Trio of unlucky starters

While not always fun to deal with, or convenient in evaluating talent, luck plays a major role in all sports. No champion gets to where they are without a good dose, as well as a cellar dweller and their lack of it. This early in the season, there’s still a good amount of noise in baseball stats, making it hard to really grasp who has improved and who hasn’t. But thanks to the plethora of stats we have, we can see where bad luck might be driving what looks like poor performance, where instead someone has been playing fine.

For pitchers, thanks to how much ERA fluctuates, a few bad bounces will destroy early hopes of a good mark. A weak grounder that finds a hole can score a couple, and all of a sudden the surface numbers have been ruined. These three guys are all facing some of this, and we’ll dig in to see if they can overcome the bad luck, or if perhaps the bad luck is indicative of something real.

Chris Archer

Playing for the Rays at this point might just be bad enough luck by itself, but Archer is sporting the 8th worst ERA, yet sports a good 3.63 FIP. He’s continued a 3 year trend of lowering his walk rate, down to a minuscule 6.1%, while increasing swinging strikes to 14.1%. But his strikeouts have disappeared to some extent, down from a career high 29.2% to a 24.4% rate, which is startling close to average despite his elite stuff.

Archer hasn’t changed his pitch usage and his velocity is the same on all pitches, even his pitch movement remained static. It’s hard to find a reason on his end for the lack of strikeouts, but looking deeper it appears that opposing hitters are taking a new approach. Zone swing rates against him have jumped from 68.0% to 73.7%, and with it zone contact has risen from 81.6% to 84.7%.

Archer hasn’t been as bad as the ERA indicates, but at the same time he needs some adjustments to counter hitters’ new swing profiles against him.

Jon Gray

Again, the franchise this pitcher plays for brings bad luck by nature, as pitchers in Coors’ Field have their work cut out for them. The former superprospect drafted right behind Kris Bryant, Gray features an upper 90s fastball with a plus changeup and slider. The parts are there, but his 4.24 ERA isn’t pretty. So what’s happening?

Gray’s 25.3% strikeout rate isn’t spectacular, but it’s very good for the 26-year-old. His 5.7% walk rate is fantastic, and all this leads to an impressive 3.23 FIP. Gray has certainly pitched better than his ERA, there’s a .320 BABIP against, and just a 68.6% Left on Base rate that’s sure to jump up to the low to mid 70s, which will help normalize the ERA. Gray has just a 29.8% fly ball rate, and was even lower last year, which is the perfect profile in Denver where the ball will fly all night. The pieces are not only there, but the performance by Gray is as well. He just needs to wait a little for his statistics to regress to where he needs, and the overlying numbers will reflect his good start.

Nick Pivetta

There’s an argument to be made that Pivetta is a lucky pitcher solely based on the fact that he has a starting job after posting a 6.02 ERA in the year before, but the surface numbers he has this year don’t match what the underlying one suggest. He’s already dropped his ERA to 4.15 which is a huge improvement, and Pivetta’s peripherals look even better. He has a 25.6% strikeout rate and just a 6.1% walk rate. You might be noticing a trend here, and there’s good reason for it – guys who get lots of strikeouts and don’t walk much set themselves up for success by those two traits.

Pivetta’s good peripherals have set him up well, and his 3.27 FIP reflects this. He’s had a good LOB%, but his .330 BABIP will definitely come down in his coming starts. He has a standard batted ball profile, although his defense doesn’t do him much good – second to last by FanGraph’s defensive metrics. Still, this number is hardly sustainable with his profile, and better numbers are yet to come.

James Krueger

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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.