Wet-Blanketing Three Pitchers You Love

A few weeks back, I dropped some ice-cold water on some of the spring’s favorites just to give us a reality check about their downside. Interestingly enough, the guy I was struggling most to wet blanket is the one who is now dealing with an ailment: Anthony Rendon with his MCL. For me, his checkered health record was the only thing really holding him back as it could cut into his base-stealing production if it was something nagging and obviously something more severe could really take a chunk out of his numbers. Today, I’ll do the same from fast-rising pitchers and ideally, I’ll go beyond health concerns for all three picks as those loom overhead for every single pitcher every single time they throw the ball.

Gerrit Cole, PIT

We are all waiting for that transcendent season from the former #1 overall pick and the pieces seem to be in place, but in order to fulfill the elite, frontline expectations he needs to have the ratios, innings, and strikeouts. We’ve only seen him top out at 138 innings so far as a big leaguer.

I’m not necessarily knocking him for that as he’s had a whopping one chance to go a full MLB season, but until we see a guy do it, it is an unknown and often an overlooked one. Alex Cobb would’ve definitely made this list if he wasn’t already dealing with an injury. He’s been brilliant when pitching each of the last two seasons, but he’s only gone a combined 310 innings in that span.

Are we certain Cole can be a strikeout machine over a full season? He had a 21.4% rate coming out of his last DL stint, but reeled off a 29.1% clip in his final eight starts to finish with a 24.2% rate. However, the competition might not have exactly been up to snuff in that eight-start run with two against the Cubs (t-1st in K% v. RHP at 24%), two against the Braves (5th, 22%), and one against the Red Sox (7th, 21.3%). The other three were against the Cardinals twice (27th, 18%) and the Reds (12th, 20.9%).

I don’t doubt Cole’s strikeout ability, but I’m not sure he’s always looking to pile ‘em up if the opposition isn’t ready and willing. The groundball-heavy approach in Pittsburgh has preached efficiency so Cole can often get an easy 6-3 in two pitches instead of exerting more force for a six-pitch punchout. The majority of those final eight opponents were in the ready and willing camp of strikeouts.

While it’s not out of the question for a guy to make a 70-inning, 0.50 ERA jump in one season, it’s far from common, even with great arms like Cole’s. And yet his draft position is essentially requiring that kind of performance improvement which would leave him with 208 innings of a 3.15 ERA at age-24. He obviously has a very bright future, but is he likely to out-perform James Shields or Gio Gonzalez this year? He’s being drafted as such more often than not, especially in the NFBC.

Carlos Carrasco, CLE

First, let’s get the obvious out of the way: we’re betting on a small sample of success with Carrasco. He posted a 5.29 ERA for his first 238.3 major league innings before last year’s 2.55 in 134 innings split between the pen and rotation. The real hype has been built off an even smaller sample, focused solely on his final 10 starts of the season when he allowed a 1.30 ERA and 0.81 WHIP in 69 innings with 78 strikeouts and a 7.1 K:BB ratio. He keeps stupidly being compared to Corey Kluber (he’s being draft much higher than Kluber was at any point last year) and he’s actually more like Danny Salazar.

Salazar wasn’t that overwhelmingly dominant in his 10-start run back in 2013, but that didn’t stop folks from going bananas for him. He was vastly over-drafted last year and was in Triple-A with a 5.53 ERA by mid-May. Where Salazar and Carrasco diverge is that Carrasco’s sample was much better, but it was still very small in the grand scheme of things and Carrasco already has a sizable chunk of failed MLB time under his belt showing just how bad it can be when he’s not right.

His stuff has never been in question, but rather his consistency and mental game. He routinely struggled to command his excellent stuff and would sometimes get so rattled that he would bean the opposition which led to a suspension two different times. We saw another guy iron out his issues for a huge second half with Cleveland in the recent past before turning back into a pumpkin a year later: Ubaldo Jimenez. Jimenez fell apart with the Orioles last year, posting a 4.81 ERA and 1.52 WHIP in 125.3 innings.

Carrasco has obviously stayed with Cleveland and pitching coach Mickey Callaway so I worry less about a total collapse of what he learned and improved upon last year, but I can’t completely discount the notion. Carrasco’s price isn’t calling for a full repeat of his 2.55 ERA and 0.99 WHIP from 2014, but he is tracking just outside the top 100 picks as the 29th SP off the board across the six sources tracked by FantasyPros.

The attrition in the American League is pushing Carrasco’s price up and will require a huge season to pay dividends. We’ve yet to see him eclipse even 21 starts in a season and last year was the first time his ratios weren’t outright vomit-inducing. The upside is tantalizing, but the LABR Mixed Draft saw him go ahead of Shields, Cole, Julio Teheran, and Jeff Samardzija. Matt Harvey, too, but I’ll give that one more of a pass since it was still mid-February at the time.

Nathan Eovaldi, NYY

Eovaldi has nowhere near the cost of our other two so you’re not really taking a huge risk with this investment, but it’s hard not to be a little cautious with the now-trendy “sleeper”. We got to see him log a full season last year, so that piece is covered, but he wasn’t good in his 33 starts. He came out of his 13th start with a 3.05 ERA, but then proceeded to post a 5.31 ERA in his final 20 starts with eight implosions (5+ ER) and a horrific 14.3% strikeout rate in 117 dismal innings.

Now he’s going to the American League East on the heels of allowing the most hits in the National League (223). He will also take a southpaw issue into a home park that is arguably the least forgiving for pitchers with issues against left-handed batters. His changeup is trash. Lefties have posted a 1.230 OPS against it, albeit in just 35 career PA. His curveball is a much more useful weapon against them, but it’s not a strikeout offering (.665 OPS, 19% K in 106 PA).

He has been working on a split-change since last year and coming into Spring Training, which could yield some results. But even if he tames lefties with more regularity, we still haven’t seen anything to suggest a strikeout spike is coming, apart from the raw the stuff. Despite a 95+ MPH heater and sharp mid-to-high 80s slider, he has posted a very underwhelming 16.2% career strikeout rate, topping out at 17.3% in 2013.

Like I said, his price tag isn’t running high even in the leagues where he is plenty viable, but there is enough of an investment in those leagues that he needs to either sharply cut how hittable he is (9.5 career H/9) or significantly turn up the strikeout rate to maintain a roster spot. We’re obviously betting on development with him since the pure stuff is so alluring, but it’s a blind bet as the data doesn’t suggest a large jump is forthcoming with promising, but raw 25-year old righty.

This exercise isn’t a DO NOT DRAFT referendum on these three arms. I quite like all three, in fact, but just as with the hitters (two of which I love this year), I’m opening myself up to the downside of drafting them, something I don’t always do with my favorites coming into the year. Or I’ll give more allowances on the shortcomings just because I like them, but I’ve been trying to be better about that.

Sometimes via this exercise, I end up moving a guy down a bit as the risk turns out to be much higher than I anticipated at first blush. Just make sure you’re being honest about the downside you could be getting with your Nolan Arenadoes and Andrew Cashners of the draft world. If you still come out more than willing to absorb the risk associated, then by all means proceed with drafting them at their elevated price, but don’t punish Jake Arrieta for peaking at 157 innings and let Cashner slide with same exact risk (OK, not same exact as Cashner has a high of 175 IP).





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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Spa City

Please stop wet-blanketing players whom I love. Thank you.