A tweak away from a better second half

It’s frustrating when you pick a player who is expected to be solid or even a stud, and instead said player under-performs or is a total dud. No doubt there have been some disappointments so far, and while there have also been some pleasant surprises, there really can’t be many fantasy owners happy with where they picked David Price in this year’s draft.

Today we are going to focus a few pitchers who were highly thought of on draft day that have fallen a little (or more than a little) short of pre-season expectations. Each of these pitcher have some problem currently that’s ballooning their ERA and loss totals unfairly compared to how well the peripheral numbers are suggesting their performances should be.

Boston Red Sox LogoDavid Price

As a Rays fan I have to admit I’m not quite ready for Price, who went to the rival Red Sox, to be back to his old, dominant self. But as a baseball fan I’ll admit the sport is better when he’s on his game. He signed a mammoth deal up in Beantown for $217MM over the next seven years, as he had previously established himself as perhaps the best lefty in the league not named Clayton Kershaw But so far we’ve seen a less effective version, one that has almost double the ERA of last year’s (4.36 compared to 2.45). And even though his run suppression has gotten worse, his strikeout and walk rates are virtually the same, leaving lots of question as to what has happened.

When Price shipped up to Boston, everyone had at least some concerns over a lefty pitching half his starts in front of the Green Monster – especially one who isn’t fantastic at forcing grounders. Well, those concerns are about as bad as we could have imagined. Even though batters are hitting him around the same rate, they’re doing more damage this year. His home run to fly ball rate is 14.5%, one of the higher marks in the league. He’s also sporting an exceptionally high 26.3% fly ball rate and career high 35.7% hard contact rate against. Price isn’t able to stop the shellacking he’s facing from opposing hitters, and it’s not helping he is playing in such a hitter friendly park.

David Price needs to be able to start forcing weaker contact, and this all starts with his pitch selection. Last year he relied on his four seamer more often against hitters, but this year he’s opting more towards his sinker, which is an objectively worse pitch. He needs to be able to get back to the heater to limit the damage against, because although in theory the sinker would work better to limit fly balls, in reality it’s just not good enough to get the results we expect from Price.




Philadelphia Phillies LogoAaron Nola

Although the stud prospect started off hot, his performance has slowed down which has led to some people wondering if his prospect shine was undeserved. But Nola has actually been excellent, combining an awesome strikeout rate (25.5%) with a minuscule walk rate (5.5%), leading to a FIP of  3.10 compared to his ERA of 4.41. He’s pitching well, but the problem with Nola happens when he lets runners get on base. His left on base percentage is just 61.5%, meaning he’s stranding base runners well below the league average of 72.9%. While we expect regression to take his performance close to the mean, for him to be so far off with 102 innings under his belt means that there’s something else happening.

While there is natural offensive increase with runners on base, what we see with Nola is extreme. With men on, his strikeout rate drops 8 percentage points, his walk rate goes up two points, his WHIP goes from 1.01 to 1.59, and opponents slug .491 compared to just .317 with the bases empty. There’s an issue with Nola in the stretch, and it leads to him leaving more pitches up in the zone with runners on than when he has the bases clear – which you can clearly see below.

A Trio of Pitchers Chart 1

A Trio of Pitchers Chart 2

This will require some time spent in the film room and with the coaching staff to fix, but if he can fix it we will see the dominant Aaron Nola that scouting reports rave about.

Los Angeles Angels LogoMatt Shoemaker

What is frustrating about Shoemaker this year is that he’s pitching so much better than last year (improved strikeouts, walks and home run rates), but the results are lagging behind. He made news in 2014 by throwing 136 innings of 3.04 ERA baseball, but last year’s 4.46 ERA and this year’s 4.08 are leaving some to wonder if he isn’t as talented as we thought, and instead just a fluke.

What’s bizarre about Shoemaker’s season so far is his liner rate against, up to 26.3% from an average of 18.9% from 2014 to 2015. Neither hitters nor pitchers can keep that number away from 20% for more than a season at a time, and since Shoemaker has never shown a propensity for allowing liners there is no reason to believe that they will continue to come. We expect regression to take care of the most part on this, but also he could change-up his repertoire. His change-up is at a career high rate by double digits, which has left his already average fastball at a bigger disadvantage, which is now a net negative pitch. For Shoemaker, it’s important to stay patient and let regression work, but also to help his fastball get smacked a little less hard by changing his pitching patterns.

 

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James Krueger
James lives in Tampa, Florida and is often one of the 10,000 people you can see at Rays' home games. He's a huge fan of prospects, loves analyzing swing mechanics, and will eat a "Top 100" list for breakfast. Dynasty leagues are his forte, especially rebuilding teams; building a farm system is the best part.