Admit it: You're worried about your starting pitchers, right?
Plenty of that going around. In fact, chances are you clicked on this article hoping I'd reassure you about four or five of your guys.
But you have to be reasonable about what you've seen so far. The season just started. Most pitchers have made only two starts, some three. With so little padding, it only takes one misstep to hang a crooked number, and I would argue that missteps are even more likely this time of year. Pitchers are still transitioning out of spring training mode. They're still getting a feel for their secondary pitches. They're still building up their pitch counts.
What you're feeling right now is typical. It happens every year, and most pitchers turn out fine. But some don't.
So let's look at 12 of the most concerning so far and gauge whether our concerns are well-founded. I'll use a color scheme to reflect my own level of concern, green being low, yellow being moderate and red being high concern. Why not just say low, moderate and high instead of green, yellow and red? Because I'm not a killjoy, unlike you.
If you don't see one of your pitchers here, it can go without saying that I'm not concerned. I'm sorry Kenta Maeda and Aaron Nola haven't knocked you off your feet yet, but they have a 3.07 ERA and 3.45 ERA, respectively. We have bigger fish to fry.
Max Scherzer SP
WAS Washington • #31 • Age: 36
Max Scherzer went from allowing four homers in his first start to throwing 2 MPH slower in his second, so while his overall output has been solid enough, there's anxiety welling beneath the surface. He's always been prone to the long ball and piled up a ton of whiffs in that first start against the Braves, so it's more the velocity in his second start, his lowest for any start since 2015, that has me concerned. We'll find out soon enough if it was just a one-start blip and if it's something he can continue to survive without.
CIN Cincinnati • #58 • Age: 28
Luis Castillo's velocity was way down on opening day, when he was pitching in near-freezing temperatures, but it's been much better in his past two starts, resulting in a 3.00 ERA. His changeup remains one of the game's best swing-and-miss pitches, and most notable of all is that he's thrown 69.4 percent of his pitches for strikes, up from 65 percent last year. Walks have been the one drawback for a pitcher who's usually among the best in the league in ground-ball rate and swinging-strike rate.
STL St. Louis • #22 • Age: 25
Technically, Jack Flaherty has had only one poor outing in three, but a point of concern through all of them has been -- you guessed it -- velocity. His fastball averaged no more than 93.2 mph in any of those starts, and it's impacting his effectiveness. His swinging-strike rate is 11.7 percent, down from 14.3 last year and 13.5 for his career. Factor in some efficiency issues, plus the incentive for the Cardinals to preserve his arm after the short 2020, and there's reason to doubt he'll live up to his second-round ADP.
LAD L.A. Dodgers • #21 • Age: 26
Have I mentioned something or other about velocity yet? Walker Buehler's decrease might be the most alarming of all given how reliant he on his fastball. He's down 1.7 mph from a year ago, and it can be traced back to spring training. It's led to a 6.1 percent swinging-strike rate that would have ranked dead last among qualifiers last year, and his 4.69 xERA doesn't inspire much confidence either. The results have been fine so far, but something has to give, right? At least he's already gone six innings twice, more than all of last year.
Blake Snell SP
SD San Diego • #4 • Age: 28
Blake Snell got knocked around by the Pirates, of all teams, Tuesday and wasn't even allowed to complete the first inning. It was the most exaggerated in a string of early exits that dates back to July 2019, the last time he went six innings in a start. That's the real concern -- that he'll fail to deliver on a workload befitting a pitcher his stature -- rather than whatever went wrong Tuesday. He's throwing as hard as ever, missing bats like always and clearly isn't suffering from any loss of skill.
WAS Washington • #37 • Age: 32
Stephen Strasburg has spent most of his career throwing his fastball 95-96 mph, so it was already concerning to see it average 92.7 in his first start, albeit over six one-hit innings. Seeing it drop to 90.6 in his second start Tuesday, though, complete all the damage that ensued, might have made you feel like all hope was lost. Strasburg explained it by saying his mechanics were so out of whack that he had to slow down just to locate, and his five walks would suggest velocity wasn't his only problem. A mechanical issue is preferable to a health issue, but the explanation seems a little too simple.
Zach Plesac SP
CLE Cleveland • #34 • Age: 26
One of Zach Plesac's problems Wednesday was that he ran into the buzz saw that is Yermin Mercedes, but there's been a lot of weirdness from him across three starts. His first two starts, both quality efforts, gave him a nice ERA cushion, but he had five swinging strikes in the first compared to 18 in the second. What's weirder is he was facing Detroit both times. His fastball velocity was slightly down at the start of the year but has gotten worse with each start, and he's back to using it more after shying away last year. So it's a mix of good and bad, but he clearly has something to prove still.
Max Fried SP
ATL Atlanta • #54 • Age: 27
Yes, he just landed on the IL with a hamstring injury, but since the Braves are hopeful he'll miss only one start, I'm not factoring it into my concern level for Max Fried. As for his performance, it sounds like the issue is mostly mechanical, him rushing through his delivery and not hitting his spots as a result. His velocity and swinging-strike rate are actually up this year, so there's no reason to believe his arm or stuff is compromised. He may have been a little overrated in the first place, but he'll be fine.
OAK Oakland • #44 • Age: 23
It looks like Jesus Luzardo got it in his head somehow that he needs to be throwing his fastballs two-thirds of the time instead of one-half because that's exactly what he's done so far. The problem is that his fastballs yielded a slugging percentage over .550 last year, and more predictability isn't going to make it any better. Presumably, it's because it's early in the season and he just doesn't have a feel for his secondary pitches yet. If I'm all over this, you have to figure the Athletics coaching staff is, too.
SD San Diego • #59 • Age: 25
Here he is, numero uno on the list of "most concerning" given the level of investment you have in him. I think most of us chalked up Chris Paddack's sophomore struggles to 2020 weirdness, especially amid reports this spring of him tweaking his delivery to regain the rising action on his fastball. But through two starts, the spin rate is still lagging, and his changeup is only as good as the fastball that counters it. Maybe those delivery tweaks are a work in progress, but he's a sit until he shows clear improvement.
WAS Washington • #46 • Age: 31
I don't mean to harp on velocity again, but Patrick Corbin's continued struggles with it make him the most open-and-shut case on this list. When he lost 2 mph off his fastball last year, he went from being a borderline ace to literally the most hittable pitcher in the game, but you might have blamed it on the unconventional 2020 buildup. Through one start this year, though, it's more of the same, with results just as discouraging. Let's give him another start or two just be extra super-duper sure, but I'm thinking this one ends in a drop.
Corey Kluber SP
NYY N.Y. Yankees • #28 • Age: 35
Our collective faith in Corey Kluber coming off back-to-back lost seasons seemed like it was misplaced after two starts in which he struggled to throw 90 mph and lacked his trademark command. But Wednesday's outing against the Blue Jays showed why we shouldn't throw in the towel on him yet. The results still weren't great, only elevating his ERA and WHIP, but he was peaking at 93 instead of 91 and took better advantage of the movement of his pitches, recording 15 whiffs. Let's just wait a little longer.