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Is John Danks struggling or just unlucky?

5/11/2011

I really expected Chicago White Sox left-hander John Danks to hurl a gem in Anaheim on Tuesday. Perhaps it was wishful thinking since he's on a few of my teams. Regardless, Danks entered with an 0-5 record but was certainly pitching much better than that mark. Danks had a 3.83 ERA and 1.34 WHIP, his strikeout rate remained strong and it was easy to call him one of the better buy-low pitchers in the game. I mean, it's unlikely the White Sox continue on this path to 100 losses, and over the past three seasons Danks has won 40 games with a 3.61 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and an average of 156 strikeouts. This is a good pitcher, certainly worth waiting for in standard leagues.

Of course, after Danks got torched by those Los Angeles Angels and fell to 0-6, I've seen many an owner panic, and I suppose rightfully so. Danks allowed 10 hits and six runs in five messy innings, and much of the sympathy for his unlucky first month is fading away. His ESPN standard league ownership has dropped from its original 100 percent to 86.9 percent, down 9 percent in the past seven days (a decent portion of that since Tuesday night). I'm seeing Danks' name bandied about in trade talks, there's mass Twitter whining, eh, you know the drill.

I'm going to wait for Danks. His track record is strong and my take is unless there's an injury we don't know about -- and during the postgame interview Danks claimed he was healthy, though frustrated and willing to try anything -- he should pitch more to his career norms the rest of the way. That does not mean Danks will pitch like Roy Halladay or Josh Johnson the next month to get his numbers back to normal. Luck doesn't have to even out. It does not mean Danks will win four of his next five outings. It doesn't even mean he turns things around in May. I've just decided eight winless starts -- and he could have won any of his five quality starts with offensive support -- is too small a sample size to cut the ESPN Fantasy preseason No. 33 starting pitcher. It's too early. I can't tell you when it will be time, you have to feel it. It's not like I wait precisely 12 starts or until June 1, some random date. You'll know. I'm waiting.

To be thorough, here are some other pitchers who aren't winning games, but I'm not punting them to the curb yet, either:

Mat Latos, San Diego Padres: His winless streak stretches to 11 starts, six this season and five in 2010. Like Danks, one could argue the sympathy was no longer warranted after his last outing, when the Milwaukee Brewers hit him hard. However, Latos has a 1.35 WHIP and 34 strikeouts in 33 1/3 innings, hardly awful numbers. He's not walking people. Petco Park is still gigantic. And this guy fanned 189 hitters in 184 2/3 innings last season. I absolutely wait. Latos is owned in 97.6 percent of leagues.

Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants: He's 0-5 in seven starts, and the biggest difference I see in his stats are the walks. A season ago, the 20-year-old lefty issued 28 free passes in 111 innings. He's already at 14 walks in 36 1/3 innings, and because he's not an overpowering type who likely will give up more hits than innings, that can't continue. Frankly, the way Ryan Vogelsong is pitching, the Giants could elect to give Bumgarner time at Triple-A Fresno to figure things out. Don't bet on it. Over his past three outings, Bumgarner has already done so, allowing two earned runs over 19 innings, striking out 19 hitters against four walks. The Giants have scored zero or one run in five of his starts. It will get better, so invest while he's owned in barely half of ESPN leagues.

Erik Bedard, Seattle Mariners: He's won once in seven starts, and let's face it, while the team is scoring more runs than last year, this remains a poor hitting squad. Bedard fanned nine White Sox his last time out, and over his past three starts he's regained his command; four runs total, no home runs, only four walks. Generally when healthy he pitches well.

Ryan Dempster, Chicago Cubs: Again, look at the trend, look at recent seasons. You should trust him. Dempster fanned 208 hitters a year ago. He's at 38 strikeouts in 45 innings. And he's permitted three runs in his past two outings combined, over 14 innings. Watch him cut his current 7.20 ERA nearly in half. The easiest way to overcome your fantasy team's 4.50 ERA is not to add Dustin Moseley, someone already overachieving in ERA. It's to invest in a proven pitcher who can't possibly finish with an ERA over 7. Dempster is available in nearly two-thirds of ESPN standard leagues.