Hold ‘Em or Fold ‘Em: Early Season Swinging Strike Decliners: Pitchers Edition

by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)

Obviously it’s still early, but there have been a few pitchers who have seen a decline in their SwStr% over the early part of the season.  We needed to use some type of qualifier as to who should be included on this list of Swinging Strike decliners, so we used those pitchers who had 150 IP in ’13 as well as qualified for the ERA title thus far in ’14 (through Monday). Who has seen their SwStr% decline the most? Who should we be concerned about? Let’s take a look:

 

Yu Darvish – Texas Rangers
2013 – 12.6%
2014 – 9.2%
Difference – (3.4%)

Obviously he’s still carrying a solid mark, but it is a substantial decline. He’s not having an issue with his velocity (92.4 mph) and is still racking up the strikeouts (10.04 K/9). While his K/9 may fall if he maintains his current mark, there’s also a good chance he starts generating more swings and misses before long. One of the elite strikeout artists in the game, this is one that shouldn’t concern you.

 

A.J. Burnett – Philadelphia Phillies
2013 – 10.6%
2014 – 7.4%
Difference – (3.2%)

While he switched teams, he stayed in the NL so that’s not really an answer. At 37-years old, could age be the reason for his decline? His velocity is down significantly, with an average fastball of just 90.9 mph (92.5 in ’13, 93.9 for his career). Couple that with an issue with his control (3.92 BB/9) and an elevated line drive rate (23.8%), as well as some luck working in his favor (.258 BABIP, 79.3% strand rate), and there are warning signs all over the place. He seems like an ideal sell candidate at this point as the risk is significant.

 

Ricky Nolasco – Minnesota Twins
2013 – 10.5%
2014 – 7.5%
Difference – (3.0%)

Not only did he move to the AL, but Nolasco had posted SwStr% of 8.9% and 8.5% the previous two seasons. The decline shouldn’t be a surprise and while he’s already been bad (5.82 ERA), it could actually get worse (15.1% line drive rate is going to regress). Avoid him at all costs.

 

Dan Haren – Los Angeles Dodgers
2013 – 9.1%
2014 – 6.1%
Difference – (3.0%)

He owns a career 9.5% SwStr%, so we would want to think that there’s an improvement coming. However his fastball velocity had already been down and has taken another step back early on this year (averaging just 87.1 mph). He’s also throwing his split finger less (9.3% vs. 16.5% for his career), which is another factor to watch. While he owns an 8.12 K/9 thus far, does anyone really believe it? There will likely be a regression in his strikeout rate and he also could see his groundball rate (career best 52.2%) fall as well. He went to LA to rebuild his value and it may never get better than this. Now could be the ideal time to sell high, as there are a few warning signs out there.

 

Dillon Gee – New York Mets
2013 – 9.4%
2014 – 7.0%
Difference – (2.4%)

He’s not a strikeout pitcher, so this regression isn’t the reason to be looking to sell Gee. Instead, it’s his .218 BABIP and 85.4% strand rate that should be raising our eyebrows. Cash in now, because chances are the numbers are going to fall before long.

 

Andrew Cashner – San Diego Padres
2013 – 8.3%
2014 – 6.0%
Difference – (2.3%)

Cashner was supposed to be a flame thrower who could rack up strikeouts as a starting pitcher, but that’s simply not what he’s been. Instead, he’s apparently taken something off his fastball (94.5 mph in ’13, 93.8 in ’14) to focus on control (2.72 BB/9) and groundballs (56.6%). That’s not to say that he’s a pitcher that should be traded and doesn’t have the strikeout potential, we just need to change our thinking of exactly what he is at this point.

 

Jeff Samardzija – Chicago Cubs
2013 – 10.5%
2014 – 8.2%
Difference – (2.3%)

The strikeouts are down, and you have to wonder if it is a direct result from his pitch usage. His fastball usage is up (from 53.3% to 65.9%) and his splitter usage is down (17.5% to 9.2%), so it’s easy to imagine a change as the weather warms and he gets a better feel of the baseball. While he’s going to regress from his current ERA, an improvement in strikeouts will help. Stay the course at this point.

Source – Fangraphs

11 comments

  1. Corey says:

    I have Fister coming off the DL. Drop Haren, Lackey, or Hudson in a league with K/BB?

  2. James says:

    Who do you like in this trade: werth for Brantley and Adams. All 3 are cheap keepers ($1-3) and to hold both Brantley and Adams would require dropping either middlebrooks, Bourn or a pitcher like Jesse Chavez or Chris Archer. So in theory it would be werth and one of those guys for Brantley and Adams.

  3. Rotoprofessor says:

    Corey – Any chance to trade any of them? I think Haren is a prime sell high candidate at this point…

    James – I still believe in Adams so I do see this as selling low a little bit (but understand the move). Any chance of shooting a little higher?

    • James says:

      I would be giving up Werth int he deal. Have heard people say that the Werth side wins. Adams has upside, but Werth and Middlebrooks are > than Brantley and Adams. What do you think?

      • Rotoprofessor says:

        I’m not a big fan of Middlebrooks, personally, though I don’t love Brantley either. It’s pretty close, I would just say that Adams has more upside so it depends on your situation. If you feel you need to take a risk, I’d do it. If you are in a good spot, I’d stick with the safer option.

    • Corey says:

      I don’t think so. Pitching is actually fairly shallow in this league. 12 team auction but we’re only allowed 6 active pitchers each. Let me ask this. Do you like the upside of Drew Smyly over Haren or Lackey? I don’t plan on starting Lackey in Arlington this week anyway.

      • Rotoprofessor says:

        For me, Haren is a pitcher to sell high on, but I wouldn’t drop him. While I’m not a Lackey believer, he’s done it for too long at this point.

        As for Smyly, I love the upside but it’s easy to imagine him ending up in the bullpen and consistently having his starts skipped (as has happened when everyone is healthy). For now, I’d stick with the veterans.

        • Corey says:

          Thanks for the advice. As always, I appreciate it. This site helped me win football last season and it’s doing great for me this season. Everyone is wondering how I knew to draft Dozier in my leagues. Haha.

  4. Nick says:

    Eric,

    Bauer is coming off waivers tomorrow in one of my leagues. (12 team head to head) Can you give a range of pitchers who you would drop to get him?

    Thanks.

    • Rotoprofessor says:

      I wouldn’t go crazy, honestly, but the upside is certainly there. If you have a back end guy who you aren’t using (and wouldn’t use anyways), that’s the type of guy I’d drop.

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