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Lilly and Peacock: NL Starting Pitchers

Ted Lilly

2011 has been unkind to Lilly owners. His last 12 starts in 2010 portended good things going forward — he struck out a batter per inning and posted a WHIP under 1.00 during his time with the Dodgers. 2011 has seen Lilly struggle to put together quality starts consistently, a trait far more maddening than simply being terrible.

He’s still struggling to go deep into ballgames, which exacerbates any base runners and runs he allows, but his last five outings have been consistently survivable, something that couldn’t be said of any other five start stretch of the season. His WHIP this month is the fourth best in the NL at 0.86 and he boasts a top-10 ERA to match. He is winless on the month, having gotten 0,1, and 0 runs of support in his three losses and a no decision in his worst start. If he continues to pitch well, the wins should follow.

It’s tempting to latch onto that WHIP and ERA, and project great things going forward, but Lilly still worries me. His BABIP is has dropped nearly 100 points from where it was in the first half, down to just .204, and he’s been even luckier in August. His BABIP this month is a completely untenable .169 with a 92 percent strand rate to match, which helps explain the sudden stinginess in allowing base runners. His walks are up in the second half, and while he is mitigating that with a higher strikeout rate, those walks will become more costly if the base hits start falling in.

With Cole Hamels joining Tommy Hanson on the disabled list and the potential for contenders to start skipping starts before too long, there’s an added temptation to look at Lilly’s numbers and see effectiveness that just isn’t likely to stick around. While he may cheat regression for another start or two, September isn’t likely to be nearly as favorable to him as August has been.

Brad Peacock

Every start Stephen Strasburg makes is big news as he nears the majors again, and it’s not hard to understand why. Strasburg is in a sweet spot between a large amount of unfulfilled potential and having proven that his stuff will play at the major league level, which generates a lot of coverage. Much further down the minor league chain, Bryce Harper has the new kid shine still on him, plus has a strong personality and gets plenty of coverage because of it.

Between the Nats’ high profile minor leaguers, we have Peacock. Not as heralded as the other two, due in no small part to the fact that he was taken in the 41st round of the 2006 draft. Nevertheless, he has been absolutely fantastic in the minors, posting a K/9 of 11 and a WHIP of 0.97 between Double- and Triple-A this season.

According to MLB.com’s Bill Ladson, the Nationals are going to call up Peacock when rosters expand on September 1, which makes him an interesting option for those needing to replace an injured starter. It would be nice to know exactly how he’ll fit into the rotation before picking him up, but the Nats aren’t making that clear just yet. While he hasn’t racked up the double-digit strikeout games the way he did in Double-A, Peacock still frequently sets hitters down by the bunch in Triple-A, and is likely to continue to do so even after he gets promoted again. It will be his third level of the year, so temper expectations accordingly, but given the choice between Peacock and some of the guys getting rostered out of pure necessity right now, I’d rather take my chances than be guaranteed below-average performance.