Fantasy Baseball: Making excuses for Kevin Gausman, Lucas Giolito and Robbie Ray
Several of our favorite starting pitcher investments let us down the first time through the rotation in 2018. Scott White has excuses for all of them.
"It's one start."
That's the ultimate excuse, and it applies to all of these pitchers in equal measure.
And for some of the biggest names who struggled in their first turn of 2018 -- Carlos Carrasco, Yu Darvish, Jose Quintana, for instance -- it's as simple as that. They were destined for a handful of starts just like the ones they had, and the fact they had them in their first start isn't terribly meaningful.
But for others, there's a little more at play ... or at least perceived to be at play ... or at least possibly at play.
OK, so we probably shouldn't read too much into their starts either.
But many will, and it can be dangerous when there's a real investment in the pitcher. So allow me to talk you off that ledge, to reassure you there's still more to that pitcher who let you down and remind you, above all, it's one start.
Robbie Ray has some of this in him, so you couldn't have drafted him thinking he'd get off scot-free. Given that he had the highest hard-contact rate and 12th-highest fly-ball rate of any qualifying pitcher last year (according to FanGraphs), it's a wonder he had only one start where he gave up three home runs, as he did Friday.
When he goes wrong, home runs and walks are where he'll go wrong, and you should expect some correction in last year's ERA as a result. But if he's healthy enough to make 32 starts over the same innings pace as last year, his strikeout total will be enormous, making him like Chris Archer but with a better supporting cast.
And by the way, It's one start!
Aaron Sanchez, you may recall, made only eight starts last year because of a recurring blister issue, and the last of those starts -- after just one full season as a major-league starter, mind you -- was July 19. So the guy's having to learn how to navigate a major-league lineup again, not to mention extend himself over five, six, seven innings.
That was his biggest problem Friday against the Yankees (a team with a really good lineup, if he needed another excuse). He ran out of gas in the sixth, allowing four baserunners and two runs. He did have a 3.06 ERA and 0.96 WHIP this spring, though, and, oh yeah, it's one start!
The concerns for James Paxton coming into the season were more health-related than performance-related, so you may not have realized he had some trouble getting his delivery in sync this spring, his long levers and collapsible frame giving him a higher margin for error in that area than most pitchers. And though he made progress, putting together a couple strong starts to end the exhibition season, his velocity still wasn't up to standard in his season debut. He didn't seem totally comfortable with his secondary arsenal either, throwing his fastball 68.0 percent of the time.
And as you may have heard, it's one start!
Lucas Giolito got some helium late in spring training thanks mostly to a wicked curveball that contributed to a 2.04 ERA and 0.85 WHIP in four starts, so of course he threw that curveball only nine times in his season debut Saturday. But judging from his comments after the game, it was hardly by design.
"A lot of negatives, but the positive was pitching through six despite pretty much working with just fastball and a few change-ups mixed in," he told the Chicago Sun-Times. "It was just a grinder game."
For whatever reason, he didn't have his curveball Saturday, and had to do what he could without it. Every pitcher has starts like that. It doesn't mean he abandoned it or doesn't know its value. In fact, at the end of spring training, he told MLB.com his biggest goal was to improve his curveball, and he felt that he accomplished that. Knowing that he knows what he needs to be special only re-affirms my confidence in him.
And, it probably goes without saying now, it's one start!
Kevin Gausman had an epiphany this offseason, showing up in February ready to throw all of his pitches, including a splitter that seems to be the key to everything else. And he had starts where he used it to great effect this spring.
As soon as the bell sounded, though, he was back to throwing it just 15 percent of the time and enduring what happens when he throws it 15 percent of time. That's about how much he threw it over his first 15 starts last year, when he compiled a 6.60 ERA. Once he began featuring it more like 25 percent of the time -- a span of 19 starts -- he had a 3.39 ERA, 1.21 WHIP and 10.1 strikeouts per nine innings.
All I'm saying is not to judge the results when he diverts from the game plan, unless it becomes a pattern. But in this case, it's one start!
I mean, yeah, he was inefficient and uncharacteristically wild, but 16 swinging strikes on 89 pitches indicates a level of dominance that I don't think most casual observers knew Sonny Gray had. It was a leaf he turned over last season, when he had a swinging strike rate of 11.9 percent (per FanGraphs), and is part of the reason I'm excited to see what he'll do with one of the best offenses and best bullpens backing him.
Plus, it's one start!
Luis Castillo was an exceptional control pitcher during his minor-league career but struggled with his command in his season debut, working with an "elevated fastball," in the words of pitching coach-turned-manager Bryan Price.
But that changeup ... my gosh, that changeup. It was responsible for 15 of his 18 swinging strikes even though he threw it just 28 times. He has only 16 major-league starts under his belt, but I'm ready to say it's one of the top five pitches in baseball. And when he gets to where he's spotting his fastball a little better and a little more consistently, the world will see just how good he can be.
And then there's the small matter of, ahem, it's one start!
A casualty of an offseason that never really got off the ground, Lance Lynn, you may recall, didn't reach an agreement with the Twins until March 10, about two weeks into spring trianing. He made only two spring starts, and while both went swimmingly -- he allowed a combined two hits with 10 strikeouts in seven innings -- he's still playing catchup and may simply need more reps to get in midseason form.
It's also worth mentioning he wasn't as effective in his first season back from Tommy John surgery last year as his 3.43 ERA would have you believe, but the larger track record has me hoping he'll improve in his second year removed from the procedure.
Besides, it's one start!
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