by Eno Sarris //
It’s always tempting to pick up the back-end starters on a juggernaut team. Their offense and bullpen should help them a little closer to wins than similar starters on bad teams. Even if you shouldn’t chase wins, these two facts are mostly unassailable. The problem is that if a starter doesn’t have real underlying skills, they won’t pitch well enough to get the win anyway.
Kyle Kendrick is getting starts for the Philadelphia Phillies and has a 3.14 ERA. Vance Worley looks like he’ll get starts for the Phillies all year and has a 2.33 ERA. Neither pitcher has the type of skills to continue that work.
Kendrick first, because he’s easiest. He’s only striking out 4.02 batters per nine, which is well below the 7.03 league average. In fact, it would be the third-worst in baseball if he qualified for the ERA title. If you’re living in that space, you need to have elite skills in other areas to make it work. Kendricks’ 2.78 walks per nine are good, but only a little better than the 3.13 league BB/9. Lastly, Kendrick has a slightly above-average ground-ball rate (47.9%, average is 44%). But recent research by Matt Swartz has shown that an elite ground ball rate (60%) is exponentially better than a good ground-ball rate (50%) and so on. So slightly above average is only slightly useful. Call Kendrick slightly useful at best.
Speaking ill of the Vanimal might release the hordes, but Worley is also a good story that might not last long. His strikeout rate (6.98 K/9) is closer to league average, but there’s a hidden flaw in using that stat. If you look at his swinging strike rate, which is more reliable 77 innings in than his per-at-bat results, he has a well-below average number (5.8%, average is 8.5%). To put this in focus, Kendrick has a 5.4% swSTR%. One strikes out four per nine, and one strikes out seven per nine. Expect those two numbers to move towards each other.
As Worley’s strikeout rate drops, the rest of his package will look a lot less interesting. His walk rate (3.14 BB/9) is league average and his ground-ball rate (40.5%) is below league average. Once the ball is put into the air, Worley has been lucky to allow so few home runs (4.8% home runs per fly ball, 10% is league average). His luck on balls in play is excellent right now, too (.242 BABIP). He’s even stranding more runners than average (78.6% LOB, 70% is league average). Most likely, he’ll start striking people out less as the league gets used to his repertoire. Once that happens, the added contact will help players get more dinks and dunks to raise the BABIP. Once more players get on base, they’ll score on those dinks and dunks and added home runs. All of this will inflate the ERA. Call him lucky if he puts up better than a four ERA going forward.
Use Worley and Kendrick in spot starts if you must. Just don’t count on their luck to continue. Trade either if someone offers you.. anything of value.
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