While a surprisingly active MLB trade deadline is now behind us, your league’s trade deadline may still be upcoming, and we’ll look at some unexpected standout and slumping starting pitchers to see if now might be the time to do some wheeling and dealing of our own.
Even with a good start (6 IP, 0 ER, 8 Ks) on Sunday against the Rockies, Chris Paddack is not giving his fantasy teams what they wanted from him when making him a top-tier starting pitcher going into 2020. With a 4.43 ERA and less than a strikeout per inning, Paddack has been just okay so far this season.
The reduced performance of his four-seam fastball has been Paddack’s primary issue this season, which an especially big deal considering he essentially only has two pitches, and that he throws the pitch roughly 60% of the time. Eno Sarris noted how Paddack’s release point is less over-the-top than it was last year, and that the ensuing movement change has led to the decreased effectiveness of the pitch. The changing results have been pretty striking:
Fortunately, Paddack’s changeup has been just as good as ever, with a 44.3% chase rate, a 50.0% zone rate, and a 18.4% swinging strike rate. His command has been outstanding as well (through the Mariners start, Paddack’s Command+ was 114.5) and his velocity has held steady, so he’s generally been the same pitcher he was last year, but the league seems to be catching up to him. Paddack’s curveball usage has been down somewhat this season, to 7.7 from 10.4%, but he’s added two inches of drop on the pitch, so it seems like more a matter of trusting his ability to locate than an issue of stuff. With only about five starts remaining, it’s unlikely that we’ll see a big change in usage, but it should be something to monitor going into next year, as a trustworthy third pitch should be enough to unlock a long and successful career for the promising righty.
Verdict: Legit. I don’t see Paddack’s outstanding changeup being enough to carry his underwhelming fastball to stardom this year. Due to his strong command, he should be able to keep the walk rate low and maintain ratios similar to what he’s put up so far, but I don’t see another level in 2020. If someone’s convinced he’s turned the corner with his latest start, now’s a good time to trade him for a decent return.
In what should serve as a humbling reminder of the difficulty of predicting pitcher performance, Framber Valdez went from not having an Astros’ rotation spot to being one of the most valuable starting pitchers in fantasy baseball so far. In five starts, Valdez has notched three wins and has put up a 2.35 ERA, a 1.10 WHIP, and 40 strikeouts in 38.1 innings. In his in-depth article on Fangraphs, Jake Mailhot shows how Valdez has improved his command through pitch mix changes and release point consistency. By significantly dropping the use of his four-seamer almost completely in favor of his better-commanded sinker and increasing the usage of his changeup, Valdez is maximizing his arsenal and throwing more strikes. This improvement is also reflected in his 99.4 Command+, which is up more than five points from last season. Valdez has located his curveball especially well in 2020, limiting wasted pitches and inducing a ton of whiffs and weak contact all while increasing the zone rate more than eight percentage points to 47.3%.
While Valdez’s increased control has minimized his self-inflicted damage, he has also been a beneficiary of some luck thus far, as batters have only recorded a .258 wOBA off of a .300 xwOBA. Valdez is also over-performing in strikeouts, as his 26.0 K% is not fully supported by his 9.7% swinging strike rate. Finally, he hasn’t been stingy with hard contact, as his 44.7% hard hit rate allowed ranks only in the 13th percentile in the league. The good news is, since he induces almost 60% groundballs, he’s been able to limit the damage of these 95+ mph “worm burners.” Houston has employed the shift more than 50% of the time behind Valdez, and having an extra defender on the pull side has helped the Astros stifle opponents’ BABIP.
Verdict: Mostly Legit. Look for Valdez to see some regression in his strikeout rate and batted ball luck, but we should be able to trust that he can maintain his command gains for 2020. Valdez likely won’t carry a 2.35 ERA across the finish line, but he’s a solid bet to turn in a good ERA the rest of the year with a healthy strikeout rate and a chance to bank some elusive wins for the Astros, and for your fantasy team.
Remember 2019 and the debate about which young Brewers pitcher would be better, Corbin Burnes or Brandon Woodruff? Woodruff certainly ran away with the title last year, but in the long run it looks like they could both be stars. While Burnes impressed with his swing-and-miss stuff last season, he was shellshocked by the long-ball; he gave up a ridiculous 17 homers in 49.0 innings of work, a whopping 38.6% home run to fly ball rate, en route to losing his role in the rotation. Burnes relied almost exclusively on a four-seamer/slider combination, throwing the two pitches 83.5% of the time. In 2020, Burnes has almost completely remade himself from a pitch mix perspective, and has ridden his new approach to a much-improved season where he has gone 1-0 with a 2.78 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 46 strikeouts in 32.1 innings.
|Pitch||2019 Usage%||2020 Usage %|
Essentially swapping out his four-seamer completely while dramatically boosting the usage of his cutter and sinker, Burnes can hardly be called the same pitcher any more! Whereas he worked generally north-south in 2019, with four-seamers up in the zone and sliders down and away, this season he’s working more east west, with sinkers in on righties and cutters away. The changeup and curveball also have some east-west movement, but also have significantly more drop than the sinker and cutter. He gets excellent spin on his pitches, and impressive horizontal movement, especially on the curveball, slider, and cutter. Add plus velocity to the equation, and you’re looking at a pitcher with nasty stuff and five pitches. And here’s how each of his pitches have performed so far:
Probably the most impressive pitch in this list is the cutter because Burnes has been able to get whiffs with the pitch while throwing it in the strike zone 63% of the time. This is the pitch that’s unlocking Burnes’ even filthier whiff pitches, because he needs to get deep into counts in order to use those pitches and get batters in a spot where they feel they need to swing. All in all, the repertoire that Burnes is employing this season is both vast and nasty.
So now that we’re ready to start snapping up Corbin Burnes rookie cards, immediately trading for him in our leagues, and naming our first-born children after him, I’m here to douse just a bit of cold water on the situation. While he has a dominant 35.1% strikeout rate, Burnes also has an unseemly 13.0% walk rate, and his Command+ sits at a very reliver-like 88.1 (the general threshold for making it work as a starter is 90). Add this to the fact that Burnes’ batted ball luck has done a complete 180-degree turn from where it stood last season, with his HR/FB rate all the way down to 3.6% and his .247 wOBA significantly outperforming his .310 xwOBA, and you have some significant room for regression.
Verdict: Legit. It seems wise to go with the cowardly hedge, and assume that Burnes’ stats will end up somewhere in the middle of his ghastly 2019 and his exciting start this season, but his skills are so tantalizing it makes you want to believe. If you need strikeouts, Burnes can deliver them in bunches, and his new approach should help him limit the batted ball damage he sustained in 2019. A 3.90 ERA and 1.25 WHIP with about 40 more strikeouts the rest of the way seems reasonable, with upside for more if his command trends upward.
(Photo by Doug Murray/Icon Sportswire)