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 in Part I with a 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:
Brandon Woodruff: NFBC ADP – 77, ERA – 3.62, FIP – 3.01
In case you missed it, Grey wrote up a Brandon Woodruff 2020 Fantasy Baseball Sleeper post. It is hard to find something about Woodruff that doesn’t jump off the page. He has gradually increased his strikeout rate, while simultaneously dropping his walk rate, since the 2017 season. His statcast data shows a barrel rate and exit velocity in the top 6% of the league. He strikes guys out. He doesn’t give free passes. He doesn’t get squared up.
He accomplishes this through plus velocity on his fastball (96.7 MPH), which allows him to utilize two average secondary options. Typically, I would find a pitcher squeaking by on only velocity as a red flag. However, in late 2018 Woodruff added a second sinking fastball into his arsenal. He progressively threw it more throughout 2019. This has varied his arsenal, and I expect it to aid his two negative pitch value secondary offerings.
There are certainly injury concerns. Though, I find it significant that Woodruff not only returned to pitch in the playoffs, but averaged 98.5 MPH on his fastball in the NL Play-in game. I’m lower than the market on the Brewers chances to win the division in 2020, and the substantial losses to the organizations pitching pieces make the premise of an innings limit almost unimaginable. Woodruff has the disadvantage of pitching in a hitter’s park when the Midwest heat hits in the Summer, but he has another level beyond what he has shown. I’m seeing a top 24 finish.
Dinelson Lamet: NFBC ADP – 110, ERA – 4.07, xFIP – 3.44
Grey also wrote a Dinelson Lamet 2020 Fantasy Baseball Sleeper post. After returning from Tommy John surgery, Lamet enjoyed a spike in his swinging strike rate to 14%, along with a 1 MPH velocity jump. This led to an elite K rate. Lamet’s statcast data is not the shining light to match Brandon Woodruff. The reason for that discrepancy is the limited options Lamet utilizes. Lamet has the plus secondary pitch (slider) that Woodruff is missing, but nothing else. There are very few starting pitchers that have shown the ability to succeed as a starter without throwing a third pitch. Lamet recorded more than 5 IP in 28% of his starts, while Woodruff did so in over 50% of his.
There are certainly similarities between the two pitchers, but I don’t believe Lamet can offer nearly the value in 2020. There are just too many potential negative outcomes for me including: limited exposure to a third time through the order, a total innings limit, or meltdown vulnerabilities. Simply put, Dinelson Lamet allows baserunners through walks and hard contact that are not in line with the pitchers he is drafted around. His upside for 2020 is Chris Paddack from 2019 with more strikeouts and a drastically worse WHIP. Paddack finished 27th on the player rater in 2019. Lamet is currently drafted at #38 amongst pitchers. The upside is limited. For that reason, Lamet likely won’t be on my team.
Ryan Yarbrough: NFBC ADP – 261, ERA – 4.13, FIP – 3.55
Guess what, Grey wrote a Ryan Yarbrough 2020 Fantasy Baseball Sleeper post too! Yarbrough is unique compared to the rest of this group. He survives on a lower strikeout rate (7.43 K/9), but elite hard-hit rate. Elite… as in the fourth best pitcher in baseball…elite. Additionally, he finished in the 90th percentile in 2018. He is not a one year wonder.
Yarborough is tall and deceptive. He varies a four-pitch repertoire that includes 3 positive pitch values: Change-up, slider, and cutter. The best component about Yarbrough’s game is that he is tougher on right-handed hitters (.228 BAA) than lefties. Typically, this is the downfall of crafty lefties that forces them to a decade of being a bullpen specialist. Yarbrough’s success in 2020 boils down to sticking in the rotation. The Rays are creative as an organization, and I believe they will allow Yarborough to get to 140 innings pitched this year. I’m in the minority in believing they are the best team in the AL East. His upside is certainly capped compared the rest of this group, but if Yarbrough is in the rotation he will be a reliable lineup mainstay.
Dylan Cease: NFBC ADP – 282, ERA – 5.79, xFIP – 4.42
Finally breaking away from the Grey… Dylan Cease is my favorite dart throw pitcher for standard mixed leagues. Cease had a horrid start to his MLB career. His first 5 MLB starts resulted in a 6.43 ERA, 1.54 WHIP, 21.8 K%, and 11.3 BB%. The rest of the way was much better, outside of a blow up against the Twins. The shining light was a final four start run to finish the season, which resulted in a 3.00 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, and 31.8% K%.
What changed? He stopped throwing the ball over the heart of the plate. In July and August starts he threw a pitch in the zone 41.6% of the time with a 15% soft contact rate. In the final four, that zone percentage dropped to 34.2% with a 27.1% soft contact rate. This reads to me as a pitcher who took his lumps finding out that no matter how nasty your stuff is you cannot throw it over the middle of the plate to MLB batters. Cease will certainly have a high walk rate throughout the 2020 season, but if he can just keep the ball out of the middle of the zone he has as great a chance at an 11+ K/9 as you can find in the later rounds.
Spencer Turnbull: NFBC ADP – 422, ERA – 4.61, FIP – 3.99
I’m not going to dive deep into Spencer Turnbull. He doesn’t have the arsenal, nor the peripherals to justify a gigantic jump, and he plays on what will be an awful team. Turnbull can offer volume and a lower potential ERA than most of the comparable pitchers around his ADP. In a dream season he can approach 180 strikeouts with 30 starts. This is certainly useful, but Turnbull gets hit hard a ton. His soft contact rate was 13% in 2019. The offenses in the division look to be improved year over year. Turnbull also walks a significant amount of batters for a sinker baller. His walk rate has consistently been over 3.5 BB/9 even in the higher levels of the minor leagues. If Turnbull were pitching for a team with a shot at a winning record the argument might present itself for an underlying ace. However, for now, Turnbull is a late round plug for pitching volume desperate drafters in deep leagues.
Pitchers meeting criteria that accumulated a significant portion of stats as a reliever: Adrian Houser – This doesn’t make me dislike Houser. He just shouldn’t be included in this study. His ERA was 3 runs higher as a starter.