Three Struggling Pitchers: Archer, Gray, & Duffy

This is going to get ugly fast. Here is my current Tout Wars pitching staff:

That’s right, it contains three of the biggest disappoints so far this season. The results have my team posting a 4.88 ERA. The next closest is at 4.35. The destruction has my WHIP also in last place. It’s time to examine the trio to see if there is any hope.

Before getting to these three, owners should now start examining their pitchers in detail to see what is and isn’t working. Spending a minute or two on each pitcher can possibly unearth items such as lost velocity or a new pitch mix.

Chris Archer

I knew Archer was a risk with his two-pitch arsenal which may get lit up later in games. This season, he can’t even make it to those later innings.

My first step when evaluating pitchers is to peak at their recent and season velocity which are the same right now. He’s down 1.4 mph from last season which can partially be explained away by the cold weather (two starts at or under 40 degrees). The velocity drop, which is similar to his 2016 value, explains the strikeout decline.

The next item I examine is the variations in ERA and its estimators.

  • ERA: 7.84
  • FIP: 4.73
  • xFIP: 3.83
  • SIERA: 3.75

With FIP and ERA way over the other two, Archer is getting hit around. There is no denying Archer can get hit around with 1.2 HR/9 and .325 BABIP last season. He’s taking those values to a new extreme this season with a 1.7 HR/9 and .379 BABIP. Both have led to a 56% LOB%.

It’s lefties who are doing all the damage by posting a .439/.511/.825 line while righties are at .178/.245/.311. He’s always had some issues with lefties but not to this extreme. He will continue to struggle against them since he doesn’t have a decent third pitch.

One other item which is pushing up all the ERA estimators from his projected values is a 3.9 BB/9. Usually his high strikeout numbers mitigate his walks. Six of his nine walks were in his two cold games.

Two positive signs are a career-high 14% SwStr% and 51% Zone%. His struggles boil down to getting hit around.

One major problem is obvious, his love for the fastball on pitch one. Thanks to Brooksbaseball.com for showing this difference:

Hitters are ambushing his first pitch fastball (16 times) by hitting .500/.500/1.000. It’s not pretty. He may need to mix in a few early sliders to keep hitters guessing more.

Another issue is he’s been horrible with runners on base. With no one on, hitters are posting a .239/.300/.391 line. When runners get on, they hit .385/.457/.744. Maybe he’s tipping his pitching. I couldn’t find any red flags for the discrepancy.

Conclusion: I have some major concerns with him and he needs to take several steps forward including getting his walks under control. I’d like to see his first pitch fastball rate drop significantly. For now, I’m stuck starting him for the strikeouts in all but the worst possible matchups.

Jon Gray

Following the same steps as I performed with Gray, I found his fastball velocity fine. Moving onto his ERA and estimators, his ERA sticks out.

  • ERA: 6:23
  • FIP: 3.59
  • xFIP: 3.12
  • SIERA: 3.36

Of the estimators, his FIP is the only one of concern because of a 1.25 HR/9. Gray’s ERA is up based on a .385 BABIP and 64% LOB%. Pitching in Colorado will lead to a pitcher posting a high BABIP but not this high.

Gray’s issues have come out of the stretch where is K%-BB% drops from 27% with no one on to 7% with runners on base. Additionally, hitters are hitting Gray hard (.417/.417/.694) once Gray is ahead. I went over his pitch mix to see if he was using a pitch too often once ahead and nothing stood out.

One issue I did notice is that his release point has about a one-foot horizontal variance and a half-foot vertical variance. He’s releasing each pitch types from distinct points.

The fastball is wider and lower while is curve is up and in while is slider is between. Here’s a look at the difference during his last start

Fastball

Curve

Combined

The difference can be seen by looking at the ‘W’ behind the catcher. The fastball is being released near the bottom while the fastball is closer to the top. Also, his arm is straighter with the fastball versus the curveball release. Major league hitters will notice this difference.

Hitters are making solid contact with each of his pitches but especially the high-release curveball. Here are the vs SLG for each pitch.

  • Curve: .667
  • Slider: .438
  • 4-seam: .488

I’m not sure Gray can fix the issue in-season but it may explain some of his struggles.

Conclusion: Jon Gray’s overall profile is fine with his core traits looking great. His one issue is hitters teeing off on him which may be from picking up on his pitches from their distinct release points. Even with his struggles, which are hopefully fixable, I’d buy in on the slow start. My guess is Gray’s owner isn’t happy about owning him and may quickly trade him.

Danny Duffy

With Duffy, I knew there would be struggles and put his preseason projection near his end-of-last-season numbers. I made the decision since his velocity was down. The velocity has stayed down (91.6 mph) and results are still horrible.

  • ERA: 5.40
  • FIP: 5.28
  • xFIP: 5.01
  • SIERA: 4.67

Unlike the first two pitchers, his ERA lines up closely with his ERA estimators. The reason all are high is his 4.8 BB/9. No pitcher is going to look good with that walk rate.

One cause for the high walks is his Zone% dropping from 52% to 43%. The control issue is not his fastball but his two breaking pitches with his changeup being in the strike zone 27% of the time and his slider at 15%. While not every struggle should be based on the wintry weather but in two of starts it was 41 and 45 degrees.

Besides the walks, currently, he has a 1.8 HR/9. With his flyball nature, historically he’s put up high home run rates. The problem now is that with him walking a batter every other inning, the ERA’s going to balloon with each home run.

Conclusion: Duffy’s struggles are related to his high walk rate due to not being able to throw strikes. The reason behind him not throwing strikes is the big mystery. Is he hurt? Is it too cold? Is it just random luck? His start today in a dome will go a long way to determining his if he is improving his command.





Jeff, one of the authors of the fantasy baseball guide,The Process, writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won three FSWA Awards including on for his MASH series. In his first two seasons in Tout Wars, he's won the H2H league and mixed auction league. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

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OutOfTheBox
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OutOfTheBox

Why didn’t you buy Quintana? He would fit right in. What do you think about his start?

CubsMLOrNah
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CubsMLOrNah

I have Quintana, Archer, and Gray. Not really sure what to do at this point 🙂

Federico
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Federico

Fantasy football season is just a few months away, stay strong