Today's first item is tied to a pitcher who last worked on Wednesday, but the player is interesting and there's a lot of divergent opinions on him, so I'll let it slide and push it to the lede. Send all complaints to my Gettysburg Address.
I don't think anyone was surprised when Johnny Cueto rolled past the Bucs on Wednesday (7.2 IP, 6 H, 3 R, 1 BB, 6 K), securing his sixth win of the year. He's been one of fantasy's best pitchers for a while. He finished last year as the No. 18 arm in Yahoo's game, and he's currently No. 24 this season (pushed mostly by his wins and a 2.63 ERA).
But where is this story headed? How good is Cueto, really? Is this someone you should hold onto with both hands, or is this a good time to start quietly shopping him?
You'll find experts on both sides of the Cueto debate. When Dan Wade of Fangraphs recently ranked all the NL starting pitchers, he slotted Cueto in the Ninth Tier, hanging out with guys like Homer Bailey, Joe Blanton and Chad Billingsley. Would you trade Kyle Lohse or Aaron Harang for Cueto? Dan Wade wouldn't.
My buddy (and Yahoo! colleague) Mike Salfino is a Cueto supporter. I'm not sure the spacing of Twitter always makes for a good debate, but we had a respectful Cueto discussion this morning — click on over if interested. Cueto was also mentioned, in passing, in Salfino's current Pitching By the Numbers (if you're not reading that weekly, you should be).
Time to check out the secondary numbers and see what they suggest. Cueto's strikeout rate has dipped under 6/9 this year, though he hardly walks anyone (2.17/9). His strand rate of 81.1 percent is good fortune, and his ground-ball rate has fallen from last year, though at 48.4 percent it's still very good. The hit rate is ordinary (it was crazy-lucky last year). Cueto's fly balls haven't been leaving the park (6.8 HR/FB), which is why xFIP shakes its head and spits out 4.00. Cueto's FIP is 3.48.
But maybe Cueto one of those pitchers who's going to consistently beat his peripherally-suggested ERAs. He did it by over a run last year, and he narrowly came out ahead in 2008, 2009 and 2010 as well. Some pitchers, for varying reasons, seem capable of doing this on a regular basis — Matt Cain jumps to mind.
At the end of the day, I'll put Cueto in the "sell high" file for a couple of basic reasons. First and foremost, those six wins and that tidy ERA will be sellable in a lot of leagues; maybe not the most sophisticated of leagues, but in many pools. And it's interesting to note that Cueto's second-half stats have wilted in every one of his pro seasons: you get a 3.38/1.23 arm before the break, and a 4.29/1.38 guy after the break. Perhaps it's tied to Cueto's 5-11, 220 pound frame; maybe there's something about him physically that makes him poorly suited to sustain early success. This trend has held up for four straight years, so I'm willing to put some stock into it.
Now it's your turn to break the tie. Are you holding onto Johnny C. Good for the long run? Or are you looking to make a move and lock in those early profits? The floor is yours.
• The Yu Darvish Era in Texas is only 12 starts old, so it's still ridiculously early to make any strong conclusions. But I'm starting to wonder if he's going to be a pitcher who has a stronger control on outcomes than the ordinary arm - for good and for bad.
When Darvish had his best stuff back in April, some of the results (and pictures) were amazing. He twisted several Yankees into a pretzel en route to a 10-strikeout gem on April 24, and the Blue Jays didn't do much against him the following week (7 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 9 K). Just a few weeks ago I saw Darvish promoted as a possible front-runner for American League Cy Young.
Alas, Darvish has given us his share of clunkers too, and oddly enough, they've come against some of the worst offensive teams in the majors. The Mariners have posted nine runs against Darvish over 9.2 innings, and Oakland had no problem figuring out the Texas import Thursday (5.1 IP, 6 H, 6 ER, 6 BB, 4 K). Darvish's K/BB ratio now stands at an unimposing 1.75. Until the walks come down and the command improves, erratic results are to be expected.
Mind you, seven wins, a 3.72 ERA and 77 strikeouts, those are all solid numbers. But the 1.51 WHIP is far too high of someone at this ability level. You wonder if Darvish might be better off shelving one of his pitches down the road - sometimes it's possible to have too much of an arsenal. You also wonder if teams are making adjustments quicker than Darvish is, learning to identify the types of offerings they should be laying off. (For a deeper stat examination into that theory, here's a link to Dave Cameron's excellent Darvish breakdown from today.)
If I were constructing a fresh Shuffle Up for pitchers right now, I'd have a hard time pushing Darvish past the $15-16 range. But I do like him at home against Arizona next week.
• I did as much Clay Buchholz bashing as humanly possible during the opening quarter, so in the interest of fairness, let's discuss his recent success. Buchholz threw a four-hit shutout at the Orioles on Thursday, his third excellent start in a row. If you add up this stretch, arbitrary endpoints and all, this is what you come up with: 24 IP, 18 H, 4 ER, 4 BB, 19 K. The Blue Jays did take him deep twice last week, but that's all they managed off the enigmatic righty.
That recent K/BB ratio is in a good place, and he's been locating his fastball much better of late. Maybe it's a start of a glorious run, or maybe it's just one of the many small samples that come and go with no real explanation. Opinions are always going to vary on this guy.
The National League gets to take hacks against Buchholz going forward: he's at Miami next Tuesday, then he draws the Cubs (in Wrigley) or the Marlins again (in Fenway), depending on how Boston handles an off day. I can't say I'm optimistic about these turns (the new park in Miami has been a scoring paradise), but maybe you are. Point and click as you see fit.
• Derek Holland has gone from a slumping pitcher to a guy coming back from a stomach virus to a pitcher with a sore shoulder. The 15-day DL jumped up and bit him Thursday. Ah, the joyous ways professional sports teams keep us clued into the story.
The club seems optimistic that Holland's shoulder fatigue actually was tied to the stomach problem, but they'll re-examine him Friday just to make sure. It's not a fun time for the ballclub; the Rangers haven't been playing very well for a while, struggling in all phases (offense, pitching, and especially on defense). Perhaps this isn't the unbeatable juggernaut we all identified a few weeks ago.
Speed Round: Salvador Perez (knee) has started a rehab assignment and should rejoin the Royals in reasonably short order, perhaps in a week. While it's hard to imagine he'd get a ton of time right away given the physical demands of the catcher position, he has always been an intriguing hitter. In two-catcher formats, you might have to make your move now. … As for the Felipe Paulino bandwagon, it's been temporarily derailed. Paulino left his Wednesday turn with a sore groin and it's not clear yet if he'll need a DL stint. … Melky Cabrera (hamstring) thinks he'll be able to play Friday, but be careful: when it comes to injury timetables, the player is usually the most optimistic source you'll find. The Giants host the Rangers for three games this weekend. … Austin Jackson (abdomen) is on a rehab stint and should return to the Tigers on Saturday. This club desperately needs a spark, somewhere. … Ervin Santana apparently won't lose his rotation spot even when Jered Weaver returns, much to the delight of American League hitters. As for Weaver, there's a good shot he'll be ready to go when first eligible, which is June 15. … Adrian Gonzalez has been dropped to the No. 6 slot in the Boston lineup over the last couple of games. He had three hits and two RBIs in support of Buchholz Thursday. … Anyone feel like streaming Phil Hughes for his Saturday turn against the Mets? Better yet, anyone feel like talking me out of it? Scott Diamond is also worth considering for a Saturday rental, if low-strikeout arms don't bother you. He's at home against the Cubs, though up against Jeff Samardzjia. … Most of us don't run to the San Francisco lineup for reinforcements, but Gregor Blanco has settled in nicely as the leadoff man. He's posted a .287-30-3-11-6 line as the No. 1 option over 33 starts, along with 21 walks and a .387 OPB. He's only rostered in a modest eight percent of Yahoo! leagues.