When I was a teenager, I distinctly remember returning home after a few hours spent at the community pool in time to watch Dave Righetti close out the last few innings of his Independence Day no-hitter at Yankee Stadium against the Red Sox. Even though I was no fan of the pinstripes, it was hard not to be swept up in the excitement of that magical performance.
However, although July 4 has typically been imbued with some special significance in terms of being a bellwether date for the remainder of a baseball season, in the grand scheme of things, it's usually just another day in a long 162-game schedule. For example, Jason Vargas was 12-3 with a 2.22 ERA on July 4 last season. The rest of the way, he went 6-8 with a devilish 6.66 ERA.
More telling for me as a sign that Vargas was not about to enter the ranks of the elite, even for just a few more months of 2017, was his K/BB rate (on July 4) checking in at 3.08. That put him below the 3.50 threshold I've established for my "Rule of Seven." To remind you of the target number, pitchers who post an ERA of 3.50 or less and a K/BB of 3.50 or higher are not as commonplace as one might think. I've discovered that, at any given time during the course of a baseball season, you're likely to find only about 25 or so members of this exclusive club, given an appropriate minimum number of starts.
In May, our list had 23 names on it. Checking in after last night's fireworks, there are 25 pitchers who qualify for this club with a minimum of seven starts. A full 20 hurlers remained "all paid up" in membership dues since we last took roll call: Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Corey Kluber, Chris Sale, Stephen Strasburg, Noah Syndergaard, Luis Severino, Jacob deGrom, Justin Verlander, Gerrit Cole, James Paxton, Ross Stripling, Patrick Corbin, Miles Mikolas, Walker Buehler, Daniel Mengden, Jeremy Hellickson, Trevor Cahill, Wade LeBlanc, and Aaron Nola -- who just barely got back on this list thanks to yesterday's strong outing (9 K, 2 BB) against the Orioles.
Three pitchers were put on "not-so-double secret probation" and will have to prove their previous admission was not a fluke:
Charlie Morton (96.6 percent rostered): He seems to have righted the ship after a three-game stretch in June where he walked 14 batters. Keep him in your rotation as he should be fine.
Kyle Hendricks (85.2 percent): His overall 6.7 K/9 rate left him little margin for error, which caught up to him in June. There's a reason his rostered percentage has dropped 5.8 percent in the past week.
Nick Pivetta (38.4 percent): Simply put, he has been awful in his past six starts, with a 7.71 ERA and .330 BAA. Feel free to join the 9.4 percent of fantasy managers who have sent him packing in the last week.
Getting fitted for jackets this month:
Trevor Bauer (97 percent): After yesterday's encounter in Kansas City, Bauer now has thrown eight straight games with at least eight strikeouts. Quite frankly, had he thrown just one fewer walk or one more strikeout when we took stock in May, he'd have been on the list then.
Sean Manaea (85.9 percent rostered): He's barely making the cut in both ERA (3.33) and K/BB (3.55), but he has thrown five consecutive quality starts -- all wins for Oakland. There's enormous reason for optimism here.
Jack Flaherty (71.6 percent): Barely missing the cut last time we checked, Flaherty is now well over the threshold in K/BB (4.21). However, two poor showings in a row (10 IP, 8 ER) have seen his ERA rise from 2.50 to 3.19, so we're somewhat concerned the rookie won't still be on the list at the end of the year.
Zach Eflin (60.6 percent): His roster percentage rose 30.9 percent over last week and quite frankly, if you had been tracking the "Rule of Seven," you would have noticed his initiation on June 16. In his three starts since then, all wins, he's had a 1.89 ERA and a 5.67 K/BB. A blister issue may be a bit of a setback for him, but that should only be a short-term nuisance.
Tyler Skaggs (73.9 percent): A right adductor strain forced him to the 10-day DL, though reports are that he is expected to only miss one start. Even if he sits until after the All-Star break, an incredible June (0.84 ERA, .235 BAA, 4.5 K/BB) bodes very well for a solid second-half of 2018.
Clay Buchholz (18.8 percent): Another casualty to the disabled list, Buchholz was forced to leave a shutout in Pittsburgh after just five innings on June 24 with a strained left oblique. The 12-year veteran has only had one prior season where he would have been in our elite club (2015), but if he gets healthy, he just might have the ability to stick around.
Other pitchers to keep an eye on, who would have qualified if only they met the starts minimum:
Hyun-Jin Ryu (18.8 percent): On the 60-day DL due to a left groin strain, Ryu felt tightness in mid-June, which set his progress back a bit. Still, if he can return before the end of July, he's a good stash.
Dereck Rodriguez (15.3 percent): Take away one clunker in Washington and Rodriguez has a 2.10 ERA for the season. The 3.67 K/BB rate may dip below the required threshold going forward, but San Francisco certainly has to like what they've seen from this converted outfielder thus far.
Johnny Cueto (82.8 percent): Just in case nobody in your league has heard the news, Cueto is pitching today for the Giants after being out since May with an elbow sprain. He was leading the majors in ERA when he got hurt, and the team is going to handle him with kid gloves for now. Still, his rehab outings went very well (7.2 shutout innings with 10 K), so when he does start for the Giants, he can start for me.
Shane Bieber (57.8 percent): So far, those who have taken a chance on this Cleveland youngster have not been sorry. Although he improved to 4-0 over the weekend against Kansas City, the Royals did reach him for four runs, and he only fanned a pair. I never say never in regards to rookie hurlers, but I think I need to see more.