Thursday, August 11, 2011

Slumping PItchers Down the Stretch

Both of my home leagues saw the trade deadline come and go this past weekend. For the most part, this is the last opportunity we had to make significant improvements to our teams. There were certainly be some free agent pick-ups that have an impact, but none that will have the same impact as a big deadline deal.

This doesn't mean much for our offenses. At this point, it's mostly about grinding it out, making sure you have as many everyday players as you possibly can in your line-up, and churning stats. Barring injury, you're not going to drop Adam Jones for Andruw Jones because Adam is in a slump. Playing time trumps just about everything, and that's that.

Pitching is a different story. You're not going to dump an ace who is slumping, but this is the time of year when you might throw a #3 or a #4 overboard if you think he's not going to improve. If you're in a tight ERA/WHIP race, avoiding a lemon is crucial.

Tonight I thought I'd take a look at a few pitchers who might or might not be worth dumping in "only" leagues. Stats below are what these pitchers have done in the last 30 days, courtesy of Fangraphs wonderful site.

Trevor Cahill. 1-3, 26 1/3 IP, 8.10 ERA, 1.937 WHIP, 7.86 K/9, 5.13 BB/9, 4.43 xFIP.
Cahill's in a slump, but the xFIP tells us that it's not as horrible as the ERA would have you believe. The whiff rate is actually up from Cahill's season average, but then so are the walks. The BABIP is extremely high, so Cahill should be allowing fewer hits, but his HR/IP isn't that far out of line with league averages. The numbers say that this is one of those things and Cahill should get better, but the xFIP say that he still might be a marginal play in A.L.-only.

Brian Duensing. 2-3, 30 IP, 6.00 ERA, 1.500 WHIP, 6.6 K/9, 1.5 BB/9, 3.40 xFIP.
Duensing is going through one of those weird stretches pitchers go through where the interiors say he’s better than he has been all year but the numbers are worse. The HR/IP in this stretch is way out of line with league averages, so Duensing could be getting unlucky with the long ball. The problem with this approach with a pitcher like Duensing is that he isn't a power pitcher and always throws the ball around the plate. His stuff is hittable, in other words, and he's going to have those games where balls just fly out of the yard. I trust Duensing on the whole, but he's a back of the staff guy, and is simply going to have periods like this where he isn't very good.

A.J. Burnett. 0-2, 29 1/3 IP, 6.44 ERA, 1.807 WHIP, 8.9 K/9, 3.43 BB/9, 3.95 xFIP
The peripherals always look better than the results with A.J. Burnett. He's got good or great stuff depending on who you talk to and there are times where he looks like one of the best pitchers in baseball. The problem is that there are times when he looks like he's throwing batting practice out there too. The result of all of this are 3-4 inning stretches within a game where he's sometimes dominant and one or two innings where he's awful. The BABIP is high (it is for all of the pitchers in this post) but then it's mostly supported by the BABIP. On top of all of this, the fastball has lost yet another tick this year and is starting to resemble his change in terms of velocity. The "good or great stuff" thing is becoming less of a fact and more of a myth. Unless you're desperate for wins, I think you have to avoid Burnett if you're trying to win now.

Paul Maholm. 0-3, 30 2/3 IP, 5.87 ERA, 1.663 WHIP, 6.16 K/9, 2.05 BB/9, 3.40 xFIP
I owned Maholm last year in Tout Wars and he burned me badly. It's hard to see what Maholm is doing differently this year, so some regression had to be expected at some point. On the other hand, his overall 3.95 xFIP is the best number Maholm has put up since 2008 so he could cling to his 2011 level of performance and it wouldn't be a shock. Maholm was having some good luck on balls in play earlier in the year and that luck seems to have disappeared Post All-Star. Everything else is in line, though, so a 3.80-4.20 ERA isn't out of line for Maholm the rest of the way. Don't expect the ace you were getting at the beginning of the year and you're fine here.

Livan Hernandez. 1-3, 23 2/3 IP, 6.46 ERA, 1.690 WHIP, 4.56 K/9, 1.9 BB.9, 4.40 xFIP
Livan doesn't belong on a contender's roster, even in a deep league. The low K/9 doesn't help; if you can find a reliever striking out a batter per nine on the waiver wire you're better off. Yes, the xFIP says that he's been unlucky, but pitchers who strike out fewer than five batters per nine live and die by luck. The Nationals also have plenty of tilts with the Braves and Phillies the rest of the way. All of this isn't a good combination for Livan and his owners down the stretch.

(I should disclose that I do have Livan in one of my leagues. He was picked up as a throw-in to a larger dump deal with the hope that he'd be flipped later. He wasn't, so I'm most likely waiving him this Sunday).

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