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Busted! What to Do with Some of the League's Worst Starting Pitchers

Everybody knows by now that 95% of the major leagues offense has been channeled into Jose Bautista.  While league offense is down for every team located in the United States, it still allows for a few pitchers to be downright awful.

When perusing the anti-leaderboards for qualified starters, some surprising names pop up.  Some of which were amongst the first names plucked on draft day.  Many others that were thought to be hotshot rookies or young men looking for a breakout. 

For ever Brandon McCarthy there is a Luke Hochavar.  For every Justin Masterson, a Colby Lewis.  For every, Bartolo Colon you can find a Francisco Liriano

What went wrong with these guys and what can we expect to do with them?  The answer is never easy, but the journey to find the answer is essential.

Francisco Liriano

2010: 14-10, 3.62 ERA, 201 K's.

2011: 3-5, 5.73 ERA, 34 K's, 32 BB's, 1 No-Hitter!

Liriano has had just about as interesting a career as you can find, and he's still only 27.  Last season he finished 11th in Cy Young voting, but actually led the league in FIP and was as dominate as he had been since 2006.  His fastball velocity was up and he was a force in fantasy thanks to strikeouts, limiting walks, and just being all-around Liriano-esque like we had remembered.

This season, he has been just all kinds of bad.  The no-hitter he threw was almost by definition 2011 Liriano-esque its its luck-driven efficiency.  Or lack thereof.  Liriano's fangraphs page will show you some startling differences from year over year.   Notice the 1.7 MPH lost off his fastball.  That puts it above his '08 and '09 levels, but even then he was better than he is now.

The major difference I see is a drop in O-Swing%.  Down to 25.8% after a 34.4% mark last year on hitters chasing Liriano outside of the zone.  Francisco isn't fooling anyone and he's paying for it.  Hitters are making greater contact on pitches outside of the zone and Frankie is falling behind 1-0 on more than half of batters faced.  Thats not good.

Advice: Hold and then cut bait if necessary.  Someone may offer you a lowball offer for the pitcher you may have drafted to be your ace.  It doesn't make much sense to trade him now unless the offer is close to what you would have expected in return a month ago.  There's a chance that Liriano's ineffectiveness is just mechanical and he'll turn things around.  If he does, then great.  If he doesn't, then you can cut him a month from now just as easily as you can now.  If you want to buy low on Liriano, don't pay too much however.  There's just as good a chance that this is injury related.  That is why my advice to everyone is hold

Kyle Drabek

Before - Top Prospect

2011 - 3-3, 4.34 ERA, 38 K's, 37 BB's.

 This is the guy that's going to replace Roy Halladay?

Okay.  I am being overly harsh on Drabek with that statement.  Trust me, I am a big believer in patience with rookies and other young players.  As a Mariners fan I never panicked when Justin Smoak struggled last season.  And I certainly never expected this much out of Michael Pineda and still waiting for the struggles he should face as a 22 year old.  And when Dustin Ackley comes up, I'll expect lots of growing pains.

The same should go for Drabek, the centerpiece of the deal for the Phillies to acquire Roy Halladay.   However, he has been this years version of Chris Tillman.  He leads the league in walks and his low-ish 4.34 ERA masks a 4.98 FIP. 

He cruised through the minor leagues and was Baseball America's #29 prospect going into the season, with expectations that he could be a solid #2 starting pitcher.  He doesn't need to be the "ace" in Toronto, as they have a few good young arms, but he has not yet shown the ability to handle major league hitting and one has to wonder how much longer he'll be able to stick around. 

Drabek had a 1.93 ERA after 3 starts, but has since posted an ERA of 5.54 with 26 walks and 21 strikeouts in 37.1 innings.

Advice: Cut loose.  If you haven't already, now is as good a time as any to let someone else deal with the growing pains.  If Drabek ever lives up to the hype, it doesn't seem like he will be doing it this season.  You can stash him in dynasty leagues and hope for better results next season.

Colby Lewis

2010: 12-13, 3.72 ERA, 201 innings, 196 K's, 65 BB's

2011: 4-5, 3.69 ERA, 44 K's, 16 BB's, 13 HR allowed

Colby's story is just as interesting as Lirianos.  Once a top prospect for the Texas Rangers, Lewis floundered for several years in the big leagues due to injuries and just plain being ineffective.  He bounced around until finally ending up in Japan trying to revive his career. 

After leading Japan in strikeouts for 2 straight seasons, Lewis returned to the place he began his career.  He proved to finally be as good as we thought he could be back in the early 2000's.  Lewis struck out nearly a batter per inning, limited walks and finished with a 3.55 FIP.

This season Lewis has lost 1.6 MPH on his fastball and it has hurt him dramatically, striking out fewer batters and allowing the most home runs in the league.  Though his ERA is actually lower than it was last year, his FIP is dramatically higher (5.17) because he's been very lucky with BABIP (.244) and LOB% (86%)

However, these are his overall numbers.  Optimistically over his last 5 starts his numbers are: 3-2, 1.85 ERA, 39 innings, 30 K's, 6 bb's.  His FIP in May is 3.29.

Advice: Buy low if possible.  Truthfully, Lewis owners are probably happy because "What have you done for me lately?" is pretty good with Colby.  Maybe you can convince one to sell him now based on the lack of overall strikeouts.   If you are a Lewis owner, maybe you can sell him high to a Lewis fanboy, because I'm already weary of a guy who has been strikingly inconsistent throughout his career.

Wade Davis:

2010: 12-10, 4.07 ERA, 168 innings, 113 K's, 62 BB's

2011: 4-4, 3.47 ERA, 26 K's, 26 BB's, 57 innings

It seemed as though Wade Davis used to live on the Baseball America top 100 list after appearing on it for 4 straight years.  He finally made his full season debut with the Rays last year after mixed results.  Davis finished the year strong though and went 7-1, 3.22 ERA in his last 13 starts.

He still doesn't strike out many though, which means he should limit his walks if he wants to have consistent success.  This season, he's striking out nobody and walking far too many.  Though his ERA has dropped considerably, he's been quite the lucky fellow.  Tampa plays good defense, so there's always the chance that he maintains a low-ish ERA, but I wouldn't count on sustained success from a guy with an even 1:1 K:BB ratio.  It's downright ugly. 

Advice: Sell.  Show the ERA to another owner, pump him up, and hope you can good value out of a name-brand pitcher with a 3.47 ERA.  The Rays are pitching-rich, and you'd think that sooner or later a guy like Matthew Moore is going to show up and demand a spot in the rotation eventually.  Maybe that doesn't get Davis booted when he has a 3.47 ERA, but I don't expect that ERA to last.  Davis has an ERA of 4.50 in May.