Your All-Star break Buy and Sell Starting Pitcher Guide
Pitchers are the most difficult of any position to project in the short term, while they can be the most reliable in the long term. Any pitcher good enough to reach the highest level has the raw potential to dominate in small sample sizes. Over a three or four start stretch a relatively pedestrian pitcher can perform like an All-Star, making it difficult to feel confident about investing in unproven ones during breakout seasons or dominant periods. We are seeing this theory tested by Nathan Eovaldi right now. On the other hand, veterans with track records can dominate or struggle, making it tricky to predict their next two or three starts, and still not deceive analysts into buying in or selling out.
The last few weeks I have played the Buy, Sell or Stick game with infielders and outfielders. Now, it’s time to profile the top tier starting pitchers.
Top Tier Buy, Sell or Stick
The safest approach to managing established pitchers is too buy the ones that are struggling at a discount and stick with the ones that are performing the way we expected them to. Top 15 pitchers earn that ranking with consistent track records of dominance, which makes it rare to sell high. Predicting decline is an important skill in Fantasy Baseball, but that’s a pre-season draft endeavor, not an in-season decision done on the fly. However, that doesn’t mean owners should assume a proven starting pitcher is going to either decline from their current performance or bounce back from a struggling season, and it becomes more difficult when injuries are involved.
We have a large enough in-season sample size to re-evaluate player projections going forward, but starting pitchers are more difficult to adjust to on the run because they typically regain their form and return to their career norms. Owners don’t want to sell low, especially on pitchers known for being consistent performers year in and year out.
Here are five pre-season Top Tier picks and projections for the remainder of the season.
Jose Quintana, SP Chicago Cubs
2018 Stats: 97.2 Innings Pitched – 87 Ks – 45 BBs – 3.96 ERA – 1.37 WHIP
Last 30-Days: 27.1 IP – 17 Ks – 3.62 ERA – 1.46 WHIP
Quintana was an under-the-radar pitcher for years with the Chicago White Sox before the franchise began to rebuild and the media focused on how good he had actually been all those years. Yahoo ranked him as their 15th best starting pitcher and 60th ranked player overall in the preseason.. He was ahead of pitchers like Chris Archer, Zack Greinke, James Paxton and Gerrit Cole – rankings I didn’t agree with at the time. That kind of ranking proves what often happens in sports. We as fans and the media, don’t realize how good a player has been and then we overadjust and overvalue them, resulting in disappointments, even if the player is essentially the same as he has always been.
Quintana’s 2018 numbers have been disappointing if you evaluate them based on his pre-season ranking, but they are comparable to his last six seasons. His ERA is lower than 2017 while slightly higher than his career 3.54 ERA. His WHIP is the highest of his career because of an increase in walks and a half-season sample size, while his base hits per nine innings is consistent with career norms.
Quintana’s owners are probably disappointed in what they are seeing and the WHIP could be interpreted as a sign of decline, but that’s perception rather than reality. He is the same guy he has always been with upside if he improves his walk rate, which is possible, and there isn’t any buzz surrounding him. Owners that need to deepen their pitching staffs at an affordable rate should inquire about Quintana.
Second Half Recommendation: BUY.
Chris Archer, SP Tampa Bay Rays
2018 Stats: 79.2 IP – 79 Ks – 28 BBs – 4.41 ERA – 1.38 ERA
Last 30-Days: 3.1 IP
Archer has struggled all season and his two best pitches, the four-seamer and slider, tell the tale. His K/9 (8.92) and BB/9 (3.16) are both worse than recent seasons and his career norms. Batters are hitting a career-high .292 against his four-seamer and .256 against the slider. He was in the midst of a down season before his stint on the disabled list, but the peripheral statistics don’t suggest a calamitous decline.
Archer is a risky trade target without statistical evidence to suggest he will turn it around and he struggled in his first start back from the disabled list. He wasn’t having a typical Archer season before he went on the DL, but he is a top tier starter with strikeout per inning potential (a rate he has maintained this season). As long as the price is right, I am putting my trust in his career numbers and the strikeouts and him shaking off his 2018 struggles in the ratios.
Second Half Recommendation: BUY.
Robbie Ray, SP Arizona Diamondbacks
2018 Stats: 43 IP – 65 Ks – 24 BB – 5.23 ERA – 1.49 WHIP
Last 30-Days: 15.1 IP – 20 Ks – 5.87 ERA – 1.43 WHIP
I predicted Ray’s 2017 breakout season and doubled up on him to my Fantasy team’s misfortune in 2018. Ray’s problem has always been command and that’s what is killing him this season. His K/9 is a ridiculous 13.60, a career high, while his BB/9 (5.02), HR/9 (2.09) and HR/FB (22.7%) are all significantly worse than his career norms.
I love the strikeouts and Ray absolutely must be available at discounted rates, but I can’t recommend owners target him. The peripherals are so awful that he is a buy badly, until he shows signs that things are turning around. There is too much risk to buy and too much potential to sell, so stick with Robbie Ray until he shows he can stop walking guys and handing out home runs like candy.
Second Half Recommendation: STICK.
Carlos Carrasco, SP Cleveland Indians
2018 Stats: 101.2 IP – 110 Ks – 23 BBs – 4.16 ERA – 1.18 WHIP
Last 30-Days: 11.2 IP – 16 K – 6.17 ERA – 1.54 WHIP
Don’t let the 4.16 ERA fool you. Carrasco’s peripherals, including his WHIP and BABIP, are all consistent with his career norms. The strikeouts rank him among the league’s elite and he pitches for a team that plays in the worst division in baseball and could win 100 games. If you know an owner discouraged with his injuries or his bloated ERA, pounce.
Second Half Recommendation: BUY.
Corey Kluber, SP Cleveland Indians
2018 Stats: 126.1 IP – 123 Ks – 15 BBs – 2.49 ERA – .88 WHIP
Last 30-Days: 26.2 IP – 20 Ks – 4.39 ERA – 1.05
From 2014-2016, Kluber had been declining in key peripheral categories and he has continued that slide in 2018. His K/9 (8.76) is a full strikeout below his career average, his HR/9 is higher for the fifth consecutive season and his HR/FB (15.5%) is a career worst and almost four percent higher than his career average.
Kluber had a career year in strikeouts and ERA in 2017, but that was a temporary pit stop in an otherwise repetitive decline. The odd thing that has saved his ratios and prevented Fantasy owners from seeing the decline is his 1.07 BB/9, by far the best ratio of his career and .84 better than his career average of 1.91.
Kluber is allowing more base hits, a higher percentage of fly balls to leave the yard and he is under a strikeout per inning average for the first time since 2013. In Dynasty leagues, Kluber’s owners need to be selling. In yearly leagues, it’s all about the return. He is still a good pitcher in a great situation, but he is maintaining top-flight ratios with an unsustainable improvement in his walk rate. I suggest selling If an owner approaches with an “Ace” type offer before he has a sub-par September.
Second Half Recommendation: SELL.