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?