8 Pitchers Who Are Better Than Their Slumps
Like me, when I play pickup basketball at the rec center, there a handful of pitchers that go through a prolonged slump each year. Sometimes it lasts a month, and other times it can last as long as half of a season. These eight pitchers below slumped for some part of 2019, and as a result, we are seeing their ADP fall way too far. For each pitcher, I’ll offer reasons for optimism and my projections for 2020.
Miles Mikolas (SP – STL)
NFBC ADP (as of 1/1): 221, 83rd Pitcher
Projection: 190 IP, 13 W, 3.63 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 145 Ks
In Mikolas’s first ten starts of 2019, he allowed 30 runs over 55 and 1/3 innings, good for a 4.90 ERA. I remember fondly dropping him in a 12-team points league and being very happy about it. He was only striking out 5.03 K/9 through April, and he still had a 5.29 ERA in that period, despite a .243 BABIP.
This third of a season led to a step back for Mikolas, and he finished with a 4.16 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP. He did increase his K-BB% from 2018, and his wins (18 in 2018) were always going to regress. As a result of these middling ratios, Mikolas is being drafted as an SP 4/5 in 15-team leagues. I think Mikolas throws 185+ innings and finishes with an ERA in the mid-threes, mainly as a result of his HR/FB% regressing to near his career mean. I would happily take him in front of the hyped-up Zac Gallen and the three-true outcomes king, Robbie Ray.
Corey Kluber (SP – TEX)
NFBC ADP: 97, 32nd Pitcher
Projection: 175 IP, 12 W, 3.53 ERA, 1.15 ERA, 185 K
Everyone is down on Kluber after his injury-riddled 2019 and his predictably poor start to the season. Wait, did I say predictably? You bet I did. His career splits show that he is at his worst in March and April, and this was likely emphasized due to the rabbit ball we saw. The public projections show that his 2019 likely is too big of a factor in their projections.
I’m not worried. His fastball velocity has been consistent over the past two years, and we may even see an uptick after a full year of rest. The only concern I have is that the Rangers will be careful with him, so he probably won’t approach 200 innings. Even if he does not reach that threshold, I’m still expecting him to have more value than James Paxton, Jose Berrios, and Tyler Glasnow. Yes, all those guys are going ahead of him!
Masahiro Tanaka (SP – NYY)
NFBC ADP: 233, 91st Pitcher
Projection: 180 IP, 13 W, 4.28 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 158 Ks
Tanaka had an absolutely brutal stretch in June and July, throwing up a 7.18 ERA across 11 starts — which even included a complete game shutout! His walks shot up to 3.16 BB/9 in July, his K-BB% for those months was at a season-low, and he had a combined 19% HR/FB rate in that span. He has always served up the home run ball, but this was a bad stretch, even for him.
Due to this run, Tanaka finished with a 4.45 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, and a career-low K-BB%. Both Depth Charts and Steamer think this is the new normal for him, but I have some hope. For starters, he rebounded back to his career norms in August and September. He also managed to pitch 182 innings despite having a dreadful midseason, so he clearly can be an innings-eater on a winning team. Given how dominant the Yankees figure to be, Tanaka could easily eclipse 13 wins. He should have similar stats to Cole Hamels, but I would prefer Tanaka over Hamels because Tanaka has shown the ability to stay healthier over the last three years.
Caleb Smith (SP – MIA)
NFBC ADP: 224, 85th Pitcher
Projection: 185 IP, 9 W, 4.10 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 202 Ks
Smith’s season was marked by injury:
Are we banking on Caleb Smith being fully healthy for 2020?
1st half (72 innings): 31% K rate, 23.7% K-BB, 1.01 WHIP, 3.50 ERA
2nd half (81 IP): 22% K rate, 11.3% K-BB, 1.41 WHIP, 5.42 ERA
— Carmen Maiorano (@cmaiorano3) January 18, 2020
Paul Sporer and Nick Pollack had a great debate over Smith, and I’m on the side that Smith’s first 72 innings are for real. Despite the injury, Smith pitched over 160 innings in Triple-A and the majors, and I think that the Marlins will give him a long leash as he looks to become an ace of the staff. I’m expecting Smith to retain his K rate (26% in 2018 and 27% in 2019) while improving his control, along with the rate the ball leaves the yard. I’m expecting him to replicate Max Fried’s numbers (change out some wins for WHIP), yet Fried is going off the board 30 pitchers earlier.
German Marquez (SP – COL)
NFBC ADP: 173, 67th Pitcher
Projection: 185 IP, 13 W, 3.91 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 191 Ks
Like Tanaka, Marquez went through a terrible stretch in June and July, posting an 8.69 ERA over eight starts and averaging just 5 and 1/3 innings per start. These starts were uneven both at home and on the road, so we can’t necessarily blame Coors Field for all his problems. His WHIP shot up, and he had an extremely unlucky strand rate at 55%.
Everyone has forgotten about his phenomenal second half of 2018 and is focusing on just this past season. If the strand rate normalizes, I’m expecting those projections above. Marquez’s low walk rate should help keep the WHIP at a manageable level, and I’m expecting his HR/FB% to normalize to something closer to his 2017 and 2018 rates.
Tony Watson (RP – SF)
NFBC ADP: 543, 185th Pitcher
Projection: 60 IP, 25 SV, 3.92 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 48 K
After posting a string of successful years with the Pirates and Dodgers, Watson struggled in his second year with the Giants. His 4.17 ERA for the season can largely be attributed to a stretch he went through in August, where he had a 10.61 ERA over 9 and 1/3 innings pitched. A small sample, to be sure, but his walk rate tripled, resulting in a paltry 2.1% K-BB rate. He was also unlucky in the BABIP (.356) and strand rate (56%) departments, contributing to his overall struggles. His season ended early, as he fractured his wrist in early September.
Even with the slump, Watson’s above-average exit velocity (86.8 MPH in 2019) and walk rate (5.2%) should result in a return to form. With the closer gig to himself (for the time being) and a full offseason of rest, I’m expecting Watson to return to his former self. He’s worth a flyer at this stage of drafts. To entice you even more, my projection here is actually conservative compared to Depth Charts and Steamer.
Andrew Miller (RP – STL)
NFBC ADP: 590, 211th Pitcher
Projection: 55 IP, 5 SV, 3.78 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, 70 K
Miller made his season look like a dud right at the end, sporting an 8.10 ERA in September and poor (for him) 17% K-BB rate. Miller is getting up in years (he turns 35 in May) and hasn’t had a typical Miller year since 2017. As a result, drafters are fading him.
However, the closer job is not confirmed, and I could see Miller garnering the majority of saves if the situation breaks right. I’m expecting his K rate to stay consistent at 30%, and his HR/FB rate to regress to his career norms, leaving him with ratios that won’t kill you.
Jeurys Familia (RP – NYM)
NFBC ADP: 749, 383rd Pitcher
Projection: 55 IP, 2 SV, 3.74 ERA, 1.43 WHIP
Familia had an opportunity to seize the closer role as a result of Edwin Diaz’s meltdown, but he failed to take advantage. His poor season was on center stage in the first half, where he pitched to a 7.50 ERA over 30 innings. The main culprit was the home run rate, which sat at 1.50 HR/9 in the first half. That’s a bit higher than his 0.50 HR/9 career rate, huh? Familia’s sinker was getting rocked, but he started throwing it less in the second half.
If Familia can continue to optimize his pitch mix, the Mets’ bullpen situation could break in a way in which he gets a shot at the closer gig. It’s far from a guarantee that Diaz returns to his old self, and Dellin Betances is hardly a pillar of health.