By Marc Lawrence of Playbook.com
Major League Baseball trades places with March Madness as the sports flavor of the month in April. As we usher in America’s favorite pastime, 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:
Gray, Sonny • 10-5 / 6-3 H
Is Sonny Gray still ace? After an injury-plagued 2016, which saw him give up career-highs in walks and home runs and register his lowest strikeouts per nine innings, this is important year for Oakland right-hander. If his command and velocity are normal, he could get off to a good start.
*Greinke, Zack • 12-4 / 7-0 A
Did Zack Greinke fall under the weight of big contract in Arizona or did playing for a bad team diminish his interest last season? We should find out right away and Greinke will never post typical career numbers playing at hitter-friendly Chase Field. With D-Backs brutal early schedule, they will need their ace to shine.
*Hammel, Jason • 9-4 / 4-1 H
Hammel moves over to Kansas City to fit into the Royals’ rotation. The right-hander has started strong the last few years but faded after All-Star break, and will likely do the same in the heat of humidity of K.C. However, to start the season he should be fine with his sinking fastball being beaten into the ground.
Keuchel, Dallas • 10-5 / 4-2 A
The Houston ace struggled at times last year, partly it seemed with increased expectations on himself and his team. If the Astros are to return to playoffs, Keuchel has to have better command like he did in 2015, and have movement low in the zone, lacking the big fastball.
Neise, Jon • 10-4 / 5-2 A
Recently released by New York Yankees. If picked up, will likely be a reliever.
Price, David • 10-5 / 5-1 H
Has not thrown since early March with tender elbow and those in Red Sox Nation are hoping for May return. Other rumors are Tommy John surgery is becoming a possibility.
Sale, Chris • 9-3 / 5-1 H
With Price gone for now, Sale becomes the top gun of the Boston staff. The big lefty has mid-90’s heater that he can dial up to 98 MPH when needed, along with nasty curve and slider. There will be a lot more pressure pitching in Bean Town, but little reason to think Sale will not be up to the task.
Strasburg, Stephen • 10-5 / 6-2 A
For four months last season, Strasburg was fulfilling all possible expectations (finally) with a lively fastball, unhittable curve, and knee-buckling changeup. Once August arrived, it all disappeared as opposing batters were suddenly squaring up all his pitches as once again elbow and shoulder woes returned. For now, baseball bettors would be happy with typical April.
Tillman, Chris • 9-4 / 6-2 H
Tillman is battling shoulder problems and is expected to start the year on the DL. If he returns healthy, Tillman should resume where he left off last season where he added sinker that really drops late. Also, he moved to third-base side of pitching rubber, which gave better angles for cutter to really baffle RH hitters.
BAD MONTH PITCHERS:
Buchholz, Clay • 3-12 / 0-7 H
Since his 12-1 2013 campaign, Buchholz has been a below average pitcher and was horrific for Boston in the first part of the season with an ERA of 6.35. After spending months in the bullpen and spot starting, the always inconsistent righty was a stud for the Red Sox in September. Buchholz was traded to Philadelphia and if he thought Boston fans were tough he will need ear plugs if he has a couple rough April starts in Philly.
Danks, John • 4-9 / 1-5 A
Danks got a tryout with Atlanta and was not very good and was cut. At 31, his velocity is well below average, his breaking pitches lack previous bite and at best is mop-up lefty reliever.
Dickey, R. A. • 5-10 / 1-6 A
Dickey has moved over to Atlanta and will start the season as part of their rotation. Trying to predict how a knuckleball will perform is strictly guess work, but safe to say at 42 his best days are behind him. Braves front office just need him to do well enough to bring people to new ballpark. Maybe changing leagues again will help. (Probably not)
Jimenez, Ubaldo • 4-9 / 0-6 A
We are as amazed as you are Jimenez remains in Baltimore’s starting rotation. Owning baseball’s most complicated delivery, the now 34-year old has always had talent and could strikeout six batters in two innings and give up three home runs in the very next inning. Wildly inconsistent, and hardly ever trustworthy for baseball bettors, is his mantra.
*Kluber, Corey • 3-13 / 1-8 A
The Indians ace would like nothing better to pick right up where he left off in the postseason, where he was magnificent on normal rest. When right, Kluber is one of the best in baseball, yet for some reason has gotten off to rough starts to the season. Will that finally change?
Leake, Mike • 5-10 / 3-6 H
Leake is a command-and-control pitcher who relies on at least good infield defense, which is something St. Louis lacked last season, and the right-hander suffered accordingly. Leake still is accountable for 4.69 ERA, compared to 3.99 for his career, and he has to hope ground balls find more fielders in 2017.
Shields, James • 5-10 / 1-5 A
Shields found out U.S. Cellular Field is not nearly as pitcher friendly as Petco Park and largely was hammered with the White Sox. With his changeup no longer having the same dipping action at 35 years old, compared to his Tampa Bay days, he could be in a long April and season on a rotten team.