Monday April 25th, 2016

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The last time Drew Pomeranz made 20 starts in a season, he still had all the promise that comes with being a top-five draft pick, as well as one of the 50 best prospects in baseball at age 23. The year was 2012, and Pomeranz made 22 mostly bad or average starts with the Colorado Rockies. He finished the season with a 4.93 ERA, 4.81 FIP and 1.48 WHIP, and has made a total of 26 starts since. Injury has played a role, but it seemed his chance to be a legitimate starter had passed him by.

Pitching report: Drew Smyly looks like a 2016 breakout candidate

Then came the spring of 2016. The Oakland Athletics sent Pomeranz to the San Diego Padres for Yonder Alonso, with a few other players trading addresses in California, as well. It was a case of former top prospects who never reached their full potential, getting another chance at a new start. The jury’s still out on Alonso, but Pomeranz is taking advantage of every opportunity granted him with the Padres, including the big one that came through just a few weeks ago.

When spring training began, Pomeranz appeared ticketed for the bullpen. To his credit, he re-made himself as a reliever with the A’s, compiling a 3.08 ERA, 3.69 FIP, 1.16 WHIP and 146 strikeouts in 155 innings over the last two seasons, a span covering 73 appearances (19 starts). It looked like he’d reprise that role with the Padres. Instead, Brandon Maurer struggled during the spring, and Pomeranz won the final spot in the rotation. He hasn’t looked back since.

Through three starts in his second life as a starter, Pomeranz has significantly exceeded all expectations. He has allowed four earned runs on 11 hits, striking out 25 batters while walking nine in 17 2/3 innings. His average fastball velocity is down to 91.6 mph, but he never relied heavily on blowing hitters away. In fact, his fastball is getting a 17.2% whiff rate this year after sitting at 15.6% last year.

Fantasy baseball closer rankings

The biggest change between Pomeranz this season and the pitcher he was at any other stage of his career is the usage rate on his curveball. He has thrown the pitch 37.4% of the time season, which would be the highest of his career for a full season by seven percentage points. The pitch was always good, ranking 14th in vertical movement last season. Now he’s letting it do a lot more heavy lifting.

Pomeranz’s effectiveness with the curve speaks for itself. Hitters have managed a .161 batting average and .065 isolated slugging percentage against the pitch thus far. It has an 18.1% whiff rate that jumps all the way up to 48.4% when you isolate for whiffs per swing. That whiff-per-swing rate in 2015 would have been 10th best in the majors.

Let’s take a look at the curveball in action. Pomeranz uses it a bit more frequently against righties, though it’s a real weapon against hitters from both sides of the plate. He struck out 10 Pirates in his last start, an 8-2 win for the Padres. With some assistance from Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte and Sean Rodriguez, we can see how helpless righties are against Pomeranz’s curve.

Thanks fellas. McCutchen and Marte went a combined 0-for-6 against Pomeranz with five strikeouts. A curve with that kind of bite is going to give any pitcher lasting power. It also makes his 91-93 mph fastball appear a whole lot faster, especially when a hitter is sitting curve. It may still be early this season, but you can’t wait for complete confirmation before buying in on what you see. If you do, it will likely be too late. Take Pomeranz’s early-season success and add it to what he has done has a reliever this last few years, and there’s plenty of reason to believe that he can finally become this season the pitcher he was always supposed to be all those years ago.

Pitchers to watch this week

Jake Arrieta, Cubs

The last time Arrieta took the mound, he threw his second no-hitter in his last 11 regular season starts, dating back to 2015. He’s is keeping the dominance rolling in 2016, posting a 0.87 ERA, 0.68 WHIP and 26 strikeouts in 31 innings, winning each of his first four starts. The first, and only, time a pitcher threw no-hitters in consecutive starts was back in 1938 when Cincinnati’s Johnny Vander Meer kept the Boston Braves and Brooklyn Dodgers hitless within a five-day window in June. Arrieta is one of the few pitchers you’d bet on matching that feat, and he’ll have the chance when he takes the ball at Wrigley Field on Wednesday against the Brewers.

Rick Porcello, Red Sox

Porcello has never had a K/9 better than 7.8 or a strikeout rate higher than 20.2%. This season, those numbers sit at 11.17 and 30.8%. Porcello has 24 strikeouts in 19 1/3 innings, with an excellent changeup and increased reliance on his cutter seeming to do most of the work. The pitches have whiff rates of 27.6% and 18%, respectively, and while it’s far too early for whiff rates to normalize, we shouldn’t expect Porcello’s usage rates to change much. Keep an eye on how he uses the pitches, and how successful they are, when he toes the rubber against the Braves on Monday and Yankees on Saturday.

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Jerad Eickhoff, Phillies

Eickhoff made his fourth start of the year against the Milwaukee Brewers on Sunday, and everything was going along as well as it had in the previous three until a disastrous sixth inning. Through the first five frames, he had allowed two runs and fanned seven batters, appearing to be well on his way to a third straight outing with at least nine strikeouts. He then surrendered a leadoff homer to Scooter Gennett in the fifth, and the wheels came off entirely. He got just one out before departing, ultimately allowing five more runs in the inning. The fact remains that Eickhoff has 28 strikeouts in 24 1/3 innings this season, so it’s hard to hold one bad outing against him. It will still be interesting to see how he bounces back after his first bad start of the year. Eickhoff next takes the mound Saturady against the Indians.

Chris Archer, Rays

Archer’s terrible start to the 2016 season continues, and may have even gotten worse his last time out. He allowed six runs on eight hits and three walks in just 4 1/3 innings in a loss to the Red Sox on April 20. It was the second time in four starts that he has allowed at least six earned runs. He had three such starts in all of 2015. Archer is too good to be this bad for this long, but that assurance is starting to wear thin for his owners. All eyes will be on him when he faces the imposing Baltimore lineup on Monday. He’ll have to follow that up by taking on the Blue Jays over the weekend. That’s not a twosome a struggling pitcher wants to see.

Jon Gray, Rockies

Fantasy baseball Waiver Wire: Jon Gray is showing signs of potential

Gray struck out 10 hitters in his 2016 debut, once again putting his immense potential on display. He surrendered five runs in five innings, though we can give him a pass for that considering the Coors Field environment, as well as the fact that it was his first start of the season. The strikeout total, in addition to his reclaimed velocity, is the story here. Gray’s fastball averaged 95.8 mph, and he ran it up into the high-90s a few times. We’ll need to see this sort of performance multiple times before we can truly believe in Gray, but it’s hard to ignore his pedigree and ceiling, especially after watching him send 10 Dodgers right back to the dugout. The good news about his next start, which comes Saturday, is that it isn’t in Coors Field. The bad news is that it’s against the Diamondbacks in Arizona.

Prospect watch

Blake Snell, SP, Rays

The Rays got a brief glimpse into their future over the weekend when they promoted Snell to make a spot start against the Yankees. The top prospect in the Rays’ system and No. 12 prospect in baseball according to looked every bit the possible frontline starter. He allowed one run on two hits and a walk in five innings, striking out six in a no-decision (the Yankees won 3-2). Snell’s fastball sat in the mid-90s. He threw three pitches—his fastball, curveball and changeup—at least 10 times each, and the one walk was a great sign from a pitcher who has struggled with command and control issues in the minors. The Rays immediately sent him back to Triple-A Durham after the start, but we will almost certainly see him back in the majors some time this season. He may have the most pure talent in a rotation that includes Chris Archer and Drew Smyly, and could turn Tampa Bay’s starting staff into one of the deepest in the league.

Two-start pitchers

  1. Clayton Kershaw
  2. Chris Sale
  3. Noah Syndergaard
  4. Madison Bumgarner
  5. Danny Salazar
  6. Zack Greinke
  7. David Price
  8. Joe Ross
  9. Carlos Martinez
  10. Garrett Richards
  11. Jaime Garcia
  12. Chris Archer
  13. Gerrit Cole
  14. Taijuan Walker
  15. Raisel Iglesias
  16. Ian Kennedy
  17. Vince Velasquez
  18. Jordan Zimmermann
  19. Kyle Hendricks
  20. Rick Porcello
  21. Drew Pomeranz
  22. Wei-yin Chen
  23. Kevin Gausman
  24. Rich Hill
  25. Kendall Graveman
  26. Ubaldo Jimenez
  27. Julio Teheran
  28. Shelby Miller
  29. Nathan Eovaldi
  30. Jimmy Nelson
  31. R.A. Dickey
  32. Doug Fister
  33. Jorge De La Rosa
  34. Chad Bettis
  35. Tom Koehler
  36. Matt Wisler
  37. Jeff Locke
  38. John Danks
  39. Mike Pelfrey

GIF of the Week

Any time a pitcher throws a no-hitter, he gets to give us the GIF of the week. Arrieta doesn’t throw his changeup often, but he does use it enough to make lefties think about it. Reds outfielder Jay Bruce didn’t think about it in this at-bat until it was too late.

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