We’re now just days away from the All-Star Break, where baseball players finally get a few well deserved days to rest, recover, and get ready for the home stretch. For some players, they might not have performed to the level that was expected of them, and this time off gives them a chance to start fresh and hopefully bounce back in a big way. Perhaps they’ve been playing through some nagging injuries that have been affecting their performance, and this rest will get their bodies back to full health. While this certainly is not the case for everyone who has under-performed to this point, the fact remains that all of these struggling players are looking at this break as a time to reset, both mentally and physically, and hopefully find their groove in the second half of the season. This brings us to another weekly edition of Patience or Panic, where we take a look at three struggling players to see whether or not the second half of the season will bring them some newfound success.
James Paxton (SP, New York Yankees) – 5-3, 4.34 ERA, 1.43 WHIP, 81 K, 64.1 IP
Making the move from Seattle to New York, James Paxton was primed for a huge season with the Yankees lineup behind him for run support. Unfortunately, this has not been the case thus far for the southpaw, as he currently has the worst ERA of his MLB career. Despite pitching behind the best offense in baseball, Paxton only has five wins, in large part because he has surprisingly had trouble making it through five innings in his starts. He has only made it through five innings in three of his last eight starts, and he has gone deeper than six innings just once this entire season. Part of this is because the Yankees have an extremely deep bullpen, so the team really doesn’t need their starters to pitch too deep into games. The other part however, is related to his struggles and pitch count inefficiency. Paxton has struggled with control this season, walking 3.92 batters per nine innings, the worst rate of his career. More batters are reaching base off contact as well, with a .344 BABIP that is 45 points worse than last year and 44 points worse than the year before that. This is a result of Paxton giving up hard contact 36.7% of the time, the worst mark of his career. Batters have also used a 17.7 degree launch angle, the highest ever against Paxton by over three degrees, to get the ball in the air against the 30-year-old. This has made it tough for him to keep the ball on the ground, as shown by a 34.5% ground-ball rate that is the lowest of his career, having declined every year since he entered the majors in 2013.
It doesn’t appear that his problems on the mound are due to him cracking under the pressure of wearing the pinstripes in New York or the fact that Yankee Stadium is a much more hitter-friendly ballpark than T-Mobile Park (formerly Safeco Field), as his 3.26 ERA at home is much better than his 5.96 mark on the road. I believe that Paxton will do slightly better in the second half of the season, but honestly not by much. Including this year, the lefty posted an ERA better than 3.75 only once in the last five seasons (2.98 in 2017) and I felt he was a bit overrated heading into this season. He’s obviously still not bad enough to simply drop, but I have confidence that someone else in your league values Paxton higher than they should, and you can likely get a decent return for him. But if you’re waiting for him to find his elite-looking, 2017 form, I think there’s a strong chance he fails to meet those expectations.
German Marquez (SP, Colorado Rockies) – 8-3, 4.38 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 120 K, 121.1 IP
After a strong 2018 season that saw him post a 3.77 ERA with a 10.56 K/9, German Marquez entered 2019 poised for a major breakout season. Unfortunately, that has not been the case thus far. Marquez has given up hard contact 43.8% of the time, placing him in the bottom 10% of the league. Batters also have a 90.4 mph exit velocity against him, the worst of his career, while their 7.1% barrel rate against him is tied for the worst of his career. However, there is still reason to believe he could be in for a huge bounce back after the All-Star break. While his K/9 has dipped to 8.82 this year, he is still making batters miss, as shown by a career-high 13.3% swinging strike rate. Marquez has also shown improvements with his control, allowing just 2.03 walks per nine innings, compared to a 2.51 lifetime average. The 24-year-old has also done a tremendous job of limiting fly balls, inducing grounders 52.4% of the time, the best mark of his young career. With a FIP of 3.74 and an even better expected FIP of 3.57, it seems that Marquez pitched better in the first half of the year than his ERA would show.
Overall, it might be smart to bench him in a few of his tougher starts at Coors, as he has proven to be much more effective this year when pitching away from home. The youngster has a 3.06 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, and opponents are batting just .201 against him when he pitches on the road, but those numbers inflate to a 5.70 ERA, 1.60 WHIP, and .314 batting average when home. Besides that, Marquez looks ready to have a very strong second half of the season.
Nick Pivetta (SP, Philadelphia Phillies) – 4-2, 5.63 ERA, 1.52 WHIP, 48 K, 56 IP
After under-performing last season in what was supposed to be something of a breakout year, the now 26-year-old has once again been a disappointment, as the baseball world hoped that this would be the year Nick Pivetta finally put it all together. After being sent down to the minors in mid-April due to a nightmarish start to the season, Pivetta came back and looked fantastic in his first three starts, only to completely implode in his next three starts. For starters, his strikeouts are way down from his first two years in the league. His current 7.71 K/9 isn’t even close to the 9.47 and 10.32 marks he put up each of the last two seasons. His 10% swinging strike rate is down from 2018, and he is having real trouble with his fastball. His velocity is down a full mph from last season, and he reached a new low in his last start, where he was only able to record two swings and misses on 40 fastballs, both of which were against the opposing pitcher. Opponents are making hard contact 43.9% of the time, the worst rate of his career, while they are also putting up an average exit velocity of 89.2 mph, up a full two mph from a season ago. Pivetta has also pitched to the worst ground-ball rate of his young career, with just 40.3% of balls being hit on the ground. In turn, he has also failed to keep the ball in the park with any consistency, giving up 2.25 homers per nine innings and posting a 24.6% home run to fly ball ratio.
While Pivetta has certainly flashed the potential to one day be a dominant pitcher in the league, he has proven to be horribly inconsistent thus far. Both he and his manager have acknowledged that he is an extremely emotional pitcher who often loses his composure when things start to go wrong, and this has led to a lot of his not-so-great outings turning into complete disasters. As of now, the potential reward of starting him on your fantasy team does not outweigh the risk of him ruining your ERA and WHIP for the entire week, and I don’t anticipate this changing anytime soon.
(Photo by Cody Glenn/Icon Sportswire)