In this edition of “Is it Legit,” I’ll lean on some newly trustworthy numbers such as K-BB% and Barrel% to analyze three players and try to set some realistic expectations for them going forward.
To say Tyler Anderson has hit a rough patch in his last two starts would be putting it mildly. Having given up five home runs and 13 earned runs in his last 10 innings pitched, Anderson seems to have hit a brick wall. His recent struggles, which pushed his ERA up to an unhelpful 4.73 on the season, must have been a shock to fantasy managers because he was cruising in his first seven starts. So which version of Mr. Anderson is to be believed? Zooming out to look at Anderson’s repertoire, we see a three-pitch pitcher (four-seam fastball, cutter, changeup) who distributes his pitch mix quite evenly.
Featuring the four-seamer 37.1% of the time, the cutter 27.8%, and the changeup 26.5% of the time, he can keep hitters guessing and can throw each pitch for strikes when needed. He doesn’t have plus velocity on the four-seamer, but he makes up for it with an excellent ride on the pitch (86th percentile), which has helped it earn a strong 12.2% swinging strike rate despite uninspiring velocity: a 90.1 average mph. The changeup and cutter play off the fastball, dropping similarly to one another but moving horizontally in opposite directions. All of this combines to create a picture of a pitcher who can reliably use any of his three pitches for called as well as swinging strikes, and he can generate a healthy number of swings and misses even if his velocity isn’t dominant.
In terms of results, Anderson has several numbers which should be cause for optimism. His already respectable 23.8% strikeout rate may actually be underperforming his impressive 12.7% swinging-strike rate. At 16.4%, Anderson’s strikeout minus walk rate is tied for 60th out of all pitchers with at least 30 innings pitched, and puts him with some respectable company such as Nathan Eovaldi, Spencer Turnbull, Dylan Cease, and Pablo Lopez. Anderson has also leaned into his cutter more in 2021, upping its use by almost 10 percentage points. This has been a wise move, as the cutter has been his best-performing pitch of the young season.
Verdict: Not Legit. With solid command, good stuff, and three quality pitches, Anderson has all the pieces to bounce back from this slump and put up a season that satisfies fantasy players. I recommend patience if he’s currently on your team, and would be looking to add him if he’s available. Because of his pitch mix changes and spin rate improvements, I think Anderson can outperform his projections and post something around a 3.85 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, and a strikeout per inning while winning around 10 games by season’s end.
Eduardo Escobar was probably an afterthought on draft day after his down 2020 season in which he hit just four homers and registered a paltry 56 wRC+ in 54 games. This year has been quite the opposite, as he’s come roaring back with 12 homers, 26 runs, and 35 RBI in 46 games while hitting in the middle of the Diamondbacks order. With the volatility in his performance, it’s natural to wonder what to make of a player who really didn’t earn a true power hitter reputation until he hit a career-high 35 homers in his age-30 season in 2019. But Escobar has given us reason to trust that his mid-career turn to power-hitting can actually be sustainable through the season.
Looking into the numbers, we see the profile of a player who is leaning into his “old man power profile” (and I mean that in a good way). An adjustment that successful post-age 30 hitters often make is improving their eye at the plate, and maximizing their power by pulling the ball in the air more often. So far, Escobar is following this plan to a T. The traditionally free-swinging Escobar has a career-low reach rate of 32.2%, which is still slightly above the league average but far better than the 40.8% he posted in his career year of 2019.
Escobar has managed to be more selective at the plate while remaining aggressive on pitches in the strike zone and posting a lower swinging strike rate than he did in 2019. Starting his MLB career as a ground ball-heavy hitter, Escobar has slowly adapted over the years to his current fly ball focus, as his 0.56 GB/FB rate is the lowest of his career. Additionally, Escobar is pulling the ball more than ever before, while also upping his hard-hit rate and posting the highest barrel rate (10.1%) of his career, which is putting him on a torrid home run pace.
Verdict: Legit. Because of the high fly ball rates, expect the batting average to continue to be low, but Escobar seems primed to make a run at the 35 homers he hit in 2019. I agree with the projections that he should be able to generally keep this pace up and post something like 75 runs scored, 30 homers, 90 RBI, and a .245 BA if he stays healthy for the full season.
After a truly brutal run of trying out different relievers in the closer’s role, the Detroit Tigers seemed to have found their best option to close is not a reliever at all, but in fact a converted starter. Michael Fulmer, who has four pitches and can light up the radar gun, had saved three in a row going into Sunday when he blew his first save in walk-off fashion. But this is a happy article because Fulmer had been a revelation for the Tigers in his previous relief appearances. His average fastball velocity was already around 95mph as a starter, and now that he’s pitching in shorter spurts, he’s been able to ramp up the average velo to another level, averaging between 96 and 98 and maxing out at 99.9 mph.
With this velo bump, he’s also understandably seeing a jump in swinging-strike rate on the pitch, recording a 14.7% mark on the pitch this season. With the fastball at its most formidable, his changeup and slider are seeing strong performance as well, logging 16.5% and 17.3% swinging strike rates, respectively. This all adds up to the highest strikeout rate of Fulmer’s career, which at 22.6% isn’t quite as dominant as you’d like, but you’ll take it when it’s paired with a reasonable 6.0% walk rate. When Eno Sarris put out his Command+ stats on May 2nd, Fulmer was sitting at a slightly above average 102, which is more than enough command to succeed in a relief role, where pitchers routinely get by with a sub-90 mark.
Verdict: Legit. In blowing a save on Sunday, Fulmer has joined the ranks of all the Tigers closers who came before him, but he has the command and stuff to hold onto the closer’s role all season.
Photo by Quinn Harris/Icon Sportswire | Adapted by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)
Your analysis of Anderson would seem to point to the other verdict…
I consider Tyler Anderson’s struggles “not legit” so it’s a bit of a confusing double-negative. In short, I like him!