Pitcher Rookie Review — May 24, 2022

Yesterday, I reviewed three rookie starting pitchers. Let’s keep it going and review three more today.

Aaron Ashby | MIL

Ashby was ranked as the top Brewers prospect heading into the season and the 47th best prospect overall. While a starter in the minors, he switched between the bullpen and rotation during his MLB debut last year and has continued shuffling back and forth this season. Though he showed strong strikeout ability in the minors, he also posted double digit walk rates at every stop since 2019.

Good News:

  • Those groundballs! He has now posted a 60%+ GB% at each of his stints since last year. While grounders were more advantageous when the league HR/FB rate was higher, it’s still more desirable than a fly ball.
  • He has continued to throw two non-fastballs that have generated mid-to-high teen SwStk% marks.
  • He has shown an ability to generate a high rate of called strikes, as he has now done it in his first 60 MLB innings.

Bad News:

  • His strike% has declined, increasing his walk rate to far too high a level. On the positive side, his strike% is only marginally worse than the league average, so he has probably been a bit unlucky to have posted as high a walk rate as he has.
  • His sinker velocity is down a bit from last year, despite recording a similar number of innings as a starter
  • Because he has shuffled between the rotation and bullpen, he has only gone more than four innings in any of his three starts.

I think I really like Ashby. It’s rare to find an extreme ground ball pitcher that has such strong strikeout ability, as that’s the ultimate combination. The walk rate is a bit of a concern, especially considering he had posted double digit marks since 2019. However, I don’t think his strike% is as bad as the walk rate suggests, so I think it’ll improve. Then he becomes Framber Valdez with a better strikeout rate. Obviously, the biggest question is his role. Since he’s not going to be closing, a middle or long reliever will only have real value in deeper leagues. But if he moves into the starting rotation, how many starts will he make where he doesn’t even throw enough innings to qualify for a win? Tough call on fantasy value this year, but I’m intrigued by his skill set.

MacKenzie Gore | SD

The former top prospect has finally made his debut! In 2021, he suddenly battled severe control problems, but those issues haven’t shown up this year yet.

Good News:

  • The control has returned! Or has it? The walk rate is certainly back to normal, but read onto the bad news to the other side of the coin.
  • Both his slider and changeup have been excellent at inducing whiffs, both generating mid-to-high SwStk% marks.

Bad News:

  • The strikeout rate is a bit of a mirage right now, as his xK% sits at 24.6%, a good 2.5% below his actual mark.
  • His walk rate seems fortunate given that he has thrown a lower than league average rate of strikes, but my xBB% equation validates his mark. Then again, it’s based on his current 27.1% strikeout rate, which itself seems fluky, so if the strikeout rate regresses without an uptick in strike%, his walk rate may very well jump.
  • A microscopic 3.4% HR/FB rate is one of the reasons his ERA is handily outperforming his SIERA.
  • His curveball has been pretty weak, generating a single digit SwStk% and allowing an absurd .443 wOBA.

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. His SwStk%, CStr%, and CSW% are all below average, so it’s surprising to see such a strong strikeout rate. His lower than average strike% also suggests more walks in his future. Given his former hype and the strong outward results to his MLB career, he looks like an ideal sell high, particularly in non-keeper leagues.

Kyle Bradish | BAL

Bradish ranked as the team’s seventh best prospect, but missed the top 100 overall list. His minor league strikeout rates were fairly good, but supported by barely double digit SwStk% marks, which always gives me pause. In my experience, SwStk% is a good indicator as to whether a minor league pitcher could translate his strong strikeout rate to the Majors.

Good News:

  • His slider has been fantastic at generating whiffs, recording a 19.8% SwStk%.

Bad News:

  • As expected, his strikeout rate has dropped and now more closely matches his SwStk%, which has remained stable. However, once again my xK% equation suggests some luck involved, as his xK% sits at 22.7%, versus a 24.8% actual mark.
  • None of his three non-fastballs have been any good at generating whiffs, all sitting with single digit SwStk% marks.

He has obviously been quite unlucky given the massive gap between his 5.74 ERA and 3.51 SIERA, thanks to inflated BABIP and HR/FB marks and a suppressed LOB%. However, I don’t buy the SIERA sticking as I think his underlying skills are going to deteriorate a bit given such heavy reliance on his slider. I had opportunities to bid on him in various leagues and decided to pass.

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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1 year ago

Sold Gore for Gallen in a keeper a couple weeks ago. Pretty happy with that.