Welcome to the first edition of Patience or Panic for the 2021 MLB season! Every week for the duration of the season, we’ll be taking a look at a handful of players who, to put it nicely, aren’t performing quite up to expectations. This could be a season-long struggle, a horrible mid-season slump, a player returning from injury and not looking like himself, or any other cause for concern. You get the point. If a player isn’t putting up the numbers we all thought he would, he’s probably going to be featured in one of these articles.
Now, since the season just started on Thursday, and we’ve only had five days of baseball thus far, this first piece is going to be a little bit different from the norm. Obviously, we can’t look at a player who had a bad weekend series and immediately hit the panic button. So this first piece will focus on players who, due to injury, are getting a late start to their season and have yet to see the field. So let’s dive right in and see if these players are worth the wait!
Coming into the spring, Sixto Sánchez was thought to be a popular breakout candidate after a strong rookie showing during the shortened 2020 season. Compared at times to Pedro Martínez, anyone who has watched the talented 22-year-old pitch can see he has the potential to be great.
However, things got off to a rocky start this year when he was forced to miss part of spring training due to health and safety protocols. Upon his return to action, it was made clear that the Marlins wouldn’t rush him back into things, and the expectation was that he wouldn’t be ready by opening day. Now, he is also dealing with some right shoulder inflammation, and it is entirely possible that he misses the first month or two of the season, with the Marlins taking an overly cautions approach. While this is obviously disappointing news, possibly the worst part for fantasy players is that he is not IL-eligible. Instead, he is only NA-eligible, as he was sent to the team’s alternate site before suffering this injury. So for the standard Yahoo fantasy baseball league, not only is Sixto not pitching for fantasy teams, but he is also sucking up a roster spot for as long as he remains out.
With that said, please be patient. Please do not drop him to free up a roster spot for a hot free agent. It will probably come back to bite you. In his seven starts a season ago, Sánchez posted a solid 3.46 ERA with a 3.02 xERA. In a four-game stretch in the middle of his season, he allowed just three earned runs in 27 innings, getting the best of quality opponents in the Rays, Blue Jays, Braves, and Phillies. Miami’s number one prospect keeps hitters off-balanced with a five-pitch arsenal, led by a nasty changeup against which batters were only able to muster a .148 slugging percentage. Having achieved these numbers in an age-21 rookie year that was one of the strangest seasons in history, I can confidently say we haven’t even seen close to his best. Whether we get a healthy Sixto for three, four, or five months this year, he will absolutely be worth the wait.
Eduardo Rodriguez has had a tough go of it over the past year. He missed all of 2020 due to complications from COVID-19, then worked his way back this spring, only to experience a “dead arm” that forced him to begin 2021 on the IL. So to say he comes with some health risks is a bit of an understatement at this point. After a successful bullpen session however, there is a strong chance that Rodriguez will be able to make his first start of the season some time later this week.
Despite not pitching in a meaningful game since 2019, there is reason to believe the 27-year-old (turns 28 tomorrow) will have a strong season for the Red Sox. E-Rod posted a 3.81 ERA in 2019 with a 3.53 xERA. He finished off the season with a brilliant nine-start stretch that saw him collect six wins to just one loss. Outside of one bad start against the Rangers during that time, Rodriguez pitched to a stellar 1.73 ERA, striking out 62 batters in 52 innings. This kind of talent has always been there for the sotuhpaw, it’s always just been a matter of staying consistent, something he has improved on each year.
While the Red Sox as a whole certainly won’t be the best team in baseball, the offense is not going to be the source of any potential struggles the team may have. As a result, Rodriguez has a good shot at a high win total, as a guy who almost never fails to make it through at least five innings per start. And with his debut likely coming against the Orioles, he could start hot right out of the gates. Assuming there are no setbacks in the near future, E-Rod will be helping fantasy teams very soon.
After a fantastic 2020 season that saw him post a 2.91 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP with 82 strikeouts in 68 innings, Carlos Carrasco’s start to the 2021 season will be a bit delayed as he recovers from a right hamstring injury. The initial timeline projected him to miss six to eight weeks, which would have put him at a late May start at the earliest. However, after throwing a successful two innings in a simulated game on Sunday, it is very likely that he will be able to return some time before then. The 34-year-old is poised for a strong season with the move to the National League, where he will eventually be pitching for a Mets team that made some major upgrades over the offseason and expects to contend for a title in the very near future.
Carrasco has been one of the more consistent, seemingly underrated pitchers in baseball, as he has put up an xFIP of 3.65 or better in each of the past seven seasons. He has also maintained an impressive strikeout rate that has surpassed 28% in each of his past four years on the mound. This is in large part due to a fastball and curveball that rank among the league leaders in spin rate, with his curveball generating a 41.4% whiff rate a season ago. While it is certainly possible at this point that he ends up missing most of the first half of the season, Carrasco will more than make up for this lengthy absence if he pitches at or near this level upon his return.
Graphic by Michael Packard (@designsbypack on Twitter and Instagram)