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The Verdict on 3 Struggling Aces: Keuchel, Archer, Wainwright

We are one fifth of the way into the season already. That is a pretty good chunk of games so the sample size is getting big enough to be meaningful. There are quite a few elite pitchers who are off to rough starts. It is hard not to get alarmed when your team’s best pitcher is falling far short of your expectations and sliding down the rankings deeper and deeper.

Today we will examine three such struggling aces to see if we should freak out or keep the faith. I will go over their stats and peripherals to render my verdict on each of these guys. Hopefully this will give you a good idea of how you should handle them moving forward. Each of them have started 7 games already, which represents about 20-25% of their season if they start 32-34 games. Their stats are looking scary but maybe things will get better. Or they might get even worse. Let’s find out…

Chris Archer, Tampa Bay Rays — 2 Wins, 4 Losses, 4.23 ERA, 1.51 WHIP, 49 Ks, 17 BBs in 38.1 innings.

Yahoo Preseason SP rank: 16
Current Yahoo SP rank: 53

The 27 year old righthander has been shaky. He has been issuing more walks than normal but his biggest problem has been the long ball. He has allowed seven home runs already after allowing only 19 all of last year and 12 in all of 2014. The good news is his strikeout rate is higher than ever. His 11.5 K/9 is 4th best in baseball and only .04 points from 2nd best. With a strikeout rate that elite it is highly unlikely Archer is going to struggle for long.

Archer has been very unlucky on balls in play. His .351 BABIP is 62 points higher than his career average and will almost certainly see a strong positive regression soon. His strand rate has actually been a little bit lucky. A league average HR/FB rate is 10% but Archer’s is currently 23.3% despite his 10.3% career average and this is the source of most of his problems. There again we have every reason to believe his home run rate will normalize in a good way.

Archer’s 4.23 ERA is exactly a full run higher than his 3.23 ERA last year yet his xFIP is almost identical. His xFIP was 3.01 last year and is 3.06 this year. Once his batted ball luck regresses to his mean he should be back to his #2 fantasy starter ways. The strikeouts are the key. It is simply hard to put a barrel on this guy’s pitches. He will always walk a few more hitters than the average pitcher, but that is OK as long as the whiffs are high.

Verdict: BUY. This is your last chance to work a deal to acquire Archer before his price goes back up to what it was the last couple of  years.

Dallas Keuchel, Houston Astros — 2 Wins, 4 Losses, 4.70 ERA, 1.52 WHIP, 38 Ks, 19 BBs in 44 innings.

Yahoo Preseason SP rank: 15
Current Yahoo SP rank: 81

Last year’s AL Cy Young Award winner, Keuchel is a 28 year old lefty. His 7.77 K/9 strikeout rate is down from the 8.38 he put up last year when he delivered an amazing 2.48 ERA, but it is higher than the 6.57 K/9 he had when he yielded a 2.93 ERA in 2014. Keuchel has been walking 3.89 batters per nine innings and this could be a problem if it continues. When your whiff rate drops and your walk rate rises it has a crippling effect on your K:BB ratio. Last year Keuchel had a nice 4.24 K:BB but this year it is only 2.0. League average is a 3.0 K:BB ratio. Keuchel is not a huge strikeout guy, so he really needs to keep his walk rate low in order to be effective.

Keuchel’s calling card is his ground ball rate. Last year Keuchel had the 2nd-best GB% in baseball at 61.7%. This year it is down to 56.5%, but that is still 10th best in the league. Keeping the ball on the ground at such a high percentage will help ensure that Keuchel rarely gives up home runs. It also limits big innings where the opponent puts crooked numbers on the scoreboard.

Like Archer, Keuchel has been unlucky on batted balls. His .344 BABIP should drop close to 50 points as the season progresses but it is very unlikely to drop as far as his .269 BABIP from last year. He has also been unlucky on his strand rate.

Keuchel’s 3.62 xFIP is a full run better than his current 4.70 ERA, but it is a run higher than his 2.48 ERA and 2.75 xFIP from last year. He needs to cut his walks from 3.89 per nine innings back down close to his 2.63 BB/9 career average if he is going to be an above average pitcher long term. I think he will see some gains there but I don’t think he will be challenging for any more Cy Young awards in the future. As a ground ball pitcher with a below par strikeout rate, Keuchel is strongly affected by BABIP’s ups and downs. He is a steady-as-you-go sort of pitcher rather than a boom-or-bust type of guy.

Verdict: HOLD STEADY. Keuchel’s true value is a #3 fantasy starting pitcher. That is better than he has been so far this year but don’t expect him to lead your team to a championship by himself like he did last year.

Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals — 2 Wins, 3 Losses, 6.30 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 23 Ks, 12 BBs in 40 innings.

Yahoo Preseason SP rank: 22
Current Yahoo SP rank: 133

When you are ranked next to Colorado Rockies pitchers Chris Rusin, Jon Gray and Christian Bergman you know you are in trouble. If some no-name pitchers who play in the mile-high Coor’s Field are putting up the same numbers as your “ace” then  your team is likely in trouble. Adam Wainwright has been terrible this year. Could this be the end for the 34 year old 6’7″ righty? Wainwright missed most of last year after rupturing his Achilles Heel but that is supposedly fully healed.

Wainwright’s 1.61 ERA in 28 innings last year masked what has been an ongoing problem for him: shrinking strikeout rates. His stellar ERA last year was a bit of a small sample size fluke considering he was striking out only 6.43 batters per game. This year his K/9 has continued its descent. Now at 5.18 K/9, that is simply not going to cut it in the major leagues. Wainwright’s career K/BB ratio is 3.36 but this year it is a very unhealthy and dangerous 1.92 K/BB. His 6.3 K-BB% is half the league average. Not. Good. At. All.

Wainwright’s batted ball profile is similarly ominous. Not only is he not striking anyone out, batters are hitting the ball hard in the air. In fact, given his high fly ball percentage and high hard hit percentage it is a wonder he hasn’t given up more home runs. If those rates continue expect to see some fireworks in NL stadiums this summer.

On the positive side, Wainwright’s velocity has remained steady, meaning he is likely not nursing an arm injury. He has been slightly unlucky with his .324 BABIP, which is higher than his career .292 BABIP. He has been very unlucky with a 59.6% strand rate that is much worse than the 72% league average. So we may see some positive correction to his ERA as his luck normalizes.

His 4.64 xFIP is almost two runs better than his current 6.30 ERA. But even if he reverts back to his xFIP that is still a poor ERA that you are not going to want use on your fantasy team.

I own Wainwright in a couple of dynasty leagues and I have been trying to unload him. Nobody has been willing to give me much in exchange so I still have him. When a guy has a 6.30 ERA this far into the season his trade value is basically shot no matter how good he has been in the past. Especially when he is almost 35 years old. At this point your best bet with Wainwright is to hold onto him and keep him on your bench. He has the talent and savvy to bounce back at least part of the way to his former prominence. I am not optimistic about his chances of ever helping my teams again, but if he can get on a hot streak maybe I can trade him for something useful. But I could be wrong. He is not too far removed from some stellar seasons in the recent past. His velocity has not diminished so perhaps he can use his veteran savvy to put together a hot streak later this season. If he does that make sure you cash him in while you can.

Verdict: SELL. Keep him out of your starting lineup. Try to trade him if you can get more than pennies on the dollar, otherwise hold him and wait for a potential resurgence.

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


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Nick Doran

Nick Doran

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