Jordan Zimmerman, Nationals
A Tale of Two Rookies: Shairon Martis might have the shiny 5-0 record and a superficially better ERA (4.86), but Zimmermann (5.71 ERA) holds the FIP advantage, 4.24 to Martis’ 4.71. Zimmermann has a strong 3.25 strikeout-to-walk ratio (8.56 K/9 and 2.63 BB/9), but a fluky .343 BABIP has bogged down his numbers. The 22 year-old has a deep four-pitch mix and keeps the ball in the zone (54.8% of his pitches have crossed home plate, compared to the 48.9% MLB average). He’s also getting ahead of hitters 0-1 or inducing contact early in the at-bat, with a First-Pitch Strike percentage of 66.5 (57.7% MLB average).
Kevin Slowey, Twins
As an extreme flyball pitcher (his career GB% is 33.2), Slowey will give up some meatballs that end up in the stands (1.3 HR/9 in 2009, 1.47 HR/9 career). However, his control and command are absolutely disgusting. Slowey’s walk rate for the season sits at 0.65, less than half of last year’s already pinpoint 1.35 BB/9. The 25 year-old is basically in a category of his own in terms of painting the corners: Joel Pinerio ranks 2nd in BB/9 at 1.03. Slowey has a 9.75 K/BB ratio; Roy Halladay is second at 7.0. Slowey also leads all starters in placing his pitches within the zone, at 59.2 percent. His FIP is down to 3.94 for the season, and batters have a better chance of winning the lottery and subsequently being struck by lightning than drawing a walk against him.
Elvis Andrus, Rangers
Per Wins Above Replacement (WAR), Andrus has been the sixth-most productive shortstop in the majors in 2009, quite the accomplishment for a 20 year-old who spent last season in Double-A. Andrus has been a vacuum at short at 14.8 UZR/150, but he has surprisingly held his own at the dish as well. His wOBA sits at .355, with a .291/.333/.457 line. Andrus’ .165 ISO is leaps and bounds above anything he did at the minor league level. ZiPS suggests that we shouldn’t go hog-wild just yet: Andrus is projected to hit .250/.303/.337 from here on out, with a .291 wOBA. Still, the Rangers have to be highly encouraged.
Rich Hill, Orioles
Baby steps: Coming off a disastrous 2008 campaign in which he walked the yard and lost all semblance of fastball control, Hill has 12 punchouts in 11.1 frames. He’s still fighting himself, however, with 6 free passes. The 29 year-old’s signature low-70’s curve has shown plenty of bite (with 8.2 inches of “dropping” action, the hook is falling nearly twice as much as the average lefty curve, and more than Hill’s 7.1 career average when Pitch F/X is watching).
Hill continues to throw his curve and fastball from two different arm slots, though I won’t pretend to know whether or not the batter could pick up on such a nuance. The difference doesn’t appear to be extreme:
See that one red dot? Hill has dropped down sidearm to throw a slider once in each of his first two starts.
Mark Reynolds, Diamondbacks
The D-Backs rank just 24th in the majors in wOBA, but don’t blame Reynolds. He holds a .398 wOBA, with 12 home runs and a .284 ISO. He’s still coming up empty as often as any one (36.1 K%), but Reynolds is working the count well (12.4 BB%) while reducing his Outside Swing% for the third consecutive year (from 26.1% in 2007 to 20.6% this season).
Rich Harden, Cubs
The A’s received plenty of flak last summer for parting with Harden, whose transient brilliance can intoxicate GM’s and fantasy owners alike. The reason Oakland received only a middling package of prospects is the same reason why Harden will always be a second or third-tier fantasy starter: he’s never upright for more than a few months at a time. Whiffing nearly 11 batters per nine innings, Harden hits the DL with a back strain.
A.J. Burnett, Yankees
Burnett’s five-year pact with the Bombers was considered a significant risk from a health standpoint, but he was expected to perform quite well when available. So far, that hasn’t been the case: fresh off a 3.45 FIP with the Blue Jays, Burnett has posted a 5.27 FIP in 58 innings. Some of that is poor luck on flyballs- his HR/FB% is somewhat high at 14.3 percent. Still, his strikeout rate is down (7.76 K/9 in 2009, 9.39 in 2008), he’s walking too many batters (4.19 BB/9), and he’s surrendering far more flyballs this season. His 41.7 GB% is significantly lower than his 48.5% mark in 2008, which in turn was quite a bit lower than his 54.8% figure in 2007. Considering that seemingly innocuous flyballs are whizzing out of new Yankee Stadium at a dizzying pace (1.62 HR park factor), that’s not a positive trend.
Emmanuel Burriss, Giants
Granted, this Kent State product was never expected to knock balls into the gap with regularity, but this is getting a little ridiculous. Burriss has three extra-base knocks on the season, good for a .021 ISO. His wOBA sits at .284. Coupled with a so-so 11-for-15 in the SB department and a false start with the leather (-7.6 UZR/150), Burriss has been below replacement-level thus far. There are rumblings that Burriss may begin losing playing time to Kevin Frandsen.
Chris Davis, Rangers
Punching out regularly certainly doesn’t preclude a hitter from being highly productive, but Davis has resembled a Dave Kingman/Rob Deer love child in 2009. He has whiffed an astounding 43.5% of the time, lapping the competition: Carlos Pena ranks a distant second, at 36.3%. The 23 year-old is crushing what he can touch, with 10 homers and a .231 ISO. However, he’s swinging at most everything (35.2 Outside Swing%) while making the least amount of contact of any batter in the majors, at 58 percent. The result is an ugly .264 OBP and a .300 wOBA.
Francisco Liriano, Twins
Liriano had a highly promising return to the Twinkies last year (3.87 FIP, 7.93 K/9), but the 25 year-old southpaw has been torched for a 5.28 FIP in 2009. Placing a below-average 45.9% of his pitches within the strike zone, Liriano has issued 4.44 BB/9. Not surprisingly, his release point has been all over the place. For example, here’s his last start against the White Sox, on May 20th: