Predicting the performance level of starting pitchers is tricky, which is why I tend to devalue the position on draft day. Although I've generally been successful identifying cheap hurlers who could net me a substantial profit, if I do miss on some of them, the penalty is minimal. Every year, whether due to injury woes or poorer than expected performance, there are a handful of expensive starters who punish their fantasy owners, and this season is no exception. But since I'm in a good mood today, let's take the positive angle and look at some of the disappointing pitchers from the first half who have turned things around since the All-Star break. For owners of these guys, the punishment lasted awhile, but perhaps it is over now.
Jake Arrieta - Arrieta ended his 2016 regular season on a down note, posting a 4.60 ERA over five September starts. Still, the market viewed him as a fantasy ace heading into drafts this spring, and he fetched a substantial $24 winning bid in Mixed Auction Tout Wars. Unfortunately for his owners, the former Cy Young award winner carried over last September's mediocrity into the first half of 2017, pitching to a 4.35 ERA over 18 outings. But, the Cubs righty boasts a 2.05 ERA and a 0.80 WHIP in four starts since the Midsummer Classic. While Arrieta is unlikely to finish the season as a $20 pitcher, he might be able to avoid the "bust" label.
Justin Verlander - Despite Verlander's Cy Young caliber season last year, I wasn't buying into the idea that he had regained fantasy ace status. But, did I expect a 4.73 ERA and a 1.52 WHIP in the first half? Not quite. The good news is that the veteran righty seems to be back on track, having allowed three runs or fewer in each of his last six starts. Especially encouraging are his most recent two starts, during which the right-hander has allowed a combined two runs over 13 innings with 16 strikeouts versus a pair of potent offenses in the Astros and Orioles.
Masahiro Tanaka - I've already officially given up on Tanaka multiple times this season yet he continues to sprinkle in enough quality outings to maintain mixed league relevance. And, he's been dominant so far in the second half, registering a 2.93 ERA and a 0.87 WHIP over four starts while whiffing 36 in 27.6 innings. Tanaka will not be a member of any of my fantasy teams for the foreseeable future, at least until he undergoes the inevitable Tommy John surgery. It's nice to know, however, that 2017 won't be remembered as a complete disaster.
Gerrit Cole - While Arrieta, Verlander and Tanaka all went for at least $20 in the Tout Wars Mixed Auction, Cole's price tag was only $13. Taking into account his ace upside, I actually considered the 26-year-old righty, who was coming off a disappointing and injury-marred 2016 campaign, to be a fine purchase at a discounted price. Cole pitched well in April and May but a rough month of June (6.17 ERA, 1.49 WHIP) halted what was shaping up to be a strong bounceback season. Fortunately for Cole owners, Gerrit's struggles did not last long. In five July starts, he posted a 3-0 record, a 2.25 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP with better than a strikeout per inning.
Kevin Gausman - While Gausman doesn't fit under the category of expensive starting pitcher, he carried a considerable amount of hype as he was fresh off an impressive finish to 2016. As for 2017, it has mostly been a nightmarish season for the Orioles righty. Not too long ago, Manager Buck Showalter was talking about sending his Opening Day starter to the Minors. But right around that time, something clicked. In five starts since the All-Star break, Gausman is 3-0 with a 2.93 ERA, a 1.17 WHIP and 37 strikeouts over 30.6 into my active lineup? How about this coming week, when he hits the road to face an offensively challenged A's team in a pitcher-friendly park?
Tempting, but how can I trust a pitcher who has done so much damage to my ERA and WHIP? At least I have until 7:05 PM ET tomorrow to make the decision. Check in with me at around 7:00. Chances are I'll still be undecided.
You can follow me @ZachMLB.