MLB Predictions: Declining Pitchers
by Trevor Whenham - 4/29/2011
When a pitcher that has long been solid starts to perform well below his reputation it can take a while for the public to catch on. That means that there can be value in being more negative about these guys than the public — as long as that negativity is warranted. Here’s a look at my MLB predictions for five solid starters who are showing clear signs that they could be on the decline:
Francisco Liriano — To be accurate, Liriano has really been on the decline since his rookie year in 2006. He missed the next season due to injury and has never been the same since. He looked to be on track last year, though, and seemed to be settling into a very useful role for the Twins. It’s still early this year, but it sure doesn’t seem like he has carried that forward into this season. He has just one quality start in five tries this year, and twice in his last three outings he has allowed seven runs. Both of those implosions have come at home as well, and those 14 runs have come in just eight total innings. His ERA is 9.13, his pitches lack sharpness, and batters are feasting off of him. He hasn’t enjoyed a ton of run support this year — just 3.2 runs per game — but that doesn’t matter when you aren’t taking care of business yourself. Last year Liriano was a good guy to look to for betting value. This year he’s a guy to run away from.
Wandy Rodriguez — Rodriguez has never been the most consistent of pitchers, but he’s even worse than normal this year. He’s had two good starts this year and three lousy ones, and one doesn’t seem to build on the other. Rodriguez has never been an overpowering pitcher, so he needs to be sharp to be effective. That sharpness seems to be more fleeting these days, and given that he’s 32 and not the fittest pitcher in the league it’s quite possible that he won’t get any more consistent as things go along. What’s most striking about him this year is how hittable he has been. He’s allowing almost 1.4 hits per inning. That’s just too much.
Mark Buehrle — As recently as a couple of years ago Buehrle was a legitimate ace. I’m just not buying that that is what he is anymore. Like Rodriguez, he is 32 years old, and like Rodriguez he also seems to be losing his sharpness and getting much easier to hit. He’s only 1-3 in six starts this year. Granted, some of his problems have been with the team he plays for. There is more than that, though. He can still be very good, as he was against Oakland this year. The problem, though, is that that strong play is hard to predict because there is no consistency to it — he was hit hard in the start right before and right after that strong outing. Buehrle used to be one of those guys who may not have been among the true elite, but who was an easy guy to trust when he took the mound. That trust has eroded lately, and it’s worse this year than it was last year. I don’t see him climbing back to the top of a rotation any time soon.
Ryan Dempster — My biggest athletic claim to fame is that I once pitched against Ryan Dempster when I was 14, so it makes me feel old to think he could be on the decline (he pitched circles around me, by the way). What we have seen so far this year, though, has to make us really question how much is left in the tank. He has allowed at least four runs in all five starts, his WHIP is too high, he’s throwing way to many pitches, and he’s dishing up home runs at an alarming rate. It’s hard to panic too much given how solid he has been the last three years, but there certainly isn’t a lot to get excited about so far. I’d feel better if he had had at least one strong start this year, but that’s just not the case — even his lone win was underwhelming. It’s quite possible that he’s just not physically sound, and I hope that that’s the case, but he’s about to turn 34, and it’s harder for pitchers to bounce back at age than it used to be.
Erik Bedard — Like Dempster and I, Bedard is a Canadian, so I have always had a soft spot for him. Sadly, though, I’m struggling a bit to really believe that he is going to bounce back from his injury issues and ever be the pitcher he was in Baltimore. His last start was strong, but four before that were really rocky, and Bedard isn’t nearly as sharp as he can be. I’d love to see him get a change in scenery because his time in Seattle has been so far from positive, but I’m not sure I really believe that it will make a difference. The good news for bettors I guess is that Bedard is so far removed from his strong days that no one expects anything from him anymore, so it’s far harder to get burned by him than it is by some other guys on this list.
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