by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)
No one wants to make the mistake of giving up on a struggling player too early. You’ve taken on a lot of bad, wouldn’t you want to help offset that with the inevitable rebound? Of course not every player is able to rebound strong, and sometimes they are simply destined to disappoint for the entire season. Should we stay the course? Should we give up? Let’s take a look as we determine whether some struggling starters are worth trying to buy low on or not:
Jon Gray – Colorado Rockies
2018 Statistics – 26.2 IP, 6.75 ERA, 1.65 WHIP, 8.10 K/9, 2.70 BB/9
Gray is often downgraded due to calling Coors Field home, and while he does own a 1.35 HR/9 this season has that really been the biggest issue? Not quite, as it’s easy to point more towards poor luck than anything:
- BABIP – .372
- Strand Rate – 58.4%
While his 27.3% line drive rate is elevated, his 30.0% Hard% is a very reasonable number and wouldn’t justify the elevated BABIP. Improvements in his luck numbers appear to be inevitable.
It’s not a velocity issue (96.54 mph on his four seam fastball) and it’s not a usage issue as he’s utilizing his pitches at a similar pace to last season. He’s also getting swings and misses with both his slider (17.91% Whiff%) and curveball (19.67%), and there’s reason to believe the strikeouts will grow. Couple that with solid control and everything appears to point in the right direction.
That’s not to say that he’s a given, as all of his pitches have been hit hard, but there’s enough to buy in at the right price. Let’s not forget that he struggled to a 6.66 ERA in July last season, only to post ERAs of 2.30 and 2.57 the next two months. Now may actually be the perfect time to buy.
Verdict – Buy Low
James Paxton – Seattle Mariners
2018 Statistics – 25.2 IP, 5.61 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 11.92 K/9, 4.21 BB/9
While we can point towards luck, to an extent (.328 BABIP, 67.9% strand rate), the bigger issues have been
- A steep decline in his groundball rate (33.3% compared to a 48.1% career mark). That’s led to a 50.0% fly ball rate and home run issues that we haven’t seen before (1.40 HR/9).
- Struggles with his control, as his 4.21 BB/9 is a far cry from last year’s 2.45 BB/9
What’s interesting is that Paxton has made a significant change to his approach, throwing more cutters (21.71%, compared to 10.08% in ’17) instead of his curveball (14.54%, compared to 21.42%). While his cutter does generate groundballs, his curveball had a 71.70% groundballs per balls in play so throwing that pitch less was going to lead to a smaller groundball rate. Does it justify this type of change? Probably not, but fewer groundballs should be expected.
The strikeouts are always going to be appealing, but:
- Can he readjust and fix the groundball rate?
- Can he rediscover his control?
- Can he stay healthy?
Those are all big risks, and while we aren’t saying we wouldn’t buy him it all depends on the cost.
Verdict – Buy Low, but only if it’s low enough
Sources – Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball
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