5 Struggling First-Half Pitchers Most Likely to Turn MLB Seasons Around
Several top major league pitchers have struggled mightily through the first half of this season, but there’s still plenty of hope that things will turn themselves around.
It takes some starting pitchers a little bit more time than others to get acclimated after the offseason concludes. A couple of starts in spring training aren’t always enough, and a few bad starts to begin the year can cause more poor outings. When a pitcher doesn’t have confidence, things can get ugly fast.
It’s important to look at how these pitchers usually do throughout the year. Are they better during the first or second half of the season? In many instances, as you’ll see, the best pitchers in baseball are considerably better in the second half. That’s what should give fans hope for better starts as the season continues.
Which struggling starters are going to rebound? Let’s take a look at five major league starting pitchers who are bound to be better in the coming months.
*All statistics obtained via FanGraphs unless otherwise noted. This article was modified from its original version to reflect stats from games played on Wednesday, June 19.
Jeremy Hellickson, Tampa Bay Rays
Jeremy Hellickson has been allowing a ton of runs this season, which is very uncharacteristic of him.
Since coming up to the big leagues in 2010, the right-hander has a 3.52 ERA. This season, his ERA stands at 5.50 through 15 starts. If that holds for the rest of the year, it would crush his previous career high by more than two runs.
So, what’s been the problem?
It hasn’t really been Hellickson’s command. He’s actually striking out more batters and walking fewer than ever before with the Rays, excluding the 10 appearances he made in 2010. It appears that he just hasn’t stranded as many runners as he has in past years, and that’s an issue.
The last two years, Hellickson has stranded around 82 percent of the baserunners he's allowed. This year, however, he has stranded just 61.4 percent. When the bases are empty in 2013, opponents have a .665 OPS off of Hellickson compared to .943 when there’s at least one man on.
While it’s only been a few years, Hellickson has been a better second-half pitcher by a considerable margin. His first-half ERA is at 4.02. His second-half ERA is at 2.85. He tends to allow fewer fly balls, induce more ground balls and opponents have a lower batting average against him in the second half.
Hellickson may be struggling now, but don’t expect it to last much longer.
Matt Cain, San Francisco Giants
We have not been witnesses to Matt Cain’s best through the first big chunk of the season.
For whatever reason, Cain just hasn’t been himself this year. He’s 5-3 through 15 starts with a 4.55 ERA in 95 innings of work. That’s more than a run higher than his career ERA.
The problem is a bit of a mystery, as nearly all of his numbers resemble what he’s done in the past with the exception of his ERA. He’s striking out and walking the same number of batters and opponents are hitting the same off him. He’s inducing just as many ground balls as he usually does too. So, what is it?
It could just be that Cain isn’t a great first-half pitcher. Over the course of his career, that has been the case. His second-half ERA is 0.37 points lower than it has been in the first half of season and that makes a big difference.
His command usually tends to get better and his WHIP decreases as the season goes on. It may just be a matter of time before he gets back on track.
If Cain throws seven scoreless innings in each of his next two starts, his ERA will drop to below 4.00. Cain knows what it takes to be a great pitcher because he has been one for so long. He just needs to bear down and his fortunes are likely to change.
Ryan Dempster, Boston Red Sox
Ryan Dempster hasn’t gotten off to the best start with the Boston Red Sox.
As a full-time starter with the Cubs, the right-hander was a very reliable middle-of-the-rotation arm, but in 2013, he’s been very inconsistent.
In 15 starts this season, Dempster is 4-8 with a 4.23 ERA in 89.1 innings. He has been striking out a ton of batters, averaging 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings, but the problem is that his command hasn’t been great. He hasn’t had a walk rate above 4.00 since 2007. This year, it’s at 4.2.
Over the course of Dempster’s career, his ERA has been better in the first half of the year. Keep in mind that he has thrown 300 more innings in the first half than in the second half of the season.
Many other aspects of his game show that he’s a better second-half pitcher, though. He tends to strike out more, walk less and induce more ground balls in the second half. If those trends continue in 2013, Dempster's numbers should improve.
Dempster’s main focus needs to be on limiting walks. He gave out five free passes in his most recent outing, and while it only led to a pair of runs, the Red Sox lost.
If Dempster’s command on the mound gets better, so should the rest of his numbers for the year.
C.J. Wilson, Los Angeles Angels
The Los Angeles Angels have been a disaster in 2013, and while it’s not all C.J. Wilson’s fault, he has been a part of the problem.
Wilson will turn things around and has already started to do just that, as many of his problems were more apparent at the beginning of the year.
Walks were Wilson’s worst enemy when the season began. In his first eight starts, he walked at least four batters in five outings. Giving out constant free passes tends to do damage to a pitcher’s ERA.
Wilson has had two consecutive solid outs, though. He allowed two earned runs in his last 14 innings, picking up the win in both starts.
If you look at Wilson’s career splits, you’ll notice that he tends to give up more runs in the second half of seasons than he does in the first. While that’s something to keep an eye on, his walk rate is more important. Walks have killed Wilson this year, but things are about to get better.
Wilson’s career numbers show that he tends to have better command in the second half. He walks 10.4 percent of batters in the first half and just 9.3 percent in the second. If he can lower his walk rate in 2013, he should bounce right back to the ace he’s capable of being.
Cole Hamels, Philadelphia Phillies
Cole Hamels has been a walking disaster this season.
It’s almost like a tall lefty from Single-A has taken his jersey and continues to go out on the mound each week. Hamels has just two wins and 10 losses in 15 starts while his 2013 ERA is nearly a full run higher than his career ERA.
Part of the problem has been Hamels’ command. He’s walking 2.68 batters per nine innings, which is as high as it’s been since he was a rookie in 2006. Meanwhile, he’s only stranding 69.7 percent of baserunners. In other words, Hamels has been giving out a lot of free passes and once those players are on base, he can’t keep them from scoring.
What’s promising about Hamels’ impending second half is that he’s nearly always better down the stretch than in the first half. His career ERA is much lower in the second half; where he strikes out more batters, walks fewer, allows fewer hits and strands more baserunners.
The Phillies need a big second half from Hamels. Philadelphia is seven games out of first place in the NL East, and if Hamels can start putting together a couple of good starts, that deficit could easily be cut.
While it seems unlikely that Hamels will be matching his 17-game win total from a year ago, there’s still plenty to look forward as the season progresses. If Hamels gets hot, the Braves had better watch out.