GPS Pitch Location Report: Corbin Burnes

We are reaching somewhat of a breaking point in fantasy leagues. Owners are scrambling to make those last major moves to ensure victory or they are taking chances with their roster looking to chase down the top spot. As I have done all season I am once again taking a look at the state of pitching with the help of ERA estimator Stuff-ERA. The model has helped guide many of my pitching decisions this season and has been a big part of my success For the first time since the initial run of this article, we have a new leader. You’ll just have to keep reading to find out who has unseated Shane Bieber.

Corbin Burnes

Quite frankly, the Brewers have been a massive disappointment. Their offense has struggled much of the season and their starting rotation has been overall dreadful. However, there has been one massive bright spot for the team and that is the emergence of Corbin Burnes. Burnes who once won the teams Minor League Pitcher of the Year award has had an uneven start to his MLB career. He has looked at times like a future ace but has yet to put it all together at the Big League Level. However, 2020 has been a different story. Burnes has been electric all year posting an ERA of 1.99 across his six starts. This includes an absolute dismantling of the Tigers yesterday. He allowed one hit and struck out 11 in seven innings. As many pitchers I have discussed have proven, a breakout like this usually comes with a pitch mix change.

As you can clearly see from the chart above Burnes changed his mix drastically. He has almost completely abandoned the fastball and replaced it with two pitches, a sinker, and a cutter. The interesting thing about this is that while the fastball was hit extremely hard in the past, 0.460 xwoba; the two new pitches are world beaters, 0.420 for the sinker, and 0.342 for the cutter. However, looking it over Burnes has been locating the two pitches exceptionally well. Among all pitchers with at least 300 Fastballs (Sinkers, Cutters, 4 and 2 Seams) thrown this season, Burnes has the 4th lowest location-based xwoba. The chart below shows how he’s been avoiding the danger zones extremely well with the pitch.

What you can see is that Burnes has expertly located his fastballs missing the heart of the zone frequently. He’s been attacking the bottom of the zone extremely well as well as locating the cutter to the corners. Compare the above chart to Kevin Gausman, the pitcher with the highest location-based xwoba on fastballs.

As you can see many of Gausman’s fastballs are being located near the heart of the zone. The change seems to be impacting Burnes positively overall as his secondary pitches have all seen improvements in xwoba from 2019. Stuff-ERA is a huge fan as he is fourth-best in baseball according to the metric (minimum 600 pitches thrown). If Burnes can continue to locate his sinker and cutter extremely well, he should continue to get great results from his entire arsenal and he may be the Brewer starter who we consider among the ace tier in 2021, not Brandon Woodruff. I am fully buying into the Burnes breakout and am kicking myself for not drafting more of him this offseason.

Stuff ERA Leaders

 

Stuff-ERA Leaders
Min 600 Pitches
Pitcher Stuff-ERA
Jacob deGrom 2.1927
Zac Gallen 2.2087
Shane Bieber 2.3325
Corbin Burnes 2.7647
Lucas Giolito 2.7650
Kenta Maeda 2.8052
Yu Darvish 2.8081
Aaron Nola 2.8913
Dylan Bundy 2.9131
Clayton Kershaw 3.0197
Dinelson Lamet 3.0696
Walker Buehler 3.0814
Andrew Heaney 3.1160
Adam Wainwright 3.1294
Zach Davies 3.1720
Max Fried 3.2685
Jose Berrios 3.3244
Dallas Keuchel 3.3876
Lance Lynn 3.3936
Zack Wheeler 3.4029
Brad Keller 3.4123
Tyler Mahle 3.4245
Trevor Bauer 3.4336
Max Scherzer 3.4898
Ryan Yarbrough 3.5140
Spencer Turnbull 3.5537
Marco Gonzales 3.5840
Dakota Hudson 3.6210
Jesus Luzardo 3.6743
Tyler Glasnow 3.6864
Zack Greinke 3.6974
Sonny Gray 3.7004
Masahiro Tanaka 3.7022
Framber Valdez 3.7069
Kevin Gausman 3.7102
Dustin May 3.7184
Pablo Lopez 3.7237
Antonio Senzatela 3.7300
David Peterson 3.7467
Frankie Montas 3.7505
Carlos Carrasco 3.7517
Kolby Allard 3.7621
Yusei Kikuchi 3.7630
Brandon Woodruff 3.8064
Alex Cobb 3.8207
Julio Urias 3.8898
Lance McCullers Jr. 3.8918
Cristian Javier 3.9161
Taijuan Walker 3.9202
Blake Snell 3.9227
German Marquez 3.9228
J.A. Happ 3.9439
Justus Sheffield 3.9592
Martin Perez 3.9773
Justin Dunn 3.9955
Mike Minor 4.0090
Chad Kuhl 4.0863
Kyle Hendricks 4.0994
Hyun Jin Ryu 4.1089
Gerrit Cole 4.1518
Brady Singer 4.1546
Dylan Cease 4.1649
Josh Lindblom 4.1805
Aaron Civale 4.2135
Chris Bassitt 4.2562
Logan Webb 4.2594
Griffin Canning 4.3253
Randy Dobnak 4.3315
Ryan Castellani 4.3680
Garrett Richards 4.3979
Johnny Cueto 4.4290
Tyler Anderson 4.4339
Luis Castillo 4.4348
Trevor Richards 4.4686
Alec Mills 4.4720
Elieser Hernandez 4.4893
Zach Eflin 4.5236
Danny Duffy 4.5687
Jon Gray 4.5691
Kris Bubic 4.6062
Kyle Freeland 4.6086
Mike Fiers 4.6259
Kyle Gibson 4.6400
Alex Young 4.6448
Jordan Montgomery 4.6558
Patrick Corbin 4.6679
Mike Clevinger 4.7079
Erick Fedde 4.7112
Chris Paddack 4.7287
John Means 4.7524
Matthew Boyd 4.7528
Ryan Weber 4.8360
Robbie Ray 4.9321
Asher Wojciechowski 5.0405
Luke Weaver 5.0837
Tanner Roark 5.1162
Adrian Houser 5.1193
Brett Anderson 5.1354
Rick Porcello 5.1496
Jordan Lyles 5.2228

The Danger Zone: Sudden IP Increases

From Chris Sale to Rick Porcello, and two other Boston teammates mentioned below, many starters who pitch deep into the playoffs appear to have trouble maintaining their workload the following year. Our early research shows that this increase is emphasized even more if the pitcher had a 20 inning increase, or 15 percent increase, in the year they pitched deep into the playoffs. We will fully flesh out the underlying research in the offseason, but here’s a taste of what we’ve identified as the “danger zone.”

 

Historical Context: 2018

 

That Red Sox championship seems forever ago, but a key part of their playoff run was the rotation. As we have seen the last couple of postseasons, teams are leaning on their top-tier starters more than ever. As a result, these players potentially run a higher risk for injury the following year. Take these two pitchers:

 

Player 2017 Total iP 2018 Playoff IP 2018 Total IP 2019 Total IP 2018-19 Inning Diff  2018-19 Inning Diff %
David Price 74.2 26 202 107.1 -94.9 -47%
Nathan Eovaldi 0 22.1 133.1 67.2 -65.9 -50%

 

After not pitching a whole lot in 2017, these pitchers had drastic increases in their innings in 2018, only to get injured the following year. We know what happened with Eovaldi. He had surgery to remove loose bodies from his right elbow for the second time in April 2019, came back in July, and posted a 5.99 ERA in 67 and 2/3 innings. One of the main drivers in his decline was his cutter. Let’s take a look at his spin rates and velocity on the pitch over the last three years:

 

Year Cutter Spin Rate Cutter Velocity
2018 2389 RPM 92.7 MPH
2019 2345 RPM 93.2 MPH
2020 2268 RPM 90.9 MPH

 

No doubt that some, or all, of his poor performance has been caused by this injury. While he maintained his spin rate and velocity in 2019, he couldn’t handle the workload of his high-stress 2018. We also know that Eovaldi is an injury-prone pitcher, but we should have known better to think he could be a top-50 starting pitcher heading into 2019. Now, he’s lost his velocity and spin rate, and I am going to be out on him for however long he lasts in the league.

Taking a quick look at David Price, he went on the IL with left elbow tendonitis in May 2019, and back on and off the IL after that with a cyst on his left wrist. I am certainly not an injury expert, but WebMD says that a cyst on the wrist can form from the following:

“One theory suggests that trauma causes the tissue of the joint to break down, forming small cysts that then join into a larger, more obvious mass. The most likely theory involves a flaw in the joint capsule or tendon sheath that allows the joint tissue to bulge out.”

Considering the innings jump that Price saw and the elbow tendonitis he had before, it’s not a surprise to see that he had tissue breaking down in his left arm, causing the cyst. Alex Cora was also quoted as saying that the cyst caused him to adjust his offspeed grips, which caused him to struggle. He threw the change the same amount in 2019 as he did in years’ past, but just look at the results!

 

Year xwOBA on Changeups
2017 .269
2018 .318
2019 .342

 

Clearly, the cyst impacted his ability to throw the changeup. With Price sitting out the 2020 season, he might actually be a buy low heading into 2021. But still, the lefty will turn 35 shortly and would have to be significantly discounted to take a flyer on him.

 

2019 Worries

 

Despite 2020 being the oddest year of our lifetimes, the 2019 World Series should still be relatively fresh in our minds. Here’s the complete list of pitchers that pitched at least five innings in the playoffs and had over a ten percent increase in total innings from 2018. Any jumps over 30 percent are shaded in red to better separate the biggest jumps.

 

Player 2019 Playoff IP 2019 Total IP 2018 Total IP IP Diff IP % Diff
Stephen Strasburg 36.1 245.1 130 115.1 89%
Gerrit Cole 36.2 248.3 213.1 35.2 17%
Justin Verlander 35.1 258.1 231.1 27 12%
Zack Greinke 25 233.2 207.2 26 13%
Patrick Corbin 23.1 225.1 200 25.1 13%
Anibal Sanchez 18 184 136.2 47.8 35%
Jack Flaherty 17 213.1 182.2 30.9 17%
Adam Wainwright 16.2 187.4 40.1 147.3 367%
Masahiro Tanaka 16 198 161 37 23%
Sean Doolittle 10.1 70.1 45 25.1 56%
Charlie Morton 10 204.2 169.1 35.1 21%
Roberto Osuna 10 75 44 31 70%
Jose Urquidy 10 154 57.1 96.9 170%
Hyun-Jin Ryu 5 187.2 101.1 86.1 85%

 

Of the 14 pitchers on this list, five are currently on the non-COVID Injured List: Strasburg, Verlander, Doolittle, Morton, and Osuna. That’s over 35 percent of the list!  Let’s dive a little deeper into a few of the names on this list. We will ignore Cardinals for now, since they are only 12 games into their season.

 

Charlie Morton

 

2019 Playoff IP 2019 Total IP 2018 Total IP IP Diff IP % Diff
10 204.2 169.1 35.1 21%

 

Charlie Morton’s story is pretty straightforward – just look at the below table.

 

Year FB Velocity
2018 96.1 MPH
2019 94.7 MPH
2020 92.7 MPH

 

Big arrow down here. Morton’s 36-years old, and the velocity decline was expected – but the severity of the decline is even more dramatic than expected. In fact, every pitch has suffered a 1-2 MPH drop over the last two years. Given that he is on the IL with shoulder inflammation, we have potentially seen the last of Morton as a fantasy ace. Unfortunately, selling him low may be the best option at this point.

 

Anibal Sanchez

 

2019 Playoff IP 2019 Total IP 2018 Total IP IP Diff IP % Diff
18 184 136.2 47.8 35%

 

While he is not one of the players currently on the IL, Sanchez had a hamstring issue in 2018, causing him to miss six weeks, which makes up most of this IP difference from 2018 to 2019. He also had a hamstring issue with the other leg in 2019, but was still able to pitch 35% more innings. Again, this looks like a velocity issue.

 

Year 4-Seamer Splitter Cutter Sinker
2019 90.2 MPH 84.3 MPH 87.6 MPH 90.4 MPH
2020 88.8 MPH 80.7 MPH 86.7 MPH 88.9 MPH

 

Sanchez’s velocity decreased on all of his pitches, which has resulted in his strikeout rate dropping 3.8 percentage points from 2019-2020 in the early going. His barrel rate has doubled, and his hard-hit rate is up five percentage points. Sanchez was valuable due to being an innings-eater with decent ratios, but he’s not pitching deep into games nor posting good ratios, so he is droppable in all formats. As Matt Williams said on a recent podcast – no thank you.

 

Patrick Corbin

 

2019 Playoff IP 2019 Total IP 2018 Total IP IP Diff IP % Diff
23.1 225.1 200 25.1 13%

 

Corbin has not been as sharp in the early going as he has been the past couple years. A lot of it appears to be a velocity issue (surprise, surprise), but also spin rate.

 

Year Sinker Velocity Spin Rate
2019 91.8 MPH 2195 RPM
2020 89.6 MPH 2087 RPM

 

His slider is also interestingly slower, has less spin, and not getting as many whiffs. His slider not being as dominant as in years’ past is a clear driver of his ERA going up, along with a lower strikeout rate.

 

Year Slider Velocity Spin Rate Whiff Rate
2019 78.7 MPH 2398 RPM 52%
2020 81.7 mPH 2235 RPM 45.9%

 

Corbin’s lesser stuff has dropped his strikeout rate from 28.5% in 2019 to 22.9% in 2020. A part of that lower stuff could potentially be from pitching so many more innings in 2019. Small sample aside, Corbin may not be the top-15 pitcher we were expecting in 2020. However, with a full offseason of rest and a guaranteed lower amount of innings in 2020, he may start going lower in 2021 drafts, allowing him to be grabbed at a nice value.

 

Stephen Strasburg

 

2019 Playoff IP 2019 Total IP 2018 Total IP IP Diff IP % Diff
36.1 245.1 130 115.1 89%

 

Strasburg is the poster boy of this exercise. We know that he has been injured throughout his career (he’s the same age as Clayton Kershaw, which is simply nuts). We should have seen an 89% increase in innings from the year before as a warning in big red flashing lights. Given that he had extra time to rest during the long layoff, we overestimated his ability to stay healthy.

He is now on the IL with a nerve issue in his right hand. Similar to the other Nationals’ pitchers on this list, his velocity was down a couple of ticks in the limited time that he has pitched. You can’t trade him at his low point in redraft leagues, but I would look to unload him after he comes back and has a good outing in dynasty leagues. A 90% increase in innings does not bode well for his future.

 

Roberto Osuna

 

2019 Playoff IP 2019 Total IP 2018 Total IP IP Diff IP % Diff
10 75 44 31 70%

 

For a reliever, Osuna pitching 31 more innings is astronomical. We know that he didn’t pitch a lot in 2018 due to his suspension, so it’s a bit of a surprise as to why the analytically-minded Astros let Osuna run up his pitch count. The Astros won the West by 10 games, so they could have relaxed him a bit down the stretch. Based on this substantial increase, Osuna’s fastball decreasing 2.5 MPH from 2019 and his subsequent Tommy John surgery shouldn’t be a massive surprise. Osuna won’t make a fantasy impact until 2022, but these are the types of analytics to pay the utmost attention to in offseason draft prep.

GPS Location Report: Jose Berrios

Welcome to Week 2 of the GPS Location Report. This is my weekly dive into pitcher location and pitch usage to determine why a given pitcher is succeeding or struggling. Last week I dove into Dylan Bundy and determined that he was using his breaking balls to start at-bats and it was leading to a ton of success. He continued that success again on Tuesday making me look like a genius.

As my Twitter feed and my Tyler Alexander recommendation shows, I am not a genius. I will make mistakes and I will suggest things that end up being wrong but that is all part of the fun. Today, instead of looking at a pitcher who is having a career-best season, I’ll be diving into Jose Berrios who is having one of the worst years of his career.

 

Jose Berrios

 

Berrios has looked like a budding ace in the past few seasons. While he has always had stretches of true dominance mixed with struggles, but he had been a mid-3s ERA pitcher each of the last three seasons. However, the start of his 2020 has been brutal. This season he has posted an ERA just below 6. His hard-hit rate is rising and his K rate has dropped significantly.

The first thing I like to look at when I see massive changes in a performance like this is pitch mix. For Berrios, the main difference this season is a drop in sinker rate being offset but an increase in change-up rate. Overall, this would seem like a positive trend as his sinker has been historically hit harder than his change. So far in 2020, his change-up has been getting crushed. This could be a part of the issues he has been having but the change is still the pitch he uses least often.

The big difference in what I am seeing so far is that his fastball is getting torched. So far he has allowed a wOBA of 0.571 and an xwOBA of 0.522 according to Statcast. The average Exit Velocity on his Fastball is 96 MPH. Plain and simple, the pitch is just getting destroyed. This led me to consider that his ability to locate the fastball has regressed. Below I have included the location chart for his fastballs on top of expected wOBA.

 

 

Quite simply as you can see, his fastball location has been brutal. Especially early in the count, he has been leaving his fastball over the heart of the plate. However, the issues do not appear to be limited to solely the first pitch of at-bats. Many of his fastballs are being left over the heart of the plate. This seems to support the destruction currently being done on his fastball.

I decided to query the expected data and compared Berrios’s fastballs to all other pitchers. Among the 80 pitchers who have thrown at least 150 Fastballs, Berrios ranks 18th in location-based expected woba on the fastball. This may not seem terrible, but it also includes his sinker which has been fairly successful in 2020 so far. However, the issue is that while his fastball has a high expected woba, it also has an extremely low expected Whiff rate. Among the same sample of pitchers, his xWhiff is 11th lowest. The critical thing to note here is that among the ten pitchers ahead of him, Berrios has the highest expected woba. So based on where he is locating his fastball, he is not expected to generate many whiffs, and when contact is made the expected woba is extremely high. This is an extremely dangerous proposition for a pitcher and this could explain why he has been struggling so much to begin the season. When Berrios next takes the mound keep a close eye on his fastball location.

 

Stuff ERA Leaders

 

All stats are updated as of Sunday, August 16th. 

 

Stuff-ERA Leaders
Min 200 Pitches
Pitcher Stuff-ERA
Shane Bieber 2.2581
Dylan Bundy 2.6548
Aaron Nola 2.7192
Yu Darvish 2.8812
Frankie Montas 3.0125
Freddy Peralta 3.0912
Lance Lynn 3.1188
Dinelson Lamet 3.1337
Jacob deGrom 3.1364
Corbin Burnes 3.2242
Zac Gallen 3.2927
Carlos Carrasco 3.3862
Max Scherzer 3.3909
Max Fried 3.4068
Austin Brice 3.4263
Zach Plesac 3.4367
Trevor Bauer 3.4393
Alex Cobb 3.4531
Ryan Yarbrough 3.4996
Brandon Bielak 3.5175
Gerrit Cole 3.5185
Kyle Hendricks 3.5357
Sonny Gray 3.5477
Josh Lindblom 3.5556
Kenta Maeda 3.5621
Julio Urias 3.6049
Touki Toussaint 3.6147
Tyler Chatwood 3.6340
Lance McCullers Jr. 3.6445
Walker Buehler 3.6472
Luis Castillo 3.6693
Jalen Beeks 3.6725
Pablo Lopez 3.6782
Kevin Gausman 3.6887
Chad Kuhl 3.6960
Cal Quantrill 3.7003
Spencer Turnbull 3.7265
Brady Singer 3.7356
Zach Davies 3.7418
Phillips Valdez 3.7421
Yusei Kikuchi 3.7550
Jesus Luzardo 3.7587
Clayton Kershaw 3.7604
Alec Mills 3.7625
Zack Greinke 3.7820
German Marquez 3.7862
Griffin Canning 3.7876
Dallas Keuchel 3.8043
Andrew Heaney 3.8197
Yohan Ramirez 3.8297
Chris Bassitt 3.8359
Randy Dobnak 3.8383
Tanner Roark 3.8438
Tommy Milone 3.8441
Kyle Wright 3.8621
David Peterson 3.8848
Merrill Kelly 3.8854
Wade LeBlanc 3.8855
Brandon Woodruff 3.8927
Trevor Williams 3.8955
Justus Sheffield 3.8999
Garrett Richards 3.9008
Zack Wheeler 3.9138
Mike Clevinger 3.9296
Robbie Ray 3.9336
Hyun Jin Ryu 3.9375
Adrian Houser 3.9455
Tyler Anderson 3.9459
Colten Brewer 3.9507
Cristian Javier 3.9842
Lucas Giolito 3.9846
Antonio Senzatela 3.9976
Dustin May 4.0020
Elieser Hernandez 4.0049
Jose Berrios 4.0356
Patrick Corbin 4.0367
Jon Gray 4.0417
Framber Valdez 4.0420
Asher Wojciechowski 4.0508
Patrick Sandoval 4.0536
Joe Musgrove 4.0544
Alex Young 4.0745
Josh James 4.0830
Tyler Glasnow 4.1022
Matt Shoemaker 4.1052
Nick Margevicius 4.1261
Trevor Richards 4.1330
Martin Perez 4.1683
Kyle Gibson 4.1691
Logan Webb 4.1727
Danny Duffy 4.1926
Taijuan Walker 4.1954
Dylan Cease 4.2116
Tyler Alexander 4.2188
Kyle Freeland 4.2282
Kolby Allard 4.2344
Mike Minor 4.2405
Erick Fedde 4.2410
Ivan Nova 4.2592
Marco Gonzales 4.2599

Streaming for the Future (Week 3 Targets)

Two-start pitchers with good matchups are usually owned or will cost a decent penny in this shortened season. The focus of this weekly series to find really available pitchers and hitters who can be rostered a week early to beat the rush.

Week three is not going to be a good week to add streamable pitchers, for the simple reason, most are already owned. The two-start arms are comprised mostly of #2 and #3 starters. To focus the discussion on available players, I’m just going to list players available in less than half of CBS leagues. I’m trying to dig past the obvious choices. With that caveat out of the way, there are a few guys to gamble on.

 

Pitchers (using CBS ownership)

 

Green Light: Grab These Pitchers

 

Josh Lindblom (MIL) at CHW, vs CIN (29%)

Lindblom should already be owned by some team in every league with his single start at Pittsburgh. I’m guessing the low ownership rate is based on him being an unknown quantity. Last season in the KBO, he earned the league MVP award (20 Wins, 2.50 ERA and 189 strikeouts over ​194 innings). Owners should roll him out this week and keep him around for the two-start week coming up.

 

Justus Sheffield (SEA) vs OAK, vs COL (27%)

Like Lindblom, Sheffield has a nice single start (vs LAA) before the two start week. It’s tough to buy in since he really struggled last season. While the strikeouts were decent (9.3 K/9), he allowed too many walks (4.5 BB/9) and got hit around (1.3 HR/9 and .371 BABIP).

Despite the suspect major league results, there is some upside. Sheffield has some pedigree as top-100 prospect (#27 in 2019 by Baseball America). Also, he is working on a new two-seam fastball.

Unlike Lindblom, I may not blindly start Sheffield at the Angels (Andriese), but if he does break out, this week will be the last chance to get him relatively free.

 

Brady Singer (KCR) at CHC, vs MIN (13%)

I’m not sure how much trust to put into Singer, but it might already be too late for some cheap bids. He struck out seven Cleveland hitters in five innings of work allowing only two runs. And he gets to start versus Detroit (Nova) next week. The bidding will be intense and I could see him go in the 20% to 50% range. Some desperate owners may take a chance on him.

 

Yellow Light: Maybe, if you are desperate

 

Justin Dunn (SEA) vs LAA, vs COL (6%)

Dunn’s matchups aren’t the worst but he struggled in a small MLB stint after being a borderline prospect while traversing the minors. His potential owners get to see him face the Angels (Sandoval), so the high minor league strikeout rate (10.8 K/9 in AAA last) may become obvious. With Dunn, fantasy owners are hoping on a spectrum of unknowns.

 

Kevin Gausman (SFG) at COL, at LAA (19%)

This option is decent and I’d recommend him if it weren’t for the word “at”. I just don’t think a fantasy team can take a chance with Gausman in Colorado. The win would be in play because the Rockies offense stinks. I guess maybe. Ratios be damned.

 

Daniel Mengden (OAK) at SEA, vs HOU (2%)

First, these two starts may not happen because Oakland’s staff is still getting set. While the Seattle start seems workable, Houston has seen Mengden enough to be used to his funky delivery. In nine games against Houston, Mengden has a 6.21 ERA and 1.67 WHIP. If I had to make the decision, I like the two-starts more than the choices after him but a disaster most likely will happen.

 

Red Light: No thanks

 

Steven Brault (PIT) at MIN, vs DET (1%) and/or Chad Kuhl (PIT) at MIN, vs DET (1%)

It’s tough to know what Pittsburgh is going to do next week with this spot, let alone in two weeks. The current scuttlebutt is that the pair are going to piggyback the start. If that happens, the second starter is worth a dart throw for a chance at the win. Pass on both this week, but re-evaluate after the situation clears up.

 

Framber Valdez (HOU) at AZ, at OAK (15%)

Just because a pitcher plays for Houston, it doesn’t make him good. Valdez’s issue is too many walks. In over 100 major league innings, he has a 5.70 BB/9. As a starter, he has a 5.25 ERA with matching ERA estimators. He has to get the walks under control. There is always a chance, but he’s already 26 so the breakout should have already occurred. Pass.

 

Carlos Rodon (CWS) at MIL, vs CLE (11%)

What a tough draw for a two-start week. I don’t see myself using any resources on him this week for those matchups. I can’t do it.

Danny Duffy (KCR) at CHC, vs MIN (16%)

Duffy got the Opening Day nod for the Royals so potential owners at least got a look before bidding and didn’t see much. It wasn’t pretty. He only struck out two batters over four innings. Additionally, his fastball velocity was down over 1 mph. I just don’t see any upside here.

 

Ivan Nova (DET) vs StL, vs PIT (3%)

The rotation is in flux with Daniel Norris off the COVID IL but is not yet stretched out. It’s possible that Dario Agrazal gets the first start for the week in question. Everyone involved has limited talent so owners should just stay away.

 

Tommy Milone (BAL) vs NYY, at WAS (3%)

There is a good chance Milone doesn’t make it to this start based on his lack of talent and/or John Means comes off the IL.

 

Hitters

Note: I rarely add hitters two weeks in advance to stream, but if I’m making a decision for the next week, the streamable week is a nice tie-breaker.

 

Twins (2 at PIT, 2 vs PIT, 3 at KC)

Load up on them, but most already are. The only option may be Marwin Gonzalez (7%) if Byron Buxton stays hurt.

 

Giants (4 at COL, 3 at LAD)

Who cares about those three at the Dodgers. Four on the road at Colorado makes any Giant with talent a must-target.

Wilmer Flores (3%), Hunter Pence (9%), Mauricio Dubon (13%), and Darin Ruf (0%) would be my choices based on lineup position and talent. For a long shot, Jaylin Davis (2%) is a member of my Voit-Muncy All-Stars and has the potential to be a deep sleeper. And he’s already got a home run on the season.

 

Rockies (4 vs SFG, 3 at SEA)

Most of the Rockies are already owned. The only option — and I feel dirty for saying it —is Matt Kemp (4%). The Rockies seem invested in DHing him every day. Rockies going to Rocky.

 

Tigers (2 vs StL, 2 at Stl, 3 at PIT)

Besides Jack Flaherty, the Cardinals starters are rather pathetic. The problem is that so are the Tigers. The three options I prefer are Nicko Goodrum (19%, batting leadoff), Jonathan Schoop (14%, batting 2nd), and C.J. Cron (31%, batting 4th). All three could be a decent bench bat this upcoming week and then streamed the next week.

 

Cubs (2 vs KC, 2 at KC, 3 vs StL)

It’s time to continue picking on the St. Louis and Kansas City pitching staffs. Jason Heyward (12%), Ian Happ (40%), and Victor Caratini (11%) are available options. While Happ is the most owned, he may struggle to accumulate counting stats batting 9th. While not a sexy pick, Jason Heyward is a nice safe play for a team needing outfield help. The wildcard is Caratini. He doesn’t need to produce much from the catcher position to be valuable.

Hyun-Jin Ryu: Anchoring Bias

Hyun-Jin Ryu experienced a career season in 2019 and not because of his production (2.32 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 8.0 K/9). He was better in 2018 (1.97 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 9.7 K/9). The 182 IP was his highest total since he threw 192 in 2013. He entered the offseason as one of the top free agents and eventually signed with the Blue Jays. While his fantasy value should have taken a decent-sized hit, the drop took months. The same scenario is playing out with all the NL pitchers while incorporating the same DH penalty. Fantasy owners should be able to take advantage of the slow-moving crowd who have anchored their old evaluations.

Before going any further, I’m going to save some people some time. If a person doesn’t believe in the quality of Masterball and Steamer projections, they need to stop reading and go on with their day. No evidence (i.e. math) is going to convince them otherwise. For the rest, continue on.

 

ADP

 

While Ryu is a sample of just one, changes in his NFBC ADP (average draft position) show his perceived value slowly changed over the course of the offseason. To illustrate this change, I will use the NFBC’s draft champions information because it was available before Ryu signed with the Blue Jays on December 27th. Before the trade, Steamer projected Ryu for a (3.74 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, and 8.4 K/9). After the trade, the projection worsened (4.27 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, and 8.0 K/9). Part of the adjustment can be attributed to changing parks, but most of it was from the addition of the DH.

Time Frame: NFBC ADP
Before signing: 107
Dec (after signing) and Jan: 130
Feb: 139
Mar: 141
Apr: 151

While some January leagues may have drafted Ryu before the signing, the news should have sunk in by the February drafts. While there was some initial change, the gap continued to widen into April. In all, he dropped 44 spots or about three to four rounds depending on the league size.

 

Projections

 

Moving onto the current projections and draft valuations, AL and NL pitchers should be on the move compared to each other. To see if an adjustment is occurring, I collected the overall ADP from March and compared it to the ADP since June 1st. I took five presumed healthy starters, then and now, from each league who were being drafted closest to pick 107 in the earlier drafts and compared them to their current ADP (ignored Shohei Ohtani, James Paxton, Eduardo Rodriguez, Jesus Luzardo, and Zack Wheeler).

 

 

Note: In the latest drafts, closers are getting pushed up for a couple of reasons. First, fantasy owners know that they won’t be able to grind out Saves during the season so they are prioritizing them now. Second, closers are likely to accumulate a higher percentage of the innings making them more valuable. The move up by closers means that the average starter ADP should be heading down.

The new valuations are beginning to barely creep in. Ryu immediately dropped 23 spots and eventually 44 spots while the NL pitchers have only dropped four so far. It took a while for the market to find Ryu’s price and the current correct seems to be even slower at making the adjustment.

Here is another way to look at the same dataset. The pitcher’s rank (i.e. order being drafted) is compared to my projected based pitcher rankings. While I know more goes into the public valuation (ADP) than just the projected stats, a pitcher’s final contribution comes from the stats they produce. A projection has to be a valuation starting point.

 

 

All starters are seeing their value drop, especially in this range where closers are being drafted. The AL starters have about 3 more spots to drop to groove in with their projected values. It’s about another 31 spots for NL pitchers.

For the three people still reading, what does that mean? Draft all the AL pitchers you can. Sit down with the updated projections and find some matched pitching pairs and draft all AL pitchers at a discount before the market corrects itself, if it even can in a couple of weeks.

Here are a couple of examples of how waiting on starting pitching can pay off by matching up a couple of starters.

 

 

Conclusion

 

Assuming a 12-team league, a fantasy player can have Walker Buehler in the 2nd round and Clayton Kershaw in the 4th. Or a player can wait and draft Charlie Morton in the 5th and Zack Greinke in the 6th for the same projected production. Owners will start catching onto this market inefficiency but if the slow crawl in Ryu’s ADP is any indication, it’s a huge advantage to exploit. For those fantasy managers who somewhat believe in projections, the price mismatch is a sizable edge. Many owners are going to be anchored to the rankings they read or heard about for months. And …

 

Everything’s Gonna Be All Right – Deep League RHP with Value

Previously, we discussed how there were some left-handed pitchers to be had late in drafts that could and should offer significant upside. Today, I take the opposite approach, and, to quote the great Bob Marley, “Everything’s Gonna Be All Right” and offer you, right-handed pitchers, with the same sort of upside. Let’s not waste any time and get right to it, shall we? A reminder that all ADP will be based on NFBC rankings.

 

Nate Pearson, RHP, Toronto Blue Jays

2019 stats: MiLB

ADP: 328

That’s right, my very first pick is a rookie who has never pitched in the majors! Go big or go home, right? However, looking at his ADP, I’m not alone, am I?

Ranked as the #1 Blue Jays’ Prospect via Pipeline, Pearson comes armed with an 80 Grade fastball that tops out in triple digits, a 60-grade slider and an above-average curveball and changeup. Here’s what he did over three levels of Minor League Baseball in 2019:

That, my friends, is outstanding. Before Spring Training began, it was announced that Pearson would not have an innings cap in 2020, propelling his preparation to be stretched out even more. To summarize what Blue Jays’ President Mark Shapiro said in a radio interview a few months ago, the team wants to get the innings out of Pearson now and see if fatigue sets in. They want to see if he can handle the workload now so they can monitor and plan for future years based on what they discover now.

He demonstrated that their faith in him was well warranted with a very successful Spring Training where he struck out 11 batters in seven innings pitched. He surrendered only two hits and three walks in that time, which led to his 1.29 ERA and 0.71 WHIP.

So while he is unproven at the Major League level, he does come with massive upside. He is a cornerstone piece of the Blue Jays’ pitching staff of the future. The potential 2020 season will be unlike any other we’ve seen. With it all but official that there will be no Minor League season, prospects have nowhere to go to develop but in the Major Leagues.  We don’t know what the future holds for baseball in 2020, but a shortened season means a big reliance on pitching since games on the schedule will most likely be condensed. Go grab Pearson now. He will most likely be a fixture in 2020 and WILL be a fixture in 2021.

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Kyle Gibson, RHP, Texas Rangers

2019 stats: 13-7, 4.84 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 160.0 IP, 175 H, 56 BB, 160 SO

ADP: 453.5

Kyle Gibson is a pitcher who always seems to let me down every year because I think he can do better than he does. When I think of him, I see a middle of the rotation kind of player who generates enough strikeouts to sustain value but gets himself into trouble with the long ball and walks. However, when one digs deeper into his profile, he’s a pitcher that needs to change his style.

His fastball is his weakest pitch. In 2019, he threw it 18.2% of the time and got rocked:

With an average of 93 miles per hour, this fastball wasn’t blowing anyone away, and thus, he gave up more than half of his home runs on a pitch that he threw less than one fifth of the time all season. The promising news about this is that he threw it 5% less often than he did in 2018, where he gave up 14 home runs, so perhaps he was starting to already make a change. What he did do well, especially with his secondary pitches, was get batters to chase, which is important, as it shows his other pitches have a lot of movement.

How is this happening? He’s progressively getting better movement on his secondary pitches, specifically his curveball and his slider:

What does this all mean? What it means is his numbers in 2019 might be a bit inflated. His ERA, WHIP, and counting stats don’t totally reflect how good Gibson was and could be. He’s moving to a team, the Texas Rangers, that has helped other struggling pitchers like Mike Minor and Lance Lynn, rejuvenate their careers. Furthermore, it was revealed that he battled through ulcerative colitis in 2019, which may have caused his second-half breakdown after a solid start to the season. Finally, he’s learning how to change his approach and is thus relying more on movement than he is speed. This has resulted in his Swinging Strike rate to go up. With an ADP of almost 400, I’m betting that Gibson puts it together for a successful year in Texas, where the new ballpark should help pitchers more than before.

 

Pablo Lopez, RHP, Miami Marlins

2019 stats: 5-8, 5.09 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 111.1 IP, 111 H, 27 BB, 95 SO

ADP: 498.0

On May 10, 2019, the Miami Marlins went into New York to play the Mets, and Pablo Lopez turned in one of the worst starting performances in quite a long time. His pitching line that night: 3.0 IP, 10 ER, 10 H, 2 BB, 3 SO….which ballooned his ERA from 4.03 – 5.93. The word disastrous doesn’t begin to describe his night. A week later, he faced the same team. How did he respond?

To me, it showed a sign of maturity, composure, and an ability to study and improve. Pablo Lopez confidently remains on my list as pitchers to target later in drafts. If you eliminate that one awful start, his ERA is in the mid 4’s, his WHIP is even lower than it is, and we’re talking about a young pitcher who is up at least 100 ADP. Some other reasons I like him: his Chase contact% was better than the league average. Also, his 5.8% walk rate and his 20.3% strikeout rate all support that he has the stuff to do it. But it’s not his 94 miles per hour fastball that’s his best stuff:

And it’s that unlucky fastball (his xBA of .251 was lower than his actual BA of .277) that attributed to his xERA of 4.57 showing how unlucky he actually was. Injuries after the All-Star Break didn’t help Lopez maintain any sort of momentum. He does have good control, evidenced by a low WHIP. I’d definitely rethink this Marlins pitcher and consider him for my bench to be used in some good situations.

 

Elieser Hernandez, RHP, Miami Marlins

2019 stats: 3-5, 5.03 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 82.1 IP, 76 H, 26 BB, 85 SO

ADP: 539.0

Yes, there’s another Marlins’ pitcher here, and Elieser Hernandez has a lot of unique and eye-opening underlying stats that lead me to believe that he was better than his overall numbers indicate. A victim of the long ball, Hernandez surrendered 20 home runs in 2019, which is a lot, given the innings he pitched. That said, he’s not alone in this regard, as a record number of home runs were hit by everyone last season. Furthermore, look at his peripherals with regards to how he compares league-wide:

A ton of what he did last year is well above league average, and almost to the point of the elite. With an xwOBA of .290, Hernandez was unlucky last year as he finished with a WOBA of .340, which was one of the biggest differences in all of baseball. His xERA was actually 3.67, which is a far cry from his final ERA of just over five.

And, much like the aforementioned Lopez, Hernandez’s stats are mired due to disastrous outings. Hernandez spent two weeks in the bullpen and gave up six of his earned runs and raised his ERA up a full run in that time frame. When he returned to the role of starter, he was able to strike out more than a batter per inning in most games he pitched.

To figure out how and why, I looked at all of his pitches, and it was his slider that caught my eye:

For a pitch that he threw a third of the time, he held batters to a paltry .152 batting average and had a 37.4% Whiff percentage. Add to that his changeup, which produced a .117 batting average, and you have two pitches thrown for 47% of the time giving up next to nothing. With a fastball that averages in the low 90’s, he’ll need to pick and choose where he throws that, but he has the ability to break out once the season starts.

With the potential for a shortened, condensed season, he should get into the rotation. In my opinion, he’s better than Jose Urena and could easily replace him as their fourth or fifth starter. Keep an eye on him, as he’ll probably go undrafted in most leagues. If he gets a chance and reels off one or two solid starts in a row, consider him as someone to be added and see if the breakout happens.

 

Seth Lugo, RHP, New York Mets

2019 stats: 7-4, 2.70 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 80.0 IP, 56 H, 16 BB, 104 SO

ADP: 314.0

First off, I can’t say this enough, but Seth Lugo was arguably the second-best pitcher on the New York Mets in 2019. He dominated when he came into games and has evolved himself into one of the leagues best set up men. Plain and simple, he was awesome last season.

Take a quick minute to not only look at all of the red above but admire how amazing he was last season. He was firing on all cylinders, highlighted by a fastball that he throws almost 60% of the time with a yielded .154 batting average and a 40.2% strikeout rate.

His second pitch, the curveball, is incredibly deceptive, due to its eye-popping spin rate. Lugo, who is ranked third in all of baseball for Spin Rate, is deceptive in his delivery as his pitches look the same coming to home plate. What happens midway through each delivery is another story, confusing batters with balls being placed all over the zone at all sorts of speeds.

It was this sort of movement that helped him dominate last summer. After a rough patch to end his June in 2019, he followed up with a July to remember:

So, why am I recommending a setup man? First of all, his ratios will help you in a shortened season. Quality innings pitched will net you some much-needed strikeouts as every game is important for you. Lugo’s 28.0 K%BB% is beyond elite, which indicates the likelihood of a safe and low WHIP. On top of that, the Mets’ current closer job belongs to the unpredictable Edwin Diaz, who, by 2019 standards, was not good at all.

That said, even if Diaz returns to his 2018 form, a condensed season means a condensed schedule with plenty of back to back games, The Mets do not like using their relief arms without a day’s rest, meaning Lugo should get opportunities if Diaz needs a rest. Ultimately, what I’m saying is, if you need holds or saves, or even both, Seth Lugo should be a late-round pitcher that needs to be drafted.

 

Dustin May, RHP, Los Angeles Dodgers

2019 stats: 2-3, 3.63 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 34.2 IP, 33 H, 5 BB, 32 SO

ADP: 318.5

As of this writing, Dustin May probably doesn’t have a spot lined up in the rotation for 2020. There are too many capable arms in the Dodgers’ rotation, May just won’t be able to get himself consistent starts. However, his skill set is too enticing to keep him off the mound and pitching for the AL West favorites.

With a shortened season, innings limits could be gone altogether and the young arms that teams have will be using thrust into innings that they may not have seen before. Dustin May, a heralded rookie, fits the bill, as the Dodgers have gone on to say that they have up to eight pitchers they could use for starts.

He came up in August of last year and struggled a bit out of the gates, though still posting respectable numbers as a starter. He moved into the bullpen in September and that’s where the differences started becoming more noticeable.

Dustin May doesn’t rely on speed to overpower his opponent. Though his four-seamer fastball tops out in the high 90’s, he only relies on that pitch a mere 10% of the time. It’s his sinker that and his cutter that really are his bread and butter. A combined 81% of his arsenal, May hides the difference of these two out of his glove well, leaving the batter to guess what is coming at them.

Pretty hard to tell the difference, as both have significantly different movement on them. His sinker is especially lethal, as it held batters to a .239 batting average last season and an 11.8% strikeout rate.

The question remains now, in 2020, what will happen? First, we know that it will be a shortened season, thus there will be fewer games with a condensed schedule. Second, with presumably no minor leagues, May needs a place to harness his craft. He’s got over thirty-four innings of major league work to build upon, so he’s no stranger to that.

Finally, the Dodgers have never shied away from expanding their rotation to more than your typical standards of five. May is a quality arm whose future is bright. Given the chance to improve his two main pitches would be a plus for him. Keep an eye on May. The minute he makes the rotation is the minute you should pick him up to see if 2020 is even better than advertised.