The Fantasy Baseball Redraft Cut List: Pitchers
When the player’s slumping hard ma, drop em like it’s hot, drop em like it’s hot, drop em like it’s hot. Don’t worry, this entire article won’t be written in the form of Snoop Dogg lyrics, but that first sentence is one to keep in mind this season. I’ve mentioned time and time again, whether in articles or on the Five-Tool Pod, we need to make quick decisions this season with only 60 games being played. And that often means making a tough decision quicker than you would want to. That’s what brings us together today. The below five pitchers, headlined by Matthew Boyd, are off to horrific starts this season and it’s time to consider dropping them in redraft leagues for more reliable options.
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Matthew Boyd & Other Pitchers to Cut in Redraft Leagues
Matthew Boyd (SP – DET)
Coming into the 2020 season, a big question in the fantasy baseball world was “which Boyd will we get in 2020?” Were we going to get the dominant version from early in 2019? Or maybe the unrosterable version from the 2nd half of the season? Maybe something in the middle? The early answer has been none of the above.
Three starts into the season and Boyd looks even worse than he did for the final four months of 2019. Sure, the strikeouts have still been coming in at a high clip, but are they worth it when the ratios are so poor? As you can see above, Boyd now has a 6.08 ERA since the start of June last season. That’s 23 starts of pure ineptitude.
So, what has been the issue? To start, Boyd’s fastball has always been a lackluster offering. It’s not necessarily bad, but far from an effective offering. In 2019, Boyd’s fastball allowed a .269 average, .535 slugging, and .354 wOBA. This year, those numbers are .281, .469, and .343 respectively. He’ll never blow anyone away sitting 91-93 so command and movement are key for Boyd and neither have been consistent.
While he doesn’t walk too many batters, Boyd’s fastball command has gotten him in trouble as he allowed 25 homers off his fastball last season or around 1.65% of his total fastballs thrown. Just think of that for a second. Boyd allows a home run off his fastball around every 60 thrown.
That’s an issue, but the effectiveness of his slider is even more worrisome in 2020. Last season, Boyd’s slider registered a .245 wOBA, 43.6% whiff rate, and a 25.8% putaway rate. Through three starts in 2020, Boyd is still getting a similar whiff rate, but the wOBA has skyrocketed to .487 and the putaway rate has dropped to 14.3%. For pitchers that have thrown their slider 50+ times this season, Boyd’s .487 wOBA ranks third worst, only behind Kevin Gausman and Touki Toussaint.
If Boyd’s slider isn’t effective, that’s a major problem for him as the rest of his arsenal is pedestrian at best. At this point, there’s no use rostering a pitcher like this outside of very deep leagues. Even if he maintains a 10+ K/9 this season, it’s not going to be worth killing your ratios every 5th or 6th day.
Robbie Ray (SP – ARI)
Robbie Ray is basically the Matthew Boyd of the National League. Both will give you some nice strikeout numbers, but the ratios and inconsistent performance are downright maddening. The lone exception to that was in 2017 when he posted a 2.89 ERA and 1.15 WHIP. Outside of that, Ray’s ERA and WHIP have fluctuated between 3.52 to 4.90 and 1.33 to 1.47 respectively. A major reason for the profound peaks and valleys is Ray’s below-average command and control. For his career, Ray has posted a 4.1 BB/9 and that number has been even higher lately with a 5.1 mark in 2018, 4.3 in 2019, and 7.1 so far this season.
In the past, Ray has been a four-pitch pitcher with the arsenal consisting of a four-seam fastball, sinker, curveball, and slider. After posting a .348 AVG and .434 wOBA last season, Ray said so long to his sinker (only thrown two this season), a pitch he threw 10% of the time in 2019. Ray’s curveball usage has also dropped this season from 16.5% to just 9.9%, meaning that he throws his fastball or slider around 90% of the time. It’s often quite difficult for a starter that throws two pitches with that much frequency to find sustained and consistent success. Someone like Chris Paddack has gotten by due to his much better command and control. Ray doesn’t have that luxury.
In 2020, the slider has still been highly effective, posting a .186 xBA, .395 xSLG, and .263 xwOBA, but the fastball has been a different story. His velocity has jumped up from an average of 92.4 mph to 94.2 mph this season which is nice, but Ray hasn’t been able to locate the pitch well at all as you can see bel0w.
The command was a bit better in his last start against Houston on Thursday, but in general, the command just hasn’t been there. When hitters can layoff or pummel a wild fastball like this, all they have to worry about is Ray’s slider. The word “pummel” is putting it nicely too as Ray’s fastball has allowed a .666 xSLG, .453 xwOBA, and four home runs so far this season. No matter how good a slider is, if that’s all a hitter really has to worry about, you’re not going to wind up with good results most of the time. I’m sure we’ll still see a gem or two this season out of Ray, but at the end of the day, you’re probably going to be disappointed with the overall picture as season’s end. If there’s a trending pitcher or two on your waiver wire, I’d strongly recommend making the swap.
Lance McCullers Jr (SP – HOU)
I can already hear the groans and uproar from McCullers supporters. While I still have high hopes for McCullers longterm in dynasty leagues, I’m very pessimistic about his ability to help in 2020 redraft leagues. From 2015 to 2018, McCullers was a rising name in the fantasy world due to his filthy stuff and ability to miss bats. That was quickly put on pause when he had to miss the entire 2019 season due to Tommy John surgery.
That’s exactly the reason why I shied away from McCullers in 2020 drafts, especially ones done during draft season 2.0 this summer. How many pitchers return from TJS and excel in their first season back? Let alone in the first 60 games which usually equates to 10-13 starts or so.
Just look at Shohei Ohtani’s colossal struggles on the mound this season. Granted, he’s once again dealing with arm issues, but it just goes to show that it takes some time for these TJS arms to get back into a groove and pitch as they did before going under the knife. And when you factor in that McCullers was far from a command and control specialist before surgery, it makes the chances even slimmer that he can return to his previous form before the shortened 60-game 2020 season concludes.
We’re now three starts into the McCullers comeback trail and two of the three have been terrible. His first start was okay, but McCullers has already walked seven in 13.2 innings and has been hit hard, mainly due to the inconsistent command of his sinker.
More sinkers have been in the top half of the zone than in the bottom half. Call me crazy, but leaving a sinker up in the zone is absolutely useless. It’s basically a batting practice offering. Just ask Rick Porcello if you don’t believe me. The results on the pitch have been just as scary as the location above. Opposing batters have a .320 average off the sinker with a .551 xSLG, .384 xwOBA, and five extra-base hits in 21 batted ball events.
On top of that, McCuller’s curveball has gotten rocked to the tune of a .381 AVG, .836 xSLG, and .504 xwOBA this season. The changeup has been pretty good, but until McCullers can get a better feel for his sinker and curveball, these types of terrible outings will likely continue. Are you confident that he’ll be able to do so in his final 8-9 starts of the season? I’m not.
James Paxton (SP – NYY)
Big Maple was supposed to be a big staple for fantasy teams this season. But instead, he’s been a big disappointment. Usually, I wouldn’t drop a guy like James Paxton after two bad starts, but the inclusion here isn’t solely due to the fact that he’s pitched terribly. Something doesn’t seem right with Paxton this season. In two starts, Paxton’s velocity is down to 91.8 mph on his fastball after averaging 95.4 mph last season. Furthermore, his cutter velocity has dropped from 88.1 mph to 84.9 mph. That’s a 3.6 mph drop on his fastball and 3.2 mph drop on his cutter. Yeah, somethings up with Paxton. It’s not just those two pitches either. Paxton’s velocity on his curveball is down 1.9 mph and his changeup is 5.3 mph slower this season.
Granted, the changeup is a seldom-used pitch for Paxton, but the velocity drop across his entire arsenal is concerning. In 2019, Paxton threw his fastball or cutter 79.9% of the time and recorded a 43.3% whiff rate and 25.5% putaway rate on his cutter. This year, those numbers have plummeted to 16.7% and 8.3% respectively. That cutter has been a key pitch for Paxton and if he’d not able to get it up into the upper 80’s as he has in the past, that greatly impacts the effectiveness of the offering.
It’s not just the cutter either. Again, it’s just two starts but it’s pretty obvious that Paxton isn’t his usual self. That “usual self” over the last two years was a 3.76 and 3.82 ERA with over 11 K/9. If Paxton isn’t 100%, what’s that mean his ratios are going to look like? With the season now 1/4 over, we don’t have a lot of time to sit and try to figure that question out.
Paxton will toe the rubber later today (Sunday) in what will be a crucial start for the big southpaw. If Paxton’s diminished velocity continues today in another brief outing, it’s best to cut ties with him this season in redraft leagues.
Craig Kimbrel (RP – CHC)
Let’s throw a reliever in here, shall we? And notice how I said reliever instead of closer? That’s because it took less than two weeks for Kimbrel to be relieved of his closer duties in place of Rowan Wick. As a Red Sox fan that watched Kimbrel countless times create a sticky situation in the 9th only to tight walk out of danger, this doesn’t surprise me. Most of those were created due to his shotty control and not because he was getting hit hard. Well, now Kimbrel is getting hit hard, not missing as many bats, and still has the same old maddening command and control that he’s always had.
Kimbrel has always been a two-pitch closer, attacking hitters with a mid to upper 90’s fastball and a big hammer curve in the mid-80’s. As you can see below, he hasn’t been able to command either pitch worth a damn this season.
The above is exactly why he’s allowed six hits, seven runs, five walks, and two home runs in 2.2 innings this season. Opposing hitters have actually yet to record a hit off the curveball, but in turn, have a .500 AVG, 1.333 xSLG, and 98.3 exit velocity off Kimbrel’s heater. Ouch! For pitchers with at least 10 batted ball events this season, Kimbrel’s allowed average exit velocity of 96.7 mph is 4th worse, only behind Miguel Del Pozo, Sean Doolittle, and Chi Chi Gonzalez.
If you had Kimbrel in your lineup for those monstrosities, you have my sympathy. Do you need a hug? Sorry, can’t help there. We’re in a pandemic after all. The best thing you can do to help your sorrows is getting Kimbrel off your fantasy rosters as quickly as possible. It’s not like we’re going to be dropping Kimbrel coming off a 1.43 ERA (2017) or 2.74 ERA (2018). No, this is Kimbrel coming off an atrocious 6.53 ERA last season. So really, Kimbrel hasn’t looked good in a year and a half now, and now can no longer provide us with those coveted and valuable saves. Bye Bye Kimbrel.
Media Credit: Steven King/Icon Sportswire, Baseball Savant
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