Tipping Pitches: Cutting Bait on Three Top-60 Arms

I practice extreme patience in fantasy baseball because to me there’s nothing worse than overreacting on a guy, cutting him, and then watching him get back on track for one of your competitors. However, I also realize that sometimes the patience is exercised to a fault, especially in shallower leagues (10-13 team mixers where the waiver wire is going to be more plentiful). I’m trying to strike a better balance this year and be willing to take chances on available guys, even if it means cutting someone who might get back on track, but just isn’t performing right now.

Of course, to pick someone up, someone has to go. And that decision is often the more agonizing of the two so today I’ve got three arms drafted in the top 60 starters of NFBC leagues that I’m ready to move on from in favor of the latest hot prospect being called up or fast starters with some bankable skills changes behind their run. We’ve already seen Blake Snell, Henry Owens, Aaron Blair, and Jose Berrios get the call. And sure, they could flop and have you back on the wire picking one of these guys back up, but for now I’m comfortable cutting them to invest elsewhere in the hopes of a big payday.

Michael Pineda

I love strikeouts as much as the next guy. Pair them with a tiny walk rate and I’m going to be interested. But all the strikeouts in the world can’t save you if you’re giving up a hit every time you don’t fan someone and that seems to be the case with Pineda. Last year he had a 20% K-BB% rate, but allowed 1.2 HR/9 and had a .332 BABIP. You can only cry “bad luck” so much on those numbers. There was no rhyme or reason to it, either. He had identical skills versus good and bad teams (using the .500 win percentage cutoffs from B-Ref). For example, he crushed Toronto (2.79 ERA in 19.3 IP), but Philadelphia blasted him for eight earned.

The problem is he’s either really good or really bad, there’s no in between. It’s been the same thing this year. His earned run totals through four starts: 6, 2, 2, and 7. His home run totals: 3, 0, 0, 4… and that last one was against the Tampa Bay Rays (sorry, Jason!). He is just wildly inconsistent and the lows are so low that the highs are just working to get him even.

Using Game Scores as a shorthand, I looked at the most 60+ outings from 2015-16 and found that 89 pitchers had at least 10, including Pineda (who had exactly 10). Then I looked at how many <=45 GS outings those same 89 starters had and found that Pineda had 13, tied for the 5th-highest total. There were 12 arms with at least 13 such outings when accounting for ties. Only one went higher than Pineda this past draft season and only five were top-75 arms:

PITCHER ADP among SPs <=45 GS outings
Jeff Samardzija 40 13
Michael Pineda 45 13
Scott Kazmir 60 13
Andrew Cashner 69 15
Alex Wood 72 13
Wade Miley 105 15
Jon Niese 110 13
Yovani Gallardo 111 16
Drew Hutchison 120 15
Chris Tillman 127 14
Alfredo Simon 186 17
John Danks 206 15
AVERAGE 104 14

A great K-BB% ratio can only get you so far. Pineda is one of just 13 pitchers with 100+ innings since the start of last year with a 20% K-BB% ratio, but he’s only one with a 1.4 HR/9. In fact, Max Scherzer is the only other guy above 1.0 with a 1.1 mark. Meanwhile, Pineda’s .279 batting average against is the highest of that group by 48 points.

Luis Severino

It’s time to Sever-ino ties with Luis.

Drink it in folks, you know you loved that.

I was nervous about Severino coming into the season as I thought his price was being inflated based on a tiny sample of work, especially since his 2.89 ERA didn’t really hold up under even the slightest scrutiny. I wrote this in the 2016 Starting Pitcher Guide:


Obviously, he gets more than three starts before I start declaring how “right” I am, but I haven’t seen anything that has me changing my tune, either. He hasn’t been bad by any stretch. Instead, he’s looked a lot like a 22-year old who is 14 starts into his career.

Severino has a live arsenal and plenty of upside, but he had just 61 Triple-A innings before his call-ups so he’s essentially learning on the job. I will be keeping a close eye on him, but for now, I’d cut him for a veteran like Hector Santiago, who has some interesting skills changes fueling his fast start or a prospect like Berrios, who I believe has more immediate upside.

Of course after I write this he gives up six earned in three innings at Texas and now looks like a much easier cut, but I still had to include him for those remaining on the fence.

James Shields

“Well at least he had the strikeouts” is how we justified hanging onto Shields last year. His first season with the Padres yielded a career-best 25% strikeout rate, but also career-worst 9% walk rate (double his 2014 mark) and tying his career-worst home run rate of 1.5 HR/9. In short, the strikeouts weren’t worth it, but they were still better than nothing.

So far this year he has given back the strikeout gains (career-low 18% rate), but with only minimal improvements to his walk and home run rates. He has lost another tick of velocity, too. It’s actually two ticks if you compare April-to-April and at age-34, it isn’t coming back. In fact, it’s unlikely that his ace form is coming back, either. Is a high-3.00s/low-4.00s Shields all that special?

Here’s the thing, even a pitcher with a low-4.00s ERA for 30+ starts is going to have a lot of good starts, but I don’t really want to try and figure out when Shields will have his. Maybe he’s a home-only streamer. He did have a 3.29 ERA at Petco last year, but also a 1.36 WHIP. He’s got more name value than fantasy value at this point which is why I’m open to cutting him in shallow leagues in the hopes of finding a more stable arm I can use every time out.


And now Sean Manaea was just called up. I really like him and I’d definitely be looking at him as a pickup when I cut one of these guys.

Paul is the Editor of Rotographs and contributes to ESPN's Daily Notes. Follow Paul on Twitter @sporer and on Twitch at sporer.

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I was lucky enough to get Manaea and Berrios in my Keeper League. My cuts were Severino and Fiers. Feel pretty good about it…

Big Mike
Big Mike

Good luck! I dropped Axford for Berrios yesterday and this article convinced me to drop Shields for Manaea.