Circling the Bases: The Starting Pitcher Case Log
Four pitchers are broken down in detail as we try to get to what is behind their relative success. Oh, and one hitter as well – a guy who carried your team early on, then vanished for months. Is he finally back?
THE CASE OF Zack Greinke
9-3, 3.40 ERA, 1.24 WHIP with 86 Ks in 111.1 innings
As all Zack Greinke owners know it can be a frustrating process to own the righty. In four of his last 10 starts he's allowed at least four earned runs (twice he's allowed five). In the other six outings he's allowed 2, 2, 1, 0, 0 and 1 one run. He's also gone at least six innings in eight of the 10 starts as he's produced a 6-2 record for the Dodgers. As you can see above, his overall numbers are strong. However, some cracks exist. First off, he strikes out eight batters per nine for his career. This season that mark is a full batter lower. He's also walking 2.59 batters per nine, a very impressive number on it's own, but it would be a six year high for Zack. The result is a significant step back from his 3.45 career K/BB ratio to 2.69 this season. He's also allowing a line drive rate of 23.9 percent, three points above his career mark and the highest total he's had since 2006. Fewer strikeouts, more walks, and more line drives are not a good combination. Luckily for Greinke pretty much everything else we normally look at to get a handle with a hurler is either right on track with career norms or slightly better. There's no reason to expect a drop off, but there's also little reason to expect his ratios to improve much over the final seven weeks.
THE CASE OF COREY KLUBER
7-5, 3.54 ERA, 1.20 WHIP with 116 Ks in 122 innings
You deserve to be talked about when you shutout the Tigers for 7.1 innings (Corey's been locked in of late with a 2.33 ERA and 1.04 WHP over his last four starts. However, like it's been most of the season, he's just not getting the offensive support as he hasn't picked up a win in any of those four outings). Kluber has been a fantastic addition in AL-only leagues this season, and he's certainly pitched well enough to be a significant contributor on many a mixed league upper division squad as well. He's not without some warts, he has a 4.55 ERA on the road and batters have an .850 OPS against him with runners in scoring position, but that's quibbling a bit. As you undoubtedly noted Kluber has been a big K arm this season with an 8.56 K/9 mark. That's exciting. However, when you combine that effort with Greinke-like control – Kluber has walked just 1.92 batters per nine – then it's time to get excited (Kluber's 4.46 K/BB ratio is the 12th best mark in baseball this season). Kluber has also done a very good job of keeping the ball on the ground, his ground ball rate is almost 47 percent. He's actually pitched a bit better than his ratios would lead you to believe, and that's certainly saying something given how impressive the marks already are. All of that is for naught, at least for the short-term, as Kluben went on the DL on Tuesday with a sprained right middle finger.
THE CASE OF ANIBAL SANCHEZ
9-7, 2.58 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 131 Ks in 118.2 innings
The second best pitcher in Detroit, sorry Mr. Verlander, Sanchez has been a fantasy beast. He's striking out well above a batter per inning, his 9.94 K/9 mark would be a career best and is two batters above his career mark. He's also sporting a 3.54 K/BB ratio, the best mark of his career and more than a full point above his career mark. His 2.58 ERA is the fourth best mark in the AL. It's a full run below his career average. If only he had more than nine wins (his career best is 13 victories, and that 2010 effort is the only time in his career that he's won more than nine games). Obviously there are some concerns with Sanchez being that he's in the process of having a career best season (will he slow, will he fail, will be keep this up?). Additionally, there is his health which is a constant worry. Though he's thrown 195 innings each of the past three seasons, he's yet to reach 200 innings in a season. He's already missed time this season with a shoulder issue as well, so there's that little voice in the back of everyone who owns Sanchez that is saying 'can he just hold on for seven more weeks...'
THE CASE Stephen Strasburg
5-9, 3.01 ERA, 1.07 WHIP with 143 Ks in 137.1 innings
Foolishly the first pitcher off the board in some drafts this season, no matter when Strasburg was taken he hasn't lived up to the draft day expectations. The most obvious issue is the lack of victories. As I point out over and over and over again every year, it's very difficult to predict who will win games and who won't. Last year the borderline elite pitcher who didn't win games was Cliff Lee. This year it's Stephen Strasburg. His record should be 9-5 and not 5-9, but that's how it goes sometimes. His 3.01 ERA is less than a tenth off his 2.96 career mark, and his 1.07 WHIP is one hundredth off his career mark of 1.08. At least his ratios are where people thought they would be. However, there's also another slightly disappointing situation going on with Strasburg beyond the W-L record. Did you note that he just barely had more Ks than innings pitched? I'm not going to sit here and call out a fella who is whiffing more than a batter an inning, but Strasburg owners expected more. Last season Strasburg had a K/9 mark of 11.13. Over his first three seasons the mark was 11.21. So when a guy is averaging more than 11 whiffs per nine and that same fella is now checking in at 9.37 per nine, you can't help but be disappointed. Also, Strasburg is walking 2.75 batters per nine, a four year high. Luckily for him he's seemingly changed how he's pitched a bit as he seems to have given up a few punchouts for the grounder (Johnny Cueto did the same thing before he took off). It's too early to suggest this is a conscious decision by Strasburg, but when a guy goes from inducing grounders at about a 43 percent rate to 52 percent, his mark this season, that's exciting when that same arm strikes out a batter per inning. More grounders and fewer strikeouts might also help Strasburg go deeper into games, and that should only help his W-L record in the long run.
BY THE NUMBERS - Justin Upton
Justin Upton has been an extremely uneven performer this season, like the best hitter in baseball and then one of the worst, but his counting numbers are pretty much right where you should have expected them to be.
20: The amount of homers Upton has hit this season. He hit 12 in his first 23 games this season and he's gone deep four times in his last five games. That means he hit a total of four home runs in the 77 games in between. Also, Upton averaged 24 homers the past two seasons. He's on a 155 game pace of 30 homers this season.
57: The RBI total of Upton. The past two years he's averaged 78 RBIs a season. If he were to maintain his current pace over 155 games he would record 84 RBIs. He's also driven in nine runs in his last five games.
72: The runs scored total of Upton. The past two years he's averaged 106 runs scored. If he maintained his current pace and plays in 155 games he would score 106 runs. He's also scored 11 times in his last eight games.
Now the real issues...
.265: His current batting average. Upton has hit .285 the past two years so his current mark is 20 points down, but did you know that he's only a .276 career hitter? A hot 10 days at the dish could easily add .010 points to his average to match his career level. Were you also aware that he hit .298 in April, .292 in July and that he's started off August batting .409 in 22 at-bats? Too bad he batted .218 in 51 games in May and June. Speaking of slash numbers, were you aware that his OBP was only a point below his career mark and that his SLG was only two points off his career mark? Yeah, you thought he sucked but Upton has a .829 OPS this season compared to his career mark of .832. On second look, maybe things aren't as bad as you thought?
7: This is an issue as that is Upton's stolen base mark. He's been very successful in swiping seven of eight steal attempts, but the guy has stolen at least 18 bases each of the last four years. No sugar coating with this one. He'll need to significantly pick up the pace to get anywhere close to his four year average. Don't bet on it happening.
Ray Flowers can be heard daily on Sirius/XM Radio on The Fantasy Drive on Sirius 210 and XM 87, Monday through Friday. Ray's analysis can be found at BaseballGuys.com and his minute to minute musings can be located at the BaseballGuys' Twitter account.