Today marks the first GPS Location report of the 2021 season. A few weeks ago, I wrote up Zach Plesac and his relatively unprecedented rise in 2020, discussing what it meant for his 2021 season. As I said in that article, for those of you who are new to the GPS Location reports, it is a breakdown of a pitcher mostly centered around how he locates and the various metrics that can be found here on RotoFanatic’s Data Monster. The Data Monster is the interactive leaderboard of all of my research around the value of pitch locations and how much pitchers/hitters under or over-perform those underlying expectations.
This week I wanted to cover a favorite pitching target of mine, Brady Singer. The young Royals’ right-hander showed flashes of brilliance in his abbreviated 2020 season. The final line showed a 4 ERA with a 3.85 FIP largely held down by a slow start to his career. In 29 first-half innings, he posted an ERA over 5 and then turned it around completely in the second half posting a 3.12 ERA in 34 innings. There were certainly some questions about the strength of the Central silo in which he pitched as his dominance came against the Tigers and a weak Cleveland offense last season.
His 2021 season got off to a rough start as he got torched by a surprisingly solid Texas Rangers offense allowing five runs in only three innings. However, my opinion of him certainly has not changed and I will continue to buy in on the skillset I saw last season.
Throughout his minor league career, Singer did not post massive strikeout totals. This is largely driven by a lack of true “swing and miss” stuff. His first stretch in the majors was not much different as Singer only posted a 9% swinging-strike rate. Yet he was still able to post around a strikeout per inning driven by his ability to generate called strikes at an elite level.
The chart above shows Singer’s swing metric on pitches within the zone. His actual swing rate (IZ.Swing) was 96th percentile despite his IZ.xSwing only being in the 36th percentile. This lead to the best IZ in all of baseball in 2020. This means that Singer was able to generate unexpected takes within the zone, better than any other pitcher in baseball. We typically view the ability to generate swings and misses as more valuable than called strikes for good reason as they are largely a more “repeatable” skill. However, based on the research that I have done, IZ is actually quite stable as well.
What you will see in the above chart based on year-over-year correlations, IZ is actually the most stable of all of the in-zone swing metrics. This tells us that pitchers who find themselves at or near the top will likely return there again in the following season. Unsurprisingly, Singer posted a called strike rate of 22.1% in his first start nearly matching his 22.8% from the 2020 season. I largely believe this to be the most underrated and underappreciated skill in baseball. This fact is a huge reason why I think Singer has upside and room to grow into an ace.
The above chart shows the in-zone results for another pitcher who I believe showed a similar early career skillset to Singer. As you can see my mystery pitcher posted elite IZ figures ranking no lower than the 93rd percentile from 2016 on. However, early in this pitcher’s career he also posted swinging strike rates in the 8-10% range. This limited his strikeout upside and he posted K/9 values slightly better than Singer did last season. However, over the last two season’s this pitcher has seen his strikeout totals jump up and he peaked in 2020 with a 33% K%. The mystery pitcher is Aaron Nola, who I have comped to Singer in the past. As Nola’s career has gone on, he has improved his swinging strike rates largely by improving his pitch locations.
As you can see, for the majority of his career Nola has “underperformed” his expected swinging strike rates but the actualized swinging strike rates have risen due to a rapid climb in xWhiff. In 2020, Singer posted an xWhiff of 0.117 but he underperformed that by over 2%. Singer was only a two-pitch pitcher in 2020 but he has focused on adding a change-up. I think this should allow him to generate a few more swings and misses and move him back towards his underlying expected rates. If Singer can continue to locate exceptionally well and continue to generate called strikes at an elite rate I think his strikeout rate will jump.
Overall don’t let the poor start to Singer’s season put you off the potential is there for Singer to take the leap ahead to become an ace and a pitcher we will be drafting in the top five rounds of fantasy drafts next season.
Going forward, as we get more 2021 data I will be including this information in the Data Monster and will be focusing more heavily on the 2021 numbers in these GPS Location reports. These articles will run every week here at RotoFanatic on Thursday mornings and if you ever have a suggestion for a pitcher for me to break down please reach out to me on Twitter.