The Dynasty Baseball Performance Report is a regular series, highlighting each position and providing insight into the risers and fallers of both the major leagues and prospects. Each week we’ll publish a positional report on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
Hopefully, everybody has been enjoying these Performance Reports from the Dynasty Team at PitcherList. The goal has been to highlight a few players at each position that are seeing their value increase and a few that are seeing their value decrease. So far, we have covered every position except for pitcher. Well, today is finally the day we get to dive into which pitchers are seeing their value increase or decrease. You can check out all of the previous performance reports at the links below and keep reading to learn about which pitchers have seen the biggest change in value since the start of 2023.
MacKenzie Gore– WAS
MacKenzie Gore has had a roller coaster of a professional career. From generational talent to prospect bust, present-day Gore has landed somewhere in the middle. After early success in 2022, Gore was traded to the Nationals in the blockbuster deal for Juan Soto. Injuries derailed his second half of 2022, preventing Gore from ever taking the mound in a Nationals’ uniform.
I took some time this off-season to dive deeper into former pitching prospects with small sample sizes. You can check out that work here, but one of the pitchers I hit on was Gore. One of the most interesting findings was that Gore’s struggles primarily came against lefties. Gore’s curveball is his best out pitch, but this pitch lost all effectiveness against lefties. Gore relied heavily on his slider to get lefties out which he left over the plate too frequently. PLV does a perfect job of demonstrating this. Overall, his curveball graded as an above-average pitch with a 5.13 score and a 3.66 PLA. However, this score dropped to 4.93 against lefties with a 4.21 PLA. You can see in the image below just how badly Gore struggled with his non-fastballs against lefties.
This was the biggest issue holding Gore back from having more success and improving his strikeout rate. So far, Gore is showing big-time improvements in this area. You can see that his PLV has improved dramatically against left-handed hitters and his strikeouts have skyrocketed as a result. After striking out 21.1% of left-handed hitters last season, Gore has struck out an impressive 30.3% of lefties early on this year.
For a pitcher like Gore, it is important to remember that he is still only 24 years old. Despite being talked about for years, Gore is still in the early stages of his development. He is showing impressive improvements early on in 2023 and there is no reason to think he will not continue to get better. The only thing left to tackle is lowering his walk rate. Even though he is walking 12% of batters his ERA still sits at 3.65 with a 3.28 xFIP. Gore’s value is trending up especially in dynasty formats where he should continue to get even better.
Joe Ryan– MIN
The Rays are an organization that is routinely praised for its ability to identify future stars and develop prospects. Joe Ryan is one of the ones that got away. Ryan was traded from Tampa to Minnesota for Nelson Cruz and is quickly turning into a star. He debuted in 2021 throwing 26.2 innings with a 6.00 K/BB ratio. There was plenty of hype around Ryan entering 2022 and despite posting a 3.55 ERA, the results felt disappointing. Ryan did not experience any jump in strikeout numbers and his ERA indicators told the story of a pitcher who was due for regression in 2023.
This has not been the case so far. Ryan has been nothing short of excellent early on for Minnesota lowering his already low walk rate to an impressive 1.23 BB/9 with an ERA of 2.45 and a FIP of 2.87. What changed to take Ryan to this next level?
One of the early season storylines is how Minnesota has turned into a pitching factory. When Ryan made his debut in 2021, he was throwing his fastball almost 65% of the time. That rate dropped close to 60% last year, but Ryan lacked a true out pitch. The slider was his most used breaking ball and that pitch only generated a whiff rate of 29.7%. Not only that, but opponents slugged .540 off of it which contributed to Ryan’s home run issue. Ryan got to work this off-season and developed a splitter while working on developing his sweeper. Now in 2023, his four-seam and slider usage are both down while he is relying more heavily on the sweeper and splitter. He has also ditched his changeup and curveball which both graded out as well below average pitches.
Here are some of the changes according to PLV:
- Ryan turned his changeup with a 5.52 PLA into a splitter with a 3.15 PLA
- PLV does not capture the difference between the slider and the sweeper yet, but his PLA on the slider has dropped from 3.94 to 1.70 much of which can be attributed to the sweeper
The biggest thing this new pitch mix has been able to do is keep the ball in the yard. Last year, the average launch angle on Ryan’s curveball was 27 degrees. The average launch angle on his changeup was 20 degrees. His splitter which is now his most used secondary pitch has an average launch angle of 4 degrees. Ryan’s ability to keep the ball on the ground is helping him drop his FB% from 54.1% to 39.8%. Giving up fewer home runs is always encouraged.
With a nearly brand-new pitch mix, the trend arrow is pointing straight up for Ryan in dynasty formats. Although the strikeout rate still leaves something to be desired, Ryan is generating a chase rate north of 40%. As Ryan continues to figure out how to use his new toys, he will see his strikeout rate increase. Ryan has a chance to be very good for a very long time. His dynasty value is on the rise and you should be buying in.
Joe Ryan, Filth
6Ks thru 4 pic.twitter.com/sZFznOtC0D
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) May 3, 2023
Michael Kopech– CWS
Michael Kopech was once a big-time prospect for the Boston Red Sox. After being drafted in the first round of the 2014 draft, Kopech flashed big-time potential before being sent to Chicago in the Chris Sale deal. Tommy John, anxiety, and the pandemic combined for two lost seasons from 2019-2020. Kopech returned in 2021 pitching primarily out of the bullpen. He posted a high strikeout rate and a 3.50 ERA leading to excitement over his potential in the rotation.
2022 represented Kopech’s first real chance in a Major League rotation. The results were underwhelming as Kopech threw 119.1 innings with a 3.54 ERA and 7.92 K/9. The ERA looks nice on paper, but it was supported by a 4.50 FIP and a 4.63 PLA. Not a single one of Kopech’s pitches posted a PLA below 4.11. Even with suspect underlying metrics, it was hard to not be optimistic. Kopech comes with a plus fastball, high prospect pedigree, and Major League success as recent as 2021. Maybe there was a next level that Kopech could tap into for 2023.
Unfortunately for those holding out hope, things have gotten worse instead of better. Not only have his surface stats regressed, but his underlying metrics have gotten worse. Through seven starts, Kopech has a 5.97 ERA supported by a 7.57 FIP. He certainly is not getting unlucky as his current .255 batting average against is supported by an xBA of .282. His BABIP against is .258 which is below the league average.
Both control and command have regressed for Kopech. He is currently walking 12.9% of the batters he faces while surrendering plenty of hard contact. If you look at his PLV, his four-seam fastball ranks as an above-average pitch. At the same time, he has surrendered seven home runs off of this pitch. How can both be possible? Take a look at Kopech’s PLV chart below:
While most of Kopech’s fastballs score as above-average he is making some BIG mistakes. When Kopech misses, he misses badly pointing to serious command issues. The four-seamer has plus velocity and elite spin, but all of that means nothing if Kopech has no idea where the pitch is going. This issue is nothing new. He faced a similar problem last year but was bailed out by a 9.4 HR/FB%.
Kopech was once viewed as a prospect with front-end starter potential. In the midst of a second consecutive subpar season, it is fair to reconsider what his true value really is. At this point, he is essentially a two-pitch pitcher. His slider grades out as a below-average pitch and we have already discussed the issues with his four-seamer. Kopech might be best suited in a relief role long-term. Similar to the White Sox, Kopech’s value is trending down. Adjust your expectations for this former top prospect and sell if anybody is willing to take a gamble on name value.
Max Scherzer– NYM
Max Scherzer has put together a Hall of Fame career. Now in his 16th season, Scherzer has amassed over 200 wins, 3200 strikeouts, and three Cy Young awards to his name. He has been one of, if not, the best pitcher of this generation. Despite his age increasing, the results have almost gotten better. A 3.74 ERA during the pandemic season has had many skeptical of a falloff for some time now. Scherzer has silenced the doubters with a 2.46 ERA in 2021 and a 2.29 ERA in 2022. He has been defying father time for years at this point without showing any signs of slowing down.
2023 has reminded us that eventually, production will go down as age increases. Scherzer himself has been an outlier for years, but this is his age-38 season. He has over 2700 Major League innings on his arm and regression was bound to come. Outside of any underlying skill metrics, you can see this in his recent lack of durability. For years, Scherzer was a 200+ inning guy. Scherzer has not topped 179 innings since 2018. He missed a significant portion of time in 2022 with injury after struggling to fight through the pain in the 2021 playoffs.
However, the expectations remained that when Scherzer was on the mound, he would be dominant. Health had been a nonfactor before Scherzer was scratched from his start yesterday. Even when healthy, the early results have been disappointing. Strikeouts, whiff rate, and chase rate are all down while the walks, hard-hit rate, and barrel rate are all up. Through five starts, his ERA sits at 5.56 supported by a 6.35 FIP.
Scherzer has seen his fastball velocity dip every season since 2019. This year, his four-seam velocity is down to 93.1 mph and opponents are punishing what used to be Scherzer’s best pitch. Batters are hitting .342 with a .605 slugging percentage off this pitch. The PLA on his four-seam has jumped from 3.13 to 4.55. Pitchers commonly lose velocity on their fastballs as they age. We have seen it with Clayton Kershaw for years. However, those that continue to find success have a way of reinventing themselves. Instead of leaning on other pitches in his arsenal, Scherzer has increased his four-seam usage early on. This is not a recipe for success at this stage in his career.
Talking about dynasty fantasy baseball, Scherzer’s value was already a little bit lower. However, it appeared there were at least one or two more productive seasons to have. The early indications are showing that this could be the beginning of the end for Scherzer. His value has never been lower, and it is unlikely to go up much from this point. If this current injury lingers his value could plummet even further than it already has this season.
Andrew Abbott– CIN
I am not sure anybody saw a breakout of this magnitude coming from Andrew Abbott. A second-round pick from 2021, Abbott has had success throughout the Minor Leagues but never generated the kind of hype associated with top prospects. After a promotion to Double-A in 2022, Abbott saw his strikeout rate drop and his walk rate spike casting doubts over how Abbott would fare against tougher competition. Left-handed pitchers that favor a curveball as their primary secondary offering over a slider are rare and oftentimes struggle more against Major League hitters. By the end of 2022, it was fair to wonder if Abbott had hit a wall in his development that would take time to get over.
So far in 2023, it is safe to say that was not the case. Abbott came out of the gates firing, posting a 1.15 ERA and -0.43 FIP across three Double-A starts. Abbott struck out an absurd 64.3% of batters and quickly receive a promotion to Triple-A. Abbott’s fastball/curveball combination has looked dominant at keeping hitters off balance. His wind-up is smooth and repeatable featuring plus extension that allows his pitches to play up past their average velocity. The numbers have come back to earth a bit at Triple-A. By come back to earth, I mean a modest 38.7% strikeout rate and an ERA of 3.00.
After the early season promotion to Triple-A, the Reds have made it clear that Abbott is on the fast track to the Major Leagues. Close Major League proximity and high strikeout rates are two of fantasy managers’ favorite things to look for. Abbott has both working for him and the control to help create a stable floor. Abbott’s value has risen more than any other pitcher so far in 2023 and could rise even higher with success in Triple-A.
Bryan Woo– SEA
After starting 2022 at the Complex Level, Bryan Woo made it all the way to High-A. Woo pitched a total of 57 innings across three levels to the tune of a 4.11 ERA. Not bad for a sixth-round pick making his professional debut, but nothing to write home about. The hype really started to kick in during the Arizona Fall League. Woo started five games in Arizona allowing just one run across 10.2 innings. A sparkling ERA is one thing, but it is another to strike out 16 batters in those 10.2 innings.
His AFL success has carried over into 2023. The Mariners assigned Woo to Double-A and he has not disappointed. Through his first five starts, Woo is striking out over 38% of batters with a 2.57 ERA and 2.78 FIP. The biggest red flag in Woo’s profile was his control. Woo experienced a spike in walk rate after his promotion to High-A but so far, his control looks better than ever. He is yet to walk more than two batters in a start which is an encouraging sign for dynasty managers.
The most enticing part about Woo is that he is still developing. Coming out of college, many scouts viewed Woo as a project. At the time, his fastball was really his only effective pitch. Since joining Seattle’s organization, the club has worked with Woo to develop his slider/sweeper and changeup to allow him to maintain his success. The control issues Woo experienced at the end of 2022 are likely a result of him still learning how to harness his new secondary pitches. The fastball sits comfortably in the upper 90s while Woo is able to generate plenty of whiffs on his slider. You can see just how filthy this slider looks in the tweet below:
8 strikeouts through 5 shutout innings for Bryan Woo. pic.twitter.com/ZWZCR7574H
— Mariners Minors (@MiLBMariners) April 30, 2023
With improved control and secondary pitches that keep improving, there is plenty to be excited about with Woo. Seattle has done an excellent job of developing pitchers recently as evidenced by the success of George Kirby, Logan Gilbert, and Bryce Miller. Woo could be the next prospect to fly through Seattle’s organization. His dynasty value is trending up and Woo has a chance to be one of the biggest prospect movers in 2023.
Kyle Harrison– SFG
Kyle Harrison combines deception with a plus slider to baffle opposing batters. The 2020 third-round pick has quickly worked his way through the Minor Leagues making it all the way to Triple-A to start the 2023 season. Since coming into the league, Harrison has had no issues striking batters out. He managed to increase his 35% strikeout rate from 2021 up to 39.8% in 2022. If there is one thing that fantasy managers love to look for it is the strikeout. Strikeouts offer an upside that dynasty players crave. Harrison satisfies that craving and allows fantasy managers to dream about what could be if it all goes right.
In 2023, Harrison is still striking out plenty of batters. The jump to Triple-A has not resulted in batters having any more success against his stuff. His strikeout rate remains at 38%. Thanks to his unique low arm slot, his slider and fastball both play up above their metrics allowing his whiff rate to remain above 29% on both pitches.
Wait, this is the section for Minor League fallers, not risers. So, what is the issue? The issue is an alarmingly high walk rate that has not improved as Harrison has progressed through the Minor Leagues. Control has always been a concern after Harrison posted a walk rate of 11.8% in 2021. He was able to reduce this number to 10.5% last season, and only walked 8.3% of batters over his final seven starts in 2022 leading to optimism for Harrison entering 2023. Harrison’s improvements have not carried over as many hoped. Instead, he is walking more batters than ever with a walk rate above 23%. He has walked at least four batters in four of seven starts so far. Without improved control, it is fair to question Harrison’s long-term projection as a starting pitcher.
He reminds me of DL Hall. Hall has always posted high strikeout rates throughout the Minor Leagues but has failed to stick in the Orioles’ rotation due to control issues. Hall is still just 24 and Harrison is only 21, but the concern remains. Harrison is essentially a two-pitch pitcher relying heavily on his fastball and slider with his changeup being thrown under six percent of the time. With below-average control and lack of a true starter’s arsenal, it is difficult to see Harrison having sustained success in a Major League rotation. His dynasty value is trending down, and he is sliding down my prospect rankings.
Daniel Espino– CLE
After being drafted in the first round of the 2019 draft, Espino broke onto the scene in 2021. At 20 years old, he split time between Low-A and High-A striking out over 40% of batters he faced. He showed off a wipeout slider with a high-90s fastball looking like a future ace. Dynasty baseball players immediately fell in love with Espino ranking him toward the top of most pitching prospect rankings entering 2022. Last season, Espino pitched just 18.1 innings before landing on the IL with knee issues. These knee issues seemingly never went away as Espino did not return to the mound all year. Reports later surfaced that his shoulder was the root cause of his extended IL stay.
Entering 2023, there was optimism that Espino would be able to show off his impressive stuff and remain healthy for the season. Before we could even get to Opening Day, reports of continued shoulder discomfort surfaced casting doubts over how productive Espino could be. He was shut down from throwing for eight weeks in February. Still, optimism persisted as this is a pitcher with some of the best stuff in the Minor Leagues. After those eight weeks, Espino would surely be healthy enough to return to game action.
Things started to look up at the beginning of April as reports surfaced that Espino would be returning toward the end of May or early June. Unfortunately for fantasy managers and Espino, this was short-lived. Espino was shut down again on April 23rd and has since undergone surgery which will sideline him for 12-14 months.
Espino has all the talent in the world, but 12-14 months is a lengthy recovery time. This means that best case scenario, Espino will likely be out until June of 2024. Even if he is able to return in June, Espino will have not thrown more than 18.1 innings since 2021. If the Guardians wish to build him up as a starter, Espino is unlikely to debut until at least partway through 2025. With all the talent in the world, it is possible the Guardians use this patient approach. However, it is also possible they recognize that there are legitimate durability concerns with Espino at this point and opt to move him into the bullpen moving forward. Either way, this is a significant hit to Espino’s dynasty value.