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Should You Buy Low on These 5 Struggling Ace Pitchers?

There is a surprisingly large group of ace pitchers who turned in dismal performances in April. These are guys whose fantasy owners were counting on them to anchor their rotations. The question now is if we should pounce on these guys while their owners are panicking or if we should steer clear of a sinking ship.

Stephen Strasburg, Nationals — 4.60 ERA, 1.57 WHIP, 2-2 Record, 30 Strikeouts in 29 innings

Strasburg came into the season as a consensus top 5 pitcher in baseball but is currently ranked as the #1028 overall player in Yahoo 5×5 leagues, which means he has returned negative value to his fantasy owners and ranks below pitchers who have not even played yet this year. His WHIP is awful, but it is mostly due to a freakishly high .402 BABIP. He has allowed only 8 walks and one measly home run this year. His 9.20 K/9 is slightly lower than his career 10.29 rate, but it is still very good. His walk rate is right at his career average as well. Strasburg has also been unlucky with his 64.4% Strand Rate that is well below the 72% league average. The bottom line is that Strasburg has pitched as a nearly-elite pitcher this year despite his poor results. Expect him to be one of the best pitchers in baseball over the rest of the season. Verdict: Go Get Him! Strong buy low target.

Corey Kluber, Indians — 4.24 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 0-3 Record, 36 Strikeouts in 34 innings

Many people were skeptical of Kluber’s breakout Cy Young season last year and this season’s slow start has made them feel even more confident in that assertion. Can the 29 year old pitcher repeat his career year or will he return to the mediocre nobody he was prior to last year? The righthander put up a mammoth 10.27 K/9 last year, which was two full whiffs per game higher than his career average had been. This year his strikeouts are down some but not a lot at a still impressive 9.53 per nine innings. Kluber has improved his walk rate every single year of his career, including this one. Kluber has always allowed a high BABIP at .328 for his career. Even last year his BABIP was .316 but it obviously didn’t hold him back. Last year he had a fortunate 78.6% Strand Rate but this year he has been unlucky at 64.0%. After 5 starts Kluber has zero wins and three losses and his ERA and WHIP look bad, but this is an elite pitcher. His FIP is 2.63 and his xFIP is 2.81. That is what you should expect his ERA to look like for the rest of the season. Verdict: Buy. Last year was not a fluke. Kluber is truly elite.

Jon Lester, Cubs — 6.23 ERA, 1.57 WHIP, 0-2 Record, 24 Strikeouts in 21 innings.

Lester currently has the highest strikeout rate and the 2nd-lowest walk rate of his long career. His ERA stinks and his WHIP is atrocious but that will soon change. He has been bitten by an extremely unlucky .424 BABIP and an equally unlucky 58.3% Strand Rate. Those things will correct themselves and Lester will get back to being one of the better pitchers in the league. The only potential point of concern is a slow, gradual velocity drop that has been going on for several years now. Lester has yet to get a win but that should not be a problem moving forward given the rapidly improving Cubs offense led by several of the most promising young hitters in the game. I think Lester could probably be obtained in your league for a lower price than any of the other buy low candidates in this article. I suggest you make some lowball offers. Verdict: Great Buy Low Target. Not an elite pitcher but still very good. Price is lower than other similar pitchers.

Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals — 4.88 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 2-2 Record, 18 Strikeouts in 27 innings

Zimmermann’s peripherals are a bit of a mixed bag. On the one hand he has been extremely unlucky with his 54.4% Strand Rate and somewhat unlucky with a .344 BABIP. Moving forward those will regress close to his career averages of 74% and .293 respectively. Last year Zimmermann posted an 8.20 K/9, which was the best rate of his career. This year his strikeout rate has fallen all the way down to 5.86 per game, which is the worst rate of his career and one of the worst in the league. His walk rate is up but still very good at 1.95 BB/9. He is allowing a veritable crapload of fly balls but that has not yet translated into many home runs (only one so far). The key metric I have discussed is the strikeout rate. Pitchers just don’t survive for long with a strikeout rate that poor, especially if they are allowing a lot of fly balls as well. I think Zimmermann will boost the whiffs somewhat but it is a big red flag right now. This pitcher carries too much risk to be considered a good buy low target. Verdict: Do not try to buy low. If you already have him you might want to consider selling him if you get a strong offer.

Julio Teheran, Braves — 4.67 ERA, 1.56 WHIP, 2-1 Record, 22 Strikeouts in 27 innings

I warned everyone to avoid Teheran this offseason (read it here). I know he is a 24 year old coming off two consecutive excellent seasons. It seems like he is exactly what dynasty league owners crave — a young, elite pitcher. But there were warning signs that he could be trouble. I didn’t expect him to be terrible, but I did predict his value would drop quite a bit. I am not claiming victory just because of one bad month here. He still has plenty of time to turn things around and make me look bad but I am confident that he is not the elite young pitcher everyone thought he was. If you look back at Teheran’s peripherals the last couple years you would see a league-average pitcher, not an ace. His ERA was 2.89 last year, but his xFIP was 3.72, which was essentially league average and that is what I expect to see from him moving forward. His strikeout rate was merely average last year. He was lucky on his BABIP and Strand Rate the last couple years as well. The worm has turned a bit this year. The walk rate has doubled this year to an unacceptably high 4.0 BB/9 that when combined with his high fly ball rate is a recipe for some blow-up games with 5 or more runs allowed. Teheran is an average starting pitcher. That has a lot of value in fantasy leagues, but he should not be viewed as a young stud or potential Cy Young winner some day. His perceived value was much higher than his real value this offseason and it still is today.  Read the link in the first sentence of this paragraph for more information on why you should avoid Teheran. Verdict: Do not buy low. Expect a 3.75 ERA and 1.20 WHIP in the future.

Here are my recent columns in case you missed them:
Breakout or Fakeout: Should you Target These Hot Hitters?
Breakout or Fakeout: Should you Target These Hot Starting Pitchers?

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below. Are there any other players off to bad/good starts that you would like some advice on?

Nick Doran also writes for Fake Teams and Redleg Nation. Be sure to follow him on Twitter @BlazingFastba11.

The Author

Nick Doran

Nick Doran

15 Comments

  1. Bob
    May 2, 2015 at 9:28 am — Reply

    JZimms main problem as been the Nats defense,or lack thereof.

    • May 2, 2015 at 9:56 pm — Reply

      That is a good point. Zimmermann has been the victim of some terrible defense that has resulted in several extra runs. That does not hurt his strikeout rate though, and the low strikeout rate is the reason I would avoid him.

  2. May 2, 2015 at 8:11 pm — Reply

    I was offered Taillon, Bradley, and Lynn for Bumgarner.

    I need someone to tell me it is okay to do this because Bumgarner is my favorite pitcher.

    • May 2, 2015 at 9:55 pm — Reply

      I would keep Bumgarner. A lot depends on the depth of your league. Who are the best pitchers on the free agent list?

    • gregorvi
      May 3, 2015 at 12:40 pm — Reply

      I would say that it is ok to do. As Nick said, depends on the depth. 10 teamer? No. 16 teamer? Probably.

  3. Geo
    May 3, 2015 at 9:49 pm — Reply

    Keeper league, no limit/penalty for keepers. I was offered Ventura and Alex Wood for Kluber. I could use the extra depth as injuries have hurt some of my keepers, (Jose Fernandez and Wheeler). But tough to give up Kluber. I also have Kershaw, King Felix, Teheran, Cole, Bauer, and Taijuan Walker. I’m trying to make a trade for Smyly involving some of my hitters; and contemplating offering Felix and Teheran for Trout and Archer. Thoughts on any or all of those moves?

    • May 5, 2015 at 1:40 am — Reply

      I would not trade Kluber for Ventura and Wood. I like Wood but I do not like Ventura. I wrote an article this winter advising people to trade Ventura.

      I would definitely trade Felix and Teheran for Trout and Archer. I would do that deal even if Archer were not in it.

  4. Spud Wevos
    May 4, 2015 at 12:07 am — Reply

    I’d love an update on your tdg league

    • May 5, 2015 at 1:41 am — Reply

      Good idea Spud. I will put one together soon.

  5. MB
    May 5, 2015 at 4:46 pm — Reply

    I need some help with overall strategy. 16 team roto

    Grandal
    K. Vargas
    Rendon
    A. Russell
    Machado
    Morse
    Pollock
    Springer

  6. MB
    May 5, 2015 at 4:51 pm — Reply

    I need some help with overall strategy. 16 team roto

    Grandal
    K. Vargas
    Rendon
    A. Russell
    Machado
    Morse
    Pollock
    Springer
    Byrd
    bench: lowrie, schoop, j. Bradley jr, hunter

    Hughes
    C. Martinez
    Collmenter
    Y. Petit
    Leone
    Hutchinson
    Koehler
    Masters on
    Tropeano
    Holland
    Erlin
    Perez
    Griffin

    MINORs:
    Buxton
    Swihart
    Syndergaard
    K. Simmer
    Shipley
    Honeywell
    Kolek
    O. Arcia

    What do you think my strategy should be? Wait a little on guys like Swihart, Buxton and Russell and run with this team?

    Make s trade for Strasburg? Maybe offer Machado?

    Need some advice on overall strategy going forward. I follow your posts constantly. Thanks

    • May 9, 2015 at 1:26 am — Reply

      Hi MB,

      You have a nice core of good young players to work with. You luck studs in the prime of their careers. I would try to add to that core of young bucks. Try to supplement them with some mid to late 20s (age) hitters.

      I like your suggestion of shopping Strasburg. Look to trade him for a premium slugger. Morse and Byrd are expendable in trades. I would also trade Hughes and Holland. Red Sox prospects like Swihart can always be traded for far more than they are worth.

      Good luck!

      • MB
        May 11, 2015 at 9:27 pm — Reply

        Thanks so much for the reply! ive been following you guys religiously since I joined my dynasty league 2 years ago. I must say, I feel like im making progress and building a foundation that will make a strong contender very soon.

        I just donated to you guys. thanks so much for all your help.

        PS. I was just offered by a team contending now a trade with me sending Carlos Martinez for Alex Cobb. Not sure if hes going to ask for a lot more, but if I have to add minimal pieces to make the deal, do you like the move? CObb is a top 20 pitching options and my timeline is firmly set at next year. The trade was offered by someone who is battling injuries and all in for this year.

        :Let me know what you guys think…im leaning towards making the deal

        Thanks again

        • May 12, 2015 at 12:18 am — Reply

          Thanks for the kind words and the donation MB. Much appreciated!

          Regarding your potential trade of Carlos Martinez for Alex Cobb, I am not sure I would make that deal. Cobb is set to undergo Tommy John surgery soon and will miss all of this year and probably most or all of next year as well. I am sure you already knew that but some other readers of this may not. I like Cobb a lot when he is healthy, but he is one of those guys who is a little more valuable in real life than in fantasy. His strikeout rate is merely average, not good enough to make him an elite fantasy starter. Strikeouts are a critical scoring category in fantasy baseball. Cobb also plays for a mediocre team that is not going to allow him to win 15-20 games per year. His career high in Wins is only 11. His career high in innings is only 166, so he can’t really be considered as one of the best fantasy pitchers. Aces or #2 fantasy starters are the guys who get 15+ Wins and 200+ strikeouts with good ERAs and WHIPs. Cobb does the ERA but isn’t really that great in the other stats. Considering all that and the fact he is going to be out for such a long time with no guarantee of ever regaining his prior form, I would steer clear of Cobb unless you can get a real bargain on him.

          I don’t think it is a bad deal to trade Carlos Martinez for Alex Cobb, but it is definitely not a good deal either. I certainly would not add anything in addition to Martinez to obtain Cobb. In fact I would try to get the other team to add something to Cobb if you are going to give up Martinez for him.

          Martinez has a much better strikeout rate than Cobb. Martinez is healthy and locked into the rotation for one of the best teams in baseball. Martinez is likely to outproduce Cobb in Wins and Ks even if Cobb were healthy. Martinez has a problem with walks that could ultimately make him a reliever but right now he can help his fantasy owners. He also has upside that has not yet been reached. He could still get a lot better as he gets more experience.

          When it comes to pitching I do not think too far ahead. Grade pitchers on what they are right now, because injuries are so common with pitchers that you simply cannot assume they are even going to be on the mound in the future. In my opinion Martinez is the more valuable pitcher in 2015 and 2016 obviously due to Cobb’s injury, but Martinez could end up being the better pitcher to own in the long run as well.

      • MB
        May 27, 2015 at 9:46 am — Reply

        Hey nick,

        Checking back in. Team with Strasburg is dangling him to me for Hutchinson, machado and Orlando Arcia. I know his value is down right now and it’s probably the BEST time to strike a deal for him. What do you think?? arcia’s value is peaking. Should I try to get a little more out of the deal?

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