Ace Pitchers Shot Down in Flames, Time to Panic?
This young season we are seeing a lot of top pitchers get off to terrible starts. Its scary as Hell when your ace pitcher’s stat line is as bloody as a scene from a Quentin Tarantino movie. Stephen Strasburg, R.A. Dickey and Danny Salazar may be crushing your team’s championship hopes, but at least they are not on the overloaded conveyor belt into Dr. James Andrews’ operating room.
This week I will take a look at a set of really good starting pitchers who have gotten off to terrible starts here in 2014. All of these guys were drafted early and expected to perform much better than they have thus far. Who will bounce back and who really does suck? Let’s figure out which of these guys you should try to dump and which of them you should trade for while their owners in your league are panicking over their putrid April.
Homer Bailey — 0-1 record, 8.16 ERA, 2.02 WHIP (Yahoo Rank: #1323)
Bailey’s horrific stats can be laid squarely on the home run ball. He has already given up 6 longballs in only 14 innings, which is a clearly unsustainable 90 homer pace for a full season. He has also been victimized by a terribly unlucky .429 BABIP. Homer has struck out a very nice 17 batters in those 14 innings against only 5 walks. His average fastball velocity is 94.2 so he hasn’t lost anything and he is not injured. Bailey’s ERA may be 8.16 but his xFIP is 2.69 and his SIERA is 3.04, so his component stats and his peripherals are actually excellent. We can expect Bailey’s stats to rapidly improve from here on out. Verdict: Go get him now!
R.A. Dickey — 1-3 record, 6.26 ERA, 1.65 WHIP (Yahoo Rank: #1317)
Dickey’s ugly stat line is pretty much his own fault. He is just walking way too many batters, giving up 15 free passes in 23 innings is a recipe for disaster. The knuckleballer will likely get those walks under control somewhat, but I don’t think he is ever going to have another Cy Young type season again. During that 2012 season everything just came together perfectly for him and those planets are not going to align again. He is going to be a mediocre fantasy pitcher moving forward. If you own him try to trade him after he puts a couple good games together. Verdict: Avoid
Danny Salazar — 0-2 record, 7.71 ERA, 1.93 WHIP (Yahoo Rank: #1314)
Salazar is experiencing the combined plight of both Bailey and Dickey above. Like Bailey, the Indians’ flamethrower has been victimized by an extremely unlucky home run rate and a .405 BABIP which should revert to a more normal level very soon. That is the good part. Like Dickey, Salazar is simply walking far too many batters to be successful. In addition, his trademark fastball velocity has fallen by more than 2 mph. That is a red flag for his health. It is possible that his mechanics are so out of whack that it has ruined his control and his speed. The good news is he is still striking out a ton of batters. Keep a close eye on Salazar, if he is able to get that velocity back up to 95+mph while avoiding walks over his next few starts then I love his prospects for a stellar year. If not, you might be wise to sell him for what you can get before he hits the disabled list or gets demoted to the bullpen or the minor leagues. Verdict: Hold him, but keep him on your bench until the dust settles.
Clay Buchholz — 0-1 record, 5.51 ERA, 1.71 WHIP (Yahoo Rank: #1259)
Buchholz is another guy being hurt by an unsustainably bad home run rate and an unlucky .400 BABIP. His strikeout and walk rates are very good. His velocity is slightly down but nothing to worry about this early in the season for a guy who is not a fireballer anyway. Moving forward, the oft-injured Buchholz should deliver very good performances for as long as he remains healthy. Verdict: Use him if you have him, target him if you don’t.
Tim Lincecum — 0-1 record, 7.20 ERA, 1.40 WHIP (Yahoo Rank: #967)
Lincecum is off to another terrible start. That makes three years in a row. But unlike the last two years when Timmy was walking too many batters, this year he has allowed only one base on balls over his first 15 innings. Very nice. He is still striking out a ton of batters with 17 already. He has given up 5 homers in the early going, but that shouldn’t be a long term problem playing in San Francisco. His .349 BABIP should likewise get much better. Lincecum still hasn’t regained any of the velocity he has lost over recent seasons. The jury is still out on Lincecum to some extent. If he has truly improved his control he could be a usable spot starter in fantasy leagues but will never be a stud again. Verdict: Use him as a spot starter against weak teams in pitchers’ parks, trade him if you can find a buyer.
Corey Kluber — 1-1 record, 5.40 ERA, 1.68 WHIP (Yahoo Rank: #922)
Kluber was a hot sleeper pick this Spring. He had a breakout season at the age of 27 last year and many experts (and me) predicted big things for Kluber this year. Even though his stats look bad so far this year, his strikeout rate and walk rate look just as good as they did last year. Kluber’s FIP, xFIP and SIERA are all a full two runs better than his ERA, which means good things are on the way. His troubles can all be blamed on his unlucky .411 BABIP. I still think Kluber will be a good quality option for your fantasy team for several years. Verdict: Buy low in all leagues.
Stephen Strasburg — 1-2 record, 6.00 ERA, 1.57 WHIP (Yahoo Rank: #851)
Strasburg has taken a beating so far this year, but he is still one of the best 5 pitchers in baseball. Don’t ever worry about Strasburg’s performance. The only worry with Strasburg is the health of his arm. If he is on the mound you can confidently expect him to dominate any opponent. All of his component and peripheral stats are stellar. This guy is a great pitcher and his .396 BABIP will fall below .300 soon. Relax. Verdict: Elite ace, if you have a chance to get him DO IT!
Jered Weaver — 0-2 record, 5.79 ERA, 1.13 WHIP (Yahoo Rank: #845)
Weaver is a strange case of mixed omens. His HR rate has been unlucky, but his extraordinarily low .200 BABIP has been very fortunate. Weaver has actually been striking out more batters than he has in prior seasons, but is that a real bump or an anomaly? I’m guessing anomaly because his fastball is softer than ever and he has never been an elite strikeout artist. Weaver is one of a handful of pitchers who have been able to consistently perform better than their peripherals indicate they should. Weaver’s career 3.27 ERA is much better than his 3.70 FIP, 4.10 xFIP and 3.95 SIERA. Some of this is due to his home ballpark, which is friendly to pitchers. Weaver has a stellar career 2.69 ERA at home and a pedestrian 3.85 ERA on the road. The Oliver projection system foresees Weaver being able to continue his ace-level performance for several more years. Verdict: Keep using him, but don’t play him on the road against top offenses. Stay aware of his trade value and move him if you get a strong offer.
If you have any questions about other pitchers who have gotten off to really bad or really good starts ask them in the comments section below. All questions answered!