Two Good Starts, Two Bad Starts: Wei-Yin Chen and Kyle Gibson by Al Melchior July 3, 2018 A two-start streak — good or bad — is typically not enough for drawing strong conclusions about a pitcher’s value, but hey, a meaningful upturn or downturn has to start somewhere. For Wei-Yin Chen and Kyle Gibson, a change in fortune would not be totally unexpected. Chen’s three-year tenure with the Marlins has been marred by injury and a level of performance that has paled in comparison to that which he enjoyed with the Orioles. Perhaps we’re finally starting to see the version of the lefty the Marlins expected when they signed him to a five-year, $80 million deal. Gibson, on the other hand, is enjoying the best season of his career, but could he be on the precipice of regression? Let’s dig into these hurlers’ most recent starts and see what we find. Two Good Starts: Wei-Yin Chen The Results: 6/27 vs. ARI, 6 IP, 5 H, 1 R, 1 BB, 5 K; 7/2 vs. TB, 6 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 5 K. What’s Different: Chen’s back-to-back quality starts really stand out in his game log, which featured a total of two quality starts over his first 11 outings. The most obvious difference, besides the improved outward results, is an increase in average fastball velocity. Through those first 11 starts, Chen averaged 90.6 mph on his fastball. Against the Diamondbacks, he went up a tick, averaging 91.6 mph, and versus the Rays on Monday, he set a season high with an average of 92.5 mph. As a point of reference, Chen’s previous high in terms of average fastball velocity over a full season was the 91.8 mph he averaged in 2014 with the Orioles. He has yet to crack the 91 mph barrier over a full season since joining the Marlins. Maybe increased velocity helped Chen to boost his swinging strike rate from 7.8 percent in his first 11 starts to 10.9 percent in his last two starts. The overall increase in whiffs is mirrored by a surge in his swinging strike rate on his four-seamer, which went from 5.3 percent prior to his two good starts to 9.8 percent during the two good starts. A coinciding of increased velocity and more swings-and-misses is intriguing, but given the limited sample size of the higher whiff rate, it’s hard to read too much into it. The improved rate on the four-seamer is the result of just two extra swings-and-misses per start. There would be more reason to be encouraged if Chen’s recent whiff rate were a little higher or if the quality of contact had been weaker over these two starts, but neither is the case. In both outings, Chen allowed hard contact at a rate above 50 percent and soft contact at a rate below 12 percent. Recommendation: Chen’s improvement has not been been dramatic enough to merit a pickup, even in deeper mixed leagues, but it is enough to put him on your watch list. If he continues to be stingy with runs and more amenable to swinging strikes in his upcoming starts against the Nationals and Brewers, plan on picking him up in mixed leagues with 15 teams or more before the All-Star break. There is no need to rush, as he is almost universally available on all sites. Two Bad Starts: Kyle Gibson The Results: 6/27 at CHW, 7 IP, 11 H, 5 R, 1 BB, 7 K; 7/2 at MIL, 5 IP, 8 H, 4 R, 3 ER, 2 BB, 3 K. What’s Different: Even with these two less-than-sterling starts behind him, Gibson is boasting career lows for ERA (3.58) and WHIP (1.28). The seeds for Gibson’s breakout were planted last season, when he started missing more bats on pitches out of the strike zone. He was not able to take advantage of that trend, because he was locating in the zone more frequently, particularly with his sinker. This season, Gibson has trimmed his Zone% from 40.1 to 34.6 percent, trailing only Patrick Corbin as the majors’ wildest starter, and he has brought his O-Contact% slightly lower from 61.8 to 60.9 percent. Over Gibson’s last two starts, he has continued to be wild, and he has been getting plenty of chases (37.4 percent O-Swing%), but his O-Contact% is a bit higher (65.3 percent). The real difference, though, has been on pitches that are in the zone. Prior to these two starts, Gibson’s Z-Swing% was 66.7 percent, but hitters have been offering at his pitches in the strike zone at a 77.9 percent rate the last two times out. Both the White Sox and Brewers were taking hacks at good pitches, registering Z-Contact rates above 76 percent. That Gibson allowed this to happen against the Brewers is worrisome, as they have the seventh-lowest Z-Swing% (65.5 percent) in the majors. Over the two starts combined, Gibson had just 24 called strikes out of 199 pitches. As the White Sox and Brewers swung more often at good pitches, they collectively compiled a .425 BABIP. The White Sox collected nine line drives, while the Brewers tallied four infield hits. These totals would likely have been reduced if hitters weren’t emboldened to swing frequently at pitches in the zone. Recommendation: Two starts with high Z-Swing% rates is not reason enough to bench Gibson in a mixed league with at least 14 teams, but in shallower formats, it could pay to at least weigh your alternatives. All of Gibson’s owners should track his Z-Swing percentage over his next start or two. If it remains elevated and his results continue to be worse than they had been over the season’s first three months, it may be time to sell, or if you can’t get a reasonable return, stash indefinitely.