A Definitive List of League Losers – The Pitchers

Last week on League Losers we covered the hitters who might be destined to ruin your teams, as well as covering why they don’t actually exist. At least, as singularities. Collect a whole set, however, and your roster will eventually collapse under the gravity of defeat.

Pitchers are a different bird, though, when it comes to ruination potential. You can, after all, just stop starting them when things go really wrong. But all sorts of variables will be pushing on when you’ll finally pull the pine trigger on someone you thought you could trust. And often by the time you do, the damage will have already been done.

Now then, we simply have no more time for preamble. In just a few hours I’ll be going under for foot surgery – and about 12 hours after that is something far more important:

My road to avenge last year’s second-place finish and vanquish the diabolical Derek Rhoads will just have to be paved with painkillers and the lingering effects of anesthesia. Wish me luck.

The Setup

Let’s again look at the players that have at least one projection system (or me!) saying they’re not worth the current market’s ADP price. We’ll again use ADP from NFBC Online Championships (12-team leagues), taking the most recent 30 drafts and comparing their draft positions to player ranks via our four projections (me, ATC, the BAT, and Depth Charts) using an SGP valuation method.

We’ll use 200 ADP as our cutoff again but we need to open up our parameters more than with hitters and include anyone with whom one of the projections has at least a 10-spot disagreement on. And it just so happened to leave with a nice round number of 20 in our little pool of hate.

Okay, now I’m being serious; no more setup. Don’t you know I have a draft tomorrow?

Lucas Golito, CHW, 144 ADP (min: 111, max: 161)

If you’re a fan of spring training narratives translating to regular season improvements, boy oh boy, does Lucas Giolito have you covered. Gimme some of that good quote, sweetness:

Former star mad about, and motivated by, last season(s) struggles? Check!

“As a group and individually, all of us, we learned our lessons from last year. Last year pissed us off”. 

Best shape of his life? Check!

Instead of packing on the muscle like last winter, Giolito went the other direction, coming into camp 35 pounds lighter than the previous spring training. He says he weighs around 245 pounds, around the same amount as he was in 2020 and 2021.

“I feel more athletic. I feel like I can carry my body through space a lot cleaner. I feel lighter on my feet. That’s hopefully going to allow me to repeat my mechanics more consistently, staying more mobile and flexible. Hopefully, a lot of good comes out of that.”

New mechanics that will help him travel back in time? Check!

“Getting my mechanics back to a nice fluid state, getting everything on time and firing correctly,” Giolito told reporters. “The combination of all that stuff just worked really hard in the offseason and feel like I’m in a much better and more prepared spot, currently.”

Clean mind, clean body? Check!

“My pitchers are in a lot better spot than last year, but in general, my body just feels better, Gioltio explained.” I feel like I can go out and get after it with all my pitches.”

Clearly, the above tells us it’s bounce-back time and Giolito’s ~140 ADP is a bargain. That’s a 100-pick discount from the last few seasons, with Giolito putting up elite numbers from 2019-2021, posting a 3.47 ERA and 1.08 WHIP, with a 31% K% and 16% SwStr%. C’mon – are we really going to throw him on a mediocre heap after just one bad season? I mean, pitching is really hard, and year-long hiccups happen. And did you even read those quotes?!? This is a sure thing and, obviously, we should stuff this ace into our mid-round sack and run to our rosters cackling like the Hamburglar.

Except, before you go, maybe just one more thing – what about Giolito’s four-seamer? His changeup has always been the bread-and-butter but a great change is no guarantee of long-term starter success; you also need the heater, Ricky. Just ask Chris Paddack and Trevor Rogers.

And Giolito’s heater has been stinking up the joint for a while. At least, relative to what is was during his prime run:

Lucas Giolito Four-Seam Fastball
Year % Run Value RV/100 Whiff% BA xBA SLG xSLG wOBA xwOBA
2017 49 -4 -1.1 21.8 .189 .242 .514 .464 .374 .348
2018 39 22 1.9 14.2 .274 .276 .524 .498 .425 .411
2019 55 -16 -1.0 26 .203 .211 .364 .371 .290 .290
2020 51 -6 -0.9 29 .201 .222 .306 .362 .263 .290
2021 44 0 0.0 25.6 .251 .255 .427 .450 .339 .342
2022 48 0 0.0 21.3 .283 .254 .449 .422 .359 .337

Damn it, Nicklaus – you really didn’t read those quotes, did you? It’s the mechanics, stupid! Gioltio’s four-seamer has suffered because of dropping velocity, bad location, and yada, yada, yada. And the more it suffered, so too did his changeup. But all that’s in the past, at least if spring training quotes have anything to say about it, and the improved mechanics and athleticness will transport him right back to where he was. Done and done.

Hey! Who put that there?

It was me. And so was this:

Call me crazy but I’m not so sure “mechanics” will be able to get Giolito’s heater back to where it was. Let’s look at the facts:

  1. Giolito’s fastball suddenly picked up a lot of spin, ri-ight around the time he was going from first-round bust to reclamation superstar.
  2. With that spin, came way more rise. And I do mean WAY more, with its vertical drop decreasing from 16.5 inches in 2018 to 12.3 inches in 2019. Or, from -0.8 inches below average (compared to pitches thrown at a similar velocity/extension) to 1.9 inches above average. AKA from junky to elite, all in one fell swoop.
  3. As the spin dropped, so too did the four-seamer’s velocity. Giolito has never had premium velo but the elite rise helped it (and his changeup) play up. And not to mention that as the velocity dipped, so too did the gap between it and his formerly-money changeup.

Jeez-louise, Nicklaus; you really are dense, aren’t you? We’ll say it slower – all these problems will go away bee-kaus emm-proo-ved meee-kaaan-icks. One year of a slower and lower-spinning heater does not a bust make. Giolito will roboticize his mechanics in 2023, the spin and velocity will come back, and bingo-bango, it’s ace-thirty.

One year, huh? Why don’t we stretch our yearly charts from above into monthly ones:

That’s so weird…I wonder if there was anything special about that giant, Chekhov-shaped arrow?

Is that when the mechanics got bad? Did he secretly get hurt and is only finally healed? Or maybe the stress of major league life just got to be too much and he let his previously unknown twin brother, Mucas Miolito, take his place in a classic Gallagher switcheroo situation?

It’s so crazy we can’t pinpoint something about that small slice of time in June 2021. Oh, wait; there is this. Hmm, I wonder if th-…record scratch sound.

Enough’s enough – D.J. Ockham, drop that razor beat:

The tracks of Giolito’s successes and failures have run parallel with the quality of his four-seam fastball, ebbing and flowing as the spin rates and velocity have. Everything got magically better once his spin jumped way up in 2019, but then it all came crashing down “coincidentally” around the same time that MLB cracked down on the weaponization of grip enhancers that were injecting rocket fuel into some pitcher’s movement.

Improved mechanics can bring better results and we live in a time where pitchers have more tools than ever to maximize their stuff. But we can’t just ignore that the post-memo Giolito is a far different beast than the pre-memo version.

Unfortunately, there is yet no word on whether the new fun-sized Spring-iolito is any different than the one we’ve seen most recently, as his two spring appearances have come in stadiums without Statcast tracking. Oh well, I guess we’ll (you’ll) just have to wait for April to see if the ghost of spin-rates past has reappeared. Or maybe that ghost is gone, leaving only an early-season ratio bomb in its ectoplasmic wake.

Assuming a 1/2 rotation of Cease/Giolito, his schedule currently lines up in April as: at HOU, at PIT, vs BAL, vs PHI, at TOR, vs TB.

No big deal, I’m sure that’ll go just fine. Just…Fine.

Dylan Cease, CHW, 49 ADP (min: 37, max: 68)

Speaking of difficult April schedules, we might as well mention Giolito’s brother-in-arm, Dylan Cease. I’ve already covered why I’m not keen on making a big investment in Cease’s potential ratio volatility but it is nice to know I’m not the only one having top-50 doubts about him, with ATC, Depth Charts, and the BAT all putting his value below the current market.

The above projections all agree with me on Cease’s strikeout potential, as well as the possibility of double-digit wins. But the ratios are what’s driving down his overall value, particularly in the WHIP department. Would an ERA in the mid three’s and a ~1.20 WHIP really be that bad if they came packaged with 200+ strikeouts and a dozen wins? No, not in general, but we’re also talking about his value relative to other pitchers being taken in the same top range.

And going by ADP, one of these top-20 WHIPs is not like the others, one of these does not belong:

You don’t have to have a great WHIP to be a strong fantasy asset but even with his high-K ways, Cease will be walking a thin line with the two categories (ERA and Wins) that are more out of his control.

Jesús Luzardo, MIA, 141 ADP (min: 121, max: 164)

I’ll tell ya; it’s not exactly a great feeling to be alone on an island with Jesús Luzardo, with who the other three projections disagree with me strongly. And it’s a clean sweep on the categories, as I’m the high man on Wins, ERA, WHIP, and strikeouts. Yikes.

But while projections (necessarily) need to rely on a bigger history of performance, I’m putting way more weight on recency bias, with Luzardo putting together a mostly dominant 100 IP in 2022, even after missing a big chunk of summer recovering from a (insert diabolical dum-dum DUMMM!) forearm strain. He came back in August and got back to mowing down fools, posting a 3.03 ERA (2.87 FIP, 3.09 xFIP) and 0.98 WHIP over 71 IP, with a 28% K% and 7% BB%.

Luzardo still features heat that sits 96-97 mph but it’s the secondaries that get the most run, with his curveball and changeup combining for 53% usage in 2022. And that hook is still so pretty, getting whiffs but is also a good strike-getter, garnering a 33% CSW%, 17% SwStr%, and 16% Call%. And Eno Sarris’s Stuff+ (available now!) agrees, rating it a 116 Stf+ that was 9th among (arbitrarily) qualified starting pitchers (min 100 IP, 20% usage).

But even with great stuff and big velo, the biggest question mark about Luzardo remains the same as always. Can he actually pitch a full season? My projection of 151 IP feels pretty aggressive considering he pitched a combined 112 IP in 2023 (12 IP in the minors) and has a career-best of 125 IP (29 IP MiLB) from 2021. However, the price isn’t too rich for the amount of tantalizing upside, especially considering his ADP peers, so Luzardo will likely end up as my SP3 on more than one team. Because if you can’t trust a former top pitching prospect who is now a Marlin, who can you trust?

Reid Detmers, LAA, 182 ADP (min: 159, max :215)

This is a tale of two Reid Detmers, with the first one getting demoted after a June that saw him post a 4.67 ERA over four starts, completing five innings just once. But the Detmers that came back was a different beast entirely after finding a fancy faster slider in his brief appearance in the minors, allowing one run over six innings and striking out 14 of the 22 batters he saw.

This Detmers finished his rookie season doing work, running a 3.04 ERA (2.51 FIP) over 71 IP, with 78 strikeouts. But what was more interesting was the aforementioned faster slider, which also jumped way up in usage:

But did it whiff? You bet your sweet graph it did:

Detmer’s slider went from something wholly unexciting, lazily working down to his glove side,  to something fast and biting in the second half, getting more lefties to chase away while getting down and in on righies in a hurry.

That’s all well and good, there is certainly nothing bad about turning a meh pitch into a plus one, especially considering the curveball he already had in his pocket. But hopes spring eternal in March and Detmers has shown up to spring training with more juicy tricks to make the mouth water.

One of them is the old one, only now with more; his spring slider is even faster, now sitting 89-91 mph. But that’s not the truly spicy news – that belongs to his four-seamer, already sitting 95-97 mph after averaging 93 mph in 2022.

Okay, just to collect ourselves – a pitching prospect that already had good stuff dramatically increased the speed and quality of his slider and has now come into spring training with an even faster slider and a heater that now gets up on 97 mph.

I know it’s just spring training and all but if big, actionable changes like this don’t look like a bright, flashing “Breakout Coming!!!” sign, I don’t know what does. And at that ADP, it’s a cheap ticket to take the ride.

Now then, who’s thirsty?

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4 days ago

Wait, what’s the risk with Detmers?

4 days ago
Reply to  mrsphanatic

I also don’t understand – is he a buy in an article full of sells?

Last edited 4 days ago by Moelicious
4 days ago
Reply to  Moelicious

The article started out like it’ll be full of (only) sells, but changed its tune for the 3rd act starting w/ Luzardo, not just Detmers.

Of course, Nick just couldn’t help himself and threw in a bit of fun cynicism and/or misdirection at the very end w/ the kool-aid meme, LOL.

4 days ago
Reply to  mrsphanatic

Nick’s ADP chart early in this article shows GREEN for Detmers. So, he’s a fan of Detmars at this time…while showing that the other ADP sources (shown in red in the chart) are less so.