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July 6, 2012

Value Picks

Starting Pitching for 7/6/12

by Paul Sporer

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Incumbents
Mike Leake (Yahoo! 16%, ESPN 20%, CBS 45%)
first appeared on VP almost exactly a month ago following a string of four straight strong starts.  Of course, he was far from special that day against the Pirates, allowing four runs in seven innings, but he still struck out five and didn’t walk a single batter.  He faltered again in his next start against the Indians, lasting just 4 1/3 innings as his pitch count got away from him.  Since then, however, he has rattled off another stretch of four gems during which he has gone seven, seven, eight, and nine innings with a 1.74 ERA and 0.90 WHIP (thanks to just two walks in those 31 innings).  His composite ERA remains unappealing at 4.01, which is likely contributing to his continued availability. 

Leake’s teammate Homer Bailey (Yahoo! 12%, ESPN 7%, CBS 55%) first appeared on VP a week earlier, and while the road has been a bit bumpier since (three booms and three busts resulting in a 5.14 ERA in 35 innings), there is still something here.  The 26-year-old former blue-chip prospect can be maddening to roster, especially if you watch him during one of the gems.  The elite performance sticks in your head, and you will find his three-inning, six-run outings positively inexplicable.  He has had some serious home run issues in Cincinnati (2.5 HR/9), which has no doubt contributed to his 5.86 ERA there, so perhaps he would be best deployed as a spot starter.  I still think there is enough talent here for him to become an anywhere starter. 

Arriving
It has been just three starts, but Franklin Morales (Yahoo! 25%, ESPN 28%, CBS 54%) has been a godsend for a Red Sox rotation that has been decimated by injuries.  A former elite prospect, Morales was picked up off the scrap heap by the Red Sox last year and looked sharp in 36 outings in relief.  This year, the team’s needs shifted, so after 22 relief appearances, Morales was placed in the rotation, and he’s looking like the guy who Kevin Goldstein had as the 13th-best prospect in all of baseball back in 2008.  He has a 2.00 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 12.0 K/9, and 8.0 K/BB in 18 innings.  Sample size caveats apply, of course, but a former top prospect looking poised to start delivering on his potential at 26 years old isn’t unheard of and deserves attention. 

Jose Quintana (Yahoo! 22%, ESPN 17%, CBS 42%) has taken a katana to the throat of the American League (yep, I went there), including a Thursday afternoon destruction of the Rangers during which he threw eight innings of one-run ball with eight punch outs and just a single walk.  In fact, a lack of walks have kind of been his calling card.  His walk rate improved greatly last year, and he has held those gains over this year, bettering his minor league self by posting a meager 1.6 BB/9 in 57 1/3 innings, which includes an 81-batter run of zero walks. 

Did I mention he skipped Triple-A en route to the majors?  Did I mention that he was nowhere to be found on Kevin Goldstein’s Top 20 for the White Sox?  That’s how out-of-nowhere Quintana has been this year.  He didn’t register on Baseball America’s top 30 either, and worse still, the entire industry agreed that the White Sox have the worst system in the game, so anyone with a pulse was registered on top 10, 20, and 30 lists. 

Quintana got his first reality check in his start just before the one against the Rangers in which he went into Yankee Stadium and was batted around for six earned in six innings (hilariously, he still got the win).  He will probably have a few more of those this year, but he is a left-handed strike-throwing machine with an impressive 3.7 K/BB that shouldn’t be ignored.  He is also keeping the ball on the ground, which no doubt helps in a homer haven like U.S. Cellular in Chicago. 

NL-only VP
Lucas Harrell (Yahoo! 6%, ESPN 2%, CBS 24%)
has been the epitome of boom or bust this season.  He has five outings with five earned runs and another with nine (in Coors, so we can give him a break there).  He also has six during which he has allowed one or fewer, however, including a shutout on June 27 against the Padres. 

His two outings against the Cardinals are far from great, but getting out with six earned runs in 11 1/3 innings (4.77 ERA) isn’t too bad for a back-end starter.  Catching my eye are his 25 strikeouts over his last three outings (21 innings).  Yes, they are against the Indians, Padres, and Pirates, but it’s Lucas Harrell, too, so we can’t just discount the boon because of his competition.  You could do worse in an NL-only league. 

AL-only VP
Chris Tillman
’s (Yahoo! 2%, ESPN 3%, CBS 8%) 2012 debut went swimmingly; he threw 8 1/3 innings with no earned runs (allowed two unearned), seven strikeouts, and just two walks.  That now completes the triumvirate of Orioles prospects all showing glimpses of greatness at some point in 2012.  Brian Matusz and Jake Arrieta have been hit-and-miss all year (more miss, unfortunately, but at least Arrieta’s peripherals are strong) while Tillman, the youngest of the bunch at 24, was looking like the Triple-A Tillman we saw back in 2009.  Then 21, he looked great in 97 innings (low total because he spent 65 unspectacular innings in the majors) with a 2.70 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 9.2 K/9, and 3.8 K/BB. 

He wasn’t quite as good in 2010 but still pretty solid. Once again, though, he had an uninspiring MLB sample to go with his impressing Triple-A performance.  The wheels fell off across the board in 2011, but at 23, it was hard to completely write him off.  In 89 innings at Triple-A this year, he has posted a 3.63 ERA and 1.29 WHIP but, more importantly, a 9.3 K/9 and 3.1 K/BB. 

Here comes the wet blanket… ready?  His debut was against the Mariners in Safeco, which definitely takes some of the luster off of it.  But with someone like Tillman who couldn’t get any big leaguers out in his previous tours, this is still progress.  He was sent to Double-A to stay on rotation during the All-Star break, so don’t let news of his demotion dissuade a bid in AL-only leagues.  There are likely still going to be ups and downs, but it was nice to see him succeed out of the gate.

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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