Tyler Skaggs is Back

After missing the entirety of the 2015 season and nearly two-thirds of this season, former top prospect Tyler Skaggs finally made his triumphant return from Tommy John surgery on Tuesday. Though the surface results are meaningless, he did go seven innings, striking out five, while issuing just one walk. The now-25-year-old showed serious strikeout ability in the minors and his ground ball spike in 2014 was intriguing. And although his strikeout rate slipped in 2014, his fastball velocity jumped three miles per hour, which is almost unheard of when it’s not related to a move from the starting rotation to the bullpen. So we had the makings of a true sleeper here. Now that he’s back, is he worth rostering?

I generally stay away from TJ returnees during the season of their return. The pitchers often have setbacks on their road to recovery, or do return successfully, but find themselves back on the disabled list in short order. Furthermore, research shows us that TJ returnees often struggle with control, while we know that arm strength and fastball velocity don’t always return immediately. So is Skaggs any different a case?

The short answer is no. However, there is a piece of good news from his first start. In 2014, according to PITCHf/x, Skagg’s four-seam fastball jumped from an average velocity of 89.5 mph in 2013 to 92 mph. When we see such a large jump, you always have to question how sustainable it is. Velocity declines with age and any time we see a sudden spike in anything, we wonder if it’s a fluke or not.

Well, in his Tuesday start, Skaggs actually averaged 92.4 mph with his fastball, peaking at 95.4, which is 0.4 mph higher than his previous peak! That’s pretty incredible considering it was his first Major League start back after the surgery and his 39.1 innings during his rehab were the first he has thrown since 2014. You have to assume he will continue building arm strength, meaning he may very well get that fastball velocity up to 93 mph or so.

That’s important because his fastball hasn’t been all that good through his short career, as it has generated a below average SwStk% and lots of fly balls. Added velocity could certainly improve the pitch’s effectiveness. Skaggs’ two secondary offerings, his curve and changeup, have both been pretty darn good, inducing swings and misses more often than the average bear and also generating more grounders, especially the curve. A better fastball could make this repertoire real exciting.

Getting back to his first start, while it was good from a results and velocity perspective, it surprisingly wasn’t from a whiff standpoint. Both his fastball and curve generated low rates of swings and misses and out of his nine changeups, none were swung at and missed. Of course, it’s just one start, so it’s nothing to look too deeply into.

As I hinted at earlier, I’m not ready to jump on the Skaggs bandwagon at this moment. But if this velocity sticks, he could be a prime sleeper next year and he’s an excellent target in keeper leagues. I wouldn’t expect him to earn much value this year, though, outside of AL-Only leagues.

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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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