We’re roughly a month into the 2018 Fantasy Baseball season and while its always nice to look at the positives from a fresh start to the year, we all know we tend to dwell on the things that have instead gone wrong.
Pitchers, in particular, tend to get a raw deal in April. It only takes one or two bad outings to completely tarnish your ERA till mid-June with only one appearance per week to try and turn it all around. Sometimes it can get really ugly and, in the case of these two big names, it has.
2 Big-Name Pitchers Looking to Rebound
Yu Darvish, Chicago Cubs: 6.86 ERA
The somewhat frightening aspect of being a Darvish owner right now is that this inflated ERA issue is not isolated to 2018. We all remember that on the Dodgers’ run to the World Series last season they traded for the then Texas Ranger. Darvish proceeded to pitch to a 6.14 ERA over four postseason starts – throwing an underwhelming 14.1 innings in total. It was bad. However, it came as a slight relief to hear that Darvish had apparently been tipping his pitches, thus giving us a tangible and, most importantly, correctable reason for his struggles. Case closed. He’ll bounce back in 2018. Well, it hasn’t been so simple.
The first thing that jumps out in regard to Darvish’s struggles to begin this season is his control problems. Now, in his rookie campaign, Darvish did walk over four men per nine, so it’s not as if we’ve only known a pinpoint accuracy incarnation of the right-hander, yet, in pretty much every season since, with a plateau in 2016 and 2017, Darvish’s walk rate has gone down. Because of this, I’m willing to play the small sample size card on his 11 free passes through his first 19.1 frames.
Plus, with eight of the walks coming in his last two starts specifically, assessing the matchups is key. Atlanta, who drew four walks back on April 13, currently have one of the best team approaches in baseball, sitting inside the league’s Top 10 in walk rate and bottom 10 in strikeout rate. Darvish also walked four in his most recent start in Colorado where, I think you’ll agree, we can cut him some slack for nibbling.
Still, for as dangerous as walks can be in general, its been the presence of any base runners that has been Darvish’s undoing in 2018. The 31-year-old’s opponent wOBA jumps from .257 with the bases empty to an insane .557 with runners on. His BABIP follows a similar pattern going from .235 in his 58 plate appearances with no one on base to a mind-boggling .533 with RISP. In fact, 12 of the 21 batters Darvish has faced in these high leverage situations have reached.
Even crazier, all this unluckiness with runners on has clustered in fifth innings – right as Darvish is making his way through an order for the third time. Darvish has allowed 80% of his earned runs to score in the fifth, actually getting through the first four innings clean in those last two aforementioned starts.
Darvish’s ERA balloons to 54.00 when seeing a lineup for the third time through. His 11.18 FIP also telling a similar story. Now, while this is a staple of modern baseball pitcher management and it’s not uncommon for a pitcher to have far worse numbers the more familiar a team gets with him, for a guy with Darvish’s diverse arsenal of weapons, this shouldn’t happen to this extent – and it hasn’t throughout his career.
Darvish has been the victim of some big innings this season, falling prey to cluster luck and bad sequencing. Considering his historic ability to mitigate opponent contact, I’d expect this to not keep happening. Now’s your best chance to buy-low.
Marcus Stroman, Toronto Blue Jays: 8.55 ERA
If you currently roster Stroman, there are some pretty easy narratives to cling to if you believe he’ll turn it around. Number one on any list, rightfully so, will involve the fact his Spring Training was augmented by right shoulder soreness and he’s still, in theory, ramping up to regular season readiness. Honestly, that could very well explain everything we’re about to dive into, as could the cold weather he’s had to navigate in half of his four starts so far. Other positives are his strikeouts per nine rate (9.45) and, as always, the fact that he’s inducing his normal, well-above-average groundball rate (69.4%).
However, much like Darvish, walks have been the fuel of nightmares in 2018 for Stroman. As will happen when you have the lowest strand rate (46.8%) of all 107 pitchers to throw 20-plus innings, an incredible number of Stroman’s 14 walks have come around to bite him. In fact, eight of those 14 free passes have scored. This would seem to be a very easy problem to fix, as Stroman has walked just 2.53 opponents per nine over the course of his career, yet pitching in the zone has proven to be difficult for the fifth-year pro.
Among those same 107 pitchers, Stroman has the seventh-lowest zone rate, right now only throwing 37.0% of his offerings as strikes. Now, this has been proven to be an effective way to pitch for some, basically leaving the batter to sort through “pitcher’s pitches” at the plate, but that’s mostly predicated on pitchers who can induce high chase rates – Stroman has never been that guy. For example, the lowest zone rate in MLB belongs to Patrick Corbin (34.4%), yet he pairs that with the fifth-highest chase rate in the game (37.5%). Stroman is on the complete opposite end of the spectrum. The diminutive right-hander actually has the lowest overall swing rate in baseball at just 35.9%. Essentially, opponents are waiting out Stroman and he’s complying.
He’s also just been hit hard when he does rarely pitch to contact. Considering Stroman’s extreme groundball profile should mostly nullify the launch angle aspect of a barrelled ball, its shocking to see him, still with that near 70% groundball rate, giving up a barrel on 8.2% of his batted ball events in 2018. 150 pitchers have allowed 40-plus balls to be put in play to this point in April and Stroman’s average exit velocity of 94.2mph has him tied with Mike Leake, clubhouse leader in barrelled balls surrendered, for the highest figure in the game. That is not the kind of company you want to be keeping.
Again, this could all be residual effects of a March arm ailment. Stroman’s ridiculous strand rate and ludicrous BABIP with RISP will all normalize in time. However, Stroman has always been a pitcher that made his name in Fantasy Baseball through ratios. This will most certainly get better in May and June, but without a tangible Fantasy, skill to point to aside from an outlier K/9, this is not the type of buy-low spot I’d be pursuing with great force.
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