Way too early pitcher analysis: part 2

Last week I dissected the first start of a few notable pitchers who seemed to be showing something different in either their approach to hitters or in pitch selection. This week will be no different, as I will once again take ridiculously small sample sizes and try to infer where there is little to infer from.

If you were hoping for a longer lead and/or a funny joke, sorry to disappoint.

Baltimore Orioles LogoYovani Gallardo

He’s always seemed to be right on the verge of becoming one of the game’s true elites, but just not quite putting it all together long enough to do so. Combine that with playing in Milwaukee for the majority of his career, and overall Gallardo has been one of the most under appreciated pitchers of the past decade or so.

Never much of a flamethrower, Gallardo made his name by using an elite slider and plus curve to complement what is an average fastball and a pretty poor changeup. The past few seasons saw him using the slider more, up to 30% last year, in an effort to offset his declining velocity. And while this year follows the trend, instead of a nice linear increase, his current slider usage is more exponential.

I had to look this up a few times because I didn’t believe it; 60.5% sliders in two starts. That’s insane. No one will throw that much over any sort of extended time period, and even over two starts that number is just crazy. It’s the kind of approach that will land you in Dr. James Andrews’ office (he performs Tommy John, this is a ligament joke). It’s hard, okay impossible, to say why he’s throwing so many sliders so far, and the results are disastrous – ERA, xFIP and SIERA all over 5.00.

The good news, however, is that if he goes away from this ridiculous approach, we will probably see a Gallardo with an ERA in the mid 3’s along with an upper teens strikeout percentages again. While not the biggest addition to your fantasy team, considering he can probably be had for free right now you should still be interested.

Chicago White Sox LogoJose Quintana

There are not a lot of bad things to say about one of the key cogs in the White Sox rotation, and this year it looks like he’s going to be shrinking that already small list. One of his issues over the past couple of seasons has been going deeper into games, and this season we’re starting to maybe see an effort to get around that obstacle. A career 44.8% zone rate thrower, this year has Quintana living in the zone 51.6% of the time – a huge increase. And intuitively, his first strike percentage has also risen, up to 75.0% from 66.2%.

Staying in the zone is going to limit pitch counts, but it has also had some beneficial effects on his strikeout rate as well. His career 19.5% is far from this year’s 25.0%, although the sample is limited. But this new approach is working well, as both his ERA and FIP are in the low 2.00 range, and his first couple starts are among the best in the league for now.

Quintana should be owned in all leagues, but this year he might actually break out of Chris Sale’s shadow into his own image. If you have a chance to get him for the value of a number two pitcher, jump on it; because Quintana is ready to show he’s a legit ace.

Washington Nationals LogoStephen Strasburg

The generational hyped prospect that hasn’t quite lived up to it (although he’s come about as close as you could reasonably ask), Strasburg has added a pitch in 2016 that he’s toyed with over the past couple of seasons, a slider. He started throwing it in Spring of 2014, and a little in the regular season, but whether it was a feel issue or concerns over his arm health (he is a Tommy John survivor after all), he dropped it early.

This season he’s picked it back up, at least in his first start, and it’s looking a lot different than past years’ versions. Where his career average run on the pitch is 2.0 inches, and the rise is 0.1, this year he has averaged -3.6 and 2.4 inches of movement, respectively. It’s certainly bizarre to see a pitcher change the run direction on his slider, almost like doing a screwball, but it’s working for him. He had a 16.75 whiff rate on the pitch in his first start, an above average mark.

Although the new pitch is shiny and makes us want to get excited that Strasburg is ready to put himself alongside guys like Kershaw and Bumgarner, in reality it probably doesn’t mean that. It’s a good pitch but nothing too spectacular, and there just isn’t enough data to say anything otherwise. His value remains unchanged.

Toronto Blue Jays LogoMarco Estrada

Generally not the first guy you think about when you hear “fantasy stud,” but his 2015 ERA of 3.13 combined with 13 wins made some people feel otherwise. The move North of the border to a winning club in Toronto (both things he’s never really experienced) ended up bringing him much success, although it has yet to be determined how fluky it was.

The approach, pitch selection and velocity all stayed the same for Estrada last year, and then you consider none of his ERA predictors (FIP, SIERA, etc.) were under 4.40, and he’s easily placed into the fluke box, which I am now declaring as an actual thing.

But this year the Blue Jays are fighting to beat regression (with Estrada), and he’s throwing a new pitch, a cutter. The cutter takes away only from the fastball percentage, which allows him to still throw his offspeed pitches at the same rates. He throws is about as fast as his four seamer, and gets good whiff rates on it (12.5%). His first start was excellent (zero earned runs through seven innings pitched) and the Jays’ faithful hope it’s a sign of things to come.

Estrada overachieved in 2015, but his 2016 outlook isn’t as bad as you might think. He’s flashed strikeout and run suppression talent before, and who knows, maybe the cutter is the key for him to do it long-term. He’s a buy low guy who at the very least should go on a hot streak, and hopefully you can flip him for some more value.


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James Krueger

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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.