The Pitches Powering Drops in CSW%

Since we’ve now covered the whiffiest pitches around and taken a look at the pitchers at the top of the CSW% leaderboard, it’s time to see who’s been living on the flip side and turning in the biggest drops in CSW%.

CSW% LaggingBoard?…LaggerBoard? Neither one exactly rolls off the tongue (and LaggardBoard sounds like it might trigger a Mike Podhorzer copyright violation) so let’s just stay label free on a beautiful Friday here in baseball heaven and get right to the numbers.

We’ll use the starting pitchers (min. 100 batters faced) who’ve seen their CSW% drop by at least two points in 2022 to make up our pool, including SwStr%, CallStrike%, and K-BB%. For added context on benchmarks, here were the percentile ranges for starting pitchers in 2021 (min. 100 IP, n=115):

2021 Percentile Ranks
Percentile CSW% SwStr% CStr%
10th 25.0% 8.6% 14.8%
50th 28.0% 11.2% 16.5%
80th 30.0% 12.7% 18.2%
95th 31.5% 15.0% 19.3%
Leader 33.8% (Burnes) 16.7% (Kershaw) 21.6% (Wainwright)

Admit you’re surprised at the SwStr% leader. Regardless, here’s the board that shall not be named but which you absolutely do not want to be leading:

Biggest Drops in CSW%
Name 2021 TBF 2022 TBF 2021 CSW% 2022 CSW% CSW +/- 2021 SwStr% 2022 SwStr% 2021 CStr% 2022 CStr% 2021 K-BB 2022 K-BB
Austin Gomber 488 133 30.4 22.3 -8.1 11.3 9.7 19.1 12.6 14.8 14.3
Shane Bieber 405 135 33.5 26.1 -7.4 16.2 12.7 17.4 13.5 24.9 14.8
Charlie Morton 756 134 31.0 24.2 -6.8 12.4 7.9 18.6 16.3 20.9 4.5
Trevor Rogers 550 119 30.4 23.7 -6.7 14.1 8.7 16.4 15.0 20.2 6.7
Michael Kopech 285 114 33.0 26.7 -6.3 14.1 10.5 18.9 16.2 27.7 14.9
Antonio Senzatela 670 129 25.0 19.3 -5.7 8.6 6.1 16.4 13.2 10.9 0.8
Justin Steele 248 104 28.6 23.2 -5.4 11.3 7.7 17.3 15.5 12.9 5.8
Eduardo Rodriguez 675 135 28.1 23.3 -4.8 11.7 6.3 16.4 17.1 20.4 14.8
Robbie Ray 773 174 29.6 25.0 -4.6 15.5 13.3 14.1 11.7 25.4 14.9
Zach Eflin 442 102 28.3 23.8 -4.5 10.2 9.7 18.1 14.1 18.8 12.7
José Urquidy 423 121 28.4 24.3 -4.1 11.8 8.8 16.6 15.5 16.8 12.4
Elieser Hernandez 225 133 28.9 24.9 -4.0 10.9 9.7 18.0 15.3 17.3 14.3
Framber Valdez 572 138 28.8 24.8 -4.0 10.2 9.8 18.6 15.0 11.7 8.0
Marco Gonzales 585 119 25.7 21.9 -3.8 9.1 6.6 16.6 15.3 11.3 5.9
Yusei Kikuchi 666 114 28.8 25.3 -3.5 12.5 11.3 16.4 14.0 15.2 8.8
José Quintana 297 125 27.4 24.0 -3.4 11.9 9.8 15.5 14.2 16.8 9.6
Frankie Montas 778 171 29.2 25.8 -3.4 13.7 12.5 15.5 13.3 19.3 17.0
Clayton Kershaw 488 109 32.7 29.4 -3.3 16.7 12.0 16.0 17.4 25.2 26.6
Zack Greinke 697 134 26.7 23.4 -3.3 9.2 5.2 17.6 18.2 12.1 5.2
Drew Rasmussen 307 112 29.0 25.8 -3.2 11.0 11.2 18.0 14.6 15.6 17.0
Madison Bumgarner 613 124 28.1 25.2 -2.9 9.6 7.3 18.5 17.9 13.9 6.5
José Berríos 781 157 29.0 26.2 -2.8 9.9 8.5 19.2 17.7 20.4 8.3
Nathan Eovaldi 764 163 29.9 27.4 -2.5 12.6 12.5 17.3 14.9 20.9 21.5
Alex Wood 585 128 32.3 29.9 -2.4 12.5 10.6 19.8 19.3 19.3 16.4
Tanner Houck 285 101 30.5 28.1 -2.4 13.5 9.9 17.0 18.1 23.2 11.9
Germán Márquez 756 147 28.0 25.7 -2.3 12.1 8.8 16.0 17.0 14.8 10.9
Aaron Ashby 133 107 33.5 31.2 -2.3 13.3 11.2 20.1 20.0 20.3 7.5
Michael Wacha 528 100 25.3 23.1 -2.2 11.4 8.8 13.9 14.3 17.0 8.0
Michael Lorenzen 125 115 27.4 25.3 -2.1 12.3 11.1 15.2 14.2 5.6 9.6
Triston McKenzie 495 115 27.2 25.1 -2.1 12.6 10.2 14.7 14.9 15.8 18.3
Logan Gilbert 503 153 25.9 23.9 -2.0 12.5 10.0 13.4 13.9 19.9 18.3

Before we talk about the individual pitches driving these drops, let’s add a little color to the numbers above, further highlighting what tiers their performance has moved into this season and including K% and BB%, along with +/- columns for SwStr% and CStr%:

I hate to head back to a well so soon but if you show me a leaderboard of drops in virtually any category, I can probably show you Shane Bieber, who, most recently got shelled by Toronto (3.1 IP, 7 ER, 8 H, 3 BB, 0 K). More concerning than one bad start was the velocity that was again down, averaging 89.9 mph and topping out at 90.9 mph. That’s another tick down from a season average that was already two down from 2021.

This is less than an ideal blueprint for average velocity:

It’s not just the fastball that is slower, either, with his entire mix coming in slower than last season, along with significant drops in spin across the board. Not to mention in regards to movement…and whiffs…and, well, take a look yourself:

It’s the dealer’s choice if you’re looking for the reason Bieber has a 26.1% CSW% that’s down from a 32.3% CSW% for his career and has never been lower than the 31.7% CSW% he posted in his 2018 rookie season. But the biggest decrease belongs to the formerly prime curveball, which is down in whiffs but has really dipped in its ability to get strikes, dropping from an above-average 18.5% CallStr% last year to the basement of 6.6% in 2022.

The heatmaps back that dip up, back that dip up; umps will call them big balls when you back that dip up:

 

Perhaps I’m just overreacting to a six-start sample but I don’t think you need to be fluent in semaphore to pick up what all of the red flags above seem to be frantically trying to convey. Whether mechanical or injury-related, something is up with Bieber, and regardless of what it is, it should feel like a sword of Damocles for those currently rostering him.

I’d still start him in 15+ -team leagues (and am the one place I have him), getting a Minnesota offense that has been middling vs RHP (.303 wOBA, 21st). But I’d be sitting him in 12-team leagues and below unless your pitching options are super limited. The conservative wing of the fantasy kingdom might see that as overreactive and maybe I’ll miss a classic Bieber gem with velocity that has magically returned. But given the pool of solid starts that are usually available in shallower leagues, I’ll take my chances on the gap between him and his replacement not being cavernous, particularly when weighed with the chance of blowup – and ones that tend to be more likely when tossing up that 89 mph cheese.

Trevor Rogers is near the top of the board for drops in CSW% but don’t get too worked up about how disastrous a 5.00 ERA and 1.48 WHIP appear to be. Those no-good ratios are driven by two rotten starts against Arizona (4.1 IP, 5 ER) and Philadelphia (1.2 IP, 7 ER) but in his other four starts, Rogers has allowed a total of just three earned runs. But he’s still living dangerously, with more walks and fewer whiffs leading to a subpar 6.7% K-BB% that is down from 20.2% in 2021.

There’s nothing different about his pitch mix and besides the slider (-2.2 mph, -122 rpm), the velocity and spin rates are also where they’ve been before. The slower slider has gotten fewer whiffs and called strikes but what jumps off the page is the decrease in SwStr% for the changeup that had been the showpiece for Rogers in the past. The 20.2% SwStr% for the changeup for the highest among his arsenal in 2021 but is the lowest at an 8.8% SwStr% this season.

While still well above average, the changeup has been less consistent in getting the sharp bite that it does when it’s at its best. But lack of consistency is a far cry from it lacking the plus shape that has made it so effective in the past.

Ask Travis d’Arnaud if it’s any easier to hit (hint: it’s not):

Animated GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Rogers will go as his elite changeup does but its early lack of whiffs doesn’t have me too concerned. The movement is still excellent and the velo bump on his four-seamer from last season has stuck around, keeping a 10 mph separation between the two. As long as the slider can continue serving as an effective third offering and keep him off the Paddack-path, I’d bet on Rogers continuing to round back into strikeout rates a lot closer to 30% than 20%.

Uncle Charlie Morton, why has thou forsaken us? Morton has been an early-season bust, posting a 5.65 ERA (5.08 FIP) and 1.64 WHIP over his first six starts, with just a 4.5% K-BB% that includes a 17.2% K% which is his lowest rate since 2015. But is this the beginning of the inevitable decline of the 38-year-old pitcher, or just some more of the early struggles that he also had in 2021 before ultimately finishing the season with a 3.34 ERA (3.18 FIP) and 28.6% K%?

Outside of the cutter, all of Morton’s pitches have contributed to a 24.2% CSW% that is down from 30.9% in 2021 and is the lowest since a 22.6% CSW% in 2012. But while his overall CallStr% is down two points, the big problem has been the sudden dearth of whiffs across his pitch mix. Three of his pitches have seen drops of at least five points in SwStr% (with the cutter dropping 4.4 points), while every pitch’s Whiff% has also taken a major hit.

All of his pitches have struggled to get whiffs but most concerning is the diminished performance against the bread-and-butter combo of his four-seamer (37% usage) and curveball (38% usage). The SwStr% and Whiff% on the heater have both been nearly halved, while the curveball is running a mundane 12.9% SwStr% (down from 18.4%) and 32.9% Whiff% that is down from 40.1%.

The velocity and spin of the FF/CB combo have stayed the same, as has their relative vertical movement. But there has been a lot less wiggle on the horizontal plane, with Morton’s four-seamer getting 29% more horizontal break in 2022 compared to 59% more in 2021. And the curveball has dropped to 39% more break compared to an average of 55% in 2021, 61% in 2020, 77% in 2019, and 91% in 2018.

It would be one thing if it were just the whiffs that were suffering but the pair aren’t just failing to generate them, they’re also getting thumped in the process:

Charlie Morton 2017-2022
Year Pitch Type BA SLG WOBA
2017 4-Seam Fastball .133 .244 .219
2018 4-Seam Fastball .239 .398 .327
2019 4-Seam Fastball .217 .384 .296
2020 4-Seam Fastball .277 .404 .350
2021 4-Seam Fastball .230 .355 .292
2022 4-Seam Fastball .318 .500 .407
2017 Curveball .114 .217 .176
2018 Curveball .135 .250 .212
2019 Curveball .151 .228 .185
2020 Curveball .228 .456 .296
2021 Curveball .127 .187 .180
2022 Curveball .257 .429 .349

This isn’t to say that Morton has stepped off of the cliff, never to return, but when an older pitcher is getting dramatically worse results from his two main pitches, fantasy players would be wise to pay attention.

He is coming off of his best start of the year against a good Milwaukee offense (5 IP, 0 ER, 5 K) but until we’re consistently seeing something closer to the Morton from the past few seasons, I’m comfortable with him grabbing some fantasy pine if you have better options. And if he can’t handle a San Diego offense in his next time out that has had a bottom-10 offense vs RHP, before facing a Miami team that has also struggled vs RHP as of late, more difficult decisions may need to be made.





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