ROTISSERIE: April/May SP splits

This article appeared in the June 5th issue of Sports Weekly

Every season has its ebbs and flows. Given that we are just over two months into the 2019 campaign, it is easier now than it might be later in the summer for some of these peaks and valleys to catch our attention.

Here are six starting pitchers—three from each league—who have had rather stark contrasts between their March/April and May splits. Taking a closer look at each pitcher’s skills gives us better insight into his true level of performance. As you will see, things are not always as good or as bad as they seem.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Trevor Bauer (RHP, CLE)
March/April: 2.45 ERA, 1.05 WHIP
May: 5.75 ERA, 1.36 WHIP

Bauer’s walk rate soared from a career-best 2.9 walks per nine innings (BB/9) in 2018 to a troublesome 4.3 BB/9 in the opening month. If not for a fortuitous .221 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) and some luck stranding baserunners, his ERA and WHIP would have been much worse. Though he posted a more manageable 3.5 BB/9 in May, his BABIP regressed to a mark closer to what we might typically expect and he ran into some bad luck on the bases.

Overall, Bauer has again racked up bushels of strikeouts, but he hasn’t gotten ahead in the count nearly as often as he did in 2018, so it’s possible his walk rate could settle around 3.5 BB/9 over the duration of 2019. While it’s admittedly a small sample, he has also taken a step back against left-handed batters, allowing an .804 OPS and striking out 21% of them in 2019, compared to a .570 OPS and 30% strikeout percentage in 2018, so that is another area that bears watching. The 28-year-old was never likely to duplicate his breakout 2018, but the known tinkerer will need to make the necessary tweaks in order to deliver on his full promise.

Eduardo Rodriguez (LHP, BOS)
March/April: 6.16 ERA, 1.53 WHIP
May: 3.90 ERA, 1.27 WHIP

Injuries (knee, ankle) limited Rodriguez to 130 innings in 2018, but he flashed intriguing potential when on the mound, as he amassed a 3.82 ERA and struck out 146 batters. Despite a 10.2 K/9 and a respectable 3.5 BB/9, his 2019 got off to a disastrous start, thanks to a .356 BABIP and horrible luck preventing runners from crossing the plate. Though he didn’t strike out quite as many batters in May (9.3 K/9), a significant reduction in walks (2.4 BB/9) left him with a strong 3.9 strikeout-to-walk ratio (K/BB).

Rodriguez’s best pitch has been a superb change-up that has induced ground balls a whopping 63% of the time, and the pitch has drawn lots of swings and misses. It has been a key factor behind the steady gains he made against right-handed batters since 2017.

Injuries have prevented the 26-year-old from logging more than 137 innings in a given MLB season, but if he can stay healthy and be more consistent, he’s capable of a near-4.00 ERA and plenty of strikeouts over the remainder of 2019.

Kyle Gibson (RHP, MIN)
March/April: 4.88 ERA, 1.23 WHIP
May: 3.34 ERA, 1.18 WHIP

Gibson’s fantastic May was mostly driven by enhanced skills. His walk rate went from a solid 2.6 BB/9 to an elite 1.8 BB/9, and his strikeout rate soared from 7.8 K/9 to 10.9 K/9, resulting in a stellar 6.0 K/BB ratio. The 31-year-old’s slider continues to be a tremendous pitch, garnering boatloads of swings and misses. His change-up has also become top notch in 2019, especially in May. While the uptick in four-seam fastball usage from April to May was negligible, the decision to throw more high fastballs produced better results.

Gibson isn’t likely to keep missing bats at quite the rate he did in May, but he has displayed career-best skills thus far in 2019, and appears in the midst of taking another step forward, especially if he runs into better luck keeping the ball in the yard (9 HR allowed in 57 innings, despite a 47% ground ball rate). It also doesn’t hurt that the American League Central is home to a few of the weakest offenses in MLB.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Joe Musgrove (RHP, PIT)
March/April: 1.54 ERA, 0.89 WHIP
May: 8.10 ERA, 1.67 WHIP

Musgrove hit the ground running in 2019 due to a splendid 1.8 BB/9 and some serendipitous breaks when it comes to BABIP (.245) and keeping the ball in the yard (1 HR allowed). However, he allowed far more baserunners in May, as his BABIP regressed and he issued an uncharacteristically high number of walks (3.6 BB/9). Making matters worse, he also had horrendous luck in stranding baserunners.

Walks have never been an issue for the 26-year-old, so expect something closer to his lifetime 2.2 BB/9 going forward, but he’ll need to upgrade a subpar strikeout rate (7.1 K/9) in order ascend to another level. As is, he figures to have a tough time compiling an ERA under 4.00-4.25 the rest of the way.

Brandon Woodruff (RHP, MIL)
March/April: 5.17 ERA, 1.47 WHIP
May: 1.36 ERA, 0.73 WHIP

Woodruff earned a spot in the starting rotation this spring and sported a horrific ERA and WHIP as an inflated .381 BABIP wreaked havoc during the opening month. He then benefited from an auspicious .194 BABIP and an uncanny knack for leaving baserunners on base in May, which supplied some artificial luster to his ERA and WHIP. Interestingly, Woodruff’s skills were actually even better in May, highlighted by a 10.1 K/9 and outstanding 1.9 BB/9, bringing his 2019 marks in those categories to an impressive 10.5 K/9 and 2.4 BB/9.

The 26-year-old seems poised for a breakout season. Just be mindful that the Brewers are expected to limit his workload to around 160 innings.

Julio Teheran (RHP, ATL)
March/April: 5.35 ERA, 1.45 WHIP
May: 0.98 ERA, 0.98 WHIP

There was substantial positive buzz surrounding Teheran in spring training. He had scrapped the windup in favor of pitching exclusively from the stretch, hoping to improve his ability to locate pitches. After adding ten pounds of muscle over the winter, the 28-year-old’s velocity was reportedly back up to 91-92 mph and topping out at 93 mph.

Unfortunately, the regular season results haven’t been there for Teheran so far in 2019. His fastball has averaged 89.9 mph—the same as 2018—and he has again walked batters at alarmingly high rate (4.5 BB/9), including a 6.1 BB/9 against left-handed hitters. His stellar ERA and WHIP in May was a mirage fueled by a .156 BABIP and good fortune in preventing runners from scoring.

Look for him to post a 4.50-5.00 ERA over the rest of 2019.


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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.