Patience or Panic 7/28 – Upton, Bautista, McCutchen

Ben Palmer here and after analyzing the waiver wire options in Monday’s “Hit It or Quit It” articles, I’ll be tackling the other side of the coin with “Patience or Panic”...

Ben Palmer here and after analyzing the waiver wire options in Monday’s “Hit It or Quit It” articles, I’ll be tackling the other side of the coin with “Patience or Panic” where I will take a look at some of the widely-owned players who are struggling and tell you whether you should be patient with them, or start panicking. Let’s dive in. 

Justin Upton – .236/.290/.392, 11 HR, 45 R, 41 RBIs, 6 SB

If you had told me that, at some point this year, we’d be wondering if Melvin Upton Jr. was better than his brother, I would’ve laughed at you. Like a lot. I mean, just uproarious laughter. But here we are, Melvin has been playing really well, and Justin has been struggling hard, and a lot of Justin’s owners are panicking, and rightfully so.

I want to believe in Justin Upton, I really do, he’s had such success in the past, and he’s still only 28, but the stats just do not look good this year. He’s a career .269 hitter, yet he’s only batting .236, that’s not the Justin Upton we know. Well, the Justin Upton we know is no more, at least right now.

First of all, there’s the career-high strikeout rate, that’s jumped all the way up from 25.6% last year (which is high by itself) all the way up to 30.3% this year. And naturally, his walk rate has plummeted to a career-low 6.8%, down from 11% last year.

These kinds of changes are not minor changes, they’re huge, Upton just isn’t seeing the ball like he used to, his plate discipline is just awful. If you want to try and be a little positive, his chase rate isn’t that much higher than his career average, and his contact rate is about in line with the rest of his career. This would suggest to me that the strikeouts will come down, but I don’t think they’re going to all of a sudden fix his average, especially considering his BABIP is at a pretty normal .318.

On the plus side, the power is still there, he’s got 11 home runs on the year, and I could easily see him doubling that. While his ISO is way down from normal (.156 this year, .203 last year), his hard hit rate is still very solid at 36.4%, and while his HR/FB rate is a little low compared to his career, it’s not crazy.

The power is there, the speed is still there to an extent (I’d honestly only see him grabbing another 4-5 bases, which isn’t bad) but the average has just plummeted thanks to his lack of plate discipline, and I don’t see it improving any time soon unless Upton has some kind of magical epiphany and realizes that maybe swinging at every pitch isn’t the greatest idea. Until he figures that out though, I’m set at PANIC for him.

Chris Archer5-14 (10 QS), 4.42 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 155 K

Chris Archer impressed a lot of people last year, finishing the season with a 3.23 ERA and 10.70 K/9. His raw stuff is amazing, A fastball that averages around 94-95 MPH and a killer slider, it’s really a wonder why he’s been performing so poorly this year, but I see brighter days ahead.

Yea, if you’re an Archer owner, it probably feels like he was a terrible investment this year, and I can’t blame you. That 4.42 ERA is not what you paid for even a little bit, and there are a few red flags in his stats.

First off, his walk rate has shot up from 7.6% last year to 9% this year, and in conjunction, the percentage of his pitches in the zone has dropped from 48.1% last year to 46.8% this year. His control is off, and that wouldn’t be a problem if people were chasing his pitches outside the zone, but they aren’t as much as they used to, which is why his walks have gone up so much.

All that being said, Archer still has the strikeouts that he had last year. His K/9 is still at 10.70, which is incredibly valuable in fantasy, regardless of how many runs he gives up. And those runs have been the product of some really bad luck for Archer, specifically in regards to home runs. His HR/FB rate is 17.2%, which is crazy high and something that should come down, especially considering just how many people he’s striking out. If you look at his xFIP (which normalizes for home runs), you can see the kind of pitcher he really is, and that’s someone around the 3.50 ERA range.

The home runs should come down, and once they do, the ERA will come with it. The walks are a little concerning, but they can be fixed, and with those strikeouts, you’ve got to hang onto Archer and hope for the best, it should be coming. I recommend PATIENCE.

Jose Bautista – .227/.361/.446, 12 HR, 42 R, 42 RBI

Joey Bats has been, without a doubt, one of the more difficult guys to own this year. Between the poor performance and the DL stint, it hasn’t been easy.

The average is the surprising thing, especially since we’ve come to expect at least at .250-.260 average from him each year while he crushes 35+ home runs. But Bautista has been the victim of some very bad luck, and that’s best exemplified by his BABIP, which sits at .238 .

Now, Bautista, and other people like him , don’t typically have very high BABIPs, which is the nature of being a power hitter, i.e. most of the balls in play these power guys hit are fly balls if they’re not home runs. But aside from all that, .227 is an especially low BABIP, even for Bautista, which suggests a fair amount of bad luck. Especially considering his K-rate is about where it normally is, and his walk rate is as high as it’s been since 2011. A little patience will go a long way with him. 

Felix Hernandez – 5-4 (7 QS), 3.45 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, 58 K

If Felix Hernandezs name wasn’t “Felix Hernandez”, we’d probably not even be talking about this guy. He’s been struggling to say the least, and even a stint on the DL hasn’t been enough to fix his issues.

His strikeouts are way way down and his walks are way way up, both at career high/lows, and what he’s been throwing just hasn’t been the King Felix we all know. The velocity on his fastball has dropped even more, down to about 90 MPH now.

Typically that wouldn’t be a problem for your average pitcher, but where Felix gets his success from is the difference between his fastball and his changeup, and now that his fastball is slower, that difference isn’t nearly as noticeable as it has been before, which is why the strikeouts are down.

The other thing that’s worrying about Felix is the fact that his FIP sits at 4.54 while his ERA is just 3.45. That kind of a discrepancy would suggest a pretty bad regression is on its way.

This just isn’t the Felix we all know and love, he’s changed, he’s aged, and it’s not looking good for him, without a doubt, I’m definitely PANICKING.

Andrew McCutchen.246/.317/.418, 15 HR, 56 R, 42 RBI, 3 SB

Andrew McCutchen just hasn’t looked like Andrew McCutchen lately, both statistically, and in person.

Some of his stats are a bit alarming, most notably the plate discipline stats. His strikeout rate is at a career-high 24.6%, up from last year’s 19.4%, and his walk rate has plummeted to a career-low 8.4%, which is a lot coming from a guy whose career walk rate is 11.7%.

The home runs have been there, which is good, but the average and the stolen bases haven’t. He’s not getting much in the way of extra base hits, outside of home runs, his ISO is at its lowest point since 2010, and he’s not hitting the ball hard, as his hard hit rate (33.3%) is at the lowest its been since his rookie year.

However, all that being said, his contact rate is right at where it usually is and while his chase rate is up, it’s not any higher than it’s been in some of his best years. All of this leads me to believe that McCutchen is hurt and he’s playing through it. He’s only 29, more often than not, players don’t just drop off a cliff like this, especially at that age. Earlier this year, he already mentioned he had discomfort near his right thumb, which affected his bat grip, and he’s had injury problems before. Even last year he played through injury, had a bad streak and then fixed it. 

If he’s able to get this injury healed, then he’ll be fine, he’ll be the Andrew McCutchen you drafted, but if this injury nags all year, this is pretty much what you’ve got. I’m recommending PATIENCE though, because I’m confident he’ll do what he did last year, get over this injury, and go back to being the real McCutchen.

Nick Pollack

Founder of Pitcher List. Creator of CSW, The List, and SP Roundup. Worked with MSG, FanGraphs, CBS Sports, and Washington Post. Former college pitcher, travel coach, pitching coach, and Brandeis alum. Wants every pitcher to be dope.

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