Time to Worry About These Struggling Aces? Verlander, Price, Cole, Zimmerman and Miller
This week I will take a look at some really good starting pitchers who have not met our expectations. All of these guys were highly ranked and drafted early and their owners were depending on them to perform much better than they have thus far. We have now played more than 1/3 of the season, so if these guys are going to bounce back it is now or never. 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 nasty stats.
Justin Verlander — Yahoo preseason rank #10, current rank #263 among SP
6-5 Record, 61 Ks in 86 innings, 4.19 ERA, 1.47 WHIP
Unfortunately Verlander’s struggles are more than just a slow start. His strikeout and walk rates have deteriorated badly, in fact his K%-BB% is a pathetic 6.9%. Considering that is just about the most important stat for a pitcher it is officially time to be very worried about Justin Verlander. The league average K%-BB% is 12.6% and Verlander has been in the 15-21% range in recent seasons, so you can see just how dramatic his deterioration has been this year. His xFIP is 4.72 and indicates he is fortunate that his ERA is not even worse than it is. Verlander’s fastball velocity has continued its gradual slide and is now down 2 full mph from its high of 96.4 in 2009. But his fastball is still a very fast 94.2 mph this year, so that by itself doesn’t explain the dropoff in his performance. Perhaps he has not fully recovered from the offseason surgery he had to repair his core abdominal muscles. Over the last several seasons Verlander has averaged over 250 innings including the playoffs, perhaps the unusually heavy workload has taken its toll on his arm. Verlander’s swinging strike rate has declined this year, and hitters are swinging at fewer of his pitches — especially pitches outside of the strike zone, which are the ones he wants batters to swing at. His first pitch strike rate has fallen, which has resulted in him falling behind in the count on a regular basis. He has also been hesitant to challenge hitters inside, preferring to pitch away more often than in the past.
So what should we expect from Verlander for the rest of the season? He has been such a great pitcher for such a long time that it is hard to think he has suddenly lost it all. There haven’t been any whisperings of injury, nor has there been any sudden drop in velocity. If Verlander is healthy I believe he will make some adjustments and improve his underlying peripheral stats and hence improve his fantasy performance as well. He probably won’t return to the Cy Young level of absolute dominance we have grown accustomed to, but he will be a very valuable member of your fantasy rotation. His poor stats have eroded his fantasy trade value to the point where you are likely better off keeping him and using him only against weak hitting teams until he gets his ship in order. Verdict: Trade him if you can get full value for him, otherwise use him only for good matchups until such time as he regains his former effectiveness.
David Price — Yahoo preseason rank #12, current rank #47 among SP
4-5 Record, 101 Ks in 91 innings, 4.03 ERA, 1.17 WHIP
Price has not really struggled per se, but his fantasy stats don’t look nearly as good as they have throughout his stellar career. His ERA and WHIP are elevated and he has a losing record, but other than that his underlying component and peripheral stats are spectacular. His xFIP is 2.72 while his SIERA is 2.63, and that is a great indication that his ERA will improve dramatically as the season goes on. Price’s K%-BB% of 24.0% is by far the best of his career. He is suffering some bad luck in the form of a fluky home run rate, an elevated .332 BABIP and a slightly unlucky strand rate as well. Despite his unattractive ERA and WHIP he is actually pitching better than he ever has. David Price makes a great trade target right now. Verdict: One of the most elite pitchers in baseball.
Gerrit Cole — Yahoo preseason rank #14, current rank #60 among SP
6-3 Record, 69 Ks in 72 innings, 3.64 ERA, 1.30 WHIP
Cole hasn’t pitched badly but he hasn’t lived up to his preseason rankings. Compared to last year his WHIP has gone up quite a bit, but everything else is pretty much the same. The reason he hasn’t met expectations is because the expectations were set too high. People were expecting him to take a big leap forward this year and that hasn’t happened yet. He is an inexperienced 23 year old who is still learning his craft. Cole’s peripherals suggest he is a solidly above average major league starting pitcher right now, which is actually pretty darn impressive considering his age. At 96.73 mph Cole’s fastball is the 4th fastest in baseball among starting pitchers (behind only Yordano Ventura, Nathan Eovaldi and Garrett Richards). I fully expect Cole to steadily improve over the next several years. He will be one of the best pitchers in the league during his prime. Verdict: The Real Deal. Build your team around him.
Jordan Zimmerman — Yahoo preseason rank #18, current rank #92 among SP
4-2 Record, 54 Ks in 67 innings, 3.59 ERA, 1.37 WHIP
Zimmerman’s troubles are caused primarily by a very unlucky .349 BABIP, which is 55 points higher than his career average. Those extra hits have led to an inflated 1.37 WHIP which is much higher than his 1.16 career WHIP prior to this season. All of his other component stats are the same as or better than his career rates. As the season progresses we can expect his WHIP to be much better and his ERA to stabilize in the 3.40 range. Don’t expect a repeat of the 19-9 record Zimmerman put up last year. 13-16 Wins is more realistic. He came into this season slightly overrated due to the inflated Wins total. Zimmerman doesn’t strike out a ton of batters but he won’t hurt you in the category either. He is a groundball pitcher who doesn’t give up many homers. Moving forward, Zimmerman should be considered among the best 20-30 starting pitchers and a valuable member of any fantasy pitching staff. Verdict: The Real Deal. Reliable stalwart rotation anchor. Good trade target.
Shelby Miller — Yahoo preseason rank #22, current rank #106 among SP
6-5 Record, 48 Ks in 68 innings, 4.06 ERA, 1.43 WHIP
Miller has taken a huge step backward in his development this season. His strikeout rate has plummeted to 6.29 K/9 while his walk rate has jumped up to 4.33 BB/9. Those have combined to drop his K%-BB% from last year’s nice 15.5% to this year’s awful 5.1%. It is impossible to be a successful major league pitcher with a K%-BB% that poor. It can’t be done. His 1.43 WHIP is horrific. His 4.69 xFIP and 4.82 SIERA indicate his bad 4.06 ERA is about to get much worse. Miller’s fastball velocity is holding steady at 94.3 mph and he hasn’t made any significant changes in his pitch usage or repertoire. Hitters have been teeing off on his offspeed pitches all year. The whiff percentage on his fastball has been cut by half. He is not fooling anyone right now. The Cardinals have a wealth of excellent starting pitcher options, so I would not be at all surprised if they demoted the 23 year old Miller back to AAA for awhile to hone his craft. I still like Miller a lot for the future, but I strongly recommend you avoid using him in your starting rotation until further notice. Miller has gone into extended pitching slumps before, notably in 2012 when he was awful in the 1st half in AAA, then dominant in the 2nd half. After being promoted to the majors in September that year he pitched very well in some key pennant-race games for the Cardinals late in the season. Miller will sort it all out and become a very good pitcher in the long run, but right now he should definitely not be used in fantasy. Verdict: Future Star, but keep him on your bench until he makes major improvements.
If you are wondering about any other pitchers (or hitters too) or would like to share your thoughts about your fantasy team, shoot me a comment below or hit me up on Twitter (@BlazingFastba11) and I will give you my opinion.