Fantasy Baseball: Pitching mailbag focuses on innings limits, Lucas Giolito's rise and German Marquez's fall

If it feels like your pitching is especially bad, you're probably not wrong. So far in 2019, starting pitchers have an average ERA of 4.42, the second-highest of the last decade. Only 2017 topped it, and even then only barely.

So, don't panic if your ERA looks especially unseemly. Everyone's does. It's been tougher to pitch these days than just about any other time in recent history with home runs flying out of the part at a higher rate than ever, so the margin for error is slimmer than before.

However, it might not all be the environment -- your pitching really might be that bad, too. So, we took to Twitter to find your biggest questions about pitchers. Here are the answers: 

It's true. Yu Darvish has turned his season around, walking three or fewer batters in each of his past seven starts. In that span, the veteran has a middling 4.01 ERA, but with a 27.0% strikeout rate and 6.9% walk rate. That's more than enough to keep Darvish in your lineup, especially with six or more innings in five of those starts.

And, when you dig into his pitch usage, you see an obvious change for Darvish since that point. On May 9 against the Marlins, Darvis threw his slider 46 times, a 47.4% usage rate that represents his highest of the season. In the past seven starts, he hasn't thrown it more than 21 times, coinciding with his turnaround. What's interesting is Darvish has mostly just traded his slider for a cutter, a pitch he has thrown at least 29 times in each of his last seven starts.

The cutter is a harder pitch with less break than the slider, which typically means you're probably sacrificing some swing-and-miss potential for a bit more command. But the cutter has actually been the better swing-and-miss pitch for Darvish in 2019, so this looks like an obvious change to have made in hindsight.

This doesn't look random, which means it looks believable. I'm buying into Darvish moving forward.

It's certainly not a hard-and-fast rule, as someone like Lucas Giolito's career path can attest to.

However, I don't think you're just imagining this, either. Just this year, we're seeing variations of this theme with Blake Snell, Trevor Bauer, German Marquez and Jack Flaherty, among others. This is also related to the oft-cited idea of a "sophomore slump," when a standout rookie gets exposed in his second go round the league. What you're usually seeing, however, is plain old regression. A career year usually requires a lot to go right, and baseball is a tough sport. Things go wrong. 

When a player has a career season, you're more likely to see them come back to Earth than keep it up or even build on it. You won't always be right if you bet against players sustaining career seasons — what's up, Christian Yelich? — but there are worse strategies.

Given my answer to the previous question, I'll bet against Lucas Giolito being a top-three to top-five pitcher rest of season. He's been incredible so far, obviously, but you also have to remember this is opposing hitters' first time seeing this version of Giolito. He still gives up a decent amount of batted balls in the air, and his 3.69 SIERA suggests more of a "good-to-very-good" kind of profile moving forward than his 2.22 ERA. If someone in your league is treating Giolito like a top-five starter, I would gladly shop him and see if you can get a Stephen Strasburg type pitcher back.

Ready Eric writes in: "Who are some pitchers that are going to have innings limits near the end of the season? I want to trade those guys now before they lose their value."

Anyone on the Dodgers, for one. Hyun-jin Ryu is just 33.2 innings away from his highest total for a season since 2014, and we know the Dodgers are more aggressive than basically any team in baseball when it comes to limiting pitching workloads. Not that you should trade Ryu for anything less than an ace in return.

Here's an (obviously incomplete) list of players who could be facing some innings limits later this season:

There's a lot to like about Mike Soroka. Tremendous command of two fastballs and two swing-and-miss secondary pitches he's grown more confident in is a good place to start. He's emerged as one of the premiere groundball artists in baseball, and his profile doesn't look all that much different than soon-to-be-teammate Dallas Keuchel's was back when the elder lefty was competing for Cy Youngs. He isn't overwhelmingly dominant — and it goes without saying he won't sustain an ERA below 2.00, or anything like it — but he looks like a pitcher in the truest sense of the word. 

I came into this fully expecting to poke holes in Soroka's case, but given his youth and strong ground-ball tendencies and command, I'll take him over Hamels, whose 4.21 SIERA portends worse days ahead than Soroka has coming.

Even as a German Marquez skeptic, I'm surprised he's been this bad to open the season. A 4.57 ERA overall is bad enough, but with a 5.70 ERA at home, you can't trust him in half of his starts. You can't even look at the 3.67 FIP and assume much better days ahead; Rockies pitchers routinely under-perform their peripherals thanks to Coors Field.

Still, better days have to be ahead for Marquez. The 0.86-point gap between his ERA and SIERA is larger even than the one we typically see from Rockies' pitchers, so even given the tough offensive environment he pitches in, Marquez has been especially unlucky. Plus, with Marquez becoming even more of a ground-ball pitcher in 2019, at least some of the effects of Coors should be mitigated, right?

All told, I don't think there's an obvious path for Marquez to become the pitcher he was drafted to be this season. Coors Field is undefeated, after all, and he's likely to continue to run short of his peripherals as a result of it. Still, I don't think he'll continue to be this bad. We've had some Fantasy players write in to say they've dropped Marquez, so if the person in your league who has him is starting to panic, now is the right time to swoop in and offer a top-50-ish starting pitcher in the hopes you can steal him. At the very least, Marquez should continue to be a must-start option on the road. 

Before Lucas Giolito, the most exciting breakout pitcher of 2019 was Tyler Glasnow, and there was no second place. Before a forearm strain put him on the shelf, Glasnow was looking like he might be the best pitcher in baseball, with a 1.86 ERA, 2.27 FIP, and 55 strikeouts with only nine walks in 48.1 innings of work. Like Giolito, this was an all-world prospect finally putting it all together, blowing hitters away with high fastballs or burying curveballs to put them away.

You can't get rid of that kind of upside. Especially since Glasnow has — so far! — avoided any setbacks in his recovery. He threw a fastball-only session off a mound Saturday and seems likely to progress to bullpen work in the coming days. Glasnow can't come off the IL until the middle of July, but it's not out of the question to think we could see him shortly after the All-Star break. Assuming he can sustain the form he showed earlier, that's the kind of player you need to keep stashing.

Not that you can drop Altuve or Gallo either. You're in a tough spot. But it's one that could be an envious spot in the next three or four weeks. 

Fantasy Writer

Though he can be found covering three different sports depending on the time of year, there is one unifying theme in how Chris Towers approaches sports; "Where's the evidence?" It doesn't matter how outlandish... Full Bio

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