Deep League Starting Pitchers (Gore, Taillon, Severino, Varland, & Skenes)

It’s finally time to start my annual tradition of examining starting pitchers being drafted after pick 300 in NFBC drafts. For each article, I’ll examine about five guys when I find time between updating my outfield and top-200 hitter rankings and also Mining the News.

Previous articles

MacKenzie Gore (302 ADP)

The more I dive into Gore, I see him taking either a Cole Ragans-type jump or be waiver wire fodder in a month. I’ll start with the good. He throws the ball hard (95 mph) with two above-average secondary pitches. His slider and curveball both have a 17% SwStr%. With that swing-and-miss, he posted a 10.0 K/9 in 136 IP. Of the pitchers with at least 130 IP, he ranked 17th ahead of such names as Gerrit Cole, Zac Gallen, Aaron Nola, and Corbin Burnes.

Where he gets into trouble is when he gives up the combination of walks and home runs. Because of the shape of his pitches (i.e. rising fastball), he’s going to generate more flyballs than groundballs. His problem was that once behind in the count, he was forced to use his fastball (56% Zone%) because he had problems throwing his slider (43% Zone) and curve (39% Zone) for strikes. While pitchers perform worse when behind in the count, he was 35% worse than the league in those situations. Batters hit .318/.500/.642 against Gore when he got behind. Now, on to the walks.

Since 2020, walks have been an issue for him. In 2022, Gore posted a 4.8 BB/9 and he was able to get it down to a 3.8 BB/9 last season. The walks, and the hard-hit balls, led to an unrosterable 1.47 WHIP in 2022 and 1.40 WHIP last season. The free passes along with the home runs have him with a career 4.45 ERA and matching 2024 projections.

The simple upside is if he quit walking batters. There is some hope. Over his last six starts, he posted a 3.0 BB/9 but his strikeout rate dropped to 8.0 K/9. The dream is for a 10 K/9 and 3 BB/9 (e.g. Luis Castillo) talent or he could easily be 8 K/9 and 4 BB/9 (e.g. Tyler Anderson) guy.

Jameson Taillon (308 ADP)

The 32-year-old struggled last season with a career-worst 4.84 ERA and 4.49 xFIP. His 1.28 WHIP was the second worst of this career. Where he got burnt was his 1.6 HR/9. Home runs have been a problem over the past few seasons with a 1.5 HR/9 in 2021 and 1.3 HR/9 in 2022.

His struggles started against lefties where he posted a 5.49 xFIP against them and 3.59 xFIP against righties. He doesn’t have an average change (5% SwStr%) or curve (8% SwStr%) to get them out. Last season, he attacked the lefties with his fastball, cutter, and curve with horrible results.

Besides the struggles against lefties, his fastball velocity has been on a slow four-year decline (95.2 mph to 94.8 to 94.0 to 94.2 to 93.8). Once his velocity dropped to 94 mph, his home run rate jumped. Also at that time, he moved from throwing his sinker more to his four-seamer.

Projections tap him as a 4.50 ERA pitcher and that feels safe. I don’t see any major upside or downside to him. At this point in the draft, I’m not going with someone so boring.

Luis Severino (308 ADP)

Severino was decent in 2022 (3.18 ERA, 3.38 xFIP, 1.00 WHIP, 102 IP) but that is the only one since 2018. In 89 IP last year, he had by far the worst season of his career with a 6.65 ERA and 1.65 WHIP. The underlying stats were almost as bad with an 11% K%-BB% and 4.83 xFIP.

Severio’s velocity and pitch mix stayed constant but his control waiver with 3.4 BB/9, the second worst walk rate of his career. A side/oblique injury to begin and end the season was most likely the reason he lost control. The injury limited him to 18 starts.

Since 2010, here are the five pitchers who threw at least 80 IP in two seasons, with an ERA under 3.50 in the first, an over 6.00 ERA in the second, and the next season’s results.

Good, to Bad, to ????
Name Season ERA Season ERA Season IP ERA
Shelby Miller 2015 3.02 2016 6.15 2017 22.0 4.09
Chris Young 2015 3.06 2016 6.19 2017 30.0 7.50
Bartolo Colon 2016 3.43 2017 6.48 2018 146.1 5.78
Kyle Freeland 2018 2.85 2019 6.73 2020 70.2 4.33
Jaime Barria 2018 3.41 2019 6.42 2020 32.1 3.62

Not good, especially, the innings.

So for 2024, Severino is a roll of the dice. I could see him be a 3.00 ERA talent like in 2022. Or a 5.00 ERA talent from 2023. There is no way to know right now.

Louie Varland (316 ADP)

The 26-year-old righty gave up too many long balls last season (2.1 HR/9) and that was the reason why he posted a 4.63 ERA and just a 3.81 xFIP. The issue was that he split his time between being a starter and a reliever. As a starter (56 IP), he had a similar difference but with a 5.30 ERA and 4.24 xFIP. In the bullpen (12 IP), he was lights out with a 1.50 ERA (1.77 xFIP).

Focusing on him as a starter, he has a career 15.3% K%-BB% which puts him in the company of the 2023 versions of Lance Lynn (303 ADP), Jordan Montgomery (141 ADP), and Eduardo Rodriguez (193 ADP).

Last season, Varland was mainly fastball (10 SwStr%, 95 mph) and slider (15% SwStr%) while missing in a few changeups (11% SwStr%, 11% usage). A good, not great, arsenal.

The problem is that the Twins like his production as a reliever where his pitches play up.

Louie Varland was initially reluctant to move to a bullpen role down the stretch, and made his reservations known both internally and externally.

That happened with the expectation that Varland would return to starting in 2024 — but the Twins don’t want to make a call on that just yet, both Baldelli and Falvey said. They’re glad he now has experience doing both at the highest level, but it did affect their perspective to see Varland up to 100 mph with his fastball with a cutter that gave hitters fits out of the bullpen.

“I think he has the ability to be an elite reliever,” Baldelli said. “I don’t want to make any bold statements. I’ll talk to him soon. What he showed out of the bullpen was special. It’s hard to look away from that and not at least think about that going forward. I’ll just say that.”

In 12 IP as a reliever last season, Varland posted a 41% K%, 2% BB%, and 1.50 ERA (1.77 xFIP) so I can see why they are considering for the bullpen.

Overall, Varland is perfect for draft-and-hold leagues where he has value as a spot reliever or a starter when in the majors. In a redraft league, he might move in and out of the rotation and his fantasy value will fluctuate.

Paul Skenes (320 ADP)

Skenes is tough to value. On the surface, I haven’t seen the amount of hype for a pitcher just being drafted since Stephen Strasburg. Most prospect-ranking services have him as their number arm after just throwing 6.2 IP last season ending in AA.

To get a read on his talent, here are his prospect grades.

Paul Skenes’s Pitch Grades
Source Fastball (98 mph) Slider Changeup Command/Control
FG (current) 70 55 45 35
FG (future) 70 60 55 55
Baseball America 70 70 60 60 80 70 55 60
BHQ (5/best to 1/worst) 5 4 3

Here at FanGraphs, we are the only ones who give current grades with the others looking forward. There is no argument for his fastball being great (except for some shape conspiracists) now and everything else in the future. The one issue is his control.

In his limited sample, he posted a 41% Ball% or the equivalent of a 4.7 BB/9. The only source to mention of his current control is Keith Law (who doesn’t do pitch grades):

He’s a pitcher of unusual size, already 6-6 and probably 260 lbs or so, and hides the ball extremely well behind his body thanks to a compact arm action, allowing him to get away with some iffy fastball command and below-average life on the pitch.

His command is probably a 45 or so, although he throws the fastball for strikes enough that I’d be surprised if walks were an issue before he reaches Triple A, where they use the automated ball-strike system (ABS).

I’m guessing we’ll see tons of strikeouts but also walks that will kill his WHIP. All the strikeouts and walks will limit how far he can pitch into games therefore generating just a few Wins, especially on the Pirates. Also, it’s unknown when he’ll be promoted to the major leagues.

I don’t think his profile will lead to him being a fantasy asset to start with and when/if he gets promoted is up in the air. With him going around pick 265 in the NFBC, I’ll spend my resources elsewhere.

Jeff, one of the authors of the fantasy baseball guide,The Process, writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won four FSWA Awards including on for his Mining the News series. He's won Tout Wars three times, LABR twice, and got his first NFBC Main Event win in 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

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2 months ago

I do recall that when Kershaw broke into the league he was walking all sorts of people. Definitely not saying that Skenes ends up like Kershaw, but these top prospect types probably need more time than the redraft crowd can give them.

A Salty Scientist
2 months ago
Reply to  LightenUpFG

Right. He’s got a ton of value in a dynasty league, but it might be 2 more years before he’s an asset for redrafts.