Toe the Rubber: Week 1

Hello and good morning everyone! I hope you all had a great Easter weekend with friends and family, or at least with baseball on the television. Now that we’re a full week into the season it’s time to start digging into some numbers – specifically pitching. I’m a former pitcher so it only felt right to center my research on my fellow hurlers.

Each week I’ll bring you something different. I plan on breaking down success stories as to whether it’s a flash in the pan or something to look forward to the rest of the season. I’ll also be questioning those pitchers who seem to be struggling and whether you should ride it out or jump ship immediately.Additionally I’ll take a look at the top-five most added pitchers (SP or RP), according to ESPN. I may not dive too deep into the specifics on these players, but I will give my advice on whether they are sticking points on a roster or not. Finally I looking forward to hearing a lot from you guys, the fantasy baseball players in the world, so if there are any pitchers you would like additional analysis on let me know and I’ll work them into my next column.

Should we Rethink the Aces?

We saw some interesting things out of the top-tier pitchers during the first week. The one thing that held true is the Fab Four (Sale, Kershaw, Kluber, Scherzer) performed as advertised, though Kluber and Kershaw each took a tough-luck loss.Beyond that top-tier it seemed to be a debacle atop the rankings.

Syndergaard, Carrasco, Darvish, Archer, Ray, Martinez, Quintana, Paxton, Lester, Castillo, and Stroman all gave up at least 4 runs in 6 innings or less of work. This is not what these players were drafted for. Sure, a few of these guys might not be considered “aces,” but they are viewed as far better than what they performed like in their first starts of 2018. Not all these outings worry me. For instance, Syndergaard struck out 10 across his 6 innings of work issuing no free passes and only 6 hits, and Archer struck out 6 in his 6 innings of work issuing 1 walk and 6 hits. Archer had some tough-luck defense behind him, so we’ll give him a pass.

One guy I’m very worried about going forward is Jon Lester. His tank may be running on fumes. If you want to get technical he did only allow 3 earned runs in his first outing of the season, but that also only lasted 3.1 innings against a Marlins team that’s supposed to be one of the worst in baseball. Ever since Lester joined the Cubs fantasy players expected an eruption of production based on the transfer to the NL, which is supposed to be the weaker of the two leagues. After all, you get the “free pass” when facing the pitcher! The only thing Lester has done for his fantasy owners is create headaches each time he takes the mound (I should know, I used to be a Lester owner).

During his time in Chicago Lester has seen his BB/9 as well as his HR/9 continue to rise. His BB/9 started at 1.97 and rose to 2.99 in the span of three seasons. It might not seem like a huge jump but adding an extra baserunner every game can add to the stress level of a pitcher. Lester has also seen his strikeout percentage numbers drop each of the past three years. The velocity with Lester could be another thing to worry about. Over the course of the last ten seasons it’s dropped little by little which is normal, but he is now down to 90 MPH which is the lowest since entering the league in 2006. Watching his BB/9 numbers continue to trend upward and his velocity and K numbers decline make for a player I don’t want to trot out there each start. Lester is falling into the “perfect matchup” category of pitchers in my book.

James Paxton and Yu Darvish are the other names among the eleven I mentioned that strike me as “most alarming.” Paxton did face a tough lineup in the Indians, but the 4 walks strike me as odd. The past two seasons Paxton has maintained a BB/9 ratio of 2.5 or less, so it makes me think there could possibly be another injury on the horizon. His velocity was fine, but the GB/FB numbers suggest he left a lot of pitches up in the zone. The final line on Paxton is take caution but trot him out there for his next start. There isn’t too much to be worried about just yet.

Darvish’s struggles against the Marlins doesn’t worry me quite as much as Lester’s outing, but one must wonder if his struggles in the postseason last year was a sign of things to come. Needing 102 pitches to get through only 4.1 innings against the hapless Marlins team raises an eyebrow. Looking a bit deeper at pitch info, I chalk the lack of success and wildness to pitch selection. Data shows he only threw three different pitches during his start, veering away completely from his curveball, sticking to the fastball/slider combo mostly. Darvish’s next start is at Milwaukee. The final line with Darvish is like that of Paxton’s, yet I still trust Darvish more. If he struggles against the Brewers don’t be alarmed, they’ve got a good offense. Don’t give up on him yet!

What’s going on in the Bullpen!?

What on earth were people thinking drafting Kenley Jansen in the third or fourth round? I asked myself that question because I’m one of the people who did that! Prior to the season it looked like a great idea; he’s certainly better than a lot of other arms and it gives you the best RP in the game – or so we thought. The start to the season for Jansen has certainly been the worst that it could be, but he’s not the only one. We’ve already seen fifteen blown saves, FIFTEEN! Yes, some of those blown saves are from middle relievers who many of us don’t own, but it’s still an alarming number this early in the season.

The big names that have seen early struggles that we’ll focus in on a bit are Felipe Rivero, Corey Knebel, Brad Hand, and as mentioned, Kenley Jansen. I can’t say I’m overly surprised at the struggles of Rivero or Knebel. If you check back, Knebel is actually in mypreseason “do not draft” article.

Felipe Rivero started the year by surrendering 4 runs to the Tigers in the 9th inning. This didn’t go down as a blown save because the Pirates led by 4 when Rivero came in. I’m a firm believer in the danger of using a closer in a non-save situation, but I also understand it can’t always be avoided. Rivero did bounce back nicely on Sunday tallying two saves in the day-night double header they played while also notching 5 k’s during his two appearances. Rivero’s disastrous season debut can be chalked up to lack of command and a dip in velocity. Rivero only threw 43% of his pitches for strikes, walking three of the six batters he faced. His velocity was also down closer to 96, rather than his usual 99. Don’t get overly alarmed with Rivero quite yet.

Corey Knebel, like Rivero, had a rough first outing, but not horrible. Knebel’s velocity was right where it has been the past two seasons, sitting right at 98 on his fastball, but he did spread the ball around the zone a bit more, throwing only 8 of his 14 pitches for strikes. The movement on Knebel’s fastball seemed to be relatively non-existent in his first appearance, which can be attributed to adrenaline. He returned to the mound the very next night, striking out the side to notch his first save of the season. Perhaps Knebel will prove me wrong on telling you all to steer clear of him on draft day.

Brad Hand could be brushed off as a one-time occurrence,though allowing 5 runs (2 earned) should be alarming at any point. Hand’s lack of effectiveness on Friday was in large part directly related to missing location. He didn’t walk anyone in that outing, but he was unable to put away Braun on an 0-2 pitch, which resulted in the ball landing in the seats rather than the catcher’s mitt. This was Hand’s second consecutive night pitching, so perhaps he just wasn’t prepared to go back-to-back yet, but that’s on him. If he continues to miss locations and shows a bit of wildness be prepared to look elsewhere for a closer.

Finally we have Kenley Jansen. Yes, I know, he’s only made two appearances on the season, but they’ve both been somewhat ugly. Giving up a homer to Joe Panik is bad enough, but getting the first two outs of an inning only to give up the three-run lead you’re supposed to protect – that’ll send you running the other direction. Jansen walked two batters then surrendered a 3-run home run to A.J. Pollock. He allowed just 5 home runs in 2017 and already has two. If not for his name I imagine teams would have dropped him already.

Jansen did see his velocity rise from his first to his second appearance (from 90 to 91 MPH), but it’s still sub-par compared to his normal 93-94. Maybe his arm is just lagging a bit at the start of the season, or perhaps something isn’t right. One common occurrence during both of Jansen’s appearances so far this year is he’s leaving everything up in the zone. The good thing about that is it can be corrected. Dave Roberts mentions a mechanics issue could be the cause of Jansen’s problems. As prior experience tells me, that could be 100% the cause. A lack of bending over or a drop of your throwing shoulder somewhere through the motion will result in lack of velocity and the inability to locate pitches down in the zone. The final line with Jansen is he’ll be just fine. Jansen owners should calm down a bit and continue leaving him in your lineup. If problems continue to arise we’ll revisit this later.

On a Positive Note

There was some good performances through the first five days of the season. Jose Berrios threw complete games. David Price gave us a hint at what he was back in Tampa Bay with 7 stellar innings against his former club. The lack of strikeouts in his outing might be worth keeping an eye on (5), but nothing to be alarmed about yet. Gerrit Cole was amazing in his debut in Houston, striking out 11 in 7 innings of work. One thing to note with Cole, he veered away from his fastball a bit more often in this start. With all the brain-trust put together in Houston look for that to continue on a regular basis. They tried that route of analytics with Charlie Morton and look what that’s done for him.

Most Added

  • Hunter Strickland, RP, Giants +50% to 51.3%
  • Brad Boxberger, RP, D’Backs +45.4% to 52.4%
  • Felix Hernandez, SP, Mariners +28.6% to 71.8%
  • Keone Kela, RP, Rangers +22.5% to 30%
  • Tyler Skaggs, SP, Angels +17.8% to 21.2%

Strickland and Boxberger are worthy adds to your relief core if you’re looking for saves. Boxberger seems to be the more long-term solution as Strickland will be limited once Melancon returns. Melancon is said to be a couple of weeks out, but there’s also a realistic possibility that Melancon never regains the closer role in San Francisco.

King Felix dazzled in his ’18 debut against Cleveland. If he can continue to miss bats with the diminished velocity he’s worthy of a roster spot in most any format. He must learn how to pitch now rather than just overpower hitters, and this first start of the season shows that perhaps he is closer to that than we might have thought.

Keone Kela and Tyler Skaggs are each guys worth streaming, but I’m not rostering either of them. The Rangers bullpen seems much too volatile to have one guy as the designated closer for an extended period of time. The one shining piece of Skaggs’ ’18 debut is the zero walks issued. His major league career averages of 7.6 K/9 and 3 BB/9 aren’t something that makes me believe his first start is a keeper.

*****

If you have questions about a pitcher not listed today, or just simply want me to evaluate a pitcher on your roster you’re having trouble deciding what to do with, mention it in the comment section below. Hit me on Twitter @KennyGarvey with any fantasy questions or concerns you may have – I’m always ready to strike up a conversation with readers! Good luck in your first match-up and I’ll catch you next week!

 

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Kenny Garvey

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I'm from eastern Iowa, yes there are more things than just corn here. I'm a baseball nerd. If there's a game televised you can bet I've got it on! Family and baseball keep me sane. Fantasy baseball far outweighs fantasy football, no doubt about it!

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