by Andrew Gould
Strikeout pitchers eventually put it all together, harnessing their swing-and-miss capabilities to develop into a useful fantasy option. I don’t believe in much in this uncertain world of ours, but I’ve stuck by the strikeout pitcher through tough times. You can achieve a fluky 15 wins, but you can’t accidentally punch out 200 batters.
That makes Bud Norris—a premier source of Ks who continues to struggle to become a dependable fantasy pitcher—a baffling case. Despite a 9.24 K/9 ratio, Norris has hampered any possible value with five wins, a 5.23 ERA and 1.46 WHIP.
Norris seemed poised to break out during his fourth season in the majors, but he has instead taken a giant step backwards. Can owners trust Norris to ever take the next step to stardom?
Last season showed signs of progression from Norris in his most productive season. The 27-year-old posted a 3.77 ERA and 1.33 WHIP to go along with 176 strikeouts and a career best 3.39 BB/9 ratio. Many owners expected him to further improve those stats entering his prime, but Norris is instead plummeting toward obscurity.
Norris has been bitten constantly by disastrous outings. The righty has allowed six or more runs on four occasions this season, making owners think twice before inserting him in their lineup. After yielding only four runs through five starts in May, he surrendered nine runs during his last outing of the month to ruin his best streak of the season.
Some of Norris’ numbers actually are not too far off from last year’s marks. His 2.43 K/BB ratio is only one-tenth of a point higher, his 4.42 FIP is not a major downgrade from last year’s 4.02 and his ground-ball rate has slightly increased to 40.3 percent.
Home runs—which have always hurt Norris in the past—have especially tormented him this season. He has allowed 19 blasts at a 14.1 HR/FB rate that is the highest of his career. Combine that with a .320 BABIP to explain the depths of Norris’ decay.
But even if he pitches better than the previous months, is he still a worthwhile play? Are the strikeouts enough to keep fantasy owners from giving up? Even if Norris pitches to his capability, he’ll likely live around the high 3s/low 4s in ERA and would gladly settle for matching his 2011 WHIP of 1.33.
Nobody can accurately predict wins, but a high total cannot realistically be expected from an average Astros’ pitcher averaging only 5.7 innings per start. At this point, owners are just keeping their fingers crossed for bearable production alongside his strikeouts.
In a standard mixed league, I’m staying away from Norris in fear of another nine-run shellacking torpedoing my averages. Maybe he’s worth a spot-start against the Pirates or Cubs in a deeper league, but he’s too much of an uncertainty to trust in the closing weeks.
So of course, he’ll probably now throw a complete-game shutout with 14 strikeouts in his next start.