Despite some uninspiring minor league numbers, Lance Lynn has become one of the top fantasy starters in the first half of 2012. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Before we move on with our normal workaday lives, I think we should all take a moment to stop and bask in the glow of the awesomeness that continues to emanate from R.A. Dickey. So much awesome! It blinds! The goggles do nothing!
Dickey threw his second straight one-hitter last night, striking out 13 and walking none in the process. Dickey has now gone 41.2 innings without allowing an earned run. He's 6-0 with a mind-boggling 0.18 ERA in the last calendar month (credit to the ever-awesome Yahoo! Sports Fantasy phone app for the quick and dirty research on that!). Last night, Dickey also apparently became the first pitcher in history to have two consecutive starts with a Game Score of 95 or higher (his last two starts registered at 95 and 96, respectively).
In short, he's becoming a cartoon, and I mean that in more ways than one. Not only is he putting up video game numbers right now, but hitters look down right embarrassing wailing away at his power-knuckler. I'll spare you the typical Bugs Bunny/screwball comparison, but Dickey is getting there. His owners (i.e. me) are simply sitting there, laughing their butts off, watching this waiver guy suddenly become a fantasy gold mine. Adding to the fun is that he's doing it all with a pitch that was ready to be declared dead with the retirement of Tim Wakefield. It could get even better, too, as the Mets have toyed with the idea of starting Dickey every fourth day. That prospect should have fantasy owners drooling and uttering, Homer Simpson-like, "mmm...innings".
While Dickey's brilliance has been an utter shock to the baseball world, he's hardly the only pitcher to find surprising success this season and maintain it. After the jump, five more surprisingly effective pitchers who just keep on going.
Two years ago, Lance Lynn ended his first full season at AAA with a totally uninspiring 4.77 ERA and 141 strikeouts in 164 innings. He followed that up with a decent but not altogether great season at the same level before being promoted to the big leagues as the Cardinals mounted a historic late-season playoff run. Working mostly out of the bullpen, Lynn was a perfectly acceptable, albeit relatively bland, late-inning reliever who became most famous for his bizarre "appearance" in Game Five of last year's World Series. An injury to Chris Carpenter in spring training gave Lynn the opportunity to strut his stuff at the back end of the Cardinal rotation.
None of this pointed to Lynn turning into one of the best fantasy pitchers in the league, but here we are. Lynn came into the day with ten victories and 86 strikeouts in just over 81 innings. It's the first time Lynn has ever has a K/9 rate better than 9.0 as a starting pitcher, making him one of the better WTF stories of the season thus far. Skeptics are probably waiting for his super-low HR/FB percentage to shoot up, but as long as he's striking people out, what's not to like?
I don't think anybody is surprised that Vogelsong has remained effective, but I don't think baseball fans expected him to continue to be this good. Right now Vogelsong is exceeding even his terrific 2011 performance, when he came out of exile to put up one of the better seasons of any National League pitcher. He currently sports a 2.29 ERA in 82.2 innings so far, and he's quickly obliterating any suspicion that his performance last season was a fluke.
How is he doing it? Beats me. His strikeout rate is lower, his walk rate is higher, but his ERA is just as minuscule as we've become accustomed to. His success this year is likely a confluence of luck, friendly ballpark, and skill, so don't be surprised to see his ERA go up a tick in the coming months. However, consider this: Vogelsong has gone seven innings in nine of his twelve starts, and has pitched at least six innings in every start dating back to September 21st of last year. Continue to be skeptical if you want, but any way you slice it, Vogelsong is one of the most consistently good starting pitchers in the majors, unorthodox path to success or no.
Back in 2005, I remember an amusing moment from one fantasy league I was playing in. A friend of mine, looking for pitching help early in the season, was offered Chris Capuano, then a completely unproven starting pitcher with the then-moribund Brewers. My pal, derisively referring to Capuano as "Chris Crap-uano", immediately shot the trade down. Of course, Capuano would go on to win 18 games that year, to go along with 176 strikeouts, exactly the pitcher my friend could have used. This friend spent the rest of the season appropriately wallowing in bitterness as his team went up in a firestorm fanned by really crummy pitching.
After a decent 2006, Capuano was alternately hurt and awful for the next few seasons, missing essentially all of 2008 and 2009 before resurfacing in the majors in 2010. After an okay turn as an innings-eater in 2011, Capuano latched on with the Dodgers, where he's been a revelation this year. He's rediscovered his strikeout touch, whiffing a career high 8.3 batters per nine, and he's currently sporting a shiny 2.71 ERA.
Sadly, this success looks to be the result of a crazy-low .259 BABIP (it was a more realistic .317 last year). His K:BB rate is actually worse than it was last season, when his ERA was almost two full runs higher. Don't hold your breath waiting for this ship to stay afloat.
Another top WTF pitcher of the 2012 season, Miley took over when Josh Collmenter fell apart in April and has since proven to be a waiver wire gem. It seems like Miley is constantly one start away from losing his magic juju and regressing, but the second we doubt him, he goes and shuts down the Rangers in Texas.
The key to Miley's success is that he limits the home run ball. In fact, that's understating it quite a bit. In 82.1 innings this season, he's allowed just three homers. In the homer-happy thin air of Arizona, that's a minor miracle. While keeping taters in line at Chase Field is a tough feat to maintain, even for a groundballer like Miley, his minor league track record demonstrated that same tendency to keep the ball in the park. The Dbacks, and your fantasy team, may have stumbled on one of the biggest sleeper finds of the season.
When I was researching names for this article and came upon Hammel's numbers with Baltimore this season, I almost did a spit take (or this, take your pick). Hammel, the former Rays mediocrity who carved himself out a niche as a Rockies mediocrity before seeing his strikeout rate tank last year, is now inexplicably dominating with the Orioles. Hammel is throwing harder than ever this year, and it has translated into a career-high (by far) strikeout rate and a 2.87 ERA for a surprising Baltimore team. If you're a fantasy owner and you thought Hammel had this in him, you're either the greatest roto mind of all time or a lying jackass.
Seven of his thirteen starts have come against AL East teams, so it's not like he's getting fat avoiding tougher teams in his division. I'd typically be as skeptical as anybody at this supposed career epiphany at age 29, but if the rise in velocity is for real, what's to say he can't continue to find success?
Which of these pitchers has the best chance of maintaining their early success for the rest of the season?
Lance Lynn (62 votes)
Ryan Vogelsong (67 votes)
Chris Capuano (23 votes)
Wade Miley (22 votes)
Jason Hammel (21 votes)
195 total votes