Struggling Pitchers: Cut Bait, Hold, or Buy?

Struggling Pitchers: Buy, Cut, Hold

How much patience is too much? For category leagues in particular, having pitchers from the list below can crush your fantasy team’s chances. We all know, however, that many players are slow starters or battling a minor injury and will eventually turn their season around.

Here are starting pitchers that have disappointed so far in 2021, with advice on what to do with each.

Kenta Maeda (5.08 ERA, 1.49 WHIP, 8.3 K/9)

He has shown some improvement in the last three starts but is still not going deep into games. Maeda’s longest outing was six innings in his first start of the year. However, you paid too much to get him on draft day to give up on him now. Hold tight.


Luis Castillo (7.71 ERA, 1.79 WHIP, 7.0 K/9)

Castillo has been shockingly bad all year and it has not gotten better lately. He has always been a bit inconsistent, but this is as bad of a stretch as he has had in his whole career. The strikeouts are way down, as well. If you can get a decent trade offer, you might want to consider. That said, don’t give him away for too cheap because we are talking about a guy who has been rock solid for several years. Otherwise, hold and hope for a return to normalcy.

Lucas Giolito (4.97 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 10.8 K/9)

The stats are not awful and would be more or less what we would expect if it weren’t for one terrible outing against the Red Sox where he may have been tipping his pitches. In his last game he gave up two home runs with an expected batting average of less than .200, so do not panic here. The strikeouts are elite. He does need to get back to going deeper into games. If you don’t have him, look for a trade to get him on your roster.

Charlie Morton (5.08 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 10.2 K/9)

Morton has had several starts where one bad inning has torpedoed an outing. His strikeout rate is fine. He has had four poor outings in a row and it may be time to see if you can get someone of value. Find an owner who is still counting on Morton to put up pre-2020 numbers.

Jose Quintana (9.00 ERA, 2.14 WHIP, 14.6 K/9)

Remember when Quintana was regularly one of the most underrated pitchers in baseball? That’s not the case anymore. He is dreadful and has to be running out of opportunities with the Angels. The strikeouts are unexplainable – he’s never been a big strikeout pitcher and now he’s worse than ever, yet striking out more batters? Cut bait if you have not already.

Kyle Hendricks (6.23 ERA, 1.67 WHIP, 7.8 K/9)

Hendricks is a notoriously slow starter, though this is worse than most years. When he is on, he’s a pain to hit against. It is not the velocity, but rather because of his ability to hit spots and keep batters off balance. Like Maeda, you invested a bit in Hendricks on draft day. Hold or perhaps even consider picking him up at a bargain from someone else.

Jesus Luzardo (5.79 ERA, 1.61 WHIP, 9.6 K/9)

It’s been a puzzling start for Luzardo, who looked like he was primed for a breakout in 2021. He is currently on the IL with an injured finger (a video game injury, of all things). Luzardo is too young and too talented to cut, but do not rush out to acquire him, either. Hold and wait for the rebound.

Marco Gonzales (5.40 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 7.3 K/9)

After a surprisingly strong 2020 season, Gonzalez has been pedestrian this year. Given the view of him prior to last year, that’s not too surprising. With his low strikeout rate, he is not recommended. Gonzalez is currently on the IL and is expected back in a couple of weeks. Cut bait, there are probably more valuable pitchers on your waiver wire.

Triston McKenzie (5.79 ERA, 1.64 WHIP, 12.9 K/9)

He has not lasted more than five innings in any of his starts this year. McKenzie’s raw stuff is very good, but his control has been awful (25 walks in 28 innings). The strikeouts, on the other hand, are outstanding. He is actually a good buy in a keeper league because Cleveland has a way of working magic with their pitchers. In redraft leagues, you have to hold onto him based on the upside potential.

Max Fried (6.55 ERA, 1.73 WHIP, 9.8 K/9)

The numbers are ugly but they have improved significantly over the last two starts (just two runs allowed in 11 innings). Fried seemed to be on the verge of a top-20 ranking coming into the year. You have to hold and expect the talent to kick in as it seems it has in the last ten days.

Mitch Keller (7.81 ERA, 1.81 WHIP, 8.5 K/9)

Keller was good in 2020 but that was in very limited innings and he has always given up a lot of hits. I don’t think the Pirates will continue to run him out to the mound much longer, so you shouldn’t either. Cut bait.

Patrick Corbin (6.19 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 7.2 K/9)

It’s quite possible that Corbin is no longer an upper-tier starter. His starts have been a roller coaster all year but if you are looking for positive signs, his last three outings have been an improvement. If you held onto him this far, continue to do so but don’t look to acquire him.

Drew Smyly (5.23 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 7.5 K/9)

Smyly is the third Atlanta starting pitcher on this list. His strikeout rates were good in 2019 and then took a big step up in 2020, but they are below average this year even in games he has been effective. He had a nice first start this season and then got hurt. His two most recent starts have been strong and it is worth holding him at this point. Atlanta should be one of the best teams in the National League and the wins should pile up if he continues his recent form.

Tarik Skubal (5.73 ERA, 1.58 WHIP, 8.5 K/9)

The Detroit lefty was a popular breakout pick after a stellar spring training. The wheels have come off at the start of the season and while Skubal has a bright future, one should expect the Tigers to send him down to the minors to work through his troubles (Matt Manning would be a logical replacement). If you are in a dynasty league, hold onto him. In redraft, cut bait.

Zach Davies (5.60 ERA, 1.78 WHIP, 5.6 K/9)

Davies has been a somewhat reliable under-the-radar starter for a few years, but the bottom has dropped out so far this season. The numbers so far are very unappealing even with his best three-start stretch in the past two weeks. With his peak being serviceable (perhaps a bit better if everything falls into place), there is no need to hold onto him at this point. The strikeouts are as low as virtually any pitcher in baseball. Most should have cut bait throughout April but his starts in May have given reason enough to hold.

Brad Keller (6.75 ERA, 1.86 WHIP, 7.8 K/9)

Keller’s 2020 season may have been a mirage. Six innings has been his maximum this year. It would not shock anyone if the Royals shifted him out of the rotation as they did with Jakob Junis when Daniel Lynch was promoted. Given his mediocre strikeout rate, it’s safe to cut bait here.

Matt Shoemaker (6.62 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 6.1 K/9)

Shoemaker used to be a pitcher who was effective when healthy but staying off the IL was a challenge. That’s not the case anymore and he is not missing any bats in 2021 as evidenced but his poor strikeout rate. He was probably only a very late-end draft choice this year so he won’t be missed when you cut bait.

Ross Stripling (5.91 ERA, 1.69 WHIP, 11.0 K/9)

Stripling had four straight sub-4.00 ERA seasons from 2016-19. When he was traded to Toronto and finally had his spot in the rotation solidified, many thought he would flourish. Stripling suffered a forearm strain that cost him a few weeks and his starts since the IL stay have been a bit of an improvement. The strikeout rate is nice. Hold, but don’t show too much more patience.

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