So Daniel Norris is Good Now?

As I sometimes do when searching for a topic, I decided to scan the last 30 day K% leaderboard among AL starting pitchers to see if any surprises sit near the top. Sure enough, one name stood out — Daniel Norris, who ranked sixth with a 27.7% mark. This is a guy who had posted strong strikeout rates in the minors, has sometimes struggled with his control, but the strikeout ability didn’t translate to the Majors last year in 13 starts. As I’ve done with a couple of pitchers previously, let’s compared the relevant metrics during his 2015 season, first four appearances this year, and his eight starts since being recalled and returning to the Tigers rotation on August 9th.

Daniel Norris Performance Splits
Date Range IP FB% FBv SL% SLv CB% CBv CH% CHv LD% GB% FB% IFFB%
2015 60 58.6% 91.9 16.5% 83.3 10.1% 75.0 14.9% 85.5 17.5% 39.3% 43.2% 12.7%
5/12/16 – 7/4/16 13 63.2% 92.4 12.3% 86.6 9.6% 75.4 15.0% 84.8 25.0% 30.0% 45.0% 5.6%
8/9/16 – 9/18/16 44 60.7% 93.0 16.8% 87.7 8.6% 76.5 13.9% 85.9 23.0% 41.5% 35.6% 6.3%

What initially caught my eye is that Norris’ velocity is up. I’m a sucker for velocity surges. But it’s actually even better than the table shows. Check out this beautiful velocity trend:


In his last four starts, he has been at least 93 and has peaked at 94. That’s a new career high game average that he just set during his September 12th start.

He has also been throwing his slider a bit more and it’s been his best pitch this year from a whiff perspective. The curve has been terrible at inducing swings and misses this year and he has wisely reduced his usage of the pitch. He has thrown it less than 8% of the time in each of his last three starts.

Next, check out his batted ball distribution! Once an extreme fly ball pitcher, he is suddenly generating more grounders than flies. That will help curb his gopheritis.

Let’s continue with the splits to see how the increased velocity and additional ground balls have affected his other metrics.

Daniel Norris Performance Splits
Date Range IP Hard% F-Strike% SwStk% O-Swing% K% BB% BABIP LOB% HR/FB ERA SIERA
2015 60 28.6% 53.4% 9.2% 26.9% 17.9% 7.6% 0.250 70.0% 11.4% 3.75 4.45
5/12/16 – 7/4/16 13 25.0% 59.3% 7.7% 24.3% 27.1% 5.1% 0.378 82.3% 16.7% 4.85 3.40
8/9/16 – 9/18/16 44 33.3% 64.4% 10.2% 27.9% 21.5% 7.9% 0.323 76.4% 10.4% 3.27 4.21

Let’s gloss over the fact that his Hard% is way up, which is obviously bad. But the sample is pretty tiny, so it hardly means much. More importantly, he’s throwing first pitch strikes far more frequently and inducing more swinging strikes. A higher velocity fastball and more frequently thrown sliders that have been more effective are the likely drivers of those additional whiffs. Since he’s battled control issues in the past, it’s a great sign to see that F-Strike% way up.

Oddly, all this has led to…a decline in strikeout rate versus his first 13 innings this year, and a walk rate that is higher than the first two date ranges?! Clearly his strikeout rate during that 13 inning middle performance period was a complete fluke, as you don’t strike out that high a rate of batters with a measly 7.7% SwStk%. Compared to 2015, his strikeout rate is up, but it’s strange to see the walk rate up as well.

All we can ask for is more strikes thrown and that is exactly what he has done. The underlying skill metrics will work themselves out.

Because of his extreme fly ball ways and suspect control, I haven’t been much of a Norris fan. But with increased velocity, his strong minor league strikeout rates starting to translate, and newfound control, he could make for an intriguing sleeper in even 12-team mixed leagues next year.

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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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Who would you prefer for next year: Norris, Garrett Richards (I think he’ll be back), Taijuan Walker or Luke Weaver?