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May 11, 2012

Weekly Planner

Week Seven

by Paul Sporer

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Interleague play fires up next week, and we have a star-studded slate of two-start pitchers to examine.  Last week, I gave the thumbs up to the back end of the Red Sox rotation, but both Daniel Bard and Felix Doubront flopped in Kansas City.  They could redeem themselves at home against Cleveland, but they move down a peg and need to prove something before being trusted again.

All of the other “starts” in both leagues have pitched adequately or better in their first outing of the week, including gems from Ivan Nova, Neftali Feliz, Doug Fister (listed as Duane Below in the piece, but then corrected to Fister in the comments), Edwin Jackson, and Jeff Samardzija.  Conversely, many of the National League “sits” did quite well themselves, especially Carlos Zambrano and Bronson Arroyo.  I’m still concerned about both in the long-term, however, and Alex White (the “Unnamed Colorado Starter” in the piece) did have the good fortune of debuting in San Diego. 

(Starts and Sits are ranked in order of confidence)

AMERICAN LEAGUE
Auto-Starts:
C.C. Sabathia, David Price, Jake Peavy, Jon Lester, and Dan Haren*
*Haren is dealing with back issues, making him questionable.  If he gets a clean bill of health, he would be at the top of the AL list with starts against Oakland and in San Diego.

Lester has steadied himself in his last three with a 2.00 ERA over 18 innings.  His 12 strikeouts yield an average 6.0 K/9, but he is a chronic slow starter and should continue to be trusted unconditionally at this point.

Start
Brandon Morrow (vs. TB; vs. NYM)
Brandon McCarthy (@ LAA; @ SF)
Drew Smyly (@ CHW; vs. PIT)
Max Scherzer (@ CHW; vs. PIT)
Ervin Santana (vs. OAK; @ SD)
Josh Beckett (vs. SEA; @ PHI)
Colby Lewis (vs. KC; @ HOU)
Jeff Niemann (@ TOR; vs. ATL)
Jason Hammel (vs. NYY; @ WAS)
Ivan Nova (@ BAL; vs. CIN)

There are several strong options this week both with the “Auto-Starts” and “Starts.”  I have jumped on the Hammel bandwagon, but I’m at least a bit concerned that he is facing the Yankees again so quickly after dominating them.  I wouldn’t be surprised if they paid him back a bit, but he would still have the Washington start and has been so great this year that it’s virtually impossible to sit him. 

Santana has quietly righted the ship over his last three outings, going seven-plus in each while posting a 2.82 ERA and 1.08 WHIP.  He is keeping the ball down much better, yielding just two home runs in the three outings after allowing 10 (!) in his first four.  Don’t let his 5.09 ERA fool you; he has rebounded nicely. 

Speaking of home runs, Lewis just got done giving up five to the Baltimore Orioles on Thursday, but he did strikeout 12 while walking just one.  Home runs are always an issue with him, but he gets some favorable matchups, so I don’t mind rolling him out there after the debacle in Camden.

Consider
John Danks (vs. DET; @ CHC)
Wei-Yin Chen (vs. NYY; @ WAS)
Danny Duffy (@ TEX; vs. ARI)

Danks had one of his better starts of the season on Tuesday, but it wasn’t great.  He has a mere two strikeouts in 14 May innings, which isn’t terribly encouraging.  Duffy remains a high upside play, but a trip to Texas is enough to pass on his two-start week. 

Sit
Henderson Alvarez (vs. TB; vs. NYM)
Tyson Ross (@ LAA; @ SF)
Jason Vargas (@ BOS; @ COL)
Bruce Chen (@ TEX; vs. ARI)
Carl Pavano (vs. CLE; @ MIL)
Jeanmar Gomez (@ MIN; vs. MIA)
Kevin Millwood (@ BOS; @ COL)

You just can’t allow as much contact as Alvarez does (2.6 K/9) and expect to maintain a sub-3.00 ERA, even with an elite 57 percent groundball rate.  His .200 BABIP will rise, and his 88 percent left on base percentage will dwindle, causing his 2.83 ERA to implode.

NATIONAL LEAGUE
Auto-Starts:
Clayton Kershaw, Stephen Strasburg, Cliff Lee, Zack Greinke, Anibal Sanchez, Ian Kennedy, Yovani Gallardo, and Tim Lincecum

Gallardo and Lincecum are failing to meet expectations (both have ERAs above 5.00), but their track records as well as their current strikeout rates (both over a strikeout per inning) offer hope.  With Gallardo, two thrashings at the hands of the Cardinals have skewed his numbers.  In non-Cardinals outings, he has a 2.46 ERA in 33 innings.  With Lincecum, he allowed five or more runs in each of his first three outings, but he’s toting a 3.13 ERA in his last four.  The only downside there is that three of them have been five-inning outings. 

Breaking News: Strasburg is awesome at pitching baseballs.

Start
Josh Johnson (vs. PIT; @ CLE)
Ross Detwiler (vs. SD; vs. BAL)
Ryan Dempster (@ StL; vs. CHW)
Erik Bedard* (@ MIA; @ DET)
Chad Billingsley (vs. ARI; vs. StL)
Tim Hudson (vs. CIN; @ TB)
Joe Blanton (vs. HOU; vs. BOS)
Anthony Bass (@ WAS; vs. LAA)
Kyle Lohse** (vs. CHC; @ LAD)
Ryan Vogelsong (vs. COL; vs. OAK)
Jake Westbrook (vs. CHC; @ LAD)
*Bedard left his last start early with back spasms.  Monitor the news to see if he is slated to make his May 15th start.
**Lohse left his last start early with a hamstring issue.  He is listed as probable for his next start.)

Johnson is toting a 3.37 xFIP, so while his strikeout and walk rates are at the low watermark for his last five years, he isn’t the 5.87 ERA pitcher we have seen to date.  His unfathomable .403 BABIP has got to come down, and history says his 64 percent LOB% will rise (career 75 percent).

Dempster and Billingsley have both bounced back from a shaky 2011, Dempster especially, but both get the Cardinals this time around, mitigating some of the upside of their two-start weeks.  The Cardinals have joined the ranks of the Yankees and Rangers as a team you want your pitchers to avoid; they have been pummeling the ball this year.  Just ask Yovani Gallardo.

Consider
Johnny Cueto (@ ATL; @ NYY)
Christian Friedrich (@ SF; vs. SEA)
Alex White (@ SF; vs. SEA)
Wade Miley (@ LAD; @ KC)
Dillon Gee (vs. MIL; @ TOR)

I have always liked Cueto, but he has some regression coming his way.  His 1.12 ERA is due in large part to stranding 92 percent of baserunners and giving up a measly eight free passes in 48 innings (1.5 BB/9).  The latter has more of a chance of being sustainable, but the former certainly isn’t.  You probably paid a price that makes it tough to sit him, and I nearly put him in the “Starts” field, but he enters the dens of the third- and sixth-best teams in baseball by TAv.

The Rockie rookies have a pair of favorable matchups this week, and while both looked very sharp in their 2012 debuts, I don’t think they can fully be trusted based solely on strong debuts in San Diego.  Friedrich is, however, a nice story and worth considering.  He remade himself this offseason and turned to veterans Cliff Lee and teammate Jamie Moyer as well as former Rockie Mike Hampton for advice, which led to a stunning debut in Triple-A, where he posted a 3.00 ERA in 30 innings with an 8.1 K/9 and a 6.8 K/BB.  A 3.00 ERA in the Pacific Coast League is like a sub-2.00 ERA anywhere else (let’s not sell White short, either; he had a 2.92 ERA in 25 innings), and it is even more impressive coming from Friedrich, who had back-to-back 5.00 ERA seasons in AA from 2010 in 2011.  Keep an eye on him going forward.

Sit
Homer Bailey (@ ATL; @ NYY)
Randall Delgado (vs. CIN; @ TB)
Paul Maholm (@ StL; vs. CHW)
Aneury Rodriguez (@ PHI; vs. TEX)
Lucas Harrell (@ PHI; vs. TEX)
Kevin Correia (@ MIA; @ DET)
Miguel Batista (vs. MIL; @ TOR)
Jeff Suppan (@ WAS; vs. LAA)

There is some intrigue with Bailey and Delgado (and they actually face each other in the first outing), but they both have a long way to go until they can be relied upon for two starts in a week.  Meanwhile, Maholm has won four straight with a 1.07 ERA and 0.83 WHIP, going six-plus in each outing after starting the season with a pair of four-inning, six-run outings.  Yet, I’m still not sold.  His career-high 57 percent groundball rate is great, but his career-worst 4.6 K/9 is not.  Pass. 

Paul Sporer is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Paul's other articles. You can contact Paul by clicking here

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