So often times we judge pitchers, unfairly, by their win-loss records. If we take a look beyond their records we almost universally focus on the ERA next, even though that mark too can be deceiving. In what follows I will break down the early season performances of thirteen hurlers, six which you should consider buying low on and seven that you should be trying to move as soon as you stop reading this piece.
Matt Cain is about to get ready to get expensive again. His ERA is 5.57 and he has just one win in seven starts, but pretty much everything he is doing right now is “normal,” other than all the homers he has somehow allowed (three times in seven starts he’s allowed at least two).
Cole Hamels has one win an a 4.34 ERA. That’s all some will see. What you should see is a guy who has had a slow start but is fine. Hamels needs to do a better job locating his pitchers, his current 3.35 BB/9 mark would be a career worst, but there is every reason to think that he should bounced back. When he does, his career worst 1.38 HR/9 mark will likely also recede, and with it his ERA will likely come down, perhaps a full run. Even with his struggles he’s still sporting a 1.18 WHIP as he’s been effective even if his W-L record doesn’t show show it.
Dan Haren allowed seven earned runs on April 16th, but in three starts since then he has permitted a total of six runs. He’s still working on a nearly 6:1 K/BB ratio which is elite, but it’s the dang homer that is still biting him (seven in six starts). Well, he’s also allowing a .311 batting average is only .056 points above his career norm, and that hasn’t helped either. He will never be elite again, but things are rounding into form and he should be a solid mixed league option the rest of the way.
Jeremy Hellickson is a guy everyone loves to hate. Don’t really know why. Sure he’s got one win with a 4.71 ERA through six starts, but is that all you see? It’s surely not all I see. I see a career a jacked up K/9 rate (6.31 last year but 7.68 this season). I see a three year best walk rate (2.72 per nine). I see a one tenth better than normal 1.02 GB/FB rate. I see a 1.21 WHIP, slightly below his 1.25 mark from last season. I also see a HR/9 mark of 1.49, well above his 1.17 career mark. The ERA will come down. In fact, his xFIP is currently 3.93 and that would be a three year best (his actual ERA’s the past two years have been 2.95 and 3.10).
David Price has been a star for years now, and his effort last season was elite (20-5, 2.56 ERA, 1.10 WHIP). Through seven outings this year he’s looked like a totally different hurler with a 6.25 ERA and 1.48 WHIP. Panic time? Hardly. Price is still striking out more than eight batters per nine, and his his current BB/9 mark of 2.42 would actually be a career best. He’s also above his career norm with a 52 percent ground ball rate that has led to an excellent 1.85 GB/FB ratio. Let’s hang our hat on two things. (1) His HR/9 is 1.61, double his career mark of 0.86 (the mark has been under 0.90 the last three years). (2) His BABIP is .351. The mark has been between .268-.285 the past four years.
C.J. Wilson continues to be undone by walks. He’s always put to many guys on base via the free pass, the mark has been over four per nine innings in two of the last three years, but his current mark of 5.55 is just not acceptable. He’s still generating grounders on 50 percent of the batted balls and striking out more than eight guys per nine innings which leads me to believe he’s got a solid shot to turn around that 1.57 WHIP if he can curtail the wide ones.
Clay Buchholz leads the majors with a 1.01 ERA and six wins. That alone should cause you some pause. When you realize his K/9 mark is literally up three batters over what he has done the last four years, and that his BB/9 is basically his career average, you should be nervous. Toss in that he’s allowing homers at literally a quarter of his normal rate and you should know it’s time to sell high.
Patrick Corbin has been great on his way to a 4-0 record and 1.80 ERA, but come on. This guy doesn’t have elite skills, so everything is going to have to continue to fall in his direction for him to continue along these lines. Don’t expect that to happen. He really hasn’t pitched any different than last year when his ERA was 4.54. He may not be that guy either, but I know for certain he isn’t the guy we’re seeing right now.
Jaime Garcia has a 2.25 ERA through seven starts, a great mark. At the same time his 6.34 K/9 mark would be a four year low. His 2.66 BB/9 would be a three year high. That’s not the sign of a guy who is going to hold on to his gains. Garcia is generating a massive 65 percent ground ball rate, but there’s simply no way he can keep that up over the course of a season. Plus, the guy is constantly hurt, and that severely tarnishes his outlook.
Jeremy Guthrie is doing his best Ryan Vogelsong impersonation as a guy who is having all kinds of success even if there really isn’t a clear explanation as to why. After two years of success it’s come crashing down on Vogelsong as he has a 7.20 ERA and 1.66 WHIP. When will the same thing happen to Guthrie who has a 2.40 ERA and 1.11 WHIP for the Royals? My guess is sooner rather than later, so now is the right moment to explore dealing the righty.
This one is just common sense. Hisashi Iwakuma has made seven starts with a 1.61 ERA and 0.76. Even if he has a great year with a 3.00 ERA and 1.10 WHIP his numbers are going to to way up over his next 25 starts. It’s also unlikely he will continue to strike out nearly a batter per inning (42 in 44.2 innings), and I’m pretty sure he’s not going to be able to keep his BABIP under .200 this season. Pretty sure.
Kevin Slowey doesn’t normally beat himself with a career 1.43 BB/9 mark (he’s slightly above that at 1.61 this season). However, he’s never been much of a K-arm, and though his 7.25 mark would be a half batter over his career rate, that increase is significant. When you don’t beat yourself and you get some cheap outs via the punch out, then you’re in business. At the same time there’s no way anyone can expect a continuation of what we’ve seen thus far. (1) His .250 BABIP is .040 points lower than ever before. (2) His 0.60 HR/9 mark is less than half his career 1.36 mark. (3) He’s never thrown 100 innings in back-to-back seasons, and last year he tossed just 59.1 innings in the bigs (he’s already at 44.2 this season). A solid NL-only arm, but one you might consider peddling to the highest bidder.
Jake Westbrook has been written about before by this scribe. A 1.07 ERA through five starts is insane for a guy who has 18 Ks and 17 walks over 33.2 innings (4.81 K/9, 4.54 K/BB). Even with his success this season, WHIP tells the story (1.40). Run, don’t walk, away from this guy and deal him immediately.
Ray Flowers can be heard daily on Sirius/XM Radio on The Fantasy Drive on Sirius 210 and XM 87, Monday through Friday at 5 PM EDT. For more of Ray’s analysis you can check out BaseballGuys.com or the BaseballGuys’ Twitter account where he tirelessly answer everyone’s questions.