Welcome to yet another installment of the RotoFanatic GPS Location Report! A few weeks back we talked about Zach Plesac’s historic rfCommand jump and then last week we took a look at Brady Singer’s ability to generate called strikes and what that meant for his production.
After two good starts to the season, Plesac was absolutely demolished by the White Sox on Wednesday and Singer looked solid in his second go-around. I am still a firm believer in Singer and think you need to show some patience with the young right-hander. The breakout is coming. This week, I am going to talk about a likely lesser-known pitcher. Last year, I tended to focus on some bigger names, breaking down what they did well or poorly. This is great for fantasy managers, but often there is not a ton of actionable information. I try to dive a bit deeper in order to find some pitchers who may be available on the waiver wire in some of your leagues.
The first such pitcher I want to look at is JT Brubaker. Brubaker made his MLB debut last season for the Pirates throwing just under 50 innings with an ERA that approached 5. He never posted massive K% numbers along the way but he posted a respectable 24% in his first big league cup of coffee. Walks, high BABIP, and some poor LOB luck seemed to be the blame of his overall poor season and I think it hid some really interesting skills. Through his first two starts of 2021, the skills have not changed all that much. The K% is around the same, he does have a few more walks, but the BABIP and LOB% have swung back in the other direction. His ERA through those two starts is around 2 but FIP does not really see him as a different pitcher.
However, the Data Monster seems something different in Brubaker, his StuffERA currently is 3.60 which is a big jump from the 4.20 he posted in 2020. The biggest change for him seems to be a jump in Command, while rfCommand saw him as well above average in 2020. Thus far his 2021 season has been even better.
As I mentioned in the open, Brubaker has a bit of a BB problem, so why does his rfCommand grade as elite? Brubaker is a great example of guys that I think almost have “intentionally” high walk rates.
For example, look at the above location charts courtesy of Baseball Savant. You’ll see that a large amount of the red zones for Brubaker are at or near the corners of the zone. For pitchers like Brubaker where the stuff is not elite, it pays to attack these corners to help generate additional whiffs, called strikes, and poor contact. He would prefer to miss out of the zone instead of back over the plate, which then creates higher walk rates.
However, this grades out exceptionally well according to rfCommand. Among pitchers with at least 100 pitches thrown through Tuesday, Brubaker has the 10th best xWhiff rate, 0.132. This is a slight bump from 2020, where he posted a 0.123 figure. This should allow Brubaker’s already solid 11% whiff rate to rise. Since the stuff itself is not exceptional, Brubaker will likely always underperform his xWhiff so improving that while the stuff remains the same should create additional swings and misses. I think a huge part of what makes him elite in this metric is his ability to locate the slider.
We don’t have a ton of data on this obviously so far, but you can see that he often attacks the red portions of the above plots with breaking balls which should allow him to rack up swings and misses. This chart reminds me a lot of the same one I showed for Zach Plesac a few weeks ago. Another place we see a big command improvement is in his xLwOBA. In 2020, Brubaker had a 0.331 xLwOBA right around league average, in 2021 so far he has posted a 0.315, which is tied for fifth in all of baseball right now. If he can continue to maintain this elite ability to locate, he should continue to post solid K totals, while also limiting results on contact. The profile certainly does not scream ace for Brubaker, but there’s a solid foundation of skills pushed up due to his elite ability to locate. I’m certainly not counting on him as an every week starter, but in average to above-average matchups, Brubaker could be a pitcher who gives you great returns when you roster him.
As always feel free to reach out to me on Twitter with any questions or concerns and let me know if there’s a pitcher you are interested in having me examine for next week’s article.