Updated: May 19
On The Ledge
The pitchers below have certainly hurt a lot of fantasy baseball owners in the past, leaving us wondering if we could trust them. Below are some mini deep dives into a few of those names. Figuring out what is real and what is a mirage in fantasy baseball provides a huge advantage.
Trevor Bauer is one of the more polarizing pitchers in the MLB. He had a breakout year in 2018 where he produced a 2.21 ERA, 2.44 FIP, and 22.9 K-BB%. Unfortunately, his 2019 was a completely different story as he provided a sub-par 4.48 ERA, 4.34 FIP, and 18.8 K-BB%. Thus leaving every fantasy baseball player pondering which Trevor Bauer is for real?
While digging into Trevor Bauer, the numbers and what is happening with this polarizing pitcher seems to lie within his arsenal.
Trevor Bauer’s four-seam fastball has never really been that good or utilized well. For instance, look at his fastballs pVAL by year.
The 12.5 pVAL is an extreme outlier compared to prior years. The first thought is velocity, but no significant changes there. The second thought is movement, but the horizontal movement hasn’t really changed either. This leaves his 2018 four-seam fastball as an outlier and if Alex Chamberlain has taught us anything lately it is that xwOBacon should be looked at to search for outliers. Here are Trevor Bauer's xwOBAcon by year.
In 2018 not only was his xwOBAcon out of the norm, but it was the only year that showed severe regression coming for his fastball based on wOBAcon. This leads us to believe that his four-seam in 2018 was lucky and perhaps will never be that good again.
Trevor Bauer's curveball has been consistently good throughout his career. With a hard break of over -11 inches, hitters have trouble handling this pitch. In 2019 it posted an impressive 41.6 K%, .168 batting average against, and 61.4 GB%. Look for this to once again have a lot of success in 2020.
In 2019 Bauer upped his cutter usage which worked out well as it provides a lot of weak contact with great swing and miss potential. The 4.5 Barrel% is well above average and the .140 ISO shows decent command. Bauer uses his cutter to really pound the zone and relies on it to produce strikes, thus providing another great pitch in his arsenal.
Going back to 2018 Bauer’s slider was one of, if not the best in the league. It produced some gaudy numbers with a 45.6 O-Swing%, 21.1 SwStr%, and -8 wRC+. Come to 2019 and his slider was not nearly as dominant. Let’s look at the chart below to see the differences.
At a slower speed, it had more vertical movement which made his slider more like a curveball. In 2018 the slider was tighter and moved more horizontally. In 2019 his slider was 103rd in swing and misses on the edge of the zone, while in 2019 it was 107th. In 2018 his slider was ranked 19th in chase rate, while in 2019 it was 77th. Unlike Bauer’s fastball his slider has been good every year he has been in the league. If Bauer can bring that velocity back up and go back to more vertical movement we could see his slider become dominant once again.
Bauer’s changeup is the last pitch in his arsenal and a pitch that he rarely throws (8% usage). Through the years he has learned to increase the gap in velocity between his fastball and changeup thus creating a decent pitch to have in his back pocket.
Interestingly enough Trevor Bauer’s career has been more down than up. The only time he has posted a sub-four ERA was in 2018. Bauers career ERA is 4.04 and yet he is still going as a top 25 pitcher leaving me to wonder, why? Even if Bauer gets the slider back, his lack of a fastball is worrisome and there are too many questions for Bauer to be going this high in drafts. While he certainly is a bounceback candidate, don’t bet on it happening.
Chris Archer has burned so many owners that if you post anything positive about him, people will likely outrage. Archer started off his career with three straight seasons of an ERA below 3.35. Unfortunately, since then he has put up an ERA above four for four straight seasons. After burning owners for several seasons, the big question is will he burn everyone again?
Let’s first talk about the team that Chris Archer plays for. The Pittsburgh Pirates have been known to force their pitchers to throw fastballs more and often. In today’s game, this doesn’t make sense since hitters have adjusted for more power. Luckily, the Pirates have finally brought in a new regime and are finally becoming more analytically driven. In other words, breaking balls should finally be thrown a lot more.
What does this do for Chris Archer? Well, Chris Archer's breaking balls hit the edge of the zone 15.8% of the time which was 15th best amongst starters. He also had a 43.0 K% when doing so which was fifth best. More breaking balls for Archer means more potential for success!
If you look at Chris Archers stats the past three years you’ll see the below.
In the last three years, his ERA, FIP, and SIERA have consistently gone up. His 2017 isn’t bad with that ERA and super low FIP which shows he really deserved a low three ERA, so what happened from 2017 to 2019? Chris Archer added a two-seam fastball to his arsenal.
Chris Archer’s two-seam fastball in 2019 was atrocious posting a 201 wRC+, 14.6 Barrel%, and .349 ISO. He couldn’t utilize it well (-5.1 pVAL) and while he had solid control over it, the command was severely lacking. Thankfully, Chris Archer realized this in the second half of the season and his two-seam usage went from 16% to 1%.
So now the question is how did Chris Archer perform in the second half? How does a 3.29 FIP, 22.8 K-BB%, 14.2 SwStr%, and 6.7 Barrel% sound? Check out the difference between the two halves.
Chris Archer could finally become the pitcher we once knew a few years back. With a new change in team philosophy, which equates to more breaking balls, and ditching the two-seam fastball he seems to be well on his way to becoming a better pitcher. Currently going as the 95th pitcher off the board, he seems like a very low-risk high reward pick.
Masahiro Tanaka came over from Japan and dominated baseball from 2014-2016 posting a 3.12 ERA and 3.53 FIP in his first three seasons. After having a setback season in 2017 he rebounded nicely in 2018 providing a 3.75 ERA and giving owners confidence once again. Tanaka ended up faltering in 2019 mainly due to the best pitch in his arsenal, his splitter.
Between 2014 and 2018 Tanaka’s SwStr% on his splitter ranged from 28.2% to 16.9%, but in 2019 it dipped to 11.0%. Here are Tanaka’s splitter stats in 2019 compared to its career average.
As you can see in every area Tanaka’s splitter just was not the same. For visual effect lets look at his splitter in May where he lets up a home run to Edwin Encarnacion.
His splitter doesn’t show a ton of vertical break like it usually does. Now, look at his splitter in September against Cavan Biggio.
What a major difference, he has come out and said he had a lot of trouble gripping the new ball. He said eventually he started to get a handle on it and was able to manipulate his splitter even better. Now let’s take a look at the first and second half split on this pitch.
Pretty big difference and this is why he finished the last two months with a 3.78 ERA as well as a dominant showing in the playoffs.
Overall Tanaka is and always has been a solid major league pitcher. He has always been at the top of the league in chase rate and last year his command+ of 131 was ranked first in the league. With Tanaka’s splitter back, pair it with his lethal slider and you have a pitcher with two great breaking balls and a lot of potential value on draft day.
Other Noteworthy Pitchers
Miles Mikolas exploded onto the scene in 2018 throwing for 200.2 innings while producing a 2.83 ERA. In 2019 he faltered a bit taking a step back with a 4.16 ERA leaving owners wondering what happened?
While no one expected a sub-three ERA from Mikolas we were expecting somewhere in the 3.50 range. When you look at 2018 and 2019 Mikolas pitches were pretty much the same, his four-seam, two-seam, curveball, and changeup all produced similar numbers. Thus leaving us with his slider which certainly produced different results.
The main difference here and why his slider seemed to falter has to do with velocity. With his slider velocity dipping a full mile per hour it seemed to affect his vertical movement on the pitch. In 2018 his slider vertical movement was 1.98 and in 2019 it dipped to 0.96. If he can bump that velocity up on his slider and throw it more he could have a much better 2020.
While Miles Mikolas isn’t a very flashy pitcher and doesn’t get a lot of strikeouts, he has exceptional control (4.2 BB%) and great command (108 Command+). With the potential of his slider getting back to 2018 form Mikolas seems like a great draft day target.
David Price underperformed in 2019 as he finished with only 107.1 innings pitched and a 4.28 ERA. Price was shut down last year with a wrist injury on his throwing arm, which goes without saying certainly can affect a pitcher.
Price’s changeup was still lethal with a 44.1 O-Swing%, 40.7 Zone%, and 18.9 SwStr%. The worry when it comes to his arsenal is the four-seam fastball and the sinker, as both of them have dropped in velocity for three straight seasons. Both have remained effective but it is definitely something to keep an eye on, and maybe last year it was more so because of the injury.
Price now has a new home in Los Angeles with the Dodgers. While the shortened season slightly helps his value, the Dodgers will certainly limit his pitch count in every game. That being said, Price should rebound and become a quality starter for fantasy baseball. His FIP, SIERA, and K-BB% all show a sub-four ERA pitcher and the most accurate projections system ATC calls for a 3.78 ERA.