By Marc Lawrence of PlayBook.com
The running of the Kentucky Derby each year signals the fact that MLB enters its 2nd month of play. And with it a handful of surprise teams take center stage. The key to sustaining will be the success, or lack of it, from the pitching staffs. With that thought in mind, let’s zero in on pitchers that will look to keep their team in the race and those that may pull up before they hit the wire for those of us betting baseball.
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 May. On the flip side, we’ve also listed pitchers that struggle in May 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 May over the last three years.
I’ll be back next month with June’s Good Month Pitchers. Until then, it’s batter up!
GOOD MONTH PITCHERS:
Buchholz, Clay • 12-5
The Boston right-hander has gotten off to the best start of his career, averaging better than a strikeout per inning and opponents are hitting under .200 against him. Being united with former pitching coach and now skipper of Boston John Farrell has sharpened his focus, added sink to his fastball and made his changeup downright filthy.
Buehrle, Mark • 11-4
For the second year in a row, the veteran left-hander is on a new club with big expectations who has not gotten out of the gate. Buehrle has been a part of the problem in Toronto, since he has to spot his pitches to make up for the lack of velocity and right-handed hitters are batting well over .300 against him. If the Blue Jays are going to turn their season around, Buehrle has to pitch like he has in the past this month.
Cueto, Johnny • 11-5
Cueto suffered a strained right lat muscle on April 13 and went on the DL. At the end of April, he began tossing from distances up to 75 feet. No official word has been given when he will return. The Reds ace had gotten off to a very strong start.
Gonzalez, Gio • 13-3
After winning 21 games in 2012, the Washington lefty started this season slowly, but appears to be rounding into form. Gonzalez is a sturdy strikeout pitcher with a mid-to-low 90’s fastball that tails away from right-hand hitters and he likes to go up in the zone with this pitch when ahead in the count. He will freeze LH batters with a tightly spun curve, which drops from above the belt to below the knees.
Hamels, Cole • 15-2
The Phillies best pitcher recorded his first win of the season on Apr. 28 and brighter days are ahead for Hamels. His low-90’s heater is almost always down in the zone and his changeup is a true swing and miss pitch, baffling opposing hitters. His walks are up so far in 2013 and if he improves his overall command, this May should be like many others of the past.
Johnson, Josh • 12-3
JJ was a scratched from his last April start because of tightness in his right triceps muscle. An MRI did not reveal any structural damage. Johnson has annually been a fast starter and Toronto need the 6’7 Minneapolis native to be the dominant pitcher he was from 2008-10, not the one everyone has seen since.
Lester, Jon • 12-6
Here is another BoSox hurler who has battled back from a mediocre campaign to help Boston’s surprisingly effective start. Opposing hitters are scuffling to hit .214 against Lester’s tosses and the familiar two and four-seam fastballs have the plus and minus effect in the range of five miles per hour, leaving batters uncomfortable. The biggest change is the curveball has the snap back and he could have another sparkling May.
No question the 31-year old Peavy is all the way back. The former San Diego chucker has lost velocity from his blazing fastball of a few years ago; however, he’s made the complete transition to the second part of career. His K-rate is phenomenal and his ability to spot pitches is a thing of beauty. Some might complain he is taken deep too often, but are their two more different parks than Petco and U.S. Cellular for fly-ball pitchers?
BAD MONTH PITCHERS:
Fister, Doug • 4-12
Fister played on a number of bad Seattle clubs before joining Detroit in 2011. Since taking residence in Mo-Town, the 6’8 hurlerr with a clean delivery has quit nibbling and gained confidence in his curve, which has become his main swing and miss pitch. It is worth watching to see if he breaks his past tendencies in baseball’s second month.
Garza, Matt • 3-10
Garza was supposed to be one of the fixtures in the Cubs starting rotation, but was hurt in Spring Training and is only now throwing on flat ground. The earliest he is expected to return is at the end of this month and some in the Chicago organization think this is optimistic.
Hernandez, Felix • 5-12
In the years we have been doing this article, it has always been a head-scratcher why King Felix struggles in May. But every year like most pitchers, Hernandez has a rough patch and more often than not it is this month. With Seattle only having nine home games in May, we could see another repeat from Felix.
This much-traveled hurler, who was born in Germany, has never found a home and settled in. Jackson “stuff” has always been good enough to make somebody’s big league roster, yet even when he threw a no-hitter in 2010 for Arizona against Tampa Bay (who else?), he walked eight batters. On a subpar Cubs crew, victories will again be a challenge to find.
Masterson, Justin • 5-13
Though Masterson was lit up in his final April appearance, he’s gotten off a solid start this campaign. The question for the side-arm thrower is can he keep it going? Typically, walks are Masterson’s undoing and opponents start patiently lying off pitches and force him to throw strikes and belt him around. This was the year Cleveland was to start showing promise and the Tribe needs their ace to have a chance.
Richard, Clayton • 5-10
Richard has always been a tease who never delivered. The port-sider will put together two or three starts and his coaches will think “he’s finally figured it out” and then he will be rocked for the next trio of starts, taking him back to square one. With a 7.94 ERA this season and more walks than punch-outs (13 vs. 10), possibly the most damning aspect of his season to date is left-handed hitters are batting a ridiculous .364 against the Padres starter.
Doug Upstone of Sports-Watch.com contributed to this article.