BERNIE'S BASEBALL WORLD

STARTING PITCHER WOES

Bernie Pleskoff
Written by Bernie Pleskoff

Last week, I wrote about hitters that are struggling so far this season. I also provided my fantasy take on what I would do if I owned each player.

This week I want to share my thoughts on some pitchers who are really having a tough time since the season has begun. Each has his own issues. Each has to dig himself out from a poor start that has impacted the pitcher, his team and our fantasy teams.

While I’ve identified a few starting pitchers who need to right the ship, there are many more in that same soup. In essence, pitching is a problem. We have seen the inflated numbers.

What really boggles my chronologically advanced mind is the fact MLB Commissioner Manfred has discussed expansion on several occasions. He would like to have an even number of teams in each division and he would like to geographically tinker with the divisions we now have in place. My question: If MLB teams can’t find 11 quality pitchers to staff a 25-man roster now, how in the world can they hope to field a complete pitching staff with expansion?

So, here is a brief list of pitchers looking up from the dumper. Statistics include at least the first seven starts.

All statistics are as of Friday morning, May 10, 2019.

AARON NOLA-SP-Philadelphia Phillies

This is a case of a rusty beginning and a much improved recent start. In start No. 8 this week, Nola really turned things around. In his May 7 start against the Pirates, Nola went six innings, yielded only three hits and one run. He walked only one and struck out seven in getting an 11-1 victory.

I may have to take him off my “dumpster watch” list. But not quite yet. I have to see him do it again next week. Week after week. Not just once good start.

When I saw Aaron Nola pitch in spring training this past March, he looked almost unhittable. What a difference a month and a couple of weeks have made. Until his latest start, Nola was really having trouble on a team capable of scoring enough runs to give him wins regardless of his pitching issues.

Until his Pittsburgh game, Nola had not exceeded 6.1 innings in any start so far. In his first seven starts for the Phillies, Nola had compiled a 5.06 ERA and a WHIP of 1.60. If you haven’t noticed by now, Nola has probably hurt your fantasy team. He has a record of 3-0 in 43.1 innings pitched. He has three quality starts in his seven appearances. Fantasy owners had hoped for more.

If we look at his velocity, nothing has changed from previous seasons. Nola consistently throws his fastball at 92-93 miles per hour. It is never his fastball that wins the day for Nola. It is changing speeds and changing the eye level and balance of the hitter that is really important to Nola. He throws what was once a very good curve ball at least a third of the time. He uses a very solid changeup to compliment the fastball as well. This year, he has relied on his changeup even more often.

Of course, due to his heavy curveball repertoire, Nola is at his best when he gets calls on the corner and when he keeps the ball down in the zone. But when Nola elevates his pitches, he finds trouble. That’s what has happened so far. Pitches that are getting too much of the plate are getting hit and hit hard. That’s not unusual for any pitcher. But Nola seems to be finding the middle of the plate far too much.

My take: There is no denying a rocky start to the season. However, his last two outings are showing good signs. If he can repeat what he did this week against Pittsburgh, all will be forgiven. There is no question I am holding on to Nola in fantasy. Unless someone wants to give his value in trade. However, I’m not sure I’m convinced he will be a trade target of mine unless I am certain of getting a healthy starter on a winning team.

YU DARVISH-SP-Chicago Cubs

I’m not surprised. I am not one bit shocked that Darvish has been struggling for the Chicago Cubs. Why? Darvish came to the United States after having pitched 1268.1 innings in seven seasons pitching for the Nippon Ham Fighters in the Japan Pacific League. He came stateside and signed with the Texas Rangers in 2012.  He was traded to the Dodgers in July 2017 and then granted free agency in November that same year. The Cubs signed him as a free agent in February 2018.

Darvish has thrown 905 innings stateside in parts of seven years. So in parts of 14 seasons, Darvish, who is now 32 has thrown 2173 innings in professional baseball. Is there any wonder his arm looks totally worn out?

Darvish has made four All-Star Teams. He was an All-Star for Texas in 2012, 2013, 2014 and again in 2017. He went to the Dodgers in September that year.

Remarkably, even with all the wear and tear on his body, and with all the injuries he has encountered, Darvish is throwing his four seam fastball at 97 miles per hour this year. His velocity has increased as the season has progressed. He also throws a changeup, a slider, a curve ball, and a cutter. He is relying on his two-seam sinking fastball for more than half his pitches. In essence, he is a sinker/slider pitcher who is very dependent upon getting called strikes and great amounts of movement on his pitches.

The problem for Darvish this year has been an incredibly high walk rate. In his first seven starts, he has walked a whopping 8.1 hitters per nine innings. He is still striking out 10.8 hitters per nine, but that is down a bit from his past. He has a 5.40 ERA and a massive 1.71 WHIP. Those numbers have already damaged your fantasy team.

Inside the numbers, we see fewer hits per innings pitched (30 hits in 36.2 innings) but that high walk rate. Darvish is just not as effective with men on base. And he has been pitching with men on base far too frequently. And he is yielding two home runs per nine innings pitched.

My take: I think the innings have taken their toll. I think an aging and tired arm is tough to carry through enough innings per start to make Darvish a viable week-in-and week-out fantasy starter. He can be masterful in a game, as he was in a 3-2 win against Arizona that I witnessed April 27, 2019. He can be awful in a game, as he was in his next start May 4, 2019. In that game he went four innings against the Cardinals. He yielded six hits and five runs. He walked five and gave up a home run.

Darvish made his 8th start of the year on Thursday, May 9. He went four innings. The problem? He yielded six walks. He struck out seven. He only gave up one run and one hit. He finished the game with 97 pitches in those four innings.

My take: No thank you. I am passing on any trade offered me that includes Darvish. He can kill a fantasy team’s numbers on any given day. I’ll let the next guy deal with the up one game, down two scenario.

JHOULYS CHACIN-SP-Milwaukee Brewers

I want to be upfront about the fact that I have not been a Jhoulys Chacin proponent. Even when he was getting positive press and pitching well for San Diego in 2017, I was a skeptic. I thought there was little in the tank and that it would be tough for him to go to Milwaukee and pitch in hitter-friendly Miller Park. However, he did well. He threw to a 3.50 ERA while winning 15 games, the most in his career. But frankly, I still didn’t buy in. Even though he walked 3.3 hitters per game last year, he was a great success. He gave up only 153 hits in 191.2 innings. He was reliable. He started 35 games, the most in his career. What was there that I didn’t like? His command. His control. In my estimation, it was his lack of a knockout pitch.

The numbers then (2018) were really good. That was then and this is now. Chacin has started eight games for the Brewers. He has thrown 39.1 innings. He has a record of 3-3 with a 5.03 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP. Both are well above 2018 levels. He is yielding 1.8 home runs per nine innings, a full home run above last season. He is walking one more hitter (4.6 as opposed to 3.3) per 9 innings and striking out one fewer hitter (6.6 as opposed to 7.3) per nine. Those numbers add up. They paint a bit of a picture.

Chacin’s average fastball velocity is down a tick from last year at 89.65 as opposed to 91. He is throwing his sinking fastball less and his slider a bit more. He is basically a sinker/slider pitcher.

Of course, it remains early in the season. The Brewers need the Chacin of 2018 to show up. In his May 5, 2019, start against the Rockies, Chacin went only five innings. He yielded three hits and two runs. He walked two and struck out three. He gave up a home run. He hit two batters. In facing 21 batters, Chacin threw 98 pitches. It wasn’t economical and it lead to the bullpen being used far too early. In fact, those 98 pitches were the most he has thrown in any game this season.

In his eight starts, Chacin has lasted into the 6th inning only twice. That’s a concern.

My take: I am concerned about Chacin’s start for the Brewers. Going inside the numbers, he will hurt fantasy players depending upon 6-inning quality starts yielding three runs or less. He just isn’t doing that. He is throwing far too many pitches and leaving games too early. The home runs are a concern, especially in Miller Park. So I’m passing on Chacin. I wouldn’t drop him if I had him, but I would have never have drafted him or payed for him in auction unless my options were few. I do think his current owners will still get what they paid for. There are few better options on the waiver wire, if any.

KYLE FREELAND-SP-Colorado Rockies

Kyle Freeland is a big, 6-4, 201 pound lefty with roots in Colorado. If anyone can pitch in the mile-high Coors Field environment, it should be Kyle Freeland. He’s used to it. He grew up in Denver. And Kyle Freeland had a terrific 2018 season.

Freeland won 17 games for the Rockies last year. He threw 202.1 innings. He finished his best season ever with a masterful 2.85 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP. Outstanding numbers. Outstanding other worldly numbers for a Rockies pitcher starting half his games at Coors.

What happened to that Kyle Freeland? In his first eight starts of 2019, Freeland has managed to win two and lose five. He is throwing to an inflated 5.84 ERA. His WHIP isn’t that bad at 1.34, but it isn’t what it was. Freeland’s walk rate and his strikeout rate are almost identical to last year. However, last year Freeland yielded 17 total home runs. This year, he has already yielded nine homers. In his last start May 9 against the San Francisco Giants, Freeland yielded four hits and five runs in five innings. That isn’t so bad, except one of the hits was a home run. In his previous start he gave up four homers to Arizona. His ERA shot up from 4.81 to 5.90 in that game. And many fantasy teams felt the brunt of the outing. His ERA went “down” to 5.84 after the Giants game.

In his 2nd, 3rd, and 4th starts of the year, Freeland went 4.2, 5 and 5 inning respectively. That isn’t what we expected from the big lefty this year.

Here’s my greatest concern about Freeland. In his start against Arizona, Freeland’s average fastball velocity dropped from 92 miles per hour in late April to 90-91 in May. That’s a bit of a warning sign. It is concerning because he was throwing 94 miles per hour in February. I didn’t see his velocity in the Giants game.

Freeland mixes his pitches very well by using both a 4-seam and two-seam (sinker) fastball, a changeup, a cutter and a slider in his repertoire. We all know that movement is rather limited on breaking balls in Coors, but he makes them work. Usually.

This season Freeland is not fooling left-handed hitters. He has faced 34 left-handed plate appearances so far and has allowed a composite .353 batting average to those hitters. Their composite on-base percentage is .421. Right-handed hitters are hitting only .213 against him. Their on-base percentage is far less at .289. Right-handed hitters have made 141 plate appearances.

Last year, left-handed hitters came away with a composite .185 batting average in their 180 plate appearances. In contrast, right-handed hitters hit .255 in 664 plate appearances.

It will be interesting to see if the opposition loads their lineups with lefties. Maybe it isn’t anything more than a brief fluke.

My take: I like Kyle Freeland. As a general rule I don’t draft or pay for Rockies pitchers at auction with the exception of German Marquez. I think he’s one of baseball’s fine pitchers. So I wouldn’t draft or pay for Freeland at auction. However, if he were available in trade to me with a good return, I may consider the deal. He’s a good pitcher. I think he rebounds from yielding homers. I think he’s smart enough to figure out how to win in a tough park. In short, I’d hold him if I owned him. I do think there are better days ahead and what he has given you so far should not linger.

RICK PORCELLO-SP-Boston Red Sox

Few pitchers will give their team manager and their fantasy team manager heartburn more than Rick Porcello. If you are an owner of Porcello in fantasy, get ready for a bumpy ride. Good game. Bad game. Excellent game. Awful game. Which Porcello showed up? To say he’s volatile is an understatement.

Rick Porcello is in his age 30 season. That shouldn’t be alarming. However, he has thrown so many breaking balls in his pitching career it is a wonder he hasn’t had serious arm, forearm or elbow issues. But he’s healthy. This is the same Rick Porcello who won 22 games for the Red Sox in 2016, the year after he won only nine. This is the same Rick Porcello who lost 17 games the year after he won 22. Last year, the same Rick Porcello won 17. Is he every other year Rick? You get the picture. The picture is inconsistency.

This could be another every other off year. But the Red Sox need him. Your fantasy team needs him. In his first seven starts he has thrown 37 innings. His 5.11 ERA and 1.56 WHIP are beyond troubling. He is walking an astounding 4.1 hitters per nine innings. He has yielded more hits than innings pitched. It isn’t a good recipe if he hopes to find success. Strikeouts remain the same at about 8.5 strikeouts per nine innings.

Looking inside the numbers, left-handed hitters are hitting .328 in their 76 plate appearances. Right-handed hitters are at a .244 clip. That’s very telling. Porcello is pitching much better at home. He has thrown 18 innings in three games at home. The opposition is hitting .209 in those games. They are hitting .338 in four away games covering 19 innings.

My take: Can we trust Rick Porcello? Well, yes and no. Do I have trouble deciding if I want Rick Porcello on my fantasy team? Yes, and no. I just never know which Rick Porcello is going to show up. And that’s been going on year after year. Would I draft Porcello today? No, I don’t think so. Would I trade for Porcello today? It all depends upon what I have to give up. Here’s the thing. He pitches for a winning baseball team. He will win games for them. He will lose games for them. There is risk involved. The rewards are probably a tad better than the risks.

FELIX HERNANDEZ-SP-Seattle Mariners

His kingdom is no more. At one point, Felix Hernandez was a great pitcher. King Felix. A well earned title. He had Seattle Mariners fans in the palm of his hands. He still does, actually. Loyal Mariners fans know how much he has meant to their baseball team. They know how many fantastic innings and great games Hernandez has thrown. It was a great run. But his mastery over the opposition has diminished markedly. He can’t dominate hitters any longer. He struggles from outing to outing. His arm isn’t the same. He has thrown 2694.1 innings over 15 seasons. He has a very fine composite career ERA of 3.36. He has a record of 169-131.

As of this writing, Hernandez has started seven games He has walked only 1.2 hitters per game. That’s outstanding. However, he has yielded 44 hits in 36.1 innings. Eight of those hits have been home runs. Eight home runs in 36.1 innings is more than troubling.

Left-handed hitters have gone to the plate 50 times so far against Felix. They are hitting a collective .356. That’s a huge problem. He is better against right-handed hitters. They are hitting .272. But righties have hit five of the eight home runs against him in their 108 plate appearances.

In his May 7 start, Hernandez went five innings against the Yankees. He yielded eight hits and six earned runs in those innings. He gave up three home runs.

In March, 2010, Hernandez sat at 96 miles per hour with his fastball. That was a long, long time ago. He was one of baseball’s premiere starters. He was throwing 98 and 99 miles per hour in 2007. That was then. This is now. Hernandez is struggling to hit 90. That’s understandable. He still throws both a four-seam and two-seam (sinker) fastball. He also throws a changeup, a slider, a curve. His arsenal is still complete. He relies on his slider and curve more now than ever. When that happens, some will be hanging in the zone. That helps explain the home runs. More breaking balls=more home runs in Hernandez case. Less velocity also means hitters don’t have to fear the “high, hard one” up in their eyes.

My take: Hernandez was a very good pitcher. Operative word? Was. I could not trust him to pitch for my fantasy team every fifth day. I wouldn’t draft him, pay for him in auction, or trade for him. I will leave him to my opposition. He may throw some good games. But I can’t take the chance.

ZACK GODLEY-SP/RP-Arizona Diamondbacks

After six starts and two bullpen appearances, Zack Godley has a record of 1-2. His ERA is 7.49. He has a WHIP of 1.72. Godley has yielded 28 earned runs in 33.2 innings. He has given up 37 hits, including five home runs. Godley has walked an average of 5.6 hitters per nine innings. He has struck out 7.8 per nine. It hasn’t been a good start to the season.

In full disclosure, I remain a believer in Zack Godley. I’ve seen lots of pitchers, and I believe Godley has one of the best curveballs in the game. In fact, he throws it 57% of the time. That is really rare. In general, starting pitches rely upon their fastball for at least half their pitches. Breaking balls make up for the rest. In the case of Godley, he pitches differently.

Godley’s use of his curve, his cutter and his changeup as well as his sinking two-seam fastball make him very umpire dependent. Godley has about an inch to work with at the bottom of the strike zone. If he doesn’t get the low strike call, he’s in trouble. His line is so fine that he has to be exact to be in control of his outing. That’s a great deal to ask of any pitcher.

Sinker, curve, slider. Those three pitches can each make the pitcher vulnerable. It isn’t as if Godley is throwing a 95 miles per hour fastball up in the zone and taunting the hitter. In fact, he doesn’t throw anywhere near a 95 miles per hour four-seam fastball. He doesn’t throw a four-seamer. And his two-seam sinker comes in at an average of 90 miles per hour.

After six starts, Godley was moved to the bullpen. It was probably an excellent move by Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo. In fact, Godley may be able to thrive in a long relief role that spans perhaps four innings. I doubt he will be working higher leverage, later innings.

Can Godley get back to the rotation? It may be difficult. He is so dependent upon throwing strikes with breaking balls that a Dbacks team playing better than expected may not be able to tolerate Godley as a starter.

My take: I think the time has come to part ways with Godley as a fantasy option. His role in the bullpen may not change. If it does, he may not be able to give you what you need as a starter. I wouldn’t draft him or pay for him in auction. I wouldn’t trade for him. I will hope he straightens out his numbers and works himself back to the rotation. But that’s hoping a lot. And if he does get back to starting games, how effective will he be? I’ll have to leave those questions to my opposition.

I hope you will catch the weekly Short Hops podcast at iTunes, Stitcher, Google Play and right here at ClubhouseCorner.com every week.

Follow me on Twitter @BerniePleskoff

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About the author

Bernie Pleskoff

Bernie Pleskoff

Bernie Pleskoff is a former professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Bernie's work has been featured on MLB Pipeline, MLB.com and FanRag Sports, among others. You can follow Bernie Pleskoff on Twitter @BerniePleskoff

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