Fantasy Baseball: Week 7 Start 'Em or Sit 'Em Breakdown
Some well-known MLB pitchers are letting down their fantasy baseball owners this season, and some others are in danger of unraveling at the seams.
This week's theme is established commodities enduring some rough times. I'll highlight a couple of veterans with two very different struggles. While one looks fine after a closer look, there's more concern than at first glance for the other.
Two of last year's brightest young stars also find their spot in our starting lineups hanging in the balance. One is dusting off the cobwebs while the other forgot how to throw strikes.
There's also one young breakout performer whose early success will be tossed into the interrogation room. Spoiler alert from the introductory photo: It's Tom Koehler.
Let's put a few hurlers in the hot seat for this week's "Start 'Em or Sit 'Em Breakdown."
Note: All advanced statistics are courtesy of FanGraphs. Scheduled starting dates as of Monday morning.
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Drew Pomeranz, Oakland Athletics: Tuesday (5/13) vs. Chicago White Sox
In his first start of 2014, Drew Pomeranz hurled five scoreless innings against the Seattle Mariners, amassing five strikeouts with no walks. Once a premier prospect, the 25-year-old could be on the cusp of figuring things out in Oakland.
Jake Odorizzi, Tampa Bay Rays: Wednesday (5/14) at Seattle Mariners
The 5.79 ERA says stay away, but his 37 strikeouts through 32.2 frames says come closer. He looked particularly sharp on Friday, when he notched 11 punchouts against the Cleveland Indians.
Alfredo Aceves, New York Yankees: Thursday (5/15) at New York Mets
With C.C. Sabathia placed on the disabled list, Alfredo Aceves is expected to take his spot in the rotation, which would set him up to pitch on Thursday. This is a big flier for a 31-year-old predominantly used as a long reliever, but facing the Mets at Citi Field is an enticing matchup if he gets the call.
UPDATE (Tuesday, May 13): Aceves pitched in relief on Monday, severely lessening his chances of getting the nod on Thursday. Chase Whitley, a 24-year-old with a 2.39 ERA in Triple-A this season, is now the top candidate to join the rotation.
Tanner Roark, Washington Nationals: Friday (5/16) vs. New York Mets
It may seem like I'm picking on the Mets, but that's only because I am. Besides, Tanner Roark is starting to look like a solid mixed-league option, owning a 3.65 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 36 strikeouts and 10 walks through 44.1 innings. Owners in a fairly shallow format should consider looking his way as well.
Hiroki Kuroda, SP, New York Yankees
Scheduled Starts: Monday (5/12) vs. New York Mets; Sunday (5/18) vs. Pittsburgh Pirates
Hiroki Kuroda was supposed to be the safe, boring pick that gives managers one less person to worry about. He's not striking out 200 batters, which typically makes him a draft-day bargain for the ERA and WHIP remedy he brings to the table.
So his owners can't feel galvanized over his 4.43 ERA through seven starts. That's supposed to happen to the unstable young gun, not the boring old guy.
Hate to ruin any potential drama, but Kuroda is fine. While the 39-year-old has lost a hair on his fastball velocity, it has not shown in his steady batted-ball rates. His 6.96 K/9 rate and 9.8 swinging-strike percentage are right on par with his career norms, and his current 4.71 BB/9 ratio would represent a career high if sustained throughout the year.
He is sporting a 3.32 FIP, which is on the nose with his 2012 and 2013 ERAs of 3.32 and 3.31, respectively. Opponents just happen to be collecting hits in bunches. His 57.9 percent strand rate is well below his 72.7 career mark.
We're used to Kuroda fading down the stretch, so perhaps he's going the Benjamin Button route this season, starting in a slump and ending strong instead. Receiving two National League opponents—albeit still in Yankee Stadium, which puts the designated hitter rule into effect—is the perfect prescription to subside his early allergies to runs.
Neither team provides much power, especially the Mets, who rank last in slugging percentage. They're trying to play Moneyball while lacking the ability to clear the fences, which is a crucial element to the entire system. The patient team will perish if they let Kuroda pound the strike zone all evening.
Tom Koehler, SP, Miami Marlins
Scheduled Starts: Monday (5/12) at Los Angeles Dodgers; Saturday (5/17) at San Francisco Giants
The Miami Marlins are harvesting a bevy of incredible young pitching, and 27-year-old Tom Koehler is joining the fun with a 1.99 ERA and 0.99 WHIP through seven starts. Someone now has to ask the obvious question: Is Koehler for real?
No. Don't count on it.
His lackluster strikeout (5.76 K/9) and walk (3.38 BB/9) rates are virtually identical to last year's measures, which yielded a 4.41 ERA and 1.36 WHIP. With such few strikeouts and below-average command, those are the middling numbers one would expect.
To his credit, Koehler has taken some steps in the right direction. He has traded some line drives with ground balls, although not enough to support his microscopic .195 BABIP, the fourth-lowest mark among starters. While he isn't drawing more punchouts, his swinging-strike percentage has risen from 7.2 to 8.3.
Those numbers point to him serving amicably at the bottom of Miami's rotation, but not enough for mixed-league fantasy owners. Once fewer balls find open spaces, his ERA will balloon much closer to his 3.99 FIP.
Home/road splits are dangerous this early in the season, but Koehler has a 0.64 ERA in four home starts and a 4.15 ERA away from the pitcher-friendly Marlins Park. While his two starts occur in favorable environments, neither is in Florida.
The Dodgers and Giants won't cause pitchers to tremble in fear, but they both sit in the league's top half of runs scored. They're not bad enough to bank on Koehler's unlikely run lasting another week.
Mike Minor, SP, Atlanta Braves
Scheduled Start: Tuesday (5/13) at San Francisco Giants
Mike Minor is technically back, but he's taking a while to regain his full form.
After beginning his 2014 season with six solid innings against the Giants, the lefty allowed 11 hits and six runs against the St. Louis Cardinals during his second outing. He now has a 6.97 ERA since returning from a sore shoulder suffered during spring training.
We can play the same BABIP game as with Koehler, with Minor enduring the opposite end of the spectrum with a .441 mark. All those hits are not all bad luck, however, as he yielded 15 line drives through those 10.2 innings. Opponents made contact on 94.8 percent of pitches swung at inside the strike zone, so Minor isn't putting much movement on his offerings.
I'm essentially now worrying about one tumultuous start, which would be unwise were I advising readers to drop or trade the guy who registered a 3.21 ERA last season. This is just to say his owners should rest him on the bench for another week so he can pitch his way back to normal.
Long term, I’m not worried about Minor, a top-25 starter when he’s on his game. For this specific start on Tuesday at San Francisco, I’d still prefer to take a patient approach until the lefty looks the part again.
Jake Peavy, SP, Boston Red Sox
Scheduled Start: Wednesday (5/14) at Minnesota Twins
I'll level with you; I essentially forgot about Jake Peavy. After looking at his 2014 stats, I wish I had never remembered.
A veteran who veers on the borderline of fantasy relevance, the fly-ball pitcher initially looked like a good matchup play at the cavernous Target Field. The Twins are hitting well this year, but a banged-up Joe Mauer and Chris Colabello falling back to this universe puts that to the test.
But this pitcher is not the Jake Peavy we've come accustomed to over the years. Peavy has displayed pinpoint accuracy late in his career, recording a 2.07 BB/9 rate from 2011 to 2013. This year, however,he has already allowed 25 walks through 43.2 innings.
Peavy's lost accuracy has led him to a 13.5 walk percentage, which is the second-lowest rate among qualified starters, and I'll discuss the worst offender next. His 3.09 ERA has not yet paid the price, but it soon will if his control does not improve.
At this stage of his career, Peavy is a fringe starter not worth utilizing when things are going poorly. If his usual problem of home runs was ailing him, he'd get the green light at Minnesota. Throwing strikes is much harder to forgive when facing a team with baseball's highest walk percentage.
Shelby Miller, SP, St. Louis Cardinals
Scheduled Start: Friday (5/16) vs. Atlanta Braves
We need to talk about how sneakily awful Shelby Miller has been this season.
For those who still can’t stand these young rapscallions with their computer numbers and baggy pants, Miller is pitching just fine in his sophomore season. He’s got himself a 3.22 ERA and five wins. That must mean he’s better than Cliff Lee, Yu Darvish, Felix Hernandez and Stephen Strasburg, who each sport three victories on their ledger.
If you actually think that, get out. No, no, stay. Sorry I snapped. Allow me to highlight Miller’s struggles he has somehow managed to mask.
Through seven starts, he has issued 27 walks through 44.2 innings. All those baserunners typically come back to haunt a pitcher, but Miller has enjoyed a .250 BABIP and 91.6 percent strand rate. His declining 6.65 K/9 rate only adds to my concern.
While the ERA and win tally are abundantly filled, his 5.88 FIP is the worst among all qualified starting pitchers. Like Britta Perry from the tragically canceled Community, Miller has been the opposite of Batman this season.
As much as I want to unleash my frustration from Community's demise on Miller, the Braves are also stinking up the joint, ranking last in runs scored and striking out frequently. The struggling pitcher gets off with a warning this time, but he won't be so lucky if he can't turn the corner this week.
Either way, I'm scouring the trade market to exploit someone fooled by the ERA and wins, even if you receive less than his preseason value.
Aroldis Chapman, RP, Cincinnati Reds
Scheduled Opponents: San Diego Padres (three games), at Philadelphia Phillies (three)
Let's do something different and highlight a closer returning to the fold after missing all of April.
During spring training, a hard-hit liner scorched right back at Aroldis Chapman, hitting his face and forcing him to miss the first five weeks to repair a broken bone in his left eye. Due to his strikeout prowess, daring drafters still grabbed him and stashed him for the future rewards, which start now.
But Chapman struck some fear in fantasy owners and Cincinnati Reds fans when he allowed eight runs in two rehab outings, during which he recorded three outs. Those horrible minor league appearances caused some owners to think twice about when to trust the closer again.
Then he struck out the side against the Colorado Rockies on Sunday to collect his first save of the season. So are we in the clear now?
To be fair, C. Trent Rosencras of the Cincinnati Enquirer reported that the team expressed no concern about those treacherous outings leading up to his 2014 MLB debut.
I texted with a Reds official who was in there, and he seemed to have little worries about Chapman's performance. He noted the velocity was from 97-101 mph and that his control was a little off.
He also said it was a lot like one of those "back field" games in spring training. That's when a major leaguer makes an appearance in minor league games. You can't get the adrenaline higher for some of the minor leaguers wanting to prove themselves, and it can't get lower for a big leaguer who has nothing to prove.
Chapman offers a major strikeout advantage from the closer spot compared to his peers. Last season, he struck out 89 batters after May 11, the date of his 2014 debut. Only five closers had more throughout all of 2013.
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