(Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire)
It’s already the middle of August and fantasy football seems to be taking over the internet. As it is with every other year, as we move closer to September the more people talk about football over baseball. Little do people know that this is where championships are formed when players are distracted by football. I want to try and help you get that all-important fantasy championship. As we have done weekly with this segment, we are looking at three players who have been scuffling and will attempt to look at the sabermetric undertones using the wonderful Baseball Savant and FanGraphs. Then we will determine whether it is finally time to cut bait or hold steady.
Today we have three promising players who have proven to be valuable fantasy assets in the past, but so far in 2018 it just hasn’t happened yet.
Chris Archer -110.1 IP, 4-5, 4.49 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 118 Ks
Chris, I really try my best to show you a fair share of loving. I was excited to see you finally move out of the hell known as the AL East and into the haven of PNC Park. However, in his first 3 starts with his new team, Archer has failed to record a quality start in any of them. Archer has struggled with his new team to the tune of 14.1 IP and 11 earned runs.
Archer’s struggles can be traced directly to his diminishing slider. In 2017 his slider produced a pVal of 19.5 (5th highest in MLB) but so far in 2018, it has dropped to a barely above league average 0.8 pVal. While the pitch is still maintaining it’s traditional 19-20% SwStrk rate as it has every year since 2015, hitters are making better contact. Hitters have a career slash line of .205/.249/.320 against Archer’s slider since entering the bigs in 2012, but this season hitters are producing a much-improved slash of .248/.298/.396.
Archer needs his slider to be electric. He is predominantly a Fastball – Slider pitcher, and unfortunately, both of his pitches have regressed this season. His fastball and slider both are producing career worsts in average, wOBA, and slugging percentage. I have always had a soft spot for Archer, but the time has come to finally cut your losses.
Verdict – Panic
Chris Taylor – .248 AVG, 13 HRs, 66 Rs, 53 RBIs, 7 SBs
The Dodgers 2017 version of Max Muncy, Taylor burst onto the scene to the tune of a 126 wRC+ season for the Dodgers. 2018 has been tougher for the Dodgers swiss army knife who has regressed in nearly all statistical categories. His .248/.322/.437 slash line is a far cry from his 2017 numbers and his 38 HR + SB from last season (and hopes for a 20/20) season have dried up to a disappointing 19 HR + SB this year.
The struggles for Taylor can be boiled down to two of many problems. His inability to hit fastballs and his launch angle. Last season the right-hander feasted on fastballs to the tune of 14 HRs and a .383 wOBA. Flash forward to 2018 and Taylor has produced just .324 wOBA and 7 HRs. Meanwhile, his K-rate has jumped up to 27%, and his whiff rate to 24%. He is still hitting fastballs hard, however, with an average exit velocity of 90 MPH. xStats believes that there is a touch of bad luck involved with both his xWOBA and xBA both being around 20 points higher than what he is currently producing.
Launch angle is quite the buzzword in the baseball community and typically it can be an indicator of success. However, with Taylor it has slowed his offensive production down in 2018, after being in the sweet 11.8° range in 2017, Taylor’s launch angle drastically jumped to 17.2°. It’s lead to an increase in his pop-up% and under% percentage from 2017. xStats agrees with the numbers that Taylor is currently producing and do not point to any real positive regression. 2017 may have been a career year for Taylor, and while he is still a fine real-life player, he doesn’t have the power-speed combo we were hoping for. I would look at some higher upside plays on the waiver wire.
Verdict – Panic
Jon Lester -134. 1 IP, 12 – 5, 3.89 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 105 Ks
After producing one of the largest ERA-FIP differentials that we have ever seen in the first half, the regression gods have finally found the lefty. Since the start of July, Lester has thrown 39.1 innings and allowed 35 (!) earned runs, 57 hits, and 12 home runs. The recent rough stretch has risen his ERA up to 3.89, but more regression may still be on the horizon with a season-long FIP of 5.02 and a SIERA of 4.8.
Lester has always been a pitcher who relies on soft contact on his road to success. He typically sits under 30% and is among the top in the league, but so far in 2018, he has seen his hard contact rate jump 8.7%. Which places him well above the MLB average. Overall hitters have raised their exit velocities against the Cubs starts 3 MPH up to 88.4 MPH. The overall hard contact rates for hitters have led to increases in both pull-rate and line-drive rate which can make for a receipt for disaster.
That sexy cutter has predominantly been an elite pitch for Lester. It has produced a pVal of 27.8 from 2016-2017, which would rank him first in the MLB. 2018 has been a different story, his cutter has a pVal of 4.8, and his lowest since 2013. Hitters have been tattooing the pitch for careers worsts in SLG, wRC+, wOBA, exit velocity, and whiff- rate. Lester needs his cutter to keep hitters off balance but he has just not found it. With a diminishing K-Rate to 18.4% and more regression on the horizon, it seems like all Lester’s fantasy relevance is diminishing as well.
Verdict – Panic