|Set back by an injury in '98, Pittsburgh's Jose Silva has rediscovered his control. |
Most of you know that I don't recommend a strategy of chasing wins, because they're so fickle and have less to do with the performance of the starting pitcher than they do with the performance of his team's offense and defense. But if you're chasing a championship, sometimes the win category offers the best hope of nabbing several points quickly, and such a strategy makes a lot of sense.
The ideal candidate for a high win total is a good pitcher on a great offensive team; he'll likely win more games than the Eric Miltons of the world, great pitchers laboring on lousy hitting squads. So let's run through the best starting pitchers to go after on the majors' top offensive teams.
Chicago White Sox
The White Sox and the A's are neck-and-neck in runs scored, and indeed, both teams boast starting pitchers with win totals beyond what one would expect from their performances. Chicago's ace, James Baldwin, has stumbled of late, but will still be expensive for you to acquire in trade. Jim Parque, Mike Sirotka, and Cal Eldred are all better values who might singe your ratio slightly while adding to your win total, with 19 already among the three of them. The concern here is Eldred, who went though a stretch of seven starts where he walked one batter in five of them, but has walked 17 in his last three outings, although all were against disciplined teams. Kip Wells' talent hasn't overcome his wildness and he's not for contenders.
The A's should be four or five games ahead of the Mariners, but for their horrible starting pitching. Only Gil Heredia (whose recent injury woes seem to be past him) and the surging Tim Hudson are worth touching here, as Mark Mulder, Kevin Appier, and Oh-My Olivares all sport Ratios higher than Patrick Swayze at 10,000 feet.
Toronto Blue Jays
The Jays are similar to the A's in one respect: They'd be way ahead of their current standing if their starting pitching was merely adequate. Of course, the fact that Skydome has been the AL's Coors Field this year hasn't helped, but that should dissipate over time. David Wells is the only good bet here, but at 10-2 with great numbers, he won't come cheap. It doesn't look like Chris Carpenter's elbow is fully healed, and Kelvim Escobar's elbow looks like it might unhinge mid-windup.
I'm sure you've noticed that the caviling about Safeco Field's status as a pitching park has died down somewhat, now that the Mariners are scoring runs in bunches. The revelation here is Aaron Sele, who is quietly off to a career-year start, with a ratio of just 1.28. He's keeping the ball down and throwing more strikes, which both keeps his walks and pitch totals down. He could be even better if the Mariners improve their defense next year. Jamie Moyer and Paul Abbott are also good bets here. Gil Meche is pitching well, but keeps getting hurt, and his walk rate is a bit high. The wild card here is Freddy Garcia, whose arm desperately needed the time off it got when he broke his leg. If you can get him now and hold him on your DL until you see whether his arm is OK, go for it.
As I write this, Texas is actually ahead of Cleveland in runs scored, but I expect Cleveland to pick up the pace as their injured players start returning to form. Both Bartolo Colon and Chuck Finley are safe bets here, and both pitchers typically stay in games long enough to earn decisions. Dave Burba's 7-1 record is more a result of great run support (52 runs, most of any Cleveland starter, and a shade behind Colon's rate of 4.8 support runs per start) than of how he's pitching, so don't go after him now. Jaret Wright is probably done for the year, and any quick return would be ill-advised.
Pedro Astacio has proven himself capable of a league-average ERA and ratio if he's not too unlucky, and the Rockies are winning ballgames this year. Beyond him, there's no starter worth touching here.
San Francisco Giants
The Giants are the highest-scoring NL team playing at sea level, but they're just over .500 and in fourth place. Why? Because their pitching sucks. Five of the six Giant pitchers to make at least one start this year have ratios over 1.5, meaning they're putting more than 13 men on every nine innings. Makes it hard to win ballgames, huh? The disaster waiting to happen here is Shawn Estes, whose 3.30 ERA doesn't match his 1.56 ratio or his 46/44 K/BB ratio. Kirk Rueter has the only decent WHIP here, but he's averaging fewer than six innings per start, which won't put him in line for many wins.
St. Louis Cardinals
Here's where the good pickings start. Darryl Kile's ERA still has lots of room for a drop, and he should be a prime target for NL owners in search of pitching -- even more so in strikeout leagues. Andy Benes is the poor man's Darryl Kile: plenty of Ks, lots of wins, higher (but still acceptable) ERA and Ratio. I'm not a Garrett Stephenson believer, but his win total is hard to deny. One caution here: Rick Ankiel is throwing fewer pitches per game, which improves his overall outlook but will limit his win total.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Hard to believe that a team in Chavez Ravine could rank near the leaders in runs scored, but the Dodgers are doing just that, providing fantasy owners with a rare opportunity to double-dip: starting pitchers here will post park-deflated ERAs and Ratios, but will still get plenty of wins. You already know Kevin Brown. The other two LA starters worth a look are Chan Ho Park, who has been on fire the past six weeks and looks like the old (young) Chan Ho Park again, and Darren Dreifort, who puts up enough incredible outings to merit suffering through his occasional attempts to walk 20 men in a game.
True, some of this high run total is the ballpark, but Houston is also a strong offensive team, and the only starter here to avoid is Scott Elarton, who looks like he came back too soon from shoulder surgery.
Glavine, Maddux, yata yata yata. A lot of you are asking about Kevin Millwood, so I'm including the Braves here. (I wouldn't bother with Mulholland or Burkett, although I like Chen and Marquis and would gamble on either one in the rotation.) The story making the rounds is that pitching guru Leo Mazzone spotted a hitch in Millwood's delivery that, rectified before his last start, had him looking more like the old Millwood. I'd like to see more than one start (not to mention a better strikeout total than four in six innings) before I jump on that bandwagon, but at least there's a possible explanation that doesn't involve Dr. Andrews.
Random thought of the week
As I write this column, Jose Silva is just leaving a stellar outing in his first start of the season. True, it came against the feeble Montreal Expo lineup, but any pitcher who goes six innings, strikes out six, walks none, and gives up just three singles and a double merits our attention. I bring up Silva not because I'm predicting superstardom, but because he's an example of the fantasy benefit of having a long and forgiving memory.
Silva started the 1998 season in the Pirates' rotation, and he was arguably their best starter headed into June. He had a 3.44 ERA and had a 57/20 K/BB ratio in 81 innings, with 82 hits allowed but just four home runs.
But one night that June, Silva squared to bunt, missed, and broke his arm on the pitch. He returned in September, only to post an ERA over eight in four horrendous starts. His ERA as a starter in 1999 was better ... at 7.62. Since he moved to the bullpen, however, his ERA is under 3.50 and he seems to have rediscovered his control, which carried over into Monday night's start.
As I said, I'm not anointing Silva the next NL ace, but there's a history here that says that it might have just taken a lot longer for him to recover from the broken arm than the Pirates expected. In NL-only leagues, he's worth a shot. And remember this story the next time you watch a pitcher who's off to a good start go down with an injury, because some of those guys come back around two or three years later.
Omar Daal appeared in this column about a month ago, in a review of starting pitchers off to disappointing starts this season. While he wasn't pitching horribly, his strikeout rate was down significantly from previous years, and he wasn't pitching up to expectations. Since then, however, he has gone from mediocre to awful, and it appears that it's time for fantasy owners to throw him overboard. However, a look at his season so far might be instructive, both on how quickly a pitcher's season can go awry and on why most fantasy experts will tell you to take the hitter over the pitcher, all else being equal.
In his first two starts this year, Daal looked like the pitcher he was in 1998 -- outstanding, bordering on acedom. In 16.2 innings, he surrendered 14 hits, 1 walk, and 4 earned runs, while striking out nine. He should have had two wins but for the ineptitude of the offense behind him.
Since then, however, he has had just one start (in 11) where he surrendered less than one earned run for every two innings pitched, and that came against the same anemic San Diego team he beat in start No. 2, with both outings coming in the pitcher-friendly environment of Qualcomm Stadium. In those 11 starts, he has a 6.82 ERA and a 1.726 Ratio in 62 innings, with more walks (27) than strikeouts (25). To give you some context, in 1999, he struck out 6.2 men per 9 innings, which was already slightly off his 1998 pace. Since those first two starts this year, he has only whiffed 3.6 men per nine innings. Making matters worse, he has coughed up 13 homers this year, more than he gave up in over 140 innings in 1998.
In all likelihood, Daal came into this season with some latent problem in his shoulder or elbow, and when he went 114 pitches in just his second start of the year, he aggravated it to the point where he can't pitch effectively anymore. If you hung with him this long, I admire your persistence, but there's a fine line between that and sheer stubbornness. Toss him.