Every day it seems, another one of my Tout starting pitchers is getting roughed up. I've managed to remain in the top half of the Mixed Auction Tout Wars standings on the strength of my hitting, but pitching has been a challenge, the main culprits being Kevin Gausman and Matt Moore. I thought that these two guys would reward me with breakout seasons. Instead, they have rewarded me with constant stress. Still, as of Saturday morning, my squad sits in fifth place out of 15 teams in ERA and ninth in WHIP, this despite a so-so 3.88 ERA and a mediocre 1.30 WHIP. How could this be?
I think I know the answer. Most of my league mates are suffering through similar pitching woes, so it is indeed all relative. But why does it seem like the quality of pitching has declined so dramatically this season? Just blame the upper-tier starters. I've stated numerous times in this column that paying big for starting pitching isn't my style, as even the "sure things" at this position aren't really sure things thanks to an elevated injury risk and overall inconsistency from one year to the next. And this season has been no exception. Go ahead and ask the owners of these hurlers how they are feeling now about investing in starting pitching. Note that in an effort to focus solely on performance, I'm not including pitchers who have spent time on the DL.
Jake Arrieta (NFBC SP ADP: 8) - Arrieta struggled to the tune of a 4.60 ERA last September but pitched fairly well in the postseason, easing some concerns heading into 2017. But this season's version of the former Cy Young award winner does not resemble an ace, as the Cubs righty sports a 4.46 ERA through 12 starts with only six quality starts. The good news is that two of those quality starts have come in his last two outings, and he's still whiffing well over a batter per inning. If Arrieta can cut down on the homers (11 HR allowed), he should be fine. Maybe not a top-10 SP from here on out, but certainly top-25.
Justin Verlander (NFBC SP ADP: 11) - Speaking of former Cy Young award winners, Verlander regained fantasy ace status last season, but he's now looking more like the mediocre pitcher we saw in 2014. Sporting career-highs in walk rate (4.2 BB/9) and home run rate (1.3 HR/9), the veteran righty has not come close to earning his draft day price. He will get better, but will he still be considered a legitimate fantasy ace four months from now? I have my doubts.
Jacob deGrom (NFBC SP ADP: 14) - Following back-to-back outings of at least seven earned runs, deGrom owners are in full panic mode. And who can blame them? Through 12 starts, the Mets righty has registered a 4.75 ERA and a 1.44 WHIP. Well, at least he's racking up strikeouts at a career-high rate (11.8 K/9). They say he's healthy, but the Amazins' medical staff doesn't exactly have an amazing track record in recent years. There's little his fantasy owners can do at this point but sit tight and hope for a turnaround. Please ignore the lowball trade offers.
Masahiro Tanaka (NFBC SP ADP: 18) - Here in New York, everyone but the team and the player is speculating that Tanaka could be injured. The recent results have been ugly, with the Japanese import allowing at least five earned runs in four of his last five starts. I wasn't touching Tanaka in fantasy leagues this year, as it is only a question of when, not if, he will need Tommy John surgery, so fortunately, I have avoided this mess. Think of the Tanaka situation as a more ominous version of the deGrom situation. There is nothing his owners can do, but instead of getting lowball trade offers, they're probably getting no trade offers.
Jose Quintana (NFBC SP ADP: 23) - This one surprises me, as I tried to draft Quintana in as many leagues as possible this year. Fortuitously, I was only able to draft him in one league. The usually reliable southpaw has notched only six quality starts in 12 tries while posting career-worst numbers in almost every category. Maybe I'm biased here, but as long as he's healthy, I wouldn't be concerned. Don't let an inconsistent 12-start stretch overshadow four straight seasons (2013-2016) of 200-plus innings, an ERA no greater than 3.51, a WHIP no higher than 1.27 and at least 164 strikeouts.
From unanimous top-25 fantasy SP to only 83% ownership in ESPN leagues. Perhaps now is a good time to buy low.
Zach Steinhorn is the 2016 Mixed Auction Tout Wars champion. Follow him on Twitter @ZachMLB