By Marc Lawrence of Playbook.com
Major League Baseball trades places with as zany a March Madness as we have ever witnessed, ushering in America’s favorite pastime as the sports flavor of the month in April. Let’s open the season with one of our favorite handicapping angles – good month pitchers.
Listed below are hurlers that have enjoyed a two-to-one or better success ratio in team starts the last three seasons during the month of April. On the flip side, we’ve also listed pitchers that struggle in April team starts, winning 33% percent or less of their efforts. To qualify pitchers must have made a minimum of 10 starts, with at least one start each April over the last three years. Note: * designates a categorical repeat appearance by this pitcher, maintaining status quo from last season’s April list. In addition, also designated are the best and/or worst site results – home (H) or away (A) – within each pitcher’s April results.
I’ll be back next month with May’s Good Month Pitchers. Until then, it’s time to play ball!
GOOD MONTH PITCHERS:
Arrieta, Jake • 11-3 / 8-1 A
Now with Philadelphia and having diminishing velocity and less bite on breaking pitches, Arrieta will attempt to maintain high win percentage despite being on a lesser team.
Carrasco, Carlos • 9-4 / 6-1 A
Cleveland’s No. 2 starter reached 200 innings for the first time a season ago. That made us realize just how good his stuff is with mid-90’s heater, a big breaking ball, a killer slider and change-up to confound lefty hitters. No reason this excellence does not continue.
Cueto, Johnny • 11-4 / 6-2 H
With a drop in velocity, Cueto uses four pitches, variable deliveries and different arm angles to fool opposing hitters. Not the pitcher he used to be, Cueto has to step up early with Madison Bumgarner on the DL again.
*Keuchel, Dallas • 10-5 / 4-2 A
The left-hander does not throw particularly hard, but he knows how to pitch and keeps the ball low in the strike zone. Backed by a tremendous young and talented squad coming off a World Series-winning campaign, the victories should keep coming for Keuchel.
Martinez, Carlos • 10-3 / 6-1 H
Top line starter in the NL and now being under the guidance of pitching guru Mike Maddux should only make Martinez even more effective. With mid-to-high 90’s fastball and opposing batters at a .145 average (in 2017) against his slider, Martinez should be a winner each month this season.
Porcello, Rick • 10-5 / 4-2 A
From Cy Young winner to pitching like “Cy Old” a year later, Porcello in truth is somewhere in between. His command was way off a year ago. Having won the best pitcher award in 2016, he was over-throwing the first four months of 2017. Look for Porcello to return to the middle of the rotation starter and be effective early.
Strasburg, Stephen • 10-5 / 5-2 H
Known primarily as a fast starter with no finish late in the season, Strasburg might have put that tag behind him as his final eight starts of 2017 featured a minuscule 0.84 ERA. Three nasty pitches for Strasburg, whose has learned to pitch without his best stuff.
*Sale, Chris • 10-4 / 6-2 H
A dominant left-hander who is making the transition to lower pitch counts, Sale still has the ‘stuff’ to strikeout any batter in any situation. The fact of the matter is Sale is a very uncomfortable at-bat for any hitter.
Zimmermann, Jordan • 10-5 / 6-2 H
Zimmermann’s 19-9 season in 2013 is a distant memory at this point and he’s just 17-20 with Detroit the past two years. Though just 31, Zimmermann’s margin of error has all but disappeared unless he has his best stuff.
BAD MONTH PITCHERS:
Hughes, Philip • 5-10 / 1-5 H
Hughes will begin the season the DL with a strained left oblique but is “still in the mix” to pitch April 11, the first time the Twins will need a fifth starter. Has slid in all areas as a pitcher and is at best a fifth starter these days on almost any club.
*Kluber, Corey • 4-10 / 2-6 A
Hard to imagine Kluber is such a slow starter, but that has been his history. Once he finds his groove, the right-hander is light’s out, but for whatever reason the first few starts of every season are problematic.
*Shields, James • 4-9 / 2-5 A
Shields starts the season as the White Sox “ace”, which tells you about the current state of the Pale Hose starting pitching. At 36, the difference between his fastball and previously lethal changeup is not enough to anymore. Also, the command of the off-speed pitches is not what it used to be for the righty.
Teheran, Julio • 5-10 / 2-6 H
The Braves No. 1 starter was spooked by new hitter-friendly SunTrust Park and he pitched much better on the road last season. Teheran has loads of ability but could use the guidance of a smart and understanding pitching coach to reach his true potential.
Wood, Alex • 3-10 / 2-7 A
The Dodgers have and continue to tinker with Wood’s delivery to make him as effective as possible. His 16 wins a year ago speaks to his talent and what he could do with more confidence. The 2018 season will probably determine the southpaw’s career path.