Max Scherzer: Is it time to start worrying?
Nationals ace Max Scherzer was ranked as the #2 ranked starting pitcher coming into the season according to the Fake Teams consensus starting pitcher rankings published in the offseason. He was coming off a season where he won 14 games with a sub-3.00 ERA and 276 strikeouts. That's a lot of strikeouts for one pitcher. This season, he has been anything but an ace, and last night his struggles continued, as he limited the Phillies near Triple A lineup to 3 runs in 6 innings, but gave up 7 hits and 4 walks in those 6 innings, while striking out 7 batters. Scherzer is now 2-1 with a 4.35 ERA, 1.32 WHIP and a 30-12 strikeout to walk rate in 31 innings.
He has given up three runs or more in three of his five starts, and his strikeout rate is down more than two strikeouts per nine innings, or for 31% last season to 23% this season. His walk rate is up from 1.34 BB/9 to 3.48 BB/9 this season. I won't speculate here on these pages, but if he doesn't turn things around, one has to wonder if he is injured or there is a mechanics issues.
To make matters worse, he has made all five of his starts vs the Marlins, Braves, and Phillies, Braves, who rank 26th, 29th and 30th in runs scored this season.
Is it time to start worrying about Scherzer? I own him in a 5x5 NL only keeper league at $32. I kept him at $32, and he isn't producing close to that in his first five starts. Lucky for his owners is that he does pitch in the National League, and we have five months left in the season. As an owner, I want to see him pitch like the dominating starter he was last season in his next few starts before I start worrying. Unlucky for him and his owners is that he probably won't be facing the 26th, 29th and 30th ranked offenses.
I was talking trade with a fellow owner in my AL only keeper league last week via text, as he had to activate Twins outfielder Max Kepler, offering up one of Joe Mauer or Victor Martinez in a trade. In return, he was asking for a starting pitcher. My starters are Rich Hill, Drew Smyly, Jose Quintana, Kendall Graveman and Martin Perez. I asked for his $13 VMart and offered up my $1 Rich Hill. He wanted more, but his ask was too much for my liking. After Hill's dominating start in Detroit vs the Tigers last night, I am glad I didn't deal him. Hill shut out the Tigers for 7 innings on 4 hits, no walks and 8 strikeouts to win his third game in five decisions. He is now 3-2 with a 2.42 ERA, 1.27 WHIP and a 37-9 strikeout to walk rate in 26 innings. He has registered 8 strikeouts or more in three of his five starts, all wins, and is keeping the ball on the ground at a 52% clip. The issue with Hill is we don't know what to expect from him going forward, as he hasn't pitched more than 57 innings in any one season since 2007. There is risk associated with Hill, and that is why I was able to grab him in the dollar days portion of my AL auction back in late March. He is still available in more than 70% of leagues right now, so, really, go grab him.
To say that David Price's first month after signing his huge free agent contract hasn't gone well would be an understatement, but luckily for Red Sox fans and his fantasy owners, we all know the talent he possesses, and that was on display last night. Price dominated the Braves near Triple A lineup, limiting them to 2 runs on 6 hits, 2 walks and 14 strikeouts. Price is now 3-0 with a 5.76 ERA, 2. 42 FIP, 1.28 WHIP and a 46-8 strikeout to walk rate in 29.2 innings. He has struck out eight or more batters in four of his five starts and is striking out more than 35% of the batters he faces ranking only behind Mets starter Noah Syndergaard in K%.
Braves first baseman Freddie Freeman was ranked in the top 10 of most first base rankings in the offseason, but has been a huge disappointment to date. After going 1-4 last night, Freeman is hitting .203-.329-.275 with just one home run, 2 doubles, 7 runs scored, 5 RBI and a 23-11 strikeout to walk rate in 80 plate appearances. He is walking and striking out more than last season, is hitting more fly balls and making less hard contact this season. I am starting to worry that his wrist injury last season is still bothering him or sapping some of his power. Hopefully for Braves fans and his owners this is just a prolonged slump and he will turn things around soon.
Freeman is struggling to hit for power thus far, but he isn't the only power hitter who is struggling to hit the long ball. In looking at the FanGraphs leaderboard this morning, the following hitters own a slugging percentage of .301 or lower:
Hopefully, come the warmer months of the season, we will look back at this and view it as an aberration. Otherwise there will be some disappointed fantasy owners out there.
Another hitter who has struggled in April is Pirates outfielder Andrew McCutchen. He struggled in the first month of the 2015 season as well, so maybe we should come to expect him to start slow going forward. Last night, after a day off on Monday night, McCutchen had a huge game at the plate, going 3-5 with 3 home runs and 5 RBI in the Pirates 9-4 win over the Rockies in Coors Field. McCutchen is now hitting .238-.351-.475 with 5 home runs, 15 runs scored, 10 RBI and a stolen base in three attempts. McCutchen is one of the more consistent fantasy hitters in the game, so his slow starts should be looked as just that and not something to worry about. I recently traded McCutchen for Noah Syndergaard in an NL only redraft league. I needed a starter, and since I wanted an ace, I traded my first round pick to get Syndergaard, who I think could challenge for the National League Cy Young award this season.
One of the surprising teams in the American League has been the play of the White Sox. Their starting rotation is led by ace Chris Sale and underrated Jose Quintana, and last night Sale was his usual dominating self, limiting the Blue Jays to a run on 4 hits, 2 walks and 6 strikeouts in 8 innings in the White Sox 10-1 win. The win moved his record to 5-0 with a 1.66 ERA, 2.91 FIP, 0.68 WHIP and a 32-5 strikeout to walk rate in 38 innings. Sale is walking few batters than last season, but his strikeout rate is down a ton. Last season, he struck out almost 12 batters every nine innings. This season he is striking out 7.58 batters per nine innings. Sale is throwing his fastball and slider more, and relying less on his changeup this season, so that could explain part of the reason for the drop in strikeouts. His fastball velocity is also down from 94.5 mph to 92.7 mph this season, but that seems to be a common theme in the colder early season games. I will check in on Sale going forward to see if his strikeout rate returns to normal as the weather gets warmer.
One starter I am beginning to worry about is Astros starter Dallas Keuchel. The 2015 American League Cy Young award winner has not pitched like an ace in the first month of the season. Last night, he got knocked around for 5 runs on 6 hits, 2 walks and 5 strikeouts over 6 innings in the Astros 11-1 loss to the Mariners. The loss moved his record to 2-3 with a 4.41 ERA, 3.04 FIP, 1.41 WHIP and a 27-13 strikeout to walk rate in 32.2 innings. His strikeout rate is down a bit, but his walk rate has soared from 1.98 BB/9 to 3.58 BB/9 this season. I understand the season is still young, and maybe Keuchel has had just a few bad starts, but the walk rate is a worry. In addition, he is allowing hitters to square the ball up more this season than last.
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