Twice drafted, Tarik Skubal was selected by The Diamondbacks in the 29th round of the 2017 draft, despite missing most of his 2016 and all of his 2017 seasons at Seattle University following Tommy John surgery. He did not sign with Arizona, instead choosing to re-enter the MLB draft in 2018, where he was selected in the ninth round by the Detroit Tigers.
The 6’3″ lefty was more amenable to signing with the Tigers at the higher slot, and he proceeded to dominate the minor leagues. He made just nine appearances and only one start in 2018 but managed a stellar 0.40 ERA and .85 WHIP over 22 innings. Those gorgeous numbers were supported by a downright silly 33-4 strikeout to walk ratio.
The following season saw Skubal split time between High-A and AA ball. He made 24 appearances across those two levels in 2019, all starts, and once again looked excellent. Skubal pitched to a 2.42 ERA and 1.01 WHIP over 122.2 innings. He continued to pile up strikeouts the way Shaggy piles up his sandwiches, amassing 179 punchouts. He displayed a little less control though than he did in his tiny 2018 sample size, but a bb/9 of 2.7 was far from indicating “control issues” and his 4.84 k/bb ratio was again elite.
Skubal would skip AAA entirely and make his MLB debut with the Tigers during the Covid-disrupted 2020 season. 2020 was not a great year for a great many people and Skubal was no exception. Much like his 2018 season, 2020 offers a very small sample size. Skubal made eight appearances, seven as a starting pitcher, and recorded a disappointing 5.63 ERA, with a less-disappointing 1.21 WHIP. His strikeout rate was still strong as he finished the short year with 37 Ks over 32 innings, but he allowed more hits and walks per nine innings than he had during his minor league seasons. He also had a tough time keeping the ball in the park, allowing nine dingers over the short seasThoughough, 32 innings just is not a large enough sample to extrapolate much information.
Let’s Split up and Look for Clues
2021 however would be a different story as Skubal was named to the starting rotation straight out of training camp and would pitch for the Tigers the entire season. He capitalized on the opportunity and took a large step forward from his 2020 numbers. Tarik made 31 appearances, 29 starts and managed a much more appetizing 4.34 ERA. His strikeout rate dropped a tad from 10.4 to 9.9 strikeouts per nine innings, but his walk rate and rate of home runs allowed also dropped. Have a seat at the table below to see a clearer view of his progression, with his current 2022 statistics included.
Most of those rates are trending in the right direction. His strikeout rate had dipped a bit since his rookie season, but he’s still posting a K% in the top third of the league. More importantly, while his K/9 has dropped just about ten percent from its former high, his walk rate has dipped over twenty percent, and his strikeout to walk ratio has improved considerably, and has done so two years running. Even more encouraging is the huge improvement in his rate of dingers allowed.
Skubal has been more than twice as effective at limiting the long ball this year than during his previous 180+ innings over his first two seasons.
Meanwhile, his CSW is still a touch above league average (29.3) and his walk rate, which had been a bugaboo so far, is now also in the top third of the league. His average exit velocity and hard-hit percentage are in the bottom third and bottom half of the league respectively but are also both much better than they were in 2021. These are important and tangible improvements, so let’s take a closer look at his pitches and batted ball data to see where Skubal goes from here.
We’ll Trap Him in that Old Baseball Park
Skubal mostly throws five pitches. He utilizes both a four-seam and a sinking fastball that each sit around 94 MPH, a hard slider that hovers right around 90 MPH, a slow 77 MPH changeup that has added some drop each season, and just a bit of curveball that he mixes in sparingly.
His slider has been his best pitch over the last season and a half, with a run value of -7 in 2021, and -3 so far in 2022. His changeup, which is his biggest whiff generator at 47.7% this year, has been more effective this season, having also rated at -3 runs thus far, after coming in at just -1 in 2021.
Conversely, his four-seamer has been his least effective offering. Skubal is generating just a 25.5 whiff% on his heater while allowing a slugging% of .525, which is a big improvement over the .611 slugging percentage he allowed versus his four-seam fastball in 2021. The good news is that Skubal has thrown his four-seamer less often this season, as he has increased his sinker and slider usage considerably.
His sinker, which he’s throwing nearly twice as often as he did in 2021, has not been great at getting swings and misses, but batters have slugged just.353 against it this year, which is also an improvement over the .433 slugging percentage from last season.
Except for his changeup, Skubal allows hard contact at higher rates than average across the board. Still, three of his five pitches have been effective at reducing runs scored, and his curveball, which has been his least effective pitch has also been his least utilized. Looking at the information in the table above might lead one to suggest that Skubal might consider not using his curveball at all in favor of increasing how often he throws his changeup or slider.
Who’s Under That Mask?
Tarik Skubal has gotten significantly better over his first few MLB seasons. His strikeout numbers have fallen a bit from his high water mark as a rookie, but remain well above average as his K% still sits in the upper third of the league. Even better, he’s shown marked improvement in walk rate and his rate of home runs allowed, which was a major issue over his first seasons. He’s tweaked the types of pitches he’s throwing, adding a sinker and ditching a sparingly used cutter, while also altering how often he uses his different offerings.
Skubal has evolved and is very likely still evolving as a pitcher. He’s only 25 years old after all. He already possesses a borderline elite changeup which he can build off of to become even better. I think Tarik Skubal has a bright future ahead; however, I think he’s still a matchup play for the time being. Check out just one last table to understand why.
He Would Have Gotten Away With It…
Yes, monthly splits create very small samples, but those splits are too extreme to ignore. Skubal’s strikeout to walk ratio and rate of home runs allowed has gotten worse each month of the 2022 season. He only has two starts for just 10.2 innings in July, but has already walked more batters this month than he did in twice as many May innings, and has allowed more long balls than he did in 32.1 June innings. Also, his two July starts have come against the Royals and White Sox, division rivals he’s going to face again and again.
I still think that the overall outlook for Tarik Skubal looks very promising in the long term and would maybe take advantage of this rough patch as a buy-low opportunity in dynasty leagues, but his short-term appeal is less rosy, and in redraft or single-season leagues I would consider shopping him around while he still holds a (just barely) sub-4.00 ERA on the season.