I mentioned on a recent podcast that my updated starting pitcher rankings would be out today, but I’m not quite done so you’ll have to wait a little longer! In the meantime, I wanted to look at some struggling arms and see if there’s any hope. Remember, this time last year saw Jimmy Nelson toting a 5.34 ERA and probably on a ton of waiver wires. From May 1st on, he had a 3.13 ERA and 176 strikeouts in 146.7 innings.
Kenta Maeda (6.58 ERA), Jose Quintana (5.22), Carlos Martinez (4.71), and Justin Verlander (4.60) were a few other arms who emerged from crummy Aprils. Not every quality arm found their footing so it’s far from a guarantee, but a handful of April duds will be gems the rest of the way. Let’s see if we can find some of them and start with a repeat struggler from last year.
Jose Quintana, Cubs | 5.74 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 10% K-BB
Quintana has given back all of his strikeout gains, dipping six points to 20% though this isn’t a huge surprise as there was only a modest one point jump in swinging strike rate and facing the pitcher can only add so much. A strikeout drop alone would be fine, but his walk rate has jumped to a career-high 10% mark so far. Of course, two 4-walk games can leave a lasting impression and he closed the month with a pair of 1-walk efforts.
His first-pitch strike rate is down to 64%, but again the influence of two starts weighs heavily. He had just a 57% mark in his first two games, but is back up to a nice 69% in the last three. First-pitch strikes don’t eliminate walks, though. He had a 72% mark in the 2.3 IP/4 BB disaster against Atlanta, which was that wild 14-10 comeback in the insane weather. I’m pretty heartened by Q’s last two games – 5.3 IP/4 ER at COL, 7 IP/0 ER v. MIL – with seven strikeouts and one walk in each. I hope that you stayed the course through a couple wonky outings. He had one bad inning in his 6 IP/6 ER opener at Miami and then the winter storm v. Atlanta.
Chris Archer, Rays | 6.61 ERA, 1.59 WHIP, 17% K-BB
He is missing bats as well as anyone this year, but it might be creating a false sense of hope. He has the 8th-best swinging strike rate at 15% and a 25% strikeout rate that ranks 35th, but he’s had a godawful fastball that righties and lefties have feasted on with regularity (-6.9 pitch value… not nice). Lefties are also torching the slider (1.155 OPS in 34 PA) leaving him answerless against the other side of the plate. His 1.076 OPS against lefties is an MLB-worst among righties and only southpaw James Paxton (1.270 OPS) is worse among all pitchers. Jason Collette investigated Archer’s issues with a focus on the lefty issue at The Process Report a couple weeks back and it’s definitely a must-read.
Archer has consistently gotten worse the third time through the lineup over the last five seasons, rising from a .619 OPS in 2014 to .940 so far this year. As you might expect, the combination is especially awful as he’s allowed a 1.011 OPS to lefties the third time through. I definitely don’t think he’s this bad, but I also don’t really see him improving to a level commensurate with his draft cost. A persistent home run issue left him with back-to-back 4.00 ERA seasons and it’s even higher this year at 1.7 HR/9. His 17% HR/FB would be a career-high if it held, but it’s not that far from the 16% and 14% rates of 2016-17.
Batters trounce Archer in first pitch situations with a 1.368 OPS (84th of 92 qualified SPs) and he isn’t taking full advantage of situations where he’s ahead. Only Jon Gray’s .757 OPS in pitcher-friendly counts is worse than Archer’s .753 mark. Archer has allowed four homers in those situations, tied for most in the league (Garrett Richards and Martin Perez). If you have a need for a low-4.00s ERA and a bunch of strikeouts, then buy low on Archer, but if you’re expecting some sort of frontliner, I’m just not seeing it without some major changes.
Luke Weaver, Cardinals | 5.17 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 12% K-BB
Weaver showed the volatility of assessing a player over the course of a month. He opened an inning shy of three quality starts, posting a 2.08 ERA with 17 strikeouts in his first 17.3 innings. He has since fallen on hard times with a 9.00 ERA in his last three, reaching five innings just once though still fanning 13 in 14 innings. Weaver falls behind batters regularly with a 56% first-pitch strike rate (81st of 92 qualified SPs) and it’s catching up to him with a jump in walk rate to 10%. It was hard to see how a 10% swinging strike rate was sustaining a 28% strikeout rate over his first 97 MLB innings and now we’ve seen it dip down to a more reasonable 22% mark with that same swinging strike rate.
The severe difference in performance between his first three and last three starts has me wondering if there’s a health concern or maybe just a few bouts of run-bad, perhaps due to fatigue in two of three bad ones. In his 4 IP/6 ER dud at the Cubs, he allowed all the damage in the first two innings before a pair of scoreless ones, but by then he’d run up 85 pitches. Against the Mets and Pirates, things unraveled in his final inning. Three runs and three walks in the fifth inning vs. New York and all four of his runs in Pittsburgh came in the sixth.
Fearing a strikeout drop, I wasn’t really scooping Weaver at his draft price, but I’m open to buying with a discount right now as I don’t see much that makes me think this 5.17 ERA is legit. His new “slurveball” was unhittable in the first three starts and then obliterated the last three. If one of his primary pitches (fastball/changeup) was getting destroyed in those three duds, I’d be a lot more concerned. His high-3.00s ERA/1.20s WHIP projections feel right for the rest of the season.