Any week I get to add more starting pitchers to the list than I drop off is a good week. We did lose Luke Weaver for what looks like an extended period of time, which gives me a case of the sads. For now, it doesn’t sound like Tommy John, but we know forearm strains are often a precursor to that. Stash candidate Forrest Whitley is on the minor league IL with shoulder fatigue, pushing back his ETA by a solid month at least. Another stash candidate from last week, Mitch Keller, did get the call. He got rocked and sent right back to Triple-A, but we’ll see him again soon enough considering the state of that rotation. On the bright side we did regain a starting pitcher or three. James Paxton is back, along with Andrew Heaney and Nick Pivetta.
There are also some newcomers who didn’t make the list. Genesis Cabrera has temporarily filled Michael Wacha’s spot in the rotation. The 22-year-old lefty didn’t have any success at Triple-A before his promotion with a 6.35 ERA. He lacks the present control to succeed as a starter, but his premium velocity could make him a strong long relief option eventually.
Zac Zack Zach Plesac is taking over for the, eh, not good Adam Plutko. I’ve always enjoyed Plutko because his name reminds me of Plinko, which is probably the greatest game on Price Is Right. It’s either that or Cliffhanger. Anyway, Plesac pitched pretty well against a tough Boston lineup, allowing just one run over 5.1 innings with a walk and two strikeouts. He’s primarily just fastball/changeup and doesn’t miss many bats, which tempers my enthusiasm. He can crack the Top 100 in time, but I’m taking a wait-and-see approach with him for the time being.
Starting Pitcher Barometer
- Wade Miley, HOU (+12) – Miley’s SP63 ranking this week might be the highest Miley ascends the list. His peripherals all point to an ERA closer to a run higher than his current 3.25 ERA, and he only strikes out batters at a 7.01 K/9 clip. He just keeps chugging along, however, racking up five wins with a strong Astros team. He has also earned seven quality starts in a dozen games, even though he’s averaging just 5.75 innings per start. He’s basically living off the cutter, which sits at 51.8% usage. Keep riding him until he’s driven so many Miley’s that his wheels fall off.
- Gio Gonzalez, MIL (+14) – I mentioned a few weeks back how annoyed I am whenever Gio is undeservedly good. Which, realistically, was only 2017. I guess I hold a grudge. Gio has been deservedly good to this point, despite failing to find a job at the beginning of the season. He’s leaning on his changeup 28.3% of the time, a career-high. It’s his biggest whiff-getter at 16.7% with a .129 BAA, so that makes sense. His control has been better this year to this point, but neither his F-Strike% nor Zone% indicates that improvement will stick. He’ll be much more valuable in Wins leagues than QS leagues since he rarely pitches out of the sixth inning.
- Joe Musgrove, PIT (-13) – The last time I wrote about Musgrove, it was very glowingly. His 1.54 Mar/Apr ERA over 35 innings was stellar. He has followed that up with a disastrous 8.35 ERA coming into his start on the 30th. As I put this together, Musgrove is himself putting together another bad start. His changeup, which induced an elite 23.3% whiffs in April, has fallen to 13.7% in May. His slider has likewise slipped from 21.9% to 15.1%. As a result, his K-BB% has dipped from 17.8% to 3.6%. I don’t need to tell you how bad that is. I still like Musgrove long-term and consider him a nice buy-low in dynasty leagues. Until he rights the ship, however, you can’t start him in mixed leagues.
- Chris Archer, PIT (-15) – Musgrove’s teammate Chris Archer hasn’t fared much better in May. He’s made just three starts this month after returning from the Injured List, resulting in an 8.56 ERA / 2.05 WHIP in 13.2 innings. The Pirates love their sinkers, and Archer has brought his back with him from the IL. He has thrown it 18.4% of the time since his return. It somehow has just a 20% GB% along with a .600 BAA. .600!!! Maybe stop throwing that pitch, Chris. At least his changeup isn’t getting crushed, I guess. When you’re walking 5.31 batters per nine, you’re just not going to be successful. Archer should be on the waiver wire in standard mixed leagues.
- Nick Pivetta, PHI (SP64) – Ah yes, the hotly anticipated return of Mr. Pivetta. A preseason favorite of many, myself included, Pivetta was just lost early this season before a demotion to Triple-A to work out the kinks. He pitched 37 innings at Lehigh Valley, posting a 3.41 ERA but walking 4.86 per nine. His first start upon his recall was pretty much more of the same as what we got before the demotion. He went just five innings, allowing three runs with two walks and six strikeouts. Most importantly, he gave up two bombs. That was his biggest issue, and this start didn’t change his perception in that regard. He squares off against the Dodgers in his next start, who have the third highest slugging percentage as a team in baseball. I want none of that action.
- Devin Smeltzer, MIN (SP73) – Smeltzer was not a highly touted starting pitcher prospect coming into the year due to a lack of great stuff, including a fastball that sits at just 89 MPH. Smeltzer is filling the void where Michael Pineda’s large frame once stood while he is on the IL, and his first start was strong. He shut out a strong Brewers offense over six innings, allowing just three baserunners with seven strikeouts. He is a “pitchability” type of starter, which is a requisite if your fastball rarely touches 90 MPH. His peculiar mechanics certainly lead to some deception, and he commands his repertoire very well. He elevated fastballs while getting plenty of swings on breaking pitches below the zone. His fastball isn’t very good, however, and he will have to live on the margins to find success. He could easily wind up being homer-prone, but that was never the case in the minors. I’m intrigued enough to place him in the top 75, but I’ll need to see more sustained success before I can fully endorse him as a shallow league streamer and place him in the top 60.
The Top 100 Starting Pitchers
Fell Off The List
Luke Weaver (Injury), Michael Pineda (Injury), Kyle Freeland (Performance), Eric Lauer (Performance).
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Nathan Dokken is a member of the FSWA and has had his work featured in numerous books and magazines. He has also appeared on many podcasts and radio shows and hosts the Nasty Cast and Fantrax Dynasty Baseball podcasts. His written work can be found exclusively at Fantrax HQ, and his personal thoughts and opinions can be found on Twitter @NathanDokken.
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