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:
Max Fried – MLB IP: 200 – Avg. FB Velo: 93.8 – Plus Pitch: Slider (1.43 wSL/C)
Notes: Grey already wrote up a Max Fried sleeper. Rudy’s projection machine loves him as well. This gets me all warm and bubbly on the inside. Fried underperformed his metrics in 2019 (4.02 ERA/3.32 xFIP/3.83 SIERA). It was his first season throwing the slider in his career. His curveball spin is elite. It would be reasonable to expect that Fried would utilize his slider at a higher clip (16% in 2019) in his second season with it in his arsenal, while maintaining his career curveball rate of around 25%. His changeup has been his worst pitch in his small MLB sample, and Fried has all but eliminated it. Fried made notable strides in walk percentage in 2019. He broke the 3.0 BB/9 for the first time in his MLB, or minor league career. Fried has shown an ability to reach a 12%+ swinging strike rate which would place him in elite territory. That warm and bubbly feeling? Yeah, it’s a rolling boil now.
Pablo Lopez – MLB IP: 170 – Avg. FB Velo: 93.8 – Plus Pitch: Change-Up (0.53 wCH/C)
Notes: The comparisons between the start of Lopez’s career and Luis Castillo’s 2017 rookie season is very close. Lopez pitch mix was 59/20/21 (FB/CB/CU). Castillo 2017 pitch mix was 62/15/23 (FB/SL/CU). Lopez walks less people with a career 2.38 BB/9 versus Castillo’s 3.20 BB/9. The final step Lopez needs to take is to avoid bats at a slightly higher rate. I think he can do it through more swing and miss on swings outside the zone. In 2018, Lopez had a 34.7% O-Swing percentage, but the contact on those swings was at a 67% rate. This is very uncommon, particularly for players with a dynamic arsenal. In 2019, among starters with 50 IP only 35 pitchers had an O-Swing percentage higher than 34%. Of those 35 pitchers only 11 had a contact rate as high as Lopez. If Lopez maintains the same O-Swing percentage and misses bats 3-5% more on those swings his swinging strike percentage will get to 12%. That is all that is necessary to completely change his career arc.
Yonny Chirinos – MLB IP: 136 – Avg. FB Velo: 94.4 – Plus Pitch: Slider (1.07 wSL/C)
Notes: Chirinos is a great value pitcher at current cost with an NFBC ADP after round 20. Chirinos throws everything hard and pairs that with an ability to consistently throw strikes. His sub 2.0 BB/9 is excellent and makes for a unique combination. That said, I’m not certain that Chirinos has the potential to break into the top 25 starting pitchers. He gets barreled far too often (8.8% in 2019) and doesn’t show swing a miss stuff with a 10.8% career swinging strike percentage. There is a lot to like here including pitching for an intelligent organization, but the path to increasing that swinging strike percentage isn’t quite as clear for Chirinos. This holds his ceiling under Fried and Lopez for me, albeit with a higher floor than Lopez.
Brad Keller – MLB IP: 283 – Avg. FB Velo: 94.2 – Plus Pitches: Change-Up (2.69 wCH/C) and Slider (1.17 wSL/C)
Notes: I didn’t log on to the internet today thinking I was going to discuss Brad Keller. I’ll start with the negatives, because I’m not confident that Keller fits the mold we are looking for. See that changeup populating in the plus secondary pitches? It was only thrown 0.5% of the time in 2019. Keller is a two-pitch pitcher: Fastball/Sinker and Slider. Generally, I don’t believe in two-pitch pitchers. I certainly don’t believe in two-pitch pitchers with an 8.6% career swinging strike rate. That said, Keller has proven to have a plus-slider and throws hard. If he can add the changeup into his pitch mix at a 10-15% clip there might be something here. The alteration in his velocity would help his strikeout rate tremendously. That is a wish at this point. In deep leagues and draft only contests Keller might have some dart throw potential.
Dakota Hudson – MLB IP: 174 – Avg. FB Velo: 94.2 –Plus Pitch: Slider (0.75 wSL/C)
Notes: The frat brother SEO clicks on this article are going to be through the roof with Brad Keller and Dakota Hudson blurbs back-to-back. Hudson was lucky in 2019. There isn’t any other way to slice up the data. He outperformed his xFIP by a full run, and his SIERA by almost two full runs. Hudson plays on a team projected to win 85-90 games this year so he has a chance to luck into a win count similar to 2019. The components holding Hudson back from making a jump are his horrid walk rate and inability to generate more poor contact. The capability to not walk batters is pivotal for a contact pitcher and I can’t find data that shows Hudson can make that adjustment in his game. His swinging strike rate for a sinker heavy pitcher isn’t far from what is necessary for success. The issue is that he can’t get his nasty pitch (slider) over the plate to entice batters. The pitch is called a ball 50.5% of the time and only draws a swing at a rate of 25%. I’ll leave Hudson alone for now, but he’s now on mine, and, hopefully, your radar.
Pitchers meeting criteria that are suspended: Domingo German