Getting through a lineup three times is a bit of a lost art these days with both the rise of the bullpens and starters going 100% every at-bat from the jump which often drains the tank right around the time that batters are getting a third look. We often hear about the guys who struggle the third time through and we don’t always see those who are good at it highlighted for the success. Of course, the studs of the game do it well and that’s what makes them the studs, but there are definitely some surprises having TTT success. Let’s look at both ends of the spectrum today, starting with the duds.
I was going to use 1.000 OPS as my arbitrary cutoff, but I had to get Romano in with his .999 because of that impressive -13% K-BB. That is something else! League average the third time through is a .780 OPS with an 11% K-BB and 4% HR rate.
The Reds have three guys on this list! Mahle has some fantasy buzz or at least he did in draft season, but he can’t consistently go deep into games and he’s also had major issues with lefties in any situation. They have a .966 OPS against him with a 10% K-BB and nine of his 13 homers. Bailey and the aforementioned Romano also have major issues with the third time through a lineup, but neither has been a fantasy factor at any point this year.
Quintana stands out on this list, though he may be coming out of it this month. He had a 1.478 OPS the third time through in April, but it’s down to .851 in May. He seems to be coming out of his issues, too, with a 2.20 ERA in his last five starts, dating back to his last one of April. He’s still walking too many guys with a 13% mark in May, but at least he’s not melting down the third time through every time out.
Greinke’s 17% K-BB rate is the best of this group and perhaps it will help him pull out of his TTT issues, but both righties (1.083 OPS) and lefties (1.037) are clubbing him in the middle innings. I’m not freaking out about this, but it’s on my radar. Greinke’s skills are even better than we saw last year with a 25% K-BB while his 3.71 ERA is a stone’s throw from last year’s 3.20.
Tanaka’s issues the third time through are… wait for it… home run-related. Huge surprise, I know. Tanaka is toting the same 1.8 HR/9 he had last year and it has been especially prevalent deeper in games. The homers aren’t a new problem for Tanaka, but allowing them at an alarming rate deeper into games is in fact new. He allowed nine TTT homers in 201 plate appearances last year with a perfectly reasonable .779 OPS, but this year he’s already allowed four in 51 PA. I’ve always been a Tanaka fan, but my fantasy baseball interest in him has waned as I just don’t see the home run problem going away any time soon.
Had I made the cutoff .900 OPS, a handful of good arms would’ve been listed including Zack Godley (.988), Jakob Junis and Jon Gray (.980), Michael Fulmer (.943), Cole Hamels (.906), Jameson Taillon (.905), and Patrick Corbin (.900). Corbin has actually lowered his TTT OPS by month so it’s not the velo drop inflating his numbers. His .742 this month is his lowest yet. However, the -4% K-BB is no doubt alarming.
Let’s shift gears to the other side and see who’s consistently thwarting the opposition in those key middle innings. There are several interesting names in this top 25 list:
First things first, Berrios is the realest. He was 13th on this list last year (min. 150 TTT PA) and he’s been ever better this year. His curveball and two-seamer have been damn near unhittable the third time through this year with a combined .097/.152/.097 line in 33 PA (which accounts for 58% of his TTT PA). Only two pitchers have more 7+-inning outings than Berrios’s five and both are on this list: Kluber (8) and Cole (6), meanwhile eight others are tied with Berrios, many of whom made the list or just missed my arbitrary cutoff of top 25.
Lopez is running an insane .098 BABIP his third time through the lineup and his 12% K-BB is much better than his 7% season line. Surely he won’t maintain this BABIP, but this helps highlight why he succeeds despite paltry component numbers and why many are still buying on Lopez despite an ERA that looks set to crater (2.98 v. 4.79 FIP). He misses barrels and his pitches are very difficult to square up. When you talk about a pitcher being “nasty”, Lopez fits the bill and is surviving off that filth despite not yet turning it into a gaudy strikeout rate.
Smith has been a standout rookie and waiver wire find for those currently with him on their roster and shutting the opposition down that third time through has been a key. His only two duds so far (2.3 IP/5 ER at NYY, 3 IP/4 ER v. LAD) saw the trouble pop up the second time through the lineup. The Yankees and Dodgers posted a .500/.643/1.100 line in 14 PA the second time through, ending his day both times. The walks are an issue his third time through at 17% and that doesn’t even include the nine he allowed in those two duds because there were no TTT plate appearances. He’s a solid and the strikeouts give him viability in all formats, but his control issues will continue to drive those early exits once every five or six starts and keep the ERA in the mid-to-high 3.00s.
Newcomb seems to tighten up the control in TTT situations with an 8% mark compared to his 11% season mark, but that difference just isn’t substantial as it’s two walks. He had a 15% walk rate in TTT situations last year. I like Newk more than Smith, but they have a similar profile and while Newcomb hasn’t really struggled since his first outing (4.3 IP/5 ER), I don’t see a true talent .198 AVG and I think the walks will be the root cause of some bad days ahead, pushing his ERA north of 3.00.
Unsurprisingly, this list is littered with the year’s early standouts as it’s a major key to success, especially in this inning-starved environment, but I wanted to close by highlighting a pair of names that really stood out to me. Suter was horrible in TTT situations last year with a 1.127 OPS, good for 187 among the 193 pitchers with at least 45 qualifying PA. The high-and-tight heat has been his key. Well, “heat”… he throws 85-87. Righties obliterated his fastball the third time through last year with 1.057 OPS in 24 PA. This year they’ve already gotten another 20 tries at it, but have netted just a .476 OPS.
Giolito is having a nightmare season with a 6.42 ERA and 1.57 WHIP and yet here he is at 24th. This feels like it should be encouraging, but if he doesn’t drastically cut into his 20% walk rate the second time through, he won’t get deep enough the lineup the third time to finish six-plus. Of course, he also has a -3% K-BB rate on the season sooo he probably needs to work on that before we get too focused on his TTT performance.