Patience or Panic 6/12: Piscotty, Porcello, Arrieta
We’re now approaching the middle of June, and the baseball season is nearing its midpoint. The All-Star Game is less than a month away, and the first wave of votes was just announced the other day. It is important to recognize these stars for the tremendous seasons they are having, but for fantasy baseball players, it is also important to recognize the players who have been trudging through the season, performing at a level well below expectations. This is necessary so that we can figure out which of these players will turn it around, and which of these players will continue to struggle throughout the summer. This brings us to another weekly edition of Patience or Panic, where we take a look at three under-performing players to determine if a late-season surge is coming, or if their rest-of-season outlook is as disappointing as their first two and a half months have been.
Stephen Piscotty (OF, Oakland Athletics) – .258 AVG, 33 R, 8 HR, 29 RBI, 2 SB
After a career year that saw him hit 27 home runs with 24 of them coming after June 12th, Stephen Piscotty looked poised for a full-fledged breakout season in 2019. Unfortunately, that has not been the case, as the 28-year-old has been extremely mediocre to date. He’s not squaring up the ball quite as well this season, as his barrel rate sits at 7.7% thus far, 1.9% lower than last season. He is also striking out 21.1% of the time, up almost 3% from 2018. And despite his already uninspiring batting average, .258 seems to be a bit fortunate, as his expected batting average is eight points lower than that. On top of that, his BABIP of .305 is his highest mark since 2016, so it’s not as if he’s simply hitting the ball right at fielders.
However, there are some signs that point to Piscotty’s surface stats possibly beginning to rise in the near future. His exit velocity of 89.3 mph and his hard-hit rate of 39.5% are both actually slightly higher than they were in his breakout season last year. He is also managing the hit the ball in the air more this season, with a career low 42.6% ground-ball rate, along with a career low ground-ball to fly-ball ratio of 1.17.
Piscotty is no stranger to slow starts, as he was plodding through the 2018 season with just three homers to go with a .236 batting average on June 12th before erupting for a monstrous second half. In fact, over the course of his career April and May have historically been his worst two months in terms of home runs. I therefore believe that he will turn things around at some point, and he could very well end up being a valuable contributor down the stretch.
Just like the entire Boston Red Sox team, Rick Porcello has been underwhelming through the first two and a half months of this season. The former Cy Young award winner has struggled mightily thus far, failing to record a quality start in seven of his 13 starts. This starts with his inability to strike batters out, as he holds a 7.30 K/9, his lowest mark since 2014, when he was a member of the Detroit Tigers. He is also walking batters at a ridiculous clip, as his 2.92 BB/9 is the worst of his career, and more than twice as many free passes as he was allowing during his Cy Young season in 2016. Porcello is also getting hit hard, as the 37.8% hard-hit rate that batters have put up against him is the worst of his 11-year career. The 9.1% barrel rate that hitters have against him is also the worst of his career. Another alarming aspect of Porcello’s game this year has been the decrease in ground-ball outs. The veteran has proven to be a very effective ground-ball pitcher in the past, but his current 42% ground-ball rate is the second-lowest of his career. In fact, 2017 was the only season in which his ground-ball rate was lower, and it resulted in Porcello owning an 11-17 record with a similarly bad 4.65 ERA and 1.40 WHIP. With an expected FIP of 5.13, more than half a point worse than in any other season of his career, it doesn’t look like Porcello is going to regain his Cy Young form or anything close to it. While he will surely have a few strong performances sprinkled in throughout the remainder of the year, it’s tough to envision him finding enough consistent success to make him worth holding in fantasy.
Leading up to this season, Jake Arrieta was one of the more consistent pitchers in baseball, having owned an ERA under 4.00 in each of the past five seasons. However, that streak appears to be in jeopardy this season, as the former Cy Young award winner has not been nearly as sharp this year. And with a 5.31 ERA in his last ten starts, the veteran has looked increasingly worse as the season has rolled along. While control issues are nothing new for Arrieta, they have gotten a bit worse of late, as his 3.62 BB/9 is his worst mark since 2013. In the past, Arrieta has been able to overcome these free passes by inducing soft contact, but batters have been hitting the ball much harder against him in 2019. Their 39.7% hard-hit rate against him is the worst of his career, and 25% worse than a season ago. Arrieta has also given up the highest exit velocity of his career at 89.4 mph, while giving up a 7.4% barrel rate, another career worst. With a 4.76 SIERA, a FIP of 5.11, and a surprisingly strong 78% left-on-base rate, it seems almost lucky that Arrieta doesn’t have an even worse ERA.
Similarly to Porcello, he will definitely have a few strong outings here and there, but it seems highly unlikely that he finds his Cy Young form or anything near that level. Arrieta has never been a strikeout pitcher, and he is going to allow a ton of baserunners every time he takes the mound, even if he does manage to limit the damage to his ERA. His numbers have been on a steady decline each year since his Cy Young in 2015, and I don’t expect him to suddenly turn things around in the second half of this season.
(Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire)