By Joe Nelson
Much is being made of Johan Santana’s recent frustration as the Mets continue to have trouble providing runs when he starts, and he has already lost twice in games when he did not allow an earned run. Santana is widely regarded as the best pitcher in baseball and he will be a heavy favorite in almost any situation no matter what his record is. There are several other starters that based on wins and losses have had rough starts to the season but in reality are pitching pretty well. A lack of run support or a great effort from the opposing pitcher are often the culprits and this early in the year, records and numbers can be very misleading in such a small sample. A poor start to a season can often provide some opportunities to back good pitchers as underdogs or as deflated favorites and here is a group of pitchers that have misleading records at this point and could be solid money makers until the value catches back up.
Jorge De La Rosa (0-3), Colorado Rockies: In his career De La Rosa has bounced between being a starter and a reliever and he never has posted great numbers, with a career best ERA of 4.46 out of the bullpen for Milwaukee in 2005. His career win/loss record is 25-34 but is still young, having just turned 28 and he appears to have made great strides in the last two years. Moving to Colorado and Coor’s Field rarely spells improvement for pitchers but De La Rosa had a respectable year last season, going 10-8 over 130 innings with a 4.92 ERA. His 0-3 record so far this season is very misleading as he has pitched well this season, allowing three or fewer earned runs in five of six. He had a poor first outing of the season but since that game he has an ERA of 2.61 and on the year he has 35 strikeouts while walking just 16. The Rockies have failed to surpass three runs of offense in four of his starts this season which has prevented win opportunities but De La Rosa appears to have figured out how to pitch at Coor’s Field. The Rockies are 12-18 on the season but they have actually out-scored opponents and lost eight one-run games. Those are numbers that are likely to even out over the course of the season and value should be on Colorado and De La Rosa based on those misleading records.
Scott Baker (1-4), Minnesota Twins: Baker was the best starting pitcher for a Twins team that just missed the playoffs last season, going 11-4 with a 3.45 ERA. A minor injury held up his spring training a bit and he started the season on the DL. The lack of preparation was clearly evident in his first few starts as he allowed six runs in each of his firs two outings. In his third start Baker pitched well but Tampa Bay managed to scrap together a few runs to give Baker another loss. Things really came together in his next start as Baker actually had a no-hitter going into the seventh inning against Kansas City. A couple of base hits and a home run sparked a rally for the Royals and then the bullpen could not protect Baker as the inherited runners all scored and Baker was left with a line of five hits and five runs in six innings and another loss. Baker rebounded nicely from that debacle however and pitched seven scoreless innings to get his first win last week. His numbers look rough but Baker is clearly pitching well right now and he is always a sound option as he rarely walks batters, so far allowing only five free passes in almost 28 innings. Minnesota’s offense has received a boost with Joe Mauer back in the lineup and Baker pitched brilliantly in the one game that Mauer has caught him so the bad early numbers could provide great value in the coming weeks on Baker and the Twins.
Doug Davis (2-5), Arizona Diamondbacks: Davis had 14 quality starts last season yet he only picked up six wins and unfortunately he is on pace for a similar fate this season. In four of his seven starts he has allowed two runs or less but only in the two games in which he did not allow a run did he pick up wins. In six of his seven starts Arizona has scored two or fewer runs so run support has been a big issue. The Diamondbacks have not had a strong start to the season but this is a talented team that was streaky last season and a hot run to get back to a respectable record would not be a surprise. He owns a 3.25 ERA on the season and has struck out twice as many batters as he has walked. Opposing batters are hitting just .227 against Davis on the season and he is likely to be an underdog in most situations. Arizona’s offensive production is bound to improve, currently ranking last in baseball in runs per game and now could be the time to back the Snakes and Davis is pitching well enough to win most times out yet is not priced nearly as high as some of his teammates like Jon Garland and Dan Haren.
Cliff Lee (1-5), Cleveland Indians: Through seven starts in 2008, Lee was 6-0 on the way to his Cy Young season. Things have changed dramatically this season as he and the Indians are off to a much tougher start. Lee is still posting strong strikeout numbers and he has now made five straight quality starts despite only picking up only one win. In five of his seven starts the Indians have scored one run or zero runs so he has had unusually low run support from an Indians team that is one of the more productive offenses in the American League. Lee has a 3.45 ERA on the season but over his past five starts that number falls to 1.70 so he appears to be back on track for another strong year despite the poor record. Cleveland has underachieved so far this season and should be a team that gets back into the AL Central race by the end of the year. There will never be any great bargains in backing a recent Cy Young winner but many already see last season as a fluke based on his poor record and in reality Lee is pitching nearly as well as he did in 2008 yet will be priced moderately at this point.
Dallas Braden (3-4), Oakland Athletics: As the de facto #1 starter for the revamped A’s, Braden has fit the role perfectly. In seven starts he is yet to allow more than three runs, and he has a 2.79 ERA so far this season. Braden has 27 strikeouts and only 13 walks and opposing batters have only hit three home runs against him. He is also backed up by the lowest bullpen ERA in baseball as the A’s have been outstanding in the late innings. Based on this information Braden should have a great record, but he already has four losses despite only allowing 13 earned runs in 42 innings over seven starts. Oakland has been out-scored by just ten runs this season but the A’s are 11-18 as a result of seven one-run losses and several other close games that have not worked out in their favor. Oakland has been shutout three times that Braden has started as he has had the misfortune of opposing a slightly better strong starting effort several times this season. Braden has pitched well enough to win in every start this season and the wins should eventually start to come in as the A’s record will improve.