July American League Overachievers
Four months through the Major League Baseball season it is clear there are some overachievers on the mound. Some pitchers may be having career seasons, but others may be worth fading in August and September at favorable prices. Here is a look at a few American League starters to avoid playing on in most situations down the stretch.
Justin Verlander, Houston Astros: As one of the most recognizable pitchers in baseball and a two-time Cy Young winner, Verlander’s pricing has already gotten a bit out of hand. His win count is at 14 in 19 starts for incredible results while his ERA is just 1.81. By many measures Verlander isn’t having one of his better seasons in a Hall of Fame career however as his K/9 of 8.8 is his worst since 2015 and he is on pace to have his worst xFIP since 2017. Home runs have always been part of the equation for Verlander, but he currently has his lowest HR/9 since 2014 for some great fortune while his BABIP of .233 is well below his career average of .279. A pitcher of Verlander’s ability and experience can continue to succeed, but his current six-start run with a 0.86 ERA has been one of great fortune, including a strand rate of nearly 94 percent. The Astros have an 18-8 record in one-run games and have kept winning even with a decline in the offensive production for the team in recent weeks. Houston is cruising to the AL West title and is going to face steep pricing with Verlander on the mound, even though he hasn’t been nearly as dominant as his best seasons.
Jameson Taillon, New York Yankees: The Yankees have received incredible starting pitching this season, but the numbers are the most suspicious for Taillon, who entered this season with a rather average career path through five seasons. Taillon had a much better K/9 and a lower xERA last season when he went just 8-6 but with a great Yankees team this year, he has a 10-2 record in 20 starts. Taillon has one of the lowest groundball rates of his career going despite his success but after a charmed first two months, his profile is eroding. His ERA Is 5.36 over his last 10 starts even while only picking up one loss and he has a 1.79 HR/9 in that span while his groundball rate fell to just 35 percent. He has had some breaks in the schedule facing a lot of the weaker lineups in the AL this season and he has not pitched well on the road where far fewer of his innings have taken place. Taillon is the pitcher in the New York rotation to target to fade in most series as he is still drawing pricing equivalent to starters with much more proven potential.
Triston McKenzie, Cleveland Guardians: McKenzie has a 3.24 ERA for Cleveland but with a 4.15 xFIP. He has a modest K/9 at just 8.4 and he has allowed 17 home runs in 18 starts. McKenzie had a big month of July that included three scoreless outings, but he faced Kansas City and Detroit in two of those games. He has very poor numbers against Minnesota this season and he is likely to see the Twins again in September while Cleveland has a difficult August schedule ahead facing several playoff threats. McKenzie is just 24-years-old with a thin frame as a career high in innings is approaching and so far in 52 career MLB appearances, he owns a .226 BABIP, an average really no starter has ever maintained. McKenzie will likely face teams that now have some experience against him the rest of the way and he could prove to be the more erratic starter Cleveland saw early this season in August and September.
Alek Manoah, Toronto Blue Jays: 20-7 in 40 career starts and an All-Star this season at age 24, Manoah is on the fast track to stardom. His ERA is 2.43 this season but nothing else in his numbers suggests that he is an elite AL starter. His xFIP is 3.84 and his K/9 just 8.1 He has been fortunate with a low BABIP while stranding over 81 percent of his baserunners. He has already surpassed a career high in innings and Manoah did not pitch in 2020 as a minor leaguer at the time. He has shown signs of trouble ahead with three recent starts allowing four or more runs. He has allowed elevated hit counts in several recent outings with July so far being his worst month in most categories by a significant margin. Manoah was a 2019 1st round pick and still has great potential but with the elevated pricing Toronto’s offense commands, he isn’t worth the cost right now as really a slightly above average starter disguised as an ace thanks to his 11 wins and low ERA. Toronto has a lot of games remaining with Tampa Bay and New York and will play 16 of 22 on the road in the heart of August as the current grip on a wild card spot could loosen for the Blue Jays with Manoah numbers also likely to deteriorate.