It's true that a lack of starting pitching hasn't been the problem in Fantasy Baseball so far, but some of the pitchers putting up the best numbers are the kind no one saw coming.
It's made for a sort of inversion of the pitcher rankings wherein some of the biggest investments at the position are causing some of the most problems.
I've identified eight for whom this inversion would apply, and if you've suffered with them to this point, you're probably wondering if you should continue to do so or just cut your losses and accept that not every investment is going to work out.
We're still early enough in the season that I would suspect all eight rebound to some degree, maybe even a large one. But odds are that a couple of them won't. Some players just go bust.
And so I'm offering up my level of concern for each by way of a stoplight analogy. Green indicates a low level of concern, yellow moderate, and red high. To further clarify, red doesn't necessarily refer to the worst of these pitchers but the ones whose present conditions I'm most concerned will be permanent.
I know what you're thinking: I could've just listed my concern level as low, moderate or high rather than green, yellow or red. But who doesn't love a good stoplight analogy, right?
CHW Chi. White Sox • #27 • Age: 26
Lucas Giolito technically has just one quality start in seven chances. He's also getting hit harder while having a lower swinging strike rate than in past years. It's one of those situations, though, where just a single start's worth of data could change our entire perception of his season. Take out that one-inning disaster at Boston four turns ago, and his ERA drops to 2.86. Take out his last start, with its unusually low swinging strike total, and his rate climbs to higher than during his breakout 2019. His 3.57 xFIP is lower than it was that year, too, so I'm inclined to think nothing is wrong, aside from maybe some efficiency issues.
CIN Cincinnati • #58 • Age: 28
You could understand Luis Castillo's struggles back when his velocity was lagging, but even with it mostly back now, his effectiveness has only decreased. Granted, he's never been a model of consistency, but when he struggled in the past, it wasn't due to a lack of stuff. He hasn't had another stretch in his career like his past three starts, in which he delivered a combined 16 swinging strikes. HIs changeup is his everything, and it just hasn't been there for him. Maybe it's the sort of thing where he regains the feel one day and is completely fixed, but we're seeing he's not even usable without it.
Blake Snell SP
SD San Diego • #4 • Age: 28
Including the postseason, it's now been 27 starts since Blake Snell last went six innings on July 21, 2019. That's kind of important. Even in leagues that don't directly reward quality starts, it goes a long way toward determining whether he gets the win. But then, there's the question of how often he would deserve to win anyway. In 41 starts since his Cy Young-winning 2018 season (regular season only now), he has a 3.99 ERA and 1.29 WHIP. Control has become a major issue, and his whiff rate is no longer among the best in the league. If you can't count on him for standout ratios, those short starts are harder to stomach.
Zack Greinke SP
HOU Houston • #21 • Age: 37
Zack Greinke got a pass for his disappointing 2020, but peripherally, he's looking worse this time around. And he's searching, tweaking his pitch mix from start to start -- at one point claiming he would ditch his slider only to turn back to it. Still, there isn't a glaring red flag, just some subtle indications he's beginning to fade at age 37, so I'm mostly on board with the idea he'll tighten things up and see his numbers normalize. But what does normalize even mean in a year when the standard for a quality starting pitcher is changing. Can a contact-oriented guy like Greinke even be more than mid-tier?
Dylan Bundy SP
LAA L.A. Angels • #37 • Age: 28
My experience as someone with multiple shares of Dylan Bundy has been "yeah, quality start machine ... good pick," so it's shocking for me to see him with an ERA over 5.00 fresh off one of his few non-quality starts. It's also shocking to see him without a win despite having five quality starts. That's the epitome of bad luck, of course, but it looks to me like he's had bad luck all the way around. His gains have largely carried over from last year -- if anything, his fastball is livelier this time around -- and his 3.56 xFIP and 3.04 xERA are both actually lower than his 2020 marks.
Kenta Maeda SP
MIN Minnesota • #18 • Age: 33
At first glance, it doesn't seem like Kenta Maeda's latest outing, in which he allowed three earned runs in five innings with three strikeouts, did anything to restore confidence. Of his 10 swinging strikes, though, six came on the splitter. It was his most effective pitch last year but hadn't even come close to the same whiff rate this year. Tuesday's start was the first to suggest he's regaining the feel for it. Everything else seems fairly normal, from the velocity to the pitch selection to the control. His near 25 percent home run-to-fly ball rate is an absurdity and will come down even faster if he starts missing bats like he's capable.
CHC Chi. Cubs • #28 • Age: 31
He's verging on red just because he's rendered himself unstartable for the time being, but when you dive into the numbers, you don't arrive at anything that's greatly out of sorts. Most notable is the drop in ground-ball rate, but seeing as his pitches haven't fundamentally changed, it's probably just a matter of locating. My theory for Kyle Hendricks is that his lack of pure stuff requires his location to be impeccable, and when it's not, things go really wrong. I'll trust in the track record over the long haul, but as with Greinke, it's not so clear that pitch-to-contact types like him are even capable of standing out in today's environment.
ATL Atlanta • #50 • Age: 37
Charlie Morton may be the unluckiest pitcher in baseball so far. His 4.74 ERA last year mostly had to do with him pitching through shoulder inflammation at the start. From the time he returned from the injury through the end of the playoffs, though, he had a 3.48 ERA with 10.5 K/9. His velocity has been just fine from the start this year. His 3.58 xFIP is more or less in line with his Astros days, and his 3.75 xERA is about there, too. Really, it's the 19.2 percent home run-to-fly ball rate that most stands out, about double what it's been the past two years. Normalization is coming there.