The top 15 starting pitchers on the Player Rater entering play Monday include plenty of names you'd expect to see near the top of such a list. However, a handful of surprises remain in the top tier after a couple of weeks of games. So, who's real and who's not?
Eric Karabell on Sean Manaea (No. 5 pitcher on the Player Rater): Manaea pitched well as a rookie in 2016, and halfway through last season seemed like he was on his way to top-40 status among starting pitchers. Then something changed in August, as he permitted 18 runs (15 earned) over a three-start span, culminating in a nightmare performance against the Orioles when he could not escape the first inning. Then the lefty was mostly fine again.
I liked Manaea as a sleeper this season and think when his slider is effective, as it usually is, he can realize his upside. Of course, I do not view him as a future ace or someone likely to keep a 1.63 ERA for long, and he is not exactly piling on the strikeouts so far, but an ERA in the 3.50 range for six months with eight K's per nine innings works just fine for me. That should result in Manaea, assuming he remains healthy and wins a few, ending up a top-40 starter.
AJ Mass on Jose Berrios (No. 6): William Shakespeare once wrote, "What is past is prologue." This quote can be interpreted in two ways: Either it means our history has doomed us, or conversely (and much more optimistically) that we can learn from our previous mistakes and choose to make a different future for ourselves. This is exactly how I feel about Berrios, because we've been down this road before.
Last season, after a 3-0 start at Triple-A, Berrios joined the Twins and went 7-1 with a 2.67 ERA and a .181 BAA in his first eight starts. From that point forward, we saw him go 7-7 with a 4.61 ERA and a .269 BAA. The biggest change from his first half to his second half was an increase in line drives (16.5 percent to 25.0 percent) and hard-hit balls (25.0 percent to 30.5 percent). A drop in K/BB from 3.63 to 2.41 didn't help matters either.
Even though he's had two great starts this season (16 IP, 0 ER, 6 total hits) and one clunker (5 ER in 4 2/3 against Seattle), I'll give him a pass on that poor outing in 27 degree weather. And I'll use his past as an indicator to buy in for the first half of the season. However, at that point, I'm selling high. I've read the prologue, and I'm not sure that all's well that ends well once we get to August and September.
Tristan H. Cockcroft on Joey Lucchesi (No. 12): I tend to doubt the staying power of pitchers who derive a decent amount of their success from deception, such as Lucchesi, whose funky delivery and limited exposure at the upper minor league levels probably has hitters completely off guard when facing him.
At the same time, I remember vividly the success of Dontrelle Willis in 2003 and for a few years beyond, so I'm not ruling out the possibility that it'll take some time for hitters to catch up to Lucchesi (though Willis' delivery was a little funkier, since I'm drawing that comparison).
Throw in the fact that there's a pitch-classification debate with Lucchesi -- depending upon your source, he throws a four-seam fastball, sinker, curveball and/or changeup, with my opinion being that they're actually only the latter three -- and it's clear there's a lot of "unknown" at play with him, and therefore a lot of paths for him to sustain mixed-league relevance thanks to his good raw stuff combined with excellent control.
Ultimately, I'm leaning toward a "no" as far as Lucchesi's sustainability and think he's a player to trade away rather than acquire, because he's probably going to face an innings cap after throwing just 139 frames in the minors in only his second pro campaign in 2017, and the league probably will have a better book on how to hit him after he makes a few more starts.
That said, I'm not racing to deal him, because his wide range of outcomes probably includes a ceiling within the top 40 fantasy starters, even if his true rank is probably closer to a top-80 starter.
Kyle Soppe on Patrick Corbin (No. 15): Anyone can make the #Humidor claim to explain Corbin's two standout home performances this season against strong competition (in 13 innings against the Dodgers/Rockies, he allowed just two earned runs while striking out 20 and walking just two), but he pitched well at home last season (9-4 with a 3.15 ERA), and I think you're doing him a disservice if you simply attribute his strong start in 2018 to the environment.
In this launch angle era that we are in, Corbin has found a way to keep the ball on the ground, and that is why I believe we are looking at much more than a flash in the pan.
Consider this: His swing-and-miss rate is flirting with 18 percent and his ground ball percentage is up over 62 percent. Now, do I think those rates are sustainable? No, but they don't need to be. In 2017, only one pitcher had a swing-and-miss rate over 12 percent and coaxed ground balls over 50 percent of the time. Care to guess who that was? Luis Severino ... the breakout pitcher of 2017 and potentially the comparison we could be making for Corbin when all is said and done.
The schedule toughens at the end of this month and into May, but I'm buying what Corbin is selling, so I'm excited to see what he can do against the game's best.