Why We Missed: Breakout Pitchers

A couple of weeks back, I examined why the industry might have missed on some breakout hitters. It was tough to find anything actionable with the hitting breakouts. It’s now time to see any useful information that can be extracted from the pitching side.

I collected the information on any pitcher who finished the season with positive production in a 15-team league and saw more than a $10 jump in value from their draft-day price. I didn’t want to just use the difference in ranks because the gap from #1 to #15 could be over $10 but the difference between #250 to #300 might just be $1. In all, 46 pitchers made the cut

There were several more categories than hitters butseveral are actionable. One item I ran into was an issue with where to draw a line with the change. Bradley Newman pointed out the mechanical changes Giolito went through to see his production drastically improve.

The changes were the root cause but if his plate discipline stayed the same, the adjustments wouldn’t have mattered. Also, it’s tough for the average fan to find out about these adjustments in real-time. The linked article was taken from late-May after Giolito was already universally owned. It was useless for any fantasy owner.

Here are the pitchers, the reasons they may have been undervalued, and an analysis of some common trends.

Reasons Why We Missed
NAME1 IP W IP jump >= 20 K/9 > 1.0 increase BB/9 > 1.0 drop Dropped pitch Added pitch pitch mix change’ Increase Fbv Unexpected Saves
Justin Verlander 223 21
Gerrit Cole 212 20
Lucas Giolito 5.1 1.8 x 1.9
Lance Lynn 208 16 1.6 1.8 x 1
Shane Bieber 214 15 1.6 x
Mike Soroka x
Charlie Morton 194 16 27 x
Hyun-Jin Ryu 100
Jake Odorizzi 15 1.1 1.8
Sonny Gray 45 2.0 x x
Stephen Strasburg 209 18 79
Mike Minor 208 51 1.0 x
Zack Greinke 208 18
Emilio Pagan 3.2 1.1 1.7 x
Domingo German 18 53
Taylor Rogers 1.8 x 1.4 x
Max Fried 17 54 2.8 x
Héctor Neris x x
Hansel Robles 2 x 1 x
Luis Castillo 20 1.9 x
Josh Hader 1.1 x
Jack Flaherty 1 1.2
Jeff Samardzija 114 2.8 x x
Seth Lugo 2.6 x x
Will Smith 1.1 x
Eduardo Rodriguez 203 19 66
Clayton Kershaw 16
Mike Fiers 15 1
Dakota Hudson 45 1.5 x x
Ian Kennedy 2.5 x x 2.6 x
Ryan Yarbrough 1.8
Chris Bassitt 1.1 x x x 1.5
Frankie Montas 4.7 x x
Kirby Yates 2.1 x
Anthony DeSclafani 32 1.1
Yonny Chirinos
Matthew Boyd 3.2 x x 1.6
Jordan Lyles 54 x x
Chris Paddack 51
Merrill Kelly
Homer Bailey 57 1.8 x x
Marcus Stroman 78 1.0 x x
Wade Miley 61 2.0 x
Patrick Corbin 202 1
Brandon Woodruff
Adam Wainwright 109
Count 10 13 18 18.0 10 8 4 22.0 14 9
Average 208.1 60.9 2.2 1.8 1.4


Reasons Why We Missed (Part 2)
NAME1 Crowded MLB rotation 1st mlb season Limited Times-thru-order MiLB IP not taken into account Injury history No respect Agism Dodgeritis
Justin Verlander x
Gerrit Cole
Lucas Giolito
Lance Lynn x
Shane Bieber x x
Mike Soroka x x x
Charlie Morton x
Hyun-Jin Ryu x x x
Jake Odorizzi x
Sonny Gray
Stephen Strasburg x
Mike Minor
Zack Greinke x x
Emilio Pagan
Domingo German x x
Taylor Rogers
Max Fried x
Héctor Neris
Hansel Robles
Luis Castillo
Josh Hader
Jack Flaherty x
Jeff Samardzija x x
Seth Lugo
Will Smith
Eduardo Rodriguez
Clayton Kershaw x x
Mike Fiers x
Dakota Hudson x
Ian Kennedy x
Ryan Yarbrough x x x
Chris Bassitt x
Frankie Montas
Kirby Yates
Anthony DeSclafani
Yonny Chirinos x x x x
Matthew Boyd
Jordan Lyles
Chris Paddack x
Merrill Kelly x
Homer Bailey
Marcus Stroman x
Wade Miley x x
Patrick Corbin x
Brandon Woodruff
Adam Wainwright x x
Count 5 6 3 7 2 11 5


  • Wins. It’s tough to project any pitcher for more than 15 to 16 Wins. Those who near 20 see a huge jump in their final value.
  • On the same note, any pitcher who has an innings jump will obviously be more valuable. Eighteen pitchers saw their innings total from the previous season jump by over sixty innings. An additional seven seems to not have their minor league innings accounted for in their projections. Good pitchers who have a suspect past might group of pitchers to invest in since they have the upside of 180 to 200 innings (see Stephen Strasburg).
  • The holy grail of increase projection can be seen by a higher strikeout rate caused by a higher fastball velocity and/or a change in their pitch mix. Twenty-two experienced a repertoire change while 14 saw their fastball velocity jump by about 1.5 mph. These changes can be spotted quickly and should be the focus of any early season analysis.
  • Quite a few pitchers were getting no respect with a heavy dosing of over-30 agism thrown in. If owners are looking for an edge, they might need to: “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me…”
  • A common theme is obvious with closers and extremely actionable. Besides Yates, Smith, and Hader, the other closers who jump up were 1) in a suspect bullpen situation and 2) saw a talent jump from the previous season. Grinding through the bullpens of suspects closers for breakouts might be a way to find Saves on the cheap.
  • I expected more pitchers to fall into the rookie and injured categories. The breakouts aren’t coming from these groups. It’s pitchers changing for the better. Focus on pitchers already in the majors.

The big actionable information from this study is to find pitchers who are changing for the better. It can be either starters or relievers in shaky bullpen situations. Owners should not become attached to their drafted starters and grind the waiver for breakouts.

Jeff, one of the authors of the fantasy baseball guide,The Process, writes for RotoGraphs, The Hardball Times, Rotowire, Baseball America, and BaseballHQ. He has been nominated for two SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis and won it in 2013 in tandem with Bill Petti. He has won three FSWA Awards including on for his MASH series. In his first two seasons in Tout Wars, he's won the H2H league and mixed auction league. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.

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do a post op piece on everyone said to be “in the best shape of my career” in spring training


that and the velo jumps in ST and April please!


Willie Calhoun!