The goal of the Ace Analysis Series will be to analyze pitchers whose most recent performance has not met expectations and try to determine whether the results are due to skill change, or simply a run of good/bad luck. I will analyze both struggling aces and unheralded players showing signs of a breakout. As always, I do take requests, so if there is a specific player you would like me to take a look at, please let me know in the comment section.
This week’s feature will again focus on two pitchers who have struggled to meet expectations out of the gate. Hopefully this analysis will give fantasy owners a cleared picture on how to handle their struggling ace.
Matt Harvey, New York Mets
Harvey was a top ten SP during draft season, but he has had a tough time early on. Given his injury history and the extremely public squabble with the Mets over a potential 2015 shutdown that never happened, his fantasy owners have to be at least a little bit nervous here. Let’s took a look and see if we can determine the cause of Harvey’s struggles.
Matt Harvey has one of the best fastballs in the game. His average velocity sits in the mid 90s with some pretty good movement. He has both a two-seamer and a four-seamer, even though he does not use the two-seamer all that often. Harvey typically gets a swinging strike rate better than 10%, which is pretty good for a fastball. His velocity and swinging strike rate on the fastball are both down a little bit early on (velocity is down 0.8 MPH from 2015), but not enough to be concerned about. Harvey typically throws fastball about 60% of the time.
Harvey’s offspeed pitches are all capable of generating plenty of swings and misses and above average ground ball rates. The slider has typically been his best and most frequently used offspeed pitch, but he has been unable to get it going this season. His average velocity on the slider is down about 1.5 MPH from last season. Hitters are not swinging and missing as often and they have produced an otherworldly wOBA of .509 against the pitch.
Harvey likes to mix in his curve and his changeup, each close to a 10% usage rate. Both are very effective pitches with above average swinging strike rates. He has done well with each pitch so far this season, so no reason to be concerned here.
Ks and BBs
Harvey has been known as an elite strikeout pitcher throughout his career. With 4 offerings capable of generating above average swinging K rates, it is easy to see why. In 2015, Harvey parlayed an 11.6% swinging K rate to a 24.9% K rate and an 8.94 K/9. 2015 marked the first season at any level where his K/9 dipped below 9.00.
That is why current owners are incredibly frustrated with Harvey’s current 6.67 K/9 and 16.9% K rate. His swinging strike rate is down significantly (9.9%) and he has been getting fewer swings and misses on every single one of his pitches.
Although swinging K rates are down across the board, the main reason for the decline appears to be Harvey’s struggles with the slider. The slider is often Harvey’s put away pitch when he gets ahead with 2 strikes. This season, he has thrown the slider 81 times and only managed 2 Ks while allowing 9 hits and 2 walks. Of course, not every slider he has thrown has been in a 2-strike count, but for some perspective, Harvey generated 38 Ks with his slider in 2015 while only allowing 20 hits and 5 walks. That is a pretty stark contrast. Harvey needs to find his best strikeout pitch in order to get back to his normally dominant ways.
Strikeouts were obviously a big part of Harvey’s ascension to the class of fantasy elite, but his tremendous command is equally important. Harvey was not always an elite control guy with walk rates approaching 10% in the minors. During his two breakout campaigns, however, he was able to post walk rates under 5% and K/BB ratios of 6.16 and 5.08 respectively. So far this year, his walk rate is a more pedestrian 7.3% and his K/BB ratio is all the way down to 2.33.
Harvey is pitching in the zone more frequently than ever before while also getting a career high chase percentage on pitches outside of the zone. He may be missing some of his spots, but the numbers do not indicate any significant command struggles. His walk rate may simply be elevated because he has been unable to put hitters away with 2 strikes. In other words, the K problem could be inversely related to the BB problem.
While I am a little concerned about Harvey’s issues with the slider, I simply can’t find a tangible reason for such a precipitous decline. Owners should expect a K/9 between 8.50 and 9.00 and K/BB ratio above 4.0 moving forward. I would be shocked if he finished the season any worse than that.
Batted Ball Data
Matt Harvey has historically been a pitcher who has held hitters to a lower than normal BABIP. He typically has a slightly above average ground ball rate and he does a good job avoiding hard contact. His career BABIP is .280, but this year his BABIP sits at .352 despite an awesome soft contact rate of 29.0% and a low hard contact rate of 25.8%. Yes, Harvey is giving up too many line drives in the early going (25.8%), but given the hard and soft contact rates, I am not at all concerned about this moving forward. Owners should expect substantial BABIP correction in the coming weeks. On a related note, Harvey’s strand rate is also on the low side at 68%.
Home runs are not really a major concern here. Harvey always boasts a low fly ball rate in the low to mid 30s and he has never allowed a HR/FB ratio greater than 10%. This year he has allowed only 2 home runs in 28.1 innings. That is better than his career average, but only slightly.
Harvey missed 2014 after undergoing Tommy John surgery and was somewhat limited in terms of innings pitched last season. Because of the playoffs his workload was a little greater than what Harvey or his agent would have liked, but he should be a relatively safe bet for 200 innings this season. Pitchers are generally at peak strength their second year removed from Tommy John.
Mets pitching coach Dan Warthen believes that Matt Harvey might have been overthrowing and may also have a slight mechanical flaw when pitching from the stretch. For more detail, check out this article by Adam Rubin.
Harvey’s struggles have been related to his low K rate and poor batted ball luck. While I am a little concerned about the slider, I am not at all concerned about the mechanical flaw or the poor batted ball luck. Those things will turn around. Here is my Harvey projection:
- IP: 200
- ERA: 3.10
- WHIP: 1.15
- Ks: 190
- Wins: 14
Harvey is a pitcher that you should be trying to buy low on if you don’t own him, and should be holding tight if you do. He will turn things around.
Luis Severino, New York Yankees
One of the more popular SP sleepers in 2016, Severino’s start to the season has been nothing short of a nightmare. Not much has gone right for the talented righty from the Dominican. The question owners are asking here is whether or not it is time to cut losses and move on.
Luis Severino is essentially a three pitch guy and his usage rates are almost identical to what they were last year. He has a four-seam fastball with average velocity at 95.6 MPH, which is slightly higher than last season. He can bring some serious heat, but the fastball does not have a lot of movement, and so far in 2016 opposing batters have been hitting it hard. The fastball has always rated as his best pitch, although it is not the type that will get a ton of whiffs. Severino throws the heater just over 50% of the time.
Interestingly, Severino’s second most commonly utilized pitch is the slider, which he throws between 30 and 35% of the time. Aside from the fact that high slider usage generally leads to elbow issues, Severino’s slider is also rated as his worst pitch. His swinging strike percentage on the slider is actually lower than his swinging strike rate on the fastball and less than half of the changeup’s rate. Not only do hitters make contact with the slider, but they have also hit it hard this year (.441 wOBA against).
Although he probably does not use it enough (12% usage), Severino’s changeup is a very good offering. His career swinging strike rate is over 16% on the change and he gets a ground ball rate well over 50% also. Severino’s changeup has been by far his most effective pitch in 2016. Perhaps he should consider using it more.
Ks and BBs
Severino has demonstrated high strikeout upside in the minors and he was able to deliver an 8.09 K/9 last season. Owners were expecting a step forward in the K department in 2016, but I am not sure how realistic that is. His fastball is a good pitch, but again, it is not likely to generate a ton of swings and misses. His slider is not a strikeout pitch either. Since those two offerings comprise over 85% of his pitches, it is highly unlikely that Severino posts anything more than an average K rate without throwing a lot more changeups.
His current K rate of 13.5% is certainly lower than owners should expect moving forward, but I think something between 18-20% will be where Severino lands once the dust settles. That will likely translate to a K/9 between 7.0 and 7.50. In other words, he is not going to deliver big strikeout numbers unless he significantly changes his approach.
On the bright side, Severino has been super stingy with walks this season, allowing just 3 so far (3.4% BB rate). He has always demonstrated above average ability to limit walks, but the current rate is simply too low to maintain moving forward. Severino is good enough to post a BB rate under 6%, however.
Severino will get a few more Ks and also issue more BBs. I think a his K/BB ratio for the rest of the season should be right around 3.0, which is certainly good enough to make him fantasy relevant.
Batted Ball Data
You can take one glance at Severino’s batted ball data (.417 BABIP, 62.1% strand rate) and conclude that better times are ahead for Yankee. His ERA indicators actually look pretty good (3.61 FIP, 3.15 xFIP). What these numbers fail to consider, however, is that Severino has given up a ton of hard contact in the early going. I don’t want to get too hung up on data from a sample size of less than 20 innings, but Severino has allowed a line drive rate of 32.4% and a hard contact rate of 31.1%.
Severino is clearly a ground ball pitcher (50.3% GB rate in 2015, 52.7% GB rate in 2016). His fly ball rates are also extremely low (29.7% FB rate in 2015, 14.9% in 2016). Last season he benefitted from pretty good batted ball luck with a .265 BABIP. While he does a great job keeping the ball on the ground, ground balls and line drives have higher BABIPs than fly balls do. Given his batted ball profile, fantasy owners would be lucky to get BABIP near .300. Realistically, I think this number could be between .320 and .330 based on the data. Aside from rookie ball where Severino completely dominated, his minor league BABIP does not reveal any special BABIP suppressing talents.
Normally pitchers with such low fly ball rates do a great job limiting home runs. This is not necessarily true for Severino. In his two major league seasons, he has allowed HR/FB rates of 17.3% and 18.2%. His HR rates were always fairly low in the minors, but big league hitters are obviously much better equipped to turn around that fastball. I tentatively expect Severino’s HR/FB rate to come down some, but I am concerned that home runs will continue to be an issue for him.
I worry that Severino may be one of those pitchers whose peripheral numbers look better than the actual numbers. He had some good batted ball luck last season, but hitters appear to be adjusting in 2016. While the K/BB ratio looks good, if Severino yields an above average HR/FB rate and a BABIP above .300, his ERA and WHIP numbers will not play very well in standard mixed fantasy leagues.
The fact that Severino pitches in the AL East cannot be overlooked. He will make roughly ⅓ of his starts against the Blue Jays, Red Sox and Orioles. That is a tall order for anybody. I think his skills would play a lot better in the National League.
There is nothing in Severino’s profile to suggest he is more than an average pitcher. If he starts using the changeup more often, he could potentially get the strikeout rate up enough to become mixed league relevant again, but he looks like the definition of a replacement level pitcher for standard size leagues to me. Here are my projections for the rest of the season:
- IP: 160
- ERA: 4.00
- WHIP: 1.30
- Ks: 130
- Wins: 10
Deep league owners still need to hold because better times are ahead. Owners in standard size leagues can feel free to move on if there is a more attractive player on the free agent list. You will be able to find Severino’s expected production by streaming.
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