With two weeks in the books, it's still too early to start panicking about your Fantasy baseball team. Even if you're sitting at 0-2, or way behind in the season-long standings, there is more than enough time to make up any current deficits.
Still, even if you aren't starting to worry, other people in your league may be. And that's a perfect opportunity to slide in and take advantage with a buy-low opportunity; or get saddled with someone else's garbage. Figuring out which is which after a few weeks is tough, especially with hitters, but pitchers are a bit different.
Every start features a hundred or so individual events -- pitches -- which means there is a bit more heft to some of those numbers, even if season-long numbers are still prone to wild fluctuation at this point. I think it's fair to say Fantasy players are more likely to overreact to small-sample size events when it comes to pitchers, and they may not be wrong to do so.
Let's take a look at some Fantasy aces who have gotten off to poor starts, and see how panic-y you should be feeling about them. We'll fire up the trusty old Panic-O-Meter, a totally-not-arbitrary measure of a totally-not-arbitrary feeling. Let's go.
You can look at Adam Wainwright's early returns one of two ways:
1) He is just knocking off rust and will be fine
2) He's totally finished
I am a lot closer to the second one, but I don't want to overreact too much. The problem is, it may not be an overreaction; Ruptured Achilles' have a tendencies to ruin professional athletes' careers, and they are extremely difficult to recover from even in the best of circumstances. When you look into the numbers, there really isn't anything to be optimistic about with Wainwright. He has more walks than strikeouts; he has just a 38.3 percent groundball rate; he has allowed hard contact at the 10th-highest rate in baseball; he has a swinging strike rate of 6.6 percent, and has just two on 98 fastballs. If Wainwright wasn't coming back from a serious injury, I'd have a lot more confidence in writing this off as a small-sample size fluke. Panic-O-Meter rating: 9
Any pitcher who gets on the wrong side of 30 is at risk of falling off, and Justin Verlander is obviously no exception. What complicates things with Verlander is that he has already fallen off once, in 2014, when his strikeout rate disappeared and he posted a 4.54 ERA in 206 innings. He got back on track last season, which makes it a lot harder to just write off this slow start. Verlander's strikeout rate is sitting steady at 21.1 percent -- identical to last year's -- but his walk rate has gone up from 6.0 percent last season to 8.5 through three starts, despite the fact that he is throwing a higher percentage of his pitches in the strike zone than any year since 2009. Verlander's velocity is down slightly, but not to an alarming degree, and his swinging strike rate is holding steady, so I'm willing to write this off to just a slow start, while believing in his ability to bounce back like he did last season. Solid buy-low candidate. Panic-O-Meter: 4
Another over-30 pitcher, Corey Kluber just passed that admittedly-arbitrary milestone last week, so his age isn't nearly as much of a concern as it is with either Wainwright or Verlander. Kluber's strikeout rate is down to 22.9 percent, a big-time dropoff from the previous two seasons, although paradoxically, his swinging strike rate is actually up. Kluber's average fastball velocity is down nearly two full MPH, which is certainly something to keep an eye on, and that is actually what separates this from last year's slow start, when he posted a 4.24 ERA in April; Kluber actually averaged 94.0 MPH on his fastball in April of last year, however he sits at 92.6 right now. It's not a glaring concern, especially given the high rate of swinging strikes he is still managing, but it might be something to keep an eye on. Panic-O-Meter: 2
Throughout a career that has had more drama than you might hope for such a talented pitcher, the one constant with Matt Harvey has always been that blazing fastball and the buckets of strikeouts that come with it. Even in his return from Tommy John surgery, Harvey fanned nearly a batter per inning last season, and rode that to a 2.71 ERA in 189 1/3 innings. If you break his career up into three-start chunks, Harvey has struck out at least 15 in 60 of 66 such stretches. However, five of those six stretches have come in the past year, and Harvey has opened the 2016 season with his worst yet, having recorded just nine strikeouts in his first three outings. He has fanned just 12.0 percent of batters faced, also a career-low for any three-start stretch, and has a swinging strike rate of just 8.3 percent. Harvey has maintained that he feels fine, and pitching coach Dan Warthen has said he believes the issues are mechanical and that Harvey is pressing in the early going. He would certainly know better than I would, and the fact that one of the game's premier pitching coaches believes this is a fixable issue has to make you feel better about it. Still, I can't help but be a little worried. Especially when you see that his previous three-start low in strikeouts came in his last three starts before Tommy John surgery. Panic-O-Meter: 5
If you're just looking at strikeouts, Chris Archer has been one of the best pitchers in baseball through three starts, as he has fanned 23 in 15 1/3 innings. Unfortunately, he has also dished out eight walks and five homers, which goes a long way toward explaining the ugly 5.87 ERA. If you're worried about Archer, please don't be. The walks are a bit high, but nothing he can't improve on -- 46.3 percent of his pitches have been in the strike zone, right in line with his career rate. The homers are arguably even less of a concern, given that he has given up just 12 fly balls in total. That five of them have gone over the fence is one of the great flukes of the first two weeks of the season, and something that won't keep happening. Archer's 2.86 xFIP tells a much better story of what to expect moving forward, so if his owner is panicking, now is a perfect time to swoop in and buy low. Panic-O-Meter: 0
If I'm not panicking about Archer, I probably can't with Madison Bumgarner either. Like Archer, Bumgarner's strikeout rate is strong, and his biggest issue so far has been with keeping the ball in the yard. The difference is, Bumgarner's groundball rate has sunk to 32.6 percent, and his issues with walks are mostly a result of failing to garner swings at pitches out of the zone, typically a sign of diminished stuff. On a related note, Bumgarner's average fastball velocity is also down 1.6 MPH, which is a concern, but not enough of one that I'm willing to jump ship just yet. The fact that he has been dealing with a foot issue helps explain why he doesn't seem to be himself, but that's a double-edged sword; if it doesn't get better, neither might his results. Still, Bumgarner's track record is too strong to panic after three starts, so I won't. Panic-O-Meter: 1