April Meltdowns Bring May Flowers

Pitchers tend to post a better ERA in April than any other month. That’s usually blamed on various factors ranging from weather to hitters working on their timing. Even though April is a good month for pitching, it doesn’t mean everyone pitches well. Some good pitchers have struggled this April, and you might be able to acquire them cheaply.

Let’s reflect on human nature. We all know not to overreact to a couple bad starts. Yet according to experiments, we can’t help but frame a player’s value based on his performance. I may know that Cliff Lee is a great pitcher going forward, but his 6.00 ERA may still trick me into selling low on him.

Here’s a big old dashboard of the 38 starting pitchers with an ERA of 4.50 or higher through April 9. Or you can head straight to the dashboard itself.

4.50 ERAs

We have our usual mix of suspects. Some of these guys aren’t very good. They belong here. A few like Tim Lincecum have allowed an outlandish number of home runs. Maybe they belong and maybe they don’t. Lincecum’s 2.56 xFIP is certainly desirable, but he’ll walk more batters going forward. Then there are the guys that just seem unlucky. Stephen Strasburg, Martin Perez, and Brandon Morrow have excellent peripherals with a FIP and xFIP below 3.00. Usually, they would be the focus of this article, but we’re still deep in small sample land, so let’s not worry about the peripherals yet.

Instead, the pitchers I’m interested in are the ones who are considered good but performed terribly. That produces a shorter list of seven pitchers. I view these as acquisition targets if you can find an owner selling low. To be clear, these are not players to buy at full price. The point is that they have some upside but were also legitimately bad in their first two starts. Some of these players may well be injured. Your (and my) interest is speculative.

Corey Kluber – His peripherals have been solid but his first outing was a clunker due to terrible command. That’s completely against his MO, so expect better days ahead. He’s on the waiver wire in a lot of league. Jump on him if you can or trade a nobody coming off a couple good starts – someone like Mark Buehrle, Aaron Harang, or Garrett Richards.

Ubaldo Jimenez – I consider this more of a speculative move simply because I expect him to fail in Baltimore – at least as far as fantasy owners are concerned. I’ve always expected an ERA in the high 4′s, so it’s no surprise that I never came close to drafting him. I know some of my colleagues like him a lot more than me, so maybe he is worth keeping in mind. He’s not for me, but he might be for you.

R.A. Dickey – Here’s a guy who has posted mediocre peripherals but generally does a lot better. He’s risky in any given start. Actually, he’s risky all season long, but he also has big upside if he can stay healthy. Once he halves his walk rate, he’ll look a lot better.

Shelby Miller – He’s trending in the wrong direction, which might mean that it’s actually time to bail rather than acquire him. Perhaps one of your league mates agrees with that sentiment desperately enough to sell for pennies on the dollar. So far, he’s not whiffing anyone, and he’s allowing too many walks. If both areas regress, he could turn into a nice little asset. You’re taking on a lot of risk hoping for positive regression, so price that into any offers.

Lance Lynn – Miller’s fellow Cardinal Lynn is also dolling out the bad results. Unlike Miller, Lynn looks like the same old Lynn, just with bad results. He’s whiffing guys, showing better than typical control, and poor “luck” with a .378 BABIP. His walk rate will regress – probably all the way back to his career average. Nevertheless, I think you can be pretty confident about buying Lynn.

Matt Cain – Like Miller, he’s trending in the wrong direction. It seems like his days of outperforming his peripherals are behind him, which makes him a fairly unremarkable pitcher. Actually I would compare him to Lynn in terms of expected results, except with a bit more risk and reward. Watch to see if his whiff rate improves.

Ivan Nova – He’s probably been punted to your waiver wire and now may be the wrong time to pursue him. He’s been a mess with his command, isn’t whiffing anybody, and his velocity is down almost 2 mph. We could be looking at an injury, so tread lightly. I recommend keeping tabs on him, particularly the velocity. Once he’s pumping around 93 mph with control, he’s a great buy candidate.

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Brad is a former collegiate player who writes for FanGraphs, MLB Trade Rumors, The Hardball Times, RotoWorld, and The Fake Baseball. He's also the lead MLB editor for RotoBaller. Follow him on Twitter @BaseballATeam or email him here.

14 Responses to “April Meltdowns Bring May Flowers”

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  1. Josh B says:

    So I should trade away the flame-throwing, obviously over-clocked, future super-star Garrett for the soft throwing, 26% career line drive, future journeyman Kluber? OK, sure.

    -10 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Brad Johnson says:

      Sometimes I don’t know if people are being sarcastic online. This is one of those times.

      If you’re not being sarcastic, look me up in a couple months. We can have a laugh.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • DanBC says:

      Richards has always had 95 stuff….so why is this year different?
      Can you say, SMALL SAMPLE SIZE?

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. Josh b says:

    If it was sarcistic, it should be easily disproved. Please attempt to prove that 91 mph > 95 mph, and that 26%26%, and we can have our laugh today instead of next month.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. Brandon says:

    Can you, Brad Johnson, find a way to prove that 91 miles per hour is actually greater than 95 miles per hour? Could you do the same at 93 or 94 miles per hour and, if so, would both moving trains be containing pitchers at 26%26%? Then we can laugh. Can’t we laugh today Brad Johnson?

    Must our laughs be saved for the future, for the May flowers? No. I don’t think it should be so. Let us laugh today Brad Johsnon! Today.

    Let us laugh, for the superstar Garrett be born and raised among the people, and the hitters will haughty and will not know Him. Yet, they will also learn humility and fear in the presence of his superstardom, for he was born in the 5th moon of the sarcisitc era.

    +18 Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. Fan says:

    Would you swap Erasmo for Kluber?

    Also general thoughts on Erasmo this year? His first start looked pretty good with his fastball sitting in the ~92mph range. But apparently had velocity loss in his second start along with control issues?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Brad Johnson says:

      I don’t have any particular insights re: Erasmo. I do think his upside is Kluber, so I think that should answer your question. Take the guy who’s already there.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

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