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Lilly and Burnett: NL Starting Pitchers

While the disabled list is starting to fill up with in-game injuries and Tommy John surgeries, we’re finally reaching the point in the season when players are actually coming off the DL to fill in some of the gaps being left by newer injuries. Here are a pair of starters who started the season on the shelf, but either have already or will soon rejoin their respective teams.

Ted Lilly

Lilly made his first start of the season last Saturday after opening the season on the disabled list due to a stiff neck. Lilly looked good against the Padres, allowing just two hits and an unearned run over seven innings of work. HIs next opponent, the Astros, shouldn’t pose much more of a threat than the Padres did; they’ve scored the exact same number of runs, albeit having played just 11 games to the Padres’ 12.

His strong start is just the continuation of the tear on which Lilly ended 2011. Over his last 12 starts, he held opposing hitters to a .169/.250/.308 line en route to a 2.19 ERA and a 0.93 WHIP. Despite dominating opposing lineups, Lilly went just 6-4 in those 12 starts. I have a feeling he’ll get a few more wins this year with the Dodgers scoring runs the way they are, but there’s obviously no certainty there. Lilly’s not much for strikeouts, meaning his value comes from a low ERA and WHIP to go with his occasional wins. Any fear I have with Lilly doesn’t come from the potential for a really high ERA/WHIP, but more from the inevitable regression that’s coming and probably coming soon. Over his last 13 starts, Lilly’s BABIP is about .150 and while he’s been on the low side of .300 for most of his career, .150 isn’t sustainable. This isn’t to say he’s going to be objectively bad, just that he’s going to get worse sooner or later.

Lilly is owned in 57 percent of Yahoo! leagues, but 87 percent of ESPN leagues, so whether he’s an option for jilted Scott Baker owners probably depends on which site you play on.

A.J. Burnett

It’s probably folly to put too much stock in anyone’s minor league rehab numbers, but with Burnett, they’re about the only numbers we have for him since he went out so early in Spring Training. The good news is that Burnett, who looks as though he should be back in the majors in the next week or two, is coming back far ahead of the initial timetable that had him out until almost the All-Star break. The bad news is that he hasn’t looked particularly good in either of his rehab starts.

Like I said, take these numbers with more than just a grain of salt, but he allowed seven hits, a pair of walks and nine runs — six of them earned — over his six innings in the Florida State League. It’s not bad, but not particularly compelling either. When he moved up to Triple-A, he allowed five earned runs on four walks and seven hits — two of them home runs — in just four innings of work. He struck out no one.

When the trade that sent Burnett to the Pirates was first made, I thought it was great for his value. I’m not about to let three minor league starts change that, but it does give me pause — as does the fact that the Pirates are giving their pitchers almost no run support, which will make it that much harder for Burnett to win decisions. Where before I would have advised a cheeky stash of Burnett in an open DL spot, now I’m much more willing to wait for him to get a few major league starts before I consider rostering him.

If he had a solid track record of success, I wouldn’t let these starts worry me, but with the way he ended last season — 6.85 ERA, 1.74 WHIP, and an OPS against of .942 after the All-Star break — makes me all the more concerned that his stuff just isn’t what it used to be. Given the fact that he’s owned in just 10 percent of Yahoo! leagues and less than 1 percent of ESPN leagues, you can afford to wait and see if he comes around.