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Midseason Report Card, Part II: The Starting Pitchers

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Roy Halladay: B
Hampered by appendicitis, Doc's first half has not been up to the usual Halladay standards (ERA+ 102). However, if you break it down start-by-start, Doc has had 3 nightmare starts, 2 less-than-stellar ones, and still the bulk of his starts have ranged from effective to very good to dominant. Far more often than not, he has given the Jays a good chance to win, which is reflected in his 10-3 record thusfar. Although anecdotally it appears that he is giving up more hard-hit balls this season, it seems like a lot of his trouble stems from some bad luck on balls in play and runners left on. According to this Hardball Times article, Doc is the 2nd unluckiest pitcher in the AL, and 5th in MLB, in runners left on base.

Doc's given up 119 Hits in 109 innings, and aside from his injury-plagued 2004 campaign, he's never surrendered more hits than innings pitched (not counting 2000). His HR allowed aren't any higher than last season, and his BB and K rates are about what they were last season as well, so I'd chalk it up to variation. His BABIP against is .319, pretty far out of whack (last season it was .280), but his Groundball rate is about the same (57% v. 60% in 2006), suggesting that he's had some lousy luck and will be fine. Anecdotally, his stuff still has plenty of life and his arm seems healthy and strong. I expect him to be very effective in the 2nd half, and if quality run support continues and he stays healthy, he could be looking at his 2nd 20-win season. But I'm curious to hear if others are worried.

A.J. Burnett: B+
Unfortunately, AJ's best stretch of starts coincided with a lousy string of games for the offense, and several fine AJ starts were wasted, leaving him with a record of 5-6 despite a 4.31 ERA. AJ's walks are a bit high (40 in 94 innings or 3.83/9 IP) but his 106 K's are impressive. Home Runs have been the problem for A.J. (1.44 HR/9 IP) but since that's never really been a problem for him before, I wouldn't expect it to continue. Unfortunately, a sore shoulder has laid AJ up for most of June and, likely, most if not all of July. When he returns, his focus should be on staying healthy and limiting the walks, and his HR rate should come down naturally, with great results to follow so long as the Jays can back him up a bit better.

Dustin McGowan:B+
After a few rough outings when first brought up at the beginning of May in what seemed like a bit of a panic move, McGowan has really settled down. He hasn't been perfect (2 bad starts since then), but he's been fairly consistent, and in both cases followed up a bad start with an excellent one. In one case, following his worst start of the season, he took a no-hitter into the 9th inning. His control isn't quite there yet (57 Ks and 28 BBs over 71 2/3 innings) but it's getting there, and he only stands to improve. His stuff is definitely good enough to be a front-line guy, so it's just a case of doing what he's capable of on a consistent basis. And his 3.49 FIP (Fielding independent ERA) thusfar suggests that very good things are in store. Bravo Dustin!

Shaun Marcum:A
After a shaky start to the season in the bullpen, Marcum was promoted to the rotation and shined. He has been remarkably consistent since his promotion to a starter, having only 2 less-than-effective starts (one of which was injury-shortened). On the whole, he has a 3.02 ERA as a starter in 11 starts, and a 3.62 ERA on the season, good for a 126 ERA+. However, as good as Marcum has been, the story is not totally rosy. After an awesome K/BB ratio as a reliever (22/6 in 16 1/3 innings), he has only been so-so since his work in the rotation began (46/22 in 65 2/3 IP), suggesting that he has been the beneficiary of some luck with both batted balls in play and with runners left on (84.2%). His walks are decent (just a bit over 3 per 9) but the K's have dropped noticeably. Marcum still profiles as a useful pitcher with those peripherals (his 4.30 FIP is just fine), but it is a far cry from how great he's been thusfar. Still, 4 Win Shares Above Bench for a guy who's only made 11 starts is pretty darn impressive. One thing that does weigh in Shaun's favor going forward is that he has given up a lot of HR's, which will likely decrease to some extent (though perhaps not by very much, given his fly ball tendencies). Marcum also fields his position as well as any pitcher I've seen, a mark of his athleticism.

Josh Towers: B
Towers won the 5th starter spot out of the spring after a disastrous 2006, but lost it soon after. Josh was bounced back and forth ("do you believe in miracles?") and has had some ineffective starts. However, in his last few starts before the break, Towers has put together a couple of very nice starts and gotten his ERA down to about 5 (ERA+ of 90). His peripherals, as always, look nice -- 54/11 K/BB in 71 innings - with the exception of the HR rate (1.52/9 IP). Sparrow has basically given the Jays a slightly less than league average starter, but he has had a couple of very nice starts and looks to have solidified his spot in the rotation, at least for the time being, coming out of the break. His LOB% of 58.8% (actually about the same as last season) suggests that he has been unlucky in that regard, though, if so, it's been 2 seasons running now.

As for the rest of the rotation, Jesse Litsch has had 2 very nice starts and 2 lousy ones, which isn't enough to really say too much. I think he needs a bit more time in the minors, but we'll see - he's been effective enough (ERA+ of 96). Gustavo Chacin is also an incomplete, as he only made 5 starts before being sidelined with shoulder problems. Tomo Ohka is gone, Victor Zambrano best forgotten. Soon to come: the Bullpen!