I’m a sucker for velocity. If a pitcher throws hard enough, I’m willing to forgive more warts on their profile. With that in mind, I’ve fully accepted Mike Foltynewicz as a viable back of the rotation, mixed league arm with upside. Deductive reading skills probably led you to the conclusion he throws hard, and your reading skills haven’t failed you. Among starters who have pitched a minimum of 40 innings, his 94.8 mph average four-seam fastball velocity ranks tied with Stephen Strasburg for the eighth highest. His two-seam fastball checks in with an average velocity of 94.4 mph, tied for the 12th highest mark. He throws his two heaters a whopping 74.1% of the time.
He backs his fastballs with a slider, curveball and rarely used (2.4% usage) changeup. His power arsenal is plenty to miss bats, and his 9.7% swinging strike rate eclipses the league average of 9.6%. The result is a better than league average 23.4% strikeout rate. Breaking things down further, both of his fastballs, slider and curveball are all very good bat-missing pitches. There are 100 starting pitchers who have thrown a minimum of 200 four-seam fastballs, per Baseball Prospectus, and Foltynewicz checks in 21st with a 22.47% whiff/swing rate. Dropping the minimum pitch threshold to 100 for his two-seam fastball yields him as the 16th most proficient pitcher in whiff/swing rate (16.87%) out of 117 qualified pitchers. His two breaking balls, slider and curveball, have been thrown less than 100 times. Because the sample size is small, his whiff/swing rates should be taken with a larger grain of salt than his marks for his heaters. Using a 50 pitch minimum threshold results in his slider ranking tied for 25th out of 98 in whiff/swing rate (39.39%) and his curveball ranking tied for 26th out of 100 in whiff/swing rate (35.00%). That’s an impressive four-pitch mix for overpowering opposing hitters.
There’s more to being a useful fantasy pitcher than striking batters out, and the rest of Foltynewicz’s profile is a bit of a mixed bag. First, the bad news. He has a very pronounced platoon split. The 95 left-handed batters he’s faced this year have beaten him like a drum slashing .291/.362/.476 with a .363 wOBA. Expanding his sample size to include his rookie year, last season, with the Astros doesn’t provide more optimism about a quick fix. For his limited big league career, he’s allowed a .304/.372/.537 slash line and .392 wOBA to 138 left-handed batters faced. Lefties gave him some problems in the minors as well. Since 2011, he’s allowed a .260/.362/.394 slash to 1,017 left-handed minor league batters, according to Minor League Central. That’s certainly much better than his work in the majors, but the .756 OPS allowed to lefties exceeds the .712 OPS allowed to right-handed batters. The presence of two distinctly different breaking balls should help Folty’s case for having more success against lefties eventually. Also, his future grade on his changeup is 50+, so there is hope his changeup comes around.
The rest of his profile looks solid. He battled control issues in the minors, but this year, his 8.2% walk rate is just a bit worse than the league average of 7.7%. His higher than league average strikeout rate can offset that. His plate discipline numbers are encouraging, too. He’s getting ahead of hitters at a very high rate with a 66.9% first-strike rate (61.0% league average) and he’s in the zone with 48.4% of his pitches (46.1% league average). Even with such a fastball-dominant pitch mix, he’s coaxing hitters to fish out of the strike zone at 36.5% of his pitches (30.5% is league average).
Foltynewicz entered the year with concerns about his ability to remain a starter, but he’s beginning to quiet pessimists. In seven starts, he’s pitched a minimum of five in each. He’s fanned seven or more batters in five turns, and he’s walked two batters or fewer in five straight starts. Overall, he’s pitched 42.0 innings with a 4.29 ERA that’s a bit above his ERA estimator marks of a 3.83 FIP and 4.19 xFIP. His WHIP is high at 1.38, but if he can shave his ERA under 4.00, which I think he can, then he’ll be a useful source of strikeouts with a non-damaging ERA. It’s unlikely to be smooth sailing in every start, and gamers would be wise to pick and choose games to start him in, but he’s worth rostering in most 12-team mixed leagues and all leagues larger than that.
You can follow Josh on Twitter @bchad50.