Capping the calendar: May's best and worst pitchers

May 1, 2013 |
The running of the Kentucky Derby each year signals the fact that MLB enters its second month of play, and with it, a handful of surprise teams take center stage.  The key to sustaining will be the success, or lack of it, from the pitching staffs. With that thought in mind, let’s zero in on pitchers that will look to keep their team in the race and those that may pull up before they hit the wire.

Listed below are hurlers (and their team start record) that have enjoyed a two-to-one or better success ratio in team starts the last three seasons during the month of May. On the flip side, we’ve also listed pitchers that struggle in May team starts, winning 33% percent or less of their efforts. To qualify, pitchers must have made a minimum of 10 starts, with at least one start each May over the last three years.

I’ll be back next month with June’s Good Month Pitchers. Until then, it’s batter up!

Clay Buchholz, Boston Red Sox

May record:

The Boston right-hander has gotten off to the best start of his career, averaging better than a strikeout per inning and opponents are hitting under .200 against him. He has a sharpened focus, has added sink to his fastball and made his changeup downright filthy, which can be partly attributed to being reunited with former Sox pitching coach and current skipper John Farrell.

Mark Buehrle, Toronto Blue Jays

May record: 11-4

The veteran left-hander is on a new club with big expectations who has not gotten out of the gate very well for the second year in a row. Buehrle has been a part of the problem in Toronto, since he has to spot his pitches to make up for the lack of velocity and right-handed hitters are batting well over .300 against him. If the Blue Jays are going to turn their season around, Buehrle has to pitch like he has in the past this month.

Johnny Cueto, Cincinnati Reds

May record: 11-5

Cueto suffered a strained right lat muscle on April 13 and went on the DL. He began tossing from distances up to 75 feet at the end of April. No official word has been given when he will return. The Reds ace had gotten off to a very strong start with an ERA of 2.60 in three starts.

Gio Gonzalez, Washington Nationals

May record
: 13-3

The Washington lefty started this season slowly after winning 21 games in 2012, but appears to be rounding into form. Gonzalez is a sturdy strikeout pitcher with a mid-to-low 90’s fastball that tails away from right-handed hitters. He also likes to go up in the zone with this pitch when ahead in the count. He will freeze left-handed batters with a tightly spun curve, which drops from above the belt to below the knees.

Cole Hamels, Philadelphia Phillies

May record:

The Phillies' best pitcher recorded his first win of the season on Apr. 28 and brighter days are ahead. His low-90’s heater is almost always down in the zone and his changeup is a true swing-and-miss pitch which baffles opposing hitters. His walks are up so far in 2013 and if he improves his overall command, this May should be like many others of the past.

Josh Johnson, Toronto Blue Jays

May record
: 12-3

JJ was a scratch from his last April start because of tightness in his right triceps muscle. An MRI did not reveal any structural damage. Johnson has annually been a fast starter and Toronto need the 6’7 Minneapolis native to be the dominant pitcher he was from 2008-10, not the one everyone has seen since.

Jon Lester, Boston Red Sox

May record:

Here is another BoSox hurler who has battled back from a mediocre campaign to help Boston’s surprisingly effective start. Opposing hitters are scuffling to hit .214 against Lester’s tosses and the familiar two and four-seam fastballs have the plus and minus effect in the range of five miles per hour, leaving batters uncomfortable. The biggest change is that his curveball has the snap back and he could have another sparkling May.

Jake Peavy, Chicago White Sox

May record:

No question the 31-year old Peavy is all the way back. The former San Diego Padres chucker has lost velocity from his blazing fastball of a few years ago; however, he’s made the complete transition to the second part of his career. His K-rate is phenomenal and his ability to spot pitches is a thing of beauty. Some might complain he is taken deep too often, but are there two more different parks than Petco and U.S. Cellular for fly-ball pitchers?

Doug Fister, Detroit Tigers

May record
: 4-12

Fister played on a number of bad Seattle Mariner clubs before joining Detroit in 2011. Since taking residence in Mo-Town, the 6’8 hurler with a clean delivery has quit nibbling and gained confidence in his curve, which has become his main swing-and-miss pitch. It is worth watching to see if he breaks his past tendencies in baseball’s second month.

Matt Garza, Chicago Cubs

May record:

Garza was supposed to be one of the fixtures in the Cubs starting rotation, but was hurt in Spring Training and is only now throwing on flat ground. The earliest he is expected to return is at the end of this month and some in the Chicago organization think this is optimistic.

Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners

May record:

In the years we have been doing this article, it has always been a head-scratcher why King Felix struggles in May. But every year, like most pitchers, Hernandez has a rough patch and more often than not, it is this month. With Seattle only having nine home games in May, we could see another repeat from Felix.

Edwin Jackson, Chicago Cubs

May record:

The much-traveled hurler, who was born in Germany, has never found a home and settled in. Jackson’s “stuff” has always been good enough to make somebody’s big league roster, yet even when he threw a no-hitter in 2010 for the Arizona Diamondbacks against the Tampa Bay Rays (who else?), he walked eight batters. Victories will once again be a challenge to find on a subpar Cubs crew.

Justin Masterson, Cleveland Indians

May record:

Masterson has gotten off to a solid start this campaign despite getting lit up in his final April start. The question for the side-arm thrower is can he keep it going? Typically, walks are Masterson’s undoing and opponents start patiently laying off pitches, force him to throw strikes and belt him around. This was the year Cleveland was to start showing promise and the Tribe needs their ace to have a chance.

Clayton Richard, San Diego Padres

May record:

Richard has always been a tease who never delivered. The port-sider will put together two or three starts and his coaches will think “he’s finally figured it out”. He will then get rocked in his next trio of starts and it will be back to square one. With a 7.94 ERA this season and more walks than punch-outs (13 vs. 10), possibly the most damning aspect of his season to date is left-handed hitters are batting a ridiculous .364 against him.

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