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Oswalt and Strasburg: NL Starters

Roy Oswalt (Yahoo: 87 percent owned, ESPN: 96 percent owned)

Oswalt’s Sunday start wasn’t good, but neither was it a complete disaster. He allowed far too many baserunners against an offense that hasn’t always punished such generosity, which is why there’s a justifiably fair amount of weeping and gnashing of teeth over what was technically a quality start. Making any sort of grand judgment after one start is foolish — even more so when it’s his first start off the disabled list — but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to learn from Oswalt’s effort against the Giants.

Matt Swartz noted during Oswalt’s start that the righty’s velocity looked low, which was part of the reason the Giants had little trouble squaring him up. Oswalt’s average fastball velocity this season is 91.2 mph, a full tick slower than it was last year, which is somewhat worrisome on its own. If he drops even further form there, he could be in real trouble. While he doesn’t live or die by high velocity, Oswalt isn’t going to thrive with a fastball that tops out at the same speed he averaged last year.

His drop in speed could well be directly related to his time on the disabled list, so it bears watching in his next few outings as he resumes his normal turns through the rotation. Assuming the Phillies stick to their current rotation, Oswalt should make back-to-back starts against the Nationals, who should provide a fair test of Oswalt’s remaining stuff. The decision to start or sit him is yours, but I’d wait until he’s made at least one more start before dropping him outright.

Stephen Strasburg (Yahoo: 35 percent owned, ESPN: 16 percent owned)

Last summer, as he awaited his call to the majors, everything start Strasburg made was front-page material, and while his rehab starts aren’t generating quite as much publicity, it’s pretty close to the same depth of coverage. His first outing was a good showing; the numbers are pretty much immaterial — ok, getting four of his five outs via strikeouts is pretty nice — it’s the fact that he felt good during and after the start that even borders on relevancy.

While there’s a good chance Strasburg will see some time in the majors in September, make no mistake, it is not a given that he will. Each start will see Strasburg ramp up his pitch count and if at any point he looks like he’s not coping well with the increase, the Nationals aren’t likely to push him through it. The risk is simply too much greater than the reward at this point in the season, which is big reason I feel that adding him now is prematurely speculative. If he makes 3-4 successful rehab starts, and you foresee needing a spot start in September, then perhaps he bears consideration.

Jordan Zimmermann owners should be especially cognizant of Strasburg’s progress through the minors, as there is a non-zero chance that Zimmermann will be shutdown at around the same time that Strasburg is ready to come up. However, with Brad Peacock already performing well in Triple-A, there’s no guarantee that Strasburg will be the one who replaces Zim in the rotation. As Zimmermann’s cap becomes a more pressing, the situation should become clearer, but if you know you’re going to need to replace one Nats pitcher, there’s a good chance another good option will soon become available to you. It just may not be the one you’re expecting.