Pitcher Rookie Review — Jul 18, 2022

Let’s continue reviewing the rookie pitchers. Today, I will update my review on another trio of pitchers I first discussed in late May. Let’s remind ourselves how each pitcher had performed through that point and what each has done since.

Aaron Ashby

Performance Splits
Thru May 22 27.6% 13.8% 12.2% 0.290 69.9% 11.8% 3.49 3.68
Since 26.1% 8.3% 13.0% 0.358 75.2% 24.1% 4.99 3.40

The Brewers’ top prospect almost the season in intriguing fashion. He generated swinging strikes, en route to an above average strikeout rate, while inducing tons of ground balls. The one glaring red flag was his walk rate sitting in the mid-teens. However, the strikeouts and grounders were still more than enough to yield a solid 3.68 SIERA. Since I’d much rather bet on a young pitcher improving his control than suddenly finding more strikeout stuff or the ability to generate more grounders, Ashby was someone I was really interested in.

Since, that control improvement did indeed happen, without sacrificing too much strikeout rate, and his SIERA fell to an even more impressive 3.40. Unfortunately, an absurd .358 BABIP, combined with a ridiculous 24.1% HR/FB rate has inflated his ERA to near 5.00. While there’s little reason to believe this is his true talent level and his luck won’t improve, ground ball pitchers do allow high BABIPs and HR/FB rates. Since 2010, the top 35 ground ball pitchers allowed a HR/FB rate about 1.5% higher than the top 35 fly ball pitchers, while the ground ball group also allowed a significantly higher BABIP.

Clearly we shouldn’t be expecting Ashby’s BABIP and HR/FB rate to regress back to league average, especially pitching half his games in a home run friendly park. But what he’s posted over a small sample since May 23 is simply not going to continue for much longer. As long as he continues to make batters swing and miss, and holds most of his walk rate gains, he’s a real exciting fantasy asset.

MacKenzie Gore

Performance Splits
Thru May 22 27.1% 7.9% 10.3% 0.315 83.3% 3.1% 2.06 3.42
Since 20.3% 13.9% 10.4% 0.313 69.8% 11.9% 6.21 5.13

I opened my commentary paragraph summarizing Gore’s start with the following:

As nice a story as it has been for Gore to finally debut and open his career with a bang, a lot of this looks like it has been done with smoke and mirrors.

Welp, looks like I was right. I noted that his early strikeout rate was a bit of a mirage, and sure enough, it has tumbled since. I even said his walk rate seemed fortunate, and sure enough, it has skyrocketed. He was a good example of why even just using SIERA isn’t enough, as an analysis required digging even deeper to determine his underlying skills were due for some regression, which would boost his ERA well above his current SIERA, assuming neutral luck.

While his BABIP has remained worse than league average, his LOB% predictably collapsed, while his HR/FB rate shot up to around the league average. There was no reason to think after just 35 innings that he had some rare innate ability to strand baserunners and/or suppress home runs on fly balls to such a degree. Of course, I am surprised his regression has been this hard, as I certainly didn’t expect his underlying skills to decline this badly and his SIERA to balloon over 5.00.

Part of the issue may very well be a loss of fastball velocity. Through June 4, he had averaged 95.4 MPH with his four-seamer, including two games of 96+ MPH. Since that game in early June, he has only averaged 93.6 MPH with his fastball, with his highest velocity over five games at just 94.1 MPH. That’s a massive decline, and given how consistent the lower velocity has been, it’s a big concern. Until/unless his velocity returns, he doesn’t seem to be worth starting in any format.

Interestingly, even in the earlier period with 95+ velocity, his SwStk% was below average, so it’s hard for me to get excited here about a bounceback.

Kyle Bradish

Performance Splits
Thru May 22 24.8% 7.3% 10.8% 0.328 66.4% 20.7% 5.74 3.67
Since 18.4% 9.7% 10.6% 0.463 65.9% 26.3% 9.61 4.57

Bradish was the Orioles 6th best prospect heading into the season, but earned a callup after a dominating five starts between Double-A and Triple-A. His MLB career started off rocky, thanks a worse than league average marks in all three luck metrics. Despite those issues, he did post solid strikeout and walk rates, though the SwStk% was nothing to write home about.

Conveniently, his two periods comprise five starts. That’s because after his last start on June 18, he hit the IL with shoulder inflammation. Judging by his performance, he may have been hampered by the shoulder for quite some time. His strikeout rate fell, walk rate rose, and he was totally crushed by inflated BABIP and HR/FB rate marks.

He uses a cutter as his fastball, and the velocity on that pitch did drop to the second lowest of the season during his last start. His last three starts averaged no higher than 94.8 MPH, but aside from one start randomly over 96 MPH, he generally sat around 95 MPH for the majority of his starts. So it wasn’t totally obvious that his shoulder was affecting his velocity over his last couple of starts.

Overall, the skill set here is acceptable, but he’s a wait and see after he returns from the IL. His value would be solely in AL-Only leagues anyway, if it’s even worth starting him.

Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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