Monday, June 17, 2013
Kluber stays strong, Strasburg returns
By Eric Karabell
Both pitchers in Sunday's 2-0 Cleveland Indians win over the Washington Nationals are being judged unfairly these days. The relatively unknown Tribe right-hander, Corey Kluber, spoiled the return of Stephen Strasburg from his disabled list stint by hurling eight shutout innings. The former certainly deserves more attention than he's been getting, but it's also long past time to be hating on the latter, because he remains terrific.
Let's start with Kluber, who is available in 95 percent of ESPN standard leagues despite productive stats, especially of late; the unheralded 27-year-old entered Sunday with a 4.08 ERA, which doesn't attract much notice, but his 3.03 xFIP tells a different tale. Kluber fanned eight Nationals sans any free passes, and earlier in the week, he tossed eight innings of one-run ball at Texas to beat the Rangers. He's not getting his fastball into the mid-90s on a consistent basis, but Kluber does throw hard enough to accrue strikeouts.
Kluber's problem in 2012, when his 5.14 ERA for the Indians over 12 starts made him easy to ignore, was mainly a high BABIP-against. Opposing batters were getting hits, but his xFIP suggested that he was getting unlucky. This season Kluber has raised his strikeout rate, cut the walks and thrown 16 terrific innings to win twice over the past week. He's scheduled to face the Minnesota Twins this coming weekend, and whether it's as a fantasy spot starter or a bit more, he's worth using while he's thriving. Admittedly, he's not in my top 60 starting pitchers yet, but it's not a ridiculous notion in time.
As for Strasburg, the main concern with him should be health, not performance. No, he's not delivering the numbers expected of the No. 3 starting pitcher taken in ESPN live drafts this spring, but it's tough to complain with a 2.50 ERA, a 1.06 WHIP and a strikeout per inning. Strasburg was on the DL for an oblique strain -- a smart move on Washington's part -- and he missed only two starts. On Sunday, he was permitted to throw 82 pitches over five innings, although he says he could have easily thrown more innings. While his command was off early -- he issued a pair of first-inning walks and overall threw 38 balls versus 44 strikes -- the Indians managed only one single off him. It just happened to knock in the eventual winning run.
[+]Enlarge Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images Stephen Strasburg currently ranks 30th among starting pitchers on the ESPN Player Rater.
Still, how about some perspective: Strasburg is not having a bad season. He's not a top-20 fantasy starter on the Rater because he's not winning games, but unlike Cole Hamels, for example, he has pitched well all season. Strasburg is certainly a top-20 fantasy starter for rankings purposes (as is Hamels), and he remains in my top 10. Durability remains a concern, but let's face it, the Nationals don't appear to be the team most thought they were, as only two teams have scored fewer runs. I'm still buying low on Strasburg. Just remove the name value and ridiculous expectations from the equation, if you can.
Box score bits (NL): Strasburg or Cincinnati Reds right-hander Johnny Cueto? I'd still take Strasburg, but Cueto also came off a DL stint Sunday. He topped the sagging Milwaukee Brewers, allowing one run over six innings to lower his ERA to 2.08. As with Strasburg, durability is the main concern. Cueto has made only seven starts this season, but they've been very good. With his return, rookie Tony Cingrani has been moved back to the bullpen. It's hard to believe Chicago Cubs right-hander Carlos Marmol will get another save chance anytime soon, if ever. On Sunday, he blew a three-run lead in the ninth on home runs to Marlon Byrd and Kirk Nieuwenhuis. Marmol shouldn't be owned in 10-team leagues anymore. Alex Presley led off for the Pittsburgh Pirates again Sunday and contributed three hits, including a home run, but the team expects Starling Marte to be back in the role this week. Marte played Sunday, making a DL stint for his strained oblique unlikely. Start No. 2 for Gerrit Cole was OK as he registered another victory, but one strikeout in 5 2/3 innings is underwhelming. Ah, rookie hurlers. Surprising San Diego Padres shortstop Everth Cabrera had three hits and raised his batting average to .305 Sunday; nobody has more stolen bases, but he also left the game because of a hamstring injury. Note that the Padres acquired Pedro Ciriaco from the Boston Red Sox last week, and he could be in line for playing time if a DL stint for Cabrera is necessary.
Box score bits (AL): The Tampa Bay Rays placed right-hander Alex Cobb on the 7-day DL (concussion) after an Eric Hosmer line drive struck his head Saturday, but the team doesn't expect his absence to last long. Keep Cobb, who is among the top 30 starting pitchers on the ESPN Player Rater, owned but not active this week. Houston Astros catcher Jason Castro smacked his 10th home run Sunday. Not bad for someone owned in barely 20 percent of ESPN standard leagues. Texas Rangers rookie Jurickson Profar started at third base Sunday and led off, hitting a single in five plate appearances. However, with Ian Kinsler coming off the DL and batting third on Sunday, it's hard to see Profar getting regular playing time moving forward. Not only did Toronto Blue Jays first baseman Adam Lind get the start Sunday against Rangers lefty Derek Holland, he also had three hits, including a long home run off right-handed reliever Kyle McClellan. Lind is hitting .350 and has power. We shouldn't assume he will fall apart soon. Seattle Mariners right-hander Tom Wilhelmsen, recently removed from the closer role, struggled again Sunday, though he wasn't charged with any runs. However, potential replacement Carter Capps permitted two home runs in his outing. Lefty Oliver Perez -- yeah, the former Pirates ace -- saved Saturday's game for the M's, and should get more chances.