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Should you be nervous when your pitcher has an ERA of 5.00 or if he's been bombed in an outing or two. Let me confuse you. Sometimes the answer is yes, sometimes no. I'll try to explain that seemingly contradictory statement by taking a look at five men on the hill: Homer Bailey, Aroldis Chapman, Cliff Lee, Danny Salazar and Travis Wood.
DON'T BE NERVOUS
Homer Bailey is fine. Keep telling yourself that. After his latest so-so effort the cavalcade of 'this guy sucks' emails/tweets was intense. My advice – stay the course.
His ERA is 5.64, his WHIP 1.64. Come on, you really think that is indicative of who Bailey is? Let me flat out tell you – it isn't. Simple really.
2014: 8.48 K/9, 3.12 BB/9, 1.91 GB/FB, 19.7 LD-rate
Career: 7.49 K/9, 3.92 BB/9, 1.24 GB/FB, 20.6 LD-rate
2014: 93.8 mph fastball, 86.6 mph slider
career: 93.1 mph fastball, 87.0 mph slider
2014: 79.3 contact rate, 60% first pitch strike, 9.5% swinging strike
career: 80.3 contact rate, 62% first pitch strike, 9.1% swinging strike
2013: 3.32 SIERA, 3.34 xFIP
2014: 3.52 SIERA, 3.44 xFIP
It's all the same folks. So why the problem? Those last two numbers tell ya. Bailey's been annihilated with the long ball. His career mark is 1.06 homer per nine. That number is up 50 percent to 1.56. That's huge. It's also unlikely to manifest itself over 30+ starts. The guys has nearly doubled his HR/F ratio this season (20 percent compared 11.0 percent for his career). There's also the little matter of his .369 BABIP. The last three years that number has been in the .284-.296 range and for his career it's .301. Given the totality of what's going on I can fully support holding on to Bailey if you own him or making the move to add him on the cheap in a deal.
Cliff Lee gave up six runs Wednesday. People are ticked. That's certainly not what they paid for when they drafted Lee to be their ace. Should you be nervous? I'm suggesting no. Lee has an 8.45 K/9 mark. That’s strong. His 1.16 BB/9 mark would be the second best rate of his career. His current 7.29 K/BB ratio is HOF level stuff. Compare that to his 2011-13 averages: 9.01 K/9, 1.38 BB/9, 6.54 K/BB. His current HR/9 mark is one tenth off his career average. Also there is this. His current 51 percent ground ball rate would be a career best. Folks, this is the profile of a hurler who is still at the top of his game. It's too simplistic to blame one thing, but I'm going to anyway. Check out that .352 BABIP. That's .055 points clear of his career mark and here is the number for the last four seasons: .287, .291, .309 and .287. That number should regress and when it does, Lee is who he's always been. Finally, compare his SIERA (2.83 and 2.86) and xFIP (2.78 and 2.71) marks the past two years. I don't see a difference, do you?
Danny Salazar has an electric arm. He's also erratic and prone to lapses on the hill. We've been on a roller coaster ride with Salazar through his seven starts from cavernous lows (3.2 IP, 5 R on April 10th) to impressive heights (7 IP, 1 ER, 8 Ks April 27th). Given his path to this point it's impossible to say 'don't be nervous.' That's actually a bit disingenuous, but I had to put him in one of the two categories and this one was definitely a better fit. Plus, there's some light at the end of the tunnel. Over his last three starts he's looked like an actual big league hurler with a 3.44 ERA, 10.31 K/9 mark an a better than 4:1 K/BB ratio. He's also been allowed to throw 100 pitches in two of the three outings as the team has felt more comfortable with him going deeper into the games in which he is under control (he threw 93 pitches in that infamous April 10th outing in which he recorded 10 strikeouts but didn't complete four innings). On the season his 10.80 K/9 mark is elite. His 3.68 BB/9 mark is too high, but it's passable given his strikeouts (he's yet to walk more than three batters in an outing). The real issue is threefold. (1) He has to do a better job of throwing strikes. The Indians aren't going to let him go out and throw 120 pitches so he needs to be more economical to go deeper in games. (2) The homers have to stabilize. He's a fly ball hurler, that's true, but a 1.47 HR/9 mark is simply too high. He needs to locate better sure, but he should also see some reduction, naturally, in this number. (3) That damn BABIP has to come down. Last year the mark was a league average .298. This year the mark has exploded to .384. Honestly, given his game, that number could drop .100 points and no one would bat an eye. Salazar is a prime buy low guy.
Aroldis Chapman has appeared in two games at Triple-A as he works his way back from his horrific injury. He's throwing 97-101 mph according to reports, but check out the results, an if you haven't heard previously you had best be sitting down when you read them: seven hits, two walks, a hit batter, eight runs... and three outs. The Reds can say they aren't nervous. I'm calling shenanigans. How someone can throw 97+ mph and struggle like this in the big leagues would be hard to explain. It's flat out shocking to see it occur in the minor leagues. I will be the first to admit that it's two games so in the grand scheme it might mean nothing. At the same time, it would be completely disingenuous to say it doesn't make you nervous (I'm looking right at you Reds). Ultimately Chapman should be fine. Note I said “should.” The truth is that no one really knows how things will go. He's always had spotty control, and this hiccup here could lead some to speculate that perhaps he's having a hard time focusing after taking the line drive off his head. I would try to buy low on Chapman if I could – the arm is just phenomenal – but there's certain risk at the moment.
Travis Wood had a strong season last year with a 3.11 ERA and 1.15 WHIP. I wanted to let people know it wasn't a repeatable effort so I wrote a Player Profile on him (did you see my newest Player Profile on Giancarlo Stanton?). Through four starts I looked like an utter buffoon as Wood had 28 Ks and four walks with a 2.52 ERA. I heard it from a few folks too, believe me. I never wavered. Hopefully you didn't either and you resisted the urge to deal for or hold on to Wood if you picked him up. Over his last three starts he's allowed 15 earned runs in 16.2 innings. The result is a 4.75 ERA and 1.44 WHIP through seven starts. Wood should be better than that moving forward, but this is a cautionary tale for those of you that insist on drafting, trading for or adding off waivers players merely because their fantasy numbers look good. Make sure you take a long look at the underlying skills. They are what matters.
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