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NL Daily Player Notes, July 4th, 2008

Drew Dinkmeyer

Chad Billingsley:

Billingsley dominated the Astros on Thursday afternoon allowing just 2 unearned runs on 6 hits and just 1 BB in 8 innings. This marked the third time in the last 5 outings that Billingsley walked just 1, giving Chad believers some hope that the command is coming around. However a deeper look shows the improvements in command were likely more matchup driven than actual skill as Billingsley’s 1 BB outings came against 3 teams in the Bottom 10 in OBP (San Diego - .316, Houston - .320, Cleveland - .322). Regardless, I’m nitpicking at this point as Billingsley’s been brilliant since the end of April, posting a 2.36 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP with 67 K’s in 76 1/3 innings. On the season his sparkling 3.12 ERA is supported by just an average 1.31 WHIP, which I’ve harped on in the past as the one issue holding Billingsley back from being a dominant fantasy ace. I don’t expect the command issues to go away and I don’t think this recent string of good command is anything more than favorable matchups, but I do think Billingsley’s will be able to avoid disastrous issues this season with his command because of a favorable division in which the most common opponents don’t walk very much. Colorado (.331) is the only team in the division with an OBP above .330 (league average), with Arizona (.324), San Francisco (.324), and San Diego (.316) all ranking around the bottom 1/3rd of the league. If WHIP is THE priority Billingsley should be moved for a safer “ace” option, but if the average WHIP totals can be swallowed, Billingsley is an anchor in K’s and ERA.

Carlos Zambrano:

Big Z will return from the disabled list tonight to take on the Cardinals in a marquee NL Central matchup. Lou Pineialla jokingly mentioned Zambrano would be on a pitch count of 160 (note to Lou: I don’t find that funny), but it’s pretty clear he’ll be somewhat limited in this outing coming back from the DL. Outside of the recent injury concerns with the shoulder there are some more concerns for Zambrano statistically speaking. Big Z’s K Rate has disintegrated this year all the way down to .64 and while he’s brought down his BB’s and bumped up his GB Rate a bit, his overall numbers are benefiting from some pretty good luck. A 0.78 Strand Rate is deflating his actual ERA by about ½ a run right now and his HR/FB Rate is at 6.6%, half of where it has sat the last two years (10.8%, 11.4%). Zambrano’s skills look like more of a high 3’s/low 4’s ERA pitcher than the current 3.13 ERA he’s sporting. On top of all that the peripherals have deteriorated as the season’s worn on. His K:BB Ratio has gone from 3.55 in March/April to 1.53 in May to 1.08 in June. While we can point to the June numbers as possible signs of fatigue from the 130 pitch outing at the end of May, the big drop from March/April to May in his skills suggests Zambrano was trending downward even before the injury. He’s one of the bigger sell-high candidates in my opinion as his current stats, good name value, and perceived W potential with the Cubs should all out-weigh his actual production from here on out.

Fred Lewis:

What do I have to tell you people about Fred Lewis that will make you start picking him up? Why is he owned in less than 60% of ESPN.com leagues? Statistically, he’s Johnny Damon and Damon’s owned in 100% of leagues. Seriously check out the numbers: Damon 49 runs, Lewis 54 runs; Damon .317 BA, Lewis .283 BA; Damon 6 HR’s, Lewis 6 HR’s; Damon 37 RBI’s, Lewis 23 RBI’s; Damon 13 SB’s, Lewis 14 SB’s. Is there really that big of a difference? If you’re looking for help in Runs, SB’s and good production across the board go get Lewis now, he’s not getting the attention he deserves. He’ll finish the season with 100+ Runs, 25+ SB’s, a solid batting average, and 10-15 HR’s.

Damaso Marte:

With Capps going on the DL, Marte becomes the guy to own in the Pittsburgh pen and he’s a lot better than you think. Marte’s always been a good K guy, posting a rate above 1.00 in 7 of his 8 seasons in the major leagues, but he’s always struggled with control, at least until this season. Marte has significantly cut down the BB’s this season, continuing a 3 season trend, and has cut them all the way down to a point where he’s actually above average (just 11 BB’s in 40 2/3 innings). He’s been better against RH hitters than LH hitters this year as he’s held Righties to just a .559 OPS, so the question about a lefty specialist should be thrown out the window. Capps is out for a good 2 months at the least so there’s plenty of value in Marte from here on out (though he is a candidate to get traded, as everyone in PIT should be). The 2 month time-frame also makes it close enough to the end of the year that Capps could just be shut down completely, giving Marte a full 3 months worth of closing, if not traded. I’m willing to bet Marte nets 15 saves from here on out and produces pretty tidy peripherals alongside it.

Eric Gagne:

Gagne made his first appearance since returning from the DL and pitched a perfect 8th inning, throwing 6 of his 9 pitches for strikes and striking out 1. The outing is worth mentioning for two reasons: 1) Gagne had good command again and 2) It happened to come in the same outing in which Salomon Torres blew his first save chance since taking over the closer role full time. I doubt there will be any immediate movement with Torres having done so well in the job previously, but Torres might be unavailable tomorrow (having thrown 3 consecutive days) and if Gagne stumbles into a save opportunity and converts it, the Brewers have 10 million reasons to try to justify getting him back in the role. To be clear, I’m not suggesting this will happen, but it’s worth keeping an eye on.

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