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There's no exact number of starts at which we can go from saying, "It's too early to be worried" to, "It's time to drop this guy."
That's not how it works. Which is what makes those distinctions so hard to draw. You have to factor everything into your decision: "How good is the pitcher?" "Have we seen him turn this around before?" "In what ways is he struggling?" And so much more.
Wednesday, we saw three examples of pitchers who just haven't been able to find it in the early going who provide three different conclusions to the "How do I react to a slow start?" question: Nick Pivetta, Yu Darvish, and James Paxton
- Pivetta (88% owned) can probably be dropped in 12-team leagues. The tools are still extremely impressive, and there's a reason he was a popular breakout this offseason. However, he still can't put it all together, struggling with his command and his ability to put hitters away. I wouldn't want to drop him, but if you can't start him right now — and with starts against the Mets and at Colorado next week, you can't — it might be hard to justify the roster spot.
- Darvish (91%) probably can't be dropped yet, but it's not a guarantee he'll make it to May, either. The veteran struggled last season with injuries and performance, and has looked abysmal so far. His velocity is down and hasn't been trending up, and he just hasn't been fooling anyone, with 10 strikeouts to 11 walks in 12 innings. You'll give him a few more starts to shake off the rust, but you can't start him until you do. And if his ERA is still about 6.00 around the end of April, you'll have to cut bait. You can't let this guy drag your season down.
- Paxton (98%) gets the longest leash. He's been extremely good in the past, and isn't coming off the kind of season-ruining injury Darvish is. You should gladly give him until at least mid-May before you really consider making any kind of change. His velocity has mostly been where you want it to be, and it looks like a bit of bad luck so far, thanks to a .436 BABIP. Are there reasons to be concerned? Sure; his fly ball tendencies may not play well in the AL East. But that was a concern coming in. We haven't learned anything new yet. Just breathe.
Five players to add on waivers
- Austin Meadows (76%) — I'm still not quite sure I believe in Meadows, but it's hard to argue with what he's doing right now. He's earning his production, as he's driving the ball all over the field and has raised his average exit velocity 4.6 mph, to 92.8.
- Daniel Vogelbach (44%) — When it comes to questions of whether a talented player who the team believes in will find playing time, I find it best to quote Dr. Ian Malcolm from Jurassic Park: "Life, uh, finds a way." Vogelbach doesn't have an obvious path to an assured full time role right now, and things could get even more crowded in the future when Ryon Healy and Kyle Seager get back. On the other hand, Jay Bruce left yesterday's game with an Achilles issue. It may not be serious, but, uh … life finds a way.
- Trevor Richards (61%) — We got the full Trevor Richards experience Wednesday night, as he struck out seven in six shutout innings against the Reds, with a 19.4% swinging strike rate while also walking five. He now has a 13.9 percent walk rate on the season. It'd be nice to see him fix that, but his fastball looks to have new life, and it's clear to see the potential if he really does have two plus whiff pitches now.
- Jesse Winker (59%) — The season numbers don't look great, and his ownership has plummeted thanks to a cold start, but Winker has homered in consecutive games now, and he's hitting the ball better overall than the results show. He'll catch up. Go get him now.
- Tyler Mahle (14%) — We've seen some nice stuff from Mahle in his first two starts, with a decent swinging strike rate and 12 strikeouts to four walks. Pittsburgh and Miami aren't the toughest matchups in the league, but he's worth a speculative add to see if he can build on this.
Winners and Losers
- Tyler Glasnow — As it turns out, Glasnow was just tinkering in the spring. He's been absolutely unhittable in the early going, striking out 32.8% of opposing hitters, with just three walks in 17 innings. There are few pitchers with more talent, and the Rays may have found themselves a second ace.
- Jose Altuve — With five homers in his first 13 games — after 13 in 137 a year ago —Altuve looks like he's back. Great news for those of you who took the chance on him.
- Clayton Kershaw — In two rehab starts, Kershaw struck out 12, walked two, and is now ready to make his season debut. That will come either Sunday against the Brewers or Monday against the Reds. Let's hope he gets the softer landing Monday.
- Jose Leclerc — There are no obvious signs of physical issues, as Leclerc is actually throwing harder than last season. Still, just three strikeouts in 23 batters faced isn't great, and neither is two poor performances in a row. He hit two batters, walked another, and recorded just one out on five hitters faced Wednesday. We'll keep watching him.
- Ross Stripling — It's going to be really interesting to see who comes out of the rotation for the Dodgers when they get healthy. Stripling hasn't been bad, per se, but his fastball velocity is down, and he isn't getting the kind of swinging strikes we saw from him last year. They won't have to make a decision when Kershaw is back, but it could come shortly thereafter. Let's see if Stripling can reach back and find something.
- Reynaldo Lopez — I want the breakout to come, but I just don't think it's going to happen. Lopez was rocked for eight runs by the Rays, and has now given up 18 in 13.1 innings, with 12 walks and 12 strikeouts. He still just doesn't bring much to the table besides a fastball, and even his velocity on that pitch has crept more toward the unremarkable. It's time to let it go.
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