Mound Musings: You Can Do Better!

Mound Musings: You Can Do Better!

This article is part of our Mound Musings series.

Last week I looked at some pitchers posting dominant numbers early in the year that should probably be on your "sell high" list. Let's turn that around this week and cover some arms that have disappointed so far this season. Obviously every pitcher with pathetic peripherals isn't going to become a steady performer, so you have to be careful and hang onto (or pursue via trade) the pitchers with a bright future. Please note, you don't have to be off to a horrible start to make the list, you just have to offer the chance to be considerably better going forward. Let's take a look at who might be a boon as the season heats up …

You can pitch well, I know, I've seen you do it

Every pitcher goes through periods of inconsistency. As much as you would like to see your starters posting sub-1.00 WHIPs and ERAs, even the good ones will mix in great starts with mediocre starts with the end result -- if they are very good, "ace" types -- being solid stats at season's end. The difference between great, good, and run the other direction is how often those mediocre (or worse) starts pop up.

There are many reasons for stretches of mediocrity, especially very early in the season. Some pitchers are just slow starters and it takes them a few starts to get in the rhythm; something that is critically important for most starting pitchers. As we head into mid-May that should be

Last week I looked at some pitchers posting dominant numbers early in the year that should probably be on your "sell high" list. Let's turn that around this week and cover some arms that have disappointed so far this season. Obviously every pitcher with pathetic peripherals isn't going to become a steady performer, so you have to be careful and hang onto (or pursue via trade) the pitchers with a bright future. Please note, you don't have to be off to a horrible start to make the list, you just have to offer the chance to be considerably better going forward. Let's take a look at who might be a boon as the season heats up …

You can pitch well, I know, I've seen you do it

Every pitcher goes through periods of inconsistency. As much as you would like to see your starters posting sub-1.00 WHIPs and ERAs, even the good ones will mix in great starts with mediocre starts with the end result -- if they are very good, "ace" types -- being solid stats at season's end. The difference between great, good, and run the other direction is how often those mediocre (or worse) starts pop up.

There are many reasons for stretches of mediocrity, especially very early in the season. Some pitchers are just slow starters and it takes them a few starts to get in the rhythm; something that is critically important for most starting pitchers. As we head into mid-May that should be less of a factor for pitchers who have taken a regular turn since Opening Day. It could be a change in mechanics or even pitch selection. One of the top starters on the list below fits into that category. Nagging, and sometimes unreported injuries can be a factor. And, of course, with the small sample sizes you see early on, it could be a dose of bad luck, and advanced metrics might help us identify those instances.

I'm going to throw a name out there as an example, albeit he is not a guy I would expect many fantasy owners are giving up on. Ever heard of Clayton Kershaw? So far this year in seven starts he is 1-2 with a 4.26 ERA, and a 1.26 WHIP. That's not horrible at all, especially when you add in 56 strikeouts in 44.1 innings. However, it's not Kershaw.

Actually he's a smorgasbord of reasons for a slow start. His FIP is 2.95 suggesting that 4.26 ERA is artificially inflated. His BABIP is .367, which is astronomically high for him (it hasn't been over .289 since 2008). His BB/9 is up slightly and his HR/9 is also higher than you would expect yet his K/9 is a career-high 11.37 and his fastball velocity is up a tick at 93.6 mph. That screams being just a wee bit off with his location. Not surprisingly, I feel confident when I say Mr. Kershaw will be doing his thing again very soon.

So, here are my nominees for Pitchers Ready to Turn It Around (or On):


  • Chris Sale(White Sox) - He could almost be included in the Kershaw category of no doubt about it, better days are imminent, but I wanted to briefly discuss his situation. Sale has long been an injury risk in the eyes of most as his motion is a template for stress. That said, when healthy he has been one of the most dominant pitchers in the game. He has altered his pitch mix, increasing usage of his change-up and throwing fewer sliders, all to protect his arm. I think it will work out and he'll be back to the Sale we know and love, but it can be very challenging. Francisco Liriano cut back on the sliders a few years ago and he struggled on and off for a long time. Be patient.

  • Garrett Richards (Angels) - Here's one who has good numbers right now, but has been showing signs the best is still yet to come. I love this guy more every time I see him pitch. A fluke leg injury cost him the end of last season and slowed him down this spring, but he's making up for lost time. The velocity is back, and the movement is just electric. He's issued too many walks as he shakes off the rust, but that looks like it will come to an end soon, allowing him to trim his WHIP even further while pitching deeper into games. Richards is one of the most exciting young arms in baseball, and I would pay a premium for his services.

  • Phil Hughes(Twins) - I have in the past discussed the concept of throwing too many strikes - a few pitches outside the strikezone are important in keeping hitters off balance. Hughes has impeccable control and can put the ball in the zone at will, but that kind of pinpoint control comes with a need for equally good command. Right now Hughes is paying the price for missing slightly within the zone and the cost is home runs flying everywhere. This year and last, Hughes has walked just 20 in over 250 innings. That's insane. Hitters know it's going to be a strike and swing from the heels. They will have to adjust as he nibbles on the corners more often and induces weaker swings.

  • Tyson Ross (Padres) - Usually, increasing your groundball rate helps your overall peripherals, but when you pitch in Petco Park, flyballs aren't always a bad thing. In Ross' case, his groundball to flyball ratio is currently over 3:1 and quite a few of those groundballs have snuck through to the outfield grass leading to a high .351 BABIP. He gets a lot of movement on his pitches and weak contact is a trademark - something that greatly contributes to flyballs floating harmlessly into an outfielder's glove. San Diego's offense is worlds ahead of where it has been in recent years, but they have sacrificed some defense in building that offense and BABIP are generally up among their pitchers. With Ross being difficult to square up, I think things will normalize and his peripherals will come back.

  • Gio Gonzalez(Nationals) - I could have listed most of the Nationals pitching staff on this list, but I decided to go with Gio over Jordan Zimmermann and Stephen Strasburg because he might be more overlooked in many fantasy leagues. Quality performance for Gonzalez is directly linked to walk ratio -when he throws strikes, he is successful, and he has shown that he is back to throwing strikes consistently. His BABIP is high and it has contributed to a higher WHIP and ERA (actual is 3.62 and FIP is 2.74). The Nationals are loaded this year, and they have been playing like it recently so look for his value to rise as his peripherals steadily improve.

Some Other Notable Rotation Ramblings:

  • Finally! It seems like we have been waiting forever for Noah Syndergaard to make his debut. Overall, I loved what I saw, a 97-98 mph fastball with arm side run, then a wicked 81-82 mph hook. He even hung tough when Daniel Murphy lollipopped a routine throw from third and extended an inning. He lost his rhythm a bit when pitching from the stretch, but looked solid before noticeably tiring.

  • I watched part of game where Michael Pineda logged 16 strikeouts in seven innings, and it was legit. He might finally be back to where he was when he stood baseball on its ear when he came up with the Mariners. When he is spotting his pitches he is nearly untouchable.

  • Shelby Miller seems to be benefiting from the move to Atlanta. Miller's innate ability to pitch has never been a question, but he developed a reputation for being something of a loose cannon while with the Cardinals. It's going well right now but I tend to be leery of less coachable arms due to risk of backsliding.

  • Sometimes a pitcher manages to do a total makeover and you can throw the book on him out the window. That pretty much sums up Ubaldo Jimenez. A few years ago he was the definition of "thrower" sitting in the upper 90s. Now, toned down and throwing strikes, he has made himself fantasy relevant again.

  • A bonus watching Syndergaard's first start was having the opportunity to watch Jake Arrieta again. His command was a little inconsistent during the outing, but his awesome breaking pitches were handcuffing the Mets all night. He has put up good numbers this year, but I actually think the best is yet to come.

  • I watched Ian Kennedy in his outing against the Mariners the other day and I have to say I am a little concerned. His velocity was generally down a couple of ticks, but more importantly, he never really looked settled on the mound. He missed time in April with a hamstring strain and I wonder if it's still lingering.

Endgame Odyssey

The Marlins have been forced to consider alternatives with Steve Cishek not getting it done. They have several options including A.J. Ramos, Bryan Morris and Mike Dunn, but Ramos would be the best bet. If he can get it back together, Cishek's past success will probably get him another shot. ... Starting pitchers continue to drop like flies but several teams should be welcoming closers back in the next week or two -- Kenley Jansen. Sean Doolittle, and Jake McGee are about ready. ... Jason Grilli suffered some back spasms recently and Jim Johnson filled in. Grilli returned earlier this week but wasn't sharp and if he misses much time along the way Johnson will get the chance to take over, but that would not be a comforting scenario. ... Arizona's Addison Reed was torched on Wednesday, loading the bases before serving up a grand slam, and his overall peripherals this year have hinted at potential struggles. They may want to consider someone else, but the options aren't overwhelming. Brad Ziegler could see chances, but he is better suited to a set-up role, Evan Marshall has seen rough going and was just sent to Triple-A, while Daniel Hudson could be a thought if they feel he can handle the workload. Stay tuned. ... Over in San Diego, Craig Kimbrel has been doing his job, but has posted lackluster numbers. I wouldn't be too concerned as much of the damage has been done in non-save situations, and many closers need adrenaline to really shine.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Brad Johnson
For more than 30 years, pitching guru Brad "Bogfella" Johnson has provided insightful evaluation and analysis of pitchers to a wide variety of fantasy baseball websites, webcasts and radio broadcasts. He joined RotoWire in 2011 with his popular Bogfella's Notebook.
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