Starting Pitcher Barometer: No Show Like The Stro Show
I was on the road for eight hours today. I say that for two reasons. First, it’s as an apology to my editors, who may shake their heads at what I write. Second, when I first left the cozy confines of my hovel, it was incredible foggy for the first 45 minutes of my quest. Eventually, it cleared, as it always does. It reminded me of the fog that is trying to figure out April pitcher rankings. Some players establish new baselines. There are velocity spikes and declines. It can be hard to parse the facts from the noise.
Now that we’re into May, the fog is clearing. A few data points are slowly becoming trends. To that end, there are a few players who I moved a bit more extremely this week. New baselines can sometimes mean tier movements. Also, mercifully, we got more pitchers back this week than we lost. The list bursts at its proverbial seams.
- Marcus Stroman, TOR (+18) – The Stro Show came into 2018 overrated, in my estimation, and his results confirmed my bias. Therefore, it was easy for me to leave Stroman in the mucky muck of the list to begin the season. Maybe he wasn’t even on the list at all. Who can possibly remember anything from a month ago? Do I have children? What’s a mortgage? Anyway, I’m buying into a resurgence. He catapulted into the top 40 this week thanks to a 2.20 ERA over 41 IP with the highest K/9 (8.56) of his career. It’s legit, too – he’s throwing his slider over 38% of the time, even more than his sinker (35.6%). He’s netting 19% whiffs with the slider, fueling his career-best 10.7% SwStr%. With continued consistency, he can crack the top 30 in time. I’m not sure he gets much higher than that without a higher strikeout rate, though.
- Reynaldo Lopez, CHW (+22) – Lopez had a tremendous start this past week against the Tigers, striking out 14 over six two-hit innings with three walks. His lone run allowed was unearned. That takes the sting out of his first three starts in which he allowed 18 runs over 13.1 innings, right? The good news is that he’s getting way more whiffs on his four-seam this year at 11.44% than ever before. Last year it earned just 7.67% whiffs. The bad news is that he’s still walking the farm and is as inconsistent as a Golden Corral buffet 20 minutes before closing time. The strikeouts make him worth owning in deep leagues, but he won’t climb higher unless he can start to limit the walks and avoid home runs.
- Yu Darvish, TEX (-17) – I haven’t had to move Darvish down too far in my pitcher rankings early on since I was seemingly the only one who wasn’t willing to buy into an automatic Darvish rebound this spring. I was largely worried about the walk rate, which was horrible (4.73 BB/9) even when he was actually pitching last year. Through his first six starts? 6.91 BB/9. Ay caramba. He is coming off of a six inning, one earned run outing against the Diamondbacks though, leaving room to climb back up the list. He does still have top 20 upside, he’s just a long ways away from it right now. I didn’t drop him further because of that upside, but for now, he isn’t a must-own in standard mixed leagues.
- Yusei Kikuchi, SEA (-40) – Yusei has been a monumental letdown so far. We knew his innings would be capped in his first MLB season, but the way the Mariners are doing it is painful. Rather than shutting him down after 150 innings or so, they’re making him the Opener (pitching one inning) every fifth start. That makes him useless for a week and a half at a time. On top of that, he has been pretty bad when actually on the mound. Would this line stand out to you if you peeled away the name? 6.68 K/9, 2.14 BB/9, 4.54 ERA, 1.28 WHIP. Typically starters have the advantage their first time through the league, yet Kikuchi has managed a mere 8% SwStr%. It’s a useless profile in standard mixed leagues aside from certain streaming situations.
- Griffin Canning, LAA (SP49) – I’ve always enjoyed canning peaches, but this is the first time I can describe Canning as a peach! No, I’m not sorry for that. I have been a Canning fan since he was drafted though, and his debut didn’t disappoint. The three earned runs in 4.1 innings doesn’t turn any heads of course, but he was cruising through three innings before his velocity wavered and he ran into some trouble. He got 18 whiffs on 82 pitches, plus 10 called for a delicious 34% CSW. He can command the fastball while pairing it with a nice slider and curveball, occasionally mixing in a show-me changeup. It’s a very nice profile, and he should stick in that rotation as long as he’s successful.
- Martin Perez, MIN (SP84) – I was tweeting this preseason, as I tend to do while watching the Twins. I mentioned that Martin Perez was on the mound, and he looked like a completely different pitcher. He was throwing more heat than ever before, hitting his spots, and throwing a new cutter. Cut to early May, and the overall results haven’t followed what I saw that day. The Twins didn’t need him as a starter early on thanks to a rash of off-days. Perez also wasn’t dominant in those relief appearances, walking nine batters over those 7.2 innings, allowing seven runs. Same ol’ song and dance, eh Nancy? Well, as a member of the rotation, he has a 2.08 ERA over 26 innings (4 GS) with an 18:5 K:BB ratio. Get back here Nancy, it’s time to do the Macarena!! His velocity isn’t as high as it was in the spring, sitting just two ticks above his 2018 velo. 94.7 MPH coming in from the left side is nothing to sneeze at though, and if he can continue to limit the walks, he’ll keep climbing. For now, I wouldn’t be too interested in standard mixers, but keep an eye on him.
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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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