It was like the Year of the Pitcher on the first day of the 2013 Major League Baseball season. The batters were up at the plate with the lumber, but try as they might they were unable to make solid contact in a ton of their at-bats. Which pitchers excelled the first time they took the hill? Which of the arms that did excel should be looked at for big things in 2013? Which of the arms should you be a bit worried about? Should we all be worried about managers curtailing the workload of those arms after so many were seemingly pulled well before their pitch total went into the danger zone in their first outing? We'll explore those thoughts in this piece. What a great sentence.
OPENING DAY OUTINGS
Brett Anderson (7.0 IP, 2.57 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 1.50 K/BB)
A very talented arm, I worry about his ability to stay healthy and whether or not he will be able to throw big innings this season for the Athletics. See his Player Profile.
Matt Cain (6.0 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 8.00 K/BB)
Ho hum. Cain has posted an ERA under 2.90 in three of the last four seasons. He's thrown at least 200 innings each of the last six years. He's struck out 170 batters in five straight seasons. The last three years he's had a WHIP under 1.09. The fact is that he is money any way you slice it. If you haven't recognized it, let me put it for you: Cain is elite. Period. End of story.
Jhoulys Chacin (6.2 IP, 1.35 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 2.00 K/BB)
Chacin has talent, but he's been unable to consistently flash it at the big league level of late as injury has held him down. In four seasons he's thrown 100 innings in a season twice, and only once has he gone over 140 innings. In 2011, when he was healthy and took the ball 31 times for the Rockies, he won 11 games with a 3.62 ERA and 1.31 WHIP. Unfortunately, two issues really stick out. First, he pitches for the Rockies. He has a 50 percent career ground ball rate which helps, but he's still pitching at Coors. Second, he walks too many batters. In each of his previous four seasons he's walked more than four batters per nine. A matchup based play only if you ask me.
Johnny Cueto (7.0 IP, 1.29 ERA, 0.71 WHIP, 4.50 K/BB)
Cueto won 19 games last season as he pushed past 190 innings for the first time (217 total). He also added another sub 2.80 ERA to his 2.31 mark from 2011. He's a damn good hurler who has dropped his walk rate from 3.52 per nine as a rookie in 2008 down to 2.71 last year. Alas, he had to given up some of the heat to make it happen as his K/9 rate has gone from 8.17 to 7.05. He won't be a truly elite option without the big K mark, but the extra grounders he now generates have led to an absolute ton of success.
Felix Hernandez (7.2 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0.52 WHIP 8.00 K/BB)
Worries about his elbow were overblown – the Mariners wouldn't have given him more than $170 million if they were worried. He went out and proved it on Opening Day against the Athletics. Many have overlooked that King Felix is coming off a career best 8.65 K/9 mark an a 2.17 BB/9 rate. He also allowed 0.54 homer per nine inning, the lowest mark he's ever had save for his 84.1 inning rookie season. He strikes batters out. He doesn't beat himself with the walk or the fly ball. He keeps the ball on the ground and he's gone for at least 230 innings 4-straight years. An ace.
Ian Kennedy (7.0 IP, 2.57 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 8.00 K/BB)
He won 21 games with a 2.88 ERA in 2011 and then slumped to 15 wins an a 4.02 ERA last season. It might surprise people that his K/9 rate went up 0.05 last season to 8.08 while his K/BB ratio dropped just a week bit from 3.60 to 3.40. There really wasn't much that was off with his skill set last year, the results just weren't as positive. Another 180+ strikeouts and 15 wins are certainly possible.
Clayton Kershaw (9.0 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0.44 WHIP, 7.0 K/BB)
Flat out dominated the Giants bringing back memories of Sandy Koufax. That's why he was my #1 hurler in fantasy baseball for 2013. Nuff said.
Ricky Nolasco (6.0 IP, 3.00 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, 2.50 K/BB)
My old boyfriend always let me down when I counted on him the most. Long a hurler with the skills to be better than his performance dictated, Nolasco has won at least 10 games each of the past five years. Unfortunately he's also failed to post an ERA below 4.45 in that time, and the last two years his WHIP has been worse than the league average at 1.40 and 1.37. There's also these embarrassing facts when we look at his K-rate. In 2009 Nolasco struck out 195 batters in 185 innings leading to a 9.49 K/9 mark. In 2010 that mark was 8.39. In 2011 it was 6.47 and last year it was 5.89 He won't beat himself, for the past five years he's never walked 2.25 batters per nine innings, but his precipitous K-rate fall has rendered his value virtually non-existent in a mixed league.
Chris Sale (7.2 IP, 0.00 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 7.00 K/BB)
The guy has great stuff, but why am I the only one nervous about the 121 innings pitched increase he flashed last season when compared to 2011? Sale displayed his K per inning stuff last year with 192 in 192 innings, and his walk rate was also very impressive at 2.39 per nine. Toss into the hopper a 1.40 GB/FB ratio and we're in business. Still, something about those innings...
Jeff Samardzija (8.0 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0.38 WHIP, 9.00 K/BB)
Filthy stuff could be the name on his business card. Samardzija mowed them down in his first start just as he did last season. Like with Sale though, we're talking about a hurler who witnseed a massive innings pitched increase going from 88 innings in 2011 to 174.2 in 2012. That should concern you. It should also be something to keep an eye on when we discuss walk rates. After walking 70 batters in 107.1 in 2010-11, JS somehow learned how to throw strikes last year and the result was less than 2.90 walks per nine. Is the game really as easy as throwing strikes? Sometimes it is.
Stephen Strasburg (7.0 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0.43 WHIP, 3 Ks, 0 BBs)
Wussy. Softie. Punk. Those are the names the fellas from my hood would have called Stephen if he had been working the playgrounds and not major league baseball with all the restrictions he has faced to this point of his career. I know it was Opening Day and all, but really Nationals, can you let the guy throw some pitches at some point of his big league career? Forty six starts, forty six times he has failed to record 22 outs. I mean this is getting flipping ridiculous.
Justin Verlander (5.0 IP, 0.00 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 3.50 K/BB)
Verlander, like so many others, was removed early from his contest as the managers apparently want their big name arms to slowly work their way into the season. Odd, but in the old days wasn't that what Spring Training was for? Over the last six years Verlander has thrown 1,359.1 innings, an average of 226.2 inning a season. From 1972 through 1978 Nolan Ryan threw less than 226.2 innings just one time when he tossed 198 innings in 1975. Don't worry, he made up for that by throwing 284, 326, 332.2, 284.1, 299 and 234.2 innings in the other seasons in that span. In the outing Verlander threw 91 pitches. His lowest pitch total last season was 97. In his other 32 starts he went into the triple-digits.
Jered Weaver (6.0 IP, 1.50 ERA, 0.67 WHIP, 2.00 K/BB)
Weaver has won 38 games the past two years, only three behind Verlander for the most in baseball, and his ERA of 2.59 is fourth in the game. Oh yeah, he's also had a WHIP of 1.01 the past two seasons. Uh yeah, he's been totally dominant. So why the concern? His K-rate has plummeted. After a mark of 9.35 in 2010 the mark has dipped to 7.56 and 6.77 the past two years. People have also noted that his velocity is down a couple of miles per hour from his peak. My response is – so what? The guy can pitch. Period. He'll be fine. In fact, he'll be more than fine, he'll be very, very good this season.
Ray Flowers can be heard daily on Sirius/XM Radio on The Fantasy Drive on Sirius 210 and XM 87, Monday through Friday at 5 PM EDT. For more of Ray's analysis you can check out BaseballGuys.com or the BaseballGuys' Twitter account where he tirelessly answer everyone's questions.
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