The thing about the Circle of Trust is you're either in or you're out. And once you're out, you're out -- there's no coming back.
That's the way Robert De Niro's character described it in Meet the Parents, anyway, but I have looser parameters. Players rise and fall. They lose trust and regain it. It's particularly true within the pitching ranks -- and particularly in this year of transition, with so much volatility even at the high end.
So who's in my Circle of Trust right now? By that, I mean who am I comfortable slotting in my lineup most every week, regardless of matchups? For these 10, it's a legitimate question. Some used to be in and are now out. Some are in for the first time. Some were never in to begin with.
I mean, can you ever really trust another human being, Greg?
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HOU Houston • #53 • Age: 26
My hunch is that while something has clearly gone wrong for Javier, he's probably going to figure it out, judging by his track record in both the majors and minors. We just have no idea when, and in the meantime, he's become unstartable. He went from having a 2.84 ERA, 9.3 K/9 and 13 percent swinging-strike rate in his first 12 starts to an 8.44 ERA, 5.7 K/9 and an 8 percent swinging-strike rate in his last six. That's bad news all the way around. He did show small signs of turning the corner in his last outing, striking out seven with 11 swinging strikes in five innings, but it's not nearly enough to get him back in the circle of trust given all the misery that came before.
Kodai Senga SP
NYM N.Y. Mets • #34 • Age: 30
Control was thought to be the biggest concern for Senga coming over from Japan, and indeed, he issued 5.6 BB/9 in his first 12 starts. But he's down to 2.6 BB/9 in his past five starts, which has him sporting a 3.20 ERA and 1.27 WHIP overall. Of course, it's his 11.5 K/9 rate that makes him most interesting, bolstered by his fabled "ghost fork," which has a 60 percent whiff rate. The bottom line is that between his improving control, his impressive strikeout rate, and his 2.45 ERA and 1.01 WHIP in his past eight starts, Senga is looking pretty close to must-start right now.
Carlos Rodon SP
NYY N.Y. Yankees • #55 • Age: 30
After missing time with a variety of ailments, Rodon's first two starts for the Yankees haven't gone so poorly, but he hasn't looked like the Cy Young contender we've known him to be either. Chances are he'll get there. His velocity seems fine and his pitch selection normal. Plus, he struck out 17 in 10 2/3 innings on his minor-league rehab assignment, allowing just three hits. Even so, neither the forearm issue nor the back issue that followed it had the most straightforward recovery, and there were reports of them impacting his mechanics. Optimism is reasonable, but patience is warranted. He's not an automatic start just yet.
Reid Detmers SP
LAA L.A. Angels • #48 • Age: 24
It sure looked like Detmers was back in the circle during a five-start stretch from June 8 through July 2 that saw him deliver a 1.42 ERA, 0.79 WHIP and 12.2 K/9, but then his last start before the break and first start after both left much to be desired. The good stretch, it's worth noting, coincided with a significant change to his slider, which has been his make-or-break pitch so far in the majors. He actually took 2 mph off it, which might seem like a change for the worse, but in doing so, he brought it back to the range that turned his 2022 season around. Back then, it was a velocity increase rather than reduction that put it in that range, but the bottom line is that the pitch is back to living where it needs to live for maximum impact. Of course, it was also in that range in his latest two starts, both less than stellar, so the case isn't open-and-shut yet.
Brayan Bello SP
BOS Boston • #66 • Age: 24
I've been saying Bello has the look of another Framber Valdez, combining elite ground-ball tendencies with pretty good swing-and-miss stuff, and now he compares to the Astros left-hander in yet another way: consistency. While his first outing of the second half Friday was unremarkable -- he allowed three runs on eight hits in six innings -- it marked his seventh straight quality start. In fact, his only bad starts were his first two of the season, coming way back in April, and since then, he has a 2.52 ERA. That Valdez-like skill set is well suited for limiting damage, and now that Bello is pitching more efficiently, allowing him to work deeper into games, you won't be taking the 24-year-old out of your Fantasy lineup too often.
Tarik Skubal SP
DET Detroit • #29 • Age: 27
Skubal has yet to go even the minimum five innings required for a win since making it back from elbow flexor surgery, but in his two four-inning starts, he's allowed a combined two hits while striking out 11. So what, right? It's a tiny sample, and until he's tested with a typical starter's workload, it doesn't mean anything. I'm already willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, though, because of what's going on behind the numbers. His fastball velocity is up -- way up, as in 2 mph on average. There were reports of it during his rehab assignment, and now we have confirmation. The fastball was his most troublesome pitch during his semi-breakout of a year ago, when he put together a 3.52 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and 8.9 K/9. If it's become a strength now rather than a weakness, watch out.
Jon Gray SP
TEX Texas • #22 • Age: 32
In five starts since his best of the season -- a nine-inning gem in which he allowed one run and struck out 12 -- Gray has a 6.75 ERA. But it's not just that he's given up some runs. It's that his stuff appears to have lost all its bite. He had 24 swinging strikes in that complete game against the Cardinals. He's had 30 swinging strikes in the five starts since. That's a 7 percent swinging strike rate compared to 16 percent in the six starts that preceded it. It's such a complete about-face that you have to wonder if health is at issue. It would be almost a relief to find out that it is. Gray did skip his next turn after the complete game due to a blister, but there's been no mention of it since. Regardless, you can't start him right now.
Alek Manoah SP
TOR Toronto • #6 • Age: 25
The simple truth is we need to see more from Manoah before forming any conclusions. He's made precisely one start since returning from his month-long banishment to the lowest levels of the minors, and a 6.36 ERA is what sent him there. But that one start went exactly how everyone hoped it would. Sure, he allowed just one run in six innings, striking out eight, but more importantly, he walked none and threw 70 percent of his pitches for strikes. He had averaged 6.5 BB/9 in his previous 13 starts while throwing just 60 percent of his pitches for strikes.
NYY N.Y. Yankees • Age: 31
It's true he threw the 24th perfect game in major-league history three turns ago and allowed just one hit over six innings in his final start before the All-Star break. But in between, he gave up nine hits over 4 1/3 innings in a start against the Orioles. That's Domingo German in a nutshell. There's a reason he has a 4.32 ERA despite a 14 percent swinging-strike rate that would place him in the top 10. He's just too volatile, offering a pair of interesting offspeed pitches but without the sort of fastball to tie it all together. You never know what he's going to give you from one start to the next, so while I wouldn't say he's useless in Fantasy, "trust" makes for an even less fitting description. It doesn't help that he's been the subject of a couple sticky substance controversies already this year.
CHW Chi. White Sox • #34 • Age: 27
Yeah, he couldn't even make it through one inning in his latest start against the Braves, walking four, but you may be inclined to give Kopech a pass because of the tough matchup and the fact he was fresh off an IL stint for an inflamed shoulder. But those four walks give him 20 in 13 innings over his last four starts, which is, suffice it to say, not good. It's tempting to stay the course because he was so good in his previous eight starts -- putting together a 2.44 ERA, 0.90 WHIP and 10.9 K/9 -- and maybe he'll find it again just as quickly as he lost it. But using him now is a death wish, and given his extreme highs and lows this year, it'll be hard to trust him no matter what comes next.