Good Pitches from Bad Pitchers* Pt. 2 by Paul Sporer January 14, 2020 *Bad in this case is a 4.50 ERA or higher^ in 2019 ^Except for one guy, who had a 4.49 Yesterday I looked at some quality four-seamers, sliders, and cutters coming from these so-called “bad” pitches – again, we’re talking about bad in the fantasy realm as most leagues won’t have major use for someone with an ERA north of 4.50 – and today we’re looking at changeups, curveballs, and splitters. CHANGEUP Lg. average: .653 OPS, 22% K, 17% SwStr, 38% Chase Daniel Norris, DET | .532 OPS, 31% K, 20% SwStr, 42% Chase Here’s our guy with the 4.49 ERA, by the way. Norris also had a solid slider, but like so many guys I covered yesterday, his fastball held him back. He allowed a 1.024 OPS with his heat including 19 of his 25 home runs. Homers have been a career-long issue for Norris, too, but especially the last two years with a 1.6 HR/9 in both seasons. The persistent hit and homer issues (9.9 H/9, 1.4 HR/9) over the last four seasons make it tough to see a surge from Norris, especially after his sharp velo drop from 2017 to 2018 (-3 mph to 90 mph, though he did jump back up to 91 in 2019). If you’re looking for reasons to invest (maybe in an AL-only), you can lean on two useful pitches, a strong finish (3.19 ERA, 1.10 WHIP in final 13 starts), and the fact that he’s still just 27 years old. Youth doesn’t automatically equal upside, but he has just 426.3 MLB innings under his belt so it’s not out of bounds to believe he’s not a finished product. Michael Wacha, NYM | .604 OPS, 35% K, 22% SwStr, 37% Chase Wacha’s changeup has been his best pitch throughout his seven years of major league experience and by pitch value, it’s actually been at its best the last two seasons (6.4 and 9.8). I’ve been a long-time Wacha believer thanks in large part to the changeup as well as the fact that he puts up a sustained run of excellent work pretty much every year (even in his 5.09 ERA season of 2016) to keep me interested. The problem in 2019 was that none of Wacha’s other three pitches netted an OPS under .950 so he was truly a one pitch guy last year. I’m nervous about Wacha’s lofty BABIPs in three of the last four years: .334, .327, .249, and .313, as the Mets defense is not where you go to get supported. He’s also the sixth starter heading into Spring Training and he’d have to beat out Rick Porcello to open the year in the rotation. Perhaps some relief work will help Wacha get back on track. He can cultivate a second pitch to go with the changeup and he will almost certainly get some starts as few teams ever use the same five starters all year long. Pablo López, MIA| .631 OPS, 26% K, 18% SwStr, 41% Chase Lopez is one of my favorites on either of these two lists. The 24-year old righty suffered through a 5.09 ERA due to a 7.01 in his last seven starts after returning from a shoulder injury. Prior to that, he put together a 4.23 ERA in his first 14 starts and that was even with a 10-ER meltdown at the Mets on May 10th. If you lift that out, he had a 3.18 ERA in 13 starts. Perhaps the craziest thing was that Lopez bounced back the very next start against the Mets and dropped seven shutout innings on them. Lopez has two fastballs (4-seam and sinker), a curveball, and of course the change. Only the sinker (or two-seamer, the classifications aren’t in full agreement of what it is, just that he definitely had two distinct heaters) held him back, netting a .907 OPS and 9% K rate in 79 PA. The curve had a .698 OPS and 25% K – both below average, but not bad – and the four-seamer could’ve actually made the list yesterday at .756 OPS and 20%, but I wanted to highlight the change. Just a surface level investigation at things like FIP and WHIP could’ve identified Lopez as someone to pay attention as they were at 4.28 and 1.24, respectively, and I’m even more interested after taking a closer look at his pitches to see the potential in this arm. He had some buzz coming into 2019 and was on his way to delivering on it before the shoulder injury. While he wasn’t great after coming back from the injury, I’m at least heartened by him finishing the season on the mound. I’m going to move him up from his 120 ranking on my next SP update. CURVEBALL Lg. average: .618 OPS, 33% K, 14% SwStr, 30% Chase German Márquez, COL | .359 OPS, 51% K, 24% SwStr, 47% Chase I mean, he fits the criteria here with his 4.76 season ERA, but he’s obviously well-known and not going to be had as cheaply as everyone else on this list. I’m way more in on him this year as the 67th P off the board (including relievers) even with half of his games in Coors. His curveball is absolutely disgusting. Tyler Beede, SFG | .451 OPS, 52% K, 17% SwStr, 29% Chase That strikeout rate isn’t a typo. It was 4th highest among starters with at least 200 curves thrown, giving him an elite weapon against both righties and lefties, but he only used it 14% of the time and nothing else in his arsenal worked nearly as well so he still ended up with a 5.08 season ERA. At the same time, none of his other three pitches were horrid, they were just bland and home run-prone (1.7 HR/9). He was able to take advantage of Oracle Park, posting a 3.75 ERA and 1.19 WHIP in 50.3 innings there, but a 6.08 ERA/1.70 WHIP on the road made him unusable in any format for those 66.7 innings. If the 27-year old former 1st rounder can refine his arsenal around the curve, there’s some interesting potential as a starter. There could still be some late-inning relief upside even if he isn’t able to find some consistency in the rotation. His 94.3 mph heater could play up and he could amp up the curve usage. The Giants closer job is pretty open after Will Smith’s departure and Beede could transition there if starting just doesn’t work out. Framber Valdez, HOU | .470 OPS, 55% K, 19% SwStr, 30% Chase Those are his numbers on the curve all told, but they aren’t overly influenced by his relief work as he still had a .535 OPS, 57% K, 20% SwStr, and 30% Chase with it in his eight starts. But it’s literally all he had in 2019. His two fastballs and changeup allowed a .944 OPS with an impossibly low 5% K rate against a 16% BB rate. To his credit, he used the curve a good bit at 34%, but I’m just not sure what else the 26-year old lefty can do to find success. Even with an unsettled backend of the rotation in Houston, Valdez is far down the list of potentials and his arsenal shortcomings seem to lock him into a relief role anyway. SPLITTER Lg. average: .608 OPS, 28% K, 18% SwStr, 39% Chase Trent Thornton, TOR | .339 OPS, 27% K, 10% SwStr, 30% Chase OK, he only meets one threshold, but the OPS is so good and there aren’t that many guys even throwing splitters, so I decided to give him the nod. Thornton was a total kitchen sink guy with upwards of seven pitches depending on classifications, though most settle on six: four-seamer, two-seamer, slider, cutter, splitter, and curve. Of course, if you need that many pitches you’re probably not doing very well, and Thornton fits that motto. Outside of the splitter, his curve and slider have shown some flashes while his four-seamer isn’t awful. We currently have him on the outside of the Jays rotation, but he should get some opportunities and I think the 26-year old righty is at least worth watch-listing in deep formats. Kevin Gausman, SF | .594 OPS, 33% K, 23% SwStr, 44% Chase Gausman’s inclusion here was likely expected as the splitter has always been his go-to pitch. He really leaned on it in 2019, throwing it a career-high 35% of the time as he rediscovered himself in the bullpen with a 3.10 ERA/1.13 WHIP in 20.3 relief innings. The Giants are putting him back in the rotation which has more torn. On the one hand, I thought he would’ve been perfect for their closer role. On the other hand, he has had flashes of success in the rotation and now gets to pitch half his games in Oracle Park. I’ve been on the Gaus train for years and I’m probably not going to quit him in 2020.