Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
Apparently, I live in two worlds simultaneously. There is the real world where Rafael Nadal keeps winning French Open tennis titles, the New York Yankees still have the highest payroll in baseball and politicians continue to look out only for themselves and their major contributors.
And then there is the bizarro 2012 Major League Baseball fantasy world where player performances have been turned completely upside down.
How else do you explain the poor production out of top pitchers like Tim Lincecum and Josh Johnson in the National League and Jon Lester, Jonathan Sanchez and Francisco Liriano in the American League. None has a TSN SSRD360 value below 4.746 (the SSRD360 starting pitcher evaluator measures a pitcher's performance based on four factors - wins, ERA, WHIP, and strikeouts).
At the same time, Chris Sale, R.A. Dickey, Lance Lynn, James McDonald and Scott Diamond are top-10 starters in their leagues with SSRD360 values of 3.100 or less.
Let's look at these 10 starting pitchers to see if they will continue to surprise or disappoint fantasy owners over the next four months:
Tim Lincecum, San Francisco - What do you do with the two-time NL Cy Young award winner? As the fifth pitcher off the board in April, he cost you a third-round selection (Yahoo ADP 28), but is giving you almost nothing to show for it. A 2-7 record with a 6.00 ERA and 1.58 WHIP is certainly not what you were looking for when you picked him at the draft. His location is poor (39 walks) and his fastball has lost a couple of miles per hour. If you own him, you can't get anywhere near full value in a trade. But if you have an open spot on your roster, you could "buy low" and stash him in case he finds the answer. I don't think he will, but the cost should be minimal and the upside astronomical.
Josh Johnson, Miami - Johnson has "ace" stuff and since 2009 has never had an ERA above 3.23 or a WHIP above 1.158. In 2012, however, those numbers have ballooned to 4.56 and 1.493, respectively. If you dig deeper than his year-long statistics, you will find that he's been significantly improved after a horrible April in which he was 0-3 with a high ERA and WHIP. In his last six outings, he's given up three earned runs or less. I believe he's going to return to his fantasy stud status in the second half of the season.
Jon Lester, Boston - So much talent, too little production. His won/loss record could be excused because of all the injuries to the Red Sox offense, but that doesn't explain a 4.57 ERA, a 1.364 WHIP and his lowest strikeout ratio since 2008. Historically, June is Lester's best month. He owns a career-best 15-4 record with a 2.59 ERA and 1.121 WHIP. If he's on your roster, continue to start him for the next 30 days, and if he doesn't improve, send him packing.
Jonathan Sanchez, Kansas City - For the past three seasons with the San Francisco Giants, Sanchez had been a low-end fantasy value who produced a high strikeout total and average ERA, but at the cost of a high WHIP and mediocre won/loss total. In 2012, in his first year with the Royals, he's doing nothing good. Then he hurt his biceps. Although he's almost ready to return to the majors after a rehab assignment, there is no reason that Sanchez should be on an active fantasy roster.
Francisco Liriano, Minnesota - This season is by far the worst of Liriano's career. If only we could turn the clock back to 2006 (12-3, 2.16 ERA, 1.000 WHIP) or even 2010 (14-10, 3.62 ERA, 1.263 WHIP). Although he's pitched well in two of three starts since rejoining the rotation, he's simply too inconsistent to be relied upon. Offer him in a trade to an unsuspecting owner or simply release him.
Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox - The White Sox tried to make him a setup man and closer for his first two seasons in the majors and while he performed adequately in the roles, nothing said he'd be an ace if he was put into the starting rotation. That's exactly what he is with an 8-2 record, league-leading 2.05 ERA and 0.924 WHIP. Sale has been spectacular over his past five starts, yielding two runs or less in each outing with a 0.98 ERA and 43 strikeouts in 36 2/3 innings. He currently owns the best SSRD360 value in baseball (2.531). The only problem we see is that Sale has never pitched this many innings as a professional and will likely tire. Even in college, he never pitched more than 90 innings. He's already thrown 74 2/3 innings this season and is an excellent "sell high" candidate.
R.A. Dickey, New York Mets - After floundering around for nine years with Texas, Seattle, Minnesota and the Mets, Dickey has become a star in 2012, going 9-1 with a 2.44 ERA and 1.037 WHIP. He actually began to show signs of life when he came to New York in 2010, but until this season it hadn't translated into wins and across-the-board production. He's a knuckleballer who unlike Tim Wakefield has a respectable fastball to keep hitters off balance. He reminds me of a young Tom Candiotti. He may not keep up this pace, but he's a keeper.
Lance Lynn, St. Louis - With Chris Carpenter injured and Adam Wainwright still a question mark, the Cardinals turned to Lynn this April and he responded by being the best pitcher in baseball that month, going 4-0 with a 1.33 ERA and 0.815 WHIP. He's 5-2 since, but with a 3.42 ERA and a climbing 1.322 WHIP. It's time to sell, you got the best out of him. Let someone else deal with his normalizing statistics.
James McDonald, Pittsburgh - Since coming to Pittsburgh in 2010, he's been used exclusively as a starter, but nothing I saw over the last two seasons prepared any of us for what McDonald has produced in 2012. He's apparently gone from thrower to pitcher. His walk numbers have dropped significantly (2.6/per nine innings pitched) as has his ERA (2.39) and WHIP (0.996). McDonald has always had good stuff, but this season he is throwing his straight fastball less and relying on his sinker and slider combination a lot more. The results are better control and more missed bats. We think this performance level will continue and if you are in the 25 percent of all Yahoo leagues in which he is a free agent, you should find a roster spot for the 27-year-old right-hander.
Scott Diamond, Minnesota - Who? Yes, it's likely that not many fantasy owners are familiar with Diamond. He pitches in a small media market and despite a 5-1 record with a 1.61 ERA and 1.19 WHIP and SSRD360 value of 3.128 is not owned in 70 percent of all Yahoo fantasy leagues. What's most exciting is his control - 28 strikeouts to just four walks. He's yet to give up more than three earned runs in a game and in four of seven starts didn't give up a run. A Rule 5 draftee from Canada who started the season in Triple-A, he's been the Twins' best starter. Beware, however, that he didn't pitch anything like this in 2011, going 1-5 with the Twins and 4-14 with Rochester of the International League with a high ERA and high WHIP. This is likely a mirage.