Patience or Panic 5/29: Syndergaard, Archer, Rodriguez
As we approach the end of May, we are now far enough into the season that we should be taking a good, hard look at any players who are still struggling to figure out why this may be. Perhaps even more important than finding the reasons for their struggles is figuring out whether or not these struggles seem likely to continue throughout the year, or if they are due to turn things around at some point. This brings us to another edition of Patience or Panic, where we take a look at three under-performing players to determine if their struggles will finally subside, or if we should be giving up hope.
Noah Syndergaard entered the 2019 season projected by many to be a top-50 player in baseball. Unfortunately, he has fallen far short of those expectations so far, allowing four earned runs or more in seven of his 11 starts this season. Perhaps his biggest problem thus far has been his inability to keep the ball in the park. Syndergaard has already allowed ten home runs, after giving up just nine bombs all of last season. This has led to a 14.9% home run to fly ball ratio, the worst of his career. Overall, batters are just making better contact versus Thor this year than in seasons past, with a hard-hit rate of 32.1%. That’s the worst mark of his career, and almost 6% worse than batters could muster against him last year. Furthermore, batters have already connected for nine barrels against him through the first two months of this season, the same amount he allowed in the entirety of 2018.
Syndergaard has leaned on his fastball much more this year than in prior seasons, seemingly using it to make up for the decreased effectiveness in his usually-strong slider. After throwing fastballs on just 20.7% of his pitches last year, that number has jumped all the way to 31.2%, while his slider usage has dropped from 20.9% all the way down to 13.1%. While his fastball velocity of 98.2 mph is right around his typical velocity, the velocity on his slider has sat around 88.7 mph, a full four mph slower than it was a season ago. This sudden ineffectiveness in his slider, a pitch on which he has relied pretty heavily in the past, is likely a main reason for his struggles to this point in the season. Even so, he has still managed a strikeout rate of 25% this season. Overall, I believe Syndergaard will be just fine in the long run, assuming he is able to fix his slider. It should only be a matter of time before Thor is looking like his dominant self on the mound again.
After trading for Chris Archer in a deal that included giving away Tyler Glasnow and Austin Meadows, the Pittsburgh Pirates were hoping for a big season from Archer. That has not been the case though, as he has faced constant struggles, mixed with a short stint on the injured list to deal with a thumb injury. He has made it six or more innings just twice this season, and you have to go all the way back to April 13th to find his last quality start. One of the reasons for his lack of success so far is that Archer has struggled with his control—a problem he has not really had in the past. His walk rate of 13% is the highest of his career, and the first time since his rookie year in 2012 that it has even entered double digits. Part of the problem has been a 57.3% first-pitch strike rate, also the worst of his career. In turn, batters are chasing pitches out of the strike zone just 27.8% of the time, compared to a 33.5% chase rate in 2018. This has helped lead to a strikeout rate of 21.7%, down considerably from 25.4% last year, and from 29.2% the year before that. When batters do connect with the ball, Archer is failing to generate ground balls like he is accustomed to doing. His ground ball rate of 35.4% is down nearly 10% from his career average, and it has directly translated to a 46% fly ball rate that is almost 14% higher than it was a season ago. With this stark increase in fly balls, his home runs per nine innings has also shot up to a career worst 1.77, a dramatic difference from his career rate of 1.04. With Archer’s fastball velocity at a career-worst 93.6 mph, it seems possible that the 30-year-old may never get back to being the ace pitcher who once finished top five in Cy Young voting, or at least not for quite a while. Until he shows some noticeable improvement, starting him in fantasy is likely to do more harm than good, especially with his three next starts coming against a combination of the Milwaukee Brewers and Atlanta Braves.
After a career-best 3.82 ERA last season, the 26-year-old was expected to take another step forward in 2019. Unfortunately, he has seemingly taken a step backward, currently owning the worst ERA and WHIP of his career. However, it appears that Rodriguez is due for some much better success in the future, as his peripherals show that he has actually pitched pretty well thus far. His 25% strikeout rate is just 1.4% lower than last season, and it is actually 1.5% higher than his career average. Meanwhile, his 7.6% walk rate is his lowest since his rookie year in 2015. Rodriguez is also doing a great job of limiting fly balls in favor of an increase in grounders. His ground ball to fly ball rate of 1.35 is the highest of his career, much higher than the 0.94 rate he posted last season. This could be due in part to Rodriguez throwing sinkers 12.4% of the time this year, twice as often as he had previously thrown the pitch throughout his career.
Rodriguez also seems to be the victim of bad luck to this point, as he is allowing a BABIP of .345. This is by far the highest mark of his career, despite batters having just a 27.4% hard-hit rate against him, the best of his career. The idea that he has dealt with bad luck thus far is further supported by the fact that his FIP stands at 3.58, while his xFIP is 3.87. Both numbers are much lower than his actual ERA to date, and are the best FIP and xFIP of his career. Therefore, it stands to reason that Rodriguez is due for some positive regression, and his numbers should start to greatly improve sooner than later.
(Photo by Lawrence Iles/Icon Sportswire)