Patience or Panic: Aaron Nola, Jon Gray, George Springer

What should we do with these struggling players?

This might be the most important part of any fantasy baseball season. Regardless of the format, the time is ripe to make sure your team is in order as we get closer to the final stretch.

While the trade deadline has passed in the real world, that date is still ahead for many fantasy leagues. It is not a time to rest on your laurels and just hope for the best. Instead, take a close look at your roster and determine your needs before it’s too late.

It’s decision time for your struggling stars. Cut and run? Trade? Or should we have patience?


Aaron Nola, SP, Philadelphia Phillies


It’s time we talked about a certain struggling Philadelphia Phillies player. Trea Turner? No, not that one. Nick Castellanos? No, not that one. J.T. Realmuto? No, not that one. Ranger Suárez? No, not that one. Aaron Nola? There you go!

Nola could have been included in this article at almost any point this season. Fantasy managers who chose him very high in drafts certainly have been disappointed. Overall, he is 9-8 with a 4.58 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and a 147:34 K:BB ratio in 143 1/3 innings. That would be distressing enough, but his recent play is even more concerning. In the past month, Nola is 1-3 with a 5.64 ERA and 1.29 WHIP.

Some of Nola’s struggles can be chalked up to bad luck with a 4.92 FIP and 3.54 xFIP that suggest there’s blame that can be passed off onto his teammates. That tracks with an elevated .318 BABIP. But none of those metrics are so out of line that we can completely write the month off as an aberration.

Most of this season has been just another step back in his career and the past month has only made things worse. Nola’s strikeout rate is down for the third-straight season. His K/9 of 9.23 is the second-worst mark of his career (better only than his rookie season) and is the first time it’s slipped under 10 since 2018.

Also, Nola has never been particularly good about keeping the ball in the yard. Home runs have been a thorn in his side for a long time and are one of the primary areas of concern that have hindered his ability to take his talents into the stratosphere. For his career, his HR/FB rate sits at a below-average 13.6%, which has ballooned over the past month to 21.1%. Also in the past month, Nola is giving up a 40.9% hard-hit rate and a 90.3 average exit velocity – both well over his career marks.

Verdict: Panic. At least a little bit of panic is realistic. Nola has an established history of success and that’s usually enough to warrant some patience through a bad month. Nobody is immune to a slump, but this is more than just a bad month. Nola is having a bad season and he’s been trending downward for a few years. Batters have been consistently striking out less and improving their quality of contact against Nola for multiple seasons in a row.

It wasn’t long ago that Nola’s curveball was one of the best pitches in the game. This season, his curve has a -1 run value. Over the last five years, his movement on the pitch has cratered along with its deceptiveness. The curve returned a 44.3% CSW in 2018 and is down to 32% this season. It’s just not working and he desperately needs it to because when that pitch suffers, the effect ripples through the rest of his repertoire.

Is it just a slump? Maybe. But the slow, downward trend in his numbers over the past five years is hard to ignore.


Jon Gray, SP, Texas Rangers


Earlier this season, Gray had a streak of six straight starts where he allowed one earned run or fewer. He had a pristine 2.89 ERA and 1.05 WHIP back near the end of June. The good times were rolling, but then the music cut out and the fun stopped.

Gray has now allowed three earned runs or more in five of his past six starts and his numbers are now up to a 3.72 ERA and 1.24 WHIP. Overall, that’s still a strong season from a pitcher who has been riding the line of mediocrity for many years, but that’s little solace to fantasy managers that have been seriously hurt by his performance over the last month.

Gray has five pitches in his arsenal, though he mainly focuses on just his fastball and his slider. The four-seamer is his most used pitch at 42.1% but it ranks well below average.

Batters are hitting .350 against the pitch with a 45.6% hard-hit rate. The run value on his four-seamer is a shocking -17. Though maybe that shouldn’t be so shocking considering how often he leaves the four seamer over the heart of the plate instead of elevating the pitch in order to better set up his slider.

His slider, for what it’s worth, is actually pretty damn good. He consistently spots it low and inside and is rewarded with a 32.4% CSW and 37.9% whiff rate. That’s all the more remarkable considering how pedestrian his four-seamer is and makes me wonder how much more potential Gray could have with an improved fastball.

But rather than improve his fastball, Gray seems to be working away from it more and more. Normally, it makes sense to deemphasize your worst pitches, but Gray has turned up his slider usage to such an extreme level that his chance of success is actually going down. He went 51% sliders in his most recent start and 63% in the start before that. The result? A 7.84 ERA.

Verdict: Panic. I’m not thrilled to see Gray tinkering so much with his pitch mix this deep into the season. I don’t doubt that there’s a method to the madness, but hitters clearly have exposed a weakness in Gray’s repertoire that he is struggling to adjust to. Why swing and miss at the slider when you can just sit back and wait for a meaty fastball down the center of the zone?

There’s reason for optimism of course. The slider looks as fantastic as ever and Gray’s .381 BABIP over the past month isn’t doing him any favors. Keep an eye on the four-seamer though. Can he elevate it more? Can he generate more swings and misses with the pitch? If the answer is yes, then have patience. I’m just not convinced.


George Springer, OF, Toronto Blue Jays


Springer has not hit a single home run since July 7. He has just three home runs since June 15. In the last month, he has a slash line of .200/.298/.256 with six RBI, nine runs scored, and one stolen base. His 61 wRC+ is the 14th worst among all qualified hitters in that stretch.

Between July 20-August 1, Springer went an unfathomable 1-for-43 at the plate. He finally broke a 35-at-bat hitless streak with a single last week against Baltimore.

On the surface, there’s not a lot to critique. Despite struggling to generate hits over the past month, his walk rate has actually improved and his strikeout rate is a reasonable 22.9%. Springer has kept his strikeout rate closer to 17% over the past few years, but that difference really isn’t enough to explain such a drastic decline in his production.

Springer is putting the ball in play, but he’s not doing it as well as he used to. He has replaced line drives with more flyballs and those are turning into outs more often than not. His average exit velocity has dropped to just 87.4 mph over the last month and his 5.9% barrel rate shows just how infrequently he is making quality contact.

The biggest outlier in Springer’s profile is his struggles to hit sliders. It sticks out like a big blue sore thumb on his Baseball Savant page with a -12 run value and a .158 batting average against this season.

Honestly, it’s strange to see. Springer has historically never struggled with sliders. In fact, Springer has posted a positive run value against sliders in every year since his rookie season until now. In 2018, he had a +16 run value and hit .348 against the pitch.

Pitchers have taken notice and they have adjusted their approach. Overall this season, Springer is seeing sliders 28.9% of the time. That’s up over 4% compared to last year and is, by far, the highest of his career. That number has been fueled recently by even more sliders.

Over the past three weeks, Springer has been seeing closer to around 35% sliders to perfectly coincide with the depths of his slump.

Verdict: Patience. Right now, pitchers are attacking a weakness and it’s paying off. It’s now up to Springer to make the adjustment. He has never particularly struggled with sliders in the past, especially to this extent, which gives me hope that he’s not completely broken.

There have already been positive developments in that area over the past week. Of the last 12 sliders that Springer has put into play, four have resulted in hits and only two have been strikeouts. Springer is currently on a five-game hitting streak. Sure, some home runs would be nice, but just winning the battle against sliders is a good start.

Ryan Loren

Ryan Loren is a baseball writer for Pitcher List and a Detroit sports fan struggling to remember what it's like to root for winning teams.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Account / Login