May 2010

The other Santana

Can we start the campaign for a new nickname?  Presenting Ervin “Magic” Santana.  I think it works; I’m really tryin’ here. The Angels starter needs some sort of pizzazz to emerge from the shadow of the all-world ace (Johan) who he unfortunately shares the same surname with.  And, hey, we’ve obviously seen ‘Magic’ used as a substitute for Ervin, or Earvin, in the past, and this 27-year-old right-hander has exhibited some magician-like qualities of his own to make the nickname fit.  Now that he’s been wowing people with his pitching again, I say we give it a shot. Work with me …

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Magic Santana surfaced with one of the most remarkable opening acts in baseball history.  If you watch the MLB Network religiously, you might have seen one of those epic Bob Costas-narrated flashbacks that detailed Santana’s career debut when he allowed a chronological cycle to the Cleveland Indians before retiring a batter in the first inning.  Yes, the first four batters Santana ever faced singled, doubled, tripled and homered in succession, and it’s never happened before.  This scarcely documented supernatural occurrence is truly a hidden gem in baseball lore.  

 

Santana has also shown the ability to disappear without a trace and then reappear in a flash.  He emerged as a front-line starter with a 16-8 campaign in 2006, only to have his effectiveness vanish in ’07 when he was lit up for a 5.76 ERA and 14 losses.  He rematerialized as a dominant force by going 16-7 with a 3.49 ERA and 214 Ks in ’08, only to saw his owners in half during an injury-plagued ’09 when he limped to a plus-five ERA.  Lately, it appears his bewildering talent is beginning to present itself once again, so you may want to seize the day and grab him while he’s still available in almost half of Yahoo! leagues.

 

Over the last three starts, Santana’s performance has really lived up to the moniker, as he’s gone 3-0 with a 2.05 ERA and 22 Ks over 22 innings pitched.   This has brought him to 4-3 on the year accompanied by a solid 3.65 ERA and 1.26 WHIP, with six quality starts to his name.  His slider has been biting again and his fastball is consistently reaching the mid-90s.  It was still coming in at 92 in the ninth inning of Tuesday night’s outing, when he pulled a rabbit out of his hat by going the distance in a 10-strikeout performance against the Blue Jays.  It was his second complete-game victory against the Jays this season, after he held them to one earned run on April 18.  This is no small feat as Toronto currently leads all of baseball in runs scored.   

 

Magic (yep, still pushing it) has sort of been the anti-Roy Halladay in 2010, as he’s faced a murderer’s row of opponents thus far.  Six of his 10 starts have come against the Blue Jays (twice), Yankees (twice), Red Sox and Twins, who are all ranked in the top six in runs scored in the American League.  Nonetheless, he’s managed to rank second in the AL in innings pitched with 69 (one-third of an inning behind James Shields), fifth in strikeouts with 62 and his two complete games are good for a first-place tie.  With his next three starts (assuming things stay according to schedule) against the Royals, Mariners and A’s, things should get even better.

 

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One thing that seems a bit paranormal considering his solid performance is that Santana’s groundball-to-fly ball ratio sits at 0.55, noticeably worse than his career average of 0.62. He’s pitched to 132 fly balls this season — blowing away the rest of the league by 10 — which has contributed to him allowing 12 home runs, tied for the most in baseball.   This puts him on pace to surrender 41 dingers, demolishing his career high of 26. Santana’s always been more of a fly-ball pitcher, but long balls have never been this much of a hindrance, so you can assume things will begin to even out.  

 

In fact, there are already hints of progress, as six of the homers came during his first four starts (at home vs. Twins, at the Yankees,  in Toronto, and at home vs. the Yanks again), which he followed up by limiting opponents to three long balls over his next five outings.  He had a hiccup in that department Tuesday night when he allowed three solo shots to the Blue Jays, but considering those Birds are running away with the ML-lead in homers with 79 (the Red Sox are a distant second with 62), I’ll write it off as a fluke. I can do that; it’s my blog. Anyway, once he gets his grounders and fly balls in line with his prior career performance, and starts facing some easier competition, Magic Santana could really start enchanting fantasy owners. 

Hittable Halladay

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Roy Halladay is 6-3 with a 2.22 ERA and 1.10 WHIP.  Sounds downright dominating doesn’t it?  This should make it all the more shocking when the Phillies all-world ace gets rocked like he did on Sunday by the Red Sox to the tune of seven runs on eight hits, while striking out just one.  But if you’ve paid attention very, very closely, you might have been able to spot a dent in Big Doc’s armor for prior to this. 

Take out his May 1 shutout of the measly Mets (pre-Jason Bay’s awakening), and Halladay has allowed 44 hits in 35 innings.  Over his last four starts, the right-hander has pitched to a mediocre 1.50 WHIP with opponents batting .288 off him.  He’s 0-2 with a 4.29 ERA over his last three starts, having allowed 27 hits. 

In reality, Sunday was the first time Halladay has faced a potent offensive threat all season.  Eight out of his 10 starts have come against teams ranked eighth or lower in batting average in the National League.  None of those offenses bat above .261 collectively.  That doesn’t include his start against the Nationals, who rank 12th in the league in runs scored.

 He’s absolutely feasted on the weakest of the weak.   His four complete games have come against the Braves, Mets, Pirates and Astros, who represent four out of the bottom five team batting averages in the NL.   He’s padded his numbers big time against that feeble foursome, allowing just two earned runs over 36 innings. 

From 2008-2009 Halladay’s K/9 rate was 7.68.  So far this year it sits at 6.90, with a 4.71 mark over his last three outings.  You’d think his strikeouts would rise substantially with all those pitchers set to whiff in the National League, rather than dip almost a full K.  Predictably, his K/BB ratio is also down a over a full point at 4.92 compared to last year’s 5.94. 

Is there any explanation for this most recent decline in performance?  Maybe it’s because Charlie Manuel has gone to town on Halladay’s right arm like a child with a new toy.  Halladay leads all of baseball with 1105 pitches thrown, and his 110.5 pitches per start thus far is easily a career high.  Over the four starts prior to Sunday’s shellacking, he averaged an enormous 122.5 pitches per game.  Perhaps not the brightest idea for a guy who just reached his 33rd birthday on May 14 having already eclipsed 2,000 career innings pitched. 

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Things are about to get a whole lot harder for Halladay, and it will be very telling to see how he fares.  The Phillies have games against the Red Sox, Yankees, Twins and Blue Jays coming up in June, who represent four out of the five highest-scoring offenses in the American League. They are still yet to face three of the four highest-scoring teams in the NL (other than themselves). 

Now, this all being said, no one here is trying to deny the fact that Halladay is likely to be one of the better starters in the game for the remainder of the year.  However, whether he’ll retain his status as an elite, Top-3 starter worthy of that second-round draft choice looks somewhat ominous.  If you’re a Halladay owner, it may be time to read that writing on the wall and use his current numbers and reputation to deal for some elite value. 

UPDATE, MAY 29th:  Just kidding.

Supporting the cause

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One thing people don’t usually consider when drafting starting pitchers is the quality of his offense.  Those who took a chance on Roy Oswalt bouncing back to ace-like form this season should be hailing themselves as prophets right now, as the 32-year-old has pitched to a stellar 2.66 ERA and a 1.07 WHIP with 60 K’s in 61 innings.  However, those owners might have been wise to consider that the Astros went into the season with a starting lineup that only a mother could love and with their two best sluggers on the wrong side of age 33.  Right on cue, Houston has managed a miniscule total of 18 runs scored over Oswalt’s nine starts, resulting in just two wins for the right-hander.

 

On Thursday night, Oswalt faced off against the only pitcher in baseball besides him who has thrown a quality start (at least six innings with three earned runs or less) in all nine of his outings, Ubaldo Jimenez.  While Ubaldo threw seven innings of shutout ball to record his eighth victory, Oswalt churned out a solid six-inning, two-earned-run performance. He was rewarded with his sixth loss.  This game pretty much summed up the hard luck Oswalt and his owners have been feeling all season, and warrants a look into the impact of the run support a pitcher receives.

 

To give you an idea of how incredibly miserly the Astros have been for their ace, Oswalt’s Run Support Average is currently 2.66 – which ironically (and amazingly) equals his ERA.  Run Support Average (RSA) is like the reverse stat of ERA for a pitcher – it’s a team’s runs scored, averaged over nine innings, while the pitcher is of record.  In 2009, the pitcher with the worst RSA in baseball who threw at least 140 innings was Johan Santana at 4.75.  Since 2004, no pitcher who has thrown that many innings in a season had an RSA below 4.15.  Yeah, it’s been that bad for Oswalt, and there’s a few other pitchers who should feel similarly snake-bitten right now.

 

Mr. Pickup of the month for April, Brad Penny, is Mr. Winless for the month of May, which has a lot to do with the Cards offering just a 2.73 RSA (also unbelievably identical to his 2.73 ERA) through eight starts.  You thought Zack Greinke was a tough-luck 16-game winner during his Cy Young campaign?  Well, so far, Greinke has just one victory to show for his seven quality starts and 2.72 ERA, thanks to a 3.92 RSA.

 

The Padres’ Clayton Richard’s 2.94 ERA through eight starts is good for top-20 in the National League, and would probably get him some fantasy love if it wasn’t for the fourth worst RSA in baseball (3.67) which prevented him from notching his first win until April 30.  As a result he’s owned in just 26 percent of Yahoo! leagues. 

 

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Kevin Millwood might have the sorriest story of them all.  A 3.65 ERA and 1.26 WHIP would make him a solid little fantasy starter except for the fact that he’s currently winless through nine starts because the Orioles have provided him with a meager 3.94 RSA.  Millwood’s peripheral numbers are pretty much equal to a guy like Clay Buchholtz, who’s scratched out five wins thanks to an 8.15 RSA.  Buccholz is owned in 55 percent of Yahoo! leagues, while Millwood is virtually neglected at 21 percent.

 

On the flip side, run support can also turn a mediocre pitcher into a fantasy hero.  Last season, Joe Saunders and Jorge De La Rosa both reached the 16-win plateau, and fantasy reverence, despite plus-4.30 ERAs mainly because they were the beneficiaries of RSAs over nine from their respective offenses.  Riding that train so far this year is Minnesota’s Kevin Slowey, who has five wins despite a 4.70 ERA thanks to a 9.20 RSA.   

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Derek Lowe’s 5.47 ERA and five wins don’t match at all, because the Braves have provided an average of 10.06 runs per game while he’s been on the mound.  This is virtually the only reason Lowe is owned in 52 percent of Yahoo! leagues, because only three of his nine outings have been of the quality variety.  Jamie Moyer pitches behind the best offense in the NL, so it’s no surprise he has an RSA of 8.25 and is the owner of five victories despite a pedestrian 4.30 ERA. 

If these guys all have five wins, it’s a crime Oswalt has only two.  When he takes on the Brewers next week, support the cause for the Astros to score some runs against the pitching staff with baseball’s third worst ERA. 

Off the Snide

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Meet Matt Stairs version 2.0.  His name is Travis Snider.  He appears to be angry.  It’s possible that’s because annoying writers
are calling him Matt Stairs version 2.0. 
I don’t know.  

Just check out
his headshot and you’ll see a guy who appears seriously perturbed. Lately, MSV2 has been taking out this anger on baseballs — and turning heads in fantasy leagues.

The comparisons to Stairs are clear.  Snider bats left handed, has a goatee, swings
hard, and hits bombs. 

At a stocky 6-foot,
235 pounds, Snider is noticeably larger than the newly slimmed-down Stairs. And that extra mass leads to plenty of power.  The other major
difference between the two players:  Stairs managed just three full seasons as a
starter and has a .264 career average, while Snider — well he’s going to be a
beast. 

The Jays brought Snider up to start the 2009 campaign as a
21-year-old. Ranked by MLB.com as the No. 7 overall prospect entering last season, he got a lot
of love as a fantasy sleeper. Snider came
out of the gate raking, then flopped and was sent down on May 20 after hitting
.216 for the month.  It’s possible the
headshot was taken that day, when he stormed out of the clubhouse rejecting
all inquiries from the press.

Snider apparently devoted that channeled that anger into destroying Triple-A pitching, posting a monster .337-14-40 clip with a 1.094 OPS in 175 at-bats for Las Vegas.  Rewarded with another callup, he, posted a .816 OPS in
September, and headed into 2010 penciled in as an everyday outfielder for the
Jays. 

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Snider struggled out of the gate, hitting .155 in April with just five RBIs
and a .338 slugging percentage. Then May — his ’09 nemesis — arrived. But this time, something clicked. 

Over a 14-game stretch from April 29-May 14, Snider hit .385 with four homers, 11 RBIs, 11 runs, eight doubles and a 1.187 OPS.  He posted seven multi-hit
games over that span, and even threw in a couple steals for good
measure.  After looking virtually clueless
against southpaws in ’09, he’s batting .350 (7-for-20) off them with
three doubles thus far. 

On May 12, Snider showed some maturity at the plate, switching to a heavier bat and shortening up his swing to smack a
double and a two-run homer off Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield.  He followed that up on Friday with a
three-run shot off Rangers starter Rich Harden and his third stolen base in a 2-for-4 performance. 

Snider is an extra-base hit machine right now and appears to
be coming into his own at age 22. He’s been slotted at the bottom of the Jays
lineup (batted ninth on Friday), but you can bet he’ll work his way into prime RBI territory if this production continues. 
With six long balls already, he easily has the potential for a 25-dinger campaign. The rough April could drag down his final average, but there’s a good chance he’ll bat at least .280
the rest of the way.   

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In an unfortunate twist, Snider was placed on the 15-day Disabled List with a banged up wrist after this piece was originally written .  Nevertheless, you should hit up the
waiver wire and stash  him on your DL until he comes back in a couple weeks, as he’s available in 90 percent of Yahoo!
leagues right now.

The enigma that is Bronson Arroyo

You should have known what you were getting yourself into with Bronson Arroyo.  Having him on your fantasy team can be gut-wrenching.  He can carry your pitching staff or he can utterly destroy you.  For your viewing pleasure, the essence of Arroyo’s wicked volatility has already been fully captured in the early stages of 2010, leaving many owners an emotionally-drained wreck.

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At the end of each season, like clockwork, the 33-year-old right-hander will put up numbers you’d sign up for in a New York minute.  Arroyo has been a 14-game winner four times over the last five seasons, has thrown an average of 209 innings while compiling a palatable 4.08 ERA from 2004-2009, and is usually good for around 150 strikeouts. 

At this point, you might ask yourself what the big deal is in all of this.  Well, what seems like a model of consistency from year to year is nothing but a facade once you delve within each individual season.  In an impressive 2008 campaign, Arroyo compiled a stellar 15-11 record with 163 K’s and a 3.47 post All-Star break ERA.  However, a quick glance at his game log reveals that he permitted five earned runs (or more) a ridiculous 11 times, equating to an astonishing 32 percent of his starts. 

Furthermore, the Cincinnati hurler finished 2009 at 15-13 with a very solid 3.84 ERA and 1.27 WHIP, but was hit up for at least five earned runs 10 more times. That included two nine-run shellackings within a three-start span, one of them in just one inning of work. How many 15-game winners ever get hit that hard on such a regular basis?

In the fantasy world, catastrophic starts like these will single-handedly lose you the ERA and WHIP categories before the week even gets going.  But the thing with Arroyo is, he’ll leave you battered and bruised and ready to cut bait only to then run off a string of starts like he did at the end of 2009, when he went 5-3 over his last 12 starts with a sparkling 1.90 ERA and 0.95 WHIP.

When he began this season with eight stellar innings of one-run ball, owners were once again reeled in.  Then came the sobering reminder of Arroyo’s dark side, when he was roughed up in three straight starts, culminating in an eight-run romping over three innings by the Padres.  Of course, he followed that up with two wins and a 3.05 ERA over his next three outings, highlighted by a seven-inning gem against the Pirates this past Monday. 

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Going through the game logs over the last few seasons, there are absolutely no patterns or trends to be found that offer evidence of what makes Arroyo fall apart.  Last year, his five-run shellings were split evenly between The Great American Ballpark and the road.  They happened against the 65-win Royals, 70-win Mets, 75-win Blue Jays and twice against the 70-win Diamondbacks.  He was hit hard twice by the Cards, only to dominate them in a near complete-game gem to end the season.  In similarly peculiar fashion this year, he was roughed up by the sub-.500 Marlins and Pirates, while hurling his best outing against the first-place Cardinals.   

This all must be a lot to digest, but one thing you can conclude is that owning Bronson Arroyo on your fantasy team is going to be a wild rollercoaster ride.  Clearly most people are too squeamish to stomach it, as Arroyo is currently forsaken in 68 percent of Yahoo! leagues.  But if you’re capable of being tossed around without losing your lunch, and have a resilient heart, the ride will likely be well worth it in the end.

Hit one out already!

It’s coming. You can feel it.  Any day now, Grady Sizemore and Ben Zobrist will get that first home run.  It’s a giant eyesore, I know, to scan down your team’s box score and see a big goose egg under the HR category next to a guy you pegged for at least 25 there.  By mid-May, that ‘zero’ is just a slap in the face.  Sizemore and Zobrist might as well be on the 60-day DL when it comes their trade value, and as tempting as it is to cut one of them, you just know as soon as you do they’ll start launching ’em left and right.  Your eyes light up when you check the box score and see a 4-1-1-1 next to Zobrist’s name, only to be disappointed when you look down and discover he sprayed a single and hit a sacrifice fly.  It’s gotten to the point where you couldn’t care less about multi-hit or multi-RBI performances from Sizemore; all you want to see is home run No. 1. 

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It eases the stress a tad when you consider that last year Matt Holliday tortured owners up to April 30th until he first went deep, then proceeded to belt 23 more.  David Ortiz waited until May 20th to hit one out and ultimately finished with 28.  Carlos Lee appeared lifeless before he got off the schneid in walk-off fashion just last week, and has been groovin’ ever since.

In an attempt to offer more hope, here’s some scrounged up evidence that suggests Grady and Ben will finally get one over the fence soon (although it may all be stemming from denial considering I own both of them on the same team, which I can barely bring myself to look at anymore).  

Sizemore’s .213 average, 12 RBIs and .583 OPS are brutal.  Owners that drafted the (former?) superstar center fielder in the mid-late second round are really cursing him right now.  But recently he seems to be on the verge of breaking out.  On May 7th the ultimate stomach  punch came, when he finally crushed a solo shot over the right-field fence in the first inning – only to have the game stats officially wiped out when it was called due to rain in the fourth. 

The dynamic 27-year-old is too powerful to be held down much longer, as he averaged 27 long balls per 162 games from ’05-’09.  Even in what was widely labeled a disastrous 2009 season, Sizemore went deep 18 times in 106 injury-plagued games which equates to about 27 over a full season.  He had a recent string of five-straight games with an RBI (although it was exactly one in each), and he’s notched three multi-hit games over his last eight.  You’d think this would mean power is the next logical progression, right? RIGHT???

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Zobrist really likes to taunt you.  Batting in the three spot for the third highest scoring offense in baseball, you’d think he’d have to have at least five or six bombs by now.  The Rays average over 5.5 runs per game, and have scored at least eight runs 12 times, but somehow Zobrist has only crossed the plate 12 times himself.  You get excited when you see Tampa put up a 10-spot and figure the super-utility man must have contributed, only to discover yet another empty 1-for-4 performance. A .267-0-13 line through 120 at-bats has many ‘experts’ declaring his 27-homer campaign (in just 501 at-bats) from 2009 a fluke.  However, that would also mean his 12 long balls in 198 at-bats in 2008 (a 30-homer pace) were also strokes of luck. The Rays clearly aren’t buying into to this skepticism, as they awarded Zobrist with a sweet three-year contract extension worth up to $30 million back on April 24th when his production looked just as meager.

It might be hard to notice, but the 28-year-old has slowly turned it around of late, batting .333 (11-for-33) over his last nine games with a .405 on-base percentage. He does have nine extra-base hits on the year (seven double and two triples) so it’s not like he’s been a complete slap hitter, and six stolen bases have done just enough to prevent owners from going nuts.  Maybe if he stops getting jerked around between second base and right field and can settle on a position, he’ll be able to relax more at the plate.  I got a feeling Big Z will get that Big Z-ro off his back in the near future.

So just be a little more patient, and don’t do anything rash.  Although if this week comes and goes with no balls flyin’ out, that might just become a hypocritical statement.

Fickle Stripes

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Providing optimism in Tigerland right now is the stellar play of three rookie position players.  You may remember some fool on this very blog suggesting center fielder Austin Jackson was fool’s gold earlier in the season.  It seems that many have been equally skeptical considering the 23-year-old runaway Rookie of the Month is still only owned in 65 percent of Yahoo! Leagues, but right now he leads the Majors in hits (45), is second in batting average (.376) and tied for fifth in runs scored (23).  I don’t usually put too much stock in the BABIP (batting average on balls in play) statistic when it comes to assessing an offensive players ability (if you’re hitting weak pop-ups and grounders all the time, you’re going to have a bad BABIP.  How does that mean you’ve been ‘unlucky’?). Yet the fact that Jackson’s BABIP is sitting at a comically high .524 right now has to mean he’s due for a significant drop off, right?  Jackson’s also on pace for 201 strikeouts, which has to eventually catch up to him too, right?  I would say yes, but he’s done enough over his first 28 games to make any potential hater wary of heading down that road once again.

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Brennan Boesch is large.  At 6-foot-5, 230 pounds, you don’t have to look at statistics to know this 24-year-old has extra-base power.  But when you do check the facts, you’ll find that the lefty batsmen averaged 112 RBIs per 162 games in his four-plus Minor League seasons.  He managed to drive in runs at a superb rate mainly due to an impressive ability to hit with runners in scoring position. Surprisingly, Boesch’s home-run swing didn’t come around until ’09 when he crushed 28 long balls.  After putting up a .379-3-17 line through 15 games at Triple-A this season, he was called up to replace an injured Carlos Guillen in left field.  All Boesch has done in 10 games since the call-up is hit .324 with, two homers, 10 RBIs and five doubles.  It’ll be tough to replace this kid in the lineup when 34-year-old Guillen returns from his hamstring pull, and considering Carlos missed 130 games to injury over the previous two seasons, something tells me Boesch will find a way to continue raking with the big club.

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On April 28 Alex Avila was hitting .097, and all the sleeper hype he’d been gotten in the preseason was, well, sleeping.  Yet a recent 5-for-8 stretch has raised his average 103 points, highlighted by a two-homer gamer on Wednesday, and Avila is now once again looking like a potential fantasy contributor.  The 23-year-old backup rocketed through the Minors in just one-and-a-half seasons, racking up a .280 average with 13 homers and 77 RBIs in 151 games.  In 61 impressive at-bats in a part-time role with the big club last season, Avila socked five homers and drove in 14.  His only competition for at-bats right now is Gerald Laird and his .141 average, and with Mr. Laird likely on a short leash already because of some compelling shenanigans, Avila should have a clear road ahead.

However amidst the giddiness generated by fresh young offensive talent, there lies the 800-pound Gorilla in the room.  Putting a damper everything is the fact that the Tigers’ two most promising young pitchers have a combined 6.97 ERA through 12 starts, and have shown some disturbing trends. 

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Their 21-year-old phenom Rick Porcello was roughed up for the fifth straight outing Wednesday against the Twins, and looked anything but phenomenal.  The right-hander, who consistently lived in the mid-90s during his impressive 14-win rookie campaign, was sitting around 89 mph for most of Wednesday, reaching as low as 87.  When you’re throwing in the high 80’s and your change-up comes in at 81, it’s not fooling anyone.  It’s possible that the 170 2/3 innings Porcello threw as a 20-year-old are beginning to catch up with him, and a lack of life in his arm has contributed to a scary 7.50 ERA, 1.87 WHIP, and .354 opponents’ batting average.  He’s just not himself right now, so don’t be surprised if he misses some starts in the near future. 

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Equally ineffective has been Max Scherzer, who got shelled by the Twins on May 3 for 10 earned runs. That made it 16 earned runs over the last two starts for the 25-year-old right-hander, bringing his ERA up to 6.47.  In 2009 with Arizona, Scherzer displayed nasty stuff, striking out 174 batters in 170 1/3 innings, while holding opposing hitters to a .253 average.  So far this season the nastiness has been lacking, as he’s K’ed a surprisingly low 21 batters through 32 innings, and opponents have hit .315 off him.  Another guy used to throwing heat in the mid-90s, Scherzer’s fastball seems to have dropped a notch, averaging around 91-92.  Usually when an electric young strikeout pitcher struggles, the Ks are still there regardless of how many runs he surrenders, so something seems to be wrong. 

 

Hmm….did I mention Austin Jackson was Rookie of the Month?

Going Gorzo!

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On the way to Best Buy this afternoon to replace the TV that I smashed Sunday night, I started thinking: What would be more ego-annihilating than a future Hall-of-Famer surrendering a bases loaded walk to a 47-year-old pitcher who resembles Creed from “The Office”, followed by a grand slam and a two-run moon shot, all in a huge nationally televised game against his team’s severely hated rival? Well, nothing, really. 

However, a distant second would be a former 14-game winner, who was once favorably compared to Tom Glavine, receiving a demotion to the Minors in consecutive seasons by a team that averaged fewer than 65 wins during those seasons with a combined ERA of 4.96 among its starters.  Oh, and then he’s rendered a thrown-in with a middle reliever in a mid-season trade that netted his team virtually nothing in return. 

Well if you managed to follow all that, that’s precisely how the Pirates handled young southpaw Tom Gorzelanny in the years following his breakout campaign of 2007.  And now, Gorzelanny is making everyone else pay on a revenge tour around the National League.

 

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In ’07, a 24-year-old Gorzelanny turned heads all around the league by going 14-10 on a 68-win team, sporting a 3.88 ERA and even making the MLB.com Final Votefan ballot for the All-Star Game. However, after experiencing some ambiguous shoulder trouble, he (understandably) struggled during the first half of ’08.  Now, with all the success the Pirates have had over the past two decades, you can understand them having a win-now mentality and keeping a short leash with talented young players …or something.  That’s presumably why they sent Gorzelanny down to Triple-A in July of ’08, then again to begin ’09 and for a third time later that June.   All he did during those Triple-A stints was dominate the competition, compiling a stellar 2.36 ERA and 1.11 WHIP with a 118/34 K/BB ratio over 122 innings.  Yet, this wasn’t good enough for the Pirates.

 

After being dealt to the Cubs along with John Grabow on July 31, 2009 for starter Kevin Hart and Minor Leaguers Jose Ascanio and Josh Harrison, Chicago rationally decided to give Gorzelanny another chance to start in the bigs.  Outside of two rough shellackings that inflated his ERA, Gorzelanny looked like his old self, allowing two runs or fewer in his other five starts.  The Cubs continued to show faith by making him their fifth starter heading into 2010, and he’s delivered. 

 

After Sunday’s impressive 10-strikeout performance against the D-backs, the now 28-year-old pitcher has a 2.48 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP, with a 27/10 K/BB ratio in 29 innings.  He’s allowed two runs or fewer in all five of his starts, striking out at least seven in three of them while holding opponents to a .208 batting average.  If you can digest all these numbers and confusing pronouns, you’ll see that Gorzelanny now appears to be basically the same hyped-up guy from 2007 who was one of the top pitchers in the NL. And while the impressive strikeout-rate many not last, he should continue to be a solid fantasy starter in mixed leagues.