Buy ‘Em or Deny ‘Em: Why Jharel Cotton Carries Far Too Much Risk Heading Into 2018

by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)

The A’s Jharel Cotton entered 2017 with a bit of hype, as a top prospect who performed well during a Seotember ’16 cup of coffee. However 2017 was a disaster, as he struggled across his 24 starts for the A’s:

129.0 IP
9 Wins
5.58 ERA
1.44 WHIP
105 Strikeouts (7.33 K/9)
53 Walks (3.70 BB/9)
37.0% Groundball Rate
.279 BABIP

It would be easy to point towards poor luck as an excuse, given his 65.7% strand rate, but the problems go far deeper than that. There were a lack of groundballs, which led to home run issues. There was a lack of strikeouts, joined with an inflated walk rate. There was a line drive rate that almost has to increase (16.7%).

So far, does any of this sound investable?

Home runs were always a concern, though the hope was that pitching half his game in Oakland would help to offset the lack of groundballs. With power up across the game it obviously didn’t work, as he carried a 1.95 HR/9. He actually was better on the road, with a 1.52 HR/9, so it’s hard to think that he will suddenly be able to avoid the long ball.

That alone cripples any potential value, but what about the lack of strikeouts and less than stellar control? Those are two things he had always shown coming up through the minors, but a 26.7% O-Swing% shows he simply wasn’t fooling anyone.

His changeup is his best pitch, and you can argue that he wasn’t throwing it nearly enough early in the season (17.73% over the first three months). Of course his strikeouts actually dropped in the second half (7.87 to 6.54) and his walks were still pedestrian (3.61), so it’s a hard sell that the usage was the issue. In fact he gave up more home runs off his changeup (8) than he did on any other of his pitches. If that’s his best pitch, that’s a significant red flag.

In regards to the line drive rate, would we really expect any pitcher to maintain that low of a mark? It’s going to lead to a higher BABIP and more base runners, offsetting any potential improvement that his strand rate could bring.

Throw in the consistent questions of if he could move to the bullpen, given his size (5’11”), and what exactly are we buying? As it is he is hardly locked into a rotation spot, he could spend significant time at Triple-A and has questions hovering over his actual ability. In other words he’s a hands off proposition. Monitor him as a streaming option/waiver wire option if he starts strong, but don’t consider him on draft day.

Sources – Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball

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Make sure to check out all of our 2018 Projections:

Player
Date Published
Cano, Robinson10/09/17
Castillo, Luis10/03/17
Gerrit Cole10/30/17
Didi Gregorius11/20/17
Wil Myers10/24/17
Quintana, Jose11/13/17
Sanchez, Aaron12/05/17
Schoop, Jonathan11/27/17
Stroman, Marcus10/16/17
Walker, Taijuan 11/06/17

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