As we wind down the second month of the season, stat lines are beginning to take shape and we certainly feel like we know more about how the season will unfold. There are definitely some things happening early on that you can put some weight into, but we still have four months left in the season, too, meaning a lot will still change.
Through May last year, Zack Wheeler had a 5.40 ERA, Luis Castillo was at 5.49, Jameson Taillon was at 4.53, and Masahiro Tanaka was at 4.62. German Marquez was at 4.21, but that would balloon to 5.53 five starts later and of course we know that from there, he absolutely went off. Afterthoughts like Mike Minor, Danny Duffy, Mike Fiers, Derek Holland, Lance Lynn and even Alex Cobb all had ERAs north of 5.00 and were left for dead through May before finding extended periods of fantasy relevance throughout the summer. Minor was downright all-formats viable from June on.
Let’s look at some of the biggest strugglers through two months and discuss what the future might have in store for them.
(in descending order by ERA)
Corey Kluber | 5.80 ERA, 1.65 WHIP
The Cleveland ace is currently shelved after having his ulna fractured by a batted ball in Miami. We don’t have any guarantees that even pitches again this season, so I completely understand moving on in leagues where there is no IL or your limited IL spots start to fill with shorter team injuries to impact players. If and when he returns, I reassess him after a few starts.
Chris Archer | 5.55 ERA, 1.43 WHIP
Archer has returned from the IL with a 9.35 ERA in two starts (8.7 IP), pushing his ERA to 5.55 on the season. Add that to his pre-IL outing and it’s a 10.66 ERA in three starts after a 2.74 through his first four. While he still misses bats at an above average rate (24% K, 12% SwStr), there isn’t much else to lean on. He’s lost 1.5 mph off the fastball, allows too many hits, and is an even bigger home run machine as his HR/FB rate is up a tick to 15% while his flyball rate is up 15 points to 47% yielding a 1.8 HR/9.
His slider remains a useful weapon and his four-seamer isn’t bad when he’s finding the zone, but his sinker is absolutely atrocious. The -2.9 pitch value on it is 95th of 111 pitchers throwing one and he only throws it 8% of the time. If you use the Pitch Value per 100 metric, he sinks to 108th. The schedule doesn’t have any breaks in store, either, with the Dodgers, Brewers, and Braves headed to town for his next three starts.
I’m not even sure what I’d give in a buy-low deal for him. Maybe something like teammate Melky Cabrera (if my AVG was stable), out-of-nowhere catcher James McCann, or surprise slugger Ronny Rodriguez. I just can’t envision myself ponying up a more stable asset for Archer right now. My worst fears of him being dealt to Pittsburgh are being realized as he’s throwing more fastballs and fewer sliders, the opposite of what we want.
Eduardo Rodriguez | 5.43 ERA, 1.46 WHIP
Through 10 starts, E-Rod has some awful bookends with 11 runs over two starts allowed to open the season and in his two most recent starts. In the middle six, he has a 2.78 ERA and 1.09 WHIP with 39 strikeouts in 35.7 innings. His velo is down a tick to 92.4 mph, but his strikeout and walk rates are encouraging. They are right in line with last year as his K-BB rate is down just one point to 17%. In fact, his FIP is just 0.02 off of last year’s at 3.67.
Lefties have been a major issue for Rodriguez, running up an 1.166 OPS on him in 47 PA. They were the problem in his last two starts, posting a 1.262 OPS in 21 PA (lefties only had 5 PA in his first two starts). He didn’t exactly shut them down in the middle six, but their .933 OPS in 21 PA only accounted for 15% of the batters he faced. He tamed righties to the tune of a .543 OPS in that same time over 123 PA.
His strikeout and walk rates are better against lefties, but a .400 BABIP is wreaking havoc and the 5 HR he’s allowed to them is already higher than the 3 he allowed all year (104 PA v. LH). He had a .691 OPS against lefties last year and that was even with a .352 BABIP. Trips to Houston and the Bronx are up next for Rodriguez and while neither feature many lefties, the Astros are #1 in wRC+ at 147 and Yankee Stadium is always a challenge.
J.A. Happ | 5.16 ERA, 1.30 WHIP
Would you believe that Happ had a 6-game run of a 2.97 ERA and 0.94 WHIP in 36.3 innings before his last outing where he was shelled in Baltimore (3.7 IP/6 ER)? He took an 8.76 ERA into those starts so his four ugly starts have easily outweighed his run of good work. Home runs have been a huge issue. He has an insane 2.2 HR/9, keeping the opposition homer-less in just two starts and allowing 2 HR in five of his 10 outings. His 19% HR/FB is a career-high and up six points from last year. If he had that same 13% this year, it’d save him four homers.
His trusty fastball is failing him. He’s been running a reverse platoon for a few years now, but righties have really hit him this year and the fastball specifically. Their OPS against the heater is up 422 points to 1.066 while accounting for nine of his 13 total homers allowed this year. This is another one I’m only buying if the price is dirt-cheap. I’m not paying for last year’s stats.
While he did have a 2.69 ERA in his 11 starts with the Yankees last summer, it came with a 4.21 FIP that sounded an alarm about what Happ might be in a full season. He is pitching toward the low end of his outcome range, but it’s hard to envision an ERA south of 4.00 the rest of way even if he pushes toward his high end performance with these skills in his current ballpark.
Reynaldo Lopez | 5.14 ERA, 1.50 WHIP
ReyLo is still working off three vomit-inducing starts to open the season during which he posted a 12.15 ERA, 2.56 WHIP, 16% K and BB rates, and a 4.0 HR/9 in 13.3 innings. His bottom line is still north of 5.00, but he has a 2.95 ERA and 1.17 WHIP in his last six starts with 42 strikeouts in 42.7 innings. A dud against Boston is the only mark on his ledger, a start that those with Lopez could’ve easily curated out of their lineup.
The rest of the schedule has been remarkably easy with two starts against Detroit and Cleveland and home outings against Kansas City and Toronto. A trip to Minnesota this weekend is a great test for Lopez. If we can only manage his starts to use him in two-start weeks or one-start weeks against poor offenses, that is fine, but we need to see him go against a couple more strong lineups to make that distinction.
Pablo Lopez | 5.06 ERA, 1.17 WHIP
This is the more intriguing of the two Lopezes (Lopii?) and yet he’s more widely available in shallower leagues. Reynaldo is at 17% on ESPN while Pablo is at just 4%. Pablo has a slight 84% to 81% edge in the 12-team Rotowire Online Championship NFBC leagues and both are 100% rostered across the 38 Main Event leagues (15-team mixers). The Marlins Lopez holds an 18% K-BB rate and all of the ERA indicators have him in the mid-3.00s. Of course, that kind of split can happen when you have a 10 ER outing on your ledger.
The Mets thrashed Lopez in three innings, hanging those 10 runs on him thanks to 10 hits, three of which left the park. Outside of that start, Lopez hasn’t allowed more than 4 ER in any of his other eight starts. He followed up against that very same team seven days later and dropped seven one-hit innings of shutout baseball with seven strikeouts. Lopez had a 10% swinging strike rate last year, fueled by some interesting secondary pitches, and seemed to portend more strikeouts. The secondary stuff is still solid, but we’ve seen him spike to a 25% K rate thanks to an improved fastball.
He’s sliced nearly 200 points off his OPS-against on the pitch, going from .865 to .667, while amping the strikeout rate five points to 22%. Over the last month, his fastball is tied for the 7th-highest swinging strike rate at 12% and if you look specifically at his four-seamer, he’s 4th with a 16% mark. Wins are a problem and the division isn’t easy, but Lopez is a must-start at home and worthy of consideration in many road matchups.
The 10-run massacre is no doubt playing a role in his 8.03 road ERA, but it’s still 4.98 even if you remove it. He gets a trip to Washington this week, a home gem against San Francisco, but then a trip to Milwaukee. You can roll the dice here that he gets beat up at the Brewers and it lowers the price, but the downside is that if he succeeds, the price will skyrocket. The price will be higher than Archer’s so expect to pay something a cut or two above that range.