As we get deeper into the second month of the Fantasy Baseball season, we continue to compile a larger sample size to inform us on our roster decisions the rest of the season. Tonight, we're going to break down several of the hottest pitchers in the MLB so far to try to figure out if they're set to keep that momentum rolling or if you should be looking to trade them at their peaks. We'll also touch on one of the buzziest names in Fantasy -- but one buzzing for all the wrong reasons -- Reds SP Luis Castillo.
To kick off each week of the season, I'll be reaching out to Fantasy Baseball Today's Scott White and Frank Stampfl to ask them a few big questions that can hopefully help lead to actionable advice. In this Q&A, we're looking back at the first month and playing buy or sell on a slew of the best hitters in Fantasy.
1. First off: How worried should I be about Luis Castillo?
- Scott: I'm worried enough that I at least considered dropping him in one of my shallower leagues (252 players rostered) where I was desperate for roster space, but I ultimately decided against it. You could understand the struggles when his velocity was lagging for his first few starts, but even with it mostly recovered now, he's less effective than ever. He has a combined 16 swinging strikes over his past three starts, which is almost unthinkable for a pitcher with his caliber of changeup. But then, that changeup just doesn't look the same this year. Maybe he gets a feel for it again and rebounds overnight, but I'm losing faith.
- Chris: I started out writing a sort of mealy-mouthed, equivocating answer here, then I deleted it. Because I am not concerned. At all. Am I happy to see his ERA sitting at 6.42 as we hit mid-May? Of course not! Does his 4.65 FIP make me feel much better? Not really! On the other hand, this isn't even the worst stretch of Castillo's career. He had a 7.01 ERA through his first seven starts in 2018, and even had another stretch that season with a 6.19 ERA over a seven-start stretch ending with his final start of June, when he had a 5.85 ERA overall. And the thing is, he put up a 2.63 ERA over the final three months of that season. Castillo's velocity and spin rate aren't far off from where they usually are, and his release point and spin axis are pretty close too, which is to say, there doesn't seem to be a physical explanation for his struggles. He just ... hasn't pitched well. That leads me to think he's probably a tweak or two away from turning it around, and I'd love to have the opportunity to buy low on him. He's still a top-20 pitcher to me.
- Frank: I am moderately worried about Luis Castillo at this point. It's only seven starts, but he seems a bit broken. His overall swinging strike rate has dropped from 15.4% last season to just 9.7%. He's gone from way above average in that category to decently below average. A big reason for this has been the production or lack thereof on his changeup. The pitch is supposed to be his best, yet the whiff rate is way down on it. I definitely would not start him this week at the Rockies.
- We talk Wade Miley, Luis Castillo, prospects and more on the Fantasy Baseball Today in 5 podcast. You can follow us to get the latest episodes on Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.
2. Buy or sell: Jacob deGrom is no longer the No. 1 SP rest of season?
- Scott: Buy, but it's been such a close call between him, Gerrit Cole and Shane Bieber all along that it doesn't take much to move one behind the other two. Even just the possibility of some missed time would do it. I moved deGrom to No. 1 when it became evident his velocity had climbed again and he was killing it even while making minimal use of his changeup. Velocity increases can sometimes have a negative effect on structural integrity, though, and we may be seeing it now.
- Chris: Buy. I think he'll be better than anyone on a per-pitch and per-inning basis, but I can't rank any pitcher No. 1 when he is currently hurt. We don't know how hurt deGrom actually is, but seeing him pulled from his start Sunday after he was scratched earlier in the week does not instill much confidence. I think Fantasy players tend to overrate injury history as a negative risk factor, but I also tend to think they tend to underrate current injuries as a risk factor. Hopefully deGrom will be fine, but Gerrit Cole and Shane Bieber are pretty good pitchers in their own right, and neither has been pulled from a start due to an injury this season.
- Frank: Buy, but I will acknowledge this can change rather quickly. It's a tad worrisome that deGrom has dealt with some version of his back injury each of the past few seasons but when healthy he's still the SP1 and it's not particularly close. While he's banged up, though, I'll drop him behind Gerrit Cole and Shane Bieber.
3. Buy or sell: John Means is a top-20 SP?
- Scott: Even as the biggest Means fan of the group, that's higher than I'm willing to go ... yet. Recent fallers like Luis Castillo and Blake Snell have moved Means into my top 25, and you could make the case to move him higher, especially given how his swinging-strike rate has exploded in recent starts. He has a penchant for throwing strikes and has long rated well for quality of contact. But that top 20 is a solid group he'd be breaking into. I made the mistake of moving Joe Musgrove inside the top 20 too soon and may have to wind it back now.
- Chris: Sell. I've got him at SP39, which I'll admit feels low. I could move him up, I suppose, but it's hard to figure out where the right spot is. Up to No. 32, where Julio Urias is? No, I think Urias' combination of a plus strikeout rate, very good control and elite hard contact suppression makes him the better bet. Ahead of Trevor Rogers at No. 34? Could be the right spot, but I think I do like Rogers a bit more for strikeout upside. But I could see it, for sure. The truth is, the range of starters from SP21 to about SP42 is a tough one for me to rank, and I need more time to figure out where everyone will slot in. Means is on the lower end of that range, but don't mistake that for me being low on him. I really like pretty much everyone in that group, and the gaps between each spot in the ordinal rank are very blurry.
- Frank: Sell, but again this is subject to change. I've recently moved him up to SP23, which already feels aggressive, but he deserves it. Means' velocity isn't back to where it was last year but it doesn't matter when he has the best changeup in baseball right now. A few more dominant performances and he could find his way into the top-20.
4. Buy or sell: Max Scherzer is back?
- Scott: Sure, I buy, though I don't recall hearing a compelling case for him being "gone." He did have that weird velocity dip for a few outings earlier this year, but it may have served to get his location back in line given that his effectiveness only went up during that time. And now that the velocity is back up, too, he's looking as overpowering as ever at age 36.
- Chris: Buy. He never went anywhere! Just ask my pre-season ranking of him as SP4. There's still the possibility that age and injury catch up to him, but Scherzer looks just about as good as he ever has, with a career-high K% and his lowest BB% since 2015. He's giving up more hard contact and more batted balls in the air, but that may not be such a bad thing when the ball isn't traveling as far. Scherzer is aging better than many expected, and guess what: He's still my SP4.
- Frank: Buy. We're all going to have swings and misses in Fantasy Baseball but boy did I whiff on this one. Max Scherzer headlined my busts this offseason as I thought the age, back/neck injuries, and hard contact allowed the past few seasons were all worrisome. I suppose the injuries could still pop up, but all of Scherzer's underlying numbers look the same as 2019 when he was still one of the most dominant pitchers in the league. He's back to being a top five starting pitcher.
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5. Buy or sell: Aaron Civale and Zach Plesac are both must-start SPs?
- Scott: Sell to both, but my standard for must-start may be higher than some. Both look like they'll fall short of it on strikeouts alone, but both will generally pitch deep into games and put themselves in a spot to win more often than not. It's just that their reliance on balls in play will make them susceptible to the occasional blowout. They're both part of the small (but perhaps growing) middle class of starting pitchers.
- Chris: Sell. I'm not sure how many starting pitchers are truly must-start. For everything I said about Castillo up there, I still wouldn't start him this week at Coors Field. That's an extreme example, but it's relevant in the case of both Plesac and Civale, both of whom tend to get hit pretty hard from time to time. Against a good matchup, I'm happy to start either, but against teams that make a lot of contact and drive the ball well, I might prefer to stay away. I think they are very similar pitchers, and both are in my top 50, but near the back end, and I have no problem sitting them against the wrong matchup. For the record, they get Seattle this week, and that is not the wrong matchup, so start them both.
- Frank: I think regression is coming at some point for Aaron Civale but I think both guys are must-start while they're pitching like this. Specifically with Plesac, he has a 1.27 ERA over his past three starts. His fastball has averaged over 94 MPH in each of those starts where as last year it was 92.8 MPH on the pitch. I really like the turnaround I've seen from Plesac.