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By Mike Ivcic
As anyone who has ever watched baseball can attest, the game really begins and ends with pitching. From starters to the bullpen, it’s vital for any team with postseason hopes that they have career average years or better from nearly everyone on their staff, as well as avoid any major injuries that force one of the team’s better pitchers to miss a large portion of the season. Anyone wanting further proof that the aforementioned is accurate needs only to look in the Big Apple last season, where both teams pounded the baseball offensively – the Yankees led baseball in runs while the Mets scored the exact same number of runs as the eventual World Champion Phillies – yet watched their seasons end the final day of September because of failures in the pitching staff.
With all of the importance placed on pitching, it’s time, six weeks into the season, to take a first glance around the league to see those pitchers who have excelled, as well as those who have not. With all of the information here, we’ll split it into two parts – the good and the bad. Since Monday’s are always tough, we’ll get the bad news out of the way first, and save the pick-me-up for Tuesday. That said, here are the lowlights from 2009 thus far:
Bottom Five – Starters
1. Oliver Perez (NYM) – While one Mets lefty has been the best pitcher in the NL, the other has been one of the worst. Perez signed a 3-year, $36 million deal in the offseason, but in his five starts before hitting the DL, he threw only 21.2 innings, giving up 28 hits and 21 walks while allowing opponents to hit .315 against him. Going a full 5 innings only once this season, Perez is clearly the biggest offseason bust.
2. Cole Hamels (PHI) – Out of the five projected Phillies starters, Hamels actually has the second lowest ERA at 5.04 (Moyer 8.15, Park 7.08, Blanton 6.86, Myers 4.50). But as the staff ace, his struggles on the mound and with the injuries exemplify the difficulties this team has faced in trying to repeat. After throwing a career-high 262.1 innings last year, he’s thrown only 30.1 in 6 starts this season.
3. Chien-Ming Wang (NYY) – Sure, he’s injured, but that should probably be in quotations, because the injury is extremely dubious. It’s more likely he was sent to the DL and extended spring training to overcome the following start: 3 GS, 0-3, 6 IP, 23 H, 23 R, 23 ER, 6 BB, 2 K, 34.50 ERA! The new Stadium might give up a ton of homers, but even that’s no excuse for that stat line.
4. Scott Olsen (WAS) – The Nats were expecting to get a top 1-2-3 starter when they traded for Olsen, but he’s been giving up nearly 1.5 hits per inning and has staggered out of the gate to a 1-4 record and a 7.24 ERA. The lefty has only thrown 6 innings or more in two of his eight starts, and is now expected to head to the DL on Monday with shoulder tendinitis.
5. Scott Kazmir (TAM) – While Kazmir hasn’t struggled nearly as much as his teammate Andy Sonnenstine, the guy who’s supposed to be the ace of the Rays staff is still posting a 6.97 ERA. He’s thrown only 41.1 innings in 8 starts, forcing the bullpen to pick up the slack in his starts. If he’s going to become the elite pitcher most people think he can be, he needs to average at least 6 innings a start.
Dis-Honorable Mention – Josh Beckett (BOS); Ricky Nolasco (FLA); Bronson Arroyo (CIN); Daniel Cabrera (WAS); Gavin Floyd (CHW)
Bottom Five – Relievers
1. Rafael Perez (CLE) – In 2007, Perez was part of a lefty-righty tag team with Rafael Betancourt that helped set-up the Indians to within one win of the World Series. Less than two years later, he’s now posting a 15.19 ERA. The 19 hits and 9 walks in only 10.2 innings pitched is not what Cleveland needed, and is part of the reason the Tribe are mired in last place.
2. Damaso Marte (NYY) – Like Perez, Marte was expected to be a left-handed set-up man, but instead has mirrored Perez’s 15.19 ERA. He threw only 5.1 innings before heading to the DL at the end of April, and his WHIP of 2.25 (9 hits, 3 walks) is the worst of any Yankee reliever. He might be the biggest bust of offseason relief pitcher signings.
3. Brad Lidge (PHI) – What a difference a year makes. After finishing 2008 perfect in save opportunities, Lidge has already blown 2 of his 9 opportunities this season. He’s pitched 17.1 innings in 2009, allowing 23 hits, 10 walks, and 16 runs for an ERA of 8.31. The Phillies won the NL East in ’08 thanks to the combination of their stellar bullpen and the Mets awful one. So far in ’09, it’s been a role reversal.
4. Blaine Boyer (STL) – The shift of scene from Atlanta to St. Louis on April 21 has only been slightly beneficial to Boyer. He’s thrown only 8.2 innings in 13 appearances, allowing 11 runs on 9 hits and 6 walks. That leads to a 1.73 WHIP and an 11.42 ERA on the season, which is significantly lower than the 23.14 he brought with him from the Braves, but not helped by his last game (0 IP, 2 H, 3 ER).
5. Mike Lincoln (CIN) – He’s been used frequently by manager Dusty Baker, appearing in 12 games, but the results haven’t been good. In 14 innings, he’s allowed 20 hits, 11 walks, and 15 earned runs. He had pitched five scoreless innings prior to allowing a solo homerun Friday in San Diego though, so he just barely makes the list above some other equally poor relievers this season.
Dis-Honorable Mention – Brandon Morrow (SEA); Geoff Geary (HOU); Guillermo Mota (LAD); Duaner Sanchez (SDP); Javier Lopez (BOS)
This week, watch for…
1. NL division leaders square off (NYM @ LAD; 5/18-20)
2. AL East showdown (TOR @ BOS; 5/19-21)
3. First interleague weekend (complete breakdown later this week)
Look for my column, “The Tenth Inning,” every Monday for the UltimateCapper
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