The typically trustworthy Red Sox right-hander has delivered just two quality starts in five tries, and will finish the month of April with a 7.22 ERA and 1.74 WHIP.
Similarly, who slipped Barry Zito some magical pixie dust?
The always mercurial Giants left-hander is 3-0 with a 1.32 ERA, and he's pitching like someone who deserves his $126 million contract.
As the first month of the season winds down, it's important to remember that pitchers still only have four or five starts under their belts. Some, like Boston's Jon Lester, are notoriously slow starters — but owners who sold low on Lester have already been hit with a dose of disappointment after the southpaw hurled seven innings of one-hit ball and whiffed 11 Blue Jays on Wednesday.
This week's column is geared toward ensuring that you don't cough up a valuable pitcher for less than his true value. In the "Pickups" section this week, you'll also find three pitchers who might be good "buy low" targets on the trade market, if you can sweet talk their owners into letting them go at a bargain price.
As always, in the "3 Up, 3 Down" segment, you'll find the players who have the best and worst chances of success during the coming week. And you'll find my recommendations for owners who are streaming pitchers in "Down the Stream."
Robinson Cano, second baseman, Yankees
No hitter has been hotter than Robinson Cano this week, as he's compensated for the slumping Mark Teixeira by emerging as one of the hottest hitters in the AL so far. Cano has long been billed as a batting title contender, and his .407 average after Thursday's 3-for-4 performance with two homers against the Orioles is the best in the majors.
David Price, starting pitcher, Rays
The Rays expected a bit more from top prospect David Price than a 10-7 record and 4.42 ERA over 23 starts during his rookie season. But the No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 draft is making good on the team's expectations now, as he's logged a 3-1 ledger and 2.20 ERA with 26 strikeouts in 28 2/3 innings so far in 2010. The 24-year-old Price enjoyed the best outing of his career last Sunday, hurling a complete-game shutout against the Blue Jays.
Kelly Johnson, second baseman, Diamondbacks
Raise your hand if you thought Kelly Johnson would lead the National League in homers at the end of April. Signed by the D'backs to a one-year, $2.35 million deal after coming off a down season for Atlanta, the 28-year-old second baseman has been a revelation for A.J. Hinch's squad. Johnson is batting .320 with nine long balls out of the leadoff spot for Arizona, and has been arguably the most successful sleeper pick through the first month.
Jake Peavy, starting pitcher, White Sox
Jake Peavy is one struggling starter who should not be on your "buy low" list, because all indications are that he's either hurt or just completely lost. The once-dominant righty has been torched for a 7.85 ERA and 1.81 WHIP so far this season, largely because of an abhorrent 22-to-20 K/BB ratio. Peavy has a history of elbow trouble and his delivery is "all arm," so if you don't already own him, the mantra should be "buyer beware."
Grady Sizemore, outfielder, Indians
Coming off elbow surgery, Grady Sizemore seemed primed to rebound back into 30 HR-30 SB land. But through 19 games and 73 at-bats, he has yet to leave the ballpark, and has stolen just two bases. The typically dynamic center fielder is batting a dormant .192, including a pathetic 3-for-30 mark against southpaws. Sizemore is a decent "buy low" candidate, because his .246 BABIP doesn't jive with a solid 19.3 percent line-drive rate, but the power might not return quite as quickly as hoped.
Yunel Escobar, shortstop, Braves
Looking for a scapegoat for the Braves' nine-game skid? Look no further than Yunel Escobar, who has had all kinds of trouble squaring up the baseball in the early going. Much was expected of the 27-year-old Cuban after a breakout 2009 season, but he's batting just .197 with only four extra-base hits in 76 at-bats. Escobar has been a groundball machine so far in 2010 — hardly a compliment for a big league hitter — pounding 61.2 percent of his batted balls into the dirt. If you're looking for a bright spot, Escobar's nine walks portend better things to come.
Josh Beckett, starting pitcher, Red Sox
The Red Sox are 4-1 in Beckett's first five starts, but the newly extended ace has had little to do with that success. Beckett hasn't displayed any semblance of command so far, leaving too many pitches over the plate — the culprit behind the 37 hits he's allowed in only 28 2/3 innings. However, the 6-foot-5, 225-pound righty is undoubtedly a better pitcher than he has shown so far, and talent trumps a month's worth of evidence when it comes to evaluating fantasy potential. If you can snatch Beckett for someone you drafted in rounds 9-12, chances are you won't regret the move one bit.
Justin Verlander, starting pitcher, Tigers
Another member of the "too talented to pitch this poorly for much longer" club, Justin Verlander is 1-2 with a 5.53 ERA and 1.45 WHIP to start the year. However, with a fastball that can touch triple digits and a deadly offspeed arsenal, the 27-year-old should get back on track before long. Now's the time to see if you can entice his owners into a bargain deal, because Verlander's strikeout rate will soon be too attractive to part with.
Ian Kennedy, starting pitcher, Diamondbacks
Ian Kennedy didn't enjoy a whole lot of success in his brief major league stints with the Yankees, but he's been solid for the Diamondbacks this season after coming over in the deal that sent Curtis Granderson to the Bronx. The 25-year-old USC product will occasionally have a hard time keeping the ball in the yard, but his 27-to-8 strikeout-to-walk ratio so far this season has compensated for his shortcomings. If you're looking for a quality stopgap off the waiver wire, Kennedy is worth considering.
If you are playing in a head-to-head league, a potentially useful — if controversial — strategy is streaming pitchers. The key is to get as many wins and strikeouts as possible during the week, without entirely conceding the ERA and WHIP categories. Below are pitchers that you're likely to find on your league's waiver wire, who have optimal matchups for streaming on each day of the coming week.
Saturday, May 1: Matt Harrison, Rangers — at Mariners
Sunday, May 2: Shaun Marcum, Blue Jays — vs. Athletics
Monday, May 3: Mike Leake, Reds — vs. Mets
Tuesday, May 4: Carl Pavano, Twins — vs. Tigers
Wednesday, May 5: Colby Lewis, Rangers — at Athletics
Thursday, May 6: Dana Eveland, Blue Jays — at White Sox
Friday, May 7: Mike Pelfrey, Mets — vs. Giants
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