MLB Barometer: The Harvey Cap-tastrophe

MLB Barometer: The Harvey Cap-tastrophe

This article is part of our MLB Barometer series.

There's something that might be getting lost in all the kerfuffle over Matt Harvey's innings cap, and that's the fact that teams are becoming increasingly cautious when it comes to pitcher work loads. Fun as it is to argue about soft caps versus hard caps or whether Scott Boras is a power-mad tyrant or a saintly protector of his beleaguered clients, it obscures the fact that Harvey is not the only pitcher getting his innings scaled back in September. Raisel Iglesias emerged as a dependable fantasy arm in Cincinnati just in time for the organization to decide that he was just about done for the year. Joe Ross got yanked after just 4.1 innings and 76 pitches Sunday with Nats manager Matt Williams talking about visible signs of fatigue and apparently hinting at shutting him down for good. The trend isn't restricted to young arms, either. In the Bronx, the Yankees seem quite content to run with a six-man rotation down the stretch even as they fight for a division title, in part to keep Masahiro Tanaka for being over-taxed.

While rookies hitting team-imposed innings caps, or teams being careful with fragile hurlers, is nothing new it is a philosophy that seems to be on the upswing. With teams investing millions in pitchers with elbow ligaments that can snap at seemingly any moment, it makes sense that they would focus at least some of their attention on preserving those pitchers as best they can. For fantasy players though, the

There's something that might be getting lost in all the kerfuffle over Matt Harvey's innings cap, and that's the fact that teams are becoming increasingly cautious when it comes to pitcher work loads. Fun as it is to argue about soft caps versus hard caps or whether Scott Boras is a power-mad tyrant or a saintly protector of his beleaguered clients, it obscures the fact that Harvey is not the only pitcher getting his innings scaled back in September. Raisel Iglesias emerged as a dependable fantasy arm in Cincinnati just in time for the organization to decide that he was just about done for the year. Joe Ross got yanked after just 4.1 innings and 76 pitches Sunday with Nats manager Matt Williams talking about visible signs of fatigue and apparently hinting at shutting him down for good. The trend isn't restricted to young arms, either. In the Bronx, the Yankees seem quite content to run with a six-man rotation down the stretch even as they fight for a division title, in part to keep Masahiro Tanaka for being over-taxed.

While rookies hitting team-imposed innings caps, or teams being careful with fragile hurlers, is nothing new it is a philosophy that seems to be on the upswing. With teams investing millions in pitchers with elbow ligaments that can snap at seemingly any moment, it makes sense that they would focus at least some of their attention on preserving those pitchers as best they can. For fantasy players though, the question then becomes: how reliable will young and/or rehabbing pitchers actually be in the future? How many innings will the Mets let Zack Wheeler throw in 2016, especially after their experience this season with Harvey? How long a leash will the Twins give Jose Berrios? Is the possibility of an early shutdown being underestimated in their ADP?

We've already seen a swing in valuation over the last few years when it comes to established aces, with prices rising to the point that no one blinks twice if you take an elite pitcher in the first or second round or even if you nab Clayton Kershaw with the first overall pick (something Vlad discussed last week in this very column). If popular 'sleeper' picks start to become a little more risky due to the fact that you might not get a full six months out of them, that's only going to have the effect of driving values on the pitchers you can count on even higher.

Anyway, that's something to worry about next March. There's still a few more weeks left in this season, so let's see who has wings.... or cement shoes.

RISERS

Didi Gregorius (SS, NYY) – I can't help it. Every time I see Gregorius' name, I flash back to Genndy Tartakovsky's awesome late-90s cartoon Dexter's Lab, where the tiny boy-genius scientist with the inexplicable accent would be driven to the edge of madness by his ditzy sister Dee Dee. "DEE DEE! DO NOT TOUCH THAT LEVER! YOU WILL RUIN MY EXPERIMENT!" Well, if you experimented with Gregorius down the stretch this year, the only thing he's helped ruin is your chances of finishing in the basement. (Boom! Nailed it!) He's hit a scalding .400/.455/.660 over the last couple of weeks with three homers, 13 RBI and 10 runs scored, excellent numbers for any middle infielder, while also starting to iron out the rough edges in his defensive game and settle in as the heir apparent at shortstop to St. Derek the Blessed. While that pace isn't sustainable of course, his .323/.362/.447 second-half slash line will give him a lot of helium at next year's draft table.

Jayson Werth (OF, WAS) – For most of this season it looked like Werth was basically done. He missed a large portion of the season with a wrist injury, and when he was in the lineup he was pretty much awful. A funny thing happened on the way to the retirement home though... Werth got healthy and started hitting like his old self again. Over the last couple of weeks he's slashed .321/.403/.571 with three home runs and 13 runs scored, and that doesn't count Sunday's game in which he extended a modest hitting streak to eight games. He'll turn 37 next May, so there's no reasonable expectation that he'll be able to stay healthy or effective next season (much less the season after that, which is when his contract mercifully runs out) but for a Nats team desperately trying to stay in the race in the NL East, this flash of offense couldn't have come at a better time, even if it turns out to be his swan song.

Derek Holland (SP, TEX) – Next year, Holland could well end up being exactly the kind of player I talked about in the intro. After a very good 2013 that had him poised to become one of the more interesting second-tier pitchers in the American League, he suffered an offseason knee injury that cost him most of last year, but when he got got healthy he was excellent, posting the kind of numbers in September that Cole Hamels would be thrilled to have. This year has proved to be almost a carbon copy of 2014 though, as a "minor" case of spring shoulder soreness turned into a delayed start to the season and then just one inning of work before he had to shut things down again. Finally returning to the mound in mid-August, Holland has once again dazzled, posting a 2.15 ERA, 0.82 WHIP and 25:3 K:BB ratio through four starts and 29.1 innings. The talent is clearly there for the 28-year-old left-hander, but how many innings will you be able to get out of him in 2016? And even if he does start the season healthy and stay that way, how much will the Rangers push their luck before they start to think about reining him in or even shutting him down?

J.A. Happ (SP, PIT) – Speaking of mercurial left-handers, Happ is at it again. Sent packing by the Mariners after managing a 4.64 ERA through 108.2 innings, he wound up in Pittsburgh and has reeled off a 1.57 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 32:7 K:BB ratio through his first six starts and 34.3 innings with the Bucs. He's had good streaks before, especially after joining a new organization (his April ERA in Seattle this year was 2.30, for instance) but never anything quite this spectacular, and at 32 it seems highly unlikely that he's suddenly turned a corner on his career. Enjoy the ride while it lasts, but don't hesitate to jump off if things start to get bumpy.

FALLERS

Hanley Ramirez (??, BOS) – This week Hanley is standing in not just for himself but for all the disappointments, all the Yasiel Puigs and the Matt Hollidays, who decided to add insult to injury by, err, being injured in September and leaving anyone who'd still clung to their shares in them uncertain as to whether they'd actually play again this year. End-of-season injuries to players are the worst, especially on teams that have little to no incentive to put them in the lineup because their postseason fortunes are already more or less set. In his specific case, the Red Sox at least placed Ramirez on the DL (officially with a sore shoulder and not general suckitude) and retro'ed it to the end of August, so you know he probably won't be available until at least next week. They've also been pretty blunt about him only playing first base or DH when he does get back, and not every day, so unless you've got him at a price that makes him worth gambling on next season, you're probably safe in cutting him loose at last.

Chris Coghlan (2B/OF, CHC) – Between the Austin Jackson trade and Javier Baez's promotion, Coghlan's paths to playing time suddenly vanished, but it's not like he was doing much with the at-bats anyway. Over the last two weeks he's slashing .176/.333/.265, and with him sitting at just 15 games played at 2B right now, he won't even be a sneaky low-end MI play in most leagues next year. Coghlan's power surge and positional "flexibility" probably bought him a couple more seasons on major league benches, but as a streaky hitter who runs cold a lot more often than he runs hot, his fantasy value is limited only to those times when you happen to time the market perfectly.

Hector Santiago (SP, LAA) – After pitching so well for most of the season the wheels seem to be falling off for Santiago. He's now walked at least three batters in five straight starts, posting a 5.32 ERA and 19:19 K:BB ratio in 23.2 innings over that stretch. He somehow managed to dance through six shutout innings Sunday and get a win despite issuing six free passes, but a recipe for sustained success this is not. He has set a new career high for innings pitched in 2015, so maybe this is one case where the team really ought to think about shutting Santiago down, but with the Angels still alive in the wild card hunt that may not happen. There's no reason for you to make the same mistake though, unless you really need the wins and have nothing to lose in WHIP.

Mat Latos (SP, LAD) – I made the obligatory 'Latos intolerance' joke on Twitter the other day, framing it as a David Caruso CSI: Miami sting to at least try and have it stand out from the undoubtedly thousands of similar tweets flying around. I was down on Latos coming into the year but even I didn't think he'd be this bad. He hasn't gotten out of the fifth inning in any start in over a month, posting an 8.31 ERA over that stretch, and much as the Dodgers try and coax some decent innings out of his arm with extra rest it just doesn't seem to be happening. At least the deal for Alex Wood is panning out for them. Mike Bolsinger looked OK in his first start back with the big club Friday, so don't be surprised if Latos gets consigned to the bullpen sometime soon.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Erik Siegrist
Erik Siegrist is an FSWA award-winning columnist who covers all four major North American sports (that means the NHL, not NASCAR) and whose beat extends back to the days when the Nationals were the Expos and the Thunder were the Sonics. He was the inaugural champion of Rotowire's Staff Keeper baseball league. His work has also appeared at Baseball Prospectus.
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