Second half pitching performances that should have you worried

Pitching is extremely volatile. What can make a pitcher great in one season can so easily turn into a weakness in the next, and vice versa. Pitching is a complete thinking man’s job, a chess match between the man standing almost a foot off the ground bending his body in all sorts of destructive ways, and a man standing just over 60 feet away who needs to square up a round bat on a round ball moving close to 100 miles an hour. It’s pretty easy to understand that pitchers can easily lose their stuff from year to year.

Hitters are quick to pick up on cues from pitchers, like tipping pitches or reduced movement. And pitchers need to be able to keep their velocity and spin rates high on pitches in order to suppress runs properly. When every inch counts like it does in baseball, the smallest changes or adjustments from either side can have studs turning to duds, and that worry is what this article focuses on. Pitchers in the second half have to deal with extreme arm fatigue, hotter temperatures (which leads to more power from hitters) and a toolbox that hitters have been peeking into all year. The best are able to beat these challenges, but it’s not easy, and there are plenty of arms that have had enough trouble to raise some eyebrows about their long-term values. Here are two of them.

Cleveland Indians LogoTrevor Bauer

One of the more enigmatic young pitchers in the game, Bauer’s production had seemed to catch up to his name value that had him as a third overall pick. In the first half he held hitters to a .282 wOBA, 3.30 ERA and 3.52 FIP. His arsenal, originally tuned and geared towards producing strikeouts, had been adjusted to force more contact and grounders in 2016. His 50.0% ground ball rate in the first half was much higher than his career 37.1%. His walk rate was 8.4%, a few ticks lower than his usual marks, which was a good sign of him making hitters work more for bases. And by getting more grounders he was expected to last longer into starts.

But the second half has seen hitters feasting on him much like his previous year’s in the bigs, getting rocked for a .344 wOBA, 5.42 ERA and 4.75 FIP. He’s gotten a few less grounders (46.3%) and his strikeout rate has fallen even harder, down to just 18.5%. Lower strikeouts is okay if he’s still getting weak contact, but his whiffs have fallen too low for his ground ball rate to save him. He’s also always had a bizarre issue with reverse platoon splits, but we’ve seen those numbers really start to show issues in 2016 with righties hitting him to a .318 wOBA all year long. It’s easier for teams to stack up righties since more exist, which is just expanding on Bauer’s issues.

He needs to be able to get more whiffs (which is something he’s really struggled with his entire career) while still keeping his grounders where they are to have success like he did in the first half. Bauer has a big name and people will want to buy on the talent, but understand that his issues are deep, perhaps too deep to eradicate completely.



Seattle Mariners LogoFelix Hernandez

Perhaps this reeks of a sacred cow barbecue, as King Felix has been one of the best and most consistent pitchers in all of baseball over the last decade. But he’s been having some concerning trends over the past two to three seasons that start to make us wonder if his age and mileage on his arm are both catching up to him. He’s on a three-year increase in ERA and FIP, has seen his strikeouts and whiffs drop during that same timeframe, and overall has declined into a pitcher who has much less value than expected.

While we are used to seeing Hernandez sit around 93 MPH in his starts and being able to ramp up to the mid 90s when needed, he’s been sitting at 90 at times and even creeping down into the high 80s over some starts.

Second half pitching performances chart 1

While it appears his stint on the DL helped his velocity creep back some, his production fell with it. His first half FIP of 4.12 wasn’t great, but passable. His second half 5.05 is alarming for someone we expect so much from. While his changeup has been as effective as ever, his curve has lost all of its value. From being worth 12.9 runs above average in 2014 and 19.8 above average in 2015, it’s down to -0.9 runs above average this year, being worth negative value to him and the Mariners.

Traditionally, Felix has been able to suppress line drive rates, beating regression impressively, but those numbers have risen recently taking away his grounders. Hitters are seeing the ball better now with more time before it reaches them, and also explains his 28.1% hard contact rate, his third highest number in his career.

King Felix has been one of the best pitchers the game has seen to start his career, but to expect that same production seems too optimistic. He hasn’t adjusted yet to losing velocity and his curve not being an elite pitch anymore, and both of those only get worse with age. His draft day value will be much higher than what you should reasonably expect – stay away from the King in 2017.

 

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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.
James Krueger

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