Updated: Sep 28
Pancakes, Pickles, and Mashes Potatoes
A lot of people are astonished that I don’t like pancakes, pickles, or mashed potatoes. Even worse people are blown away when I tell them that I hate carbonation. While I don’t love those things, I do love me some late pitchers on draft day! Towards the end of a draft, it can pay off to take some late round pitchers who have high upside or have shown signs of improvement. The four names below are pitchers you should be targeting late on draft day.
If you want to skip the details:
Danny Duffy’s increase in his changeup usage leads to a better second half and perhaps a better future.
Drew Smyly increased his velocity and added more movement to his pitches.
Merrill Kelly increased his velocity on his fastball leading to a 2.68 ERA in September.
Trent Thornton used his slider more in Septemeber and is developing new pitches.
Danny Duffy (ADP:407)
Danny Duffy is a really interesting case for 2020. In 2016 and 2017 Duffy was a successful starter putting together and an overall ERA of 3.64 in 326 innings. After faltering in 2018 with a measly 4.88 ERA, he came into 2019 and produced a 4.34 ERA.
In 2018 Duffy’s main issue was his control as his BB% jumped dramatically from 6.7% to 10.1%. Last year he brought it down to 8.3% trending in the right direction. This is easily explained by his Zone% bouncing up from 49.9% in 2018 to 51.6% in 2019. A small amount for sure, but in Duffy’s glory days he was right around 51-52%.
Duffy’s first and second half splits of 2019 look worrisome on the surface. His ERA jumped from 4.28 to 4.42 and his FIP was still 4.52. But his second-half showed some improvement coming. Remember that walk rate? In the second half, it jumped down from 9.0% to 7.3%, while his strikeout rate rose from 18.9% to 23.2%.
All great but now we need to find out why this happened, is it backed by some kind of evidence? If you check out his pitch split it will smack you right in the face. His changeup usage jumped from and 8% usage to 16%. His changeup has a great nine MPH difference from his fastball and in the second half put up a very impressive 19.3 SwStr%. Pair that with his slider and decent four-seam, we could be seeing a much better season from Duffy.
Drew Smyly (ADP:415)
Drew Smyly looks terrible on paper, in fact, he didn’t have a single pitch produce a positive pVAL in 2019. But he is very interesting in this upcoming shortened season. The first thing to note is he moved to San Francisco. One of the best pitcher ballparks in the league. The splits are where you see Smyly making improvements. Everything from his wOBA, K-BB%, and FIP improved dramatically in the second half. The big change comes with his pitch mix and velocity.
In terms of velocity, he added a full mile per hour on his fastball. Which increased its horizontal movement and showed much better results. His fastball’s xwOBAcon dipped .60 points while its SwStr% raise 1.7%. As far as pitch mix goes he ditched his changeup and started to throw his curveball more. His curveball in the second half produced an impressive 19.3 SwStr%. That ranked sixth amongst other curveballs in the second half. Overall his curveball ranked 16th at producing swing and misses when throwing curveballs at or below the strike zone. He had more than Sonny Gray.
If Smyly keeps that velocity he will keep the extra movement on his pitches. Which overall will cause him to outperform him ADP tremendously.
Merrill Kelly (ADP:435)
With Mike Leake opting out this year it pretty much cements Kelly getting a rotation spot. I fully expect his ADP to rise now that he will be pitching all year. When it comes to why Merril Kelly is appealing it all has to do with velocity.
All year Kelly’s fastball sat around 90-92 MPH fluctuating a ton, but on August 29th that velocity shot up to 93.6 MPH and stayed in that range until the end of the season. His results were pretty impressive. In that time frame, he pitched six starts and produced a 2.68 ERA, 26.7 K%, .200 BAA, and 3.46 FIP. Pretty amazing seeing that his overall season stats were a 4.42 ERA, 20.3 K%, .256 BAA, and 4.51 FIP.
Look for Kelly’s velocity early on and if he comes out throwing 93 MPH he certainly becomes an intriguing option.
Trent Thornton (ADP:570)
Overall Thornton had a mediocre first season in the MLB, but he certainly shined at times. Just like Kelly we are going to zero in on the last month of baseball. Before I go further, a quick side note. I know one month is a very small sample size and we shouldn’t put too much behind it. But at this point in the draft, you are looking for pitchers with upside. You are looking for glimpses that could turn into something. That is what we are doing here.
In the final month of baseball, Thornton produced a 2.97 FIP, 26.3 K%, and 2.19 ERA. His strikeouts went up because he started to throw his four-seam fastball less and upped his slider/split-finger usage. This worked really well because his slider is his best pitch and in September it gave up zero home runs.
Another reason he becomes intriguing is he worked with Clay Bucholz in the offseason. Thornton developed a one-seam fastball that has crazy movement and two different curveball grips. Any pitcher making interesting pitch changes becomes somewhat an interesting draft day pick.
Overall you can see each one of these pitchers has some sort of intrigue. When it comes to taking pitchers this late in the draft, research becomes a big factor in how successful you can be. While some of these changes come from a small sample size you aren’t losing draft capital by taking a chance on them and hoping for the best. As always thanks for reading!
Photo Credit: KCKingdom