Guys and dolls, I knew starting pitching was rough coming into the season. The fact that seemingly half of our “aces” have been imploding early on hasn’t helped things. There’s some chatter of the balls being “juiced” again, which not only makes me want to squeeze some kiwis but also makes me fret about my starting pitchers.
The rankings have felt surprisingly malleable outside of the top 30 already. There was also a cluster of starters I expected a bit more from who have been so bad I dropped them from the list. Speaking of which, by request, I have added another feature to this weekly Barometer: those who dropped off the list. That will appear at the bottom of this piece. We’re almost a month into the season and we’re getting a better sense of the pitching landscape. Let’s begin with a special look at what on earth is happening in Atlanta.
Starting Pitcher Barometer
The Atlanta Rotation
This past week the Braves have been making some necessary moves. Kyle Wright clearly wasn’t ready for the limelight just yet and will head back to Triple-A to work on his control. More surprisingly, Sean Newcomb will meet Wright there to do the same. Newcomb allowed more runs (8) and walks (6) than he had strikeouts (5) over his first three starts with a startling 6.86 SIERA. Newcomb has never had good command nor a plus breaking pitch and
could should wind up being a bullpen piece.
They brought up Touki Toussaint, who will join the rotation (at least temporarily). He’s an electric pitcher to watch but has always struggled to stay consistent with his mechanics, leading to high walk rates. He’s worth a look if you have a spot to play with, but I’m keeping my expectations in check until I see improved control. Also new to the list is Max Fried, who I had actually expected to get bounced from the rotation before Wright and Bryse Wilson. Fried has allowed just two earned runs over his 19.2 IP though (despite his minuscule 5.49 K/9) and will stick around for at least a little while longer.
I’ll briefly mention Kevin Gausman, who, to this point, has yet to totally tick us off. He’s been downright impressive, even! He’s finally throwing the crap out of his splitter at 34%, which is fueling his 14.9% swinging strike rate. Why it took him seven years and two organizations to finally learn to throw his best pitch more is beyond me. Finally, that brings us to Mike Soroka. He’s fresh off the IL and looked good in his first 2019 MLB start. I’m throwing him right into mixed league ownership territory at SP49. Just be wary of his shoulder issues.
- Joe Musgrove, PIT (+35) – I had done Musgrove dirty with my prior ranking. Upon further inspection in my Fire & Ice this week, I love what he’s doing. He deserved a huge bump. Check the link for more deets.
- Sonny Gray, CIN (+26) – I unceremoniously lambasted ol’ Sonny Boy (who has a ceremony for a lambasting, anyway?) following his first brutal start. He gave up three runs over 2.2 innings with four walks and zero strikeouts, giving PTSD to all who rode the Sonnycoaster in 2018. Since then, however, he’s made three starts totaling 16.2 IP with a 2.16 ERA / 0.54 WHIP and a 22:2 K:BB ratio. It could have been even nicer, but a comebacker shortened his Miami start thanks to some calf soreness. He didn’t use his slider and rarely went to the sinker in his first start, which was so abbreviated it could just be noise. Since then, however, he’s been using the sinker and slider more with much less four-seam usage. His lack of whiffs and chases out of the zone is concerning, but he looks like he belongs on the list at the very least.
- Miles Mikolas, STL (-29) – The shiny, sparkly luster Mikolas had in 2018 is quickly fading into rusty pewter. We knew his game wasn’t centered around strikeouts, but dang Mikolas, a 6.2% SwStr% and 4.71 K/9? Woof. While the 19.2% HR/FB has been inflated, you’re just asking for trouble when you’re pitching to an extreme amount of contact. Even with his 6.00 ERA, he has had a “fortunate” BABIP at .275. You’ve gotta bench him until you see some improvement.
- Rick Porcello, BOS (-33) – Speaking of pitchers who make me say “woof”, boy has Porcello been horrid. Coinciding with his 11.1 IP total is his 11.12 ERA. He’s not a strikeout machine, so his 10 strikeouts don’t bother me…but the 12 walks do! He has the lowest zone% of his career at 42.9%, which has combined with the lowest O-Swing% of his career at 20.8% to total disaster. He claims his struggles aren’t injury-related, but rather mechanical. Perhaps the lack of whiffs points towards pitch tipping. In any case, until Porcello finds a way to right the ship, you need to bench him in deep formats and find someone else in shallow leagues.
- Spencer Turnbull, DET (SP81) – Those who grabbed the Turnbull by the horns early on have reaped the early rewards. Through his first 21 innings (4 GS) he has a 3.43 ERA / 1.29 WHIP and a 24:7 K:BB ratio. He’s been touched up by lefties early on, yielding a .352 wOBA and 38.2% hard contact. Opposing managers will undoubtedly latch onto that quickly and stack lefties against him. His four-seam, slider, and curve are all garnering plenty of whiffs though, so even when the blow-up starts come, the strikeouts will be there. He has above-average control, which should help limit those blow-ups, but his ascent up the list will come much slower than his teammate Matt Boyd’s.
- Luke Weaver, ARZ (SP94) – The Dream Weaver is back! After two unimpressive starts to open the season, it was looking like 2018 Weaver was back. Those were rough matchups though, against the Dodgers and Red Sox lineups. Over his last two starts (SD, @ATL) he has a 17:1 K:BB ratio with just two earned runs over 11.1 IP. His changeup continues to work well, but his increased cutter usage is what is helping him the most. He’s still very much a question mark who I wouldn’t trust against tough opponents, but I’ll let him weave me a wicker basket of Top 100 SP love this week.
- Tyler Mahle, CIN (SP98) – Just sneaking onto the list we have Tyler Mahle, who could easily be off the list by this time next week. That said, he has made some big changes to his arsenal and deserves to be talked about. Or written about, as it were. Mahle was a disaster in 2018, posting a 4.98 ERA over 112 innings. His minor league track record provided absolutely no value in projections. He was a control artist in the minors with middling strikeout rates, but in Cinci, he walked a ton of batters (4.26 BB/9) while striking out almost a batter per inning (8.84 K/9). So far this year his control looks improved. He’s hitting the zone at a 48.1% clip with a nice 66.7% first-pitch strike rate. He has completely dropped the slider he used 20% of the time last year in lieu of a new-and-improved curveball. It’s so new-and-improved that even the ghost of Billy Mays floated into my bedroom to tell me about it the other night. Sadly, even Billy had to admit that it’s still not a great pitch, netting just 10.45% whiffs. If he can keep the walks in check he can be a deep league streamer, but there still isn’t much upside to glean here.
The Top 100 Starting Pitchers
Fell Off The List
Tyler Skaggs (injury), Sean Newcomb (optioned), Kyle Wright (optioned), Freddy Peralta (injury), Jonathan Loaisiga (optioned), Sandy Alcantara (performance), Eric Lauer (performance), Jhoulys Chacin (performance), Anibal Sanchez (performance), Matt Strahm (performance), Jake Odorizzi (performance).
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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