A few big names at the starting pitcher position find themselves near the bottom of our Player Rater for the past 15 days. Give us your outlook for these starters moving forward and how you recommend fantasy managers respond to their recent struggles.
Tristan Cockcroft (Zack Godley): Godley has been plagued this year by a few problems that don't necessarily seem capable of being fixed overnight: One, his walk rate has spiked, rising to 11.2 percent (it was 8.5 percent during his breakthrough 2017 and is 9.1 percent for his big-league career to date), in large part due to his throwing significantly fewer first-pitch strikes (57.1 percent, down from 60.7 in 2017). Two, his sinker and cutter velocities have dropped by at least a full mph apiece this year (sinker from 91.7 to 90.0, cutter from 89.7 to 88.7). And three, Godley's curveball simply hasn't been as sharp this year, with the most curious thing being that his Statcast data has changed its classification from a pure curve in 2017 to a knuckle-curve this year, which correlates to a lower spin rate per our internal pitch-tracking tool and probably warrants watching. It's no coincidence that Godley's six best starts, going by Game Score, align with five of his best single-game curveball performances in terms of run value (per FanGraphs).
I know that's a lot of "geeky stats," but toss 'em in the blender and they scream "shaky command," which can be a fixable thing, but again isn't necessarily a fixable-overnight thing because of how long the problem has lingered. Godley typically succeeds thanks to his high ground-ball rate -- his increased chance at double plays helping ease worries about his tendency to walk more batters than the league average pitcher does -- and Chase Field's humidor helping to lower his risk of costly home runs. I think there's a chance he's still capable of a sub-4 ERA (though perhaps not better than 3.75) and at least a strikeout per inning the rest of the year, but I also think the odds of his having a near-5 ERA the rest of the way aren't much worse.
In other words, in our standard game he's actually a cut candidate because he's a tough pitcher for whom to get a read on matchups -- he has to face the truly best matchups in order to be sure to dominate when his command is off -- and in typical mixed leagues I'd be approaching every one of his starts with caution (in other words, bench-and-evaluate) until we see signs of improvement.
Eric Karabell (Alex Wood): I think of Alex Wood similar to his more-brittle teammate Rich Hill because both are Dodgers lefties and it was assumed the range of outcomes for each would be either awesome pitching or, simply, injury. Hill has pitched terribly, when he has bothered to pitch at all. Wood, however, has not been bad. Oh, he could not find the strike zone in his most recent outing, which happened to be in the thin air of Denver, but entering that game Wood boasted a 3.75 ERA and 1.04 WHIP. That will work. Wood continues to flummox hitters with his funky delivery, and while his fastball velocity has dropped, he is also throwing that pitch less often. Hitters are struggling to barrel his curveball and changeup. I like this approach. Wood might not be able to stay healthy, but I think he can stay effective and I envision an ERA at least a run better than his current mark from here on out.
AJ Mass (Carlos Carrasco): With Carrasco, what's very telling is that he's faced four teams twice already this season. The first time he faced those clubs, his ERA was 3.08 with three quality starts. On the return engagements, Carrasco was lit up to the tune of a 7.89 ERA, including his most-recent poor showings against Houston and Minnesota.
While his velocity is down slightly from last season, the biggest difference seems to be his usage of the slider, which he's throwing more often and hitters are having far more success against -- an 88-point batting average increase over last season.
I think this is just a combination of Carrasco, of late, not being quite as sharp as he can be and teams having seen a lot of the pitcher's "tricks" already this season. Unless there's an injury we don't know about, he should revert to form once he makes some adjustments over the next few weeks. That said, I'll sit him against the Brewers in his second 2018 start versus Milwaukee today.
Kyle Soppe (Dallas Keuchel): Ground ball pitchers in this era of launch angles are not only rare, but they are also going to be prone to streaky levels of production. I believe that Keuchel will have starts over the next three months where he looks like a former Cy Young winner (see May 7 and May 13), but considering that the opposition's goal works against Keuchel's primary strength, there are also going to be starts like what we saw last night against the Mariners (6.2 innings, 7 ER, and 3 HRs). The limited strikeout potential (currently owns his lowest swing-and-miss rate since his rookie season) makes Keuchel the clear-cut bottom option in this loaded Astros rotation and I don't see that changing any time soon.
If you're looking for a projected stat line when all is said and done, I'd expect an ERA hovering around his career rate (3.68) with more luck in the wins department, as he has more losses this season (eight) than his four rotation mates combined (seven) and this team is simply too good for him to not improve upon his three victories in 13 starts this season. He's a hold for me ... but with tempered expectations.