By Marc Lawrence of PlayBook.com
Firecrackers and the MLB All-Star game signal the month of July. It also signifies the start of the 2nd half of the MLB campaign. The key to each and every team’s fortune lies on the pitching staff. Can they sustain or will they fold like a deck of cards? Stay tuned. What we do know is certain pitchers love hurling this time of the season while others tend to get lit up like a roman candle on the 4th of July.
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 July. On the flip side, we’ve also listed pitchers that struggle in July 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 July over the last three years. I’ll be back next month with August’s Good Month Pitchers. Until then, enjoy…
GOOD MONTH PITCHERS:
Beckett, Josh • 10-2
Beckett returns after going on the disabled listed on June 11th with shoulder inflammation. The Red Sox right-hander’s season has mirrored that of his team. Sometimes brilliant, sometimes dreadful and sometimes injured. If Boston is going to secure a wild card spot and fight for the AL East lead, they will need the Beckett of old starting this month, with a sharp breaking pitches complimented by spotting the fastball on the corners.
Buehrle, Mark • 12-4
The Miami left-hander has gotten a lot heat for his record, but the numbers tell a different story. Buehrle leads Marlins starting pitchers in almost every positive category and his peripheral numbers compare almost exactly with how he pitched in Chicago. What has hurt Buehrle more than anything is a lack of run support. The way he holds down lefty hitters (.224 batting average), if the Miami bats start to score runs, July should be terrific like usual for the Missouri native.
Burnett, A. J. • 10-5
Some people are just not made for the Big Apple and quite possibly, Burnett is one of those types. After three undistinguished seasons with the Yankees, A.J. is having a career year with Pittsburgh. Maybe it’s the cool necklace the 35-year old veteran is wearing, but his batting average allowed and WHIP numbers are his best since he was a Blue Jay in 2007. Burnett more than anything has regained his confidence and he loves PNC Park, where he has a smokin’ 1.11 ERA.
Cain, Matt • 11-5
The San Francisco pitcher signed a large contract earlier this year and is making the front office look like it made a wise decision. Cain is on pace to shatter his career win total of 14 in 2009 and as July starts, opposing batters are just above the Mendoza Line at .207 (batting average) against. Though his velocity is the same, he’s averaging a strikeout an inning, which is his highest mark as a major-leaguer.
Hamels, Cole • 12-5
As bad as Philadelphia has been this season, just think where they would be without Cole Hamels. The port-sider has been remarkably consistent for a Phillies offense that has yo-yo tendencies. Hamels is already two-thirds of the way to his career-high in wins of 15 and having survived June (ordinarily his worst month), he and the Phillies should make a move the next 31 days.
Johnson, Josh • 11-3
It has been coming together for the 6’7 Johnson, whose made five consecutive quality starts and is 4-2 with a nifty 2.56 ERA and a 51:17 K/BB ratio since May 4. After finding a lot of bats to start the year, the hard-throwing Johnson has been able to spot his fastball low in the zone with movement and his normally hard slider has the late-breaking action once again.
Jurrjens, Jair • 12-4
After a horrible start to the season, Jurrjens returned from a trip to Triple-A, pitching like the same Braves pitcher from the prior four seasons. Jurrjens’ velocity has been down since he suffered a right knee injury in 2010 and his stint in the minor leagues has been about relearning how to pitch, regaining confidence and better utilizing his secondary pitches to throw strikes and induce ground balls. Let’s see how he fares this month.
Kershaw, Clayton • 11-5
The 24-year Dallas native has not received much run support and made costly errors at the wrong times. Where this shows up for Kershaw is being taken yard, as he’s permitted 11 homers in 2012, compared to 15 all last season. In looking for bright spot, Kershaw’s strikeouts per nine innings continue to rise and if the Dodgers find some offense, the lefty could shine.
Lincecum, Tim • 11-5
One of the biggest mysteries of the season has been the Giants two-time Cy Young winner. He went 10 starts without a victory (0-6), putting together a ridiculous 6.23 ERA. There have been more theories as to what Lincecum’s problems have been than an Arthur Conan Doyle book. The fact is he’s made mistakes in the zone that have been hit in the air more than in the past, which suggests less sink on his pitches. This is bore out in having his lowest ground ball-to-fly ball ratios since he was rookie. The diminutive Lincecum threw more like his old self in his last June outing and deserves a wait and see approach.
Morrow, Brandon • 8-4
The Blue Jays hurler went on the DL on June 13, with a left oblique strain. In late June he started to play “light catch”, however, there is no exact timetable for his return, which is too bad since he was having a breakout campaign.
Pavano, Carl • 11-5
The veteran right-hander has a right anterior capsular strain in his throwing shoulder, which likely has been bothering him since early May. Minnesota officially shut him down the first part of June, when a MRI proved the extent of the injury. Pavano first has to rebuild the strength in the damaged area before doing any throwing.
Sabathia, CC • 12-5
The Yankees ace has a groin strain and is on the DL. He is presumed to return after the All-Star break and build on another typical Sabathia season.
Weaver, Jered • 12-6
The only heavenly aspect of the Angels sickly start of the season was their No.1 pitcher, Jered Weaver. The SoCal native has truly unique skills to work both sides of the plate, change speeds to throw strikes on any count and identify weakness in hitters where he be pitch them going up the ladder (move the ball from low to high in the strike zone) for punch-outs. Though right-handed hitters are only batting .236 against Weaver, left-hand batters are a feeble .169 against his tosses. At the Big A in Anaheim, his ERA is an insane 0.70 this season.
BAD MONTH PITCHERS:
Hernandez, Livan • 5-11
Hernandez made 18 relief appearances for Atlanta this season and was picked up by Milwaukee last month, being another pitching staff leaking oil because of injuries. If the Brewers are so desperate they have to start the Cuban native at this point of his 16-year career, an expected result will likely follow.
Vargas, Jason • 3-12
The Seattle lefty slinger is a fly ball pitcher, which makes him prone to extra-base hits and balls flying over fences. This has been especially true this season, as Vargas has been taken deep 21 times, compared to 22 all of last year.
Doug Upstone of 3DailyWinners.com contributed to this article.