Ricescapades: A Lefty Ready To Chop, and A Lefty To Drop

Home runs have been a problem for Atlanta's Mike Minor, but don't be surprised if he gets them under control in the season's last two months. (Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images)

I drafted Mike Minor this year thinking I'd struck late round gold. I'd nabbed him in the very last rounds of one draft, thinking more of his status as Baseball America's #37 2011 prospect than anything else. Despite his solid minor league numbers and prospect sheen, he fell into the late rounds in this NL-only draft, perhaps because the other managers in the league were put off by his 4.14 ERA last season. It wasn't unreasonable to think that future growth was in the cards. I was picturing 15-ish wins with an ERA in the mid-threes, and a healthy strikeout total. Was that unreasonable?

As it turns out, yes. Oh my, yes. 'Twas not gold that I'd found in those late rounds, but pyrite. Minor apparently made an offseason decision to give up being a major league pitcher in order to become a professional burning log thrower. He started pouring gasoline on the fire in his first start against the Mets, and the inferno has been raging ever since. In seventeen starts this season Minor has been nothing but awful, putting up a 5.69 ERA and 1.39 WHIP in 98 innings. It's been an altogether shockingly miserable year for a guy expected to break through as one of the better number three starting pitchers this season.

So why do I think Minor is due for a good second half, and why should you try to buy low on him? Well for one thing, look at the number of home runs he's given up. He's surrendered twenty home runs in less than 100 innings, which is freaking awful, but it's so far out of line with his career norms that I have a hard time believing it's going to stay that bad. He's giving up almost two home runs per nine innings, where in his minor league career he was downright stingy, with 0.8 HR/9. His HR/FB percentage is also through the roof at 12.7%. Last year it was 5%.

Minor's walk rate is up a bit, too, so with the added walks and all the baseballs leaving the yard like rats fleeing a burning building, it's easy to see why he's been so bad. However, his strikeout rate has remained solid, and he's strung together back-to-back quality starts. He's a very good pitcher to buy low on, in my opinion, because I like the chances of his home run rate sinking fast. So try to trade low for him now, before he gets hot and his ERA starts to plummet.

After the jump, a lefty whose prospects for the second half aren't so hot.

Jon Lester's struggles this year are particularly hard to take because he's an easy guy to root for and he was one of the best fantasy pitchers in baseball from 2009-2011. He got shelled again in his start on Tuesday night, which makes two crappy starts in a row, and sends the prospect of a turnaround into doubt. With his strikeout rate continuing to fall as well (it hasn't been this low since 2008), it's hard to see him regaining his top fantasy status any time soon. It's been a disappointing ride for managers who drafted him as one of their top pitching options.

Once again, the repeated shellackings are dousing the hopes that he can put his season back together and become a top option once again. That uncertainty makes it hard to see him as even a buy low candidate, since it wouldn't be prudent to give up anything of any value just in case he can't recover. His strikeouts have been up a little in the last couple of starts, but batters are swinging and missing at fewer of his pitches (15%, again the lowest since 2008), and that's a trend that doesn't tend to reverse as a pitcher gets older (though he's still just 28).

I have Lester in a keeper league and I've pretty much given up trying to dangle him on the trade market in the hopes that some manager is keeping the faith. That ship has sailed. I'm going to ride it out and hope Lester starts missing bats again, or at least learns how to be effective with diminished stuff. If you are a Lester owner and you were able to unload him for a good return before the crash, well, you're a better man than I am.

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