It’s halftime. Let’s take a breath, enjoy the festivities, and take a look back at how wrong I was in the first half. This week we’re going to review the starting pitchers that made the biggest leaps (or suffered the biggest falls) with our weekly confidence. Hopefully by the end, we’ll have a little more clarity about what happened, whether it is likely to continue, and how we can make second-half predictions that are flawless and perfect and the best predictions that anyone has ever made in history. You know, or something like that.
In week two (the first Fantasy Starting Pitcher Planner of the season), not only did I advocate for sitting Cahill, but I also poked some fun at the Padres rotation and forecasted that they would be seeing very few “Considers” this year. That week, Cahill tossed 12 â…” innings, striking out 14 batters and exiting the period with an ERA around 3.50. He didn’t set the world ablaze, Mother of Dragons style, or anything, but the 29-year-old righty certainly held his own. Cahill has posted a 2.92 ERA in eight starts, while striking out nearly 11 hitters per nine innings, and has maintained a robust 62.3 percent ground-ball rate, making him an enemy to worms everywhere.
After being shifted back to rotation by the Padres
out of necessity thanks to a brilliant stroke of foresight, Cahill added breaking pitches back into the mix, throwing his curveball a little more and reintroducing the league to his slider, using the bender around 10 percent of the time and getting nearly 30 percent whiffs. He has also had immense success scaling back on his sinker, riding slightly lower velocity to sharper vertical movement and a higher ground-ball rate.
While Cahill does have issues (a shoulder strain cost him nearly a month and a half of the season), his production doesn’t look like a fluke. Even with a hilariously low 0.6 homers per nine innings, Cahill has clocked in with a 2.96 DRA and a 76 cFIP, placing him among the league leaders for both, and validating his production. He started the year as a “Sit”, but health permitting, I will be confident in starting him for the foreseeable future.
Week three of the FSPP (Doesn’t everything sound cooler with a cool acronym? You know what? Don’t answer that.) brought a very tepid endorsement of Nelson, thanks to favorable matchups. And by endorsement, I mean he was a low-end “Consider” candidate. April was not the kindest to the former member of the Crimson Tide (Crimson Tide-r?). However, as our man Justin Timberlake has wisely proclaimed, “Guess what? It’s gonna be May.” Since May 1, Nelson has been incredible, logging 75 1/3 innings with a 2.39 ERA. The hefty righty has averaged over 10 strikeouts per nine innings while issuing fewer than two walks on the same timeline.
While previous seasons had seen Nelson primarily throw sinkers, he has dialed back the usage rate for the pitch, opting instead for a better spread of his four main weapons. In May, he started throwing his curve more, getting whiffs almost 20 percent of the time, and ground balls nearly 60 percent of the time. The results speak for themselves. Moving forward, I can’t imagine not placing Nelson firmly in the “Start” category, and he could be the ace the Brewers have been looking for.
Heading into 2017, many had questions about Severino’s role on the Yankees’ pitching staff. Despite success in his rookie season, the 23-year-old struggled mightily last year, due in large part to a two-pitch mix that made it difficult to envision how he would reliably get left-handed hitters out. For these reasons, Severino’s first appearance on the FSPP this season earned him a hard-”Consider”, while looking at his early season accomplishments with heavy skepticism. Since then, Severino has been nothing if not dominant, striking out nearly 11 batters per nine innings with a sparkly 2.88 DRA.
Even though Severino is still primarily a two-pitch pitcher, he has mixed in a changeup more frequently each month, and is currently running a 19 percent whiff rate with the pitch. Sure, there are still questions with the righty (he has yet to throw more than 113 innings in any professional season and he has already eclipsed 99 innings this year), if he can continue to keep hitters off balance with a better mix, while maintaining his pinpoint accuracy at 97 mph, he should be a fixture for fantasy rotations for the remainder of 2017 and many years to come.
When I saw The Walking Dead for the first time, I was fired up. I intently watched and was consumed by the twists and turns of the story, applauding with delight at each zombie kill. I told anyone that would listen that TWD was one of my favorite shows. Then, as the seasons went on, and the show got more and more depressing and nihilistic, I found myself checking out. Therein describes my 2017 fascination with Garrett.
On April 19, Garrett dominated the Orioles. The rookie left-hander rode 18 swinging strikes to 12 strikeouts (yes, he lost, but still) and looked like he could emerge as a legit fantasy contributor. I said as much in the week four edition of the FSPP when I loudly advocated for starting Garrett. Since that fateful night, Garrett has bounced between Triple A and the big leagues, pitching 38 2/3 innings for the Reds with an ERA over 10.00.
Maybe it was just a moment in time against the O’s, but Garrett has just been extremely hittable since that shining beacon of goodness. Batters are making contact on pitches in the zone at a 91.4 percent clip, a number almost six percentage points higher than league average. In addition to being hittable, hitters are teeing off on Garrett’s pitches to the tune of a 91.7 mph average exit velocity, also higher than league average. The combination of the two has led to a gruesome home run rate of nearly three dingers per nine innings. Hopefully Garrett can work things out in Triple A and come back stronger, a la Jose Berrios, because when Garrett’s on, it sure is fun. That one time.
Raise your hand if you liked the Kennedy signing for the Royals last season. If you raised your hand, you’re probably GM Dayton Moore. If you’re not Moore, you’re probably lying. Despite a suspect contract, Kennedy was sneaky good last year, chipping in a 3.68 ERA while striking out 184 batters in 195 2/3 innings. Sure, he gave up a few more long balls than you’re comfortable with, but that’s not bad production for what surely came at a low cost. Thinking I would be a cool, fantasy hipster, I promoted starting Kennedy in Week 2. It hasn’t gone super well.
Kennedy has made 15 starts this season (he spent a bit of time on the DL with a hamstring injury), and has given up 16 homers. Six of his 15 starts have yielded four runs or more and his rate of 7.7 strikeouts per nine innings is his lowest since 2008. Kennedy has been better in his last four starts, leaning more on his curve and cutter, which has seen his ground-ball rate soar to 41 percent (ok, so soaring like an ostrich). He is still giving up too many round-trippers, but if Kennedy can find a way to get a few more swings and misses, he could spin a happy ending to his topsy-turvy 2017 season.
Bummer(garner) Jinx of the First Half
In Week 4, I wrote this gem:
“Bumgarner is 0-3, drop him. Kidding. He’s matchup-proof at this point, but he’s an especially tasty option against a Dodgers lineup that struggles with lefties, and the—ahem—Padres. Normally it’s wise to treat starters heading into Coors Field with kid gloves, but Strasburg is one of your studs, so you’re starting him.”
Later that day, well, you know what happened. After a routine motorbike injury, the Giants’ ace still hasn’t pitched since that fateful comment. I take full responsibility for my actions and promise to use this power for good moving forward.
So, what can we expect from the 27-year-old lefty moving forward? That’s a great question. While Bumgarner didn’t require surgery to repair the damaged AC joint in his throwing shoulder, it’s hard to predict how effective he will be once he emerges from the DL after the All-Star break. For every Mariano Rivera, there is a Brandon Webb. Obviously, we’re rooting for the former. If you spent big on Mad Bum, it’s very likely your season has been in trouble for a while. Having said that, now could be a good time to survey contenders to see if the excitement of an ace’s return could bring back an ace-level return to jump start your rebuild.
Thank you for reading
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