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A big part of why we often suggest waiting on pitchers in Fantasy drafts is that there are just so many of them. Because every team has to start five and the league landscape has shifted to be more conducive to big pitching numbers, it just isn't that hard to find help; it's a deep position.
But another big part is just how frustratingly unpredictable pitchers are on a yearly basis. Hitters are dealing with 150-plus game sample sizes so their hot and cold streaks tend to even out. Pitchers, on the other hand, have just 30 or so opportunities, with means a bad five-game stretch can really skew things.
More than that, pitchers are just prone to seemingly random fluctuations in performance on a start-by-start, month-by-month or year-by-year basis. Studs will fall off without much notice, to be replaced by fringe starters who develop one killer pitch and explode onto the scene.
Let's take a look at some of the biggest pitching names from around the league who have gotten off to slow starts, and what they might mean for Fantasy owners' expectations moving forward.
Max Scherzer, Nationals (No. 14 ADP)
Scherzer is still striking out tons of batters. His control has been fine, though reaching the extremes of last season was always going to be a bit unrealistic; his 2.4 BB/9 mark is more than one walk per nine higher than last season, but right in line with previously established career norms otherwise. Homers have been the issue for him, which really shouldn't come as much of a surprise given that Scherzer is a fly-ball pitcher. It also isn't really a reason to be concerned, because Scherzer has managed to be one of the best pitchers in baseball over the years in spite of occasional long-ball issues. He keeps runners off the bases and typically has a high strand rate thanks to the volume of strikeouts, so the homers tend to come with the bases empty. Scherzer had a stretch last season where he allowed 11 homers in 34 innings over six starts, so this is hardly unprecedented. The ERA will eventually return below 3.00, so don't worry. At all.
David Price, Red Sox (No. 26 ADP)
Is Price fixed? He has allowed just three runs on 11 hits and two walks over his past two starts, while racking up 17 strikeouts in 14 innings. Pretty good! Of course, his previous two starts saw him give up 12 runs in 11 2/3 innings, so it may not be proof of anything just yet. Still, the Red Sox made some minor mechanical adjustments to Price's delivery that have coincided with his return to form over the last two starts, which should be enough proof to buy in, given his track record.
Zack Greinke, Diamondbacks (No. 32 ADP)
Greinke was the most obvious regression candidate in baseball coming off his 1.66 ERA, so that might be why there hasn't been as much panic about his start as someone like Dallas Keuchel or David Price, among others. It's kind of amazing how similar his peripherals are from one year to the next, though:
2014: 8.08 K/9, 1.62 BB/9, 48.0 GB%2015: 8.07 K/9, 1.81 BB/9, 47.2 GB%
In at least some of the key ways we measure pitching, Greinke has been roughly the same guy as year's past, and his xFIP bears that out; he had a 3.22 mark last season and a 3.34 this season. Greinke has, of course, been much better in his last five starts than his first five, posting a 3.17 ERA with 9.0 K/9, and those seem like reasonable numbers to expect from the veteran moving forward. Not an ace, but a very valuable option over the course of 220-plus innings of work.
Matt Harvey, Mets (No. 34 ADP)
There isn't much more to say about Harvey, who was covered in detail Friday. With no reports of any nagging injuries, it's hard to say what might be wrong with him. Let's see how his next few starts go.
Corey Kluber, Indians (No. 35 ADP)
We probably have to accept that the version of Kluber we saw in 2014 just isn't coming back. He struggled with bouts of inconsistency last season and that trend has continued this year. And Kluber's strikeout rate has fallen for the second straight year, giving him a 17.9 K-BB%,more in line with what he produced in 2013. He was a decent pitcher that season, sporting a 3.30 FIP, however Kluber has also now posted an ERA at least a half run worse than his FIP in three of his four full seasons in the majors, so that might be something we have to expect moving forward. Kluber won't have an ERA above 4.00 for long, but he might have trouble getting back under 3.00, too.
Dallas Keuchel, Astros (No. 42 ADP)
Because he came relatively out of nowhere as a ground-ball pitcher without big swing-and-miss stuff, it might be easier to believe Keuchel has simply lost it. Fantasy owners may be inclined to believe Keuchel's meteoric rise is going to end the same way most meteors do -- with a crash. I'm not sure I buy that, but we're seeing the limitations of Keuchel's approach, based as much as it is on a sure-handed defense and guile on the mound. Even in his big breakout strikeout season, Keuchel's swinging strike rate was just 10.3 percent. He got by with a big looking strike rate, thanks to an extremely low swing rate of 37.6 percent. Opposing batters have seemingly traded some swings outside of the strike zone for swings on pitches inside of the zone, and that probably isn't a good tradeoff for Keuchel because he relies so much on inducing weak contact. He has tried to compensate for this by throwing more cutters, in an attempt to garner more swings and misses, but opposing hitters are crushing that pitch, with an ISO of .286 against it. There is still room for Keuchel to improve, but it's hard to see Keuchel improving enough to really be an ace again.
Chris Archer, Rays (No. 50 ADP)
Archer's slider has been his signature pitch, and it helped fuel his big breakout last season, but he wasn't just a one-pitch pitcher. His fastball and changeup were both enough to keep batters honest, rating out as at least major-league average pitches, but that hasn't been the case this season. His fastball has been called a ball 45.3 percent of the time he has thrown it, up from 38.6 percent last season. The rate for his changeup has similarly risen from 32.6 percent last season to 39.8 percent so far. Archer's control and command have both been an issue. H is issuing more walks and simply giving up more hittable pitches than last season. He still has huge swing-and-miss stuff, and might be just a few tweaks away from righting the ship, but it's fair to be a bit concerned at this point.
Sonny Gray, Athletics (No. 67 ADP)
At least with Gray, we have an injury as a possible explanation for his struggles. He was placed on the disabled list with a strained right trapezius injury. The injury wasn't impacting Gray's velocity, but maybe it can help explain why his control was so poor; his walk rate increased from 7.1 percent to 10.8 this season. The best-case scenario is Gray is simply that he was trying to pitch through a nagging injury, and will look a lot more like himself once he gets healthy.
Adam Wainwright, Cardinals (No. 70 ADP)
None of Wainwright's pitches are working right now. According to FanGraphs.com, his best pitch has been his cutter so far this season, and it is barely an average pitch overall. The rest of his pitches have been net negatives, and each has been worse than in years' past. Wainwright has looked better at times lately, with a quality start in three of his four May starts, but only one of those starts really qualifies as "good." He has more than eight swinging strikes in just one of his first nine starts, and just doesn't look like much more than an average pitcher in the best-case scenario. I'm not sure Wainwright is much more than a streaming option at this point.
Michael Wacha, Cardinals (No. 101 ADP)
The better question might be: "Why didn't we notice Wacha's regression last season?" His 3.38 ERA and 17 wins might have hidden the fact that Wacha's DIPS all indicated he was a worse pitcher in his first full season than in his 19 starts in 2014. His FIP was 3.87, and his xFIP was 3.88, and his SIERA was 4.02, nearly a full run worse than his ERA. In a lot of ways, Wacha has been largely the same pitcher as last season, with strikeout, walk and groundball rates that are all well within spitting distance of where they ended up last season, so it's probably fair to wonder if Wacha is just more of a high-3.00's ERA than anything else.