This week’s piece focuses on a grizzled veteran and a pair of unknowns looking to prove themselves. Let’s dive right in:
RHP Aaron Harang (10.0 percent ESPN/19 percent Yahoo!) – @PIT (.305), @ATL (.323)
Harang has done pretty much what he was expected to do when the Dodgers brought him in; eat innings (about 6.0 per start; on pace for roughly 185-190) in the back of the rotation and not be a $3 million liability. And while a lot of Harang’s game this season has fallen right in line with his career marks, he has struggled at times with the free pass (4.1 per 9 this year, 2.7 career), and that has masked his better-than-usual HR/9 mark (although getting further away from Cincy has only helped) by driving his pitching-slash up to 3.80/4.17/4.73. Essentially, he’s been good, but on the lucky side. This week, the Harangutan gets the Bucs and Bravos on the road, both of whom are in the middle of the pack over the past month offensively (.312 and .323 30-day wOBA marks, respectively). Harang will be looking to continue the climb he’s been on all season, as he’s dug out from an April ERA of 5.72 to toss 102.0 innings of 3.26 ERA, .695 OPS against, 1.14 WHIP baseball. Working against him is the scuffling Dodgers offense, however, with a .285 collective wOBA over the past month (only Astros and Cubs have been worse). It’s that kind of week for two-starters, friends.
RHP Carlos Villanueva (10.0 percent ESPN/23 percent Yahoo!) – v. CWS (.319), v. TEX (.339)
Villanueva isn’t particularly young, and in the 550 or so innings he’d tossed prior to this season, had done little to distinguish himself as anything more than rotation fodder. In fact, it’s taken a turn of events that’s nothing short of cataclysmic to get Villanueva this extended shot, as Jays pitchers and position players alike have littered the DL. The 2012 campaign has been better to the 28-year-old righty, as he’s ratcheted up the whiffs (25.1 percent/9.5 per 9) through seven starts with the Jays. So what’s the story with Carlos? Well, the walks (4.2 per 9) and strand rate (82.0 percent) are scary, but tempered with a 43.0 percent groundball rate and low natural BABIP tendencies (.278 this year, .281 career). As a result, his pitching-slash of 3.30/4.06/3.87 isn’t particularly worrisome, though facing the Rangers at the back end of the week looms large here. The biggest test for Villanueva over this week will be strikeouts, as the Rangers and White Sox have proven to be two of the five toughest teams to whiff over the past month, with the Rangers showing good plate discipline besides. Again, let me reiterate, it’s that kind of week in the two-start department.
RHP Alex Cobb (3.6 percent ESPN/5 percent Yahoo!) – @SEA (.286), @LAA (.330)
My perception of Cobb is that he’s probably never going to live up to his minor league numbers. With a repertoire featuring a 90-mph heater and the requisite secondary offerings (curve and change), it’s probably somewhat safe to suggest he won’t reach the upper 9s in K rate again. But he is what he is, another polished pitching prospect to ascend from Ray U, and he’s given the Fighting Friedmans some pretty solid innings so far in 2012. So far Cobb is 6-8 through 14 starts — no no-decisions, which is interesting — while averaging just under six frames per game. That suggests to me that when he’s good, he’s in the game well into the late innings in order to factor into the decision, but when he’s bad, he goes in the direct opposite direction. Not really revolutionary stuff, but interesting to me nonetheless. Cobb generates tons of grounders — 57.9 percent this year and 56.4 percent in his short to-date big league career — and that, combined with a sub-par 64.9 percent strand rate has left his pitching-slash at 4.32/3.33/3.61. Essentially, he’s been unlucky (though his 0.4 HR/9 is bound to regress), which makes the 24-year-old a possibly sneaky pickup down the stretch. The Mariners are a marvelous matchup for Cobb, and as a result make putting off his HR/9 regression for at least one more start quite likely, but the Halos are an entirely different animal. Again, with two-start guys sometimes you have to give a little on the back end.
On a side-note, I’m considering adding a tracker next year for how my two-starters do. Is this something readers would be interested in? Feel free to note in the comments.