Way too early pitcher analysis

It’s only a couple of games into the season, which is probably the best possible time to analyze changes in pitchers’ repertoires and approaches. Of course, we’ve heard a little throughout Spring Training about which pitchers are trying new changeup grips, or considering adding a sinker to their toolbox. But talking about something and actually doing it are two different things, Pablo Sandoval.

So here we take a look at what pitchers seem to have early changes, and what these mean for the pitchers and their fantasy value if they keep these long-term.

Toronto Blue Jays LogoMarcus Stroman

It’s easy for pitchers to get overshadowed in a lineup full of stars like the Blue Jays, but Stroman is making a name for himself as a legit young gun. After an amazing recovery from a torn ACL that was aided by Not HGH™ we saw Stroman light up the league over a handful of regular season and playoff starts.

But what looks different in 2016 is an increased focus on the cutter, up from 11% to 26%. This is a great pitch to add to any arsenal, as the average whiff rate on it is almost 12%. He is throwing his just a shade under the velocity of his four seamer and sinker (92 mph to 90 mph), but the lack of velocity is compensated for with filthy movement.

More cutters is not a concern for arm health, and on average they are great pitches. By adding essentially a third fastball to go along with his slider, curve and changeup already, Stroman has a wide arsenal that will be fooling hitters for a long time. These next few weeks will be the last chances you have to pick him up for under a superstar’s price tag.

Philadelphia Phillies LogoJeremy Hellickson

Around his debut in 2011, Jeremy Hellickson was considered not only one of the best pitching prospects in the league, but had started to realize his potential, winning the American League Rookie of the Year award. Even though he had a successful 2012 on the surface, his peripherals hinted at a crash, and that’s exactly what happened. The past three seasons have been hell for Jeremy, and even rougher for fans of his teams.

But the Phillies, being as bad as they are, have taken a chance on him and the early results are certainly optimistic. Despite always being below average with strikeouts, he notched six yesterday in as many innings pitches. This can be partially attributed to throwing over 30% changeups, a huge increase from 21%. His changeup was what made him such a can’t miss prospect, and throwing it more can only bring good things (game theory applications notwithstanding). But he’s also lost velocity, from 90.8 average last year to 88.1 this season. The change needs to be changing off of something, which concerns me about if he can keep this success up. He’s a guy to keep tabs on, but I’m not buying anything more than a good start from a guy who just doesn’t do that often enough to be fantasy relevant.

Chicago Cubs LogoJake Arrieta

In a move that is best described as swimming upstream, Arrieta has gone against current MLB trends and is throwing more four seamers than sinkers (the current trend is the opposite). Arrieta rode a 56.2% groundball rate (as well as other dominant stats) to a Cy Young award in 2015, so to move away from the most grounder intensive pitch to one more likely to be hit in the air is a little weird. He also threw less sliders, from 28% to 18% in his first start. So what can explain a move from his two more successful pitches that helped him breakout with this club?

Perhaps it’s only early season noise (disclaimer: this is always the most possible outcome), but it may be something more serious. Arrieta threw a lot of sliders last season, as well as a ton of innings. Sliders are as good for your health as a casino is for your gambling addiction. So maybe it’s not just sampling bias, but instead we are seeing a move towards more “healthy” pitches (this is in quotes because the act of pitching is one of the most destructive things baseball players do to themselves) in order to keep Arrieta healthy when the games really start to matter in October. When we consider he flamed out a bit in the playoffs, this seems a little more likely.

If the Cubs really are going to limit innings and pitch type early for Arrieta it will take away some of his effectiveness, but he’s such a good pitcher still, it’s not enough to sell over.

Milwaukee brewers LogoWily Peralta

This is kind of like giving an unlimited budget and resource pool to a college kid and telling him to build a chair, and what you get back are three sticks glued to a seat cushion. Peralta has about all the tools you could want in a pitcher (velocity, nasty secondary offerings, mechanics) but his lack of control unravels the entire package. Maybe it’s between the ears, maybe it’s because his stuff is too good, but whatever it is, it’s limiting his success severely.

But on his opening day start (this should tell you all you need to know about the Brewers’ chances this season) against the Giants, we saw Peralta throwing 52% sinkers, compared to around a 30% career average. Instead of focusing so much on trying for strikeouts with his stuff, it looks like maybe he’s working more on pitching to contact to avoid bad counts and free passes.

He certainly did limit his strikeouts (only two in just four innings) but he also didn’t quite look comfortable just yet. Some pitchers adapt easier than others, and Peralta might need some time to get into the groove of his new style. He’s more of a project than an immediate return, so he should only be drawing interest in deeper leagues.

 

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James Krueger
James lives in Tampa, Florida and is often one of the 10,000 people you can see at Rays' home games. He's a huge fan of prospects, loves analyzing swing mechanics, and will eat a "Top 100" list for breakfast. Dynasty leagues are his forte, especially rebuilding teams; building a farm system is the best part.