I’m back for another week of writing about a boring pitcher that nobody wants to draft, get excited! For the life of me, I can’t figure out why I’m leaning so veteran heavy on the pitching side this year. Instead of that sexy second year starter with a 10+ K/9, I’m here to tell you about Anthony DeSclafani. Disco needs to be a late round staple for your rosters (once we start drafting again).
DeSclafani was an injury riddled mess for two years, from the end of the 2016 season through middle of the 2018 campaign. Though he fell off the radar for 2 calendar years, don’t forget the abbreviated 120 innings pitched in 2016 resulted in a 3.3 ERA and a 1.22 WHIP. These innings didn’t come with a sexy K rate at 26 years old, but DeSclafani was well on his way to solidifying himself solid mid-rotation starter. Finally making his return in 2018, DeSclafani struggled but held underlying metrics that continued to show a sub 4 ERA. He bounced back to meet those career metrics in 2019. A 4 ERA pitcher isn’t going to make readers fall in love, but there is more here that could make you swoon. There is another level for Tony D and I believe he is about to take it.
DeSclafani has always possessed a classic major league starter 4 pitch mix, with a fastball, change-up, slider, and curveball. Three of these pitches had a positive pVAL in 2019 (FB, slider, change) although he doesn’t throw the change-up much. The slider has been a plus pitch in every season of his professional career with Cincinnati. Oddly, I don’t believe increased slider usage will be the key cog for a next step. The first component to the next step from a pitch mix perspective is leveraging an increase in fastball velocity. Since returning from injury DeSclafani’s fastball velocity has increase over 1 MPH and peaked in 2019 at nearly 95 MPH. A portion of this is due to DeSclafani throwing his sinking fastball at a lower percentage, but the velocity increase can be seen in all of Disco’s pitches including the off-speed stuff. Grey has often cited the immense decrease in slugging percentage, batting average against, and wOBA against pitches thrown 93-95 MPH instead of 90-92 MPH. This can be viewed by DeSclafani finally returning a positive pVAL on his fastball in 2019 for the first time since 2016. This velocity increase will make the rest of the arsenal improved overnight. While leveraging this velocity in 2019, DeSclafani began throwing his curveball at a higher rate than ever before. The results from the pitch do not look outstanding, but under the hood there are some encouraging factors. DeSclafani’s curveball generated more whiffs per swing than his plus slider. The pitch had the exact same batting average against as the slider, but the BABIP on his curveball was .448. The BABIP figure doesn’t include home runs, but this is difficult to reconcile with the fact that the pitch had the lowest exit velocity of his entire arsenal. DeSclafani certainly struggles to throw it for strikes, but his curveball could give him multiple plus breaking pitches on top of a 95 MPH fastball. This is an arsenal worth noticing.
The pitches are there, but will the innings be? DeSclafani made every scheduled start in 2019 with 166 innings pitched. Most importantly, he got better as the year wore on. In 80 second half innings pitched, he pitched to a 3.49 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, and a .264 wOBA. This wOBA would have finished top 10 amongst all pitchers with a minimum of 350 plate appearances against over the entire 2019 season. He had a deflated BABIP in the 2nd half, but a simultaneous decrease in left on base percentage likely evens some of that out. The rest can be explained by a 10% increase in ground ball percentage. DeSclafani has always struggled with the home run ball but made an adjustment to the new baseball faster than the average pitcher. It gave him an increased soft contact percentage and kept the baseball in the ballpark. I am confident in saying that DeSclafani will have zero innings restrictions in his final season before free agency. His injury risk has seemingly normalized and the 20+ round draft cost for a SP6/7 makes any injury drop more palatable.
DeSclafani likely won’t win you a league, but as with many of the elderly pitchers I’ve put in front of you over the past month, if you are taking upside pitchers during the middle rounds he can be a risk off addition to your rotation construction. DeSclafani increased his K/9 to over one strikeout per inning for the first time in his career in 2019. His swinging strike rate finally tipped over the 10% mark and with the varying arsenal outlined above including a fastball velocity increase and a developing extra pitch this swinging strike rate seems likely to hand around. DeSclafani has always maintained a strong walk rate. DeSclafani is going to be playing on, at worst, an average MLB ballclub and will get the benefit of matching up with opponents 4/5 starters regularly. He has an interesting combination of wins upside, a strong K rate, and a repeatable 1.20 WHIP. The final component for DeSclafani will be if he can maintain the ground ball increases from the second half of 2019 to give him a lower home run rate. If he can accomplish this, whenever this season finally gets going, he could return SP4 profit with a final round draft cost.