After just a start or two, all we really care about for starting pitchers is thus:
2) Pitch mix
3) Underlying skills like GB% and SwStk%
I’m going to tackle the latter, the starting pitchers who have posted monster SwStk% marks in their first start. I’m going to mainly include surprises near the top of the leaderboard. Sorry Jacob deGrom, you and your ridiculous, second ranked 18.3% SwStk% will not be discussed here.
Man I heart Domingo German. I was the only one to “Pick” him in the 2019 Fantasy Baseball Guide preseason magazine. It was only one start of five innings facing 21 batters, and those batters donned a Tigers uniform, but wow, a 20% SwStk% is insanely impressive no matter how you slice it. He primarily worked his fourseamer and curveball, but the SwStk% results for each of his pitches in the outing is a thing of beauty:
Can’t get much better than that! I’m starting him in all league formats for as long as he remains in the rotation.
Having returned from TJ surgery, it was nice to see Michael Pineda post a scintillating 17.5% SwStk% in his first start since 2017. All is not well though, as the velocity on that fastball was just 90.6 MPH, which was down significantly from where he sat pre-surgery. While it’s likely that his velocity will gradually rise, it has actually been nearly two years since the surgery, so it’s hard to believe he still needs time to build up his arm strength. Even with a 94 MPH fastball, he hasn’t posted an ERA below 4.37 since 2014, so without anything close to that velocity, I’m not interested at all.
Matt Shoemaker enjoyed another strong outing, but his results are not included in the above SwStk%. I would assume he generated lots of whiffs, though a 17.2% mark is tough to repeat. Shoemaker has always been surprisingly strong in SwStk% thanks to a ridiculous splitter. The one minor concern I have right now is that in his first outing, his velocity was down 1.4 MPH from last year, and would represent the lowest mark of his career. Statcast tells us that last night’s velocity was no better, so I’m a bit worried as a happy Shoemaker owner so far.
There were oddly conflicting reports on Julio Teheran’s velocity during the spring, but so far in his first start, his velocity was up, rebounding off of last year’s career low mark. The good news is the velocity isn’t down further and has bounced back, but this is where he used to be, so this isn’t actually a velocity surge compared with his career. He traded his sinker for more of his slider in that first outing, which makes sense until his elbow explodes as his slider has been elite at generating whiffs, while his sinker…not so much. This is an easy call — if Teheran decides to keep throwing his slider over 30% of the time, automatic career best strikeout rate. But will he do so?
Jorge Lopez is one of the few starting pitchers still sitting in free agency in my two AL-Only leagues. And yet he posted a SwStk% over 14% in his first start! Who saw that coming?! Lopez has had flashes of pretty good strikeout rates and solid SwStk% marks in the minors. It was a weird first start this year, as his fastball velocity was down nearly two MPH, sounding some alarm bells, while he jacked up the usage of his curveball, essentially making him a two-pitch pitcher. Both pitches generated double digit SwStk% marks, led by the curve’s crazy 24.3% mark. I love the park and like the defense, but the velocity decline is concerning enough that I’m not yet interested in my AL-Only leagues. He’s certainly worth monitoring, however, if nothing else other than curiosity given the pitch mix.
Anthony DeSclafani has dealt with a strained oblique twice in three years, which sandwiched an elbow injury in between. The one time sleeper made good in 2016, but was terrible last year. Unlike some of the others on the list, DeSclafani’s velocity was actually higher than any season in his career, while he upped the usage of his curveball, which generated a drool-worthy 42.9% SwStk% in 14 pitches. His slider was meh, but it’s been his best pitch in the past, while his fastball was excellent. I think he’s definitely back on the sleeper radar.
Even though Sandy Alcantara throws in the mid-90s and apparently peaked at 101.1 MPH back in 2017, he wasn’t much of a strikeout pitcher at Double-A or Triple-A. Because as well all know, it takes more than just a hard fastball to rack up the strikeouts. So what did Alcantara do his first start? Throw his slider nearly half the time! It still was just average from a SwStk% perspective, but it didn’t have to be any better to lead to a strong overall SwStk% given how often he threw it. His control has been an issue at times, so that’s probably a bigger key to his success than his strikeout rate. He’ll be fascinating to watch, as that fastball leads to all kinds of dreaming.
So far so good on my number eight bold prediction! Lucas Giolito’s velocity was indeed up, about 1.4 MPH from last year. The improved fastball likely increased the effectiveness of his changeup, which looked awesome. His only threw it 11 times, but his slider was fantastic as well. The weirdest thing is that when Giolito was coming up, his curveball was all the rage. In fact, the 60/70 grade on the pitch that was reported in 2017 is still sitting at the top of his page. Yet, the curve has generated a pathetic 6% SwStk% rate for his career. I have no idea what happened. Just goes to show yet again that pitchers are always changing.
Jake Odorizzi — 52.4% strikeout rate. His fastball velocity was up, but this was merely a rebound back to 2015 and 2016 levels. Still, seeing that this early is a good sign, and there’s a good chance his final season velocity average sets a new career high. The majority of his swinging strikes came from his fastball, which posted an I-don’t-believe-it 24.3% SwStk%. Even his sinker, which is usually thrown to induce a grounder, not a whiff, generated a 13% SwStk%! The slider was meh, and his other three pitches thrown a combined 24 times generated zero swings and misses. Given the breakdown of his SwStk% marks, I’m quite a bit less optimistic about his ability to sustain such an inflated SwStk% mark compared to some of the others on this list.
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.