I’ve been really struggling on a monthly basis to write these articles. It isn’t because my love of baseball, or sports is gone. It’s simply from waiting with anticipation for an entire month to get a confirmed framework for a season to provide true actionable information to you the reader, and then as the article deadline slowly approaches… once again… nothing. So I bite my lip and carry on into the great speculative arena of a potential MLB season as we are all doing. Ironically, the approach the MLB and the players association are taking to negotiating a 2020 season seems to be the root cause of this push the article, get nothing, write speculative article cycle. The two sides are going to take this negotiation down to the last minute and play deal or no deal. I don’t blame either side. It’s business, from both the owners and players perspectives, and there are A LOT of moving parts here. However, I do believe we are coming down to the wire and the MLB can ill afford to miss the natural bump they would receive in even a partial season in viewership. As this deadline is trickling down it seems that the framework for the season is becoming even more narrow. At this point, we haven’t heard any other speculation since the 3 division 10 team proposal approximately a month ago. In my mind, this must be the working plan for the 2020 MLB season going forward. In analyzing these divisions, considering the addition of the designated hitter for the NL teams I see some clear winners and losers:

Please, blog, may I have some more?

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It has been a while guys. I will be entirely honest; I have thought about baseball for approximately five minutes over the last month prior to writing this article. The lack of clarity on the 2020 MLB season puts me at a stand still in how to approach it from a fantasy perspective and without a full picture it is almost impossible to determine a strategy. That said, it is evident that there are a few obvious winners from a delayed season. One of those winners is assuredly Mike Clevinger. It does not take a rocket scientist to embrace the idea that if a player was guaranteed to miss a percentage of the season, he has less value. However, the coronavirus has given him a new outlook on the 2020 season, with the ability to be a rotation mainstay from day 1. While I was as low as you can be on Clevinger in my original top 100 rankings a second look is needed under an entirely new scenario.

Mike Clevinger made a monstrous jump in the 2018 MLB season. He morphed from an upside arm having difficult to square up stuff into a complete pitcher. Most of this jump can be attributed to simply attacking the strike zone. His zone percentage in 2017 was 40.5%. In 2018, it jumped to 48.2%. His walk rate dove and he started showing signs of an elite arm. This set the foundation for a thrilling 2019 season in which Clevinger was a top 20 fantasy starter in only 126 innings thrown. This season was made possible by a 1-2 MPH increase in fastball velocity year over year. Clevinger’s fastball averaged 95.6 MPH in 2019 and the pitch went from a career negative to one of the best pitches in baseball with a 19.5 pVAL. Clevinger has always held a true 4 pitch mix but needed that fastball velocity leap to make the final jump to ace arm. Clevinger is only 29 years old meaning the velocity gains are not likely to fall off overnight. These gains will only help in making Clevinger’s best pitch, his slider, more effective. His slider has a positive pVAL in every MLB season he has thrown. He threw the pitch 5% more in 2019 to a batting average against of .176 and 21% whiff percentage. An underrated component of Clevinger’s game is that he is highly effective the 3rd time through the order. In my mind, this means he understands how to vary his approach and is using all his pitches to the full effectiveness. The ability to pitch a third time through the order is rare and something pitchers with only 2, or even 3, MLB pitches struggle to perform effectively.

Please, blog, may I have some more?

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.

Please, blog, may I have some more?

Luke Weaver was the perceived center piece in a trade for an MVP candidate, Paul Goldschmidt, only 15 months ago. It feels much longer than that as these days we are stuck inside roll by without baseball, but it’s true. You can look it up! Weaver went on to have a brief, but dynamic 2019 season with a 9.65 K/9 and 1.96 BB/9. There were only 5 qualifying pitchers in baseball from a season ago with a higher K/9 and lower BB/9! Why then am I here to write about my disinterest in Luke Weaver for the 2020 season? Is it the inability to grow luscious facial hair like our illustrious Razzball leader? No. I wish it were that simple. I could save myself 1000 words. Instead sit up and enjoy a few paragraphs on why you shouldn’t waste a top 200 pick on Luke Weaver.

The first strike against Weaver is that he hasn’t shown the ability to break the ceiling on 140 innings pitched in a professional season. This downfall can be alleviated by a condensed season and we have all come to the realization that pitchers with less total innings can have fantasy baseball value if they are dynamic enough. This is where the fork in the road comes in for me and Weaver. For him to be a roster worthy fantasy player you must believe in one of two things. He has the capacity to be an accumulator, or he is so dynamic that a lower innings pitched total can be offset by the per innings numbers he provides. The former, even in a condensed season, seems unlikely based on history. We cannot forget that Weaver is coming off a season in which he missed 4 months with a sprained UCL. The Diamondbacks had already made public that they will be monitoring his innings. That may change, but I ask to you the reader, have we learned nothing from Chris Sale? I know I have. There are only so many Masahiro Tanaka’s in the world who can go multiple seasons with a UCL hanging on by a thread. Since this is the case Weaver must be elite in his per inning numbers in order to be fantasy relevant. There will be owners who believe he can do it, as he did it in 2019. I will not be one of those owners.

Please, blog, may I have some more?

It’s not the culmination of my life’s work, but it is the culmination of the finding aces series. The premise of this series was to identify pitchers showing traits similar to breakout pitchers from the past and ultimately locate the players who will make that value jump in 2020. We’ve discussed 30+ pitchers in the series (links to all articles at the bottom) since the calendar turned and today, I’m providing my top four pitchers with ADPs outside of the top 120 with SP2 upside for the 2020 fantasy season. There were a few landmarks I was seeking out in my analysis of who can reach this peak aside from them having the data points from our series research:

  • Pitchers who will throw 160 innings – Only 3 pitchers who finished as an SP2 on the 2019 Razzball player rater threw less than this. They either came excruciatingly close to this figure (Jake Odorizzi -159) or won 60%+ of their games started which is highly unlikely to occur (Mike Clevinger and Domingo German).
  • Pitchers on average or better teams – The lowest win total among the 2019 SP2s was 11. Only a single SP2 finisher was on a team that won less than 75 games (Lucas Giolito). Pitchers on bad teams struggle to hit this landmark.
  • Pitchers who will strike out 160+ batters – Only one pitcher completed an SP2 season in 2019 without crossing this threshold (Mike Soroka).
  • Pitchers with a WHIP under 1.24 – More baserunners lead to more runs against. Only one 2019 SP2 had a WHIP over this threshold and his success was largely wins driven (Eduardo Rodriguez).

Here are the final four pitchers that I believe can be aces in 2020:

Please, blog, may I have some more?

We made it folks. On Sunday, the news flashed a Chicago forecast without a temperature below 40 degrees on it. March brings warmer air, a clock change, a celebration with green, the anniversary of millions of vasectomies, and opening day baseball. With that last one in mind, I released my top 100 starting pitcher rankings. Rankings bring out a special brand of emotions among fantasy baseball addicts. I’m here to explain as many of my disputed rankings as possible before opening day. I am nothing if not transparent. I’ve detailed six pitchers below that I am significantly higher, or lower, than the market on. In addition, I have linked to every article with a blurb about pitchers in the top 100 that I have written and paraphrased my commentary from a Reddit thread. In the weeks leading up to opening day I will release my top 10 pitching values to complete the finding aces series, a revised version of the top 100, and further commentary on major discrepancies. Feel free to let me know where you would like to see more detailed analysis. I owe a few frequent commenters player blurbs and I haven’t forgotten, just give me a couple of weeks, looking at you Magoo.

Please, blog, may I have some more?

I am not a ranker.

I never put players in an official order before writing at Razzball. Last year, MB asked me to provide flex rankings for football. This year, Donkey Teeth asked me to provide top 100 pitcher rankings for baseball. Now all I do with my life is rank players!

My typical draft prep revolved around locating a targeted set of pitchers throughout the draft, and conversely identifying pitchers I had no interest in. The strategy was to draft as many targets as possible and fill in the cracks where my pitching staff was showing weakness to construct a balanced pitching staff. Though I am providing a top 100 list, it remains of the utmost importance to embrace pitching staff construction over drafting based on raw rankings.

Please, blog, may I have some more?

This week, I’d like to focus on the benefits of a contrarian mindset. It helps make clear life choices without needing the approval of others. It helps maintain an even approach to the highs and lows of life. Most importantly, it helps in predicting outcomes. One of my favorite contrarian principles is regression to the mean, the philosophy at the heart of this week’s finding aces segment. When I introduced the series and background group of pitchers, the term luck was mentioned regularly. Quantifying luck is a difficult premise. However, in leveraging regression to the mean we can increase our chances. If a pitcher suffered from poor luck in 2019, that same pitcher is more likely to benefit from good luck in the future. We hope that future is the 2020 season.

In order to identify young pitchers who suffered from poor luck in 2019 I performed the following:

  • Gathered all starting pitchers with over 50 innings pitched in 2019. Thanks, Fangraphs.
  • Removed any pitchers with more than 400 career innings pitched to isolate for Youthful Jumps.
  • Sorted to find only pitchers whose ERA was 0.5 greater than one of FIP, xFIP, or SIERA.
  • Eliminated any pitchers who did not have a metric under 4.5.

The result? 10 pitchers. I’ve removed 5 of those for reasons noted at the bottom. The rest of the group is evaluated below:

Please, blog, may I have some more?

Razzball is one of the more incredible communities in fantasy baseball, and the quality of the comments is one of the first places I would point towards for proof. Although after one sentence this seems like a kiss ass article, it is not. This is merely a thank you to commenter LenFuego for the premise of this week’s article. In the first article of the series, I offered Zack Grienke as a bounce-back pitcher of note from 2017.  LenFuego pointed out that Grienke had a handful of poor starts in the 2016 season that anchored his ratios at career highs. Thus, his 2017 bounce back was primarily due to eliminating these outlier starts.

It is a dangerous task to simply take out the poorest starts in a pitcher’s season. As much as we don’t want them to, the blowups still count. However, I certainly think it is relevant to locate pitchers who had a deceptive 2019 due to a segment of their season, or a single game, not being representative of their year.

This is was my process in identifying a few pitchers who may have had deceptively good 2019s and qualify as a Restored Vet:

Please, blog, may I have some more?

K.I.S.S. – Keep It Simple, Stupid.

Is it a corny acronym? No doubt.

Does it have a purpose in fantasy baseball? Absolutely.

I’m not the smartest person on the planet. There is zero chance I can combine hundreds of metrics into a special formula to conveniently spit out 2020 breakout pitchers. Ask Rudy for that. However, I can break down the game to simple components and use a few metrics at a time. That is exactly what I plan to do in this series for the next month. Keep It Simple, Pat. K.I.S.P.!

Last week, I highlighted a group of pitchers who exceed expectations in the past 3 seasons. Time after time in reviewing these pitchers a commonality was the use of a highly effective secondary pitch. Additionally, the usage of this secondary pitch contributed to a rise in the effectiveness of the player’s fastball. This cohesion leads to the hypothesis of this week’s article, locating exceptional secondary pitches. If a pitcher throws hard with at least one valuable secondary pitch they will generate more strikeouts, more poor swings, and infrequent hard contact.

In order to find players that matched to this premise I did the following:

  • Started with 2019 Fangraphs pitch data and filtered out anyone with less than 50 MLB innings pitched and more than 400 career MLB innings pitched to isolate for Youthful Jumps.
  • Brought in the average fastball velocity for the last two years and removed all pitchers throwing less than 93.4 MPH. This isn’t an arbitrary number; Shane Bieber was the average velocity floor from the Youthful Jump group at 93.4 MPH.
  • Highlighted only players with a Standardized Pitch Value (Pitch Type Linear Weights per 100) for a secondary pitch over 0.5 for the 2019 season.

Shockingly, there were only 12 pitchers from the 2019 season who met the criteria. Of those, seven could be removed for various reasons mentioned at the end of the article for clarity. The five pitchers who remain are detailed below:

Please, blog, may I have some more?