Merrill Kelly (SP - ARI) - Kelly dominated the A's on Monday, allowing 4 hits and 2 runs (1 earned) over 7 innings with 1 walk and 9 K's to move to 4-3 on the year. This was Kelly's 3rd straight start against a bottom-6 offense, but nonetheless I'm still surprised that he looked THIS good. The control has been more typical of Kelly after the first handful of outings, as he has walked just one in each of his last 4 starts, but he's also missing more bats than usual. Digging into Monday's start, he actually threw the ball with much less spin than normal in generating 17 whiffs in 97 pitches. The question that I'm concerned with lately with Kelly is: is it the competition, or has he changed something? I honestly think that it might be more of the latter than the former, and I'm a longtime skeptic of Kelly's talents. Since he went to a true 6-pitch mix 4 starts into the season, he's really only had one bad outing (4/22 vs. SD where his control deserted him). Other than that, he's been really solid, missing bats at a significantly better rate than he ever has previously. He still allows sort of average quality of contact against him, but with his typically excellent control back and more bat-missing, he may actually now be undervalued as the preseason SP61 via ADP, instead of overvalued as I suspected at the time. The upcoming schedule is still pretty decent for him too, as a visit from the #3 run-scoring Red Sox is sandwiched between a trip to Pittsburgh (dead last in run scoring last 15 days) and a visit from Colorado (27th in road OPS), and that's followed by a trip to Washington (improving but still no better than an average offense). For possibly the first time ever, I'm a little bullish on Kelly.
Jack Flaherty (SP - STL) - Well, I guess Flaherty showed all of us.....or did he, because his velocity was back to that of his salad days on Monday in a brilliant 7 shutout innings against Milwaukee after he complained that velocity wasn't important. Flaherty scattered 3 singles and a pair of walks while striking out 10 to move to 3-4 on the year. The velo was up a full mph over his season average, while the changeup velo was actually down almost 2 mph, and his breaking pitches (curve and slider) combined for a 50% swinging strike rate. In short, he looked fantastic against a roughly league-average offense. He has the Dodgers (home) and the Reds (away) coming up next, so it doesn't get easier, but the way he looked on Monday I'm very intrigued. I know he's had a few other good outings, but he was really only up at this velo level one other time this year to my knowledge (fanning 9 against SEA). That keeps me from being wildly optimistic, because he hasn't been able to sustain this level of velo for multiple outings, but the way that he utilized his four pitches Monday gives me hope that there will be much more good than bad going forward.
Michael Wacha (SP - SD) - Part of the Michael Wacha experience is understanding that these sorts of games come out of nowhere for him on a rather frequent basis, probably a couple of times a year. Wacha was stellar on Monday, allowing just a single and a walk to the Royals over 7 shutout innings, striking out 11 to move to 4-1 on the year. The average exit velocity of the 11 balls the Royals put into play on Monday was just under 95 mph. You know, the speed at which a ball is a hit almost half of the time. Wacha continues to lean more and more on his changeup as his velocity has declined, and while the change does get more swings and misses, it also gets hit pretty hard at times. I don't see much here from Wacha that would entice me into thinking he's figured something out after 1200 MLB innings. He's a 4.00 ERA guy: he's been that his entire career, it's just that the actual results around the 4.04 xFIP vary greatly with Wacha. With the Red Sox, Yankees, and Cubs up next on his schedule, I'm not inclined to gamble that things will be drastically different this time.
Alek Manoah (SP - TOR) - Manoah has disintegrated into a shell of his former self, as he followed up his 4 2/3 IP, 3 ER, 4 BB performance from last week with an even worse outing against the Yankees on Monday (a team he has handled rather well until now): 4 IP, 6 H, 5 ER, 7 BB, 3 K. The stuff is noticeably diminished, and you can see it both from the eye test and from the underlying stats (3 inches less horizontal break on slider, chase and swinging strike rates down significantly). It's causing him to nibble much more than he has previously, and as you can see from the numbers, that isn't going well. He has three more starts scheduled this month, and they're all against offenses in the top half of the league. There's nothing good here. It's pretty rare that I'm going to recommend dumping a guy that even I, who was much lower than most on Manoah coming into the year, had rated as a top-30 SP.....but that's where we are. I think he's droppable in standard leagues, and he isn't startable anywhere. I'm sure we will hear more in the aftermath of Monday's start as to whether there's something physical going on, but from everything I've heard from him it seems to be much more of a confidence issue than anything else. In deeper leagues I'm keeping him on reserves for the time being (I have him in an 8-team AL-only league, for example), but we need to keep in mind that he had vastly outperformed his peripherals in his first two seasons. Whatever measure you want to use: xFIP, SIERA, xERA....all pointed toward an ERA between 1 and 1.75 runs higher than last season's. What's happening so far this year is significantly worse than expected to be sure, but this strikes me as sort of the exact flip side of, for lack of a better word, "luck" than last season.
Charlie Morton (SP - ATL) - Morton was brilliant on Monday, holding a solid Ranger offense to 7 singles and a walk over 6 2/3 scoreless innings, striking out 10 while walking only 1 in a 12-0 victory. I was wondering if Morton would make it through the season a month ago, as his fastball has lost much of its effectiveness this year, but Morton has responded by throwing his excellent curveball more and more. He threw it over 50% of the time Monday evening, getting 20 of his 23 swinging strikes on the pitch, and the increased reliance there has bumped his GB rate back up to the 50% range as well this season. I believe that the new pitch mix is likely responsible for some of the lower level of control that we've seen from Morton the past few years, so we have to take that into consideration, but the past few starts have assured me that he still needs to be taken seriously. He was drafted as an SP4/SP5 this season, and I do believe that he can outperform that after watching his last few outings, although I think the consistency might be a bit less than we are accustomed to from him.