First Half Pitching Pretenders?
It's time to look for this year's Jack Armstrong. Remember him? In 1990, he had 10 wins by the All Star break, good enough for his only career All Star game appearance. He ended up 12-9 that year, going 2-8 after the break. So who're this year's likely candidates for a second half flame out?
At the top of the list has to be Kent Bottenfield. He's been a serviceable middle reliever for his entire 6 year major league career, with an unimpressive record of 18-27. But this year, he's good enough to be 13-3 by the break. Yes, he's pitched OK so far, but his success is largely due to the 6.5 runs of support he's averaging. That's not likely to continue. His peripheral numbers (IP/H, BB/K, IP/K, ERA) aren't that bad and much better than his career norms, but his last couple of starts have been shaky. I don't expect his wheels to come off completely in the second half, but I think he's a longshot for 20 wins.
Mike Hampton has pitched surprisingly well this year also. He too has been the benficiary of great run support (6+ runs/game). But unlike Bottenfield, his numbers look very similar to career norms. His habit of walking batters (over 3.25 per game) will catch up to him in the second half. Expect Hampton to return to his career ERA of 3.68 and finish with 15 or 16 wins.
Jose Lima came out of nowhere last year to finish among the leaders in quality starts, wins and strikeouts. He's been projected as a potential top of the order starter ever since his minor league days in Detroit. There has been some concern over the increased number of innings he pitched last year, but the concern is baseless. Larry Dierker was very careful with him, keeping Lima to one of the lowest pitches per start averages (102.5) in the National League last year. Lima's numbers are very similar to last year's so it's quite possible he will win 20+ this year.
Paul Byrd was castoff by Atlanta, and picked up on waivers last fall by the Phillies This year, he's probably gonna pitch in the AllStar game. Is he legit? Byrd doesn't strike out alot of guys, but he doesn't give up a lot of hits either. His problem has always been walks. So far this year he's kept them under control and been the beneficiary of prodigious run support (7.45/g). That kind of run support isn't likely to continue - only 2 NL pitchers this decade (Kevin Ritz in 1996 and Kirk Reuter last year) have recieved more than 7 runs/g support - so Byrd's numbers are likely to fall off a bit even if he maintains his current level of control.
Lastly, hard-throwing Russ Ortiz was surged into the rarified air of 10-game winner by the All Star break. He's recieved decent run support (5.20) and has pitched effectively despite walking 4.6 batters per game. His minor league record shows a history of this kind of wildness. Very rarely do pitchers walk that many guys and still manage to win lots of games. Look for Ortiz and the Giants, who have the even more walk-prone Shawn Estes and the aforementioned Kirk Reuter, to fade in the second half.
Next Monday, I'll look at the candidates for this year's Jose Rijo - you guessed it, monsters of the second half.