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Dissecting Contact Quality In Search Of Fantasy Bargains

Of the 1,015 hitters sampled(1) between 2015 and 2019, there were only 14 instances of hitters making more productive contact against pitches outside of the strike zone than against pitches inside of the strike zone based on xwOBAcon. Based on the same sample, the average hitter was a whopping .116 points better against pitches inside of the strike zone than outside of the strike zone in terms of xwOBAcon between 2015 and 2019.

One implication of that split is that plate discipline and contact skills can have an impact on a hitter’s contact quality. But is that impact significant enough to make a difference for fantasy managers? And if changes in plate discipline and contact skills don’t drive contact quality changes, what does? 

This article is part one of a three-part series that will detail findings related to those questions. Part one will introduce the research and discuss the findings, part two will identify potential fantasy values for 2021 based on the findings, and part three will discuss the longer-term applications of the findings.

 

The Math

xwOBAcon can be broken down into four variables:

  1. zxwOBAcon: xwOBAcon against pitches inside of the strike zone.
  2. oxwOBAcon: xwOBAcon against pitches outside of the strike zone.
  3. zBBE%: Percent of batted balls against pitches inside of the strike zone.
  4. oBBE%: Percent of batted balls against pitches outside of the strike zone. Since oBBE% + zBBE% represents all of a hitter’s batted balls, oBBE% can be expressed as 1-zBBE%.

With those variables in mind, the following equation represents xwOBAcon:

xwOBAcon = (zxwOBAcon * zBBE%) + (oxwOBAcon * (1-zBBE%))

One way to determine how much influence each of those variables has on changes in xwOBAcon is to hold all other variables constant while applying a one standard deviation increase to the variable in question. The graph below shows both the scale of a one-standard-deviation change in each variable as well as the average effect of that change on xwOBAcon for the sampled hitters.

Although the standard deviation of season-to-season changes in zxwOBAcon is the smallest of the three variables, its effects on xwOBAcon are the most significant by far. Using 2020 weights for wOBA(2), a one-standard-deviation increase in zxwOBAcon would be the equivalent of a hitter adding more than six home runs to their home run total at the expense of outs(3), while a one-standard-deviation increase in oxwOBAcon is worth about two home runs, and a one-standard-deviation increase in zBBE% is worth about one home run.

That zBBE% is by far the least significant of the three variables in this regard does not mean that plate discipline and contact skills never drive changes in contact quality, but those skills are likely not worth focusing on when searching for potential xwOBAcon risers. Instead, fantasy managers should look for likely zxwOBAcon risers to spot contact quality based draft values.

 

Spotting zxwOBAcon Risers

Since season-to-season changes in zxwOBAcon (and each of the other variables) can be approximated by a normal distribution, around 16% of hitters will improve their zxwOBAcon by more than one standard deviation each season. Identifying the hitters likely to be a part of that top 16% will allow fantasy managers to find undervalued hitters in drafts.

One aspect of hitters who tend to find themselves in the top 16% of zxwOBAcon risers each season is that they are overwhelmingly rebound candidates(4). Rebound candidates account for 80% of hitters who increased their zxwOBAcon by at least one standard deviation in season x+2, despite making up just under half of the sampled hitters. And rebound candidates in general tend to see their zxwOBAcon increase season-to-season, especially compared to non-rebound candidates.

To some extent, that breakdown should be expected. That hitters don’t maintain all of their declines (or gains) in zxwOBAcon each season -- although valuable information -- is not particularly notable.

What is notable, though, is the extent to which rebound candidates bounce back season to season. The average rebound candidate posts a higher zxwOBAcon in season x+2 than they did in season x, and nearly two-thirds of rebound candidates post a zxwOBAcon in season x+2 that’s at least 95% of their zxwOBAcon in season x.

Still, not every rebound candidate is a lock to recoup most of their zxwOBAcon losses in season x+2. It’s not clear what separates hitters who bounce back from those who don’t -- the size of a hitter’s drop in zxOBAcon had no bearing on the size of their rebound -- but fantasy managers should probably expect less robust bouncebacks (or a continued decline) from hitters who saw their zxwOBAcon decline in two consecutive seasons(5).

Even so, with 60% of rebound candidates recovering all of their season x+1 zxwOBAcon losses (and then some) and three-quarters of rebound candidates posting a season x+2 zxwOBAcon that’s more than 90% of their zxwOBAcon in season x, rebound candidates available for steep discounts make for attractive draft picks.

 

What This Means For 2021

In part two, I’ll go into more detail on players who suffered most from drops in zxwOBAcon in 2020 and establish target draft pick ranges for those players. For now, here are the five hitters who saw their zxwOBAcon drop most between 2019 and 2020 (min. 100 batted ball events against pitches inside of the strike zone):

Player 2019 zxwOBAcon 2020 zxwOBAcon Difference
Joey Gallo 0.693 0.416 -0.277
Carlos Correa 0.549 0.368 -0.181
Yoan Moncada 0.505 0.359 -0.146
Josh Bell 0.513 0.369 -0.144
Cody Bellinger 0.532 0.398 -0.134

Joey Gallo jumps out as the biggest faller in zxwOBAcon by a wide margin. Based on the research outlined above, fantasy managers should not be concerned about the scale of Gallo’s decline in zxwOBAcon, and the relative likelihood of a bounceback season (in terms of contact quality) makes Gallo an attractive buy-low candidate if he falls in drafts.

Yoan Moncada is another player who is a good bet to rebound in 2021. Coronavirus-related drags on Moncada’s 2020 performance should (hopefully) be non-issues in 2021, and the data supports a zxwOBAcon rebound under normal circumstances. 

The last player I’ll touch on here is Cody Bellinger. Fantasy managers who may be worried about Bellinger’s steep performance drop off between 2019 and 2020 should prepare for him to rebound in a big way next season, and the 25-year-old represents a potential bargain in drafts because of his relatively poor 2020.

Notes:

  1. Players sampled were those who hit at least 200 batted balls against pitches inside of the strike zone and 50 batted balls against pitches outside of the strike zone. Each hitter/year combination counts as one hitter in the sample, so players may be counted multiple times if they qualify in multiple seasons.
  2. It’s worth noting that xwOBAcon is not the ideal metric for this exercise because the weights for each hit type change each season. xSLG is likely a more fitting metric for that reason, but xSLG was not available and xwOBAcon is still a serviceable metric.
  3. Or around 14 singles or several other combinations of improved batted ball production.
  4. For this article, rebound candidates are hitters who saw their zxwOBAcon decrease from season x to season x+1.
  5. Rebound candidates whose zxwOBAcon losses were mostly the result of launch angle struggles were no more or less likely to bounce back than those whose losses were mostly the result of exit velocity decreases. There were only 36 sampled instances of hitters posting zxwOBAcon losses in consecutive seasons with a third consecutive season of data, and that small sample size makes those impacts unclear.



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2021 Early Mock ADP Values & Reaches: WPC+ Videocast

Pierre Camus and Nicklaus Gaut prepare for the 2021 fantasy baseball season with a look at early mock draft results from the RotoBaller Expert mock.

Like and subscribe to the RotoBaller channel on Youtube to get all our latest podcasts and catch us on iTunes and BlogTalkRadio as well!

Be sure to also tune into RotoBaller Radio on SiriusXM (channel Sirius 210, XM 87) - every weekday morning between 6-7 AM ET, and every weekend morning from 6-8 am ET as well. You can also find new weekly shows on the site under RotoBaller Radio podcasts.

 

Explain Yourself!

Pierre and Nick look at the biggest variations in ADP for the TGFBI 2EarlyMocks and identify the most notable reaches and value picks.



Thanks for listening to today's episode! Be sure to tune in throughout the week, and to also follow RotoBaller on Twitter, YouTube and iTunes for the latest fantasy news and analysis.

Win Big with RotoBaller in 2020!

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Statcast Season Review: 2020 Barrel Leaders (Hitters)

The 2020 MLB season will always be one for the record books, even if everything that took place will have multiple asterisks attached to it.

Evaluating Statcast numbers is a nice way to find hot and cold hitters, as well as underachievers and overachievers. Now that the regular season is over, let's reflect on the 60-game sample size filled with seven-inning doubleheaders to see what we can glean from it.

In this space, I'll take a look the leaderboard for Barrels to point out some surprising results in order to determine whether there might be carryover into 2021.

 

2020 Barrel Leaderboard

image taken from BaseballSavant

 

Fernando Tatis Jr. (SS, SD)

"El Niño" was supposed to be an asset due to his speed, with 20-20 or even 20-30 potential over a full season. He wasn't supposed to become one of the best power hitters in the game, especially in his second MLB season at age 21.

Tatis was the easy leader in total barrels, smashing 32 of them for a league-best 12.5% Barrel/Plate Appearance rate. Only Miguel Sano had a higher rate of Barrels per Batted Ball Event. A hard-hit rate and exit velocity in the 100th percentile? Sure, why not.

The best part of it all is that, unlike a pure slugger like Sano, he maintained a healthy 12.8% K-BB% along with a .298 xBA. Oh, the speed was still there too. His 11 steals was sixth in the majors in this brief campaign.

In the earliest of early 2021 mock drafts, I've seen Tatis go first overall and it's hard to argue against. Mike Trout doesn't run anymore and having an elite shortstop might be more valuable than Ronald Acuna or Mookie Betts in the outfield. Some might predict regression in the power categories for Tatis but I'm not betting against him.

 

Corey Seager (SS, LAD)

This one is surprising but not really. Seager was the top prospect in baseball before winning Rookie of the Year in 2016. He launched 26 homers that year along with a 44% hard-hit rate and an excellent xslash line of .308/.385/.528. He followed up with similar numbers in 2017 and another All-Star appearance before succumbing to injury. Seager took only 101 at-bats in 2018 and then, despite an Opening Day homer, got off to a slow start in 2019. He hit one lonely homer in all of April, finishing with a .326 SLG that month. He recovered to post decent numbers but found himself more valuable in points leagues as he hit 44 doubles, the most in the National League, while his HR total dropped to 19.

Due to the diminishing power returns, Seager wasn't considered a starting-caliber shortstop by fantasy managers entering 2020. His NFBC ADP ahead of the actual start of the season was 133 overall, placing him as SS17. That allowed managers to take advantage of a discounted cost for his services including this author, who was smart lucky enough to draft him in TGFBI.

Once he settled in at the second spot in a stacked Dodgers lineup behind Mookie Betts, there was no looking back for Seager in 2020. He finished the abbreviated season third in xBA (.330) behind only Freddie Freeman and Juan Soto, fourth in xSLG (.653) behind Bryce Harper and the aforementioned MVP candidates. Of course, he also finished second in Barrel rate per PA at 12.1%. For someone not considered an elite power hitter, Seager showed that when healthy, he can be among the best.

 

Teoscar Hernandez (OF, TOR)

A victory lap of sorts is tempting here, as I've been touting Hernandez's Statcast numbers since 2018 when he first got regular playing time in Toronto. That year, he ranked ninth with a 9.4 Brls/PA% that was higher than Nelson Cruz and Giancarlo Stanton. In 2019, his Barrel rate fell down to 6.7, ranking 74th among qualified batters. Although the power was still there with 26 HR on the season, his .230 average following the previous year's .239 made him a fringe starter in roto leagues.

2020 was a classic prime-age breakout, as his power was buoyed by a .295 xBA that led to a 59-point jump in batting average. How did his expected average go from the bottom 4% to the top 8% in the matter of a year? Small sample syndrome?

His plate discipline certainly didn't improve. His walk rate went down and his chase rate increased from 25.1% to a career-worst 30.9%. His tendency to swing-and-miss didn't get better but his bat speed might have.

The key difference in his profile is how he hit the fastball in 2020 compared to years past. His expected slash line against fastballs in 2019: .255/.371/.546. His expected slash in 2020: .372/.496/.832.

image taken from BaseballSavant

Those who think Hernandez came out of nowhere haven't been paying attention. His spot in the heart of a young lineup full of thunder reaffirms his status as a top-100 player next draft season.

 

Brandon Lowe (2B, TB)

This analysis only applies to regular-season stats, so let's just pretend this postseason isn't happening. Lowe was among the leaders in Barrel%, xSLG, and even xwOBACON in 2020. He also cut his strikeout rate down by 8.7% to 25.9%, closer to league average. The Rays are becoming a more homer-friendly club with Lowe pacing the way. In fact, he led the team with 14 HR, 37 RBI, and 36 R. The pressure of the postseason may have gotten the best of him but Lowe is just 26 and should continue to be a power bat at second base for years to come.

 

Byron Buxton (OF, MIN)

A regular on the Sprint Speed leaderboard, where he ranks in the 99th percentile, Buxton finally made consistent noise with the barrel of his bat. While Twins sluggers like Mitch Garver and Max Kepler had a letdown season, Buxton could finally be living up to his lofty expectations. It feels as if he's been a fledgling prospect for years but Buxton is also just 26.

After years of posting sub-.400 xSLG numbers, he reached .441 in 2019 and broke through in 2020 with a .551 xSLG that ranked 19th among qualifiers. The most notable difference is his newfound ability to hit the breaking ball.

image taken from BaseballSavant

The most surprising aspect of his "breakout" year was that he didn't actually improve his poor plate discipline and tendency to chase, he doubled down on it. Buxton's chase rate jumped to 48.9% which is a full 20 points higher than league average! He also got far more aggressive, swinging on 51% of first pitches, a figure that has risen every year he has been in the majors. Fortunately, Buxton's increased swings have come with increased contact both in and out of the zone. And when he hit the ball, he hit it hard as 47.9% Hard% tells us.

The other thing that stands out in his profile more so than usual is the walk rate, or lack thereof. Over 135 plate appearances in 2020, he walked a grand total of two times. That would equate to 1.5% for those counting at home. On one hand, it's frightening to consider entrusting your fantasy fortunes to someone who is hacking away at every pitch like a ballplayer in a Bugs Bunny cartoon. On the other hand, a five-tool prospect who's figured out how to hit the ball as hard as anyone and runs faster than everyone in the game that happens to be on a loaded lineup is hard to pass up on draft day.



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How I Won Tout Wars

I am extremely fortunate to be able to write an article entitled, “How I Won Tout Wars.”

It is truly a humbling experience, and I am both excited and proud to pen today’s words.

Including all of the draft preparation that I describe in my aforementioned articles, here a few of the reasons that (I think) I won in 2020.

 

Humble Beginnings

Before I had ever written a single baseball article, and before the ATC projections were released – I followed and greatly respected Tout Wars. Formed in 1998, Tout Wars features the best and brightest experts in the fantasy baseball industry competing against each other. I learned about the league while attending Baseball HQ’s First Pitch regional forums, hosted by Ron Shandler. I had attended one of their conferences each and every year since 2011.

Below is a photograph of the title page of the very first Baseball Forecaster book that I had purchased, which Ron Shandler autographed for me.

Earlier this year I was honored when Baseball HQ asked me to present at their First Pitch Florida conference. Ron was among the attendees for my 45-minute talk on advanced auction strategies.

I became even more interested in Tout Wars after reading Sam Walker’s book, Fantasyland which portrays his 2004 AL Only Tout Wars league experience. I also watched the subsequent video documentary, Fantasyland, which follows amateur player Jed Latkin’s 2008 fantasy experience. Latkin earned a one-time chance to compete in Tout Wars for the movie.

I had not come into the fantasy industry until recently. I never thought for a moment that I would ever get to compete in Tout Wars, much less win a contest. I was content just playing in my own home leagues, and participating in NFBC tournaments.

Then, one day in January of 2019, I received a message from Jeff Erickson inviting me to compete with the other Touts. My jaw dropped to the floor that minute, and it stayed there for quite some time. I played in the inaugural season of the Tout Wars Draft & Hold league, winning 2nd place honors. This year, I was invited to compete in the live Head to Head auction league.

This was an opportunity that I could not waste. I fully prepared for the affair. I heavily documented the steps that I took prior to the March 15 auction, and wrote the following two full articles:

Tout Wars Head to Head Points League – 2020 Recap – Part I

Tout Wars Head to Head Points League – 2020 Recap – Part II

If you have not done so yet, I urge you to read the above articles. They are not of the typical draft recap style. Rather, I embarked on a journey depicting my heavy preparation for the event – to help the reader learn how to tackle the game. Some of the topics include:

  • Deciding on a Hitter/Pitcher pricing split
  • Generating a market curve
  • Generating auction values
  • Replacement level values
  • Projection adjustments
  • Streaming mid-season
  • Reconnaissance of Opponents
  • Observing Nominations
  • etc.

Six and a half months later, I find myself as the 2020 Tout Wars Head to Head League Champion.

 

The ATC Projections

I am the author of the ATC projections, which can be found on FanGraphs. The ATC projections are a smart aggregation of other projections. ATC does not do well by producing an outsized projection for any single player, rather, its strength lies in the law of large numbers. It gets projections more right than wrong – and it does so better than anyone else.

In 2019, the ATC projections were crowned as the most accurate baseball projections of 2019. I was also crowned by FantasyPros as the #1 most accurate fantasy baseball expert of 2019. Having accurate projections heading into any league auction gives any user an advantage at the very start.

I have found that in the NFBC leagues that I play in (high stakes leagues), more and more players are using (or at the very least looking at) the ATC projections prior to their drafts. In all of my home leagues, I know that many of my friends examine them.

But in leagues such as Tout Wars – each expert has his or her own set of projections, a plan, and their unique methodology. I cannot be certain, but I would venture to say that my competitors likely did not pay that much attention to ATC.

What surprised me most of all, is that ATC worked well in the short 60 game season. I knew that using ATC is highly accretive for the 162-game affair, but with more variability in only 60 games – ATC was further tested. It passed the test.

 

Proper Valuation

It is important for one to perform individual player analysis in preparation for a league. Knowing the draftable player set well is essential to success.

However, I believe it is more important to understand your league’s format, and to properly valuate what a player is worth. You could have the best underlying projections at hand, but if you do not understand which categories and positions are the most and least valuable, you will not win the league.

As described in my pre-season recap article, the Head-to-Head Points format was not one that I was overly familiar with. To make matters worse, I was the newcomer to the league this year – which gave me a disadvantage from the get-go.

When applying the math – I realized that stolen bases were not valuable in this format. Quality starts, and pitchers who threw deep into games were immensely valuable. Starting pitchers with RP eligibility were given a huge replacement level bump, etc. Even if I had not used the ATC projections, the math of converting stats into points and then into auction values was where I believe that I gained a distinct advantage.

At the conclusion of the league’s auction, I calculated the following projected season point totals for each tout [starting players only]:

I projected that I had an 11% advantage over the league’s average position, edging Ian Kahn out by about 200 points. To compare, below are the final league standings.

Note that the original projected points were based on a 162-game season, and a standard play 1 opponent each week format. Final standings were for the 60-game short season, and a special play-all format.

Indeed, my projections and valuation were largely accurate. The touts with the 5 highest projected point totals ended up finishing in the top five.

 

Scouting

In great detail, I portrayed the scouting that I undertook in preparation for Tout Wars in Part II of my auction recap . I surveyed prior league draft results for each tout. I looked into each player’s likely targets. I even personally attended five hours’ worth of a different live 2020 auction of one of the touts – just to get any edge and information that I could.

As I have described many times in the past, your own valuation of players is not enough to win a league. Determining that Player A is worth $9, is not enough information on its own. In the quest to assemble the most value in the aggregate, subject to the $260 auction budget - one needs to ascertain if there is a market for Player A. Are others willing to spend $12? Will they spend just $6?

Consider the following simple example:

Shortstop Your Value Market Value
Player X $12 $7
Player Y $14 $12

Which player would you rather target during an auction?

Sure, Player Y will provide more value to your team than Player X ($14 to $12). However, I would rather be on the lookout to acquire Player X. The potential profit that one can derive from Player X exceeds that of Player Y by an estimated $3.

The task for the fantasy owner is to assemble the most value on your roster for the least amount of fantasy draft capital. Without having a good sense of what the market would pay for a player, you may not be able to maximize your roster’s value despite having excellent valuations. For instance, if you did not have an awareness that Player X’s market value was low – you may pay the $12 for Player Y, thinking that you would earn a $2 draft profit for the shortstop position. You might be leaving an additional $3 of profit on the table … and worse … one of your opponents will profit instead.

 

Draft Strategy & Tactics

Many people often confuse the difference between strategies and tactics. They are in fact two distinct elements of playing a game.

Strategies are the pre-planned moves that you execute. Strategy comes to fruition when the game (any game) is merely a blank canvas; it emerges during the part of the action when you have the most freedom to operate. Perhaps, you come to the draft deciding that you will target two high priced first basemen. Perhaps you plan to nominate high priced closers early on, etc.

A tactic is implemented in response to the way that a game unfolds. Tactics are needed where the action is the greatest. One draws upon his or her knowledge of the game on just how to react. In poker, a bluff is a tactic carried out in order to induce an opponent to fold his or her cards. One does not come into a poker room planning to buff a particular hand. Rather, one looks at their cards, reads the faces around the table, and in response - decides to aggressively bet on a weaker hand.

For Tout Wars, I prepared a detailed strategy. I estimated the likely pockets of players who would be available at bargain prices. For hitters, the ranges were clearer. For starting pitchers, I developed two plans of attack. The first, was a hotspot of 1A type pitchers. I planned to use my auction nominations early on largely to determine which pockets of players that I would play in.

I responded well in the midst of the auction to the hands that I was dealt. I ended up defaulting to my alternate plan, which included pouncing on mid-level pitchers such as Max Fried, German Marquez and Eduardo Rodriguez. As an additional example, I did not intend to purchase Alex Bregman, but I took advantage of the opportunity of a depressed cost.

I also employed more subtle in-game tactics such as bidding up Alex Chamberlain on players that I knew he would try to outbid the room. Successfully siphoning an extra $3-4 from an opponent’s auction budget is often just as important to the auction’s endgame - as saving cash on players that you yourself purchase. Every little bit counts.

Deciding on just how much to bid on mid-season FAAB is an important tactic to master. For Tout Wars - I periodically studied the player needs of other teams, and looked at their personal FAAB bidding history. I even got a hold of last year's Tout Wars HTH FAAB bidding by week to help me make informed decisions on just how much to bid. I made sure that my FAAB bids were somewhat random, so that no one else could track what I was doing.

Each of these tactics contributed to my overall success.

 

Adapting to the League

Consider the following exaggerated scenarios in a rotisserie format:

  • All other teams each spend a total of $240 on hitting, and only $20 on pitching.
  • All other teams do not draft a single closer. They all draft 9 starting pitchers.
  • All other teams spend only $1-2 on every catcher that they purchase.

None of the three above scenarios are strategies that I would employ at the outset of a league draft. I wouldn’t go into an auction with an intended 92%/8% hitter/pitcher split of auction funds. I wouldn’t punt saves from the get-go. I wouldn’t only want to spend $2 on JT Realmuto or Yasmani Grandal, etc.

Those three strategies seem quite strange to the naked eye, because … they are. I did say that they were exaggerated.

However:

  • If all of your opponents spend $240 on hitting, then if you only spend only $180 on hitting – you will likely finish dead last in almost all five offensive categories. Yes, you may finish with the most pitching points – but that still will leave you with an average overall score when combined with the hitting.
  • If all of your opponents do not draft closers, spending the usual ~$25 worth of funds will render your pitching spend as highly inefficient. You will also have a hard time winning the other pitching counting stat categories.
  • If all of your opponents barely pay for catchers, buying JT Realmuto at $15 is an overspend. You could have purchased for the next best catcher at a fraction of the cost. Realmuto isn’t 5 times better than the next backstop.

The point here is that playing the game without context can lead to an inefficient use of fantasy capital. Operating in a vacuum literally sucks value out of your roster. You need to be aware of the league norms, and adapt your strategies accordingly. The norms won’t be as ridiculous in the above examples, but adjusting to them will make a profound difference.

This rule does not only apply for the league draft; the in-season adaptation is also essential. If waiver wire pitchers are cheaply acquired in the league, there is no need to spend heavy there. If hitters are constantly churned each week, why not think more short-term? And so on ...

In Tout Wars, despite the fact that I was green to the league in 2020, I felt that I was able to quickly adapt to the league. For adjusting mid-auction - I had a lot of prior experience in doing so (even for new leagues). For me - the harder part was adapting to the week-to-week play.

How did I adjust quickly? I looked at what last year’s winner, Ian Kahn and runner-up Clay Link did for their teams. I looked at how they set their lineups, at the types (and quantities) of players they purchased each week, and what they had paid for them. I recognized the types of trades that were profitable in the format. I observed just how patient they were with underperforming players, etc.

In case a fellow league mate (or US General) reads this, I don’t want to give away all of the specific tidbits of information that I had acquired - but I do want to convey to you the importance of learning. Observing the two touts allowed me to catch up as fast as I could with the right strategy for this league’s dynamic. Just “doing your usual thing” is not how you win leagues. One needs to use his or her own bag of magic tricks, but must figure out what works for your particular audience. Each league is different, and one needs to adapt quickly.

 

Play the Matchups

Down the stretch of the season, as it became clear that I was going to contend for the league title, I shifted my focus on free agent pickups from long term to short term. I could no longer sift through the waiver wire for rest-of-season targets; I needed to put up as many points as I could each and every week. Playing from behind, I took each week as a single must-win contest.

As such, I spent a lot of time looking at matchups. For both hitters and pitchers, I looked at who they would face in the coming week, the ballparks they would play in – and most importantly, at the playoff status for their real-life teams. Some teams needed to fight towards the end, and some had already clinched their postseason berth. This made a large difference in both my free-agent acquisition targets, as well as how I set my team’s active lineup.

But not only did I look at the coming week’s schedule – I also looked ahead a week further into the future. I sometimes purchased “future two-start” pitchers (as I typically call them) a week in advance. Purchasing these types of pitchers allowed me to spend far fewer resources on them, as most teams were not looking to acquire them a week early. Had I waited the week to roster the future two-start pitchers, I would have to pay ten times the auction price [or more] to do so! That would not be an efficient use of fantasy capital. Sometimes, a player riding on your bench for a week can lead to a more optimal use of funds.

 

Luck

I could not have won Tout Wars without an element of luck. This is the truest statement that I have made thus far.

I got lucky.

I won’t say that I was extremely lucky; I believe that all of the elements described above played a large role in my winning. However, the difference between my 1st place finish and what could have been a 5th place finish required the fates to be on my side. Had a few pitchers pulled a muscle in the last week, I would not be writing this article. Had Andrea LaMont made one or two different decisions during the course of the season, she might be writing this article in my stead.

Of course, not everything broke right for me during the season either. I too had my fair share of injuries and poor play. I traded away Randal Grichuk to Ryan Hallam in the middle of the season, which proved to be a bad decision on my part. Eduardo Rodriguez never played a game in 2020, yet I had spent $10 on him in the auction.

The margin of error in a league full of experts is razor-thin. I was blessed in 2020 that I had just enough luck to go along with my gameplay. The combination of both earned me my very first experts league title.

 

Conclusion

I could have spent time today talking about the specific players who provided me the most and least value for my Tout Wars team this season. Sure, Marcell Ozuna was a fantastic $16 selection, who earned $31 of value in the format. But simply discussing players will not provide much help to you in the future. It won’t help me for 2021 either.

You see, it is not about the results – it is about the process.

Hopefully, I have given you some insight into my successful season in Tout Wars, and at the same time provided you with a few strategies and tactics for your fantasy leagues next year. I am surely hoping that the 2021 season will go on without interruption, and I hope to be writing this article again at its conclusion.



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Early 2021 Mock Draft ADP Risers & Fallers: WPC+ Videocast

Pierre Camus and Nicklaus Gaut prepare for the 2021 fantasy baseball season with a look at early mock draft results from the RotoBaller Expert mock.

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Never Too Early!

Pierre and Nick review early ADP results based on the RotoBaller Way Too Early Expert Mock.

Players discussed:



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Champ or Chump: Year in Review

Now that the 2020 fantasy baseball season has come to a close, it is time to assess your performance. Did you ignore red flags that you wish you hadn't? Was a strong process foiled by unpredictable factors outside of anybody's control?

Both of these things are likely true to some extent. The key is to identify what worked well and any areas of opportunity for improvement next season.

With this in mind, let's go back and revisit each of the nine players that received in-season write-ups in this column over the 2020 season. We will review each player's name, publication date, and a brief synopsis of the argument made. We will also look at how a player actually performed to get a better sense of what we should look for in the future. Let's get started!

 

7/25 Nate Pearson (SP TOR)

Original Verdict: Champ

Hindsight: Chump

Pearson offered a lot to like heading into the season: he's a hard thrower who generates a ton of spin with a strong MiLB resume. Success seemed like a foregone conclusion, leading to easy (if lazy) Max Scherzer comps. Unfortunately, Pearson got off to a slow start before a flexor strain in his right elbow kept him out of action for over a month. He ended up with a 6.00 ERA and 3.7 K-BB% over 18 IP, numbers that didn't help fantasy gamers at all.

That said, Pearson struck out five over two scoreless relief innings in the playoffs and maintains the stuff and pedigree that made him a desirable add in fantasy. His 2020 may have been a dud, but he'll likely be a hot name during the 2021 draft season. Just save the Scherzer comps until he does something at the MLB level.

Miss

8/1 Isiah Kiner-Falefa (C/3B/SS, TEX)

Original Verdict: Champ

Hindsight: Champ

Isiah Kiner-Falefa was virtually unknown before the season began, and playing for the lowly Texas Rangers doesn't help you get your name out there. Still, this column suggested adding him for his catcher eligibility, everyday playing time, and his potential for "steals with a workable average." He delivered exactly that, slashing .280/.329/.370 with eight steals and three homers while working his way to the heart of the Rangers order. Considering how bad catchers performed as a whole, you got a free top-five catcher here.

Sadly, Kiner-Falefa didnt log a single game behind the plate in 2020, so he won't have catcher eligibility in 2021. He was also caught stealing five times, so his speed won't play as well at other positions. He was a great add in 2020, but your 2021 plans probably shouldn't include him.

Win

8/8 Jo Adell (OF, LAA)

Original Verdict: Chump

Hindsight: Chump

Adell's major league arrival was greeted with the enthusiasm expected for a top prospect, but his MiLB track record included a ton of swing-and-miss and a meager 35 HR over 1,004 PAs. His MiLB breakout also occured at Hank Aaron Field, a park notorious for inflating offense. This author recommended letting somebody else add him to their roster, prudent advice considering that Adell managed just a .161/.212/.266 line with three homers and a 41.7 K% over 132 PAs.

Adell's prospect pedigree may help him get drafted in 2021, but he appears to be too far away to justify doing so in redraft leagues. He might join his teammate Mike Trout in an All-Star Game someday, but likely not in the immediate future.

Win

8/15 Alec Bohm (3B, PHI)

Original Verdict: Champ

Hindsight: Champ

Every fantasy gamer has a type, and this author loves MiLB bats that combine strong plate discipline numbers with high FB% rates. Alec Bohm's MiLB resume included both, though he seemed to struggle to access his above-average raw power in games. As such, he was recommended to fantasy managers looking for BA, OBP, and Runs with the potential for homers if everything clicked.

Bohm only hit four homers over 180 PAs, so the big-power prospect didn't produce power numbers right away. Adding him to fantasy rosters was still a smart move, as he slashed an insane .338/.400/.481 in his first taste of big league action. He'll probably be a top-100 draft pick in 2021 and could well earn every penny it takes to sign him. Just be wary of his .410 BABIP coming down a little.

Win

8/22 Casey Mize (SP, DET)

Original Verdict: Champ

Hindsight: Chump

Not going to lie: this is the miss that bothers me the most on this list. The original analysis noted that pitch tracking systems like Pitch Info and Statcast detected no discernable difference between Mize's slider and cutter, suggesting that his pitches blur together and lack consistency. I also correctly predicted that the Tigers were a terrible team despite a hot start, leaving Mize with minimal offensive and bullpen support. Yet I still advised adding Mize because "pitch tracking systems aren't foolproof."

The piece was written after Mize's first start, after which he had an ugly 6.23 ERA. That jumped to 6.99 by the time the season concluded, a number completely supported by a 9.8 K-BB%. The lesson here is clear: if a young pitcher's offerings seem to blur together, avoid that arm in fantasy.

Miss

8/29 Jake Cronenworth (1B/2B/SS, SD)

Original Verdict: Champ

Hindsight: Chump

Cronenworth came out of nowhere in 2020, slashing a ridiculous .360/.415/.605 with three homers and a steal through August. His low FB% and middling exit velocity suggested that his power was a mirage, but the column recommended Cronenworth anyway because he was in the 100th percentile of xBA with a .394 mark. The 26-year-old combined a pristine batted ball profile with plus-speed and excellent contact skills, so why wouldn't he continue to hit for a high average?

Naturally, he hit .183 with no homers in September. His plate discipline metrics were still good with a 16.3 K% and 10 BB% that month, so pitchers didn't suddenly figure him out. Instead, his problem was a .224 BABIP that Cronenworth should have no problem besting in 2021. The result was a miss, but the process was sound: Cronenworth should be a good BA investment in 2021 and beyond.

Miss

9/5 Kevin Gausman (SP/RP, SF)

Original Verdict: Champ

Hindsight: Champ

Gausman's is an interesting profile: both his four-seam fastball and splitter are elite pitches, allowing him to pile up Ks like few arms can. However, Gausman also features only those two pitches, making him predictable and increasing his blowup potential. Gausman had a 4.43 ERA reflective of both his upside and downside at the time of his write-up, and he was recommended to managers looking to climb the standings as opposed to teams trying to maintain their ratios.

Gausman provided a significant boost down the stretch, generating a QS in each of his final three starts (2.00 ERA overall) while also notching 24 Ks in that time frame. He remains a high-risk, high-reward fantasy option, but should be able to help fantasy managers in 2021 as well.

Win

9/12 Deivi Garcia (SP, NYY)

Original Verdict: Champ

Hindsight: Variable

Deivi Garcia began his big league career with a bang, posting a 3.06 ERA as an SP. His write-up emphasized strong MiLB stats, stuff scouts rave about, and a solid prospect pedigree, recommending him to all fantasy gamers. His next start against the Blue Jays went well: 7 IP, 3 ER, 6 K. Unfortunately, he followed that up with a clunker against Boston: 3 IP, 6 ER, 2 K. His third start against the Marlins was kind of neutral: 6 2/3 IP, 4 ER, 7 K. He went 2-1 overall, so he helped gamers looking for Wins and Strikeouts but not ratios.

I thought he would be good for ratio help as well, so I'm counting this as a miss. There is some concern that his small frame will land him in a bullpen role, but he should be a worthwhile fantasy starter as long as the Yankees use him in the role.

Miss

9/19 Trent Grisham (OF, SD)

Original Verdict: Champ

Hindsight: Unknown

The Grisham piece noted that Grisham has batting average upside based on his MiLB history, potentially leading to a better 2021 season than his strong 2020. Since the piece is forward-looking by design, it's too soon to determine its accuracy.

Push

Conclusion

Overall, I have four wins, four misses, and a push. Of the misses, I earnestly believe that Pearson and Cronenworth were examples of good analysis belied by small sample sizes, and Garcia was usable in the right situation. Mize was a total miss caused by ignoring a data point that proved prophetic.

Moving forward, I should try to avoid top prospect pitchers, a type of player that I seem to overrate. Relying on plate discipline and HR numbers on the farm appears to be a great way to evaluate rookie bats, and you can never go wrong with proven strikeout stuff at the big league level. What about you?



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2020 Expectations vs Reality (Hits and Misses): WPC+ Videocast

Pierre Camus and Nicklaus Gaut share the players they were the most right and wrong about in 2020 by comparing their preseason rankings to actual performance.

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Don't Forget the Asterisks*

Pierre and Nick humblebrag and eat crow on fantasy baseball finishes that didn't line up with expectations for 2020.

Players and topics discussed:

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Statcast Hitter Leaderboard: Rolling xSLG Risers

The final Statcast numbers for 2020 will undoubtedly reap some interesting data. Small sample sizes abound, so throw in scheduling quirks, numerous injuries, seven-inning doubleheaders and a universal DH and you have the recipe for statistical outliers galore.

Fantasy baseball season has one glorious week remaining, so the best use of this space would be to find players that can help through the waiver wire as streamers based on Statcast.

Here are some hot hitters who can help based on their rolling xSLG over the past 50 plate appearances. Players listed will be below the 50% rostered threshold in Yahoo fantasy leagues.

 

50 PA Rolling xSLG Leaders

Slugging itself isn't an advanced statistic but expected statistics dig into the details of a player's batted-ball data. The players below have seen an exponential spike in expected slugging and, not surprisingly, performance as well.

All statistics  taken from BaseballSavant and are current as of September 21, 2020.

 

Kole Calhoun (OF, ARI)

.734 xSLG (+.355) in last 50 PA

Over the last two weeks, Calhoun has transformed from one of the worst regulars in baseball to one of the hottest sluggers. On September 6, Calhoun was coming off a six-game hitless streak that dropped his slash line to .186/.321/.419. Since then, he's slashing .372/.431/.930 with seven HR, 16 RBI, 11 R in the last 12 games. He's pulling the ball at a 64% clip and hitting it hard 59% of the time, so naturally it's leaving the yard quite frequently.

Calhoun has been prone to massive swings in production recently. Most notably, in 2018 he started the year batting .157 with two homers over the first three months and then clubbed 16 HR the next three months. This is a matter of ignoring the season-long stats (and the ballclub) in order to take advantage of a player on the rise.

 

Daniel Vogelbach (1B, MIL)

.596 xSLG (+.271) in last 50 PA

The Smoak Monster dissipated early in September, clearing the air for former Mariner Daniel Vogelbach to take over first base duties. He's not exactly playing like pre-All Star break Vogelbach from last year - he's better.

Over the past two weeks, Vogelbach is hitting .417 with three HR, 10 RBI in 36 at-bats with Milwaukee. By contrast, he was batting .094 with two HR, four RBI in 53 at-bats before Seattle traded him to Toronto, where he basically did not play before getting DFA'd. One thing is for sure, Vogelbach is also a streaky hitter, for better or worse. Right now, it's as good as it can get.


For roto managers, the appeal here is obviously the promise of more home runs over the coming days. The Brewers have to contend with the trio of Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray, and Trevor Bauer over their next three games, which could be tough sledding even during a hot streak. A five-game set with the Cardinals wraps things up and could make for a slightly better time.

 

Nate Lowe (1B, TB)

.463 xSLG (+.245) in last 50 PA

If you're like me, you dropped Lowe in dynasty back at the beginning of the season when he didn't make the active roster and then refused to pick him back up again until it was too late. In redraft, most have been hesitant to even begin with Lowe until now. The Rays love jerking players in and out of the lineup, regardless of performance. Plus, Lowe really didn't do much until 9/11 when he smashed a pair of homers in a beating handed down to Boston. He's only gone yard one more time since but he is reaching base and driving in runs, so it's not as if he's a one-trick pony.

Lowe's raw power is graded at 65, so the potential has always been there. He's not selling out for power, which is a positive sign. Over his 47 at-bats in 2020, he's posting a low 18.7% FB% with a slightly above-average 40.7% Pull%. The 33.3% LD% is a welcome sight, although it would be nice to see him trade off some of those liners for long flies that could results in yardwork. With regular playing time down the stretch, he'll get a chance to showcase his power and might be worth streaming.

 

Darin Ruf (1B/OF, SF)

.662 xSLG (+.195) in last 50 PA

Former Phillies first baseman Ruf hadn't cracked a Major League roster since 2016. Injuries cleared a path for him to make an impact down the stretch and he is taking advantage. Since September began, he has four homers, three doubles, and a .400 average in 30 AB. Based on his career stats and the fact he's now 34 years old, we know this means nothing other than the fact he is enjoying a hot streak as a fill-in for a team falling out of the playoff picture. For fantasy purposes, if he's hot, he's worth a look.

All of the Giants' remaining games will be at home, first to face the Rockies and then the Padres. This is great news, as Ruf is slugging 474 points higher at Oracle Park where he's hit four of his five home runs this year. Facing Colorado is a plus but San Diego is a tougher test. Give Ruf a chance in the early portion of the week then be ready to pull the plug if necessary.

 

Austin Hays (OF, BAL)

.446 xSLG (+.185) in last 50 PA

Hays might have the least pure power of the names on this list but he may also have the highest overall ceiling. Hays was a top-25 overall prospect before 2018 and had a promising September in 2019. He started the season as the regular center fielder in 2020 but a rib fracture cost him a month. Now, he's trying to finish strong once again.

Over the past week, Hays is slashing .333/.379/.481 with a solo shot to his credit. Baltimore will keep him in the lineup every day to see if he can retain the CF job heading into 2021. A plus schedule finds them visiting Boston with its league-worst 5.80 ERA before traveling to Buffalo to face the Blue Jays where their "home park" has the highest run factor and second-highest HR factor in the majors. Hays is a better option in points league but don't be surprised if he leaves the yard another time or two as well.



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Champ or Chump: Trent Grisham

While it seems like the MLB season just started yesterday, the final full week is rapidly approaching. If you're looking for an extra edge for the stretch run, rostering players on teams with a bunch of games to make up could give you a quantity advantage. The Cardinals, Brewers, Rockies, and Nationals are all scheduled to play eight games next week, though balancing the fact that some of those games will only last seven innings makes roster decisions more complicated.

In contrast, the San Diego Padres and Minnesota Twins are only slated for five games next week, meaning that only elite players from those teams should be utilized in weekly leagues. Guys like Fernando Tatis Jr. and Nelson Cruz are obvious must-starts, but Trent Grisham is also worthy of that status.

Grisham began his professional career as a hyped prospect, being selected 15th overall in the 2015 First Year Player Draft. His star had since dimmed, however, and he did virtually nothing in his first taste of big-league action despite a sterling MiLB resume. It has all come together in this abbreviated campaign though, even if 2021 will likely be remembered as his breakout season due to this season's bizarre structure. Here is a closer look at one of the more intriguing player profiles in the game today.

 

A Stellar 2020

 

The Padres have been one of the 2020 season's best storylines, and Trent Grisham's .267/.350/.471 triple-slash line with nine long balls and seven steals is a big reason why. Some fantasy managers may be skeptical of his performance because his average exit velocity is only 88.1 mph, but this is a case where looking at the overall number can be deceptive. Grisham's fly balls and line drives are averaging 94 mph off of the bat, placing him in the top third of the league. His grounders aren't as impressive at 84 mph, but Grisham's elite 28.9 ft./sec Statcast Sprint Speed allows him to reach base on them regardless.

Furthermore, Grisham has had a knack for barrels this season. His 10.9% rate of Brls/BBE ranks 72nd among qualified batters, with names like Pete Alonso and J.D. Martinez in the same vicinity. This author has found Brls/BBE to be one of the most reliable predictors of fantasy success, and Grisham offers it. Baseball Savant's expected metrics also suggest that Grisham has been unfortunate this season, with an xBA of .285 against his actual .267 mark. Likewise, Grisham's .522 xSLG is significantly better than his .471 slugging percentage.

Some fantasy baseball players may be skeptical of Grisham's 33.8 FB% and 20.5% HR/FB, numbers that scream negative regression at the top of their lungs. However, Grisham is also running an inflated 26.9 LD%, and it says here that some of those line drives will turn into fly balls moving forward. It won't be a great change for Grisham's .328 BABIP, but the resulting power spike is likely to add to Grisham's overall fantasy value.

Likewise, Grisham has an outstanding eye that his basic plate discipline metrics are masking. Fantasy gamers in OBP formats will appreciate his 10.5 BB%, and standard roto gamers also welcome the walks as an opportunity to swipe a bag. His 25.1 K% is a little harder to swallow, but his 20.4% chase rate and 7.5 SwStr% are both better than league average. Grisham is likely to underperform his plate discipline peripherals to a degree because of his low 38.1 Swing%, but it's hard to not see at least some upside here.

 

Under-the-Radar Prior Production

 

Another common criticism of Grisham is that he has only performed well for a short period (219 PAs as of this writing), but he actually has much more history producing like this if you include his minor league numbers. In fact, his MiLB resume includes several trends that suggest the K% and FB% improvements forecasted above. Unfortunately, scouting reports weren't that high on him, and fantasy managers didn't pay much attention as a result. For an idea of what Grisham was fighting against, here are his FanGraphs scouting grades from 2019:

Scouts aren't foolproof, of course, and Grisham's numbers suggest that he is capable of becoming a major league force.

He first reached Double-A as a member of the Brewers organization, slashing .233/.356/.337 for Double-A (Biloxi) over 405 PAs. He hit seven homers and stole 11 bases, foreshadowing the type of production he would offer fantasy managers. Grisham also managed a 15.6 BB% while only striking out 21.5% of the time, suggesting strong plate discipline. His 9 SwStr% was also impressive for a 21-year-old in his first exposure to the High Minors. Grisham did a tremendous job elevating the baseball with a 46.2 FB% as well, though his 6.1 HR/FB prevented him from doing much with it.

Grisham returned to Biloxi to begin the 2019 season, and he clobbered his opponents to the tune of a .254/.371/.504 line with 13 HR and six steals over 283 PAs. His 46.5 FB% was virtually unchanged from his previous season, but a HR/FB spike to 15.1% helped him hit for a lot more power. He also walked at a 15.5% clip with a 17.7 K% and 7.5 SwStr%, suggesting his plate discipline got even better. A .269 BABIP (partially caused by all of the flies) limited his batting average, but the Brewers promoted him to Triple-A (San Antonio) anyway.

Every Triple-A ballpark was a hitter's haven last year, and San Antonio finished in the 84th percentile for HR and 60th for BABIP among all MiLB parks. Grisham took full advantage, slashing a ridiculous .381/.471/.776 with 13 HR and six steals over 158 PAs before earning an opportunity in the Show. His 14.6 BB% was higher than his 13.9 K%, his 44.6 FB% did a lot of damage with a 26 HR/FB, and he posted a .384 BABIP to boot. Some of this was definitely his environment, but we can't discount that there was some growth too.

Some experts were touting Grisham when the Brewers added him to their MLB roster, but it just didn't work out. He hit .231/.328/.410 with six homers over 183 PAs with sporadic playing time, stealing only one base. His 10.9 BB% was in line with his MiLB performance, but the combination of a 26.2 K% and .286 BABIP made his batting average a drag in fantasy. The Brewers decided to trade Grisham to San Diego in the Luis Urias deal, something they would probably like a mulligan on now.

 

Conclusion

 

If you judge Grisham only on his 2020 performance, you see a guy who may not continue to hit for power and strikes out too often. However, both his FB% and K% numbers were much better in the minors, and he figures to help fantasy managers with homers and steals for the foreseeable future. Additionally, the Padres generally hit Grisham leadoff, adding runs to an already-superlative fantasy profile.

This author has no idea why Grisham is only rostered in 75% of Yahoo! leagues even if the Padres have a light schedule the rest of the way, so checking if he's available is recommended. Grisham also makes for a great target if you're already thinking about 2021, as his draft day cost is likely to pale in comparison to the value he can provide.

Verdict: Champ (based on sustainable HR, SB, and R production with a good average)



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Finish Strong in 2020 (Adds, Drops, Streamers): WPC+ Videocast

Pierre Camus and Nicklaus Gaut discuss which hot hitters and two-start streamers to add for the final week of the season, as well as big-name players to drop.

Like and subscribe to the RotoBaller channel on Youtube to get all our latest podcasts and catch us on iTunes and BlogTalkRadio as well!

Be sure to also tune into RotoBaller Radio on SiriusXM (channel Sirius 210, XM 87) - every weekday morning between 6-7 AM ET, and every weekend morning from 6-8 am ET as well. You can also find new weekly shows on the site under RotoBaller Radio podcasts.

 

It's Not How You Start...

Pierre and Nick tell fantasy baseball managers how to finish strong in 2020 by making the right roster moves.

Players and topics discussed:



Thanks for listening to today's episode! Be sure to tune in throughout the week, and to also follow RotoBaller on Twitter, YouTube and iTunes for the latest fantasy news and analysis.

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Statcast Starting Pitcher Leaders - wOBA Underachievers

The last days of the baseball season are almost upon us. Those who are still here reading up on advanced sabermetrics are undoubtedly scouring for the best information to make a final push to win their fantasy leagues (thanks to Rotoballer!) or are simply baseball junkies. Either way, I'm glad you're here.

As usual, this space will be used to identify starting pitchers widely available on the waiver wire that might be hidden gems or undervalued based on Statcast metrics.

This week, the focus is on wOBA-xwOBA to find the biggest underachievers and potential ratio risers. Listing a player doesn't imply a waiver wire pickup recommendation. Read each player blurb to make a determination based on the information provided. Good luck down the stretch!

 

Trevor Rogers, Miami Marlins

.082 wOBA-xwOBA

Another pitching prospect coming through the pipeline, Rogers was on the radar before Sixto Sanchez ever joined the fray. Rogers was the team's first-round pick in 2017 and has the chance to establish himself as part of one of the best young rotations in the game.

His first three outings were rock solid, as he stretched up to six full innings and held a 3.00 ERA and 1.20 WHIP after striking out 10 Rays en route to a quality start. Then Philadelphia happened. Rogers got blown up and lost the trust of fantasy managers as a result. In that game alone, he gave up seven batted balls over 102 MPH, five of which went for extra bases.

While Rogers was certainly off in that game, his overall luck should be much better as he is the top underachiever in wOBA-xwOBA among starters. He kept his xBA under .200 in each of the first three starts and ranks among the leaders in that category. More importantly, his K% ranks in the 85th percentile with 26 K in 18 1/3 innings.

Rogers is rostered in just 8% of Yahoo leagues but will face the Boston Red Sox next followed by the Nationals and Yankees. Not many starters are guaranteed three more turns the rest of the way, so that works in his favor as well. Even if you don't roll with him vs New York, he has a great chance to succeed in his next two outings.

 

Carlos Martinez, St. Louis Cardinals

.068 wOBA-xwOBA

Small sample size has come into play all year and that is especially the case with Martinez. He was activated off the IL less than a week ago after spending a month on the shelf. Stuff has never been the issue with C-Mart, it has been command and health.

His two starts since returning haven't been promising, although neither was his first one before getting injured. Martinez has allowed seven runs on 13 hits over the last 7 2/3 IP. The good news: he only walked three batters and punched out 11.

His hard-hit rate currently sits at 54.8% which, aside from being mind-bogglingly high, is unsustainable. A far lower xwOBA than wOBA, a low walk rate, and the inevitable regression in exit velocity are factors that conspire to make him a decent streamer the rest of the season.

His velocity is down nearly three MPH on the fastball and sinker, which are certainly reasons to be wary. If he can work his arm back into shape and get his sinker to start sinking back to typical rates, he will be worth adding. Given the fact he may face the Pirates next time out, it may not matter - add him anyway.

 

Matthew Boyd, Detroit Tigers

.036 wOBA-xwOBA

The 2020 version of Boyd is an enigma wrapped in a mystery. Once thought to be a great draft sleeper, Boyd burst that bubble quickly. He reached a 10.24 ERA after his fourth start by allowing four ER in his first two outings and then seven ER in each of the next two. Much of that came via the long ball, as he allowed five taters in the first four games. So much for pitcher-friendly Comerica Park.

It appeared he was turning things around in late August, allowing eight earned runs and 17 hits over a 21-inning stretch while holding batters to a .213 average and whiffing 29. Those four starts made us believe he was back...

Boyd was blown up by the Brewers and promptly dropped by thousands of fantasy managers who were ready to ride him down the stretch. Can Boyd bounce back for the final weeks of the season?

His overall Statcast profile is ugly but his season-long .366 xwOBA ranks in the upper half of all pitchers with at least 25 plate appearances against. He is underachieving compared to his unsightly .402 wOBA but it's been far from consistent. One look at his rolling xwOBA could be dizzying.

Can Boyd even be remotely trusted during these crucial final days? He faces the Royals next, who rank 21st in OPS and 25th in OBP. This is a team currently on a six-game winning streak though, buoyed by the recent return of Salvador Perez. Boyd can provide strikeouts and a chance for a solid start but the risk is high.

 

Zach Eflin, Philadelphia Phillies

.041 wOBA-xwOBA

Eflin's name keeps popping up in this column, particularly three weeks ago as one of the leaders in CSW% (called strikes + whiffs). Fellow Phillies starter Spencer Howard also makes the cut but he was highlighted more recently and, as a rookie, is harder to trust down the stretch in fantasy playoffs.

Between the excellent 22.6% K-BB% and .298 xwOBA, Eflin really ought to be doing much better yet his ERA still sits at 5.01. Statcast believes it should be nearly a run and a half lower with a 3.5 xERA, mainly because his wOBA and BAA are 50 points higher than expected.

Eflin hardly puts batters on through shaky command but his insistence on throwing strikes can lead to opponents stringing together hits in bunches, which is why he has only one quality start on the season. His next start comes against the Mets, who have put up huge offensive numbers in the past week. But hey, what goes up must come down, right?

Eflin is a risky start next week but may be more palatable in his final start, likely to be against a Nationals team that should miss the postseason a year after winning it all.



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2020 wRC+ Splits: Risers and Fallers

Baseball in 2020 is unlike any season that I can remember. The designated hitter is now present in the National League. You will not find any more LOOGYs with the institution of the three-batter minimum rule. Doubleheaders are now a combined 14 innings of baseball. Extra innings now start with a runner on second base. There will not be an All-Star game played in 2020, but MLB has called for an expanded postseason. We have cardboard cutouts, and only the Philly Phanatic to cheer them on.

There are of course many other quirks and nuances for this short season. One item that will not be taken away is player consistency and inconsistency. What I mean by that – is the ability for some players to ride hot streaks for weeks at a time, only to cool off thereafter. At times, players begin the season with a slow start, but manage to turn their season around. There are, of course, those players whose skills appear to be the same throughout the year.

Today, I will take a quick look at the current year’s ‘half-season’ consistencies and inconsistencies.

 

Definitions & Methodology

To set the stage, let us first define what we mean by the ‘half-season’ to date. We will break the season into two sections.

  • First Half (1H) – July 23, 2020 to August 16, 2020
  • Second Half (2H) – August 16, 2020 to September 7, 2020

These 3+ week spans are certainly not the official baseball half seasons. They merely are the splits of the current year to date. In actuality, they more closely represent the first two thirds of the short season – but for now, we will refer to them as the ‘half-seasons.’

Next, we will define consistency. For this analysis, we will focus on wRC+.

With regards to their metric wRC, FanGraphs notes the following:

Weighted Runs Created (wRC) is an improved version of Bill James’ Runs Created (RC) statistic, which attempted to quantify a player’s total offensive value and measure it by runs.  In Runs Created, instead of looking at a player’s line and listing out all the details (e.g. 23 2B, 15 HR, 55 BB, 110 K, 19 SB, 5 CS), the information is synthesized into one metric in order to say, “Player X was worth 24 runs to his team last year.”  While the idea was sound, James’ formula has since been superseded by Tom Tango’s wRC , which is based off Weighted On-Base Average (wOBA).

wRC+ uses wOBA, park factors, and league run environment to produce an all-in-one encompassing leaderboard metric. The ‘+’ refers to the normalizing of the statistic, i.e. it is scaled so that 100 is league average. A wRC+ of 142 means that the player was 42% better than league average. A wRC+ of 94 means that the player was 6% worse than league average, etc.

In today’s article, we will look at the difference between a player’s first-half wRC+ and second half wRC+. To rule out some noise, we will only consider players who accumulated at least 35 plate appearances in each half.

Finally, we will classify each player as either a gainer or fader. A gainer is a player with an increase in wRC+ from first half to second. A fader is a player who exhibited a decrease during the stated time. A player with a low absolute difference in half-season wRC+ will be referred to as a stable player.

 

2020 Gainers

Here are the largest 2020 half-season gainers:

Player Team 1H wRC+ 2H wRC+ wRC+ Diff
Brandon Belt Giants 71 277 206
Kyle Tucker Astros 56 226 170
Justin Upton Angels 11 160 149
Jose Abreu White Sox 100 231 131
Lourdes Gurriel Jr. Blue Jays 54 183 129
Evan White Mariners 23 149 126
Ben Gamel Brewers 35 157 122
Miguel Sano Twins 63 184 121
Eugenio Suarez Reds 49 169 120
Will Smith Dodgers 107 224 117
Edwin Encarnacion White Sox 20 137 117
Ronald Acuna Jr. Braves 136 250 114
Austin Riley Braves 31 143 112
Rafael Devers Red Sox 47 157 110
Jonathan Schoop Tigers 77 181 104
Cody Bellinger Dodgers 53 154 101
Austin Hedges Indians 2 103 101
Trea Turner Nationals 121 219 98
Manny Machado Padres 96 189 93
Tucker Barnhart Reds 16 109 93
Pat Valaika Orioles 59 149 90
Marcell Ozuna Braves 127 215 88
Jacob Stallings Pirates 72 159 87
Brandon Crawford Giants 63 150 87
Rowdy Tellez Blue Jays 95 180 85
Rhys Hoskins Phillies 107 190 83
Amed Rosario Mets 28 111 83
Freddie Freeman Braves 130 211 81
Jason Heyward Cubs 112 191 79
Yasmani Grandal White Sox 93 172 79
Jackie Bradley Jr. Red Sox 58 135 77
Alex Gordon Royals 46 122 76
Francisco Lindor Indians 81 154 73
Sam Hilliard Rockies 46 117 71
Omar Narvaez Brewers 31 101 70
Kevin Kiermaier Rays 84 152 68
Joc Pederson Dodgers 61 129 68
Luis Rengifo Angels 23 89 66
Evan Longoria Giants 74 139 65
Andrew McCutchen Phillies 43 108 65
Jeimer Candelario Tigers 103 167 64
Kurt Suzuki Nationals 69 132 63
Mauricio Dubon Giants 61 123 62
Adam Duvall Braves 93 152 59
Eric Thames Nationals 30 89 59
Michael Conforto Mets 150 205 55

Brandon Belt jumps out as the largest gainer from the first half. Over the past 3+ weeks, Belt is batting .444 with 5 HRs, 14 runs and 14 RBI. His walk rate has grown to an immense 18%, up from what was already a very decent 10% to start the first half of the season. Some of his success seems to be luck aided; he has compiled a .500 BABIP in the second half, which is clearly not sustainable. Belt, who is has a career 123 wRC+, is likely more overplaying in the 2H than underplaying in the 1H.

The same is not true for Red Sox star Rafael Devers, whose second half is closer to reality than his abysmal first. After an incredible 2019, Devers was primed to be a major offensive force in the American League, as one analyst predicted an MVP season.

In the first half of 2020, Devers hit for a .182 average. I stepped on the scale this morning, and I saw a larger figure than that. Since then, Rafael has turned around his season. He is sneakily hitting .321 with 5 HRs and 20 RBI. I would still bet on the upside with Devers going forward.

There are a few other players who catch my eye – who were fantastic early on in the season, and then got even better! The players who had at least a 125 wRC+ in the first half, who had at least a 175 wRC+ in the second half are:

  • Ronald Acuna Jr.
  • Marcell Ozuna
  • Freddie Freeman
  • Michael Conforto

Wow. Almost every player above is a member of the Atlanta Braves.  These figures do not even include the Altanta 29-run rout on Wednesday night. The Braves have catapulted themselves into first place in the NL East over the past three weeks.

As for Conforto, he is currently 2nd in the National League in batting average for the season overall at .348, trailing only Trea Turner. Turner barely missed being mentioned with the other Braves, as he only had a 121 first half wRC+.

 

2020 Faders

Here are the largest 2020 half-season faders:

Player Team 1H wRC+ 2H wRC+ wRC+ Diff
Charlie Blackmon Rockies 191 26 -165
Brandon Lowe Rays 205 58 -147
JaCoby Jones Tigers 190 44 -146
Mike Tauchman Yankees 147 16 -131
Brian Goodwin Reds 157 33 -124
Ryan McBroom Royals 164 43 -121
Daniel Murphy Rockies 106 -12 -118
Bryce Harper Phillies 206 90 -116
Freddy Galvis Reds 132 19 -113
Todd Frazier Mets 142 32 -110
Chance Sisco Orioles 197 90 -107
Juan Soto Nationals 270 167 -103
Jason Kipnis Cubs 201 99 -102
Whit Merrifield Royals 138 42 -96
Austin Romine Tigers 113 20 -93
Hunter Renfroe Rays 97 7 -90
Jesse Winker Reds 213 126 -87
Renato Nunez Orioles 161 76 -85
Yuli Gurriel Astros 149 65 -84
Michael Chavis Red Sox 111 27 -84
Asdrubal Cabrera Nationals 123 41 -82
J.T. Realmuto Phillies 176 98 -78
Carson Kelly Diamondbacks 75 -1 -76
Starling Marte Marlins 154 79 -75
Anthony Rizzo Cubs 147 72 -75
James McCann White Sox 177 102 -75
Robbie Grossman Athletics 184 110 -74
Nicky Lopez Royals 99 27 -72
Rio Ruiz Orioles 125 55 -70
Nicholas Castellanos Reds 163 96 -67
Mitch Moreland Padres 193 128 -65
Austin Meadows Rays 124 59 -65
Pedro Severino Orioles 174 110 -64
Ramon Laureano Athletics 141 78 -63
Tony Kemp Athletics 134 71 -63
DJ LeMahieu Yankees 175 113 -62
Roman Quinn Phillies 107 45 -62
Donovan Solano Giants 171 110 -61
Mike Ford Yankees 66 8 -58
Brian Anderson Marlins 136 80 -56
A.J. Pollock Dodgers 153 97 -56
Erik Gonzalez Pirates 141 89 -52
Hanser Alberto Orioles 129 78 -51
David Peralta Diamondbacks 117 66 -51

Charlie Blackmon is the largest fader in 2020. After three weeks of flirting with a .500 batting average (yes, a .500 batting average) – we knew that he would most certainly descend towards earth. What we did not know was that he would crash, with a 26 wRC+. In other words, Blackmon has been 74% worse than the league average over the past few weeks. Yikes! Regression is a powerful force.

Daniel Murphy and Carson Kelly are the two members of this leaderboard who faded to a negative second-half wRC+. Kelly is batting just a mere .154 in the 2H, with just 1 HR and no walks. Murphy has a .170 average, and no homers. There is upside though for Murphy, who struck out less than 10% of the time during that span, and hit for just a .186 BABIP. Expect some bounce-back.

Now for the players who were super-awesome, and who are now ... just awesome. Below are all those who had at least a 175 wRC+ in the first half, and hit for at least a 125 wRC+ in the second half:

  • Juan Soto
  • Jesse Winker
  • Mitch Moreland

The Padres made a number of mid-season trades this year, and with one of them acquired the ageless Mitch Moreland. Mitch has been outstanding in 2020, but he does exhibit a large righty/lefty split. His wRC+ against righties this year is 173, while vs. lefties is only 66. With Eric Hosmer now on the shelf, Moreland will likely get lots of playing time going forward.

Juan Soto was my pre-season prediction for this year’s NL MVP. Soto missed some time in the beginning of the season, as he tested positive for COVID. As soon as he started playing, he hit the ground running. He has accumulated 1.4 WAR on the season – a top 20 figure in the NL despite the missed time. In his declined 2H, Soto is still batting a lofty .305. No need to worry.

Jesse Winker is quietly having a heck of a season for the Reds. He is batting .293 with 10 HRs, 20 runs and 18 RBI. I do not worry about his second half fade, as he is walking at a 15% clip. Winker is simply an undervalued professional baseball player.

 

2020 Most Stable Players

Just for fun, here are the most stable players in all of baseball across both season halves:

Player Team 1H wRC+ 2H wRC+ wRC+ Diff
Jean Segura Phillies 108 108 0
Eddie Rosario Twins 103 103 0
Kevin Newman Pirates 60 60 0
Sean Murphy Athletics 113 114 1
Jake Cronenworth Padres 151 150 -1
Avisail Garcia Brewers 81 80 -1
Giovanny Urshela Yankees 133 135 2
Trent Grisham Padres 125 123 -2
Tommy La Stella Athletics 125 123 -2
Howie Kendrick Nationals 79 82 3
Alex Verdugo Red Sox 129 133 4
Luis Arraez Twins 79 83 4
Javier Baez Cubs 57 61 4
Willy Adames Rays 147 143 -4
Travis d'Arnaud Braves 143 139 -4
Travis Shaw Blue Jays 99 95 -4
Nelson Cruz Twins 177 182 5
Nomar Mazara White Sox 81 76 -5
Bryan Reynolds Pirates 72 67 -5
Tony Wolters Rockies 18 13 -5
Franmil Reyes Indians 144 150 6
Cesar Hernandez Indians 95 101 6
Willson Contreras Cubs 101 107 6
Isiah Kiner-Falefa Rangers 95 101 6
Mookie Betts Dodgers 174 168 -6
Fernando Tatis Jr. Padres 178 185 7
Justin Turner Dodgers 126 119 -7
J.D. Davis Mets 133 126 -7
Kyle Schwarber Cubs 113 106 -7
Adam Eaton Nationals 69 62 -7
Anthony Rendon Angels 160 168 8
Chris Taylor Dodgers 114 122 8
Ryan McMahon Rockies 75 83 8
Jose Peraza Red Sox 63 71 8
David Fletcher Angels 129 121 -8
Christian Walker Diamondbacks 112 121 9
Carlos Correa Astros 127 118 -9
Eloy Jimenez White Sox 135 126 -9

All of the above players exhibited less than a 10-point difference in their wRC+ between the halves of the season. Of course, consistent hitting is wonderful if the consistency is at a high level such as for Travis d'Arnaud, Nelson Cruz, Franmil Reyes and Anthony Rendon. Sometimes the consistency shown is rather poor – as exhibited with Jose Peraza, Javier Baez, Ryan McMahon and Kevin Newman.

Particularly impressive are the players who can stay at a high offensive level for a prolonged period of time. Jake Cronenworth is a lesser-known player to many, but he is an underrated one. He hit for an almost identical 150 wRC+ in both halves. Cronenworth is batting .325 with four HR, 21 runs and 19 RBI. With a strikeout rate of only 17% in 2020, he should continue to have a high floor for his batting average as the season moves along. He also has swiped 3 bases and carries positional eligibility flexibility, which makes him quite valuable in fantasy baseball - especially in rotisserie formats.

Will these consistent players keep it up for the remainder of the season? Check back here later on in the season.



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Champ or Chump: Deivi Garcia

Fantasy baseball frequently turns into an arms race, so you should always be scouring the waiver wire for pitching reinforcements to help you reach your innings cap. Young Deivi Garcia has turned heads in his MLB debut for the Yankees, going 1-1 with a 3.06 ERA and 4.20 xFIP in his first 17 2/3 IP at the MLB level. The prospect of a solid starter on a very strong club (recent struggles aside) makes for an intriguing add, especially considering that the 21-year-old is currently rostered in just 33% of Yahoo! leagues.

Garcia didn't get too much hype before the season because of his youth and inexperience, leading many prospect hounds to conclude that he was still a few years away. He also has a small frame by MLB standards, causing some scouts to project him as a high-leverage reliever rather than a front-end starter. His delivery is described as "high-effort," further reinforcing the notion that his future is in the bullpen.

Despite all of that, his electric stuff plays in any role. MLB Pipeline ranked Garcia as the third-best prospect in the Yankees system this season, indicating a consensus that he would be able to contribute at the big-league level. The Yankees have also allowed Garcia to pitch at least six innings in two of his three starts, so the reliever talk is unlikely to become a reality in 2020 even if it is his long-term future. Keep reading to find out more about how Garcia could help your fantasy roster in 2020.

 

Dazzling Scouting Reports

Scouts don't love Garcia's physical size, but they love the stuff he's able to generate. His repertoire begins with a high-spin fastball that has averaged 92.6 mph at the big league level, though he can dial it up to 97 when the situation warrants it. Its 2,200 RPM might not seem impressive at first glance, but its 95.8% active spin means that virtually all of those rotations are contributing to deceptive riding life. The pitch has performed exactly as you would expect it to in its brief MLB sample, generating a solid 9.3 SwStr% and inducing a lot of harmless pop-ups with a 53.6 FB% and 40 IFFB%.

Scouts say that Garcia's high-spin curve is his best pitch, noting that it offers "so much depth that [Garcia] sometimes has difficulty landing it for strikes." It has generated a solid 15.7 SwStr% and 45.1 Zone% at the MLB level thus far, but big-league hitters haven't really been chasing it out of the zone with a 32.1% chase rate. It also offers a 75 GB% when put into play, potentially reassuring fantasy managers who are concerned about rostering a fly ball pitcher at Yankee Stadium.

Garcia's changeup is usually described as his third pitch in scouting reports, but its results to date have been excellent. It's tough to argue with a 21.6 SwStr%, especially if the pitch in question has a 64.9 Zone%. Major league hitters haven't been chasing it at all with a 23.1% chase rate, but its 50 GB% and ability to be thrown for a strike mean that its chase rate isn't that important.

Garcia also throws an occasional slider, but it's more of a show-me pitch than a weapon to get hitters out. FanGraphs grades all four pitches with at least the potential to be major league-average, with a 70-grade on his curve standing out. His fastball is also plus with a 55 scouting grade, while his slider (50/55) and change (45/50) are expected to improve moving forward. The biggest negative is 40-grade command, though it is expected to reach 50-grade in the future.

MLB Pipeline largely agrees with that assessment, ranking his curve as a 65 but also grading his heater a 60. His change and control earned 50-grades in their 2019 scouting report. Overall, this is the kind of raw stuff fantasy gamers want to bet on.

 

Sterling MiLB Performance

 

Garcia began his professional career in 2016, but he didn't throw 100 innings in a single season until last year. He began the campaign at Advanced A (Tampa), posting a 3.06 ERA and 1.49 xFIP over 17 2/3 IP. It's a small sample, but his 45.2 K% and 11 BB% suggest total mastery of the level. He somehow allowed a .438 BABIP despite his overall success, but the Yankees promoted him to Double-A (Trenton) without hesitation.

Garcia was more than up to the challenge, posting a 3.86 ERA and 2.45 xFIP over 53 2/3 IP. His 37 K% remained elite, while his 11.1 BB% was virtually unchanged despite more advanced competition. His BABIP against was still high at .360, but he made up for it with an HR/FB of just 5%. Again, the Bronx Bombers had no choice but to promote him to Triple-A (Scranton-Wilkes-Barre).

Garcia's numbers took a bit of a hit at Triple-A, as his ERA and xFIP ballooned to 5.40 and 5.18, respectively, over 40 IP. He still got his strikeouts with a 25.3 K%, but the figure was more good than elite. His 11.2 BB% was comparable to his rates at prior levels, but doesn't work as well when paired with an 18.2% HR/FB.

Still, there is a good case that it wasn't actually Garcia's fault. Scranton-Wilkes-Barre finished in the 94th percentile for HR among all MiLB ballparks last season thanks in part to the rabbit ball. In contrast, Tampa ranked in the 42nd percentile, while Trenton was in the 28th. Likewise, Scranton-Wilkes-Barre finished 2019 in the 73rd percentile for BABIP against the 47th for Tampa and 13th for Trenton. Reaching Triple-A at all is impressive for a 20-year-old, and this author believes that Garcia deserves a mulligan for the statistics he posted there.

 

Parting Thoughts

 

Garcia's 25.7 K% over his first three starts is comparable to what he did at Triple-A last season, with his MiLB resume suggesting further upside. He has also cut his BB% to 2.9, indicating that he may have solved one of his biggest problems at the team's alternate training site. It's also possible that he will regress as the league gets more data on him, but walks are unlikely to be a problem if he maintains two pitches with zone rates over 60%.

Scouts believe that Garcia will need to refine the command of his curve to reach his ceiling, and its big-league results haven't measured up to its scouting report thus far. It is also risky to use a pitcher with a 46.9 FB% at Yankee Stadium, though high-spin fastballs tend to limit the damage on fly balls.

Garcia is worth adding to nearly every fantasy roster because he figures to provide strikeouts and wins without hurting a manager's ratios. Honestly, this author is surprised that he is freely available in about two thirds of leagues.

Verdict: Champ (based on excellent pedigree, strong MiLB performance, and initial MLB success)



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Statcast Starting Pitcher Leaders - Hard Hit Rate

The 2020 MLB season is now nearing the playoff stretch, both in real-life and fantasy. Sad as that may be, the next two weeks are crucial to all contenders.

Luckily, due to the extremely short season, those in need of help with pitching ratios in 5x5 leagues can still turn things around as opposed to most years where dramatic shifts won't take place in the standings.

To find starting pitchers who can avoid those disastrous starts and possibly give you a boost in ERA and WHIP, I will focus on Hard Hit rate. With the trade deadline gone in most fantasy leagues, I will dwindle these results down to pitchers who are available in more than half of fantasy leagues.

 

Jaime Barria, Los Angeles Angels

22% Hard Hit%, 5% rostered

The Angels' pitching staff has (again) betrayed them this year and will deny the game's best player from reaching the postseason. They currently have the seventh-worst league ERA at 5.15. Losing Shohei Ohtani's arm hurt but the unmitigated disasters of Julio Teheran (7.94 ERA), Patrick Sandoval (6.75 ERA), and Jose Suarez (38.57 ERA) in the rotation for 12 turns hurt far worse. Barria steps into the starter role to see if he can at least plug a hole in the dam.

He is yet to throw a quality start since his last outing of five innings was his longest. He is also yet to give up a Barrel over 18 2/3 innings this season and holds a minuscule hard-hit rate of 22%. By comparison, possible NL Cy Young winner Yu Darvish is at 27.4% and Jacob deGrom is at 32.4% while likely AL Cy Young winner Shane Bieber is at 41.8%.

Obviously, hard-hit rate alone doesn't dictate success but it's a good starting point. Barria has done a great job limiting hard contact, although a low Whiff rate is a bit concerning.

 

There hasn't been an uptick in velocity or change in pitch mix to account for his early success. The one difference this year has been that he is simply attacking hitters earlier by throwing strikes. His 73% first-pitch strike rate is up by 15 points from last year and 13 points higher than the MLB average.

There could certainly be regression based on his huge change in this category. His xSLG was .532 last year and now it sits at .283, so skepticism is encouraged. That said, his expected stats are pretty and he only needs to string together a couple more solid starts to help your staff.

 

Taijuan Walker, Toronto Blue Jays

28.7% Hard Hit%, 49% rostered

As a former top-20 prospect, Walker has been on the radar for years. Unfortunately, he just hasn't stayed healthy, missing nearly all of 2018 and 2019. He came back fairly strong with his original team in Seattle this year, posting a 4.00 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, and 13.1% K-BB% in five starts. That was good enough to get him dealt to Toronto, who was in desperate need of rotation help.

His first three starts have been everything they could have hoped for. He tossed six scoreless innings in his first outing up north (in Buffalo) and then allowed two runs on six hits over 5 2/3 IP in his next start before blanking the Yanks for four frames. Admittedly, the Orioles and Red Sox aren't the fiercest offenses to face and the Yankees aren't looking too scary these days either but he'll likely face the Mets and possibly the Orioles once more to finish the year.

Walker won't post great strikeout numbers but that's not the intention of these recommendations anyway. Take the ratio help and the possible W if he's available on waivers.

 

Kyle Freeland, Colorado Rockies

31.9% Hard Hit%, 33% rostered

Freeland had done what is remarkably rare in 2020 - strung together seven quality starts to start the season. The ability to pitch at least six innings each time without getting tattooed is something fantasy managers will gladly take. He hit a couple of rough patches that seemed to end the dream but bounced right back by shutting out the hot-hitting Padres over six innings.

Freeland also lacks in the K department, more so than Walker. His 16.2% K% is not far below his 17.8% career mark. His 4.45 xERA also implies some regression may come but he has proven to be mostly boom with just two bust starts this year. Despite an unfavorable home park, Freeland is restricting hitters to an average exit velocity of 86 MPH, a hard-hit rate under 32% and has given up six HR in nine starts. He does this by working the edges of the strike zone and nibbling on the corners.

Freeland will stay at home to face both L.A. teams before hitting the road to take on the Giants in what will likely be his final start of the year. Facing the Dodgers is always risky but Freeland can be streamed semi-confidently against the Angels and Giants.

 

Taylor Clarke, Arizona Diamondbacks

34.4% Hard Hit%, 9% rostered

Seemingly every week there has been an opportunity to take a jab at the D-backs rotation in this column, but it's time to look ahead and focus on the positive. The team has thrown in the towel on this season but someone has to fill Robbie Ray's erratic shoes.

Clarke has been solid since joining the rotation, if not spectacular. He did allow a season-high four earned runs his last time out but it was against the NL-leading Dodgers and he stretched out to six full innings, which was his longest of the year.

Clarke's improvement over last season's brief debut is noticeable because he allowed an embarrassing 12.1% Barrel rate and .518 xSLG in 2019. He ditched his sinker and has gone to the changeup more, with good results. A slight uptick in velocity doesn't hurt either.

You'll get about a strikeout per inning with Clarke, which gives him an edge over most of the other starters in this column. You may not get any wins, however, seeing as how he is on the Diamondbacks.

 

Martin Perez, Boston Red Sox

29.3% Hard Hit%, 9% rostered

Advocating for a Boston player in 2020, much less a pitcher, is a challenging task. Perez has never been more than a desperation streamer in the first place, as his career 4.70 ERA and 1.48 WHIP would indicate. That remains the case but he could be a more reliable option than most SP available in fantasy leagues.

Since moving on from the Rangers, Perez has dropped his hard-hit rate to extremely low levels of 29.7% in 2019 and 30% in 2020. Accordingly, his 86.2 average exit velocity was in the top four percentile last year and is even lower this year at 85.4 MPH. Interestingly, this corresponds with a move from being a ground ball pitcher upon entering the league to more of a fly-ball pitcher these days. He's still managed to limit hard contact and put together some quality starts, with some bad ones sprinkled in.

Facing the Rays in Tampa is a risky proposition but Perez may be worth adding for the final two weeks if he matches up with Miami and Baltimore.



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Officially Lit, Corbin Burnes Elite

Corbin Burnes is the forgotten Brewers prospect. Relegated to the bullpen (and Brandon Woodruff's shadow) after failing to capitalize on his starter's pedigree, Burnes had an 8.82 ERA in 2020, pairing one of baseball's best sliders, with one it's worst fastballs. But once upon a time, it was Burnes who was the face of Milwaulkee's pitching future, not Woodruff, after a breakout 2017 campaign in the minors, and a solid audition for the majors in 2018.

But Burnes got doused in 2019 and headed into 2020 battling for an early rotation spot with Eric Lauer and Freddy Peralta. He came out of the bullpen in long chunks for three of his first four games, flashing a new pitch mix that was quickly putting the troubles of the previous year behind him. Burnes posted a 3.38 ERA and 36.4% K% in those first 16 innings but has really locked in since joining the rotation.

Entering his Wednesday afternoon start against the Detroit Tigers, Burnes was 2-o in his five starts since becoming a permanent starter, with a 2.35 ERA over 38.1 innings, carrying a 34.4% K% and 1.04 WHIP. The Tigers just got more of the same, with Burnes allowing just one hit in seven innings, striking out 11 and walking none. Following this lastest dominant performance, he now has a 1.99 ERA (2.01 FIP), with a 0.90 WHIP and 36.4% K%. Lets Burnes it all down.

 

A Whole New Burnes

Besides his all-world slider, there's not much about Burnes in 2020 that resembles the mess we saw last season, both in his pitch mix and demeanor. He was in total control on Wednesday afternoon from the first innings, not allowing a baserunner until a triple in the fifth inning with one out. After giving up the long hit, Burnes locked in like the terminator, striking out the next two batters on 10 pitches. He gave them nothing but fastballs and sliders, garnering one called strike and five swinging strikes, and collecting strikeouts number seven and eight. Just like this:

The Tigers had no chance today. Just like the Indians didn't have a chance last time Burnes pitched, or the Pirates and Twins the time before. This isn't a fluke; this is a breakout. Burnes has one of the best sliders in baseball and is now working with a dialed-in pitch mix that can attack (and strikeout) batters on both sides of the plate. But before we get to why the changes are putting Burnes on a track to fantasy dominance, we have to look at what went so wrong in 2019.

 

Four Seamer Foolishness

Burnes' four-seamer was an utter disaster in 2019, allowing a .521 wOBA, .398 ISO, and a .609 wOBAcon. It didn't just get smashed; it got smashed in style, with a 63.2% HR/FB that was tops among pitchers (min. 50 BBE). Even though it was one of the coveted and sexy high-spin fastballs that everyone desires, with its 2656 rpm also the highest among all pitchers (min. 400 pitches).

Unfortunately, it also had only 59.8% spin-efficiency (the amount of spin that actually contributes to movement) that ranked 585th among pitchers with at least 250 pitches in the year. Which is why it was getting below-average movement on both planes, with only 2.7 inches of horizontal break. Even with premium velocity and elite spin, if you throw an old-fashioned "straight ball", it's going to get smacked. And it got smacked out of the park 13 times in 2019:

via GIPHY

Righthanders batters basically only had to worry about the trashy fastball and the elite slider. When you pair a slider that moves a ton with a fastball that doesn't move at all, it's easy to see how Burnes got hit so hard by hitters who could pick up the differences early in the ball's flight. Let's look at his plan of attack versus RHB in 2019, so we can then compare it to the changes this season:

Ignore the sinker for now, as Burnes only threw it 3.7% in 2019. We'll talk about his 2020 sinker in a minute. Looking above, you can see that his four-seamer and slider tracked well together but put yourself in the mind of the batter. Why would you even attempt a swing on the slider that won't end up in the zone and that you probably can't hit? Wouldn't it be better to pass on anything spinning and just sit on the straight ball?
Marcell made this choice, wisely:

via GIPHY

The trouble he had with his fastball got all of the attention, and rightfully so given the gaudy numbers put up against it. But while the slider hasn't ever been anything but nasty, it's performance had started to drop as 2019 went on.

 

Slidepiece Getting Rusty

Not really rusty, actually, as that implies a lack of use. Quite the opposite, actually, with Burnes leaning on the slider more and more as his disastrous 2019 unfolded:

And why not more sliders? Over his 125 innings since 2018, the 30.6% SwStr% on his slider is the highest among all pitchers (500 min.) You might think that the number is elevated due to pitching most of those innings out of the bullpen (and only facing batters once) but it's actually higher this season (34.6% SwStr%) and he's been the starter in five of his eight games. And even when he's come out of the pen, his shortest appearance was still 3.2 innings.

After Burnes, Max Scherzer's slider is second among starters this season (50 pitch min.), four points behind at a 30.3% SwStr%, and after him there are six starters between 25% - 30%. Burnes is not just first in terms of whiffery, he's on a level all by himself with his slider one of the stinkiest pieces of cheese currently offered in the big leagues:

via GIPHY

The slidepiece gets elite movement on both planes but every year has brought more and more on the horizontal, moving from 1.5 inches of break in 2018, to 2.7 inches in 2019, to now 3.5 inches in 2020. Burnes has played into the more movement, with the pitch ending up deeper and deeper on the glove side. However, the command clearly suffered in 2019.

2018

2019

2020

 

So going back to the straightness of his fastball, it's easier to see how the lack of movement makes it a lot easier for batters to lay off the slider - especially for RHB, who faced 89% of sliders and four-seamers. Thinking like a righty, you're virtually assured of only getting one of the two pitches. One comes in fast but moves very little. The other moves a whole lot and is usually really, really hard to hit. Why would batters even try to mess with the slider that often doesn't end in the zone, when they could just wait for a fastball coming in hot and straight?

Using Alex Chamberlain's Pitch Leaderboard, we can use rolling graphs to better see the degradation of the slider as 2019 went on, both in it's the swing-and-miss ability and the quality of contact against it.

2019 SwStr%

2019 xwOBAcon

 

Taking Out the Trash

Thankfully, Burnes has put the four-seamer on ice in 2020, with Burnes now using a combination of sinkers (37.4%) and cutters (25.4%) instead. And just like his four-seamer, the sinker still has elite spin, with its 2697 rpm trailing only Trevor Bauer and his spin doctor voodoo among all starting pitchers. And the cutter is even higher, with its 2907 rpm barely edging out Bauer for the highest.

That's been the first key to Burnes's current and future breaking out. He used to feature a fastball that barely moved, got totally hammered, and was making his best pitch worse. Now he utilized two high-spin fastballs that move in different directions, with the sinker moving in on righties to his glove side, while his cutter tunnels more with his slider. This keeps righties from cheating on his slider and forces them to defend both sides of the plate. The cutter is used more versus LHB and there's also a much-improved curveball that we'll get to shortly, but here's his plan of attack versus RHB, a stark contrast from 2019:

 

Focusing on the slider and sinker, you can see the far different look right-handers are now getting compared to the slider/four-seam combination that he used in 2019. The sinker and slider track together as they approach the decision point, with batters then having to choose between the nasty slider falling down and out or a 96 mph sinker busting in on the inner third of the plate.

Here's what the combo looks like in action:

Burnes allowed a .340 wOBA to RHP in 2019 but is down to a .240 wOBA so far in 2020. That kind of drop is possible when you're allowing 75.9% poor-contact and striking out 35.4% of the righties you face.

 

Fixing the Real Problem

Figuring out how to handle right-handers is one thing but what he really needed was a solution to his left-hander problems. Burnes allowed a .513 wOBA to LHB in 2019, giving up 8 home runs in 1o2 PA, while walking 17. Just bad. Bad, bad, bad.

Much like his struggles versus RHB, a lot of the issues that Burnes was having go back to the terribly straight four-seamer that he kept serving up on a platter. It certainly wasn't any better versus LHB, allowing a .621 wOBAcon and 95.2 mph average exit velocity.

Coming out of the bullpen, Burnes was still mostly a two-pitch pitcher to left-handers, only mixing in about 25% curveballs and changeups. Not that he should have necessarily been throwing more curveballs and changeups. Batters had a .610 wOBAcon against his curve and a .580 wOBAcon against his changeup.

This year is a different story versus the wrong-handers, with no significant differences in his splits. His strikeout-rates and wOBA allowed are virtually the same to both, and his 3.35 FIP vs. LHB is actually over half of a run lower than versus RHB.

We've already talked about the obvious change, with the replacement of his terrible four-seamer with the sinker/cutter combo. And just as adding the sinker gave him a pitch that attacked the opposite side of the plate as his slider when facing RHB, the sinker finally gave him something that he could use to work away from LHB, besides the lightly-used changeup.

But the curveball and changeup have both been much better in 2020 and have deserved their uptick in usage. The changeup has a .209 xwOBA against it, pairing well with his sinker, as both pitches move away from lefties. And the curveball has been even better, allowing just a .067 wOBA and .044 xwOBA against it, as it and the cutter give Burnes plate-coverage on the middle- and inner third of the plate.

The Pitching Ninja liked the cutter against the Tigers today:

That gives Burnes four effective pitches to use against LHB (without using the slider) with the mix now allowing ways to attack both sides of the plate.:

 

An Ace's Arsenal

2019 was an epic failure but Burnes now has the total package to match his pedigree and slider. He has elite velocity, five legitimate pitches he can use to attack batters on both sides of the plate, and his slider is - no exaggeration - one of the best pitches in baseball. Burnes is basically announcing that he's a running pre-ace starter kit and we're nearing the end of the time where the world doesn't know it.

I have Burnes as a top-15 pitcher for the rest of the season. If that sounds ridiculous than I'll just wait right here until you can find me 15 pitchers you'd rather have for the next four weeks. It's too late to trade for him this season, but dynasty players would be wise to make him a priority acquisition for the offseason. And looking way ahead to redraft leagues in 2021, Burnes is the type of player (with the type of stuff) to attract a lot of hype, with his draft price in winter 2020 likely to be much lower than it'll be in Spring 2021.



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Champ or Chump: Kevin Gausman

Separating legitimate breakouts from fluke seasons is one of the biggest components of fantasy analysis, and the unique structure of the 2020 campaign is making it more challenging than ever. Can you imagine making your final keeper decisions on June 1 in a normal year? That's going to be all of the information we have going into 2021.

It'll be an inexact science, but we can try to spot trends to point us in the right direction. For instance, Kevin Gausman of the San Francisco Giants has been an average starting pitcher since his MLB debut in 2013. He has a 22.1 career K% and a career ERA of 4.30. This year, he's sporting a 31 K% and 3.07 xFIP to go with a middling 4.43 ERA and 2-2 record. Has the 29-year-old former top prospect turned a corner, or is his 2020 success a mirage?

The answer is likely somewhere in between. Gausman is better than his 4.43 ERA might suggest, but still has a significant problem that will likely prevent him from living up to his sterling xFIP. He is currently rostered in 29% of Yahoo! leagues, and at least one manager in every league could probably use his services. Of course, that manager isn't necessarily you. Here is a more detailed look at Gausman's profile.

 

What the Luck Metrics Say

 

The first step in evaluating any pitcher's performance is looking at his "luck metrics:" BABIP, strand rate, and HR/FB. Some pitchers can control these variables to an extent, while predictable factors such as a club's defense can influence them as well. Still, outlying marks in any of the three are likely to regress over time.

Gausman is allowing a .307 BABIP this season against a career mark of .314, a difference that probably isn't driving his success this season. He also has a 70.7% strand rate against a career mark of 73.9%, suggesting that he has been unfortunate considering his strikeout spike. His 20.5 HR/FB is a career-worst, significantly higher than his 13.8% career rate. Allowing more home runs doesn't make you an effective pitcher, so we can conclude that sheer dumb luck isn't behind Gausman's performance.

Interestingly, the Giants play in a pitcher's park but Gausman's 5.40 ERA at home is considerably higher than his 3.48 mark on the road. This is almost certainly small sample size noise and adds further credence to the notion that HR/FB isn't predictive of anything after about a month's worth of games.

That said, Gausman's .467 xSLG isn't that much lower than the .472 slugging percentage he has allowed thus far. His .262 xBA is also substantially higher than his .245 BA allowed, suggesting that his BABIP deserves to be a little higher than it is. In short, these metrics do not provide the answers we're searching for.

 

An Improving Fastball

 

The biggest driver of Gausman's success to date has been his four-seam fastball. It has ranked about average over his career, recording a 7.3 SwStr% and 58 Zone%. It was better than that in 2019 with a 10 SwStr% and 58.2 Zone%, but the time he spent as a reliever made one wonder if he could repeat it as a starter.

Gausman's 40 2/3 IP this season have come nearly exclusively as a starter (his one relief appearance lasted more than four innings), so he hasn't had the benefit of airing it out for a couple of batters. His heater has still been amazing: 11.8 SwStr% and 71.9 Zone%. Better yet, all of the offering's peripherals are trending in the right direction.

Gausman is throwing harder than he did a season ago, dialing it up to 95.6 mph against an average of 94.2 mph in 2019 and 93.6 in 2018. He's also generating a lot more spin, averaging 2,326 RPM in 2020 against 2,250 in 2019 and 2,168 in 2018. Gausman has always enjoyed a high active spin rate, with 92.3% of his fastball's RPM contributing to movement this year. His improved spin rate means that his active spin is making more of an impact, giving Gausman a dynamic weapon with which he can attack hitters.

 

Repertoire Changes?

 

Gausman has been perceived as a two-pitch arm who combines a mediocre fastball with a great splitter. Now that he also has a great fastball to pair with his splitter, his breakout must be real right? Not so fast. The table below highlights what Gausman has been throwing this year according to Pitch Info:

Gausman shelved his slider last year, but he's brought it back in a limited capacity. Unfortunately, it still isn't accomplishing that much. Its 8.5 SwStr% is fairly low for a breaking pitch, and batters are seldom chasing it out of the strike zone with an O-Swing% of just 17.9. Its 40.4 Zone% isn't stealing many called strikes either, and RHB (who have seen 40 of the 51 sliders Gausman has thrown this year) have an xwOBA of .553 against it. It's a complete waste of a pitch.

Gausman has never featured a changeup, and Statcast suggests he still doesn't despite the info above. The diagram below highlights Gausman's pitch usage on Baseball Savant:

Judging from those percentages, it's likely that what Pitch Info is registering as a changeup is actually a splitter that doesn't have the bite it's supposed to. Per Pitch Info, Gausman's split has a 23.2 SwStr%, 27.4 Zone%, and 37.7% chase rate this season. His change is inferior with a 13.2 SwStr%, 37.4 Zone%, and 14% chase rate. There's no reason to throw that changeup on purpose if you have Gausman's splitter.

Furthermore, Gausman's splitter has a career chase rate of 44.3%, roughly seven points higher than its current mark. This could suggest that even the pitches Pitch Info interprets as splitters don't have quite the same action they've had in the past. It's still a great strikeout pitch, but appears to be trending in the wrong direction.

 

Conclusion

 

Add it all together, and we have a guy with a great high-spin fastball and an excellent split when it's working. Two great weapons are all it takes to post high strikeout numbers, so Gausman is likely to continue racking up Ks moving forward.

However, high-spin fastballs are generally easier to lift, and a mistake can quickly wind up in the cheap seats. Furthermore, splitters that don't have the intended bite tend to get crushed. Gausman is also pretty predictable with just two viable offerings. This gives him more blowup potential than other arms.

The upside is intriguing, but there is enough volatility here that Gausman can't be recommended for fantasy gamers trying to maintain their ratios. Likewise, there's no reason to roll the dice with Gausman if you're currently in first place. However, Gausman is the perfect guy to sign if you need to make things happen this month. After all, you're not going to climb from sixth to first without taking some risks.

Verdict: Champ (assuming you're the GM of a middling team looking for a spark)



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Trade Deadline Recap, Winners and Losers: WPC+ Videocast

Pierre Camus and Nicklaus Gaut recap the 2020 MLB trade deadline to discuss the biggest risers and fallers for fantasy baseball.

Like and subscribe to the RotoBaller channel on Youtube to get all our latest podcasts and catch us on iTunes and BlogTalkRadio as well!

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Trade Deadline Recap

Pierre and Nick react to the numerous moves made prior to the 2020 MLB trade deadline.

Players and topics discussed:



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Will Mike Clevinger's Strikeouts Return Soon?

This was supposed to be a wider look at the biggest decreases in starting pitcher strikeout rates. But lo and behold, the leader of that list - and someone who had been cooling his heels at Cleveland's alternate site, as of late - was traded to San Diego in a blockbuster deal. And even though Clevinger only has four starts under his belt in 2020, there were some things I found in my digging that were interesting, if not troubling. And Clevinger has faced 93 batters this season, which as I explain in more depth here, is enough of a sample size to make some early judgments.

Clevinger only has a 22.6% K% in his four starts, a year after posting a 33.9% K% in 2019. He has a 3.18 ERA but a 5.60 FIP speaks much more poorly of his abbreviated start. But besides those performance results, there were a lot of changes to how his various pitches were moving and performing. As well, as some changes in his release points that go back to 2019 and may be contributing to his arsenal tunneling worse this season.

Make no mistake, I love this "win-now" move by San Diego, getting a front-line starter in exchange for bulk and without having to deal one of their elite pitching prospects. But there are some possible mechanical changes that could be leading Clevinger to be more hittable. Let's dig some stuff up.

 

Sunshine's Strikeouts Are Setting

Starts BF 2019 K% 2020 K% Change
4 93 33.9 22.6 -11.3

In terms of total batters faced, Clevinger is lighter on the list due to being put on ice for breaking COVID-19 protocols after just four starts. However, it's probably worth chatting about his 11-point drop in strikeout-rate seeing that he was the headline piece in a blockbuster deadline deal, being traded to San Diego for approximately 17 players.

Clevinger's 3.18 ERA over 22.2 innings is a little deceptive, as he has a 5.60 FIP, and his walk-rate is up four-points to 11.8%. And the four starts were again the Twins (twice), Royals, and Reds, none of whom have been stingy with strikeouts to righthanded pitching. Minnesota is the seventh-highest at 25.5% K%,  Kansas City is 12th-highest at 24% K%, and Cinncinati is 13th-highest at a 23.9% K%. Looking further, all of the key indicators for strikeouts have taken a dip:

SwStr% Change Chase%  Change Cont% Change
13.9 -2.2 21.9 -8.1 74.1 10.9

Starting with swinging-strike, let's look at which pitches in Clevinger's arsenal have seen the biggest changes in their whiffery.  Here are the pitches, according to their splits, that have seen the biggest drop in SwStr%, along with their usage rates:

2019 2020 19 SwSt 20 SwSt change
Changeup (L) 20% 20% 15.6% 8.9% -6.7
4 Seam (R) 42% 33% 15.6% 11.1% -4.5
Slider (R) 52% 57% 21.5% 19.2% -2.3
Curve (L) 19% 23% 15.4% 13.9% -1.5

Probably not coincidentally, all three pitches have seen some sort of change in their movement profiles. The changeup is an inch short of 2019 on both the vertical and horizontal plane, while his four-seamer went the opposite way, gaining about an inch on both planes. The slider, however, had the largest differences, losing 3.5 inches of drop and 4.6 inches of break. The slider versus right-handers last season had a .308 wOBAcon and 7.7% Brl% against it. This year it's up to a .365 xwOBAcon and 15.4% Brl%, with batters making much better contact, in addition to whiffing less.

Here's the slider to righties in 2019:

 

And here it is in 2020:

And finally here's where Clevinger probably shouldn't be throwing his slider to RHB:

Then there is the matter of his curveball, which he throws almost exclusively to left-handers and is getting 2.5 fewer inches of drop and 4.7 fewer inches of break. In terms of quality of contact, batters had a .400 wOBAcon against the curveball in 2019, compared to a .671 wOBAcon in 2020, even though his contact-rate on the pitch has dropped from 29.4% to 20.8%. But of the contact that's been made against the curve, much more of it has been hit in the air compared to last year; his groundball-rate has dropped from 53% to 47 % and his flyball-rate has increased from 16.2% to 26.6%.

On the left is his curveball to LHB in 2019, on the right is 2020:

Finally, there is his four-seam fastball, particularly to right-handers. Its swinging-strike rate has dropped 4.5 points and overall, batters have an xwOBA against it that's nearly 200 points higher. Batters also have nearly a seven-point higher contact-rate against it than in 2020 and even though he's getting slightly more movement on both planes, batters aren't chasing it; he's dropped precipitously from a 26.4% chase-rate to 10.9%.

 

Simple Mechanics?

Since Clevinger has only pitched four games, it's hard to pin any of this on anything more than a pitcher finding his rhythm at the beginning of the season. Although, it isn't thrilling that all of his pitches seem to have something wonky going on with them. He hasn't seen any dramatic changes in his spin rates, so something else is driving the changes in movement and trouble with the location.

I won't pretend to be some mechanics whiz who can tell you why the pitches are doing this and that but one change that sticks out to me is a change in his release points, particularly on the vertical plane. But these changes go back to last year, which makes me wonder if it's a feature or a bug.

Below you can see the release points of his different pitches since 2018, with most seeing a steady climb after Clevinger returned from injury last year. In 2020, they're mostly in the areas that they ended 2019 at:

Putting the change in his pitch movement together with the change in release point, let's now take a look at his pitch tracking versus right- and left-handed batters in 2019 and 2020.

Here he is versus RHB:

The fastball/slider combo syncs together for so much longer in 2019, moving together past the decision-point at which the batter must decide to swing. In 2020, the separation point has clearly been much earlier.

The differences are even starker versus LHB:

In 2019, his fastball, changeup, and curveball all tunneled nicely together as they moved towards the decision point. The fastball and changeup stayed together until the very end and moving opposite of the curveball. Those are some tough tunnels to track.

His pitches are tracking completely different in 2020. The curve and changeup still move together towards the decision-point but the fastball is out in a world by itself, making it easy for the batter to identify it early in the path. And instead of the changeup fading away from left-handers, it now has less separation in his path from his curve. For good hitters, this makes life a lot easier. They can identify early on whether it's a fastball and if it's not they have to deal with two pitches that will end up right in the same area.

 

Rest of Season Outlook

I don't suddenly think Clevinger is broken and for all I know, he spent his "vacation" at Cleveland's alternate site honing his mechanics. But the fact that the change in his release points started last year and has continued to 2020 makes me wonder if it's a permanent change.  And if those release points are what's leading to how his pitches are moving and tunneling, then I do worry if he'll be a lot more hittable.

One extra little nugget. Besides raw spin, we can also track active-spin. This is the amount of spin that actually translates to movement by the pitch. The active-spin rates for Clevinger's slider and curveball the last two seasons aren't inspiring:

Pitch 2019 2020 diff
Slider 77.2% 58.9% -18.3
Curveball 79.4% 61.7% -17.7



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Statcast Starting Pitcher Leaderboard - xSLG Underachievers

We go back to expected statistics for this week's iteration of Statcast pitcher review. Previously, we looked at xwOBA risers and fallers to determine who may be due to improve or decline. This time, we'll compare xSLG (expected slugging percentage) to SLG (actual slugging percentage) to find the biggest underachievers.

Simply because a player's expected stats are better than his results doesn't mean he is sure to regress positively or that he is fantasy-relevant in any way. For example, Jordan Lyles has an xSLG 51 points lower than his SLG but his xSLG is still 72 points above league average. Plus, his strikeout rate is pathetic and all of his other Statcast numbers indicate that he's just pitching terribly. This is why we have to dig into the entire profile to determine if this difference really means anything.

I've picked a few starting pitchers with sizeable gaps between xSLG-SLG that could indicate improvement is in store. These pitchers are widely available on waiver wires so consider stashing one or two if you have a roster spot open and are willing to take a leap of faith based on Statcast numbers (and my recommendation).

 

Spencer Howard, Philadelphia Phillies

.199 SLG-xSLG

The much-ballyhooed prospect finally got the call on August 9 much to the delight of Phillies fans and dynasty managers. As it tends to happen with rookies, he was inconsistent but flashed some of the arm talent that could make him special.

He's had a hard time limiting hard contact thus far, allowing 19 hits in 11 2/3 innings with four of those leaving the park along with a triple. Lefties have been the main source of contention, going for a .423 BAA and .826 SLG so far. Amazingly, despite those four taters, he's only allowed one barrel and his xSLG is nearly 200 points lower than his SLG allowed. Additionally, his 4.11 xERA, while not great, is far better than his 6.17 ERA.

This may be little consolation but when you take a talented young player whose peripherals suggest he may show improvement, that could be reason enough to hold on if you added him in redraft.

Howard's last start was postponed so he should be on the bump against the Nationals on Monday evening. If he can survive Juan Soto or maybe just pitch around him, the Nats don't have a ton of left-handed thump. Adam Eaton is batting .228, Eric Thames is batting .221, and Asdrubal Cabrera is down to .243. Howard is still a risky stream at this point but bears monitoring a little longer.

 

Michael Wacha, New York Mets

.182 SLG-xSLG

If you glanced at Wacha's percentile rankings with no knowledge of his actual ratios this year, you might imagine he's faring well in 2020.

Even though the Whiff rate is low, he's picked up 25 strikeouts in 17 innings, good for a career-high 30.9%. He also has a 7.4% BB% that is tied for his career best. Now, the reality...

Wacha owns a 7.41 ERA, 1.76 WHIP and is allowing 2.12 HR/9. It's his four-seamer that's getting clobbered to the tune of an atrocious .958 slugging against. It should be "down" to .709 based on xSLG but that's still ugly. His velocity isn't down and the fastball spin has actually increased, although his vertical movement has flattened out a bit. That might explain why he's mostly getting hit hard in the higher part of the zone, particularly the outer part of the plate.

The change and cutter have been effective, so if Wacha can keep his heater away from the heart of the plate and work lower in the zone, there is hope for a turnaround. His groundball rate usually resides close to 50% but has dropped to 38.8% this season. The increased fly ball rate along with an inflated 20% HR/FB (his career rate is 12.2%) have been the disruptors of his ratios as a Met. This is promising as he doesn't need a mechanical adjustment so much as a more focused plan of attack to work lower in the zone with his four-seamer. Easy right?

 

Joe Musgrove, Pittsburgh Pirates

.141 SLG-xSLG

Like anything else in Pittsburgh, Musgrove has been terrible, disappointing, and terribly disappointing. He was supposed to be the stabilizing force in the rotation and, in fact, many considered him an undervalued SP in fantasy drafts. Before 2020 began, we told you how he was a SIERA underachiever and potential breakout at age 27. He has been anything but solid, turning in a 6.75 ERA and 1.77 WHIP resulting in an 0-3 record.

Musgrove's repertoire is part of what makes him so attractive, as he works in six different pitches to varying degrees. He's had relative success with all of them, using none as gimmicks and not relying too much on any one. While his xstats on his pitch mix have fluctuated through the years, there are some jarring differences this season. See if you can spot the ones that stand out.

For those that missed it, here's a closer look.

That's quite the spike. In his three starts of 2020, his curve and changeup have gotten rocked, whereas they used to be the most effective part of his arsenal.

Part of the reason he has struggled could be a simple matter of injury. He hit the 10-day IL due to triceps tendinitis and hasn't pitched since August 4th, so perhaps he was feeling discomfort beforehand or wasn't fully in game shape. Plenty of starting pitchers have gone down this year already. It's a bit of speculation but the curveball in particular might have forced more strain on his arm and correlate to the injury.

If Musgrove comes back strong, it could be a different player altogether. When he does return, it may not be in a Bucs uniform though. The Braves are reportedly interested in him and it makes all the sense in the world, since they need reliable vets in their rotation and the Pirates surely want more prospects to keep building for the future. A healthy return and a move to a contender, even if the home park is a downgrade, might make for a very valuable commodity.

 

Luke Weaver, Arizona Diamondbacks

.080 SLG-xSLG

I'll spare the details on Weaver's Statcast profile. Let's just say his page is a bit chilly because it's filled with blue. Among those, his .564 xSLG is in the bottom 8% of the league. The fact that it's 80 points lower than his SLG still isn't very comforting

Weaver gave up six runs and seven hits in each of his first two starts, falling apart once he got around the 75-pitch mark. Of course, it's a problem that he got to that point by the fourth inning in the first place. Since then he had shown gradual improvement in each start until another rough outing versus the Giants.

He now owns an 8.23 ERA and 1.76 WHIP, leading to a 1-5 record. For that reason, he is now rostered in less than half of fantasy leagues.

His 18.6% K-BB% is quite good and he's not putting extra runners on base at a high clip, so it comes down to giving up hard contact; hence the high SLG percentage. The reason for Weaver's struggles is a mystery as he looks good for stretches and then implodes. Like with Wacha (above), his fastball is the pitch giving him trouble even though his velocity and spin are both up!

The entire D-backs staff outside of Zac Gallen has been lit up this year, so maybe they just need to call a technician to fix the humidor. Weaver is an enigma and too unpredictable to truly trust but at the same time it wouldn't be a shock if he started stringing together quality starts based on his plate discipline and underachieving ways.



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WPC+ Videocast: Week 6 MLB Risers & Fallers

Pierre Camus and Nicklaus Gaut recap MLB action heading into Week 6 of the 2020 season for fantasy baseball. They identify key risers and fallers, dissect rookie debuts, and discuss major injuries and statistical quirks.

Like and subscribe to the RotoBaller channel on Youtube to get all our latest podcasts and catch us on iTunes and BlogTalkRadio as well!

Be sure to also tune into RotoBaller Radio on SiriusXM (channel Sirius 210, XM 87) - every weekday morning between 6-7 AM ET, Saturday nights from 9-11 PM ET and Sunday nights from 9-11 PM ET. You can also find new weekly shows on the site under RotoBaller Radio podcasts.

 

Prospects Making Noise

Pierre and Nick react to the latest MLB news, rookie debuts, and interesting statistical trends in order to help fantasy baseball managers with in-season management.

Players and topics discussed:



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2020 Starting Pitcher K% Increases

We're somehow halfway through the 2020 season and judgments need to be passed. Every statistic has a point where it is said to begin to stabilize and become more useful than it is not. For pitcher's strikeout-rates, that point is after they've face 70 batters. Note that it's "begin to stabilize", not "stabilize".  These statistics become more stable over time, with that stability increasing at a given rate. You'll know more about a pitcher after 100 batters faced than you will after 70 batters. But 70 batters faced is the point at which the correlation between that particular sample and one of a similar size has an r-squared of .49...AKA when the signal starts to outweigh the noise.

The fact that you can learn a lot about a pitcher's strikeout ability after so little time is certainly helpful but remember that it's just a starting point. For stabilization, but K% is also just a starting point for trying to determine what is behind the change. So, in addition to looking at the changes in K%, we'll look at changes in plate-discipline metrics like CSW% (called-strikes+whiffs/total pitches), SwStr% (whiffs/total pitches), Chase% (swings outside the zone), F-Strike% (strikes on first pitch+balls hit into play).

I'll never claim to be a mathematician but I do know that the above metrics are going to give you the best clues on the truth about a pitcher's strikeout ability (though, F-Strike% is in a class behind the others). For further reading on sample sizes in baseball statistics, I highly recommend reading this by Steve Slowinski or this by stabilization OG, Russell Carleton. And if you'd like to read more about the math behind which statistics correlate the best to K%, Chaz Steinberg wrote a comprehensive breakdown here. That goes beyond the scope of this article, however, because we just want to find out who's going to keep giving our fantasy team those sweet, sweet K's. Let's get to it.

 

Biggest Increases In K%

Heading into the weekend, there were 45 starting pitchers who have increased their K-rate by at least one-point and have faced at least 70 batters. They are included below, along with their 2020 CSW% and the change in their CSW% versus 2019. To give a general sense of how their year has gone so far, as well as where they could be going, I've included ERA, FIP, and SIERA for added context.

In addition, available at the end of the article is a pop-out graphic that includes all of the below, with many of the additional plate-discipline metrics I've already mentioned, and color-coding according to the separate league averages.

Name TBF 2020 K% 2019 K% K% diff 2020 CSW% CSW% diff ERA FIP SIERA
Zach Eflin 87 33.3 18.3 15.0 29.8 2.3 5.12 2.74 3.42
Josh Tomlin 75 30.7 15.9 14.8 29.4 3.4 3.93 3.43 3.03
Shane Bieber 175 42.9 30.2 12.7 37.3 4.2 1.35 1.70 2.11
Zach Plesac 77 31.2 18.5 12.7 35.8 8.4 1.29 2.39 2.97
Trevor Bauer 123 39.8 27.8 12.o 32.4 1.5 1.65 2.76 2.65
Tyler Chatwood 77 32.5 22.8 9.7 30.5 2.8 6.06 3.34 3.84
Yusei Kikuchi 105 25.7 16.1 9.6 29.2 3.4 6.30 2.56 4.44
Elieser Hernandez 97 33.o 24.1 8.9 31.4 2.1 2.29 3.36 3.14
Aaron Nola 138 34.8 26.9 7.9 35.9 3.6 3.10 3.36 2.81
Zach Davies 135 23.o 15.2 7.8 29.7 4.8 3.03 3.10 4.12
Danny Duffy 120 28.3 20.7 7.6 29.2 1.7 3.99 3.73 3.79
Nick Margevicius 78 23.1 16.o 7.1 30.6 3.5 4.12 4.43 3.87
Kolby Allard 83 22.9 15.9 7.o 30.9 4.0 7.82 3.39 4.87
Kevin Gausman 152 31.6 25.3 6.3 33.3 3.1 4.65 3.12 3.06
Tyler Glasnow 122 39.3 33.o 6.3 33.7 0.1 5.14 3.55 3.17
Tyler Mahle 72 29.2 23.2 6.o 31.6 1.0 4.41 4.01 4.13
Dylan Bundy 152 28.9 23.1 5.8 36.5 6.6 2.58 3.08 3.45
Brett Anderson 97 17.5 12.1 5.4 26.9 2.3 3.52 4.98 4.01
Framber Valdez 154 26 20.7 5.3 31.6 3.6 2.35 2.61 3.24
Jacob deGrom 133 36.8 31.7 5.1 35.0 4.4 1.93 2.12 2.92
Aaron Civale 158 25.3 20.3 5.o 33.7 7.9 3.15 3.08 3.54
Marco Gonzales 141 22.o 17.o 5.o 31.7 4.4 3.63 3.67 3.93
Touki Toussaint 102 27.5 22.7 4.8 31.8 3.0 7.89 6.06 4.43
Brad Keller 88 21.6 17.2 4.4 26.8 1.7 2.08 3.20 5.04
Hyun-Jin Ryu 123 26.8 22.5 4.3 28.6 -0.5 3.19 3.23 3.49
Alex Young 98 24.5 20.3 4.2 28.5 -1.0 4.70 5.81 3.74
Sonny Gray 167 32.9 29.0 3.9 34.0 3.4 2.21 2.66 3.19
Antonio Senzatela 149 16.8 13.1 3.7 26.5 3.2 3.96 4.59 4.47
Dakota Hudson 75 21.3 18.0 3.3 24.9 -1.6 3.46 4.31 4.07
Corbin Burnes 109 33.o 29.8 3.2 31.2 -1.7 3.42 2.97 4.03
Pablo Lopez 115 23.5 20.3 3.2 29.5 2.6 1.98 2.42 3.53
Tommy Milone 129 24.o 20.8 3.2 29.8 0.5 3.99 3.87 3.81
Alex Cobb 134 16.4 13.3 3.1 29.9 1.1 3.73 4.88 4.41
Merrill Kelly 125 23.2 20.3 2.9 30.0 2.6 2.59 3.95 3.88
Johnny Cueto 149 22.1 19.4 2.7 26.7 1.8 5.40 4.41 4.60
Clayton Kershaw 112 29.5 26.8 2.7 33.9 4.0 2.25 3.95 2.64
Matt Shoemaker 102 24.5 22.2 2.3 30.4 0.9 4.91 6.08 4.04
Kenta Maeda 136 29.4 27.1 2.3 33.0 0.5 2.21 2.61 3.19
Luis Castillo 145 31.o 28.9 2.1 31.4 0.4 3.90 2.07 3.54
Lucas Giolito 170 34.1 32.3 1.8 33.6 1.0 3.09 2.70 3.42
Jose Berrios 157 24.8 23.2 1.6 30.3 0.6 4.75 4.18 4.44
Trevor Williams 134 19.4 17.8 1.6 26.1 0.1 3.70 4.22 4.48
Carlos Carrasco 132 29.5 28.2 1.3 30.1 -1.4 4.50 4.76 4.10
Rick Porcello 126 19.8 18.6 1.2 24.7 -1.8 6.43 3.05 4.38
Derek Holland 101 22.8 21.8 1.0 28.4 -1.1 6.17 6.50 4.50

 

Aaron Nola: 36.4% K% (9.5-point increase)

It turns out that the reports of Nola's demise were greatly exaggerated. Nola posted a 3.87 ERA in 2019 - after breaking out with a 2.37 ERA in 2018 - with ERA evaluators that didn't tell a different story (4.03 FIP, 3.82 xFIP, 4.14 SIERA). The Philly ace has roared back in 2020, putting up a 3.00 ERA through his first six starts, with a 3.41 FIP, 2.54 xFIP, and 2.91 SIERA. But the biggest change has been his new, fancy K-rate.

Even when Nola was at his best, his strikeout-rate stayed steady at around 27%. Until 2020:

What's Changed?

Nola's strikeout rate isn't the only thing that changed in 2020, his CSW (called strikes + whiffs) has also seen a dramatic jump, moving from an above-average 32.3% to an elite 37% CSW that trails only Shane Bieber among qualified pitchers. His called-strike rate stayed virtually the same, only moving from 20.5% to 21.2%, as the true owner of the jump belongs to his swinging-strike rate, which moved from 11.8% in 2019 to 14.8% in 2020.

While the whiffery on his curveball has risen slightly, going from a 16.5% SwStr% to 19%, the heavy lifting has been done by his changeup, which has a 21.6% SwStr% in 2020, up from 13.9% last season. In addition, Nola's changeup has a 72.2% GB%, and batters have only managed a .197 wOBA and .172 AVG against it, with a 0.0% barrel-rate.

SwStr% 2018 2019 2020
4-Seam 8.2% 6.9% 6.3%
2-Seam 4.7% 2.8% 4.0%
Change 16.7% 13.9% 21.6%
Curve 18.3% 16.5% 19.0%

The changeup has also moved to the forefront of his non-fastball pitch mix, after playing second fiddle to the curveball. The usage on the two pitches has nearly flipped since last season, with Nola now using the changeup 29% of the time, up from 19% in 2019. And the two-strike usage of his change has also risen significantly, increasing to 30% to RHB (up from 15%) and to 35% against LHB (up from 19%).

Here's Austin Riley casting his vote on whether Nola should throw the changeup more:

via GIPHY

Strikeout Sustainability

SwStr% change Chase% change Contact% change F-Strike% change
15.8% +4.0 37.3% +5.3% 60.8% -8.9 67.3 +5.0

As long as Nola continues executing as he has been, there aren't many reasons to think the new strikeouts are going away. I don't know if Nola will carry a 33% K-rate over the course of a normal season. Maybe he'll top out at "only" 30% but the new pitch-mix (and the execution of said mix) points to a skills-change, not just a small-sample fluctuation.

Nola has a very manageable schedule the rest of the season. He'll face Washington next (the team he just beat after allowing two runs in seven innings and striking out eight), followed by a start against the Mets. After that, he'll likely have two starts in Miami because they're playing a seven-game series to makeup earlier postponements.

 

Zach Eflin: 33.3% K-rate (15-point increase)

Let's do another Phillie. Because you can add this to the list of things people say when giving examples of how crazy 2020 has been. Eflin's best strikeout-rate was 22.4% K% in 2018 and it dropped to an 18.3% K% last season. But through his first four starts, he has a strikeout-rate that, if qualified, would be the sixth-highest among starters. He's also raised his walk-rate up a few points and has a 5.12 ERA, so let's not get carried away.

What's Changed?

Eflin said during original spring training that he wanted to rely on the pitch that got him to the pros and get back to being a heavy sinkerballer. He's done just that, with the sinker going from 22.1% usage in 2019, to 56.6% so far this season, with his four-seam use dropping all the way down to 7%. His slider use has also changed dramatically compared to 2019. He's throwing it slightly less to right-handers (31% to 25%) but it's almost been abandoned versus left-handers (30% to 8%).

The velocity and movement profile on the sinker looks the same as before, but he's throwing it in the zone less (48.9% to 43.2%) and generating a lot more whiffs (5.9% SwStr% to 8.8% SwStr%). An inflated .515 woBACon against it seems bad but his .374 xwoBACon is right around league-average and the pitch also has a .458 BABIP thus far. That speaks more to the pitch getting a little unlucky, rather than pounded.

Check out Eflin throwing this wiffle-ball sinker past Giancarlo Stanton. Also, check out the early, world-class mustache he was rocking. If anyone is missing a big, fat catepillar, you might want to look above Eflin's upper lip.

via GIPHY

Strikeout Sustainability

SwStr% change Chase% change Contact% change F-Strike% change
12.1% +2.5 36.0% +6.0 63.3% -16.6 65.5% -2.7

Looking at the plate-discipline metrics above (along with the change since last season) I can believe some of the increased strikeouts in Eflin's game but 33% is a tough sled. A 12.1% SwStr% would support a rate in the 25% range, however, and his 63.3% contact-rate and 36% chase-rate are both elite. So I'm going to believe the new strikeout ability, just not at its current extremes.

Even with an increase in strikeouts, Eflin doesn't suddenly become a must-have fantasy commodity. But he might be worth giving a heavier weight when it comes to streaming. A 5.12 ERA is ugly but a 2.72 FIP speaks to a fair amount of luckiness. And his 3.21 xFIP and 3.42 SIERA say nice things when it comes to trying to estimate how Eflin's current skills might translate to more ratio success in the future.

Eflin is set to make his next two starts against Atlanta and Washington but the schedule gets wonky after that, with the Phillies making up for earlier postponements. They'll start with four games at the Mets and two games at home against Boston before playing the Marlins for seven straight games in Miami. After that, it's three more against the Mets and four versus the Blue Jays. And then the season will basically be over. A sub-4.00 ERA pitcher with a 25% K% would likely be useful for that stretch.

 

Yusei Kikuchi: 25% K% (9.5-point increase)

Much like Eflin, Kikuchi has had mostly terrible results, posting a 6.30 ERA through his first four starts, but looks much better according to his ERA evaluators, in addition to the strikeout-rate bump. The difference is that Eflin's rate went from mediocre to extraordinary, while Kikuchi's has gone from trash-heap terrible to above-average.

What's Changed?

First, there's the matter of his velocity bump. Kikuchi's velocity was down in 2019 compared to what it had been in Japan; he only threw seven pitches over 96 mph, hitting 97 mph just once. In 2020, he's already topped 96 mph a total of 22 times, with five pitches greater than 97 mph and has topped out at 98 mph.

MPH 2020 2019
97-98 1.4% 0.1%
96-97 6.4% 0.5%
95-96 14.2% 3.2%
94-95 21.3% 12.1%
93-94 14.9% 22.0%
92-93 19.5% 26.6%
91-92 13.5% 20.1%
90-91 6.4% 10.5%
< 90 2.5% 5.0%

He's now thrown 22% of his fastballs over 95 mph; that number was only 3.8% in 2019. Since arriving in the majors last season, batters have a .331 xwOBA against Kikuchi on pitches thrown between 92-94 mph; they have a .263 xwOBA on pitches over 95 mph.

Then there was a pitch mix overhaul. Gone is the curveball that he threw 15% of the time in 2019, while his slider usage has been nearly halved, going from 27% to 14%. His four-seam usage has dropped eight-points but the sea change is the addition of a cutter that has become his foundational offering so far in 2020, being thrown 43% of the time. In regards to his splits mix, left-handed hitters have seen cutters and four-seamers a combined 93%, with the slider thrown in occasionally. Its also a steady diet of the fastballs for right-handers, but they get more sliders (16%), as well as the occasional changeup (8%).

Here's the cutter in action (avert your eyes, Nick Mariano)

via GIPHY

At a glance, these mix changes seem to be positive. The curveball was tragic in 2019, allowing a .275 ISO and .409 wOBA against it. And the slider's being thrown less but has been much more effective after allowing a .342 wOBA against it in 2019. That's dropped to .225 wOBA this season, with the quality of contact against it also dropping significantly, going from a .406 woOBAcon to .249 (.350 xwOBAcon to .190). The slidepiece is getting fewer whiffs, dropping from a 14.7% SwStr% to 12.8%, but is generating way more groundballs, with its 71.4% GB% representing a 25-point increase from the year before.

Strikeout Sustainability

SwStr% change Chase% change Contact% change F-Strike% change
13.4% +3.9 26.0 -0.5 71.6% -10.8 50.0 -9.2

Taking a look at the most important metrics when it comes to judging strikeout ability, Kikuchi passes two with flying colors. His swinging-strike rate is up almost four-points and his contact-rate is down over 10-points. But his chase-rate has decreased slightly, while his first-strike percentage has seen a significant drop.

Going forward, I think the new K-rate is here to stay. Kikuchi was a strikeout pitcher in Japan and the numbers tell me he's much closer to that version of himself than he was last season. The cutter is working, the velo is poppin', and the slider's been much more effective, albeit no longer as his putaway pitch.

He has a tough matchup for his next turn, facing the young and hot San Diego Padres. But depending on what the Mariners want to do, in his next turn, he'll face either the Angels (.271 wOBA vs. LHB) or the Athletics (.329 wOBA). After that, he sets up to face the Rangers (.285 wOBA vs LHB) and the Diamondbacks (.264 wOBA).

* Update following Kikuchi's Thursday night start versus the Padres

Kikuchi picked up the win, allowing three runs and striking out six over five innings. The ERA was ugly (again) but he pitched pretty decently. He allowed a first-inning home run to Manny Machado (that'll happen) and the sequence on his second earned run went: infield single, double, infield single. Kikuchi's K% stayed virtually the same, moving from 25% to 25.7%.

The cutter was used 35% and had a 54% CSW, but more importantly, his four-seamer averaged 96.4 mph, and he went over 97 mph seven times. The velo is poppin' and the new cutter is doing some work. He's going to give up some home runs but the new K-rate is for real.

 

Other Leaderboard Takeaways

Shane Bieber: 42.9% K-rate (12.7-point increase)

SwStr% change Chase% change Contact% change F-Strike% change
20.7% +6.1 36.6 +4.1 54.5% -13.5 64.6 -0.7

What can I say about Shane Bieber in 2020 that hasn't already been said about the Sistine Chapel, a perfect sunrise, or the Fast & Furious film anthology? At some point, you just run out of adjectives.

Bieber told everyone in his first start of the season what was going to be up in 2020, striking out 14 Royals in six innings, but it's taken the collective awhile to come all the way around. He has some of the best command in the majors and has multiple pitches that make batters look silly. His 20.7% SwStr% is the tops among qualified starters, just as his 54.5% contact-rate is the lowest. He really only lags behind with his chase-rate, which is all the way down at the third-highest. He makes up for it, though, by having the league's highest CSW%.

Trevor Bauer: 39.8% K-rate (12-point increase)

SwStr% change Chase% change Contact% change F-Strike% change
14.3% +1.0 24.2 -3.8 56.3% -12.1 56.9 -2.7

From a current Indian to a former one, Bauer has really taken off since deciding to no longer throw the ball over the centerfield fence. Besides the drop in contact-rate, the changes in his other plate-discipline metrics don't exactly send a shiver down my leg. Especially the near four-point drop in his chase-rate, which was already mediocre.

What's amusing is that after years of telling everyone who would listen how easy it is to jack up your spin-rates through nefarious means, Bauer has (coincidentally) jacked his spin rates up to otherworldly levels.

Here are his 2020 spin-rates, along with where each pitch ranks. Also included are his RPM increases, along with his rank according to the amount of spin changed:

Pitch 2020 RPM 2020 Rank +/- RPM +/- Rank
Four Seam 2768 1st 356 1st
Sinker 2751 1st 398 1st
Cutter 2904 2nd 264 1st
Slider 2944 2nd 208 4th
Curveball 2819 15th 270 2nd

Maybe Bauer has discovered a new and magical way to gain tons of spin in a manner that our simpleton brains just can't comprehend. Or, maybe he's just doing what he's been threatening to. We'll have to see how far it takes him.

Zach Plesac: 31.2% K-rate (12.7-point increase)

SwStr% change Chase% change Contact% change F-Strike% change
15.5% 5.3 31.5 7.4 68.0% -11.5 56.9 2.7

I'd love to talk about the big steps that Plesac had seemingly taken this year, posting a 1.29 ERA (2.39 FIP, 2.97 SIERA) to go along with an elite strikeout-rate. We could talk about how his slider/curveball usage has jumped up, along with their swinging-strike rates, with the slider going from 17.2% to 24.1%, and the curveball going from 6.8% to 15%. I might have even mentioned that the improved whiffery on the curve may be due to a significant change in its movement profile, with the hook being considerably tightened up on both planes.

We could've been talking about those things but unfortunately, Plesac was a selfish idiot who broke quarantine and lied to his teammates about it, even though one of them has recently recovered from cancer. So, maybe next year.

 

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Champ or Chump: Jake Cronenworth

It was widely known before the season that the shorter schedule would favor fringe contenders, and no team has taken better advantage of it than the San Diego Padres. They needed Fernando Tatis Jr. to continue producing like a star despite less-than-stellar peripherals in his rookie season, and he has. They needed Eric Hosmer to learn how to hit a fly ball, and he has. They also needed some surprise producers to emerge, and Jake Cronenworth has more than delivered the goods.

Cronenworth doesn't have the prospect pedigree of most players who explode on to the fantasy radar, being the 208th selection by the Tampa Bay Rays in the 2015 Amateur Draft and ranking 19th in the Padres system per MLB Pipeline before the season began. He was an auxiliary piece in the Tommy Pham trade, but wasn't considered a prime get for the Padres. At age 26, he's also older than many fantasy owners realize.

That said, it's tough to ignore a .360/.415/.605 batting line with three homers and a steal over 94 PAs, especially considering that it comes with eligibility at three different positions in Yahoo! leagues (1B, 2B, SS). He's still widely available with a 60% ownership rate as of this writing, and he makes for a great pickup as long as you have realistic expectations. What are realistic expectations? Keep reading to find out!

 

A Statcast Darling

If you use Baseball Savant for your fantasy baseball research (and you absolutely should), you're probably aware that Statcast loves Cronenworth. Here is a snapshot of how Cronenworth ranks in several key metrics:

This author finds Cronenworth's .395 xBA and .724 xSLG particularly amusing, but it's important to remember that we are working with less than 100 PAs of data here. Cronenworth is unlikely to sustain his current BABIP of .412 because nobody sustains a BABIP that high. Statcast gives Cronenworth full credit for his 32.4 LD%, but nobody hits that many liners over a full campaign either. The numbers above also make no distinction between airborne and ground ball contact, which is particularly important in a case like Cronenworth.

Cronenworth's grounders have an average exit velocity of 90.1 mph this season, ranking 30th among qualified batters. That's really good! His airborne batted balls average 92.8 mph, ranking 140th in the same subset of players. That's above average, but it isn't elite. These two metrics suggest that Cronenworth is best as a high-average hitter specializing in ground ball base hits, especially considering that he seldom strikes out with a 16 K%. Cronenworth's 28.4 ft./sec Statcast Sprint Speed also allows him to wreak havoc on the bases, potentially helping his BA play up in fantasy.

 

What the Scouts Say

 

Scouts generally agree that Cronenworth is a high-average hitter with minimal power upside, matching the conclusion above. Here are his 2020 scouting grades per FanGraphs:

We see an above-average hit tool with further room to grow, below-average power, and plus speed. Cronenworth didn't rate highly enough as a prospect to receive scouting grades on Baseball Savant, but his scouting report notes that he has been "long able to hit for average" while "managing the strike zone well." It also notes that he added muscle and adopted a more aggressive approach at the plate in 2019, but his minor league numbers don't bear that out. The rest of the report focuses on the novelty of Cronenworth as a two-way player at Triple-A, serving as an effective opener with a strong curve.

 

Cronenworth's Minor League Resume

Scouts see Cronenworth as a batting average play, and this author's interpretation of his Statcast metrics leads to the same conclusion. His MiLB performance clinches the argument. Cronenworth first reached the High Minors in 2017, slashing .285/.363/.342 with a homer and a steal over 180 PAs for Double-A (Montgomery). His 22.1 FB% and 3.3% HR/FB suggested that there's virtually zero power potential here, but finishing the trial with identical 10.6 K% and BB% rates is great news for a guy who can run. His 22.1 LD% was also above-average, suggesting that he might be able to hit more liners than most.

The Rays asked Cronenworth to repeat the level in 2018, and he took a step backward with a .254/.323/.344 line with four homers and 21 steals over 470 PAs. His FB% increased somewhat to 27%, but the accompanying 20.4 IFFB% suggests that he just added a bunch of useless pop-ups that drove his BABIP down to .291. His 9.1 BB% and 14.7 K% were both still strong, and his 24.6% line drive rate actually improved. He was also caught stealing a paltry three times, leading to an outstanding success rate of 88%.

The Rays saw that Cronenworth's peripherals were stronger than his surface stats and gave him a brief taste of Triple-A (Durham) in 2018 before starting him there in 2019. He raked to the tune of a .334/.429/.520 line with 10 homers and 12 steals over 406 PAs, again demonstrating mastery of the strike zone (12.1 BB%, 15.3 K%) while cutting his IFFB% to 9.8%. Cronenworth's BABIP overcorrected to .382, suggesting that his average was a little inflated. His 29 FB% was still a little low to project him for much power, and his 12.2% HR/FB was very low considering the environment he played in.

According to Baseball America's 2019 MiLB park factors, Durham's 1.051 HR factor ranked in the 91st percentile among all minor league parks, while its 0.991 BABIP factor ranked in the 75th. The combination of a nitro-charged baseball and minor league pitchers allowed batters to post stupid numbers at the level, but Cronenworth's were merely good. In all probability, he was still the high-average, low-power guy we saw at Montgomery.

 

Conclusions

Cronenworth's .605 slugging percentage might be tricking fantasy owners into thinking that he has power potential, but his 28.2 FB% at the MLB level suggests that he hasn't added any additional loft since his days on the farm. His liners are also going to decline the first time he slumps, and his MiLB rates only suggest a slightly above-average rate moving forward. If you're looking for pop on the waiver wire, Cronenworth may not be the add for you.

Of course, that doesn't mean that Cronenworth should be avoided like the plague. His low fly ball rate and excellent ground ball exit velocity should allow him to post plus BABIPs for the foreseeable future, while his low strikeout rate should allow him to make the most of his BABIP. He's also fast enough to be a factor on the basepaths, though you should probably expect a 20 SB pace over a full season as opposed to 40+ based simply on how often he ran in the minors.

The Padres generally hit their surprise contributor sixth, a role that doesn't offer the counting stats fantasy owners might like. That said, you have to think that he could be promoted if he keeps getting hits to drop in. Cronenworth is a great target for owners looking for batting average, OBP, and/or steals, with the potential for runs if he improves his lineup slot. Just don't target him for HR.

Verdict: Champ (based on strong batting average/OBP indicators and speed even if his power is largely a mirage)



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Deep Dive: What's Wrong With Shohei Ohtani (The Hitter)

Shohei Ohtani is over a year removed from Tommy John surgery and on a short year, he may have pushed a bit hard to be ready to rock and roll. This has caused another injury and now he has been relegated to an everyday role as a hitter. This will be a deep dive into the struggles of his hitting. The pitching sample was too small and there were obvious issues returning from injury so it can be chalked up to that.

Regardless, we all expected Ohtani to be a solid, five-category fantasy baseball producer as a full-time hitter. That has not been the case. In fact, he has struggled mightily. He does have five home runs and two stolen bases but he is dragging your batting average through the mud. The triple slash as a whole is a lowly .175/.250/.391.

This is not what we expected when Ohtani returned to a full-time hitting role. It is worth exploring what is going on. Let's dive in.

 

Advanced Stats

The walk rate (9.4%) and strikeout rate (26%) are pretty much in line with expectations. The walk rate is up from 2019 but, again, nothing really stands out about it. The ISO is the same as last year. The ISO is deceiving because although it is the same, the batting average and slugging percentage are way down but it's a reminder the power is still playing up all things considered.

Shohei Ohtani's wOBA of .275 is by far the worst mark of his career. It is down 77 points from 2019. Yikes! More concern is in the wRC+ sitting at 74. The average is 100 and Ohtani's wRC+ was 123 in 2019 for reference. One notable rate due for positive regression is the .175 BABIP. His career-mark is sitting at .355 so you can expect this to improve.

 

Batted Ball Data

The batted ball data is beginning to show the issues. The ground-ball rate is the starting point, as it is up to 51.6%. Ohtani had a high ground-ball rate in 2019 as well, but it is worse thus far. The ground-ball rate issues can usually be offset to a point by having plus speed which Ohtani does have with his sprint speed in the 94th percentile. It is actually a career-best 28.7 ft/sec and is good enough to be 22nd in MLB.

We have also seen a steep decline in line drive rate. With the line drive down 11.4%, this is a big factor behind the BABIP and batting average being down. The increase in fly balls is worth noting as well. It has jumped up 9.4% from 2019 to 33.9% in 2020. This would not be an issue if it weren't for it all coming from the line drive rate rather than the ground-ball rate.

With all the changes in the LD%, GB%, and FB%, we see an increase of in-field fly balls (up from 2.9% to 4.8%) and a decrease in HR/FB (down from 26.5% to 23.8%). These rates are moving the opposite direction of where we want them to move.

More notable changes are the pull and center rates. He has been more of an all-fields hitter in the past but this year he has been pull-heavy and has career-high marks in pull% (43.5%) and cent% (also 43.5%) with a career-low oppo% of 12.9%. In contrast, he had at least 30% to all fields last season. This could suggest he is pressing as he tries to figure things out.

This approach has caused his topped% to increase to 41.7% and his under% to increase to 20%. This would explain the added ground balls and pop-ups.

 

Plate Discipline

We mentioned the strikeouts have not increased much and it is surprising given what is going on because the contact rates are down across the board and the swing strike rate (or SwStr%) is up to a career-worst 16%. This is 3.1% higher than any previous SwStr%. The whiff rate is also worrisome and has increased to a career-worst 33.2%.

Contact rates:

  • O-Contact%: 58.8% - down 7.3% from 2019
  • Z-Contact%: 73.0% - down 8% from 2019
  • Contact%: 67.9% - down 7,.1% from 2019

This is a huge reason for the struggles. Ohtani just is not making contact. This is with roughly the same swing rate as 2019 that currently sits at 49.7%. So he is swinging the same amount as last season but less in the zone while sustaining the same amount of swings outside of the zone. This is not ideal.

Ohtani is seeing the most pitches in the zone than ever before to this point with a zone rate of 45%.

As you can see, they are also attacking the top of the zone and the outside of the zone more in 2020. Meanwhile, in 2019, pitchers attacked the outside of the zone more and challenged him less in the zone.

Ultimately, pitchers are attacking the zone more and Ohtani is swinging in the zone less. That can partly be attributed to the drop of his first pitch swing rate to 31.5% this year compared to the 37.4% last season. There is just a lot of things not going Ohtani's way right now.

 

Splits

Seeing how the pitchers are attacking the zone on Ohtani, it is worth noting he is 0-1 more than any count this season (46 AB and 48 PA), which further suggests he falls behind early and often. What is more concerning is that teams have started shifting more on Ohtani and it is working.

So far in 2020, Ohtani has had five games with no shift. This was a 13 at-bat sample size and he has hit .308/.308/.385 with a 90 wRC+. Nothing special but solid. However, verse a shift it has been terrible. Verse all shifts, Ohtani is hitting .136/.136/.205 with a -15 wRC+. That is just plain bad. Meanwhile, they shifted Ohtani a ton last year and he actually hit better against shifts.

Pitchers have also attacked Shohei a bit differently as well in 2020. In 2019, he crushed fastballs and breaking pitches but did somewhat struggle against off-speed offerings. Pitchers took notice and you can see the change in the attack in the pitches he is seeing.

  • Fastballs: 2019 - 56.1%/ 2020 - 52.1% = 4% less fastballs
  • Breaking: 2019 - 27.4%/ 2020 - 25.9% = 1.5% less breaking
  • Offspeed: 2019 - 16.5%/ 2020 - 22% = 3.5% more off-speed

Although he is expected to hit better against fastballs (xBA 0f .307) and breaking pitches (xBA .210 which is still not fantastic), the pitch mix change and attacking the zone more has given Ohtani trouble and he has yet to adjust it seems.

 

Statcast Data and Rest of Season Outlook

Considering the struggles, the Statcast data is not all that bad. The barrel rate of 12.9% is actually up from last season. Unfortunately, the sweet spot% did not follow and sits at 27.4%. Down 4.3% from last season. The Launch angle is also up from 6.8 degrees to 9.4 degrees. This would explain the increase in fly balls. Although the average exit velocity is down 89.8 MPH (down 3 MPH from last season), the average exit velocity on fly balls is actually up this year from 95.2 MPH to 97.2 MPH.

Between hitting more fly balls and pulling the ball more, he could be pressing and selling out for power. With his change of launch angle, the sd(LA) also became wider. Essentially the swing isn't as tight and isn't being repeated as often. The sd(LA) increased from 23 degrees in 2019 to 30.7 degrees so far in 2020.

Long term, there is zero concern with Shohei Othani. In the short term, with so many things not in his favor and pitchers adapting to him, the confidence in the bounce back is lacking. You might be able to take advantage and buy him in keeper and dynasty leagues at a reduced price.

This season is unlike any other and in a typical season, the bounce-back would not be second-guessed. We are running low on time and unless you are desperate for steals, he is someone to bench for the time being. I would not feel confident in buying low unless you had spare parts and the room on the bench to stash him. I am not ready to say drop him yet. Regardless, the best of Ohtani is yet to come but 2020 could be a lost season.



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Deep Dive: Jake Cronenworth Every Penny

The kid has been on an absolute tear since getting the everyday job in San Diego. The 26-year-old Jake Cronenworth was acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays this offseason. He has been worth every bit of it.

He was a speed-first prospect prior to 2019. Cronenworth posted double-digit stolen bases every season from 2015 through 2019. The power just developed last season as he eclipsed double digits, barely, with 10.

In 2020, he is boasting a triple slash of .347/.410/.627. and compliments that with offering the power and speed combination with three home runs and a stolen base on the season. However, there appears to be a lot that suggests this could be more than just a hot streak.

 

Advanced Stats

Unfortunately, there is no MLB track record. Currently, Cronenworth is sporting a 13.3% strikeout rate and a 9.6% walk rate. The strikeout rate is good enough to rank inside the top 8% of the league. These rates are fantastic and really show how good of an eye for the ball Cronenworth has.

This almost mirrors the 12.1% walk rate and 15.3% strikeout rate he posted in Triple-A last season. Although it was just 88 games, it shows the plate discipline and eye for the ball has been there. In fact, the last time he struck out over 20% of the time (which is still better than league average) was in High-A back in 2016.

Currently, the ISO is .280. However, power has never been his game. We did see the growth in power begin last season with an ISO of .186. The wRC+ is way above average as of now as well at 169. He has fluctuated above and below 100 at various points in the minors but going back to his 2019 Triple A stint, it was 143. Again, the recent track record is in his favor. At age 26, he could finally be filling out and entering the prime all at the same time.

 

Batted Ball

The first thing to look at is the ground ball rate. It is higher than we would like to see at 40.6% but it has improved since 2019's 49.8%. Ground balls are not ideal, but with a plus speed tool (91st percentile sprint speed) he can get away with a higher ground ball rate. The 31.3% line drive rate will also play well to the batting average. The fly ball rate is an uninspiring 28% but with the line drive where it is at, along with the speed, it will lend itself well to a good batting average.

Cronenworth has also applied a more pull-heavy approach. His pull rate is 43.8% and his Cent% is 37.5%. The pull-heavy approach will help sustain the power gains we saw in 2019 and could lead to the higher outputs. We see the HR/FB rate increase in 2019 to 12.2% and it has also improved further in 2020 to this point and sits at 16.7%. The arrows continue to point upward.

 

Plate Discipline

Jake Cronenworth walk rate and lack of strikeouts to this point are supported by the plate discipline metrics. The lack of swing-and-miss is apparent in the SwStr%, which is only at 5.7%. Pair that with a whiff% of 18% and it speaks volumes of the hit tool. As mentioned before, the batting eye is also really strong. He does not swing at much outside the zone at all (O-Swing%: 20.8%). This is 9.1% better than league average.

Cronenworth does not swing outside of the zone much, but when he does swing outside the zone, he makes above-average contact (O-Contact%: 65.7%). Contact is a strength of his. He has a zone contact rate of 92.0% (5.7% better than league average) and an overall contact rate of 84.4% (9.2% better than league average). This is a recipe for success.

 

Splits

Jake Cronenworth is hitting both LHP and RHP very well. His triple-slash verse RHP is .350/.418/.683 and he literally walks (10.4%) as much as he strikes out (10.4%) against RHP. That is impressive. He also has hit LHP well to this point. The triple slash is .333/.375/.400 and is accompanied by a 117 wRC+. The concern is the strikeout rate against LHP of 25%. This is not terrible but if the rate increases, troubles could follow. The contact skill he flashes should hold the strikeouts back from being much worse but it is worth monitoring.

Cronenworth has also been pretty successful against all types of pitches.

  • Fastballs: BA .350/ xBA .413/ SLG .475/ xSLG .679/ wOBA .380/ xwOBA .485
  • Breaking: BA .333/ xBA .460/ SLG .750/  xSLG 1.155/ wOBA .473/ xwOBA .660
  • Offspeed: BA .357/ xBA .376/ SLG .929/ xSLG .791/ wOBA .521/ xwOBA .491

He is batting over .300 on fastballs, breaking pitches and offspeed pitches with expected batting averages in-line or better for each. There is also signs of power potential as well. It is hard to completely buy that due to the track record.

 

Statcast Data

Look at all that red! This is what we like to see. It helps back up the production just a bit more:

  • xBA: .402 - 100th Percentile
  • xSLG: .764 - 98th Percentile
  • wOBA: .427/ xwOBA: .507/ xwOBAcon: .573
  • Hard Hit%: 46.9%
  • Average Exit Velocity: 91.3 MPH
  • K%: 13.3% - 92nd Percentile
  • Whiff%: 18% - 89th Percentile
  • Sprint Speed: 28.5 ft/ sec - 91st Percemtile

These numbers further suggest he could still improve. Again, that is tough to do considering how great he has been but at least it shows he should sustain a good amount of the production moving forward. Cronenworth has a barrel rate of 15.6%. This is good enough to be in the 85th percentile and among the 186 hitters who have at least 50 batted ball events (or BBE), Cronenworth ranks 20th. This is further supported by a 50% sweet spot percentage. This rate leads the league of players with at least 50 BBE.

Sticking with the same parameters of 50 BBE, he also ranks 23rd in Brls/BBE% at 15.6% and 9th in Brls/PA% at 12%. Not too bad I’d say

Cronenworth's max exit velocity of 110.1 MPH is better than Brandon Lowe and Hunter Renfroe to name a few. Both of whom are known for their power. Where the power takes a small hit is the average exit velocity on fly balls is 89.9 MPH. It is not bad but it is a reminder that the balls he hits in the air, on average, are not hit as hard as balls he hits elsewhere. Essentially, for what Cronenworth lacks in raw power, he makes up in the hit tool and quality of contact. This combination can help the power play up.

 

Rest of Season Outlook

He will regress. There is no way around it. If you look at where the struggles could come from, it is from the outside portion of the plate. You can clearly see his whiffs and strikeouts are heavily concentrated on the outside portion of the plate.

This is where the plate discipline and quality of contact come into play. He can afford to sit on his pitch or preferred location or hit mistakes pitchers leave over the plate when they try to attack the outside part of the zone.

We discussed his lack of chasing pitches outside of the zone, so as long as remains patient and willing to sit on pitches, attacking the outside half may not work as well as pitchers think it will. But as of now, this is exactly how pitchers have attacked him.

It is not like he can’t hit balls away. He only really struggles on pitches thrown low-and-away. Cronenworth is hitting .182 in said zone. It’s an even uglier .167 on pitches low, away and out of the zone.

There is good news. The expected batting average on pitches low-and-away is .220 and the expected batting average on pitches low, away and outside the zone is .250. No, it is not fantastic but shows he could be better in those areas.

Another positive sign is when he does hit the ball, he manages to produce positive launch angles all over the zone.

This will help sustain the line drive rates as well as the quality of contact we are seeing early on.

Ultimately,  it has also been a small sample, but guess what? A 60 game season as a whole is a small sample. Pitchers would typically get a chance to truly adapt and the holes in the game would be exploited a bit more but with the constant chaos that is this short season, I don't anticipate there being enough time to adapt fully and that the hot run could last for the remainder of the 2020 season. Beyond 2020, there is enough here in the profile to really buy in moving forward as well and the price in dynasty formats are not as steep as we would expect. Buying high in this situation might be the smart move because the stock could continue to rise.



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Statcast Hitter Studs and Duds - Exit Velocity (Week 6)

We're cruising right along on our Statcast Hitter Studs/Duds series. Many fantasy baseball owners are starting to see the value of MLB's Statcast advanced stats in order to help identify potential risers and sleepers. We're approaching the midway point of this shortened season, and hot and cold streaks are beginning to expose their permanence--is a guy off to a slow start or will he not be an option in 2020?

Just as we do for pitchers, this weekly series will examine a handful of hitters who are performing surprisingly well or poorly according to sabermetrics. While we're working with the wonkiest season of all time, that will never stop us from searching for risers and fallers for possible buy, sell, add, or drop possibilities.

Each week, I will select a different metric to evaluate unexpected names at the top and bottom of the Statcast Leaderboards. Even if you aren't well-versed in Statcast, you can understand the concept of exit velocity, and that's what we'll take a look at from the past week.

 

Surprising Chart Toppers

All stats current as of the morning of August 24th, 2020. The qualifying benchmark for our purposes here is at least 20 plate appearances from 8/17-8/24.

 

Gregory Polanco - OF, Pittsburgh Pirates

Week 5 Exit Velocity: 99.0 MPH
Week 5 Hard-Hit Percentage: 66.7%

Remember when the Pirates had one of the best young outfields in the game--Andrew McCutchen, Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco? Man, 2016 was a long time ago. Since then, Polanco has stood as a disappointing mix of injury and underperformance, to the point that he has been widely undrafted in each of the last two years. 2020 looked like another miserable year--and with a .151 batting average, it still might be--until Polanco started smashing this week. Since we checked in last week, Polanco has posted a 1.106 OPS across 20 plate appearances, and has tallied two homers and two stolen bases among his five hits.

I'd still paint it pretty unlikely that Polanco is anything close to a locked-in fantasy starter this year, but in a season decimated by injuries and COVID-19, I have him positioned firmly on my watch list--and he should be on yours too.

 

Marwin Gonzalez - 1B/3B/OF, Minnesota Twins 

Week 5 Exit Velocity: 95.8 MPH
Week 5 Hard-Hit Percentage: 55.6%

Gonzalez hasn't come close to achieving to the level he did in 2017 with the Houston Astros--prompting plenty of trash can-themed jokes at his expense. He's existed as a middling utility bat mostly useful due to his multi-positional eligibility, but hasn't been much more than that. In fact, despite the excellent contact he seems to be making, Gonzalez hit just .217 in the last week.

Ignore the batting average for the moment. Gonzalez drew five walks last week, and between that and the high exit velocity we can infer he's seeing the ball pretty well. I'm willing to bet on Gonzalez in the immediate, especially given his position in the Twins lineup (which has underperformed in 2020, to be fair). Counting stats are what you're looking for from Gonzalez, and I think those will come as the season progresses. Don't expect homers or stolen bases, but in a utility role Gonzalez is going to be a solid option for plug-and-play RBI and runs scored.

 

Brad Miller - SS, St. Louis Cardinals

Week 5 Exit Velocity: 94.4 MPH
Week 5 Hard-Hit Percentage: 68.8%

Oh heyyyyy Brad Miller. There was a time when Miller hit 30 homers for the Rays (2016), and while that's no longer close to what we expect, this recent hot streak is certainly eyebrow-raising. Since August 17th Miller has posted a 1.182 OPS over 30 plate appearances, including two doubles, two homers and nine RBI. It seems that Miller is figuring out his power stroke to some degree, and in a shortened season I'm cool to grab the coat tails and ride that out.

In that time he's also walked seven times, which is extra sexy in OBP leagues of course. I think there is likely something to this hot start, and as long as the Cardinals keep starting him I think you have to keep using him. At the very least get him in there against righties.

 

Alarming Bottom Dwellers

All stats current as of the morning of August 24th, 2020. The qualifying benchmark for our purposes here is at least 20 plate appearances from 8/17-8/24.

 

Keston Hiura - 2B, Milwaukee Brewers

Week 5 Exit Velocity: 82.0 MPH
Week 5 Hard-Hit Percentage: 35.3%

I noted Hiura here because I'm pretty surprised to see him on the bottom of the list. After busting out with 19 homers in just 84 games in 2019, the 24-year-old uber-prospect has continued to flash prodigious power--he's slugging .462 with seven homers this season. He still hit .292 this week with a pair of homers, so there is no apparent "slump" to speak of.

But that's the whole point, isn't it? Predicting what will happen based on what's beneath the surface. In Hiura's case, only 35.3% of his batted ball events have registered as 95MPH or over, and he's averaging a meager 82.0 MPH on those batted balls. Was this a tough week of pitching matchups or indicative of something more? We'll only know with more time, but if he has a rough set of games early in the week, I'll be slightly alarmed.

 

Nolan Arenado - 3B, Colorado Rockies

Week 5 Exit Velocity: 82.7 MPH
Week 5 Hard-Hit Percentage: 18.8%

In 2020, Arenado has been a shadow of the MVP-caliber we've come to know and love. As of this writing, he's posting an OPS of .714, which is bafflingly low considering it includes seven homers. It certainly seems as if he's fallen victim to some poor luck (.167 BABIP) if you look at his wOBA (.291) vs. his actual batting average (.218), but that certainly isn't the whole story. The Gold Glove third baseman is posting his lowest average exit velocity by almost two full MPH (86.9), along with the lowest hard-hit percentage of his career (33.0%).

Combine that with the lowest walk rate since 2015 (6.3%) and it seems to me that Arenado is in a bit of a funk. If there is any big-leaguer I'd bet on to figure things out within 60 games, it's Arenado. But the question still needs to be asked--how long are you willing to wait for him to "come around" in a season like this?

 

Rhys Hoskins - 1B/OF, Philadelphia Phillies

Week 5 Exit Velocity: 83.9 MPH
Week 5 Hard-Hit Percentage: 30.8%

The 27-year-old Hoskins didn't have a bad week by any means--he hit .261 and scored eight runs while popping a pair of big flies. So why so much weak contact? If you do a bit of digging you'll see that his entire 2020 season has been...weird. He's posting the best OBP (.416) and walk rate (20.8%) of his career by a long shot, but easily the worst slugging percentage (.368) and ISO (.145). The strangest part lies in the Statcast metrics though--Hoskins' season-long marks in exit velocity (88.1 MPH) and hard-hit percentage (36.5%) are barely below his career averages.

I refuse to believe that a slugger with as much raw power as Hoskins has all of a sudden decided to become a contact hitter--especially since he's doing a bad job of it; his .224 average is the worst of his career. I'd look for his power numbers to normalize in the near future--this week's two homers could be the beginning of the resurgence.

 



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Statcast Starting Pitcher Leaderboard - CSW%

More starting pitchers bite the dust each week and fantasy baseball managers are forced to turn to the waiver wire for streamers more than ever. The other approach is to stock up on relievers and rely on a couple of high-end starters, assuming you have any left. Either way, it's crucial to find pitchers who can contribute in this short season. Wins and saves are completely unpredictable at this point and ratios are prone to massive fluctuations over small sample sizes, so it's only logical to fall back on strikeouts as an indicator of fantasy value.

One could simply look at K% but we're here to dig deeper. Last year, Alex Fast of PitcherList introduced his own metric called CSW% (Called Strikes + Whiff rate) and our own Ariel Cohen has recently dissected this stat with analysis on Whiff leaders and Called Strikes leaders. I'll take a look at some of leaders in this category that may be undervalued and/or widely available on waiver wires.

I am including relievers along with starters this week because if your fantasy teams are anything like mine, you'll take pitching help wherever you can find it.

 

James Karinchak (RP, CLE)

42.4% CSW%

Let's begin with a relatively well-known commodity, at least among RotoBallers. Karinchak has been one of the top bullpen arms this season, posting a 0.61 ERA, 0.68 WHIP while striking out two batters per inning! He is in the 100th percentile for pretty much every expected stat that exists on Statcast at the moment. He accomplishes this with exceptional spin on both his heater and curve. It has frozen many a hitter in their stance, as he is inducing a ton of called strikes.

Thus, it's no surprise that he is far and away the leader on the CSW leaderboard. While aces like Gerrit Cole, Max Scherzer, and Luis Castillo are at the 32% mark, Karinchak is a full 10 points higher. He obviously has fewer innings under his belt but he has been employed enough that he is relevant in any fantasy format outside of maybe 10-teamers.

 

Devin Williams (RP, MIL)

38.7% CSW%

Williams is a rookie who got his first cup of coffee late last year, pitching to an unremarkable 3.95 ERA, 1.76 WHIP, and 14:6 K:BB ratio in 13 2/3 innings of work. This year, he's looking like the next coming of Nick Anderson from 2019, or Corey Knebel from 2017. In just under 10 IP, Williams has 20 K while his ERA and WHIP are both under 1.00. Obviously, the sample size is tiny this year, but these numbers should at least raise an eyebrow.

He's not in the ninth-inning conversation as long as Josh Hader is around, but Knebel has looked rough this year and the door is open for Williams to work his way into higher-leverage situations. He is currently tied for the team lead with three holds so there is already some value in SV+HLD leagues. While veteran Alex Claudio is likely next in line for saves, Williams clearly has the stuff and may be the Brewers' closer of the future, possibly sooner if the Brew crew keeps losing and decides to trade him rather than extend him a contract offer after the season.

 

Kevin Gausman (SP, SF)

33.7% CSW%

Another former Oriole who I've sworn off long ago (hello Dylan Bundy), Gausman has revived himself in the Bay. Gausman is not doing anything different except throwing the ball harder. His velocity is back to 2016 levels after a three-year dip.

Strikeouts have been plentiful, as his 42 K are ninth-most in the majors, tied with Lance Lynn and Zac Gallen, more than Aaron Nola and Trevor Bauer. The question is whether he keeps it up or not. Even back in 2015-2016 when his velocity was at this level and he was in his mid-20s, Gausman was regularly at a 25% whiff rate. His 32.4% clip seems unsustainable but in a short season, it could stay close to 30% as it did last year.

It looks like many are still skeptical and some may be jumping ship after a rough last couple of starts has raised his ERA up to 4.65. The strikeouts are there and he is only rostered in 28% of Yahoo leagues, so if you are willing to dive in and take a chance, now is the time.

 

Zach Eflin (SP, PHI)

33.1% CSW%

For the following exercise, I'm going to ask you to ignore Eflin's actual ratios (5.12 ERA, 1.55 WHIP) and focus on the xStats (2.58 xERA, .258 xwOBA) and then confuse you further by explaining that his 2020 is nothing like his career stats.

His first two seasons in the majors, Eflin had a strikeout rate in the bottom 3% of the league. Now, it's in the top 8%. He's always been well below the league average walk rate, especially in 2017 when he was in the top 2% of the league. Now, it's up to 9.2%.

Why such dramatic differences? He's changed who he is as a pitcher. Eflin now uses his sinker more than half the time and it's helped him induce more weak contact while upping his ground ball rate. His 62.5% strand rate may see an uptick even with the whiffs he's inducing because the BABIP on those grounders may rise. This seems like a terrible thing given his already-high ratios.

The real issue Eflin faces is lefties - he can't get them out. If Eflin is facing a predominantly right-handed lineup, he can produce for you in a pinch. If there is more than one lefty slugger in the bunch, forget it. That makes him streamable in his next start against the Braves, riskier against the Nats, and a great start against the Marlins thereafter.

 

Tyler Anderson (SP, SF)

32.8% CSW%

Anderson jumps onto this leaderboard and into the collective fantasy consciousness because of one game, albeit a spectacular one. Just when you thought the complete game was dead, 30-year-old Anderson went the whole nine for a victory over Arizona. He wasn't necessarily dominant, striking out just four batters, but he stymied the D-Backs all game long.

While his CSW is high and ranks in the top 25 with our parameters, his 16.2% K% is far from impressive and won't play in fantasy. This is a case of a crafty veteran getting by with a low BABIP that is almost 60 points below his career average. Moving from Colorado to San Francisco is as positive of a move as can happen for a left-handed pitcher, but negative regression is coming nonetheless.

 

Touki Toussaint (SP, ATL)

31.8% CSW%

Another touted Braves prospect ready to disappoint in the rotation? It's too early to say but Toussaint has at least stuck around while Kyle Wright and Bryse Wilson were sent down.

Toussaint has slightly above-average fastball velocity at 94 MPH but his main pitch is his curve, mainly because it's his best one. This season, it has limited batters to a .182 average with a ridiculous 50% whiff rate. His split-finger is almost as effective with a .160 BAA and 38.8% Whiff%. The problem is his slider, which has gotten battered to a .625 BAA and 1.375 SLG. He's allowed more hits against his slider than any other individual pitch type despite throwing it the least at 11.8%. While he could improve it over time, it would be nice to see him increase his two primary pitch usages, as there's not a need to work in something else to keep batters off balance. If it ain't broke...

The good news is that it has gotten better since his first start, as have all his pitches. Of course, he had nowhere to go but down.

He was lit up in his first start against the Rays and hasn't brought his ERA down much since. Toussaint has limited base hits but has walked too many batters and been done in by the long ball. Consistency with his location is the key and either harnessing the slider or focusing on his primary pitches more will help. He could be a year away from being trustworthy in fantasy unless your ratios are already blown to hell and you just want to pile up Ks.



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Greg Maddux Plate Discipline Standouts for 2020

In my previous article, I wrote about my new weighted index statistic for hitters – mPDI, which stems from a famous quote by Hall of Fame pitcher, Greg Maddux:

“The key to pitching is to have the ability to throw a strike when they’re taking and throw a ball when the hitter is swinging.”

The Maddux Plate Discipline Index (mPDI) for hitters led us to uncover some plate discipline standouts such as Cavan Biggio and Christian Walker. Today, we will look at the pitching version of mPDI. We can enumerate the percentage of the time in which pitchers demonstrate Greg Maddux's formulation of deception. To review, each and every pitch thrown at a baseball game can be classified into one of the following tracked six outcomes:

 

mPDI Matrix

Outcome A Outcome B Outcome C Outcome D Outcome E Outcome F
Zone? Out of Zone Out of Zone Out of Zone In Zone In Zone In Zone
Swing? Swung On Swung On No Swing Swung On Swung On No Swing
Contact? No Contact Contact Made No Swing No Contact Contact Made No Swing

Closely resembling his quote, the Maddux Plate Discipline Index (mPDI) for pitchers is defined as:

Outcome A + Outcome B + Outcome F
Total Pitches

The version of mPDI for pitchers is the mirror image definition of the hitter’s mPDI [which aggregated Outcomes C, D & E]. To give context, an awful pitcher mPDI would be one nearing .250, while an elite one would approach .400. The average for 2019 was .315.

First, let’s start by looking at the 2019 mPDI leaderboard for pitchers (minimum 25 innings):

Player IP mPDI
Sergio Romo 60.3 .390
Ryan Pressly 54.3 .387
Adam Morgan 29.7 .387
Andrew Kittredge 49.7 .385
Evan Marshall 50.7 .383
Jimmy Cordero 37.3 .382
Stephen Strasburg 209.0 .372
Zac Gallen 80.0 .366
Chaz Roe 51.0 .364
Chris Sale 147.3 .364
Victor Alcantara 42.7 .361
Alex Claudio 62.0 .361
Will Smith 65.3 .361
Brandon Workman 71.7 .360
Aaron Nola 202.3 .359
Randy Dobnak 28.3 .358
Matt Bowman 32.0 .358
Tommy Milone 111.7 .358
Adam Kolarek 55.0 .358
Matt Wisler 51.3 .358
Jose Berrios 200.3 .357
Lucas Sims 43.0 .357
Jake Jewell 26.3 .357
Dominic Leone 40.7 .356
Brad Hand 57.3 .355
Blake Snell 107.0 .355
Zack Greinke 208.7 .355
Blake Treinen 58.7 .354
Kyle Gibson 160.0 .354
Tim Mayza 51.3 .354
Jared Hughes 71.3 .353
Austin Adams 32.0 .353
Tony Watson 54.0 .353
Scott Barlow 70.3 .352
Collin McHugh 74.7 .351
Jordan Hicks 28.7 .350
Zack Britton 61.3 .350
Jameson Taillon 37.3 .350
Patrick Corbin 202.0 .350
Luke Jackson 72.7 .350
Keone Kela 29.7 .349
Hyun-Jin Ryu 182.7 .349
Yoshihisa Hirano 53.0 .349
Miles Mikolas 184.0 .348
Austin Pruitt 47.0 .348
Jeurys Familia 60.0 .348
Wandy Peralta 39.7 .347
Noe Ramirez 67.7 .347
Hector Neris 67.7 .346
Tyson Ross 35.3 .346
Charlie Morton 194.7 .346
Kyle Hendricks 177.0 .346
Joe Kelly 51.3 .345
Pedro Strop 41.7 .345
Yu Darvish 178.7 .345
Jonathan Loaisiga 31.7 .345

Let’s dive into a few of these top Maddux Plate Discipline pitchers.

 

Stephen Strasburg (SP, WAS)

Name IP mPDI Outcome A Outcome B Outcome F
Stephen Strasburg 209.0 .372 .096 .129 .146

At the top of the mPDI leaderboard for starting pitchers, we find the World Series MVP, Stephen Strasburg. He was my pre-season prediction to win the NL Cy Young award. Last year, Strasburg compiled a 5.7 WAR, which was third-most amongst National League pitchers. He struck out a career high 251 batters, with a 10-year best 1.04 WHIP.

But today, we give him attention for his plate discipline and deception. Last year’s O-Swing% was 37%, the highest of his career. That means he was generating more swings out of the zone than ever before. His total swinging strike rate [in and out of the zone] was an elite 13.4% - also the best of his career.

It is too early to tell whether these gains have sustained in 2020, as he began the season injured. To date, in his 5 innings thus far, he has not fared well. His fastball velocity is down 2 MPH from last season, but his command looks decent with a first-pitch strike rate of almost 70%. If Strasburg can return to full health, look for him to continue to pitch at an ace level.

 

Ryan Pressly (RP, HOU)

Name IP mPDI Outcome A Outcome B Outcome F
Ryan Pressly 54.3 .387 .122 .106 .159

Ryan Pressly has quietly been one of the most effective relievers over the past couple of seasons. His .390 mPDI was the 2nd highest of any pitcher in the majors last year. Only Sergio Romo had a higher Maddux index. What jumps out from a plate discipline perspective is his Outcome A (out of the zone, swung on and missed). 12.2% of Pressly’s pitches in 2019 fell into this cohort, which was the 2nd highest in all of baseball. His Outcome F (in the zone, no swing) was also elite. Almost 16% of his pitches were taken for a strike without a swing!

Ryan caught my eye last season in his first 26 innings. From March to May last year, Pressly yielded only one earned run. Even more impressive – he only issued two walks during that span. As we see from his mPDI result, these were hardly lucky outcomes; Pressly is an elite deceptive reliever.

Pressly started 2020 with some injury concerns, but assuming he gets through those – the closer job will be his in Houston.

 

Evan Marshall (RP, CHW)

Name IP mPDI Outcome A Outcome B Outcome F
Evan Marshall 50.7 .383 .079 .181 .123

In an uncertain fantasy landscape, I prefer at times to roster (and activate) high strikeout middle relievers, rather than to play a poor 7th starting pitcher. It behooves the astute fantasy owner to look for a few unknown diamonds in the rough.

Evan Marshall is slowly becoming a trusted option in the South side of Chicago. He is being used in more and more high leverage situations, and has found himself recently pitching in the 8th inning of games.

mPDI can give us a clue as to why. Marshall’s Outcome B (Out of zone, swing and contact) was the highest of any pitcher in baseball last season at 18%. Almost one-fifth of his pitches were contacted while out of the zone – which is a key to generating poor contact. His hard-hit contact rate according to Statcast was 30% last season, and it has stayed low thus far in 2020 at 33%.

To start the season, in his first 11 innings, he has compiled a 2.38 ERA – which FIP and xFIP agree with (2.79 & 2.51 respectively). His WHIP is a mere 1.15 and he has yet to give up a barrel. His K% rate is 33.3% - which means that one out of every three batters he faces ends in a strikeout.

Should Alex Colome falter, I could see Marshall sliding into some save opportunities. Even if not, Marshall could be an excellent play in deeper formats.

 

Zac Gallen (SP, ARI)

Name IP mPDI Outcome A Outcome B Outcome F
Zac Gallen 80.0 .366 .090 .120 .156

Zac Gallen was traded from the Marlins to the Diamondbacks in the middle of last season, in a trade of prospects. The Marlins perhaps had enough pitching depth in the organization, and wanted to secure a position player, which are often more reliable. Perhaps though, Gallen was worth keeping.

After a 2.81 ERA in 80 innings last season, Gallen is off to a brilliant start in 2020. In his first five starts he has a 2.40 ERA, a dazzling 1.03 WHIP with 36 strikeouts in 30 innings. To boot, he has a near 50% groundball rate.

As for his plate discipline, Gallen was the 2nd best starting pitcher in terms of his mPDI. His Outcome F (in the zone, no swing) was superb, and his out of zone metrics are outstanding. His swinging strike rate was 12.8% last year, and so far in 2020 it is up to 13.0%! Gallen is increasing his use of sliders in his pitch mix this year – further perfecting his repertoire.

I have high hopes for Zac Gallen long term, and mPDI is thus far confirming my intuition in the short term.

 

Randy Dobnak (SP, MIN)

Name IP mPDI Outcome A Outcome B Outcome F
Randy Dobnak 28.3 .358 .087 .134 .138

I did not expect to be writing about this next player. Randy Dobnak is an individual that I personally had not been high on for fantasy baseball. However, his results in 2020 have been stellar. In his first 5 games, he is currently 5th in the major leagues in ERA [among qualified starting pitchers] at 1.42. In fact, his career ERA is now sitting at 1.59 with a 1.01 WHIP. It seems fantastic, until one glances at his strikeouts which are sub-pedestrian. He struck out just 14 batters in 25 innings this season – less than a 5 K/9.

Then we come to his plate discipline. His mPDI of .358 was among last year’s top pitchers. Each one of his Maddux plate discipline outcomes are superb. Despite sub-par strikeouts, Dobnak has generated an elite 65% groundball rate this season; he is producing weak contact.

Succeeding at pitching is not only about raw "stuff." Effective pitching is highly dependent on deceptiveness. Using tangential guidance from Greg Maddux via mPDI, we are now clued into keeping an eye out for potentially undervalued pitchers such as Randy Dobnak.



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Champ or Chump: Casey Mize

One of the secrets to perfect in-season fantasy management is to look at your league's transaction list every single day. You may not have been the first to scoop up that hyped prospect or breakout veteran, but you can still benefit from most of their stats if their current owner abandons them after a subpar performance or two.

Casey Mize is one such name you should be on the lookout for. Mize was must-see TV when he made his highly-anticipated debut for the Tigers against the White Sox, but he failed to complete five innings and exited the game with an ERA of 6.23. Owners were likely expecting more from the first overall selection in the 2018 Amateur Draft, potentially inspiring them to throw him back to the waiver pool. Mize is only 55% owned in Yahoo! leagues as of this writing.

Cutting him after one start would be a mistake. The 23-year-old Mize showcased the excellent stuff that helped him become MLB Pipeline's eighth-ranked prospect before the season, and his seven strikeouts against zero walks were impressive despite the inflated ERA. Continue reading to find out more about what makes this kid so special.

 

A Scout's Total Package

 

As you might expect from a guy who was drafted first overall, scouts like everything about Casey Mize. Check out these scouting grades from FanGraphs as an example:

We see an above-average fastball that has been clocked as high as 97 mph. We see an above-average split that is projected to become a plus pitch in the future. We see a slider that is already a plus pitch in the Show. Best of all, we see a cutter that already ranks as a plus-plus pitch. Prospects with stuff like this generally have no idea where it's going, but Mize already has above-average MLB command with room to improve it further. It's strange for a prospect not to throw any kind of changeup, but Mize already features four plus pitches with the control to utilize them effectively.

MLB.com also loves Mize's stuff, but they grade it out a little differently. Take a look:

Mize's heater is already regarded as a plus pitch here, likely because his cutter is factored into it as opposed to receiving its own grade. Mize's 2019 scouting report notes that he can turn his mid-80s slider into an upper-80s cutter at will, which is the only time his cutter is referenced specifically. Mize's split gets a 70 grade instead, with scouts noting that it provides "outstanding late tumbling action generating both whiffs and weak contact." Strong 60-grades on his slider and control complete the analysis.

Initially, this author was concerned that scouts saw Mize's cutter as a variation of his slider, as many young pitchers struggle to maintain consistency when their offerings blur together. Pitch Info was able to detect five distinct pitches in Mize's first start: 27% cutters, 26% splitters, 18% sinkers, 16% fastballs, and 12% curves, meaning that his sliders were likely classified as cutters. Statcast saw four distinct offerings: a four-seamer (34.2%), slider (27.4%), split (26%), and curve (12.3%). Again, his slider and cutter were apparently indistinguishable.

This is something to watch moving forward, but we also have to remember that pitch-tracking technology is not foolproof. A quick look at Mize's 2019 MiLB performance reveals that he rarely if ever struggled with his consistency.

 

2019 in Review

 

Mize hurled a handful of innings in his draft year of 2018, but 2019 was his first real exposure to the rigors of professional baseball. He began the campaign at Hi-A (Lakeland), where he absolutely dominated to the tune of an 0.88 ERA and 2.60 xFIP over 30 2/3 IP. He struck out 28% of the batters who faced him against a walk rate of just 4.7%, suggesting total mastery of the level. He also held opposing batters to a likely-unsustainable BABIP of .155, though the combination of a 40.6 FB% and 32.1 IFFB% suggested some level of contact management ability.

The performance earned Mize a callup to Double-A (Erie), where he threw a no-hitter in his first start. Unfortunately, he missed about a month with right shoulder discomfort and scouts thought it affected both his stuff and command upon his return, leading to an August shutdown. His 3.20 ERA and 3.13 xFIP over 78 2/3 IP were still solid, and the fact that his K% declined to 23.5 was mitigated by a 14.1 SwStr% that was only slightly lower than the 14.6% figure he put up in Lakeland. His 5.6 BB% was very good for a young pitcher in his first exposure to Double-A, though his BABIP climbed to .294.

It's also worth noting that Mize went from an extreme pitcher's park to a hitter's paradise upon his callup. Lakeland's 0.900 HR factor ranked in the 19th percentile of all MiLB stadiums per Baseball Prospectus, while Erie's 1.378 HR factor ranked in the 77th despite the power explosion at Triple-A. Likewise, Lakeland suppressed BABIP with a 0.979 park factor that ranked in the 13th percentile, while Erie was fairer at 1.003 (29th percentile). Such a dramatic change in environment could explain why Mize didn't quite live up to his performance at Lakeland right away.

 

Conclusion

 

This author remains skeptical of Detroit's status as a contending team, even if the club is clearly going for it by calling up top prospects like Mize. As such, Mize may not get the offensive, defensive, or bullpen support of pitchers on other teams. That said, it's rare for a pitcher to have both command and a full repertoire right out of the box, and Mize needs to be owned in a lot more than half of leagues. If a rival discarded Mize after an unsatisfactory line in his first start, scoop him up and thank your fellow owner for the gift.

Verdict: Champ (based on strong stuff, plus command, and widespread availability)



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Statcast Starting Pitcher Leaderboard - Pitch Movement

In this chaotic year, MLB starting pitching is just one of the many things that make our lives as fantasy managers difficult.

As if we don't have enough to worry about in these days and times, keeping a healthy rotation intact or keeping your ratios from imploding on any given night is becoming harder by the day with key starters falling by the wayside. Still, there is always hope out there with some lesser-known names.

This week, I dive into the pitch movement leaderboard to find some of the most effective individual pitches out there among lesser-rostered starting pitchers. More importantly, I'll dive deeper into pitch mix and underlying metrics to decide whether each SP is worth rostering.

 

Pitch Movement Leaders

My goal with this column each week is to identify pitchers whose progress, or lack thereof, in certain Statcast metrics can make for actionable advice in fantasy leagues. This isn't strictly-speaking an add/drop list, but an invitation to dig deeper into each player's profile to decide whether further consideration is warranted. Statistics taken from baseballsavant.mlb.com current as of August 18, 2020.

 

Randy Dobnak, Minnesota Twins

Curveball +5.3 vertical movement vs. avg (inches)

Here's your classic overachiever. Dobnak has been a revelation in his rookie year, both in reality and fantasy. After five starts, he's posting a 1.42 ERA, 0.87 WHIP along with a 4-1 record. Good thing we have Statcast to pull back the curtain and cut through the smoke and mirrors.

In addition to a pitiful 14.6% K-rate, Dobnak is below the 50th percentile in every area other than xERA. Even that betrays his success, as it says he should be pitching to a 3.78 ERA. Dobnak has gotten by with premium sink on his sinker; that pitch has the fourth-most vertical drop among all individual pitches with SP who have thrown at least 100 pitches. It's his go-to pitch but it's not one that provides the hook very often with a mere 7.8% Whiff rate. It's meant to induce grounders and soft contact, which it is doing very well. He has a 64.5% GB% and 20.2% Soft%, both well above league standards.

Those grounders may start squeaking through holes more often, however, and hitters may start looking for the ball lower in the zone the next time around. A .189 BABIP that's a full 100 points lower than MLB average is simply not sustainable. His rolling xwOBA continues to trend downward.

If there were at least solid K totals to withstand a rise in ratios, he might be worth holding in mixed leagues. As it stands, he can be streamed in good matchups against pull-happy teams but don't believe in a full-blown breakout.

 

Tyler Mahle, Cincinnati Reds

Four-seamer +4.4 horizontal, +1.9 vertical movement vs. avg

The Reds were supposed to be an offense-heavy team with a talented but inconsistent pitching staff. Switch it around and you have an accurate gauge of Cincy's early 2020.

Trevor Bauer and Sonny Gray have been lights out and both rank among the leaders in pitch movement between Bauer's four-seamer and Gray's curve. Mahle joins them with his fastball, which has a 59% horizontal break above league average as well as 12% vertical drop above league average. He utilizes the pitch 56.5% of the time, which is about 10 points lower than his first two years in the majors. Perhaps showing it less often has made it more effective, as results have been extraordinary with an .059 xBA against the pitch.

Small sample size warning: Mahle has tossed 13 1/3 innings to this point so one rough start could throw all this off. That said, he seems to be learning a thing or two from his rotation mates and will benefit from playing Central division opponents, especially in the National League. He hasn't even faced the Pirates yet... Mahle is rostered in just 4% of Yahoo leagues, so there is ample opportunity to take a chance that the breakout is real.

 

James Paxton, New York Yankees

Four-seamer +6.9 horizontal movement vs. avg

This is a good time to check in on Paxton again to see if he's worth rostering any longer. There were reports during the extended offseason that he was adding spin to his fastball. This worked wonders for Lucas Giolito and is the key to teammate Gerrit Cole's dominance. It hasn't happened though.

Paxton's 2217 spin rate on the four-seamer is actually less than last year's 2263 spin. Results have been far worse too, as he's allowing a .341 AVG and .683 SLG against his unimproved fastball. His cutter hasn't done too well either, but he throws the heater nearly 60% of the time, so it's key to his success.

One area which has improved is the horizontal movement, which ranks far above league-average.

If he had the accompanying vertical movement to complement this or the added spin rate as promised, then he could be posting much better results. Instead, we've gotten consistently mediocrity. The good news is that he hasn't given up more than three runs in any outing. In fact, he's given up exactly three ER in all four of his starts. The bad news is that he's only accumulated 14 1/3 innings over those four starts, resulting in a 5.55 ERA. He has looked progressively better and flashed with an 11-strikeout start against the Rays last week. If it's a matter of working back into form after his knee injury, then Paxton could be a steady riser.

 

Framber Valdez, Houston Astros

Sinker +4 vertical movement vs. avg

By all accounts, Valdez has been amazing since moving back to the rotation. He's also gotten completely rocked. Let me explain...

Over his last two starts, which have lasted seven and six innings respectively, he's allowed a total of two earned runs on 11 hits with a 14:4 K:BB ratio. His ERA now sits at 1.90 on the young season with a K per inning.

How does one then explain his Exit Velocity and Hard Hit rates in the bottom 3% and xSLG in the 44th percentile? Valdez is in the blue across many Statcast measures, except for two key areas: curveball spin and sinker drop.

The sinker is his primary pitch at a 57.1% usage rate and movement is what we're measuring in this particular column. Somehow, he's getting by with great ratios despite this pitch getting tagged (.354 xBA and .607 xSLG) due to some good BABIP fortune.

It's the curve which is the real star here and he needs to start throwing more to increase the whiffs. Visual evidence below:

Valdez is still youngish at 26 and finding his way on this staff. With all the injuries in Houston's rotation and the recent history the team has of developing young arms work strongly in his favor.


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WPC+ Videocast: Buy, Sell, or Hold Sluggers Based on K%?

Pierre Camus and Nicklaus Gaut evaluate Statcast data for Week 5 of the 2020 MLB season by looking at hitters whose strikeout rates have spiked in the early going.

Like and subscribe to the RotoBaller channel on Youtube to get all our latest podcasts and catch us on iTunes and BlogTalkRadio as well!

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Swing and a Miss!

Pierre and Nick dive into Statcast data to decide whether we should sell, hold, or buy-low on players who are struggling at the plate.

Players discussed:

Thanks for listening to today's episode! Be sure to tune in throughout the week, and to also follow RotoBaller on Twitter, YouTube and iTunes for the latest fantasy news and analysis.

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