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AL SPs: Welcome (Back) to the Bigs

Injuries and or ineffectiveness always leads to lots of turnover in starting rotations. Since new pitchers are always getting an opportunity to perform, there seems to be an endless stream of guys to consider picking up, especially in deep leagues. Here are a couple of the pitchers who have either just returned to the Majors or are getting their first taste.

Daisuke Matsuzaka

Dice-K, or the more humorous version, Dice-BB, has finally returned from Tommy John surgery, posting an ugly 5.73 ERA over his first two starts. He has only once posted an ERA below 4.00, when he had a luck-aided 2.90 mark back in 2008. We all know that TJ returnees typically regain their control last and also sometimes see an initial lack of velocity. It is scary to think what Matsuzaka’s control would look like if he didn’t have it, considering he already sports a career walk rate of 4.3.

The sample size is obviously small, but so far so good on the control front. His F-Strike% is at its highest mark since 2008 and just a bit below the league average, and his Zone% is also at its high since that year, but sits well above the league average. Just as good a sign is that his velocity is right where it was pre-2011. He has even posted a SwStk% above 10% so far. I understand the sample size is tiny and these rates mean little. However, it does suggest that Matsuzaka may not be as rusty as other TJ survivors. At the very least, he’ll provide strikeouts. I wouldn’t touch him in shallower leagues, but he’s worth a gamble in deep mixed or AL-Only leagues if you need pitching.

Liam Hendriks

Do the Twins have some secret factory that creates pitchers with mediocre stuff, but pinpoint control? Hendriks has posted decent strikeout rates in the minors, but with a fastball that averages just 90 miles per hour, he’s one of those guys that most assume won’t see their strikeout ability translate to the Majors. He has shown a slight ground ball tilt in the minors, but not enough so to get too excited about. Strictly based on his peripherals, his upside looks like a Bartolo Colon/Kyle Lohse/Joe Saunders type, which is not someone I want on my fantasy team. And that appears to be the best case scenario, if he could get that BABIP under control. With a meh strikeout rate, I don’t think I would even bother with him in deep/AL-Only leagues.

Alex Cobb

I first discussed Cobb three weeks ago and he has made another three starts since, including a 7.0 inning gem in his last game that included 10 strikeouts and just 1 walk. So far, his SIERA has confirmed my optimism, while a low LOB% has inflated his ERA a bit. My initial concern was about his SwStk% last year, which was relatively low for a guy who has posted strong strikeout rates in the minors. Well, his strikeout rate is up closer to 8.0 this season, but that SwStk% hasn’t budged and remains below the league average. He’s inducing a ton of ground balls though, so that’s an excellent sign for his RoS prospects.

Like Hendriks, Cobb also flashes a fastball that just touches 90.0 miles per hour, actually averaging just below that plateau. As such, he may not induce as many swinging strikes, and resulting strikeouts, that his minor league numbers suggest. I’d expect his strikeout rate to come down a bit and walk rate to jump above 3.00. That would push his SIERA back to the high 3.00 level, but that still means he has a shot at some mixed league value.