Streaming pitchers is a ton of fun, but I know as much as the next guy how hard and frustrating it can be. As the great Nick Pollack says “streaming sucks.” He is right, it does suck but it is so much fun. It’s a constant puzzle that you are trying to solve and when you do it right, it feels so good. I like to think of it like playing golf. If you are a casual golfer like myself you can play amazingly for two few holes but then blow up on the next three. There have been so many times where I have started a round going par, par, par for it to only be ruined by going double-bogey, double-bogey on the next two holes. But when you do get those pars or hit a beautiful shot there is nothing like it. It’s almost as good of a feeling as eating a pastrami sandwich.
What is interesting is there seems to be a shift in the industry when it comes to streaming pitchers. Word around the Twitterverse is that more high-stakes players are relying on streaming hitters instead. It makes sense because they can’t ruin your ratios as a pitcher can.
Time and time again I have streamed the pitcher who seems to have the best matchup. The pitcher is somewhat on a roll, the opposing offense can’t hit anything, and the ballpark gives the pitcher a slight edge. Yet, the pitcher gets through two innings and gives up six runs.
While the theory of streaming hitters is a viable one and one that we will be messing with here at SP Streamer. To me, it could definitely hurt you from grabbing some fantastic pitchers early in the season. Breakouts happen all of the time and it’s just a matter of catching one on the waiver wire before other managers do. If you aren’t churning out pitchers at the beginning of the season you could easily miss out on a pitcher that could win you your league. Streaming a pitcher and holding on can really pay off. You won’t always hit but when you do it can be game-changing.
The chart below shows you pitchers who were under 30% owned to start the season. In other words, these pitchers were easily obtainable in the first month of baseball. In the chart, you will see a pitchers 2019 ERA and K-BB%, their ERA and K-BB% after August, and their overall ERA and K-BB% for the 2020 season.
I did this because K-BB% is one of, if not the best indicators of a pitcher’s future performance. Especially when it is early in the season. Spotting a pitcher’s uptick in K-BB% after a few starts could be very telling. If you pay attention early on and jump on a pitcher whose K-BB% is improved upon the previous season you could have ended up with these pitchers in 2020.
This is a wild list and one that has pitchers who are being taken very early in drafts for 2021. Pitchers like Corbin Burnes, Zac Plesac, Tyler Mahle, Palo Lopez, and Kevin Gausman. Now K-BB% isn’t the end all be all, most if not all of these pitchers made some kind of key change whether it be an increase in velocity, a pitch mix change, or adding a new pitch. Let’s walk through some of these.
Marco Gonzales stormed out of the gates hot producing a 3.09 ERA while doubling his K-BB% and he sustained both for the entire season. You had three starts to grab him before everyone else in your league noticed and an increase in sinker usage could have helped convince you.
Zach Plesac went quick, after one start his rostered percentage spiked quickly. This was due to two reasons. First, his start against the White Sox was phenomenal. He dominated by pitching for eight innings while allowing just three hits and striking out eleven hitters! Obviously, that will draw attention. Second, Aaron Civale had a dominant start as well and it clearly brought a lot of attention towards the Cleveland Indians pitchers.
I’m shocked Corbin Burnes didn’t jump over 30% as quickly as Plesac did. He came into 2019 with a ton of hype, yet after his first five appearances, he still could have been snagged off the waiver wire. People likely waited until after his 8/18 start because that technically was his second start. He started a game in July then worked out of the pen for his next three appearances. If you decided to buy-in during his relief appearances and took a shot on him you were greeted with immense value for the rest of the season. Everyone knew the talent was there it was just a matter of taking a chance and hoping it clicked.
Chris Bassitt and Adam Wainwright were both weird cases. Neither of them jumped off the page in terms of an increase in K-BB% or doing anything really different. While Wainwright might just be a case of small sample size, Bassitt did become the called strike king with his fastball.
Tyler Mahle lasted on the wire the entire time and I have no idea why. He never had a bad month and improved in every facet. He was able to do so by pairing his fastball with a new slider and if you grabbed him at any point you reaped the benefits.
Framber Valdez lasted three starts on the wire. His rostered percentage quickly rose because he had back-to-back appearances with eight or more strikeouts. You could have easily caught on after the third start because his K-BB% at that point was at 22.5%, a full 11% higher than the year before. You could have also noticed that he decided to go sinker/slider heavy.
Kevin Gausman and Zach Eflin were other pitchers who sat on the wire for a while. The reasoning is simple, the K-BB% was there but the ERA wasn’t matching it. People were just waiting for the ERA to come down before adding them. These two and Mahle don’t really belong in this article because you didn’t have to jump on them early but it’s interesting to me how you can find diamonds in the rough even two months into the season, albeit there are a lot fewer options at this point.
The last pitcher I will run through is Pablo Lopez. After his first three starts, his K-BB% was at 22.4%, 8% higher than the year prior. Lopez is a pitcher a lot of people should have jumped on after his first two starts. He was great in the first half of 2019 but was then injured and couldn’t quite recover leading to a bad second half. After his first two starts where he pitched 10 innings with 11 strikeouts, two earned runs, and a 26.2 K%, Lopez was screaming at us that we were seeing 2019 first half Pablo Lopez again.
Yes, in hindsight this all seems so easy. And yes this could easily backfire like the first halves we saw from Matt Boyd and Caleb Smith in 2019. For all we know some of these pitchers could have faltered had we had a full season. I would have loved to do this for 2019 but I sadly didn’t take down the same information I did for 2020. Moving forward I certainly will. But glancing at my picks in 2019 you could have also had Lucas Giolito, Lance Lynn, and Brandon Woodruff.
To bring this all together it makes too much sense to churn pitchers early and take shots on guys whose K-BB% are rising and for a reason. Even if it’s after just two starts, take a chance because you could end up with the next Framber Valdez, Pablo Lopez, or Marco Gonzales. That’s finding value and that’s winning your leagues outside of your draft.