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Here's the neurosis of a Fantasy Baseball owner:
Max Scherzer recorded 20 strikeouts Wednesday against the Tigers, immortalizing him with Roger Clemens, Kerry Wood and Randy Johnson in baseball lore. It was a headline-grabbing, career-defining, awe-inspiring performance, and yet I was disappointed with it.
Why, you ask? He allowed two home runs only one turn after allowing four. He's up to 11 for the season now, which puts him on a 52-homer pace.
How bad is that? No pitcher with what would be a realistic innings total by today's standards has ever given up more than Jose Lima's 48 in 2000, and he had a 6.65 ERA that year.
You could view this a couple different ways:
"Wow, Scherzer that far off pace, and he still has just a 4.15 ERA? Awesome!"
... or, seeing as home runs are considered one of three outcomes, along with strikeouts and walks, that a pitcher has direct control over ...
"Wow, Scherzer is messed up."
So how am I approaching it? Amid the worry, the one thing you can't lose sight of is upside, and Scherzer gave us a pretty clear reminder of his with this start. It's as high as any pitcher this side of Clayton Kershaw (I actually rank him third behind Kershaw and Jake Arrieta), so I can't imagine someone will pony up enough for you to part with him. I mean, what would it take? Paul Goldschmidt? Josh Donaldson? Dallas Keuchel and Yeonis Cespedes? Something like that.
But there's no cost to worrying, right? Keep yourself occupied all hours of the day ... for free!
1. Speaking of upside ...
A couple pitchers who you may be on the verge of dropping because of their recent struggles (including Wednesday) have, on a much lower end than Scherzer, demonstrated enough upside for you to stick it out with them.
I'm talking, of course, about Jerad Eickhoff and Juan Nicasio.
Oh, don't roll your eyes. I'm only trying to help. It was only four starts ago that Eickhoff was sitting on a career 2.44 ERA, 1.03 WHIP and 9.0 strikeouts per nine innings, and four starts isn't enough of a rough patch for you to conclude that the league has caught up to him -- not when you consider the upside you'd be squandering.
What I think is happening with him is what I feared would happen for Rich Hill. Like Hill, Eickhoff's bread-and-butter pitch is his curveball, and the curveball -- especially one with the steep break that theirs has -- is a feel pitch. The feel comes and goes and comes again, creating rough patches within an otherwise impressive season. I think this graphic sums up the state of Eickhoff's curveball pretty well:
Our focus is on the little orange triangles. The top grids show vertical movement, first three starts on the left and last four on the right. The bottom grids show horizontal movement, first three starts on the left and last four on the right. In both instances, those orange triangles are creeping closer to zero. He has lost some movement, but it'll be back. And so will the strikeouts.
As for Nicasio, he throws 98 mph and has Ray Searage as his pitching coach. That level of stuff with that level of smarts has to come through eventually. And Nicasio's issues are right in Searage's wheelhouse: He's a hard-thrower who struggles to command his pitches, much like Francisco Liriano, A.J. Burnett and Edinson Volquez before him. Sure, you could argue those three were all higher-profile than Nicasio at some point before hooking up with Searage, but then again, J.A. Happ ...
And actually, I'm not so sure Nicasio didn't make progress with this start. I mean, he allowed just four baserunners, none via walk, over his six innings. Really, just an ill-timed Jay Bruce home run did him in.
2. But upside isn't everything ...
Naturally, I'm going to contradict myself within the same column because, of course, Michael Pineda and Yordano Ventura also have upside. It's the reason we've held on to them this long.
But I'm saying enough is enough. In fact, I've been saying it for these two for a couple turns now.
When's the last time we saw the upside for either?
Pineda especially. Yeah, his strikeout-to-walk ratio is still satisfactory, but he hasn't turned in what I'd consider to be a dominant start all year. And going back to last year, he now has a 6.00 ERA, 1.41 WHIP and 1.9 home runs per nine in his last 17 starts. That's more than half a season.
Ventura, I guess you could say, was actually at his best toward the end of last season, but more because of his strikeout rate than ERA and WHIP. The strikeouts have been nowhere to be found this season, and at this rate, I'd settle for some 0-2 counts. He has more walks (28) than strikeouts (26) this season and is actually losing ground on that front with 14 walks to five strikeouts in his past three starts. I don't care that he had a quality start Wednesday. I don't even care that he won. He has been bad, and you know it.
Here's really what it boils to: Neither of these two was good enough last year to get away with doing nothing good to this point this year. I recognize the potential -- and if they begin to turn things around, I'll be right back on board -- but in leagues shallow enough that you could even consider dropping them (and if yours doesn't apply, you already know it), nobody else will make a move for them. They're all hurting for roster space, too.
So if Pineda or Ventura is preventing you from claiming a trendier (and perhaps game-changing) pitcher like Drew Pomeranz, Tyler Duffey or Alex Wood, time to get with the program.
3. Back off, Sam
Shawn Tolleson didn't get the save for the Rangers on Wednesday against the White Sox. Wasn't even asked to.
So of course, that riles up the Fantasy Baseball community because it wasn't long ago he was presumed to be on thin ice.
But it wasn't just last week either. He had an especially bad blown save April 6, that after not being used like a traditional closer last postseason. But manager Jeff Banister stuck up for him then, and the right-hander has converted nine of 10 saves since.
You could argue, perhaps, that Dyson is better because of his 2.12 ERA compared to Tolleson's 5.40 mark, but again, Tolleson's is inflated by a particularly ugly appearance early on. He has historically been the better bat-misser of the two, which is preferred in the ninth inning, and neither of these pitchers has done anything to merit a role change.
It was a day off -- plain and simple. Tolleson had worked three of the previous four. If you want to back him up with Dyson, OK. It's your roster spot to use, and it's fair to say no other closer situation is up in the air right now (except for the Reds' and maybe the Twins', neither of which is particularly impactful in Fantasy). But let's just say Dyson isn't a player I'd be willing to drop Pineda or Ventura for, no matter how much I needed saves.
4. Pomeranz does it again
Sometimes you're just a year early.
Last spring, I was hyping Drew Pomeranz about like I'm hyping Nicasio this year. He was the former prospect in a new, more forgiving environment who had shown us glimpses of his potential before securing a full-time rotation spot. Pomeranz didn't keep his spot for the Athletics, of course, and the assumption was he wouldn't have one for the Padres either.
With another 10-strikeout effort in the books, though, it's fair to say he's not going anywhere.
"He's outstanding," manager Andy Green told MLB.com
The difference has been his development of a third pitch, a changeup, which keeps hitters from sitting on his best pitch, the curveball. The result is an 11.5-per-nine strikeout rate that ranks second among qualifying pitchers.
"His stuff's legit," said Green. "I don't think there's any doubt about it."
Yes, he walks a few too many hitters, but there's the potential here for Pomeranz to become something like Francisco Liriano in Fantasy. Combining all 26 of his starts in three years since leaving Colorado, he has a 3.02 ERA, 1.17 WHIP and 9.0 strikeouts per nine innings -- and again, only the last seven have been with the help of that third pitch.
Whether his relief pitcher eligibility matters in your format or not, he appears to be must-own.
5. A place for Pearce?
After homering twice against a left-hander Tuesday, Steve Pearce got a start against a right-hander Wednesday, his third in the last five. But because manager Kevin Cash refuses to take Logan Morrison and his .127 batting average out of the lineup, this latest start came at second base rather than first base.
Hey, that's fine. He's now only three games from gaining eligibility at that position, and third base is within reach as well. Let him become a super utility type for now. With two more hits Wednesday, making him 9 for 23 (.391) with four home runs over his last six games, you know the offensively challenged Rays will want to get him in their lineup, and maybe by the time Pearce gains eligibility at those spots, Cash will have concluded that Morrison really isn't worth redeeming.
Granted, it's not at all clear things will play out that way. Pearce could be out of the lineup today, for all I know. But if he becomes an everyday player -- and with quadruple eligibility, no less -- it could be a game-changer in Fantasy.
You know how I was just a year early on Pomeranz? Prior to last season, I boldly predicted Pearce would be the Orioles' most productive. He wasn't, of course, but it's not like my reasons are suddenly invalid now. He did have a .930 OPS over 338 at-bats just two years ago.