Pitching once again takes center stage in this week’s Week That Was.

CC Sabathia:   Perhaps it is time to take Sabathia seriously.  Very seriously!  Friday night the portly lefty went out and was great – seven innings, five hits, no runs and four strikeouts.  On the year, Sabathia has a 2.28 ERA, 1.21 WHIP and has struck out 49 in just over 59 innings.  But wait, there’s more!  Over his last five starts, Sabathia has been Koufax-like, posting a 0.87 ERA and 0.90 WHIP.  Can this continue?  Well, not at this all-world level.  That said, the advanced metrics such as his solid ground ball rate and decent whiff rate say Sabathia can continue to be very good.  It is time to believe and buy low if there is a non-believer in your league.   

Bud Norris: Norris stifled the Cubs Friday night going seven innings while giving up just one run, no walks and striking out seven.  Yes, that Bud Norris.  And yes, it was his second solid start in a row.  Can this continue?  Well, the 93 MPH average fastball velocity is solid but the 8 percent swinging strike rate and below average first pitch strike rate have me worried.  Add in the fact that Norris, even if he keeps a rotation slot, is unlikely to win many games in the Dumpster fire that is Atlanta and I lean toward selling while I still can.  If you are a Norris owner, ask yourself, do you feel lucky?     

Michael Wacha: Wacha was very good Friday against a strong Pirates lineup.  Wacha went seven innings giving up just three hits and two runs while striking out five.  That is the good news.  The bad news is that the solid performance “dropped” his ERA to 4.91 and his WHIP to an equally appalling 1.45.  So, which Wacha will stand up from here on?  Well, there certainly are real warning signs.  First, his fastball velocity is down almost 1.5 MPH.  Second, the first pitch strike percentage shows continued wildness which surely will bite him.  Finally, his swinging strike percentage has gone down in each of the last three seasons – not a good sign either.  I am selling if I can.   

Sonny Gray:   Sonny Gray seems back to being Sonny Gray.  After spending time on the shelf, Gray has turned in two quality outings including Friday night’s 7 2/3 innings of two run ball.  On the year, Gray has an ugly 5.34 ERA and 1.50 WHIP.  Do not be deceived.  First, some of the bad stats could have been injury driven.  Second, the 67 percent strand rate says he has been unlucky.  Third, the velocity is pretty much where it was last year.  Finally, the ground ball rate remains elite at over 53 percent.  I believe and believe that pitching in the cavern in Oakland will only help further my belief. 

Matt AndrieseAndriese got a win Friday but he was not very good, going just 5 1/3 innings while allowing 12 baserunners and three runs.  On the year, the Tampa righty has posted a 2.82 ERA and 1.16 WHIP – pretty darn strong.  Of course, the real question is "what next?"  Well, the strand rate and BABIP do not reflect that these numbers were lucky.  Similarly, the increased velocity and above average ground ball and first pitch strike rates support continued solid production.   That said, the miniscule HR/FB rate worries me as does the increase in hard hit percentage.  In all, I think you can buy but only if you get a good price. 

Hector Santiago:  Santiago was stone cold awful Friday.  He was gone before the second inning ended and had already given up eight baserunners and five earned runs.  Thus far, the Angel lefty has a 5.64 ERA and equally unappealing 1.40 WHIP.  Over the last six starts, the numbers are far worse and include an ERA over eight (yes, eight).  Will Santiago be great the rest of the way?  No.  Will he improve to usable?  Quite possibly.  The strand rate shows he has been unlucky.  The velocity is way up and should help.  Oh and that 10 percent swinging strike rate says he will get better.  If you have a bench spot, Santiago is worth stashing.  If you must activate him right away, just move along for now.

Derek Holland:  Holland continues to struggle.  Friday, he upped his ERA to 4.87 by giving up five runs over five innings.  Can he lower that ERA and help even AL-only types?  Well, the sickly swinging strike and ground ball rates say no.  You want more bad news?  OK, the xFIP of 5.38 says the ERA will get worse.  More?  OK, I will indulge the gluttony for punishment.  Holland’s average fastball velocity is down a full MPH from last year – a year in which he had an ERA over 5.00 and a strikeout rate of under 6.3 per nine innings.  I cannot take any more so let’s just move along shall we?

And now the moment you well, may or may not be waiting for, the Baron of Bottom of the Page pontificates -- aka Schultz says: “Matt Shoemaker presently has a 4.76 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP. This should rightfully make anyone wonder why he is being talked about in any type of rotisserie baseball column that seeks to provide germane advice on the unpredictable nature of "future success." The early season woes of the Angels' now-presumptive ace mask the fact that the right-hander has been absolutely dominant over his last five starts. Since mid-May, Old Shoe has wagged the dog to the tune of a 1.88 ERA and a .83 WHIP (with just one solitary walk); 48 of his 70 strikeouts have come over his last five starts. Given that his newspaper line obscures his recent dominance, make a reasonable investment and reap the short-term benefits.

Staying out on the west coast, the 0-3 record that has accompanied the return of James Paxton to the Mariners rotation greatly obscures how well the once-touted lefty has thrown over his last two starts. Throwing out the horrendous outing in San Diego that was marked his season debut, Paxton has been simply marvelous, although unlucky, in the two starts since. Posting a .72 ERA, 1.14 WHIP and 17 Ks over 12 1/3 innings, there is ample reason to be optimistic that Paxton is finally realizing his potential.

It may also be worth keeping an eye on Zach Davies, one of the Brewers' little-discussed starters. While there's much to dissect about his recent 5-1 run, Davies has been relatively dominant over his last two outings, shutting down the potent Cardinals lineup and no-hitting the A’s through 6 2/3 innings. There may not be earth-shaking changes to your pitching staff by adding Davies but there's a very good chance, he'll produce better than the sixth starter on whom you're waiting for the big turnaround.”

Response:  I like the advice.  Indeed, I have no quarrels at all with the Davies and Paxton pieces.  As for Shoemaker, I have to admit I was skeptical but the 14-plus percent swinging strike percentage and 70-plus percent first pitch strike percentage fully support the resurgence.  Can it last?  The numbers say yes but my gut is a bit queasy.  Do with that what you will.