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Evaluating Starting Pitchers Using CSW (2018-2019)

The Called-Strikes Plus Swinging Strike rate (CSW) metric developed by Nick Pollack and Alex Fast at Pitcher List is one that takes the next step in analyzing pitchers. We all love K-BB% and that’s a great metric that shows a pitcher’s ability to get batters out without putting the ball in play or vice-versa. The metric takes chance out of the equation such as fielder’s defense, weather conditions, etc. and really shows a pitcher’s skill. Swinging strike rate (SwStr%) also does a great job of showing how good a pitcher is at getting swings and misses. The missing piece is called strikes because not all pitches are created equal. A slider, on average, has a higher swinging strike rate by between 8-9% than a fourseam fastball. A pitcher who can effectively throw a slider 40% of the time will likely have a better SwStr% than a pitcher who relies heavily on his fastball and curveball and doesn’t throw a slider. CSW% accounts for these types of pitchers creating an even playing field.

I’ve looked at starting pitchers who have either increased or decreased their CSW% by at least 2% from the previous year. The minimum qualifiers are at least 1,250 pitches thrown in 2018 and at least 300 pitches thrown this season. Here’s the complete list.

player_nameCSW% Delta
Lucas Giolito5.4
Blake Snell5.1
Derek Holland5
Martin Perez4.8
Matthew Boyd4.8
Carlos Rodon4.7
Caleb Smith4.5
Jake Odorizzi4.4
Stephen Strasburg4.1
Mike Minor4
Felix Hernandez3.9
Luis Castillo3.7
Drew Pomeranz3.7
Tyler Glasnow3.4
Luke Weaver3.2
Tyler Mahle3.2
Kyle Gibson3
Jose Quintana2.9
Eduardo Rodriguez2.7
Lance Lynn2.6
Reynaldo Lopez2.5
Cole Hamels2.4
Trevor Richards2.2
Jake Arrieta2.1
Clayton Kershaw1.9
Dereck Rodriguez-2.3
Joey Lucchesi-2.3
Robbie Ray-2.4
Brad Keller-2.5
J.A. Happ-2.5
Jhoulys Chacin-2.6
Mike Fiers-2.6
Wei-Yin Chen-2.6
Trevor Cahill-2.7
Justin Verlander-2.8
Yonny Chirinos-2.8
Tyler Skaggs-2.9
Zack Godley-3.4
Sean Newcomb-3.4
Dan Straily-4.1
CC Sabathia-4.2
Antonio Senzatela-4.6
Mike Foltynewicz-4.6
Jason Vargas-4.7
Clay Buchholz-4.9
Vince Velasquez-5.2
Nick Pivetta-5.6

Here is the link to the Google Sheet. The first tab shows the pitcher’s CSW% rates form both 2018 and 2019. League average CSW% is 28.7%. You can read more here on the metric. I won’t touch on every pitcher on the list, but feel free to comment and ask me what I think about them going forward.

Risers

I snuck Clayton Kershaw in there even though he’s increased his CSW% by only 1.9% and not the 2% threshold, whoops. It’s enough for me to feel confident that the former best pitcher in baseball will at the very least be productive going forward. His fastball velocity is sitting at a career-low 90.5 MPH but he’s only throwing it 40% of the time. Home runs will be an issue and his strikeout rate won’t be elite, but should still be solid. I’d treat him as a top 15-20 SP going forward.

Lucas Giolito looks like he’s taking the next step in his career. His CSW% was a below-average 26.3% in 2018 and has shot up to a very solid 31.7% this year, nearly elite. The changes seem legitimate too! He’s increased his velocity by over 1.0 MPH on his fastball, completely stopped throwing his sinker, and increased the usage of his changeup. His sinker generated swinging strikes under 5% of the time in 2018, meanwhile, his changeup averages a SwStr% of over 17% and is up to 18.6% this year. He still struggles with control and command and his walk rate remains just over 10%, so he’s not all the way there. That being said, he should be owned in all leagues going forward.

So, Blake Snell is better than he was last year? Well, that’s kind of unfair. Snell won’t repeat his ERA from last season because the ERA-estimators pegged him for an additional 1.10-1.40 runs to his actual ERA. Snell has moved into the top five for starting pitchers for me rest-of-season and maybe top 3.

Luis Castillo is an ace. Not much more to say here. He already was a very good strikeout pitcher last year but has taken his skills to the next level. Unfortunately, I was a year early on Castillo but still fortunate to own him in two places this year.

Luke Weaver is back to where he was in the second half of 2017. He’s throwing his cutter more this year (14.5%) at the expense of his fastball but it isn’t much of an improvement though. It’s his changeup and curveball that have been taken to the next level. The BABIP against his changeup is sub-.200, so that’s bound to come up. I still like Weaver and believe in the improvements, but I do expect some regression in Weaver’s numbers going forward.

Matt Boyd and Caleb Smith are two guys who have both shown some skills before but never could sustain success. Boyd’s issues were more with his fastball and Smith couldn’t stay healthy last year. Both are here to stay, so get used to both of them being inside the top-25 starting pitchers going forward.

Stephen Strasburg no longer throws 97+ MPH but he’s still got a nasty changeup. He’s also throwing more sinkers which has increased his groundball rate. Normally, I would not be a fan of this type of pitch change but it hasn’t hurt his strikeout rate one bit. In fact, his SwStr% is at a career-high 15.6% with a CSW at 34.6% to back it up! If he stays healthy, he’s a top 5-7 option but injuries always seem to find him, so beware.

Ugh, it really sucks that we lost Tyler Glasnow and Carlos Rodon to injuries. Glasnow will likely return this year but we can’t rule out Tommy John Surgery and Rodon has elected to go under the knife. RIP until late-2020 and likely 2021. Both showed great improvements in CSW%, and are still very young, so keep the faith.

Tyler Mahle and Mike Minor both went from having below-average CSW rates to over 30% this year. I absolutely hate their home parks and as the heat rises so could their home run rates. The difference is that Mahle already carries an elevated HR/FB% at over 18% but Minor is sitting at just 10%. Minor also is a fly ball pitcher where Mahle is getting ground balls over 44% of the time. I don’t want to necessarily compare the two but I guess I am. Minor’s HR rate will likely increase and because of his home park, owners will likely need to sit him against tough opponents in Arlington. I feel the same about Mahle though in GAB. If I had to pick one, I’d lean Mahle for the strikeout upside. Either way, both should be owned but will require some maintenance.

Fallers

At the bottom of the list, we have a couple of Phillies. Nick Pivetta and Vince Velasquez. Obviously the popular sleeper, Nick Pivetta is back in Triple-A and VV hit the IL. I don’t want to touch either of them at any point this year, so just stay away.

I’m worried about Mike Foltyneiwicz. I’m willing to give him a little more time because he’s spent some time on the IL, but he was due for some strikeout regression after posting a 30.1% CSW rate last season. Now, he’s just over 25%, which is teetering on poor. There’s a lot of loud contact and fly balls coming off bats against Folty, but you have to hold in 12-team and deeper leagues as you likely spent a top 100-125 pick on him.

Don’t worry about Justin Verlander. He went from a 34% CSW rate to 31.2%. He probably won’t continue to be the number one SP all season but I’d still bet he finishes inside the top five or six. I think Robbie Ray is just fine as well. You know who his is at this point. He will still pile up the strikeouts, give you a decent ERA with an elevated WHIP. Ray is frustrating but has value.

Other than Verlander, Ray, and Tyler Skaggs, I essentially want no part of this group of pitchers except maybe Yonny Chirinos is deeper formats. He’s shown the ability to go as deep as seven innings in a couple of starts and should provide opportunities for wins when an opener is used in front of him. He’s due for some regression with his .205 BABIP but he doesn’t hurt himself with walks either. He needs to get his slider working in order to raise his CSW rate because his splitter is nasty. Skaggs is still intriguing to me. His velocity is down a hair but he’s ditched the sinker in favor of his curve and change. He’s just not getting ahead of hitters as much as he typically does. His first pitch strike rate is down 5% this year. If he rights that ship, his strikeout rate should improve and his ratios with start to drop.

Follow me @FreezeStats. Check out my work at FantasyPros and Pitcher List.


Photo credit: Chicago Tribune

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2019 Top 25 Starting Pitcher Rankings

Early 2019 Rankings for Starting Pitchers

Very little introduction here. Pretty straightforward, I rank my top 25 starting pitchers and follow up below with a blurb about some of the players and rankings. I touch on a few players that are left off and why. I plan on spitting out positional rankings as soon as the new year flips. On with it!

RANKPLAYERTEAM
1Max ScherzerWas
2Chris SaleBOS
3Jacob deGromNYM
4Justin VerlanderHOU
5Trevor BauerCLE
6Aaron NolaPHI
7Corey KluberCLE
8Blake SnellTB
9Gerrit ColeHOU
10Carlos CarrascoCLE
11Patrick CorbinWAS
12Luis SeverinoNYY
13Walker BuehlerLAD
14Noah SyndergaardNYM
15Clayton KershawLAD
16Stephen StasburgWAS
17German MarquezCOL
18James PaxtonNYY
19Zack GreinkeARI
20Mike ClevingerCLE
21Jameson TaillonPIT
22Zack WheelerNYM
23Jose BerriosMIN
24Jack FlahertySTL
25Mike FoltynewiczATL

I’ve been flip-flopping on Jacob deGrom and Chris Sale in the #2 spot. Sale’s skills are so far off the charts, that all he needs to do it reach 170 innings to provide the second most fantasy value per my projections. I have him at 182 IP and deGrom at 203 IP, so Sale gets the nod. If Sale could grace us with 200 IP, he’d be ahead of Scherzer, but Max is such a bulldog and has a badass name, so there’s that. If you search FanGraphs pitcher leaderboard for 2018, Sale doesn’t even show up because he only threw 158 innings. I guess you need 160 to qualify? If you’re wondering, Sale ranked 64th overall in innings pitched last season. However, his 237 strikeouts were good for 6th in MLB. You read that right, his 38.4% K rate laughed in the face of Justin Verlander, who finished 2nd at 34.8%.

I have a feeling that some of you are sitting there with your mouth agape looking at Trevor Bauer at number five overall. Here’s the deal though, Bauer ranked 4th overall in ERA and 8th is K% last season. Remember, he basically missed the last month+ with a stress fracture in his right leg. If we remove his short outings upon his return in late September, Bauer averaged 6.64 Innings per start. This is important for a lot of reasons but mostly because Bauer would have finished with around 215 innings and ranked 3rd or 4th in value for 2018. The average number of innings per start in 2018 was under 5.4, so yes, 6.64 is fantastic. Check out his Twitter and his work ethic, he’s always looking to improve. Me like Bauer!

I’m down a bit on Luis Severino, check out my player profile I posted a few days ago. Basically, Severino lacks a third quality pitch. Also, when he doesn’t properly elevate his 98 mph fastball, he gets punished. He also doesn’t possess a strong putaway pitch outside of his slider, that my friends can limit his strikeout upside. Sure, a K/9 between 9.5 and 10 is solid but because he’s grooving too many pitches, his ratios may take a hit. I like him, but he’s a back-end ace for me.

Yes, Walker Buehler is over Clayton Kershaw. I’m not going to wait until Kershaw completely breaks down to put Buehler ahead of him like those big box sites. This kid is for real and shouldn’t be limited to much of an innings cap (if at all) for 2019. We saw his skills and strikeout potential improve as the season roared on. Kershaw, on the other hand, is seeing his skills deteriorate and injuries have sapped his innings upside. Here’s the trend on Kershaw. K% last three seasons: 31.6%, 29.8%, 23.9%. The contact rates against him have jumped by 8% in that timeframe as well. It’s not just the strikeouts though, his homerun rate has spiked the last two seasons and has been firmly above league-average. Kershaw is a gamer and has a badass curve that he needs to throw more than 40% of the time to be successful. He will be fine, but not an ace.

Starting Pitchers who just Missed

The newly signed Tampa Bay Ray, Charlie Morton landed in the number 26 spot on my list. I very much wanted to put him in my top 25 but Morton’s win rate the last two season with Houston will not stand. Morton tallied 29 wins in only 55 starts with the Astros. Tampa is a good team but Morton has averaged just 157 innings the last two seasons and just turned 35. I love his stuff and that’s why he’s inside my top 30 despite the low innings projection.

A couple of boring low-strikeout guys Miles Mikolas and Kyle Hendricks are slotted at 27 and 28 because they have some very solid consistent skills. These guys have incredible control and regularly induce soft contact. Let’s play a little game of who is it? Who is the pitcher with the 5th lowest ERA since 2016? Did I give it away? Yes, it’s Kyle “The Professor” Hendricks. I don’t love the strikeout trend for Hendricks (hint: it’s going in the wrong direction), but he seems to defy the sabermetrics that I love so much. Mikolas is just a stud when it comes to control and pairs his elite slider with a solid 94-95 mph fastball. He keeps the ball on the ground which is muy importante when it comes to a lower strikeout rate.

I’ll get into guys like Rich Hill and Luis Castillo when I finalize my SP rankings and player projections, but both hover around 30 overall. Stay tuned.

(Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

If you enjoyed this ranking and writeup, follow me on Twitter @FreezeStats

Weekly Rundown – 4/21 – 4/27

HOT Hitters

The Notorious DIDI is at is again blasting 5 homers and driving in 13 runs while hitting over .450 this week. The league leader in RBI has continued his onslaught on MLB pitching. I’ll admit when I’m wrong and I was way off on Didi Gregorius coming into the season. He’s walking at a career high and striking out at a career low. He’s hitting that ball very hard and his high drive percentage is a hair under 20% (league average is around 6.1%). His xStats are great but the one interesting note is that xHR sits under 5 (currently has 10 homers). He’s outperformed his Stats in the past so I’m riding this out with Didi especially if he continues to hit in the middle of the Yankee lineup.

Michael A Taylor has had himself a week after a slow start filling out the stat sheet with 2 homers and 3 steals hitting .313. Taylor has been a great source of steals with 9 on the season but I’m not buying the hot streak. He has contact issues, hits too many ground balls and a lot of poor contact. His walk rate is up which is good and I’d hold him if you need steals or are in a deep league. In shallow leagues, he’s a sell for me right now.

Brandon Belt, the Prince of xStats is murdering baseballs. He’s hitting .455 this past week with 3 homers and leads the league in OPS (last 7 days). Whoops, nope, that’s Didi, Belt is second. The 6 homers on the season is a third of his career high in a single season. He’s rolling with career highs in both hard (high) and soft contact (low) which which tells me he’s selling out for power evidenced by his elevated O-swing and SwStr rates. I like the power gains but I’d sell him while he’s hot. If he maintains the power, which will be difficult at AT&T Park, he’s likely to lose 50 points on his average.

Kyle Schwarber has blasted 4 home runs this past week and has followed up a terrible 2017 with a hot start to 2018. So far, things are looking great, the strikeouts are down, the walks are up and the lower SwStr and O-Swing back that up. The one negative, I noticed is his launch angle is down to only 7 degrees. He’s hitting less fly balls, the ones he’s hitting have been fantastic, just check his 40% HR/FB rate. As great as that is, it won’t last. He’s not a sell, because he’s still stinging the ball and this lower LA could keep his average above .260.

Matt Davidson has 4 dingers this past week and continues to prove doubters wrong. He’s got 9 homers on the season but there are some underlying numbers that make me concerned about his season long term. The strikeout rate sits over 34% and his launch angle is below 9 degrees which is not ideal for a power hitter. As a result, he’s only hit fly balls 33% of the time which is more in line with a mid-teens to 20 homer type FB rate. Here’s the outrageous number of the day, his HR/FB is 60%! Yes, that’s correct, it leads the league by nearly 20% and almost doubles Bryce Harper’s 33% which ranks 3rd in MLB! In OBP leagues, I’m holding him because he has improved his walk rate but I’d sell high on him in standard leagues.

Freezing Hitters

J.D. Martinez is hitting .238 this past week. His Ks are up and BB are down. Has the decline for JDM begun? No, not even close, he’s hitting 60% of his batted balls hard. When he makes contact, it’s Judge-like, his average exit velocity is over 95 mph and his high drive rate is nearly 30% which is almost triple the league average! Per xStats, he’s actually been unlucky and should have more HRs and a higher average. If this cold stretch continues, I’m buying!

Chris Taylor has gone 5 for his last 26 with 2 runs, no homers, no RBI, and no steals. Ugh, this follow up to his 2017 breakout is a nightmare. He hasn’t stolen a base and his BABIP sits nearly 100 points lower than in 2017. We knew the .361 from last year was a bit inflated but this is low. He does have 3 homers and 10 XBH, and his contract rate is right where it was last year. He’s not hitting the ball quite as hard but I expect the numbers to up a bit, he’s a hold or moderate buy.

Andrew McCutchen is 2 for his last 16, that’s a .125 average but at least he taking walks, right? He hasn’t homers or stolen a base in that stretch and is now hitting under .200 for the season. Slow start for Cutch, but other than a slight increase in K rate, he’s the same guy. He’s still walking a ton, the BABIP will come back up and his 3 homers + 3 steals is solid. I’m buying Cutch right now.

Anthony Rizzo is 5 for his last 23 without a homer with a total of 1 bomb this year. He’s walking less and striking out more, very uncharacteristic of his track record. I’m worried about big Riz. His value hits are half of the league average and his poor hit rate is nearly 25% which is 5% over league average. His xStats don’t paint a much prettier picture, so it’s possible he’s hurt. If he keeps struggling the next couple weeks and they don’t DL him, I’m selling.

Justin Upton is in one of his slumps going 4 for his last 22 without a home run. Even though Upton was able to hold off an long slumps in his incredible 2017 campaign, he’s been known for prolonged slumps throughout the season. Nothing out of the ordinary for Upton. His batted ball profile and plate dicsiline is right in line with his previous seasons. It’s funny because the fantasy community believes Upton is inconsisten (especailly head to head players), but he’s as bankable as they come. He’l end up with a .260 BA, 26-30 HR, and 90-100 RBI.

Dee Gordon is hitting .192 in the last seven days without a steal. Where is Gordon’s value without steals? Now, he can’t steal bases every week but if you’re expecting 60 from him, you want that consistent production. The 9 steals on the season are nice and puts him on pace for over 50 steals. His speed hasn’t declined yet and so that’s good but he’s swinging and missing more so less opportunities to steal bases. If this keeps up, he’s probably more of a .285 guy with 50 steals than a .300-60 guy.

HOT Pitchers

Sean Manaea followed up his no hitter against the Red Sox with a gem against the World Series Champion Astros. No surprise, he’s the number one pitcher over the last seven days with 2 wins, 17 strikeouts, no earned runs and a WHIP of 0.44. He’s been amazing but he’s not an ace. His 98.2% LOB and a .148 BABIP just won’t stick. Don’t get me wrong , I love Manaea but he’s probably a 3.40-3.60 ERA pitchers with a K rate around 8.5/9. A solid #2 or 3.

Kyle Gibson has looked great in his last two starts with an ERA under 3.00 and a WHIP below 1.00 in that stretch along with 17 Ks in just over 12 innings. I’d be picking him up in 12 team leagues and deeper where available. His Swinging strike rate is up 3%, that is not insignificant. Yes, that’s a double negative. Otherwise, he’s the same guy, but more Ks equal less blow ups. I think he can be a solid number five or six, so hold or pick up for now.

Miles Mikolas has proved to be more than ready to dominate Major League hitters giving up only four earned runs in his last three starts. He needs to be owned in even the shallowest of leagues if available. He was bit by the long ball in his first few starts and could be an issue going forward, but he’s averaging over 95 mph on his fastball and allows a lot of weak contact. I’m buying now, but keep an eye on the velocity, if that dips, he may be starting to fatigue. If that happens, you need to sell.

Chris Tillman, yes everyone Chris Tillman pitched seven innings last night without giving up a homer or a run for that matter. He struck five and has a 2.77 ERA and a 0.92 WHIP in his last two starts. Here’s my advice for you on Tillman, don’t pick him up and if you own him in a super deep league SELL! He’s allowing a .313 BA with a .571 SLG. xStats actually says he’s been lucky! His walk rate and strikeout rate are identical. Excuse me….Sorry, I just threw up, but I’m back. SELLLLLLLL

Freezing Pitchers

Marcus Stroman has an 8.88 ERA on the season with his worst starts coming this past week.  He’s given up 14 runs (12 ER) in his last 10.2 IP, he also walks four in his start against the Yankees. Ground ball rate is great vut his hard contact given up is high. His average exit velo against is over 92 mph. That’s not good fam. He has been unlucky but his control is off as well with a 12+% BB rate, so he’s paying for allowing the walks and the hard contact. I don’t like what he’s doing and his velocity is down. I’m selling, he’s a streamer, nothing more.

Luis Castillo has given up eight earned runs in his last six innings along with 13 hits and six walks! This one really hurts. His velocity wasn’t bad last night, he was regularly hitting 96 mph and touched 97 but his command and control was off. He’s stuff is good but he’s making way too many mistakes. He also doesn’t trust his slider, he threw a total of three sliders and they all went for balls. This is a problem, if he’s not hurt he’s droppable in 10 team leagues. In deeper leagues you have to hold him for now. If he hits the DL then at least there’s a reason for his poor performance.

Danny Duffy has given up 10 earned runs in his last two starts while striking out only five batters in 10.2 IP. I’ll make this quick, I’m out on Duffy, Velocity is down a bit, swings and misses are down, contact up, hard contact up, I could keep going. He’s a drop in shallow leagues and ell low in deep leagues.

Clayton Kershaw has not looked sharp as he walked six batters, yes SIX, in his last start against the Marlins of all teams. It’s not just the walks but his 14 hits allowed in his last 12 innings is also no Kershaw like. Check out this great deep dive into Kershaw’s struggles from Nick Pollack on RotoGraphs. Basically, his fastball command is off and his velocity is down. It’s completely devalued the pitch which has been so great for Kershaw in his career and throws off the sequencing of his awesome curve and slider. I had Kershaw as the #3 SP coming into the year and if he can’t correct this fastball issue, I may be dropping him outside the top 5 or 6 overall SPs. Don’t sell yet, but monitor the situation.