Tuesday had so much potential to be a great day to sit back and watch good pitchers do their thing. Corey Kluber and Chris Sale provided the afternoon appetiser before handing over to the likes of Jacob deGrom, Aaron Nola, Gerrit Cole and Stephen Strasburg for the evening main course. However, Tuesday turned out to be a nightmare for over half of those pitchers above, as well as a few others.
There were some good pitching performances, such as the gems from Luis Castillo, Derek Holland, Max Fried and Matt Shoemaker. In fact most of those surprising performances deserve an article of their own! However, when four pitchers that were consensus ranked among the top 20 struggle, it is worth a closer look. Was this just a blip or is it the start of a trend.
Chris Sale, BOS
The concern over Sale is not going to be news to anybody who has been paying attention. Sale’s line last night was 4 IP, 7 H, 5 ER, 0 BB and 3 K. That start brought his season ERA to 9 and his strikeout total to just 8 in 13 innings.
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However, the bigger question relates to his fastball velocity. In his last start, Sale’s average fastball velocity was below 90 mph, which the Red Sox eventually blamed on a virus. The positive is that in this start, Sale threw a grand total of just three fastballs below 90 mph. He topped out at 94.7, but generally resided in 90-93 mph region. That speed is not a disaster but it is at the lower end of what we saw him produce last season. At this stage, while Sale is on the mound you really have to keep trusting him, but it is getting harder and harder to do so.
Level of Concern: 8
Aaron Nola, PHI
Nola is the first of two pitchers I am going to touch on from this game. A game which should have been a pitching duel saw 16 runs scored, although four runs in the 10th innings did not help. Nola’s line in this game was 6.1 IP, 7 H, 4 ER, 1 BB and 3 K. He now has a 6.46 ERA on the season, having given up 10 earned in his last two starts.
However, more concerning has just been the lack of domination from Nola. Even when he struck out 8 in his first start, it was accompanied by 5 walks. Since then he has added just another 5 strikeouts while walking 3 in 9.1 innings. That is a line of 13 strikeouts and 8 walks in 15.1 innings. It may just be a bad start but my radar was up after the five walks, something he had never done in his major league career before, and he has done little to diminish my concern.
Some other numbers which I find interesting are his FIP at 7.11, xFIP at 4.74 and SIERA at 5.13. All are on the higher side of what you would like to see. It may be early, and he has faced the Nationals twice and struggled, but he pitches in a tough division where every little error is going to be punished. On the bright side, his velocity looks fine and there appears to be no injury concern right now, meaning this may just be a slow start.
His next start out could be against either the Marlins or Mets, depending how the rotation is handled. The is a world of difference between those two teams and what we may think of Nola following that start!
Level of Concern: 5
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Stephen Strasburg, WSH
Strasburg is becoming an extremely frustrating pitcher to own. Come the end of season, his lines always seem to look good, but there are always stretches where he makes you scratch your head. Either that or he gets injured and you lose on 40-50 innings from one of your studs.
This 4 IP, 6 H, 6 ER, 4 BB, 3 K, would be a shrug on its own, especially when you consider the talent level of the opponent. However, this is the second time that Strasburg has struggled this season, after surrendering 4 ER in his first start. His overall numbers outside of 5.40 ERA are promising though as he has 20 strikeouts in 16.2 innings with just 7 walks. Every time Strasburg pitches against either the Phillies, Mets or Braves this season you are going to find yourself nervous. It is not necessarily a reason to get rid of him but it will not make for a fun season. There is of course also the probability that he gets injured at some point to factor in. If he can string a few could starts together now he could become an interesting asset to try and trade.
Level of Concern: 3
Jacob deGrom, NYM
Just simply because it was terrible I have to touch on deGrom’s start against the Twins. Anytime a pitcher surrenders 6 earned runs in four innings with 8 hits against him it is a concern.
However, that concern is massively diminished when we consider just how good his last two starts were. deGrom struck out 24 in 13 innings, surrendered 0 earned runs and gave up a combined total of 8 hits and 2 walks in the two starts combined. There is a real chance deGrom might not give up 7 earned runs in his next four starts combined. Therefore, this is worth noting, but nothing more than that.
Level of Concern: 0
Joey Lucchesi, SD
It is unfair to put Lucchesi alongside these other three pitchers because the expectations for him were massively lower. However, this 4 IP, 7 H, 7 ER, 2 BB, 4K performance is exactly why I remained sceptical on him after his first two starts. Lucchesi relies heavily on two main pitches and that makes it difficult for him to go deep into games with success. Even when he was good the last two times out he did not go more than 5.1 IP.
Additionally, it is interesting that this is the second time the Giants saw Lucchesi this season. If struggling in repeat starts against a team becomes a trend, then Lucchesi could see himself really struggling later in the season. My concern level with Lucchesi is lower because the expectations were lower. However, this start has quickly slammed shut the sell high window that I was hoping to take advantage of this week.
Level of Concern: 4