by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
Regardless of the player we are looking at the sample size is relatively minuscule. When we are talking about pitchers we have maybe 2-3 starts worth of data, so you have to be careful. That’s not to say that it’s impossible to draw conclusions off of what we’ve seen, but you also don’t want to make a knee jerk reaction. At the same time you don’t want to miss an opportunity to sell, especially if indications are that struggles may be on the horizon. With that in mind, let’s take a look at three starters that have upside but are off to lackluster starts:
Steven Matz – New York Mets
Entering the season the thought was the biggest issue for Matz was injuries, but despite a 12.00 K/9 over his first two starts there are some obvious concerns looming:
- SwStr% – 5.5%
- O-Swing% – 13.1%
So he’s not fooling anyone nor is he getting them to swing and miss… That doesn’t seem like a good combination, does it? His changeup has generally been his best swing and miss pitch, but thus far he’s at a minuscule 2.94% Whiff%. While his velocity is down slightly (93.46 mph on his sinker), it’s not enough to cause concern as there is still a good variation (83.56 mph on his changeup).
He has struggled with his control (5.00 BB/9), which goes hand-in-hand with the lack of swings outside the strike zone. Given these numbers you have to start to wonder if this is a stuff question, and while we want to give him time based on the past injuries/missed time our patience could quickly wear thin.
Conclusion – Hold for now, but needs to show us something soon
Kyle Hendricks – Chicago Cubs
Early on Hendricks has struggled to get swinging strikes (7.0% SwStr%), but is that really a surprise? When you look at his historical SwStr% there’s one that sticks out like an obvious aberration:
- 2014 – 8.2%
- 2015 – 8.1%
- 2016 – 10.0%
- 2017 – 8.3%
While we’d expect better than is current 4.91 K/9, no one should’ve entered the year expecting a strikeout per inning. History tells us he should be able to push towards an 8.00 K/9, but that is his ceiling not his floor.
He’s also struggled with home runs (1.64 HR/9 in ’18), though his 85.5% strand rate shows that a reduction there isn’t going to necessarily mean improved home runs will matter. The fact is he continues to be a two-pitch pitcher (77.3% fastballs, 20.3% changeups) who lacks velocity (87.1 mph on his fastballs this season), and that is never going to be a true ace.
Verdict – Sell Candidate if someone is willing to pay a premium
Taijuan Walker – Arizona Diamondbacks
Remember when the hope was that a move to the NL would help bring Walker into the realm of a strikeout per inning? He owned a solid 8.35 K/9 last season, but the underlying stuff indicated it may not be repeatable (which we’ve seen thus far):
- 2017 – 8.6% SwStr%, 27.4% O-Swing%
- 2018 – 6.0% SwStr%, 19.6% O-Swing%
Walker continues to primarily throw a fastball variation, using his fourseam fastball 57.91% of the time (6.74% have been sinkers and 13.95% split-finger fastballs). Those pitches haven’t proven capable of generating swings and misses, including his splitter (8.88% in ’17, 8.33 in ’18). In fact his best swing and miss pitch last season was his curveball (13.24%), and that’s not overly impressive as it is (and has tumbled to 2.17% in ’18).
Obviously it’s only two starts and a lot can change, but it seems more like a continuation of last season’s numbers. Maybe the humidor helps at home, but if he doesn’t show an improvement in his strikeout upside there simply isn’t going to be a reason to hold out hope.
Verdict – Sell Candidate
Sources – Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball
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