The goal of the Ace Analysis feature 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.
We finally have some real data to look at, but the sample sizes are so microscopically small that it is impossible to draw any real conclusions. This week, we will take a look at two widely available starters who many analysts have tabbed as potential 2016 breakouts. Perhaps these pitchers would make good additions for your roster.
Adam Conley, Miami Marlins
|Currently owned in 7% of Y! leagues|
Adam Conley was never viewed as a top prospect, but he made his MLB debut with the Marlins in 2015 and pitched fairly well. He made 11 starts and 4 relief appearances. While the numbers are not going to blow anybody away, Conley was tabbed as a 2016 sleeper because of the above average K rate and solid peripherals he displayed in 2015. His first 2016 start was an forgettable one. Conley gave up 3 runs in the first inning, then did not return after a lengthy rain delay. Despite the rocky start, Conley’s first outing can be completely ignored.
Conley’s bread and butter pitch is his fastball. Last season, he averaged low 90’s on the radar gun, but this spring he was up to 94 MPH. If the velocity increase can stick, Conley could enjoy a nice K spike in 2016. While the heater has the potential to be an above average MLB offering, Conley uses a slider and changeup to keep hitters off balance. He throws each pitch between 15-20% of the time, and they both generate plenty of swings and misses. The slider was his most effective pitch last season.
Ks and BBs
Last season Conley was able to produce a K/9 of 7.93 and a K% of 21.0, with a 10.1% swinging strike rate. Interestingly, Conley’s AAA strikeout rate was significantly lower (18.1% in 2014 and 18.6% in 2015). With two legit swing and miss off speed pitches and a now mid-90s fastball, Conley absolutely has the skills to produce a K% in the low 20’s. His 2015 major league performance was no fluke. Because of the velocity increase, there is a chance that he can post K rates slightly higher than what he did last year.
Conley has never had the severe control issues that some young pitchers have faced, but he will need to continue to progress in this area if he is able to live up to his potential. Conley posted AAA walk rates of 9.8% and 9.2%. His K/BB ratios were 1.85 and 2.03 respectively. Yuck! No wonder he was never viewed as an elite prospect!
In the majors, however, not only did Conley increase his K rate, but he lowered his BB rate to 7.5%. With a 58.4 F-Strike%, a 46% zone rate and a 31.8% O-Swing, his lower major league walk rate looks like it could be sustainable. A couple more strikeouts and few less walks could push Conley’s K/BB ratio over 3.0 and make him a mixed league relevant starter.
Not that fantasy owners should pay too much attention to this, but Conley did strikeout two and walk two in his lone inning of work so far this season.
Batted Ball Data
Conley had a slight fly ball tilt to his batted ball profile in 2015, but the sample size is too small to draw any definitive conclusions. His .304 BABIP was right around league average. Based on his minor league BABIP data, Conley projects to be somewhere near that .300 mark. He did not demonstrate any special BABIP deflating skills in the minors.
One thing that we do know for sure is that Conley was pretty stingy with the long ball during his time on the farm. He never allowed a HR/9 greater than 0.48 at any level of the minors. Last season with the Marlins, he allowed a HR/9 of 0.94 with a HR/FB rate of 8.8%. Based on his fly ball rates, the .94 HR/9 actually seems like it could be a tad low, but there is some hope for improvement in 2016 because of the extremely low minor league home run rates.
All of Conley’s ERA indicators hovered around 4.00 last season. I would not expect much better than that because the batted ball distribution does not really indicate any special skills, but if he is able to improve his K/BB ratio, he could get the ERA down into the mid 3’s.
When you add it all up, Conley looks like a fairly average pitcher with potential for an above average K rate. If he is able to post a neutral ERA and WHIP, there could be some nice value here. You will find my Adam Conley projections below:
- IP: 175
- ERA: 3.85
- WHIP: 1.30
- Wins: 10
- Ks: 160
Adam Conley is the reason why I tend to avoid paying premium prices for pitchers like Tyson Ross and Carlos Rodon. These numbers are not fantastic by any stretch, but Conley has the ability to produce league average ERA and WHIP numbers with an above average K rate. I would rather grab a pitcher like Conley off the waiver wire than invest a mid round draft pick in guy who is likely to hurt my WHIP. If you need a back of the rotation arm, you can do a lot worse than Adam Conley.
Vincent Velasquez, Philadelphia Phillies
|Currently owned in 41% of Y! leagues|
Velasquez made 19 appearances for the Astros in 2015. Only 7 of the 19 were starts. Although the 2016 results were somewhat up and down, Velasquez flashed plenty of upside with his strikeout per inning stuff. Now that he has moved to the NL where the rebuilding Phillies will give him every opportunity to prove he can be a starting pitcher, fantasy owners are buzzing about his potential upside.
Vincent Velasquez has 4 pitches. Last season, he stuck with the fastball and curve almost 90% of the time, but I expect to see more of a variety now that he is in the starting rotation. He has a mid 90s fastball that is arguably his most trusted pitch and a high quality offering. He also throws a power curve that generates above average whiff rates. Although he seldom used it, the slider was his most effective strikeout pitch last season. Right handed batters were rarely able to touch it. The final pitch in his arsenal is a changeup with tons of movement. Velasquez did not use the pitch often last year, but it also has the potential to be a plus MLB offering.
If Velasquez can learn to put his pitches together effectively, his stuff is good enough to be a legitimate fantasy ace.
Ks and BBs
Velasquez struck out 25.1% of the batters he faced last season for a K/9 of 9.38. In the minors, he regularly posted K rates around 30%. The scary thing is that he has the potential to be even better as he gets more comfortable with the slider and changeup, both excellent swing and miss pitches. Velasquez posted a swinging strike rate of 10.5% in 2016, which is extremely impressive for a pitcher who threw his fastball almost 70% of the time.
We have established that Velasquez has the upside to be an elite strikeout pitcher. The downside is that he has really struggled with command up until now. He will turn 24 in June, so he has time to improve here, but high walk rates could prevent him from being mixed league relevant in 2016. He has regularly posted BB rates near 10% in the minors. Last season, he walked 9.1% of the batters he faced for a K/BB ratio of 2.76.
Interestingly, Velasquez showed an ability to get ahead of hitters with a 61.5% first strike rate, he threw 47.4% of his pitches in the zone and he got hitters to chase 31.7% of the time. The data suggest that Velasquez may have better command than his recent walk rates suggest. The issue may be that he is not trusting his defense enough. Always going after the K can drive pitch counts up and excessive nibbling leads to walks. My guess is that over time we will see his K rate regress a little and his walk rate come down even more. For this season, however, fantasy owners should hope for better than a strikeout an inning and a K/BB ratio near 3.0.
Batted Ball Data
Again, I am not going to over analyze data from less than 56 innings of major league work, but there are a few takeaways here. Velasquez had an extremely high fly ball rate last year (46.7%); that is more than 10% above league average. He also posted an above average LD% and a hard contact rate of 27.3%. Normally, we would expect an extreme fly ball pitcher like Velasquez to enjoy a low BABIP rate. That was not the case last year (.310), and it really was not the case in the minors either.
Velasquez has had some home run issues in the minors. Because of his extreme fly ball rate last year, owners should be wary of potential gopheritis. He was able to get away with a 7.1% HR/FB rate with the Astros, so owners should expect that rate to rise in 2016.
Velasquez is a pretty unique pitcher. His FIP in 2015 was a promising 3.46, but his xFIP was 4.15 while SIERA split the difference at 3.74. He had a low strand rate of 68.2% and a high BABIP relative to his batted ball profile, so his actual ERA was probably a little higher than it should have been. At the same time, he appeared to be pretty lucky with his HR rate. I would not be shocked to see Velasquez post an ERA as low as 3.25 or as high as 4.50 in 2016. He has an extremely wide range of potential outcomes.
Velasquez only threw 88.2 innings last season and 77.2 the year before that. He will certainly be limited in 2016. Either a shutdown or an eventual shift to the bullpen will be possible. I would be shocked if he totaled more than 150 innings this season.
Velasquez had the good stuff on display Saturday night. He struck out 9 batters over 6 scoreless innings, allowing just three hits and three walks. While these numbers are extremely impressive, there are a couple concerns.
First, he walked 3 of the 24 batters he faced. That is a substantial number. The good news is that Velasquez regularly got ahead of hitters with a F-Strike rate over 70%. The bad news is that when he fell behind, he stayed behind. I would not be worried about a small sample like this, except for the fact that Velasquez has always struggled with control.
The second issue is that according to Pitchf/x, he did not throw a single slider and only 11 of his 99 pitches were changeups. While he was brilliant on Saturday, he is highly unlikely to live up to his potential unless he is able to use those other two pitches. Two pitch guys usually end up in the bullpen.
Vincent Velasquez has as much upside as anybody, but he is still very young and he is still learning how to pitch. If he is somehow still available in your league, go get him right now, but also be prepared for a roller coaster ride. Here are my Velasquez projections for 2016:
- IP: 135
- ERA: 3.85
- WHIP: 1.25
- Wins: 6
- Ks: 140
As talented as Velasquez is, if he is able to string together a couple more quality starts, I would be looking to sell high. Until he is able to better establish his 3rd and 4th pitches, he is going to struggle with consistency.
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