The 3-2 Pitch by Andy Iskoe | The 2008 season is three weeks old, yet already we can start to get a sense of the strengths and weaknesses of each team.
We can also gauge which young pitchers may be on the verge of having breakout seasons and which veterans may be in serious decline. Most starters counted on to be solid members of staff rotations have already had at least four starts. Through this past Sunday, of the 172 different pitchers who have made starts, 98 have had four starts or pitched at least 20 innings.
A quality start recognizes a pitcher lasting at least six innings and allowing three earned runs or less. Such an effort translates, at a minimum, to a game ERA of 4.50. That hardly seems indicative of a quality performance.
Consider, instead, a performance in which a pitcher hurls at least six innings, but allows no more than two earned runs. That translates into a game ERA of 3.00 or less, clearly an effort that keeps his team in a game.
Brandon Webb (Arizona), Cliff Lee (Cleveland) and Tim Lincecum (San Francisco) are the only three pitchers in the majors who have had three quality starts under the 6 IP / 2 ER terms.
Webb has been among the game’s elite pitchers for the past several seasons. Lincecum is an up and coming star, who broke in last season amidst much fanfare. Lee has been up and down in his career, mostly down. His renaissance at age 30 is a tribute to his determination.
It’s still early and 3 or 4 starts is too small a sample from which to draw any hard and fast conclusions. At the same time, these early strong performances can be signs of good things to come. Often there may be a lag time before the linesmaker can make enough of an adjustment, creating value in backing these up and comers.
A few other "lesser known" pitchers worth keeping an eye on over their next few starts would include Arizona’s Micah Owings, Kansas City’s Zach Greinke, Milwaukee’s Jeff Suppan, Oakland’s Greg Smith, St. Louis’ Adam Wainwright and a pair of Chicago White Sox starters, John Danks and Gavin Floyd.
Collectively their teams are 20-4 with having made at least three starts with all, but one meeting our harsher requirement for "quality."
Here’s a look at four series to be played this weekend:
Braves at Mets: Atlanta won the first two meetings at home. The starting rotations are pretty even with the Braves’ duo of John Smoltz and Tim Hudson each out pitching the Mets’ Johan Santana and John Maine earlier. The Mets have potentially the better lineup, but the Braves have scored more runs.
• Atlanta as underdogs with by Smoltz or Hudson.
• Mets as a dog or favored by -140 or less with Santana, Maine or Oliver Perez, except against Smoltz or Hudson.
• Under 8 if Smoltz or Hudson oppose Maine, Perez or Santana; Over 9 if none of the five start.
D’backs at Padres: Arizona took 2-of-3 in Phoenix last weekend, with the teams averaged nearly 12 total runs per game. Arizona appears to be the class of the NL West with a solid balance of offense and pitching. San Diego will have to rely more on its pitching than offense. The Pads have scored three runs or less in 12 of their first 19 games.
• San Diego as underdogs with Justin Germano or Randy Wolf.
• Arizona as dogs with Danny Haren or Micah Owings.
• Under 8 if Arizona’s Haren, Owings or Brandon Webb oppose Germano, Wolf or Jake Peavy.
• Under 7 if Webb opposes Peavy.
Yanks at Indians: The Yankees have been hit by the injury bug that has reduced the normally potent bats to an average of barely over 4 runs per game. NY has topped six just twice in 20 games. Cleveland is off to a sluggish start compounded by the mysterious struggles of last season’s AL Cy Young winner CC Sabathia. Offensively, the Tribe is actually averaging fewer runs per game than the Yankees.
• Yanks as underdogs with Andy Pettitte or Chien-Ming Wang.
• Cleveland as dogs with Cliff Lee or Jake Westbrook. Cleveland -140 not facing Pettitte or Wang.
• Yankees as dogs against Sabathia.
• Under 9 if Pettitte or Wang oppose Carmona, Lee or Westbrook.
• Over 10 if Sabathia opposes Philip Hughes or Ian Kennedy.
Angels at Tigers: Detroit has been victimized by poor starting pitching, a lack of timely hitting and a defense that continues to give away outs on a regular basis. The Angels have gotten solid pitching efforts from starters Joe Saunders and Ervin Santana, a pair of pitchers with much upside potential. The only Detroit starter who has pitched well has been Armando Galarraga, virtually unhittable in his first two starts against Cleveland and Toronto. Only Jeremy Bonderman (4.38) has an ERA below 6.30 for Detroit.
• Angels as underdogs except against Galarraga.
• Angels -125 with Saunders or Jered Weaver except against Galarraga.
• Under 9 with Saunders, Santana or Weaver against Galarraga.
• Over 8 or lower in all other matchups.