This year we saw some incredible pitching performances. Aces like Jacob deGrom, Blake Snell (spoiler alert!), Aaron Nola, Trevor Bauer and many others baffled batters throughout the year, while other arms sputtered due to injury, age and other reasons. This week we will focus on pitchers with rising stock levels, due to their 2018 performances or underlying numbers that tell a different story than the final numbers indicate.
As always, if you have a player you would like profiled or have a question about, feel free to post in the comment section or reach out to me on Twitter @hedenson18 with that or any other questions.
- Jose Berrios
On the surface, it would be possible to view Berrios’s 2018 effort (12-11, 3.84 ERA) as comparable with last year’s performance (14-8, 3.89 ERA) and conclude that he did not make many strides in his third big league season. Doing so would ignore several improvements the young righty made this past season, and could cause you to miss a top-tier arm in 2019.
Berrios mowed down more batters in 2018, whiffing 25.4% of batters faced and continuing a three-year improvement in that area of his game. Getting ahead of batters at a higher rate (+5.4% F-Strike%) contributed to that increase, as did jumps in his SwStr% (+1.8%), O-Swing% (+2.3%) and O-Contact% (-5.5%). Changes to his pitch mix helped as well. In 2018, Berrios leaned on his fastball (28.5% K%, 23.9% Whiff%) and curveball (39.2% K%, 38.8% Whiff%) most of the time, cutting the use of his sinker (12.4% K%, 15.4% Whiff%) by 4.4% and tossing his changeup (12.5% K%, 30.4% Whiff%) a bit more.
Advanced looks at his 3.84 ERA were all very stable (3.90 FIP, 3.89 xFIP, 3.80 SIERA) and his control remained steady, slightly improving over the season (-0.1% BB%). Berrios should build on his strong 2018, and has the chance to become a top-tier pitcher if he can continue the growth we saw this past season. Target him in dynasty, keeper and redraft leagues as a potential ace whose floor (200 K’s, 3.50 ERA) carries more value than many other available options.
- Blake Snell
Man did Blake Snell have himself a season, posting a glittering 1.89 ERA with other trappings (11.01 K/9, 0.97 WHIP) that netted him the 2018 AL Cy Young Award. He and Jacob deGrom were the only two pitchers to post sub-2.00 ERA’s for the season and both were big reasons fantasy owners across the country battled for their respective league titles.
Now that 2018 is in the books, what does 2019 look like for the Rays hurler? Will Snell be able to continue this dominance into 2019? Let us start by looking at his strikeouts. Snell leapt forward in this area compared to 2017, improving his K% by just under 10%. His SwStr% jumped 4.3% to place him in the Top 5 for MLB, and he feasted on batters who dared to chase his offerings outside the zone, seeing large jumps in both his O-Swing% (+2.7%) and O-Contact% (-11.5%).
He used his unhittable curveball (.119 XBA/.134 WOBA/.175 XSLG) 10.1% more in 2018, posting an absurd 64.1% K% and 53.4% Whiff% with that pitch alone. His fastball jumped in velocity (+1.5 MPH), becoming more effective overall (.227 XBA/.327 WOBA/.398 XSLG) and in generating swings and misses (+11.6% K%, +10.6% Whiff%). Snell mowed down many bats in the minors as well, so I expect him to continue to be a great source of strikeouts even if he dips back a bit off his 2018 rates.
That glittering 1.89 ERA may be a onetime thing, however. Snell enjoyed a fortuitous .241 BABIP and LOB% (88%) that will likely shift back towards league average (75%) moving forward. Advanced looks at his performance are less enthusiastic (2.95 FIP, 3.16 xFIP, 3.30 SIERA) and his ERA will likely return a higher mark, though he should not experience a collapse that takes away his ace label.
Overall, Snell should be a top arm in 2019, though his production will dip in some respects when compared to 2018. He is still a top arm to target, but could also be an interesting trade chip to dangle in keeper or dynasty leagues if you find an owner who cannot look away from that 1.89 ERA.
- Jameson Taillon
Taillon grew as a pitcher in 2018, shaving 1.9% of his BB% and improving both his SwStr% (+2.5%) and O-Swing% (+3.1%). He also added a new pitch, introducing a slider that he threw 18.4% of the time in 2018. This new pitch was an effective addition to his repertoire (.260 XBA/.289 WOBA/.408 XSLG) and generated solid strikeout potential as well (20.3% K%, 23.8% Whiff%).
His 3.20 ERA was much better than what he posted in 2017 (4.44 ERA), and further looks at that mark are still positive, if a bit inflated (3.46 FIP, 3.58 xFIP, 3.77 SIERA). He was also surprisingly productive last year when you compare him to several pitchers who enjoyed much more acclaim:
Look for Taillon to continue improving in 2019, especially if he can parlay those improved SwStr and O-Swing% rates into higher strikeout numbers. Target him in drafts and keeper leagues as a solid arm who could turn in a JA Happ type of performance if things go well.
- Dylan Bundy
Now to the player who may have tricked me again into believing better things are in store. You may wonder how in the world Bundy makes the “Up” portion of any fantasy related list, especially after a decidedly moribund 2018 (8-16 with a 5.45 ERA, 1.41 WHIP). While the other arms in this article enjoyed solid to great seasons that improved their draft value for 2019, Bundy makes the list due to a term I am sure most of you are sick of when you hear it connected to this oft-disappointing Oriole: potential.
While Bundy’s 5.45 ERA is awful, other metrics take a different view of his performance (5.17 FIP, 4.28 xFIP, 3.94 SIERA). SIERA is especially positive on Bundy, throwing a wrench into his draft value for 2019. Another aspect of his performance in 2019 has me buying low on Bundy for the coming season: Strikeouts.
Bundy struck out 3.5% more batters compared to 2017, improving in several other related metrics as well (+1.3% SwStr%, +1.4% O-Swing%, -4.3% O-Contact%). His slider remained lethal (.119 XBA/.159 WOBA/.195 XSLG; 53.9% K%, 50% Whiff%) and he relied on it a great deal, throwing it 2.9% more as compared to 2017. His other pitches took a hit, however, especially his curveball. A weapon in 2017 (.214 XBA/.248 WOBA/.345 XSLG), batters feasted on the pitch this season (.360 XBA/.418 WOBA/.627 XSLG) despite striking out a bit more on that particular offering (+6.3% K%, +7.4% Whiff%).
Looking into 2019 and beyond, I see Bundy as a buy low option that could surprise. He was a bit unlucky in a couple of categories (17.8% HR/FB%, 69.3% LOB%) and posted other improvements that should help him generate a lower ERA in the future (+1.2% GB%, -1.9% Hard%). If he can find his curveball again, Bundy has the chance to be a solid arm with above average strikeout potential, and could surprise owners who are willing to take a chance on him. He could also continue to underperform compared to his advanced metrics a la Jon Gray, but there is a lot of talent there if he can get it together.