Fantasy Baseball: Don't lose faith in these six struggling starters
Some big-name pitchers have fallen short of expectations so far. Our Scott White explains why he's still a believer.
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Jose Quintana had a 5.22 ERA last April.
Carlos Martinez had a 4.71 ERA, Jake Arrieta a 4.60 ERA, Justin Verlander a 4.60 ERA and Corey Kluber a 4.19 ERA. Trevor Bauer had a 6.26 ERA. Remember how good Jimmy Nelson was last year? Not in April, when he had a 5.34 ERA.
And that was for all of April, as in five starts in most of those cases. This year's pitchers have made only three, so we're talking an even smaller sample of abnormal numbers.
After only three starts, I'm inclined to keep believing what I believed prior to those three starts. It's a mere 10 percent of a pitcher's season – one that was sure to have its ups and downs – so reacting to it any differently than a rough patch in July is destructively inconsistent. Clearly, things can turn around. Just look what happened last year.
Maybe with overwhelming evidence that the skills have diminished, I'd be more willing to sound the alarm, but for these six, I'm presently unconvinced.
I'll say this for Chris Archer: He's frustrating to own. There's a reason he had an ERA over 4.00 the last two years, in spite of the peripherals. He just has too many stretches like this one where it's clear the stuff is still excellent and he's still missing bats aplenty, but he's just a little too erratic, a little too inefficient, a little too susceptible to bad matchups.
I wish I could offer something more precise than that, but none of the skill indicators have failed him to this point. Going by track record, though, these struggles looks awfully familiar. I suspect it's because he's a two-pitch pitcher, which demands greater precision from those pitches every outing. But they're still two awesome pitches. At his best, Archer makes the frustrations all worth it, and I think we'll be reminded of that sooner than later.
And hey, he's still piling up strikeouts in the meantime.
Luis Castillo's changeup is still the nastiest in all the land, generating swings and misses nearly one-third of the time he throws it, so there's no disputing the talent here. And talent almost always has the last laugh. But the results have been lacking, and I don't think it's entirely just luck. Castillo has a four-seam fastball that flirts with triple digits, but seven starts into his major-league career last year, he introduced a two-seamer that seemed to help the rest of his arsenal play up. The problem is he has become too reliant on it, throwing it even more than the four-seamer in his last two outings, according to Baseball Savant. And it's not a pitch designed for swings and misses.
But look, if he figured out to add the two-seamer in the first place, he can figure out that it's doing more harm than good. And it's true there's some bad luck at play, too, considering his lack of strikeouts for the number of swings and misses he's getting.
The overall numbers aren't great, obviously, and the fairest way to assess a player is with overall numbers. But I don't think we should ignore how exactly Danny Duffy has come about those numbers, given the pattern behind them. Basically, he's a disaster in the first inning, issuing six of his eight walks, including three in his most recent start Wednesday against the Mariners, for a 12.00 ERA in the first frame. But the Royals have let him go at least four innings each time because he quickly recovers, compiling a 3.75 ERA in the other innings combined.
Maybe that's not enough to talk you off the ledge, especially since there are some accompanying velocity issues, but there was a big jump in velocity in this most recent start, bringing Duffy to within a mile per hour of where he was over the final two months last season, and the results have improved with each start as well. Especially given his control issues in the first inning, I have to think something is off-kilter in his pregame routine, which sounds imminently correctable.
I'll admit he's the most concerning of the six on this list, though.
Dallas Keuchel is still generating ground balls at an other-worldly rate and still throwing his sinker at its usual velocity, so there's no reason to think his skills have diminished. He has had trouble throwing strikes, though, which isn't totally foreign to him. Part of the reason he gets so many ground balls is because he lives at the bottom of the strike zone, where there's a fine line between a strike and a ball. Compare his pitch location so far this year (right) to last year (left) with the help of FanGraphs heatmaps, and you can see what's happening:
Juuuust a bit outside. Or I guess low, in this instance. Sure enough, his percentage of called strikes is one of the stats that has suffered most in the early going, but he's not far off. Just needs to spot his sinker a little better.
We already knew Robbie Ray struggles with control from time to time, so seeing him walk 11 batters in his first three starts shouldn't blow anyone's mind. But unless you think he's going to walk 6.3 per nine innings all season long – and he won't, because that's ridiculous – you shouldn't assume this is the new normal for him. And walks have been his biggest problem so far.
Some have raised concerns about his velocity, which is down nearly 2 mph from a year ago, but I don't see much evidence that it's compromising his effectiveness. His swinging strike rate is still one of the best in baseball so far and nearly as good as a year ago. Maybe he gets the velocity back; maybe he doesn't. But either way, once the walks normalize, I think things will look much better for him.
Anyone who has ever had food poisoning can give Alex Wood a pass only three days removed from his sushi-fueled ordeal. Yes, allowing seven runs in 3 2/3 innings Wednesday warped his ERA, but he still has yet to walk a batter in three starts. His presence here is more a response to concerns about his velocity being down, but what you have to understand about Wood is he was Joey Lucchesi before Joey Lucchesi, meaning he thrived more on deception than pure stuff. The only time his velocity was any different than it is now was in the first half last year, and it made him arguably the best pitcher in baseball.
But look at his career numbers: a 3.25 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 8.3 strikeouts per nine innings – you'll take that for where you drafted him. And I might argue those numbers were inflated by a two-year stretch (2015-16) when he struggled with his release point, bounced between the rotation and bullpen and missed time with triceps and elbow issues.
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