Tipping pitches: Searching for solutions for struggling starters
Sometimes things just don't line up when it comes to fantasy pitchers.
After all the research, analysis, and predictions, pitchers are frustrating. They're volatile. They're inconsistent. And they get hurt ... a lot.
Strikeouts, usually one of the more "predictable" pitching categories, aren't even shaking out as expected this year. Of last year's Top 10 pitchers in K/9, four are nowhere close to replicating that performance. One of them,
What's the lesson here? Starting pitchers'
Here are a few pitchers who wear their issues on their sleeves. These guys were expected to be very good, but there's some clear reason they're not. So, what's wrong with ...
It all seems very simple: If Pineiro can keep his walks down and his ground ball percentage (GB%) up, he can be a solid fantasy pitcher. After 54 innings this season, it appears Pineiro forgot to write down that recipe for success on the way out of St. Louis in the offseason. His BB/9 has nearly doubled from 1.14 to 2.17.
The main culprit appears to be a sinking first-strike percentage (FS%). It's at 60.9 this year after a career-high 65.4 in 2009. The last time it was below 61 was 2006 -- when he posted a 5.24 FIP through 165.2 mediocre innings.
The good sign is Pineiro's GB% is still solid, so that's one of the two keys. If he can turn his control around, this soft tosser can be useful in fantasy leagues again.
Can anyone really figure out Vazquez? Obviously AL hitters are a little more talented than NL hitters, but a jump in BB/9 from 1.81 in '09 to 4.71 this year is both inexcusable and inexplicable.
This is completely out of character for Vazquez. He's currently sporting a BB/9 that would be his career high by 1.16. He hasn't had a BB/9 over 2.73 since 1999 -- when the Expos still existed. There's a dip in FS% (66.9 to 63.5), but that likely isn't enough to explain the huge jump in walks. Vazquez seems to just be making mental errors that are resulting in more walks, and a higher FIP.
He clearly has talent (8.42 K/9 this year), so keep watching his walks. If they start to decrease, jump back on the Vazquez bandwagon.
It's starting to look like this is the real Verlander. His K/9 and contact% look eerily similar to the pre-'09 Verlander and not much like his breakout '09.
Verlander benefited from a career-high O-Swing% (percentage of pitches swung at outside the zone) and a career-low O-Contact% (percentage of times a batter makes contact with a pitch swung at outside the zone) when he produced that shiny 10.09 K/9 in '09.
His K/9 is now 8.17 and batters are making contact 81.1 percent of the time, right around his career 80.1 percent mark.
Verlander has a 3.40 fielder independent pitching rate (FIP), so he's been good, but somewhat lucky, with a .266 batting average on balls in play (BABIP). Just realize that his strikeouts of last year are no sure bet to return.
Rodriguez with a K/9 north of 8.00 was an underrated, top-of-the-rotation fantasy asset in '08 and '09. However, Rodriguez with a 5.37 K/9 in '10 is basically
Even with the K/9 reduction, Rodriguez's 63.5 left on base percentage (LOB%) and .337 BABIP suggest his solid 3.89 FIP could be even better. His current (career-best) 51.2 GB% is also encouraging.
Since his Contact% is very close to where it was the past two seasons, it looks like the low strikeout rate is more of a fluke than a performance change.
Greinke is missing bats at a below-average rate, deflating his K/9. While it's a solid 7.29, it's a far cry from 2009's elite 9.50.
As for the nearly tripling HR/9 rate, batters are simply hitting many more fly balls against Greinke this year. His FB% is 46.7, up from 40.5 last year.
Greinke is using his fastball and changeup more, while throwing his slider and curve less frequently, which is likely a sign that he's less confident in his stuff this season. As a result, his O-Contact% has gone from 56.0 last year to 75.3 this year. That's huge, and exactly the sort of thing that results in a jump in FIP from 2.33 to 3.87.
Greinke has enough talent to be elite, but he needs to fix his other pitches (his slider was especially essential to '09's success -- rated at 20.1 runs above average) to miss more bats.
Carpenter's HR/9 is 1.21 this year, up from 0.33 last year and by far the highest of the "New Carpenter" era (since '05).
Carpenter doesn't have quite the gas on his fastball that he had last year (91.4 mph, down from 93.0), but his other pitches look similar. So his stuff is pretty much the same.
Carpenter is excellent at keeping the ball down (28.8 FB% this season, 28.1 career), but his HR/FB is 16.4, tied for third highest in the majors. That's simply bad luck, so fantasy owners can reasonably expect his HR/9 to sink.
* Statistics current through May 25
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