Toe the Rubber: Week 2

Hello and good morning everyone! Pitching has yet to stabilize overall, and the wrath of cold weather throughout the country is still leaving a lot of questions on the table. Anything regarding velocity can likely be attributed to the cold, though the Kenley Jansen velocity question is still up in the air.

Last week I touched on how Jon Lester may be on the train heading backwards after his 2017 season seemed to carry into ’18. Lester was brilliant against the Brewers on Friday, going 6 strong innings while only walking one and striking out 6. I wouldn’t get too hyped up about Lester returning to form of old. Yes, it was a scoreless start for him, but he only had two such starts last season, one in April and the other coming at the end of September. Lester is still a matchup-driven start for me.

Bullpen Banter

Bullpen’s across baseball still seem to be having some issues. Prior to last night Brad Hand was still having some issues (last night he K’d the side for a save). Greg Holland made his debut last night in which he walked four of the five batters he faced, only retiring one batter on a sacrifice bunt; perhaps Holland wasn’t quite ready for the big show. Corey Knebel went down with a horrific looking hamstring injury, though that seems to not be nearly as serious as it looked; take stock in Matt Albers if you feel you must have saves, otherwise steer clear of that situation. Joakim Soria and Alex Colome each blew saves in large fashion over the weekend. Moral of this story, RP’s can really hurt your chances of winning so don’t just add a player on a whim.

Which Sean Newcomb can we expect to see?

Sean Newcomb dazzled in his start over the weekend in Colorado, whiffing 9 Rockies across 6 innings without walking any and putting up a zero in the run column. This is quite a bit different than his debut against the Nationals in which he allowed 5 earned runs in 4.1 innings, though the strikeouts were there in that start (6).

To start, I was big on Newcomb from the moment he debuted last year. Anytime a prospect that has a K/9 over 10 in the minors comes up he’s worth keeping an eye on. During his time in the majors (21 starts) Newcomb has maintained his K/9 numbers, which is very encouraging. Unfortunately he’s maintained his BB/9 numbers as well (roughly 5 per 9). For Newcomb to see a large amount of success he’s going to have to cut down on his walks, which we saw in his most recent start. The large difference between his two start this year, minus the run differential, is the walk numbers. In his first start he walked 4 batters in just over 4 innings, his second start he didn’t’ walk any and shutout the Rockies in Colorado.

Looking at his small sample size of numbers this year should have all fantasy owners encouraged for what’s to come. Newcomb’s swinging strike percentage and strikes looking percentage are both up from last year, which shows his stuff is just as dominant. His walk rate is down at this point, measuring 9% rather than over 12%. If that number can be maintained I think Atlanta has found their new ace.

Newcomb also seems to be inducing more ground balls this year, as his current GB/FB ratio sits at 1.27, almost double that of last season. Couple that with a lower line drive percentage and one could argue Newcomb is getting softer contact off the bat. The current BABIP against him doesn’t necessarily support that (.375), but that will regress as the season progresses, so don’t get too caught up in that.

Newcomb is a guy who should be owned in more than 12.3% of ESPN and 22% of Yahoo leagues. His FIP is nearly 2 runs lower than his ERA currently and he’s got the K/9 numbers showing us how good his stuff is. I was lucky enough to nab him in the 28th round of an 8-team, 40-man roster league (my home league) and I couldn’t be happier with what I’m seeing out of him so far. Being in the NL East he’ll get to feast on some lower-tier teams a fair amount, which should help his numbers get even better. If you’ve got room on your roster, make Newcomb a part of it.

Gerrit Cole early Cy Young favorite?

The change from Pittsburgh to Houston seems to be exactly what the doctor ordered for Gerrit Cole. In his first two starts for the Astros Cole has showcased all the hype that surrounded him as a first  round pick working his way through the Pirates system. Cole is averaging 7 innings and 11 k’s per game in the early going. That can be somewhat taken with a grain of salt as it’s been against the Rangers and Padres, two teams who seem to be on the downward side of things this year.

Looking at the career numbers for Cole it would be easy to assume none of the stuff we’ve seen this year will be maintained to any degree through the season. The glaring question mark in all of that is the entirely different environment he’s in this year. As a member of the Astros Cole is mixing his slider in much more than he did with the Pirates. He’s also been shying away from his sinker and changeup. This could be the explanation of why he has such an elevated K/9 and swinging strike percentage compared to the previous five years of his career.

Prior to this season the highest K/9 Cole supported was 9.00 back in 2014, his second year in the majors. With the change in pitch selection likely to continue throughout the season Cole will likely set a new career high in that category, but it won’t be north of 14 as it is now. The biggest encouragement garnered out of the bump in strikeouts early on this year is the walk rate maintaining the same as years past (6% or 2 per 9). That tells me Cole is staying close enough to the zone to get batters to chase, evident by his 30% swinging strike rate in the early going.

I expect Cole to regress to the means in some fashion, but the change in pitch selection is a huge thing for him. If you don’t believe in it look at Charlie Morton last year. He seemed to come out of nowhere. Gerrit Cole is a must-start pitcher going forward at this point. The increase in K/9 give him a much higher floor when he does begin to regress a little bit. I don’t buy the hype that he’ll be a Cy Young candidate, but he could (and arguably should) end as a top 20 pitcher at season’s end.

Who is Luis Castillo?

10 earned runs in 10 innings pitched for Luis Castillo this year… yikes! One early positive you can try to take away is Castillo’s FIP is 4 runs lower than his ERA (5.03 to 9.00). Okay, that’s a little bit of a joke; each of those numbers are awful. Castillo’s two starts this year have come against arguably two of the hottest offenses to start the season, the Nationals and the Pirates. A serious bit of encouragement is the swinging strikes Castillo is still inducing.

Across 15 games last season Castillo induced a swinging strike rate of 21.5%. Through his first two starts, 46 plate appearances, he’s inducing a swinging strike rate of 26.7%. His K/9 numbers are down a bit from last year, but they’re right in line with his prior years, sitting at just over 8.00. The early increase in BB/9 is something to keep an eye on. It’s relatively similar to that of last year, so while it’s not a glaring red flag it is something to watch.

Castillo owners shouldn’t be overly concerned at this point yet – there’s no reason to drop him for anyone on the waiver wire. Two starts shouldn’t warrant an extreme fire sale, unless of course someone can’t get out of the first inning. In Castillo’s case he has gone 5 in each of his outings. His next two outings are scheduled to come against the Phillies and the Brewers. These don’t pose as “easy” matchups, especially with pitching in Miller Park, but it should help us see what to truly expect from Castillo going forward.

If you’re in a points league it might make sense to sit Castillo and wait to see what happens, but don’t feel the need that you have to sit him. In category leagues and roto leagues there should be no hesitation to trot him out there because he’s still going to rack up the strikeouts for you. I don’t expect him to continue to be the ERA and WHIP hindrance he has been in the early going much longer. As he gets his arms stretched out a bit more I expect to see the Luis Castillo that was on the verge of breaking out to return.

Jameson Taillon has arrived

Jameson Taillon appears to be on the verge of his breakout and ready to show the baseball world he’s here to stay. With all this guy has been through the last year there’s nobody better to be succeeding than him. It appears the offseason to regroup has done him a world of good as he’s started this year as good as anyone. If not for some bullpen woes after he exited his first game of the season his numbers would look even better.

Through the early going this season Taillon has cut down on his walk rate. In 2017 Taillon saw a BB/9 of over 3.00; this year it’s just barely above 1.00. During his career in the minors Taillon had great control, so the suggestion a BB/9 rate similar to what he’s sporting at the moment could continue throughout the season isn’t one to scoff at. The early trend of 10 K/9 doesn’t seem to be too far-fetched either, though it will likely regress some due to the whopping 50% strikeouts looking number.

It’s much too early to start thinking about innings limits, but with Taillon’s hot start it is worth noting. Taillon has never thrown more than 147 innings in his professional career. If he maintains his pace through two games he’s looking at well over 200 innings. That’s a rarity for anyone in today’s game, let alone a guy who’s never topped 150 in a season.

Even with the possibility of an innings limit a few months down the road, Taillon is a guy to trot out there against most everyone. He doesn’t induce a lot of swing and misses (16.4% this year, 14.7% career), so matchups against strong offenses would warrant a second thought. The current BABIP of .133 suggests there has been a bit of “luck” behind Taillon to this point, but being a ground ball pitcher should limit a lot of the damage that can be done against him (GB/FB ratio of 1.5).

Taillon’s next two starts come against NL east opponents (Marlins & Phillies) so don’t hesitate to use him for those matchups. By that time Taillon could be shining even brighter giving us all a reason in the industry to make him a must-start in every format if he isn’t one already.

Most Added

  • Jakob Junis, SP – Royals, +34.4% to 42.6%
  • Patrick Corbin, SP – D’Backs, +33.2% to 88.5%
  • Sean Manaea, SP – A’s, +32.8% to 66.8%
  • Brad Boxberger, RP – D’Backs, +25.8% to 78.2%
  • Keone Kela, RP – Rangers, +22.7% to 52.7%

Two of the pitchers on this week’s top 5 most added list are the same as last week (Boxberger & Kela). As I mentioned last week, Boxberger was a guy to go get if you needed saves. Kela has shown he’s fit for the job and should be a safe option for saves.

Patrick Corbin has been phenomenal through two starts this year and is showing the ace-potential he had prior to his Tommy John surgery. If by some chance you’re in the 11.5% of leagues that he’s available, you NEED to add him. If you’re reading this and he has dazzled against the Giants he becomes a must start going forward.

I was high on the possibility of Jakob Junis succeeding; he cracked my top 100 SP’s prior to the season and he’s shown us why. He has pitched excellent in his two starts, but that could be due to the cold weather. Junis still seems to be more of a streaming option due to the K/9 of only 5.7, so don’t feel the need to rush to add him, though his next start against the Angels is at home and might be an alright deploy.

Manaea seems to be showing the cause for hype everyone had on him last year, only a year later. His first two starts were terrific. I’m not totally buying into him quite yet due to his terrible command issues in the past, but if he can keep the BB/9 numbers down he’s a must own. Slot Manaea into your watch lists if he’s still available.

Lines of the Week

  • Max Scherzer vs Atlanta: 9 IP, 2 H, 0 ER, 0 BB, 10 K, WIN
  • Jameson Taillon vs Cincinnati: 9 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 7 K, WIN

If you have questions about a pitcher not listed today, or just simply want me to evaluate someone 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 questions you may have as far as pitchers to start or sit, or pitchers you’re thinking about adding (0r dropping). I’m always ready to strike up a conversation with readers! Good luck in your match-ups as the week finishes up, and catch you next week!


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