This week, we are coming at you faster and harder than a Rougned Odor right hand, as we take a look at some starting pitchers who entered the season highly ranked, yet are currently off to a slow start.
When we are looking at these struggling pitchers, we need to dig beneath the surface numbers to really see what is going on. You have to consider more than just their ERA and WHIP. It is imperative that you consider things such as changes in velocity and the batted ball profile, along with their strikeout and walk rates.
We will use Yahoo rankings as our guide. All of the mentioned pitchers had a preseason ranking within the Top 50 overall players. However, thanks to their slow starts, they all currently ranked outside the Top 50.
For all the hurlers, especially the veteran ones, it pays to consider their recent body of work. Using only the 2016 sample size of roughly 40 innings pitched needs to be put into context with what they did last year and over their entire career to date.
After our analysis, we will conclude with a recommendation with what to do with these struggling studs that are off to a slow start.
Slow Start; Starting Pitcher Edition!
Matt Harvey, New York Mets
Harvey has not been his usual dominant self so far in 2016. His strikeout rate (K/9) is just over eight, which would be the lowest of his career, while his walk rate (BB/9) is over two and a half. This puts his K-BB% at 13.9-percent which ranks 49th among qualified starters, a far cry from the 20-percent mark he posted last year which was 11th best in all of baseball.
At first glance, Harvey appears to have been unlucky given his BABIP and LOB%; however, once you see his elevated line drive rate you could conclude that bad luck has not been the issue.
A velocity dip of roughly two MPH could be the source of his slow start, but you also have to consider that in his second to last start he had his best velocity of the year and that coincided with his best start in 2016. However, in his last start, his velocity was his lowest recorded all year and he was hit hard by the Rockies.
For now, given the uncertainty regarding his velocity, Harvey is nothing more than a hold. If his velocity is indeed on the comeback trail then you need to be buying Harvey with both hands. There is enough evidence with respect to his first pitch strike rate and swinging strike rate to suggest that a significant recovery in his K-BB% would occur with a velocity recovery.
In that scenario, expect a rest of season ERA close to 3.00 and a WHIP under 1.10, which would make his slow start all but forgotten.
Zack Greinke, Arizona Diamondbacks
Greinke signed a mega-contract and came to the desert following his great, if not lucky, season with the Dodgers. To be honest, I was expecting a relatively poor year based on park factors and regression. So far in 2016, Greinke has been a huge disappointment to say the least.
Greinke owners have found out the hard way that Lady Luck can both giveth and taketh away. With most of his peripherals in line with his season last year, Greinke’s slow start in terms of ERA and WHIP seem to be directly tied to his unlucky BABIP and LOB%. Obviously a small sample, but when you look at his home/road splits you see a home ERA of 7.28 and a road ERA of 2.25.
It is tough for me to buy low on Greinke, even when you consider his slow start, since I felt he was so overpriced as we headed into 2016. His headline numbers do not tell the full story, as under-the-hood, his 2016 season to date does not look too far off from last year.
I expect a rest of season ERA around 3.50 with a WHIP that hovers near 1.20. Those would be good, but not great numbers, and probably worse than what most Fantasy owners were expecting coming into the season.
Dallas Keuchel, Houston Astros
The defending AL CY Young winner has stumbled out of the gates so far in 2016. While he has maintained most of his strikeout gains from last year, his walk rate is precisely double his 2015 rate. For what it is worth, a material drop in his first strike rate has not accompanied Keuchel’s increase in his walk rate.
Keuchel appears to have been a tad unlucky over his eight starts in 2016. A BABIP of .349 and LOB% of 67.1-percent both seem likely to regress. His batted ball profile looks quite similar to last year, except for a significantly higher hard hit rate. This could be due to a slight dip in velocity; however, Keuchel’s velocity has improved since his first few starts. It also seems doubtful that he will continue to allow a batting average of .353 and BABIP of .410 with runners in scoring position.
With the loss of some bad luck and a likely fall in his walk rate, Keuchel should return to form in the near future, putting his slow start in the rearview mirror. The velocity decline is a little concerning and bears monitoring, but the path seems to be on the right track. If the Keuchel owner in your league is worried, be their savior and take him off their hands. In terms of a rest of season projections, I think an ERA slightly over 3.00 with a WHIP around 1.15 feels about right.
Chris Archer, Tampa Bay Rays
Archer has followed up last year’s breakout campaign with little more than a dud so far in 2016. Never known for his pinpoint control, Archer’s Fantasy owners have seen his walk rate increase up to a career high mark of 4.36 BB/9. Offsetting the free passes, Archer has also managed to post a career best strikeout rate of 11.22 K/9.
Another source of Archer’s slow start has to do with an elevated line drive rate and hard hit rate. Both marks would be career worsts, and they have led to an inflated BABIP of .342 and a HR/FB rate of 23.5-percent. He needs to produce much weaker contact to get back on track this year.
Archer’s increase in his walk rate seems to be tied to his career low first strike rate. Given his track record, I would assume that he is able to rectify this issue and start off more hitters with a 0-1 count as we go through the season. Given his elite strikeout rate and fixable issues, I think Archer makes for a good buy low candidate. Expect a rest of season ERA of roughly 3.50 combined with a WHIP of 1.20.
Thanks to a slow start out of the gates, these four aces have not produced at the level that their Fantasy owners expected. Due to varying degrees, I expect all four to get back on track and perform as the studs that we all expected them to be. Remember, Fantasy Baseball is a dynamic creature; we need to look forward, but at the same time use the past as our guide. Next week, we will take a look at a few pitchers off to a hot start. Until then, enjoy the games!
Data courtesy of www.fangraphs.com
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