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Worley and Bedard: NL Starting Pitchers

Most pitchers have four or five starts under their belt now that we’re a month into the season, and while that’s enough to start seeing some trends, it’s also few enough that there is still some…fuzziness. I don’t expect Madison Bumgarner and Roy Halladay to finish the season with strikeout rates below 7, for example, and on the other end of the spectrum, I’m not quite buying R.A. Dickey has generating the strikeouts at the same rate as Clayton Kershaw over the course of a full season. That all said, not all is smoke and mirrors, and finding those players now instead of a month from now could be the difference between surviving a midseason swoon and languishing at the bottom of the league.

Here are two starters who have at the very least caught my eye as potential overachievers.

Vance Worley

Last season was a nice coming out party for Worley, who got his shot largely because of the injury to Joe Blanton, but there was some expectation of regression heading into the 2012 season. Instead, through five starts he has actually gotten a little better. His k-rate is the 15th best in the National League, and while K-rate can ebb and flow, Worley’s improved rate doesn’t look out of control. He struck out 8.13 per nine in the majors last year, and his improvement this year is tied to the fact that he’s throwing his slider and curveball more often. Those pitchers are Worley’s best both for generating whiffs and for producing groundballs.

His ERA is artificially low at 1.97, a product of a strand rate that’s closer to perfect than to league average, but neither his FIP nor his xFIP make it seem as though he’s going to collapse into a below-average starter any time soon. On the positive side, I don’t think Worley is going to finish the season as the Phillie who allows the most home runs; I think his 18.2 percent HR/FB rate will come down as well. As both go down, his ERA will come up, but fewer home runs will hopefully offset at least some of the runs that start to creep in.

I don’t see Worley as being a Brandon Morrow-esque pitcher where getting a good number of strikeouts comes at the cost of less-than-ideal rate stats. As long as he can keep the ball in the park, Worley looks like the type of pitcher who could be a strong SP3 candidate all season long.

Erik Bedard

Watching Bedard’s first five starts, one gets the sense that in order to win games with any semblance of consistency Bedard is going to have to set the major league record for perfect games in a season. He allowed just 8 runs total in his first four starts and lost them all, finally recording his first win over the Braves last week.

He’ll never be the pitcher the Mariners thought they were trading for when they gave up Adam Jones, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have value, especially now that he has moved to the NL. I think his K-rate, which at 8.07 is actually slightly below his career average, is sustainable as he’s facing opposing pitchers instead of DHs, but as he’s also fighting the effects of age. His flyball rate is a little on the higher end, but with Jose Tabata and Andrew McCutchen patrolling the Pirates outfield, it’s a vice that can be indulged for the time being. The biggest issue I have with him at the moment is that he’s being a little inefficient and not working deep into games; he has made it out of the fifth inning just twice this season. It’s not the worst trait a pitcher can have, but it does mean that if he gives up three runs or more, it’ll hurt his ERA more than it would for someone who can reliably go at least six or seven innings.

Bedard isn’t a WHIP specialist, the walks have been part and parcel of his game for most of his career, but the strikeouts and solid ERA should make him a strong option at the back end of fantasy rotations.