocked at the big league level right now, but he's probably next in line over Andy Sonnanstine the next time the Rays need a starter. Davis doesn't project as a No. 1 starter like David Price, but as a 2 or 3, the Rays could do far worse.
Madison Bumgarner, SF - A lot of you know this guy's name by now, as he's the top pitching prospect left in the minors. Still, he's just 19 and reached Double-A earlier this year, so bringing him up in 2009 would seem to be a bad idea. Watch for him in 2010.
Mat Latos, SD - ONE earned run in 25 1/3 innings in the Low-A Midwest League was enough for the Padres to skip Latos all the way to Double-A. He hasn't stopped there, going 4-1 with a 2.14 ERA in eight starts there. Latos has an extensive history of injuries, but when healthy, he's proven to be a top-shelf prospect. Look for him in September with an eye on competing for a spot in the 2010 rotation. Something tells me the Padres will have some 25-man roster spots open for competition next spring.
Kyle Drabek, PHI - A Tommy John survivor and son of ex-big league star Doug Drabek, Kyle's shot up the prospect charts this year, going 9-1 with a 2.58 ERA and 110:36 K:BB in 108 1/3 innings between High-A and Double-A. He hasn't been quite as dominant at his new level and considering his relative lack of pro experience, it seems unlikely we'll see much of anything from him in Philadelphia this year. The Phillies though are going with Rodrigo Lopez in the No. 5 slot right now, so I guess you never know.
Jon Niese, NYM - A five-hit shutout with 10 strikeouts in his last start and a 1.04 ERA in his last six should have Niese close to a call-up. Keep him on your NL-only and deep mixed league radar. Beyond Santana, Pelfrey and Hernandez, things are fluid in terms of the rest of the Mets rotation.
Brad Lincoln, PIT - Drafting Lincoln ahead of Tim Lincecum and Clayton Kershaw three years ago might not have been a good idea, but there are at least signs that Lincoln won't be a [insert favorite PIT SP flop here - I'll go with Bryan Bullington]-type bust. He has a 2.69 ERA on the year and barring injury, should see time in Pittsburgh later this year. Consider him a possible No. 3 starter down the road.
Article first appeared 7/9/09