Nearly a year ago, I introduced you to my 2014 Andrew Cashner. If you had forgotten, Cashner was my favorite sleeper heading into 2013. Although the strikeout rate was a disappointment, he certainly delivered. The 2014 version (before Carlos Carrasco took over as my favorite sleeper) turned out to be Cashner’s rotation mate, Tyson Ross. And boy did he make his fantasy owners happy by posting a 2.81 ERA and punching out 195 batters, while winning 13 games.
After an uninspiring trio of stints with the Athletics shuttling between the rotation and bullpen, the Padres traded for him following the 2012 season. In his debut season with the Pads, his fastball velocity jumped, perhaps due to some mechanical tweaks, and he used his slider more frequently.
The increased slider usage was important because it went from being maybe an average pitch by SwStk% to absolutely dominating. In 2013, it generated a 24.8% SwStk%, which was all Ross needed to enjoy a surge in overall SwStk% and see his strikeout rate skyrocket to nearly 24%. Despite coming in at high velocity, his fastball was pretty weak at inducing swings and misses. It did generate over 50% grounders to make it an okay pitch, but it did nothing to boost his strikeout rate. This was all the slider.
So heading into the 2014 season, Ross would be given his first opportunity to be a part of a rotation all season long. With tons of ground balls, the promise of nearly a strikeout per inning and acceptable control, he had all the makings of a breakout star.
The fastball lost some of its velocity gains from the prior year, but still remained above his pre-2013 levels. It generated a below average rate of swinging strikes again though, but he chose to use his two-seamer more often this time. That pitch generated an identical SwStk%, but also grounders nearly 72% of the time!
Aside from changing his fastball mix, he also upped his slider usage even further to easily lead all qualified starters with his 41.2% rate. The pitch remained nearly as elite, generating a 23% SwStk% and inducing grounders over 50% of the time. He threw his changeup just about 4% of the time, which as you could guess, was nearly all to left-handed batters.
But despite essentially being a two-pitch pitcher, he hasn’t had trouble against lefties. He posted a 3.32 xFIP against them and allowed just a .289 wOBA this year, though his splits were a little more dramatic last season. Still, they weren’t to the point that anyone would claim he struggles against left-handers.
His control still has room to improve as his overall strike percentage remains below the league average, as does his F-Strike%. But that’s really just nitpicking, because an improvement in control without any degradation in strikeout rate would immediately make him one of the best pitchers in baseball. Seriously.
Given his nearly 60 inning jump from 2013 and love of the slider, he is seemingly a huge health risk in the near-term. But Jeff Zimmerman’s formula results in a 39.8% chance that he hits the DL in 2015, which is just about the average for the pitchers in his spreadsheet. I would still be a bit cautious, however.
Assuming Ross does stay off the DL and maintain good health, I would expect an ERA in the low-3.00 range, along with a boat load of strikeouts once again. He has the type of skill set I love, and an improvement in control can happen suddenly, vaulting him into the true upper echelon of fantasy starters (though too bad wins is still a category, which will remain a challenge for him to earn).
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.