Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey (12-1, 2.15 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 116-25 K-BB) has easily been baseball's best hurler—and fantasy draft steal from March—this season.
The following countdown touts 11 midseason awards involving MLB starting pitchers and relievers.
To clarify, this listing stays true to the stats from April 4-July 4 and doesn't really focus on projections for July, August and September.
(Lord knows we've already covered the from-this-point-forward angle in great detail; so, for once, we'll worry about the future later.)
Enjoy the show!
2012 Stats: 10-2, 2.19 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 98-25 K-BB
As great as Chris Sale has been in his second MLB season, the kid deserves a little extra credit for the journey that proffered this lofty ranking.
From April 9-May 1, Sale was happily cruising along as a starting pitcher, holding the opposition to three or less runs in all five starts. One week later, Sale abruptly debuted as the White Sox closer, blowing a save in his only relief appearance of the year (to date).
On May 12, Sale resumed his role as a fixture in the Chicago rotation. What happened after that is the stuff of legend—or Screenwriting 101 in Hollywood:
From May 12-June 9 (six starts and 62.1 innings), Sale had a 5-0 mark, 0.98 ERA, 0.71 WHIP and 43-7 K-BB ratio. In that span, he also ranked second in wins, third in ERA, fourth in K-BB ratio, second in opponents' batting average (.150) and second in WHIP among starting pitchers.
2. Justin Verlander, Tigers
3. Jered Weaver, Angels
4. David Price, Rays
5. Matt Harrison, Rangers
2012 Stats: 12-1, 2.15 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 116-25 K-BB
From May 22-June 18 (covering six starts and 45.2 innings), R.A. Dickey had a 5-0 mark, 0.79 ERA, 0.64 WHIP and otherworldly ratio with walks and strikeouts (58-4).
In that span, Dickey also cruised through five straight starts without surrendering one earned run.
Since May 30, Dickey ranks third in wins, first in ERA, second in K-BB ratio, first in opponents' batting average (.134) and first in WHIP among top-30 starting pitchers.
And in his last 11 starts, Dickey has yielded two or less runs nine times, with just 12 total runs in that span (1.20 ERA).
The only thing missing from Dickey's 2012 resume? A no-hitter.
2. Matt Cain, Giants
3. Stephen Strasburg, Nationals
4. Gio Gonzalez, Nationals
5. Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
2012 Stats: 2-1, 0.96 ERA, 0.72 WHIP, 38-5 K-BB, 24 SV
Fernando Rodney has been a top-three reliever since Opening Day, but check out this stretch from May 1-July 4.
In that span, covering 27 appearances and 27. 1 innings, Rodney has surrendered only 15 hits and four runs, while converting on 15 of 16 save chances.
Throw in a pair of sub-1.00 ERA and WHIP marks for the season, along with a 7.75-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and it's easy to see how Rodney earned the greatest honor of this highly competitive cluster of relievers.
2. Jim Johnson, Orioles
3. Chris Perez, Indians
4. Joe Nathan, Rangers
5. Rafael Soriano, Yankees
6. Ernesto Frieri, Angels
7. Jonathan Broxton, Royals
2012 Stats: 0-1, 1.50 ERA, 0.77 WHIP, 50-10 K-BB, 23 SV
As you can clearly see from the list below, an oversized cluster of elite closers have assumed control of the senior circuit.
But the preseason pick for top reliever (Kimbrel) has cruised to a midseason crown as well, based on his prolific numbers in ERA, WHIP, strikeouts and saves.
Bottom line: While I would seldom move heaven and earth to land a closer in a blockbuster trade, Kimbrel is the closest thing to perfection in that realm.
As a bonus, he'll probably log more seasonal strikeouts than your No. 6 and 7 starting pitchers.
2. Joel Hanrahan, Pirates
3. Aroldis Chapman, Reds
4. Jonathan Papelbon, Phillies
5. Santiago Casilla, Giants
6. Kenley Jansen, Dodgers
7. Jason Motte, Cardinals
8. Tyler Clippard, Nationals
2012 Stats: 10-5, 3.59 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 117-53 K-BB
OK, so Darvish isn't your classic American rookie who logged time in the bush leagues before getting his big break with the Rangers in 2012.
He had been a superstar in the Japanese League for five seasons (76-28, 1.72 ERA, 1,083 strikeouts from 2007-11), prompting one of the largest foreign-player payouts in baseball history.
That aside, Darvish has been a fantasy stalwart in his debut season, racking up double-digit wins, allowing three runs or less seven times since May 11 and ranking fourth in strikeouts (117) among all MLB pitchers.
For good measure, Darvish has also posted double-digit strikeouts in three of his last four outings.
2. Wade Miley, Diamondbacks (qualifies as a rookie in most leagues)
3. Jarrod Parker, Athletics
4. Tommy Milone, Athletics
5. Matt Moore, Rays
2012 Stats: 6-5, 2.96 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 101-24 K-BB
In his last four outings—all losses—Peavy has surrendered only nine runs.
Think about that for a second. You have to be extremely unlucky to allow four walks and nine runs over 30 innings and still come away with the dreaded "L" each time.
Anomalies aside, Peavy has been magical for the White Sox, racking up 13 outings of three runs or less, 15 appearances of three walks or less and seven games of seven-plus strikeouts—including 11 against the Yankees on June 30.
Wow, that's a lot of stats culled together in one paragraph. The point is, Peavy remains an elite fantasy pitcher—even during his down time.
And he's well ahead of the paces of last year's subpar output: seven wins, 4.92 ERA, 1.26 WHIP and 95 strikeouts.
2. Fernando Rodney, Rays
3. A.J. Burnett, Pirates
4. James McDonald, Pirates
5. Jason Hammel, Orioles
6. Mat Latos, Reds
2012 Stats: 2-2, 1.61 ERA, 0.86 WHIP, 32-7 K-BB, 10.3 K-9
This is such a vague category since studs like Tyler Clippard (1-2, 1.83 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 13-of-14 save chances) and Ernesto Frieri (0.00 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 10-of-10 save chances with the Angels) began the season as setup relievers.
So, this is where the line was drawn: To be eligible here, the relievers must have at least 35 appearances to date (through July 4), but cannot boast 10 or more saves.
With that arbitrary (and convenient) line of demarcation, Clippard and Frieri got bumped from the limelight.
2. Matt Belisle, Rockies
3. Vinnie Pestano, Indians
4. Jose Mijares, Royals
5. Sean Burnett, Nationals
2012 Stats: 9-3, 2.53 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 114-23 K-BB
Of all the awards in this quirky countdown, Matt Cain's June 13 triumph against the respectable Astros was the biggest no-brainer:
Zero runs allowed, zero walks, 14 strikeouts—and, oh yeah, the 22nd perfect game in MLB history.
That memory of a lifetime against Houston was the culmination of a four-start run where Cain allowed only two runs and collected 34 strikeouts and four victories.
2012 Stats: 9-2, 3.74 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 74-31 K-BB
It's easy to laugh about A.J. Burnett's implosion against the Cardinals on May 2—surrendering 12 runs and 12 hits in just 2.2 innings—two months later.
From May 8-June 28, Burnett subsequently allowed only 18 runs in 66 innings (2.18 ERA).
In that span, Burnett also collected 52 strikeouts and eight victories (in eight games).
2012 Stats: 3-9, 6.08 ERA, 1.55 WHIP, 101-49 K-BB
Lincecum's foibles have been well-documented on this site—and I'm one of his biggest supporters in the fantasy biz.
Seven games of five or more runs allowed. Three games of four runs allowed, and just five superb outings, from a fantasy perspective.
Yes, it's been a rough year for Lincecum, but he's still worth the battered price on the trade market.
He's simply too talented to replicate this level of head-scratching wretchedness for July, August and September.
2. Dan Haren, Angels
3. Ubaldo Jimenez, Indians
4. Jon Lester, Red Sox
5. John Axford, Brewers
6. Adam Wainwright, Cardinals
7. Daniel Bard, Red Sox
8. Ervin Santana, Angels
9. Francisco Liriano, Twins
10. Chad Billingsley, Dodgers
2012 Stats: 11-4, 3.10 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 70-27 K-BB
Obviously, there was no greater draft-time coup than the Mets' R.A. Dickey—let's not pretend that anyone can touch his value/production in the realm of late-round picks or unwashed undraftables.
But as a means of diversifying this countdown, Matt Harrison qualifies as the next-best pitching gem to essentially go undrafted in 12-team leagues (back in March).
Since May 17, Harrison is 10-for-10 in allowing three runs or less; he also has seven victories and 43 strikeouts in that time frame.
2. Chris Sale, White Sox
3. Ryan Vogelsong, Giants
4. James McDonald, Pirates
5. Chris Capuano, Dodgers
6. Kyle Lohse, Cardinals
7. Wade Miley, Diamondbacks
8. Lance Lynn, Cardinals
9. Phil Hughes, Yankees
10. Clay Buchholz, Red Sox