- Chris Archer appeared to return to form in his dominant start against the Yankees on Opening Day. Does the Rays' ace have a new pitch in his arsenal?
Three games down, 2,427 to go. For those next 2,427, we here at SI.com will have all your fantasy baseball needs covered. On Mondays, that means the Pitching Report, our look at the state of the pitching landscape across the league.
For those of you who have been here before, welcome back. As for you new readers, thanks for making your way over to our corner of the fantasy baseball world. Every Monday, you’ll get an in-depth breakdown of a pitcher, or a pitching trend, or something else that will be useful in assessing your fantasy staff. From there, we’ll give you five pitchers to watch in the immediate future, as well as a prospect worth keeping an eye on as he makes his way to the majors. Finally, we’ll wrap up the column with a ranking of that week’s two-start pitchers for those of you in weekly leagues and, of course, our favorite pitching GIF from the previous week.
The season may be just three games old, but we’re still ready to kick off our full Pitching Report, complete with a dive into a pitcher’s arsenal. Chris Archer was one of the most confounding starters last season. After a top-five finish in Cy Young voting in 2015, his age-26 season, Archer pitched to a 4.02 ERA, 3.81 FIP and 1.24 WHIP across 201 1/3 innings last year. Despite the downturn, fantasy owners kept their faith in the Tampa Bay ace. Archer was the 13th starter off the board in a typical draft, going by average draft position in the four major fantasy commissioner services. He rewarded that faith in his first start of the season.
Archer took the ball for the Rays against the Yankees on Sunday, earning the first win of the 2017 season. He allowed two runs on seven hits in seven innings, striking out five and walking one. Archer racked up 13 swinging strikes, and that is something worth watching early on this season. Archer had a 12.2% whiff rate last season, down from 12.8% in 2015. He ranked eighth in the league both seasons, but the slight dip last year likely contributed to his strikeout rate falling 1.6 percentage points.
Let’s take a look at some of Archer’s swinging strikes from Sunday. He threw 50 fastballs, 42 sliders and 16 changeups among his 108 pitches. Each of the three produced whiffs from the Yankees. His first strikeout of the day came with a slider against Matt Holliday for strike three.
Jacoby Ellsbury led off the next inning and was Archer’s second strikeout victim. Archer got to strike two with a changeup that caught too much of the plate, but had Ellsbury off-balance enough to induce a swing and miss.
Strike three in this plate appearance looks like a changeup. Archer isn’t the type of pitcher who will typically double up on his change, but Ellsbury did look uncomfortable enough against the first one to warrant backing it up with another.
While Ellsbury’s swing indicates changeup, the replay on the Rays TV feed tells another story.
That’s a two-seamer grip from a pitcher who hasn’t thrown a two-seam fastball since the 2014 season, according to Brooks Baseball. If Archer has indeed added it back to the repertoire, and it can be as consistently good as it was here, he’ll have a fourth pitch he can go to for whiffs. As is the case with nearly everything we see on Opening Day, this bears watching over the next month or so.
Pitchers to watch
Danny Duffy, Royals
The love for Duffy at SI.com fantasy is no secret. I pegged him as a top-three Cy Young finisher in my predictions column last week. Duffy always had the stuff to be a frontline dominator. Last year, he finally figured out how to harness it, ditching the windup for the stretch in all situations, eliminating a litany of moving parts that previously made it impossible for him to repeat his delivery. Duffy features a four-pitch repertoire of four-seam, two-seam, slider and changeup, all of which he threw between 17% and 40% of the time last season. His two fastballs hit 95, his changeup is a swing-and-miss weapon against righties, and his slider regularly makes lefties look foolish. Duffy is going to find another level this season, and it all starts Monday against the Twins.
Lance McCullers, Astros
McCullers is another favorite of SI.com fantasy. Forget about his injury-riddled 2016 season, in which, just for the record, he still whiffed 106 batters in 81 innings, and look ahead to what could be in store for the 23-year-old. Like Duffy, he has the stuff of a frontline starter, with a four-seam fastball that averages 95 mph and a power curveball that will likely rate among the best in the league, conjuring images of a young Adam Wainwright. The only question for McCullers is his health, and he appeared to put last year’s issues totally in his rear-view mirror. He, too, is a pitcher who could be in the AL Cy Young mix, if all goes according to plan. He’ll make his first start of the season on Tuesday against the Mariners.
Adam Wainwright, Cardinals
Speaking of Wainwright, he’s at a crossroads. He had the worst season of his career last year, totaling a 4.62 ERA, 3.93 FIP, 1.40 WHIP and 161 strikeouts in 198 2/3 innings. For the first time since the halcyon days of Chris Carpenter, he isn’t even the best pitcher in St. Louis (that title now belongs to Carlos Martinez). The Cardinals will settle for him being a No. 2, but numbers like last year’s won’t suffice for real-life or fantasy purposes. He looked like his old self across two different four-start stretches in June and July, but he got off to a terrible start last season. At the end of May, Wainwright had a 5.71 ERA and 1.47 WHIP across 64 2/3 innings, allowing at least four runs in four of his 11 starts. A strong beginning to the season is crucial for the 35-year-old. He’ll take the ball for the first time Tuesday against the Cubs.
Carlos Carrasco, Indians
Spring numbers are largely insignificant, but anyone who invested in Carrasco likely doesn’t want to spend too much time looking at what he did over the last month. Carrasco threw 11 innings this spring, allowing 14 runs and 18 hits, including five homers. He also dealt with elbow soreness, and there was some concern that he would start the season on the 10-day DL. That won’t be the case, with him starting the team’s second game of the year on Tuesday, but he could ease some very early, very mild fears with a strong outing against the Rangers.
Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers
Here’s the lineup Kershaw is likely to face when he takes the ball against the Padres on Opening Day.
1. Travis Jankowski 2. Manuel Margot 3. Wil Myers 4. Yangervis Solarte 5. Hunter Renfroe 6. Ryan Schimpf 7. Austin Hedges 8. Erick Aybar 9. Jhoulys Chacin
If there were ever going to be an Opening Day perfect game, this would be it.
Clayton Kershaw Noah Syndergaard Madison Bumgarner Yu Darvish Corey Kluber Johnny Cueto Jon Lester Stephen Strasburg Danny Duffy Lance McCullers Chris Archer Carlos Martinez Masahiro Tanaka Jose Quintana Kenta Maeda Justin Verlander Gerrit Cole Matt Shoemaker Julio Teheran Rick Porcello Dallas Keuchel Zack Greinke Felix Hernandez Marco Estrada Jake Odorizzi Jon Gray Kevin Gausman Sean Manaea Junior Guerra Jeremy Hellickson Martin Perez Hisashi Iwakuma Ervin Santana Tyler Anderson Patrick Corbin Kendall Graveman CC Sabathia Zach Davies Jhoulys Chacin Edinson Volquez Scott Feldman Ricky Nolasco Clayton Richard
GIF of the Week
Dusty Baker threw us all a curveball, naming Blake Treinen the Nationals closer last week. Treinen does not throw a curveball. He does, however, throw a nasty sinker. This one might be a bit up in the zone, but the movement gives you a good idea of what he’s going to do to succeed in the ninth.