Just How Good Are These 29 Year Old Southpaws?

Since 2010, 20 qualified Starting Pitchers have finished the season with a Strikeout Percentage (K%) over 30%. Of those 20 guys, only 9 have owned a FIP at or below 2.5. Of those 9, 7 have a xFIP under 2.7. The short list of pitchers to accomplish these feats are as follows:

K%>30%, FIP≤2.5, xFIP<2.7 since 2010
Player  Year K% FIP  xFIP 
Clayton Kershaw 2014 31.9 1.81 2.08
Clayton Kershaw 2015 33.8 1.99 2.09
Jose Fernandez  2016 34.3 2.3 2.56
Corey Kluber  2017 34.1 2.5 2.52
Chris Sale  2017 36.2 2.45 2.65
Chris Sale  2018 38.7 1.95 2.27
Patrick Corbin 2018 30.8 2.37 2.62

As you can see, two pitchers from 2018 are on pace to accomplish what has only been done 5 times since 2010.

Clayton Kershaw’s 2014-15 seasons have to be a top 5 most dominant two-season stretch of all time. I’ll dive into that another time.

Corey Kluber’s 2017 Cy Young season was fantastic, and though he’s having a solid campaign this year, he’s no where close to the dominance of last season.

RIP Jose Fernandez. It’s such a devastating blow to the baseball world that he was taken from us shortly after his 24th birthday. During his final season, Jose Fernandez led all of baseball in K% (34.4%), FIP (2.30), xFIP (2.56), and SIERA (2.81), yet somehow still only finished 7th in the NL in Cy Young voting. That’s a shame. He finished the 2016 season 2nd in WAR (6.2), just behind Noah Syndergaard (6.3), who was 8th in Cy Young votes that season. I wonder where Fernandez would be now. Would the Marlins have stayed together? Would he be the ace of a contending team? Sadly, we’ll never get to see what he could’ve been and how he could’ve impacted the game we love.

The other two pitchers on this list are enjoying great success in 2018. Both are 29-year-old lefties. One has made a good case to be considered the best pitcher in baseball over the past 3 seasons, the other is breaking out in a big way and it could be here to stay.

Chris Sale was the 13th overall pick of the 2010 draft. He was up in the bigs after only 10 ⅓ minor league innings. That’s right, 10 ⅓!! After honing his skills out of the pen in 2010 and 2011, Sale was inserted into the rotation for the White Sox in 2012 and has never looked back. Sale is 2nd in WAR among pitchers with at 39.7 since 2012, tied with Max Scherzer and just behind Clayton Kershaw’s 43.3 mark. Since 2012, among SP with at least 500 IP, Sale is 4th in ERA, 3rd in WHIP, 2nd in K%, 2nd in FIP, 2nd in xFIP, and 2nd in SIERA. The scariest part? He keeps getting better.

Chris Sale’s fastball velocity is averaging 96.1 mph, the highest mark of his career as a starter. His 67% Contact% is 3rd among qualified SP since 2002 (Kerry Wood, 2003 and Randy Johnson 2002). His 15.9% swinging strike percentage (SwStr%) is 2nd in baseball to Max Scherzer’s 16.2%, and 3rd among qualified Starting Pitchers since 2002 (Randy Johnson, 16.3% in 2002).

The lengthy lefty is throwing 68.6% first pitch strikes (F-Strike%), good for the best mark of his career. Sale’s Zone Contact percentage (Z-Contact%) is a league leading 76.5%. That means out of all the pitches swung at in the zone, opposing hitters are not making contact 23.5% of the time. He’s getting hitters to swings at 36.5% of the pitches he throws out of the zone, only Jacob deGrom and Patrick Corbin own a better mark.

Add it all up and not only is Chris Sale currently the best pitcher in baseball, his 2018 is one of the most dominant seasons since the turn of the century. According to baseball-reference, His current career marks of 10.8 K/9 and 5.27 K/BB are the best career marks in the history of baseball!! He should be the first pitcher off the board in 2019. This year there was a clear top 4 starters heading into draft season. Next year there’s 2. Max Scherzer and Chris Sale.

Ross D. Franklin | AP Photo
Corbin’s 67.7% Contact% is the 5th lowest mark since 2002.

Patrick Corbin’s 2018 season is one of the biggest surprises among all players in baseball. His 15th ranked 3.17 ERA hides what lies under the surface. His ADP was at or above 200 overall throughout 2018 draft season. Going into next season he should be a top 15 starter on draft boards and rightfully so.

Corbin is just a few months younger than Sale, with nowhere near the resume. Corbin has been wildly inconsistent leading up to this season. Prior to 2018, Corbin had given up 782 hits in 745 ⅔ IP, with only 651 career strikeouts (7.9 K/9). He missed the entire 2014 season due to injury before making it back for the last part of the 2015 season. He went on to have a forgettable 2016 season, and a slightly improved 2017 season. This year, however, Corbin is a completely different pitcher and has seemed to have figured something out.

Corbin moved on from his below average change-up and began throwing a curveball 10% of the time this season. So instead of coming at hitters with a 91-92 mph fourseam/sinker, 82 mph slider, and 81 mph change-up. Corbin is now throwing a curveball that is averaging 73 mph, something he never had before. This allows him to come at hitters with a 4-pitch arsenal ranging from 72-93 mph. That is a huge difference and it’s paying off in a big way.

Corbin is missing bats better than any starter in baseball not named Chris Sale or Max Scherzer. His swinging strike percentage (SwStr%) of 15.1% is 3rd in baseball. His 67.7% contact percentage (Contact%) is 2nd only to Sale, and is the 5th best mark among all qualified starters since 2002! Not only is Corbin throwing his slider more than ever (39.6% of the time), according to Fangraphs it’s the 2nd most effective offspeed pitch in baseball among qualified stating pitchers. The newly developed curve, along with the effectiveness of his slider, has allowed Corbin to have great success with the fastball as well. A pitch that was well below average in years prior.

Though Corbin throws more pitches outside the zone (65%) than any other qualified starter in baseball, he generates swings at pitches out of the zone 36.9% of the time, second only to Jacob deGrom. He also induces swings and misses 15.8% of the time out of the zone (Top 5). Corbin’s 30.8% K% is 8.9% higher than any other point in his career. His 24.8% K-BB% is tied for 6th in baseball and is 7.7% better than any point is his career. He’s on a short list of the biggest breakouts of 2018 and if you drafted him in fantasy, there’s a good chance you are among the top teams in the league. That’s the type of value he’s returned this season.

There’s a good chance Patrick Corbin will not win the Cy Young award this season, though the conversation needs to be had. At best, he’ll finish 3rd behind Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom. He’s a late bloomer but has burst onto the scene with extremely refined skills and execution. He’s a top 10 pitcher in the game and should continue to see success. Corbin’s underlying stats show that he’s having one of the best pitching seasons of the decade and, if this pace continues, his 2018 season will be one of the top 20 most dominant seasons since 2010. If I were drafting right now, Corbin would be my 11-14th pitcher off the board. Keep that in mind heading into next season.

Both Chris Sale and Patrick Corbin are having outstanding seasons. Sale’s dominance is 2nd only to Kershaw over the past 15 years. Corbin’s adjustments and skill refinement have enabled him to make a case to be considered among the elite arms in the game.


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Ryan Starcevich

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Teacher, Coach, Baseball Aficionado, and Fantasy Baseball Enthusiast. Chicago Cubs fan. Numbers are numbers and that’s that.