Sporer Report Issue #1

I’ve been trying to find a way to collect a bunch of my thoughts that aren’t quite worth their own article, but often extend beyond a tweet dating back to last year. So this will be a work in progress and I’m open to feedback on what y’all like and don’t as I try out different things here. It’s always going to be more pitching-focused, but it won’t be limited to just the mound. If you’ve followed my writing for a certain amount of time, you’ve no doubt seen me use the “Sporer Report” title for other columns.

It’s not that I think it’s some great name or anything (I’m not that vain); it’s just a general name that doesn’t limit the column’s contents. I originally wanted to call it the “The Week That Was”, but when it inevitably becomes super popular and people start tweeting about it so often that it gets condensed into #TWTW, I’m worried it’ll be lumped in with Hawk Harrelson’s “The Will to Win” nonsense.

Without further ado…

STRONG STARTS
PITCHER Opp IP H R ER BB SO HR HBP ERA WHIP BF Pit
Jose Berrios at BAL 9 3 0 0 1 6 0 0 0.00 0.44 31 107
Michael Fulmer v. PIT 8 4 1 1 2 3 0 1 1.12 0.75 27 90
Shohei Ohtani at OAK 6 3 3 3 1 6 1 0 4.50 0.67 22 92
Tyler Mahle v. CHC 6 1 0 0 2 7 0 1 0.00 0.50 21 86
Gerrit Cole at TEX 7 2 1 1 3 11 1 0 1.29 0.71 25 102
Jameson Taillon v. MIN 5.3 4 2 2 0 9 1 0 3.38 0.75 20 91

Berrios

Berrios threw the first (and only, so far) shutout of the year in Baltimore despite the embarrassing whining by his teammates over a ninth inning bunt by Chance Sisco. The O’s were the perfect opening matchup for him as they struggled with the curveball throughout the series and Berrios uses his at nearly a 30% clip. As Jason Collette pointed out on Monday’s pod, the curve was the go-to for Minnesota in Baltimore and they still lead the league in curve usage even after their first game in Pittsburgh on Monday.

The O’s were 0-for-6 with three strikeouts against the Berrios curve. The three hits and one walk all came off the sinker, a distinct pitch from his four-seamer. The two fastballs combined to hold Baltimore to a 3-for-21 with the walk and his other three strikeouts. Those betting big on Berrios are definitely hoping for a strikeout boost, but last year’s 23% mark was 32nd among 90 pitchers with at least 140 innings so a repeat wouldn’t prevent him from a successful season. He was regularly drafted as a top-30 SP.

This high heater was one of my favorite pitches from his brilliant debut:

Fulmer

Speaking of hopeful strikeout risers, Fulmer’s fantastic debut was dampened by just three strikeouts in his eight innings. Favoring the sinker (48%) and leaning into efficiency (3.3 pitches / PA) on a 36-degree day seems like a good idea and it definitely worked, but he must improve on last year’s strikeout rate to be a top-30 arm. I’m not yet ruling out some strikeout improvement as the season gets going.

Fulmer dropped from 20% Ks in his Rookie of the Year campaign to 17% in an injury-shortened campaign that eventually lead to ulnar nerve surgery. He had issues with feeling in his fingers before having the surgery which curbed the changeup’s effectiveness noticeably. He had a .427 OPS and 28% K rate in 105 PA with it in ’16 compared to .656 and 21% last year. The slider’s strikeout rate also dropped from 30% to 25%.

We need this slider against Gregory Polanco from Sunday if we’re going to see a strikeout jump:

And this changeup against Steven Souza Jr. from his breakout 2016 even more:

Ohtani

He showed why a 6 IP/3 ER outing is still considering a quality start. Sidenote: I’ve always been boggled by those who are vehemently against the 6 IP/3 ER base line. No, a 4.50 ERA pitcher isn’t winning a Cy Young, but even if the offense is shutout for six innings you’re still in the game at 3-0. The outing kept the team in striking distance and while a 6 IP/3 ER isn’t the best, it takes a measure of quality to keep it at three. As for the fantasy angle, only 12% of quality starts are exactly 6 IP/3 ER so it’s still a better stat than wins if you’re looking to mitigate the volatility of wins.

Ohtani had one bad inning, threw one especially awful pitch, and ultimately showed why there is so much hype for the 23-year old. He sat at 97.8 mph with the heater and had a fall-off-the-table splitter, but struggled with the slider at times. Back-to-back singles set up Matt Chapman’s 2nd inning plate appearance. He took a first pitch backup slider for a strike. Ohtani went back to the slider again, but this time left it up:

He ended up with six strikeouts and a 20% swinging strike rate, fourth-best over the Opening Weekend. This included 10 on the splitter out of his 24 thrown. After the home run, he didn’t allow another hit and had his lone walk in 4.7 innings with three strikeouts.

Mahle

Mahle made my list of prospect arms earlier this year and I’m encouraged by his season debut. He held the Cubs to just one hit in six innings with seven strikeouts. He incorporated his changeup more, up 10 points to 17% usage, but he didn’t finish any plate appearances with the pitch. It was the fastball doing the heavy lifting. They went 1-for-13 with a walk and seven strikeouts. He worked up in the zone with the fastball to lefties and finding success high and low against righties.

He had a sharp 295-point platoon split last year with lefties toting an .893 OPS against him so seeing the increased changeup usage is encouraging. However, he generated just two whiffs on his 12 sliders to lefties and though they went 0-for-4 there were some loud outs. Anthony Rizzo and Jason Heyward had flyouts of 106 and 101 mph on the pitch. He needs this first inning slider against Heyward a lot more often if he’s going to tame lefties:

Cole

It’s one start, but Cole’s Houston debut played out a lot like his proponents expected in terms pitch usage. The fastball was cut back (down 8 pts to 52%) in favor of his secondary offerings, specifically the slider being dialed up to 27% (career 17%). Perhaps fewer fastballs kept the Rangers from timing it as they went just 1-for-15, including seven of his 11 strikeouts. He had a 28% swinging strike rate on fastballs in the upper half, compared to an 11% career mark.

If he continues to work up in the zone with his mid-90s heater while also amplifying the usage of his secondary stuff, we could be headed toward his best season yet. I don’t want to get too drunk on confirmation bias as a Cole fan, but I was really excited about him going to the Astros and this first start only fueled the excitement. Getting Joey Gallo to swing through a pitch isn’t exactly the toughest thing to do in baseball, but this was one of two brilliant high heaters that Cole earned whiffs on from Gallo:

Gallo also smacked a first inning homer on a hanging slider.

Taillon

Taillon’s debut was interesting and might actually stand a little apart from the rest in that I’m not sure it’s going to be a harbinger of strikeout success. Yes, he struck out nine with a healthy 13% swinging strike rate, but he did so in just 5.3 innings as the Twins ran his pitch count up to 91 in the sixth inning. He’s always been one to favor efficiency over gaudy strikeout totals. The nine strikeouts on Monday tied a career-high that he achieved last year in a five-inning outing. Taillon featured the high heater more than usual with 32% of his 62 thrown in the upper third. He threw only 24% of his heaters up there in 2016-17 combined. Since this is the only write up without one so far, I’ll mention here that not every one will include GIFs.

SHAKY STARTS
PITCHER Opp IP H R ER BB SO HR HBP ERA WHIP BF Pit
Luis Castillo v. WAS 5 6 6 6 1 6 2 0 10.80 1.40 22 85
Garrett Richards at OAK 5 7 4 4 3 4 2 0 7.20 2.00 24 89
Yu Darvish at MIA 4.3 5 5 5 2 4 1 2 10.38 1.63 21 102

Castillo
There was a lot of attention on Castillo, one of the season’s biggest risers in the pitching ranks. He drew the Nationals for already the third time in his career and he dodged big trouble in those first two last year despite nine walks in the 11 innings, but a three-run shot from Matt Adams in the first inning set the tone for a bumpy day despite just one walk this time around. He opened with a beautiful whiff on the changeup then missed two fastballs inside before another sexy changeup:

He went back to the fastball (target was inside again), it leaked right over the heart of the plate, and Adams didn’t miss:

Only Max Scherzer has posted a higher swinging strike rate than Castillo’s 21% mark through Monday. Castillo’s changeup was dominant, accounting for five of his six strikeouts and netting a disgusting 54% swinging strike rate on 28 thrown. The amount thrown and whiff rate are both league highs thus far. I showed you the one in the Adams plate appearance and I’ll let Pitcher List take it from here:

Richards

I wouldn’t try to spin Richards’ start as a positive, but I also don’t think it was a disaster and it shows the fragility of a start. If you just looked at the boxscore, you’d come away thinking he didn’t really have anything on the day, but watching the game or even digging into the boxscore shows that it was more of one awful inning. His secondary offerings were working through four, but the fastball was spotty. It sat up at 96-97 mph all day, but didn’t get a single swing-through.

This put him in a spot where he basically had to be perfect with his slider (95% fastball/slider usage; 5% curves). He couldn’t induce two-strike chases against Marcus Semien and Khris Davis that led to a walk and then a three-run homer (with a Jed Lowrie strikeout on a slider sandwiched in between). They were virtually identical so I’ll give you the Semien one:

Perhaps the lack of confidence in his fastball led to over-reliance on the slider and Matt Olson caught a hanger just two pitches after the Davis homer to go back-to-back and tie the game at four:

If he had three good starts to open the season and then mixed in this dud, we’d barely blink, but since it’s his debut we’re supposed to be worried? I don’t think so, Tim. His velo was there and the slider was mostly great. Fastball command was lacking and a solid A’s offense eventually made him pay the way they’re likely to do throughout the season: via the home run. If anyone is selling, I’m buying… though I do have him in a nice 6-of-9 leagues possible so I’m invested.

Darvish

I was among those saying that there was a general overreaction to his World Series starts as he’d been awesome in his first two playoff starts. However, I didn’t invest in him because I have a general “stay away” rule with starters in their first year of a big new contract. They don’t all struggle and some even excel, but more than not have a dip so it’s a part of the player pool I put off to the side. The Darvish naysayers are feeling some validation after his debut in Miami as he allowed five runs on seven base runners in 4.3 innings.

He was primarily fastball-slider (93%), which including a big surge in sliders to 38% (career 23%, last year 25%). His nice 6.9% cutter usage might’ve included some hard sliders, too, but it has been classified as a distinct pitch throughout his career and there was really only a couple of the seven thrown that were slider-ish. Nothing was particularly sharp in this outing for Darvish, but I also don’t see it as a continuation of the World Series struggles. Maybe if there was a big velocity dip and/or he left with injury, I’d be sounding alarm bells, but there wasn’t so I’m not. You can probably net a little discount v. draft day cost, but I can’t envision someone aggressively selling for someone like Paul DeJong after one bad start.

Well, there it is! Let me know what you think in the comments below.

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Paul is the Editor of Rotographs and contributes to ESPN's Daily Notes. He is the purveyor of the SP Guide (on hiatus for '17). Follow Paul on Twitter @sporer, on Snapchat at psporer, and on Twitch at psporer24.

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