Hey, everybody. It's Chris Towers here! With Dan Schneier on vacation this week, I'm pinch-hitting on the FBT newsletter, and today's edition features some fortuitous timing indeed because I'm sure a lot of you are worried about Dylan Cease right now.
I had Cease as a bust coming into the season, so this is a perfect opportunity for a victory lap, right? After all, his ERA is now 3.38 runs higher than it was last season after he was tagged for seven runs in five innings of work Monday against the Royals.
The only thing is, I'm not panicking about Cease. I mean, sure, the concerns I had about him coming into the season have mostly been founded – he's gone from allowing bad results on contact in 2021 to excellent in 2022 and then right back to bad in 2023. And there are certainly red flags even beyond that – his walk rate is up and his swinging strike rate is way down from 15% to 12.2% – so I'm not saying there's nothing wrong with Cease. He has to pitch better than this because he's earned his slow start – his 4.40 FIP is well north of his 2022 mark, even if it's not quite as bad as his current 5.58 ERA.
I just happen to think he will pitch better. Will he live up to his 2022 standard? Almost certainly not, and it's entirely possible he never lives up to the price you paid for him even from this point on. But I think this is close to rock-bottom. He's still a talented pitcher with an elite slider, which he's still getting quite good results from. His fastball has been an issue, but the velocity on that pitch was up tonight, which is at least a slim silver lining to that dark cloud.
The truth of the matter is, Cease is probably somewhere between who he was last year and who he looks like right now. Consistency has always been an issue, and I think we've probably just seen the worst stretch of his season. If he settles in as a mid-to-high-3.00s ERA pitcher with a bunch of strikeouts, you'll take that. It's more or less what I expected from him coming in, and it's more or less still what I expect from him. This might be a pretty good buy-low opportunity, even.
Here's what the rest of today's newsletter has in store:
Is Mitch Keller for real?
Consider calling up the person who has Cease in your league and see if you can swap him for Keller. That's not to say I think Keller is a total fluke. It's just acknowledging that his value might never be higher than it is coming off a complete-game victory.
To be clear, Keller looks like a much-improved pitcher. He's made himself into one of the least predictable pitchers in the game, with six different pitches he throws regularly, including five between 12 and 25% of the time. He's throwing the kitchen sink at hitters right now, and at least for now this is a repertoire where the sum is equal to the parts. He doesn't have any one overwhelmingly dominant pitch, but he's generating a bunch of weak contact with pretty much all of his pitches, and he has multiple put-away pitches between his cutter, his sweeper, and his curveball.
An at-bat against Keller looks like a pretty uncomfortable test for opposing hitters right now, but he still has a tendency to get hit pretty hard from time to time – his 11% barrel rate is in the 21st percentile right now. And, while he's getting strikeouts, he doesn't get a ton of whiffs on his way there – he's in the 33rd percentile in whiffs. If you're looking for some warning signs, those are the ones.
Of course, that only matters so much. Keller might be more like a mid-3.00s ERA pitcher than his current 2.72 mark, though given that he was pretty much freely available in all leagues to open the season, that doesn't matter so much. But it does mean there might be room to further profit from moving him right now. Keller looks like a much-improved pitcher, but he'll likely fall well short of being an ace.
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Christopher Morel, OF, Cubs
The Cubs recalled Morel after a stint in Triple-A that saw him hit .330/.425/.730 in 29 games. The problem is, he wasn't in the lineup Monday, so who knows what the Cubs plans for him are. The good news is, he played at least 13 games at four different positions last season, so there's plenty of versatility here. Morel struck out way too much last season, but he also posted pretty strong quality of contact metrics and brings some speed to the table. If he can keep the strikeout rate in check, there's some Javier Baez-esque appeal here.
Luis Ortiz, P, Pirates
The Pirates have quietly become something of a pitching development success story recently, so maybe Ortiz deserves another look. The 24-year-old is likely to get that Tuesday against the Rockies, coming off a seven-start stretch to open the season at Triple-A where he's sported a 2.23 ERA with 29 strikeouts in 32.1 innings. Ortiz can dial his fastball into the high-90s, and his slider sported a 47.3% whiff rate last season (in a small sample in the majors), so there's a pretty interesting skill set here. I'm excited to watch him pitch.
Chase Silseth, P, Angels
With Jose Suarez on the IL with a shoulder injury, the Angels are expected to turn to Silseth for his spot in the rotation. Silseth struggled in seven starts last season, but has allowed just three earned runs in 8.1 innings out of the bullpen this season. That overstates how good he's been – he has five strikeouts and five walks along with three unearned runs in those 8.1 innings – but I'm excited to see Silseth get another opportunity in the majors. He has a 2.41 career ERA in the minors with 137 strikeouts in 108.1 innings, and he's introduced a cutter this season that seems to have helped him limit hard contact in the early going. I'd rather add Ortiz, but I'm interested in seeing what Silseth can do, too.
Jason Adam, P, Rays
With Pete Fairbanks on the IL as he continues to deal with right forearm inflammation, Adam got his fourth save in the past week Monday. The Rays are rarely this consistent with their closer usage, but Adam has been ludicrously dominant since joining the Rays, sporting a 1.51 ERA with 92 strikeouts in 77.2 innings since the start of last season. He's producing like a high-end closer right now, and while Fairbanks' return could cause some issues in the long run, Adam is a must-roster reliever right now.
News & notes
- Max Scherzer told reporters he's still dealing with some discomfort below his right scapula, an issue he dealt with back in April. He attributed some diminished velocity in his last start to trying to manage the injury, which is certainly a concern. There probably isn't anything you can do about it at this point. Selling Scherzer right now probably won't net you much, so let's hope he gives us reason to believe there isn't much to be worried about when he faces the Reds on Tuesday.
- Mason Miller returned to Oakland to be evaluated after feeling tightness in his right elbow following Sunday's start. The team hopes Miller is just dealing with a flexor muscle issue and that it ends up being just a small roadblock, but anytime you're talking about a young pitcher who throws 100 mph and has almost no track record of staying healthy, you have to be concerned. I'm trying not to drop Miller, but in a shallower league, I can't say it's inconceivable.
- Some rare good news: Aaron Judge (hip) will return from the IL Tuesday. I hope you started him this week!
- Jose Altuve (thumb) took live batting practice Monday at the Astros' Triple-A affiliate over the past few days, and seems like he's on the verge of starting a rehab assignment. Altuve could be back within the next couple of weeks, much quicker than initially expected when he suffered the thumb injury before the season.
- Nico Hoerner left Monday's game with hamstring tightness. He'll be evaluated Tuesday, but hopefully this isn't a long-term issue for a guy who has been one of the most pleasant surprises of the season so far.
- Corey Seager (hamstring) is expected to go on a rehab assignment this weekend, which means he could be back from the IL next week.
- Mitch Garver's (knee) hoped-for return date is "around" May 23, so we still have a few more weeks.
- Nolan Arenado was scratched from the lineup Monday with neck stiffness. Hopefully it's just a day to day issue.
- Michael Brantley (shoulder) returned to the Astros on Monday after finishing his rehab assignment, but he was not activated from the IL yet. Manager Dusty Baker told reporters Brantley is, "almost ready, but not quite ready," but it's not clear when he's going to be activated at this point.
- Ramon Laureano is in the concussion protocol. He left Monday's game after colliding with the wall in the first inning, and he'll be monitored in the coming days to see if he'll have to go on the IL.
- Victor Robles was placed on the IL with back spasms, retroactive to May 7.
- Carlos Carrasco (elbow) will make a rehab start at Double-A Tuesday.
- Zach Neto (hand) was back in the lineup Monday.
- Kolten Wong (wrist) missed his second game in a row Monday as he continues to undergo testing and treatment.
- Johnny Cueto sprained his ankle in a rehab start Saturday as he works his way back from his biceps injury. This will push his return date back, though how long isn't clear yet.
- Trevor Rogers (biceps) played catch from 90 feet Monday, a positive sign after manager Skip Schumaker told reporters last week that Rogers was still a few weeks away from throwing. He's still a ways away, but this is a good first step if he can avoid any setbacks.
- Alex Wood (hamstring) is likely to return to the rotation later this week. He made a rehab start at Triple-A last week.