When you draft a pitcher in the first few rounds of your Fantasy Baseball draft, you expect them to be your ace, your stopper, your No. 1 guy. You expect them to pace your team in four standard pitching categories whether it be counting stats (Wins and Strikeouts) or rate stats (ERA and WHIP). You expect them to do what Clayton Kershaw (2.04 ERA with 64 Ks in 53 innings), Chris Sale (seven wins in seven starts) and Jake Arrieta (no-hitter, six wins, 1.13 ERA) have done over their first seven starts.
The pitcher you used that early-round draft pick on is supposed to be inserted into your lineup every fifth day from Opening Day through the dog days of summer and into September as you close out what you hoped would be another great Fantasy season. These aces were supposed to provide you with 30-plus starts and, at season’s end, around 15 wins, a 3.00 ERA, a 1.10 WHIP, and about a strikeout an inning.
These starting pitchers were supposed to do that for you. But sadly, things haven’t worked out exactly as expected through the first few weeks of the season, as many top-tier starters are off to an unusually rough start.
Some of these underachieving aces have ERAs more than twice their career average. Others don’t seem to be able to get out of the fifth inning. These would-be aces were knocked around through the first month-plus and haven’t produced what we’ve come to expect from them. These No.1 starters aren’t pitching like players who were ranked in the pre-season Top 100 just a few short weeks ago.
And looking at their careers, all of these aces should figure it out over their next few starts as they’ve proven, year in and year out, that they are top-of-the-line starters. Patience will be a virtue if you own any of these pitchers, as they will likely go back to being their usual, dominant selves as we move past the quarter-pole of the season.
An Ace In The Cards
I traded for Adam Wainwright, one of these underachieving aces, last week during his very mediocre start against the Phillies. The trade offer was literally accepted following a rough third inning in which Waino gave up three runs. The owner I traded with simply said, “My rule is if you get beat up by the Phillies, I no longer have a place for you on my team.”
For my sake, those three runs were the last one’s Wainwright gave up that evening, and he followed that up with another quality start, in which he allowed three runs over 6.1 innings against the Pirates. That’s three quality starts in his last four outings and four out of seven total. While Wainwright still has an ERA over six (6.30) along with a 1.50 WHIP, he seems to be trending in the right direction.
In the deal, I gave up a quality closer in Jeremy Jeffress (8-for-8 in saves with a 2.63 ERA) in order to acquire Wainwright, but I’m always happy to swap saves for a starter. I’m sure I’ll be able to find saves on the waiver wire at some point later in the season, but the likelihood of my finding a potential ace is slim to none. I’ll take my chances with Waino and his career 3.06 ERA over his next 25 starts.
Has Harvey Hit a Wall?
Every time I hear anyone who isn’t a Mets fan talk about Matt Harvey, the discussion is almost always about how overrated he is. I, on the other hand, like to look at players for what they are.
Yes, Harvey has a 4.50 ERA and a 1.48 WHIP through his first seven starts of the season, but he’s also only given up more than three runs in one start (April 16 versus the Indians). He hasn’t been lights out, by any means, but he has been able to limit the damage without his best stuff in the early going.
The righty is also coming off a start in which he allowed two runs in six innings and struck out 10, a season-high. The only damage on the afternoon was an absolute bomb by Christian Bethancourt in the fifth inning. That two-run shot was the fourth home run Harvey has given up, and the home-run ball has clearly been his biggest issue so far this year.
I’m going to look at his complete book of work before making any judgments, and what I see is a career 2.70 ERA, a 1.04 WHIP and 484 strikeouts in 467 innings. This season’s bloated ERA is partially due to a .295 batting average against, which is 73 points above his career average of .221. Look for Harvey to heat up as the weather does so and for him to end the season where you expected him to when it began — as the Mets’ ace leading the way to a second straight playoff berth.
Aces in New Places
David Price and Zack Greinke both signed enormous free-agent deals this offseason (Price: 7 years, $217 million / Greinke: 6 years, $206 million), and both immediately put up career-worst months to start off those contracts.
While Price has the third-highest ERA (6.75) of 103 qualified starters and has given up the second-most hits in the American League through seven starts, Greinke has a .303 batting average against in 40-plus innings. These pitchers are simply better than their numbers appear.
Price has still been able to strike out 53 batters in 41.1 innings while only walking 12 and he also lucked into four wins, despite his 6.75 ERA. The left-hander has a career 3.19 ERA, which is less than half of where he stands heading into this next start Thursday versus Houston. And expect to see a different pitcher on the mound at Fenway that night, as Price is a typical slow starter with a career-worst 4.13 ERA in April.
Greinke, on the other hand, has a career 2.66 ERA and a 24-9 record in April in his career. That includes his 2016 April, when he racked up a 5.50 ERA over six starts. His first May start (six innings, two earned, eight Ks) is likely a sign of things to come.
Overall, Greinke has had four quality starts, two really bad starts, and one entirely average start (which included eight strikeouts in six innings of work). This worked out to a 5.15 ERA, a 1.44 WHIP and 40 strikeouts in 43.2 innings over seven starts. Now that’s a far cry from his last three seasons with the Dodgers during which his ERA topped out at 2.71 in 2014, but he’s only allowed two earned runs max in four of his last five outings.
As opposed to his new D-Backs teammate Shelby Miller, who is also off to a brutal start, there’s every reason to believe Greinke will bounce back to be the ace Arizona shelled out that big deal for.
Not So Sunny Start for Sonny
Sonny Gray has a 6.00 ERA following his Monday start during when he gave up seven runs in just 3.2 innings against the Red Sox. That was the second consecutive start that the A’s ace gave up seven runs and, to make things worse, his start before that was the shortest of his career (two innings, four runs, four walks). In those three outings, Gray’s ERA has shot up from 2.73 to 6.00.
Since this is something we haven’t seen from Gray in his previous two-plus seasons in the Majors (3.11 career ERA), you can think two ways — the righty is either injured or you can expect him to get back on track over his next few starts. Since he has been one of the most consistent starting pitchers since entering the Majors in 2013, I would think he’s far more likely to bounce back.
With five long months still left in the season, you have to look at the track record of all of these starters and expect sunny skies ahead for these currently underachieving aces.