Josh Johnson (SP--Marlins) With just a little over 2 weeks left in the regular season, every game the Marlins play have serious implications as they try to hang on for the NL Wildcard spot. Josh Johnson is someone they will have to heavily rely on as he has been their best and most underrated starter. Going into Wednesday against the Cardinals, Johnson had a 14-4 record and pitched well enough to notch his 15th victory. Johnson pitched 6 innings, allowing 1 ER and scattering 9 hits. Johnson was efficient enough and made the pitches when he had to get out of jams. Johnson’s name does not come up in any of the early Cy Young talk and perhaps his numbers aren't quite what they should be to warrant serious consideration, but he has been tremendously effective this season. In his 31 starts, he only allowed more than 3 runs in game, three times and has held opposing batters on the season to a slash line of .228/.285/.328. These numbers are well below the MLB average of .262/.333/.419. His K/BB ration is better then 3 to 1 and with a WHIP of 1.11, the big right hander has been pretty stingy with giving runners a chance to score. Keep Johnson on your list of pitchers who could have a breakout season next year and get the attention he deserves. He'll be 26 next season and could be a real gem if this season is an indication of what's to come.
Hiroki Kuroda (SP--Dodgers) Hiroki Kuroda seems to be back in the groove of things as he had no problem with the Pirates as he notched his 7th win of the season. Allowing just 1 ER over 6 innings on 6 hits, Kuroda’s control was excellent as he did not allow any walks and struck out 7 batters. The control that Kuroda displayed on Wednesday has been typical for him this season as he has allowed less than 2 walks per 9 innings. He has very good K/BB ratio of 3.55 and a very good WHIP of 1.11. Looking at Kuroda's ERA though is a bit of an eyesore as it is inflated at 3.86. But Kuroda xERA is 2.70 which show that he has been much better than his ERA would indicate. His FIP at 3.41 is also below his current ERA so this would indicate that the infielders have not been doing Kuroda any favors. Slated for two starts next week, Kuroda is a good bet to get into your lineup as the season finishes up. Also look to Kuroda as a very good sleeper pick in 2010 as his inflated ERA may scare some owners off. But with a xERA and FIP well below his ERA, he could be a real gem for your team next year.
Jorge de la Rosa (SP--Rockies) Add Jorge de la Rosa to the list of players who have been very strong in the second half of the season. De la Rosa has made 15 starts since the beginning of July and the Rockies record is 13-2 in games that de la Rosa has been started and he has amassed a excellent 11-2 record. The two losses since July represent the only poor outings of his second half that still has seen him put together a 2.89 ERA with a strikeout rate of almost 1 per inning. Without those two poor outings, his ERA would have been 1.86. On Wednesday de la Rosa was brilliant pitching 8 scoreless innings and allowed just 3 hits while striking out 9. De la Rosa has been a significant contributor in Colorado's push to the playoffs and with him pitching as well as he has, he should be a start for the final two weeks. If he can carry over his second half excellence to next season, he could be a nice sleeper to target on draft day.
Chad Billingsley (SP--Dodgers) Despite earlier reports that Chad Billingsley would not miss a turn in the rotation, it appears that the Dodgers will give Billingsley a little bit of a break and have him work out of the bullpen this weekend and will plan on him taking his regularly scheduled start next week. In Tuesday's NL player report, Andrew made the astute observation that Billingsley’s second half woes seemed largely due to unfortunate run luck of luck—mostly of the bad variety with an elevated BHIP of .350. While I agree with Andrew that Billingsley has been on the wrong side of the luck factor, I would also suggest that some of Billingsley’s second half trouble may be due to overuse and a dead arm. From the beginning of the season to the All-Star break, he averaged 110 pitches per outing. Compare this to 2008's first half, Billingsley averaged 91 pitches per outing. A significant difference of 20 pitches per outing that had allowed Billingsley to sustain himself much better in the second half of '08 than he has been able to this season. The temporary move to the bullpen may be the best thing for Billingsley to gave his arm a little rest and rejuvenate it for a strong finish. But Andrew is right that Billingsley’s second half slump may affect his value on draft day next year and could be a great pickup as he has tremendous talent. Track his progress through the weekend to see if he responds well to bullpen work
Joey Votto (1B--Reds) It appears that Joey Votto is heading for a strong finish to the season in what has been a season of ups and downs for the 26 year old. Votto was on fire in the first half, hitting for both power and average, but his missed playing time with ear infections and personal issues seemed to have interrupted the flow of the kind of impact season he was having. Votto second half has been lukewarm, batting .251 and striking out better than 27% of the. He has put together a modest 7 game hitting streak of late where he has batted .440 over that time. But with only 1 home run in September, Votto should be due for some more before the end of the season. He continues to be a must start as he has terrific potential and hopefully will pick it up in last two weeks. Because of his slide in the second half, Votto's overall value has taken a hit and he may fall into the middle tier of first basemen for next year's draft since the position is so deep. If Votto can stay on the field consistently and string two solid halves together, he could be a great value for next season.