The Most Disappointing Starting Pitchers: Will They Rebound?

With two ratio categories out of four they contribute to, starting pitchers could turn around their seasons much more easily than hitters, who must make up ground in four counting stats. I compare the CBS projected and actual rankings and sorted by the difference for a list of the most disappointing and surprising starters. I eliminated any pitcher currently on the DL. These six are arguably the most disappointing. Will any of them deliver the kind of value over the second half that fantasy owners paid for?

Starting Pitcher Disappointments
Name ERA WHIP W K Projected CBS Rank Actual CBS Rank Diff
Marcus Stroman 5.86 1.50 2 52 144 1148 1004
Robbie Ray 5.03 1.49 3 73 50 547 497
Sonny Gray 5.46 1.51 6 85 92 586 494
Rich Hill 4.55 1.37 2 60 122 589 467
Luis Castillo 5.49 1.38 5 96 108 552 444
Chris Archer 4.29 1.38 3 86 52 479 427

Marcus Stroman’s disappointing season began during spring training when he was sidelined with shoulder inflammation. He eventually returned and was ready for the beginning of the season, but posted awful results before hitting the DL in mid-May with more shoulder problems. He ended up missing a month and a half with the ailment, which obviously hampered his ability to earn fantasy value (though some might have considered it a blessing given the ratio damage he did while on the mound). Let’s compare some of his underlying metrics before and after his DL stint:

Marcus Stroman Before and After DL
Pre-DL 18.2% 10.2% 9.2% 92.8 7.71 4.30
Post-DL 17.4% 7.0% 9.2% 92.9 3.45 3.81

The good news:
-His velocity has been the same after returning from the DL, suggesting his shoulder isn’t continuing to cause issues
-His control is back to normal after a bout with wildness
-His overall skills package has improved, with his SIERA dropping below 4.00, a nice improvement from his 4.30 mark before the injury

The bad news:
-His strikeout, which was already lower than we wanted to see, has slipped even further after his return from the DL, though his SwStk% has remained constant.
-Even with improved skills, a 3.81 SIERA is nothing to write home about, especially when he’s not contributing in strikeouts

Clearly, better days are ahead and Stroman should continue pushing his ERA down. But last year’s low 3.00 ERA ain’t gonna happen and it looks like we’re going to have to remain patient with our hopes of a strikeout rate spike. I think he’ll be bottom tier shallow mixed league playable, but won’t pace to earn the same value over the second half that you paid for.

Robbie Ray also missed time due to injury and also stunk up the joint before hitting the DL. He’s back now, but his results look familiar. Last season, despite allowing an absurdly high Hard%, he managed to reverse his BABIP issues and strand a high rate of baserunners. Combined with a strikeout rate jump, it was enough to push his ERA below 3.00. While he’s maintained that lofty strikeout rate, his control has taken another step back, and his ability to suppress hits on balls in play has reverted right back to his pre-2017 levels. This time, the inflated Hard% is actually hurting him.

The strikeout rate is impossible to ignore, but man, what’s his deal with allowing so much hard contact?! Please, someone smarter than me dissect his Statcast data, heat maps, etc, and share with all of us what he’s doing, or not doing, that has led to the hard contact and consistently high BABIP. And even better, what did he do differently, if anything, last year that bucked the trend? I’d still buy here, especially given the backdrop of his new friendlier home park, but it’s really just a shot in the dark based on the strikeout rate.

Robbie Ray, meet Sonny Gray. Like Ray, Gray has sandwiched an excellent season driven by a return to a low BABIP with two horrid performances fueled by inflated BABIP marks. Gray’s underlying skills are far inferior to Ray’s, though his Hard% is much less scary. Gray continues to make excellent starts here and there, making us think he’s turning the corner, just to implode again his next start. Sadly, I own Gray in three leagues and it beats me what he’ll do the rest of the season. If I didn’t own him, I probably wouldn’t buy, but owning him, I trot him out there each week in the two AL-Only leagues, while selectively choose when to activate him in my mixed league (I’m usually wrong).

Rich Hill is 38 years old! Given his age paired with the collapse of his strikeout rate to a still above average 24.7%, you always have to wonder if age has taken its toll. He’s still getting crushed by the home run ball with a HR/FB rate significantly higher than his previous high. Is this bad luck or just being older and less good? With his consistent injury issues and the fact that he’s recorded more than five innings in just half his starts, I’m not rushing to buy him, especially in leagues that count quality starts.

Luis Castillo made an appearance in my SIERA Underperformer group in yesterday’s poll article, but even a 4.14 SIERA isn’t what fantasy owners expected. The jump in SIERA versus his 2017 debut is all driven by a decline in strikeout rate (despite an increase in SwStk% to an elite 14%) and collapse of his ground ball rate. It’s hard to reconcile the fantastic SwStk% with the merely league average strikeout rate, so the disconnect does provide some real optimism. Though he’s lost some velocity since last year, he’s still throwing gas. I’m cautiously optimistic about his second half and he makes a great buy low in keeper leagues.

Did you realize that this is now the third straight season that Chris Archer’s ERA has been over 4.00? He continues to get drafted like one of the top pitchers, as everyone assumes his ERA will improve to match his far more impressive SIERA marks. But he’s been bitten by BABIP issues for a second straight season, and in the two years prior, couldn’t keep his fly balls in the park, despite calling a pitcher friendly park home. Like Castillo, Archer’s strikeout rate is down, but his SwStk% is actually at the second highest of his career, so a rebound there could be in his future. Unfortunately, the Rays might be ready to dismantle, meaning the offense could be pathetic and provide little run support. I’d buy, but clearly not pay anywhere near the price he cost at the draft.

Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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Part of me wondered why my team was underahieving this year. Turns out having 3 of these guys probably isn’t the best thing