Rick Porcello won the 2016 AL Cy Young Award and yet, according to his current NFBC ADP, he is the 26th starting pitcher being drafted this preseason. It seems many Fantasy players don’t think Porcello could come close to putting together another season like the one in which he compiled a record of 22-4, with a 3.15 ERA and 1.009 WHIP.
I tend to agree, but Porcello’s situation got me thinking about the plight of some former Cy Young Award winners. I’ve chosen four who’ve fallen on hard times recently. Let’s try to determine who among the four, once considered the best pitchers in the business, has the chance to return to glory once again. If you have any questions or comments about this article, reach out to me via Twitter @joegallina.
Dallas Keuchel, SP, Houston Astros, 2015 AL Cy Young Award
Keuchel certainly regressed last season, and although he might not win 20 games in 2017, there is evidence that he could be headed for a bounce back season. After two straight stellar seasons, Keuchel hit a road block in 2016. He was faced with some fluctuation in his velocity, and that probably contributed to his sinker losing a bit of its bite. His HR/9 rate increased from .66 to 1.07, and that likely contributed to a drop in his strand rate. With more runners scoring off of him, it dropped to 68.4 percent. His strand rate had averaged just over 77 percent during the previous two seasons.
Despite his issues with giving up the long ball, Keuchel still had the third-highest groundball rate in baseball (56.7%), and his 3.87 FIP suggests that he actually pitched better than his 4.55 ERA would have us believe. There’s a good chance that Keuchel’s pitching woes may have been caused by an underlying injury. He was forced to miss the final five weeks of the 2016 season due to inflammation in his left shoulder. If healthy, Keuchel has a good chance of putting together a bounce back season with 12 to 15 wins and an ERA in the 3.25 to 3.50 range in 2017.
David Price, SP, Boston Red Sox, 2012 AL Cy Young Award
Of the four pitchers in this article, Price may have the best chance of winning another Cy Young award. Although a bit disappointing, his 2016 season wasn’t a total wash out. As a matter of fact, there are plenty of pitchers who would be thrilled to put up the kind of numbers that Price posted in 2016. He got off to a terrible start, giving up five runs or more in four of his first seven starts. By May 29, his ERA stood at an ugly 5.11, but he pitched to a 3.50 ERA during his final 24 starts of the season. Fenway Park is tough on left-handed pitchers, and Price did have some problems pitching there. He posted his highest HR/9 rate since 2009, and he also gave up 17 home runs in just 114 innings while pitching at his home park. There were also concerns about his velocity dropping slightly last season, however, he’s faced that issue before, and it has bounced back in the past. He led the Major Leagues with 230 innings pitched, but at the same time he gave up the most hits in baseball (227) as well. With all the negative stats I’m bringing up, why would I think that Price has a shot of winning another Cy Young? Despite all his issues, he was still able to win 17 games and his K/9 rate was still above league average (8.92). Price did pitch better as the season wore on and over his career he has pitched well at Fenway Park. He’s won 15 of 19 decisions and posted a 3.26 ERA and 1.07 WHIP when pitching in Boston. He has a very good offense supporting him, giving him a good chance at approaching 20 wins for the season.
Felix Hernandez, SP, Seattle Mariners, 2010 AL Cy Young Award
He’s still just 31 years old but it looks like eight straight seasons of pitching at least 200 innings might have taken their toll on “King Felix.” Hernandez was faced with a drop in velocity, as the average speed on his fastball fell to 90.5 MPH last season. That’s down a couple of ticks from his 2014 average. Hernandez seemed to be able to work around it early on, pitching to a 2.86 ERA in his first 10 starts of the 2016 season. A calf injury forced him to miss approximately two months of the season, and once he came back he struggled, posting a 4.48 ERA in his final 15 starts. His FIP suggested that his overall 3.82 ERA should actually be closer to 4.63, and his peripheral stats are trending in the wrong direction. Hernandez has been having problems with his command, walking opposing batters at a career worst rate of 3.82 per nine innings last season. He’s also struggled through three straight seasons of declining swinging strike rates and rising BB/9 rates. Hernandez was also faced with four straight seasons of declining K/9 rates and above average HR/FB rates. Hernandez posted a 2.14 ERA in 34 starts as recently as 2014, but those days seem to be long gone. His diminishing velocity has forced him to rely on his curve and changeup a lot more these days. Hernandez might not be as dominant as he once was, but he’s probably capable of posting low double-digit win totals and an ERA close to four. Those are acceptable numbers for a middle of the rotation starting pitcher on your Fantasy Baseball team.
Zack Greinke, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks, 2009 AL Cy Young Award
Greinke predictably had major issues pitching out of his new home park last season. He posted a 4.81 ERA and a 1.386 WHIP in his 13 starts at Chase Field, but he also didn’t fare too well on the road. His 3.94 road ERA suggests that there were forces other than ball park factors that contributed to his regression last season. Opposing batters hit just .185 against him in 2015; that average against increased by 72 points in 2016. Greinke also posted the highest hard hit rate of his career since the 2007 season. Injuries may have played a significant role in his regrettable 2016 season, as the usually durable Greinke missed a little over a month of the season with an oblique injury. He also experienced shoulder stiffness in September. There have been rumors circulating that the Diamondbacks may be feeling some buyer’s remorse, and would consider moving Greinke. A ticket out of Chase Field may be just what the doctor ordered, and could help salvage Greinke’s Fantasy value. Well, at least with an NFBC ADP of 21, Greinke should be happy with the fact that he is being drafted earlier than Porcello in preseason Fantasy Baseball drafts.