2016 In Review: Starting Pitcher (SP) Busts

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Our review of the 2016 fantasy baseball season continues with a look at some of the year’s biggest disappointments at starting pitcher.

Editor's note: Be sure to also check out our 2017 fantasy baseball rankings dashboard. It's already loaded up with tons of great rankings articles and draft analysis. Aside from our tiered staff rankings for every position, we also go deep on MLB prospect rankings, impact rookies for 2017, and dynasty/keeper rankings as well. Bookmark the page, and win your drafts.

 

Starting Pitcher Busts in 2016

Zack Greinke, Arizona Diamondbacks

After going 19-3 with a ridiculous 1.66 ERA in 2015, Greinke was the prize of the free agent market last winter. Unfortunately for the Diamondbacks, they were left with a serious case of buyer’s remorse. While nobody should have expected Greinke to maintain a sub-2.00 ERA, few would have guessed that he’d end up with an ugly 4.37 in that column. He hadn’t produced a mark that high in over a decade.

So what happened? Greinke’s BABIP and strand rate both regressed heavily, of course, but his K% and BB% both moved in the wrong direction, while his home run rate spiked. It’s easy to see the problem when you take a gander at his pitch value metrics:

greinke

If you’re looking for good news, take some solace in the fact that Greinke’s struggles – specifically, his disastrous performance down the stretch – were mostly injury related. Before hitting the disabled list with a shoulder ailment, Greinke was 10-3 with a 3.62 ERA and 1.16 WHIP. Playable numbers, if not exciting ones. After returning, he was abysmal, as his control abandoned him and balls left the yard in droves.

Depending on how new GM Mike Hazen chooses to move forward, Greinke could be dealt this offseason to a more favorable situation. Even if he stays in Arizona, though, he should be much better. Owners who can grab him at a discount should see a profit.

 

Dallas Keuchel, Houston Astros

Another former Cy Young winner (in this case, the reigning one in the AL), another 2016 campaign marred by shoulder problems. While the narrative of Keuchel’s struggles isn’t as tidy as Greinke’s, they had similarly disappointing seasons. Keuchel suffered the twin killing of a rise in BABIP and a drop in strand rate, while simultaneously striking out fewer batters and allowing more walks, homers, and hard contact.

Early on the season, Keuchel was getting fewer calls on the edges of the strike zone and fewer hitters were chasing pitches off the plate. His end of year metrics didn’t end up too far afield from previous years, but as a command/control pitcher, Keuchel has a lower margin for error. He also can’t really afford to lose over a full tick on his average velocity. Hopefully that was a symptom of the shoulder injury and not an ongoing concern.

Even during his Cy Young season, Keuchel was susceptible to the long ball. If his velocity loss sticks, that problem becomes magnified. Given his limited strikeout upside, Keuchel doesn’t seem like the best rebound candidate.

 

Sonny Gray, Oakland Athletics

In a year where plenty of guys reminded us how volatile pitchers are as an asset, Gray was arguably the biggest bust of all. Before being placed on the disabled list with forearm soreness, he posted a hideous 5.69 ERA and 1.50 WHIP along with his usual pedestrian strikeout numbers.

The usual suspects are to blame here. After posting below-average marks in his first three seasons, Gray’s BABIP jumped by over 60 points. He also suffered from an extremely low strand rate. Primarily, though, it was an inability to keep the ball in the yard that doomed him. Gray continued to be an extreme groundball pitcher, but allowed a home run nearly twice as often as in previous seasons when a batter managed to put the ball in the air.

As with Keuchel, Gray’s ceiling is limited by his lack of Ks. If he’s not able to limit well-hit balls or free passes, he becomes a thoroughly mediocre fantasy arm. Assuming health, he’s almost certainly going to be better in 2017, but we’ve seen the downside here.



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