With sports on a hiatus and many of us hunkering tight in our houses, I want to provide a positive outlook for those of you that already went through a draft or might have one coming up in the near future. At the time of this writing, we are still in a wait-and-see moment with Rob Manfred announcing the other day that he is hoping for a April 9th Opening Day but signs externally pointing to that potentially slipping a bit. This news is good for a handful of players who are nursing injuries and trying to get healthy to start the season. I want to highlight a few of those players…
This article will focus in on three elite pitchers nursing injuries.
Max Scherzer, SP, Washington Nationals
2019 Stats: 172.1 IP, 11 W, 243 K, 2.92 ERA, 1.03 WHIP
Synopsis: Max was limited to long throws about a week ago with some soreness on the right side of his body (subsequently he threw a few bullpen sessions days later). Max chalked this up to some fatigue, and what better cure for fatigue than two weeks of R&R! The bigger issue this year will be whether or not the back holds up. Supposedly his side hurts due to changing his mechanics to provide relief for his back. I think he will be ready to go at the start of the season with this delay, and I think the notion of a shortened season (let’s say 120-140 games) makes him even more attractive as he clearly is not a 175+ innings pitcher anymore. Looking at his stats, little if anything slipped over the last few seasons. His ERA went up a bit in a season where any contact created a home run, but his K/9 held strong, his BB/9 improved 40% season over the season, and his fastball velocity was up over 2017 and 2018. I would say the only real concern came around late July/ early August as his ground ball percentage went below league average as his fly ball rate spiked (right around the time he was put on the 10-day IL with the back injury). If the shortened season cuts back about 4-6 starts, then all the better for someone who is providing more quality than quantity these days! I would not be surprised to see him miss 2-3 starts mid-season to nurse any ailments he has, but I predict another season of a sub 3.00 ERA, sub 1.05 WHIP and 12+ wins with 180 Ks across 125 innings pitched.
Justin Verlander, SP, Houston Astros
2019 Stats: 223IP, 21W, 300k, 2.58ERA, 0.80WHIP
Synopsis: Let’s start with the fact that Verlander told the Houston Chronicle that it would be a miracle for him to be ready for Opening Day. I think even with a two-week delay, we are looking at a Verlander-less Astros team for the short term. The lat strain he suffered is the second of his career, albeit five years removed from when it happened with the Tigers in 2015. I highlight that because, while he put up a 3.31 ERA, 1.09 WHIP season in 2015, he also had a 5-8 record (one of just two losing seasons in his career) and he pitched 133 innings which was down 40% from the previous season. The good news is that in his shortened 2015 season, his fastball velocity was up. So while I think we see an abbreviated season for Verlander, his numbers should hold strong in this scenario along the lines of 2.75 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 13 wins, and 200 Ks across 110 innings pitched.
Mike Clevinger, SP, Cleveland Indians
2019 Stats: 126IP, 12W, 169k, 2.71ERA, 1.06WHIP
Synopsis: Unlike the previous two, Mike has father time on his side being almost eight years younger. The other big difference here is, unlike the core issues with the previous two, Clevinger’s issue revolves around his knee. Fresh off the surgery he underwent in mid-February, he held some bullpen sessions and said he feels no soreness. All of the metrics behind Mike continue to improve. Over his four seasons of MLB experience, his four-seam fastball has continued advancement in velocity, his ERA continues to drop, his K/9 went from 8.49 his first year to 12.07 last year, his BB/9 dropped from 4.92 his first year to 2.64 last year, and his nasty slider moves 18% more inches than the league average. That is the good, here is the bad...between back injuries that limited his 2019 season and a knee surgery to start 2020, one has to wonder if injuries are the norm for this very talented pitcher. He has just one MLB season with over 130 innings pitched, and durability may well be an issue. I see him posting 100 IP, 10 W, 150 Ks, a 2.90 ERA and a 1.05 WHIP.