Finding great pitching is always always a chore during the fantasy season. If the pitchers on the waiver wire were sure things, they would have been added during your league’s offseason draft.

But this doesn’t mean finding a good pitcher is impossible. It just means you have to study the pitchers and make an informed decision about whether a certain pitcher is just hot or is a legit add and keeper.

Two players we will look at today are Eric Lauer of the Brewers and Matt Brash of the Mariners.

Who are Lauer and Brash?

Lauer was drafted twice, once out of high school by the Blue Jays in the 17th round of the 2013 draft and then with the 25th pick of the first round of the 2016 draft by San Diego.

At Kent State he was outstanding, going 23-10 with a 1.86 ERA and a K/9 rate of 11.2 while walking only 2.5 batter per nine innings. In four minor league seasons he was only 9-10, but he had a 2.85 ERA, 1.175 WHIP and still 10.2 K/9,

Brash was drafted in the fourth round out of Niagara University by the San Diego Padres. In college, Brash put up nice, but not great numbers.

He started 29 of the 38 games he appeared in over three years, going 12-7 with a 2.97 ERA. In 190.2 innings of work, he struck out 215 hitters, or 10.1 K/9, with a 3.1 BB/9 rate.

His walk rate increased in the minors, where, in 25 career games, he had a 4.2 BB/9 rate but with an outstanding 13.1 K/9 rate.

So, why are they still available?

Lauer was a pedestrian pitcher in his first major league three seasons, posting ERAs of 4.34, 4.45 and 6.37. But last season the lefty rebounded with a 3.19 ERA. Some fantasy owners are coming around on Lauer, at least in Yahoo leagues where he rostered on 66% of teams. However, he is only rostered in 49% of ESPN leagues.

Meanwhile, Brash is owned in only 30% of Yahoo leagues and 17.8% of ESPN leagues. While he is ranked as a Top 100 by several publications, the fact he didn’t dominate hitters in college and the minors has left doubt about him by fantasy owners.

Is that doubt about Brash correct? Is Lauer really for real?

Let’s take a look.

Eric Lauer

YEAR ERA WHIP IP H BB SO BB/9 SO/9 SO/BB
2018 4.34 1.545 112.0 127 46 100 3.7 8.0 2.17
2019 4.45 1.396 149.2 158 51 138 3.1 8.3 2.71
2020 6.37 2.364 11 17 9 12 7.4 9.8 1.33
2021 3.19 1.138 118.2 94 41 117 3.1 8.9 2.85

It is easy to see the improvement, statistically, that Lauer has made since his rookie season in 2018 with San Diego. While his ERA increased a bit in 2019, his WHIP and BB/9 went down while he increased his strikeout. That improvement led the Brewers to trade for Lauer and Luis Urias for Zach Davies and Trent Grisham.

The trade did not look good for the Brewers in 2020 as Lauer was horrible on the mound thanks to a tear in Lauer’s shoulder capsule and then being shut down again during the season after having to quarantine due to being in close contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19.

Feeling Healthy

As the 2021 season started, Lauer was fully healthy and he had a turnaround year for Milwaukee, posting career-best marks in ERA, WHIP, SO/9 and strikeout to walk ratio. His 3.1 BB/9 tied his career-best mark. This season is starting even better for the left-hander. In his first three starts, he had a 2.20 ERA and 1.04 WHIP with 23 walks and only four walks in 16.1 innings of work.

Perhaps having a healthy shoulder and using all available technology to improve his craft has not only increased his velocity, but also his spin rate. In 2018, his fastball spin rate was in the 44th percentile and his curveball spin rate ranked in the 19th percentile. Now, he ranks 74th and 41st in those two categories. And while his fastball is now around league average, ranking in the 44th percentile, it is much better than 2018, when he ranked in the 18th percentile.

Becoming a pitcher

Coolwhip had a great article on him back in April detailing the uptick in velocity and movement in Lauer’s pitches. Just look at the break on this curve while striking out Alcides Escobar. But velocity and movement aren’t the only reason for Lauer becoming one of the top pitchers in the league this past month.

Pitch selection is also a key. Look at the image below and you can see how Lauer has relied less and less on his fastball and more on his breaking pitches. What Lauer has learned is how to pitch and not just throw, and it is a skill nearly every young hurler learns in order to become a top pitcher.

 

Chart showing Eric Lauer's pitch usage by season.  FB usage is down while slider and curve usage is up.

He has gone from throwing his fastball 57.7% of the time in 2018 to only 35.4% this season. Meanwhile, his curveball usage has increased from 11.5% to 22.3% and his slider has made a massive jump in usage, going from 7.1% in 2018 to 21.9% now.

Lauer has also cut down on throwing his cutter and his changeup, especially after throwing it 11.3% of the time last season compared to 2.2% now.

Matt Brash

Entering the season, Baseball America ranked Brash as the 45th best prospect while MLB Pipeline had him ranked 98th. Brash showed why he is considered a top prospect during spring training. In 9.1 innings of work, he allowed only three hits and two walks while striking out 12 and posting a 0.96 ERA and 0.536 WHIP.

The rookie for the Mariners broke camp with the team and is now thrilling baseball fans in Seattle. His fastball velocity ranks in the 85th percentile in the majors and his spin rate on his curve ranks in the 95th percentile. He features a 4-seam fastball that averages 95.9 mph, a slider at 84.4 mph, a curve at 82.6 mph, and a changeup that averages 85.5 mph. And then there is this…

His Stuff is Nasty!

Just look at this chart to see how much movement he gets.

Vertical Movement (inches)
Pitch – MPH Inches of Drop vs. Avg % vs. Avg
4-Seamer – 95.9 15.8 -1.2 -8
Slider – 84.4 41.5 4.1 11
Curveball – 82.6 49.7 2.8 6
Changeup – 85.5 30.6 -2.7 -8
Horizontal Movement (inches)
Pitch – MPH Inches of Drop vs. Avg % Break vs. Avg
4-Seamer – 95.9 11.9 3.1 35
Slider – 84.4 17.8 10.2 134
Curveball – 82.6 14.0 3.1 28
Changeup – 85.5 17.8 3.1 21

Brash’s 10.2 inches of horizontal movement ranks second in the majors right now while his vertical movement ranks 42nd. The 3.1 inches of horizontal movement for his curve and his 4-seamer rank 37th and 65th among all pitchers while his curve also has one of the best drops on it. Basically, every pitch Brash throws has above average movement.

Basically, it is just not fun facing him.

However…

Despite all the movement he gets on his pitches, Brash has an ERA+ 0f 86 and a WHIP of 1.467. While allowing only 6.6 hits/9 IP, he is walking 6.6 batters per nine innings with a 7.8 K/9 rate. Through his first three starts, hitters had an EV of 92.4 mph, 4.1 mph above the MLB average (and ranks in the 10th percentile) with a hard hit percentage of 47.8%. The MLB average is 39.2%.

The inability to command his pitches allows for many to be hit hard and has run up his pitch count. He has yet to go a full six innings in his first three outings. Major league hitters have proven they can hit a 100 mph fastball, so when Brash misses his spots, hitters have been able to take advantage.

The Verdict

What does all this information about Lauer mean? It means you should be adding Lauer ASAP.

He has increased his spin rate and velocity, making his fastball ride higher in the strike zone than in the past and creating more swings and misses. His breaking pitches are coming from the same arm slot as well, making those pitches look like fastballs before dropping or sliding out of the zone.

Lauer will certainly have some bad days on the mound, but I think he is now a complete pitcher and makes a solid player to have in your fantasy rotation.

As for Brash, he is a work in progress but he has shown he has the ability to succeed on this level. If your league limits the amount of keepers you have, then adding him is not a sure thing. I am always hesitant to add rookie pitchers because of the learning curve most have to go through (just look at Lauer).

If you have 40-man rosters and/or can live with the ups and downs (like Friday’s start vs. Miami) that Brash will certainly have, then add him. In one or two years he can be a solid No. 2 starter.

 

 

5 Comments
Newest
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
granvillehouston
granvillehouston
3 months ago

A wood for brash?

granvillehouston
granvillehouston
Reply to  Jakkers
3 months ago

Thanks boss

Parks
Parks
3 months ago

Thanks for the article! Decided to dump A. Wood for Lauer. Trade off with Ws, but given injury history with Wood seemed like the right move. Do you agree?