If You're Hard-core: Examining Bannister, Saunders and Silva

There are currently 13 American League starters who have ERAs under 3.00. It's not that surprising to find Felix Hernandez or Fausto Carmona on the leaderboard. And Andy Pettitte, Jake Westbrook and Kevin Millwood are established veterans with some big seasons in their past. Ervin Santana and Zack Greinke were popular breakout picks entering 2008. The league is essentially seeing Dana Eveland and Nick Blackburn for the first time, and it'll take awhile before hitters can catch up. Cliff Lee has teased with his potential for dominance before.

The members of the remaining group rank among April's biggest surprises. Brian Bannister, Joe Saunders and Carlos Silva are all soft tossers without heralded physical gifts or great track records. None cost more than a buck or two in most auctions, and all are still on the right side of 30. Are any of the three taking a real step forward? Let's compare their 2008 performances with their career numbers entering the season.

Bannister has improved both his walk and strikeout rates from last year, but his stuff is so hittable that he has a slim margin for error. He missed fewer bats with each level of minor league advancement, and continued effectiveness is unlikely unless he can push his strikeout rate closer to six batters per nine innings, a mark he reached in only one month last season.