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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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Starting Pitchers to Stream Week 4 (4/22-4/28)

What a week of baseball! Christian Yelich can’t stop hitting bombs and every stud pitcher is getting blown up expect my beloved Trevor Bauer and last year’s heartthrob Luis Castillo. Link. deGrom and Snell went down with injuries this week, Scherzer, Cole, Sale, Nola, get blown up; it’s crazy! This is why streaming pitchers like Jordan Lyles and Caleb Smith are so important. In some instances, they are outperforming the aces. Let’s look at some solid options for Week 4.

Luke Weaver (SP – ARI) 17% owned @PIT Tuesday 4/23
I’m not really sure why Luke Weaver is owned in only 17% of leagues. I have a feeling his ownership jumps over 25% by the end of next week. He totaled 17 strikeouts in his last two outings and was touching 97 MPH in his last start. His K-BB% is 21.6% which is tied for 20th among qualified starters. This matchup is nice as the Pirates who just lost Starling Marte in a scary collision on Friday night. He has since been placed on the IL, the lineup is essentially a Triple-A lineup with Josh Bell as the team’s best hitter. As a team, the Pirates are ranked 23rd in the league in wOBA (.290) and have hit just 13 homers on the young season, good (bad) for second-lowest total in the bigs. Easy Stream here.

Pablo Lopez (SP – MIA), 4% owned @CLE, Tuesday 4/23
Lopez is a well-kept secret but the word is about to get out. His 5.85 ERA is a mirage thanks to a .386 BABIP and a 61.1% strand rate. His 23% K-BB% is actually better than our boy Weaver above and his velocity is up over one MPH this year. He gets Cleveland who receives a much-needed boost with the return on Lindor but doesn’t move the needle enough for me given the current 27% strikeout rate the Indians have as a team. My only concern is how deep he will go. He’s only averaging five innings per start, so a quality start might be tough to get. I still think he’s in for more than a strikeout per inning and solid ratios. Stream

Jordan Lyles (SP – PIT), 25% owned Home vs ARI, Wednesday 4/24
Lyles is right on the cusp of going over my 25% ownership cap. Why? Well, he’s rocking a 0.83 ERA with a 0.88 WHIP in 17 innings. Look, he’s not this good, not even close but a PNC is great pitchers park. However, the Diamondbacks have been better than advertised offensively and Lyles is due for some regression. The DBacks have already hit 32 homers and have a .339 wOBA as a team. Lyles struggles against lefties and the DBacks have some solid lefty bats (Peralta, Marte, Escobar) along with hot-hitting righty Christian Walker to handle Lyles. I’m going to pass on this start for Lyles, besides, he hurt his hand in his last outing, so I think this is where regression sets in. Stay Away.

Martin Perez (SP – MIN), 1% owned at home vs BAL, Friday 4/26
A home start against the Orioles at home is a nearly ideal situation for Perez. He’s essentially a new pitcher because he no longer is a soft-tosser averaging near 95 MPH which has skyrocketed his swinging strike rate and K%. In his start on Saturday, he wasn’t great but got the win thanks to an offensive explosion. The Orioles are deploying Chris Davis almost every day, which should tell you how poor their lineup is. Perez should be good for at least five to six strikeouts in this one (maybe 3 from C Davis) and a good chance at a win. Stream

Jered Eickhoff (SP – PHI), 2% Owned at home vs MIA, Friday 4/26
Eickhoff has been called up with the move to send Pivetta down to the Minors and he gets the Marlins at home next week. Look, Eickoff missed most of 2018 with injuries and hasn’t been good since 2016 but he seems to have a better pitch mix. His fastball is not good and he’s throwing it a lot less than in 2017. Getting the Marlins at home should help keep his ratios in check. The Phillies offense should put up plenty of run support against Jose Urena. I’d look to stream Eickhoff in 14-team leagues and deeper. Stream lightly here

Jake Odorizzi (SP – MIN), 10% owned Home vs BAL, Sunday 4/28

I already bashed the Orioles in the Perez blurb but can what else can we say about them? We know they strike out a lot. Would you believe me if I told you Odorizzi has a 14.3% swinging strike rate and has allowed just a 66.4% contact rate? That’s over 10% lower than the league average! We have to keep in mind that Odorizzi is a junkballer and can struggle to find the plate. There’s risk here but I like that this start is at home. Stream

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


(Photo: Rob Schumacher/The Republic)

Weekly Rundown – King Cron & Macahdo Man

HOT HITTERS
Willson Contreras is finally heating up. I saw somewhere that in only four games he jumped from a .230 average and .669 OPS to a .281 average and an .868 OPS. A reminder that we are still in the small(ish) sample portion of the season. I may be cheating a bit because I’m including his two-homer game on 5/11 but he’s got 3 HR, 5 runs, and 11 RBI in the last 7 games he’s played.

C.J. Cron has been on fire and is sticking it to his old team by hitting .353 4 HR, 6 RBI, and throwing in a steal in the last seven days. King Cron was never given a full time job with the Angels and he’s making the most of his playing this with the Rays. Nothing in his profile screams regression, he is swinging and missing a little less and hitting a few more fly balls. However, his hard contact is down a bit and his .325 BABIP might be a touch high, so keep expectations in check.

The often injured Michael Brantley is starting to turn heads again with 3 homers and 10 RBI while hitting nearly .400 this past week. His K% is a crazy low 7.1% for the season! He’s also hitting the ball harder and in the air a little bit more. Putting the ball in play as often as he does with above average exit velocity basically gives him a floor of .290-.300 average with moderate power. It all comes down to health with Brantley, but ride this one out while you can. Buy him at a reasonable cost knowing the injury downside.

Brandon Belt makes his second appearance on this rundown because he’s killing baseballs and has 4 bombs this past week. Does anyone remember when Belt and Freeman were coming up, they were being compared to each other. Well until now, Freeman made a joke of that comparison and we may finally be getting peak Brandon Belt. Better late than never I guess. This is real and I’m buying but health (concussions specifically) is the concern with belt.

Manny Machado is making people forget about his .265 BABIP from 2017 and is tied with Mookie for the league lead in home runs with 14 and leads in RBI with 42. He’s also walking more and striking out less. This is more of who Machado is than what he did in 2017, but I actually think his .344 average is unsustainable based on his profile. But anything can happen because his .265 BABIP in 2017 also shouldn’t have been sustainable. Either way, I think he’s a .300 hitter with 35-40 HR upside and should smash his previous career high RBI of 96.

Khris Davis is quietly going about his business bashing 3 HR and 6 RBI in the last seven days. It’s not that he’s even been that hot, he’s already got 13 bombs on the season. Owners might roll their eyes at his .233 batting average but that’s driven by a low BABIP (even for KD). This is guy is like clockwork, you can always count n 40 HR and 100 RBI. He’s striking out a little less this year and I think he’s got a shot at 45 HR and 110 RBI with a .250 AVG.

Nick Goodrum is hitting .444 with 3 homers and 7 RBI in the past week. Where did this come from? i don’t care because I like good rum! Goodrum is 26 years old with almost no MLB experience prior to this year. The power does seem developing as he had moderate power in the minors. He does swing and miss a lot and typically very aggressive. I expect the walk rate to drop a bit and the K rate to sit around 30%. Ride this hot streak but can cut bait once he cools off.

I’ll close with the current AL MVP Mookie Betts (I heart).  He’s decided to stop hitting home runs in favor of stealing bases. He has an incredible 7 steals in a six game stretch including 3 on Thursday night! I’m convinced that Mookie will go 40/40, I tweeted about it over a week ago. He’s that good, if Mookie wants to go 40/40, he will do it. Oh an he homered last night for good measure.

HOT Pitchers
Justin Verlander has been the best pitcher in baseball since his trade to the Astros late last season. He reach 2,500 strikeouts last week by striking out Shohei Ohtani. That’s quite a milestone and I suspect he will reach 3,000 Ks by 2020. There’s not much more to say, if you grabbed Verlander outside of the top 10 SPs, good for you!

Charlie Morton (I promise these aren’t all Astros), has been damn good! If he wasn’t a high injury risk I’d rank him inside the top 12 overall for pitchers. Morton has gone 14 IP 2 ER 22 Ks in his last 2 starts. Yup, Morton is an Ace, deal with it. I don’t like the Win stat but it counts in fantasy and he’s 6-0. He might be a tad lucky in terms of BABIP and LOB% but he’s been unlucky with a 20%HR/FB. He’s also averaging 97.2 mph on his fastball, that’s up a tick from last year, he’s insane!

Luke Weaver started to have me a little concerned but he did turn a very good outing this past week and has only given up 1 ER in his last 12 IP. His SwStr% and contact against is very close to what he did in the 2nd half of 2017 so I’m starting to think the 10 K/9 was a bit overblown. He’s probably more of an 8.0 to 8.5 K/9 guy. His velo is up a tick and he’s inducing more IFFB, so that’s great but I’m not trusting him 100% of the time yet.

Andrew Heaney threw an absolute unexpected gem against the defending Champion Astros going 8 IP, 1ER, 4H, 1BB, 10K. That’s a pretty line and he gets the start today against the Rays and you should grab him for that start and hold him. His 21.4% K-BB is near elite and he’s been BABIP’d a bit with an unlucky LOB%. I expect his 3.93 ERA to drop and he’s a must own in 12 team leagues and deeper. There’s a big injury risk here and a possible innings cap, but ride this out while you can.

Kyle Freeland has quietly strung together a couple great starts with 13 IP, 9 H, 1 ER, 11 K. Is he worth a pickup? Well, I kind of believe he is, do you realize he has a 3.17 ERA and a near 50% ground ball rate? His K% is up 7% from 2017 and his fastball’s pitch value is ranked 6th in all of baseball right between Morton and Nola. Remember, he was a highly touted prospect and went 8th overall in the 2014 draft. I still don’t trust him against good hitting teams in Coors but he’s worth a look on the road.

Freezeing Hitters
Mike Trout on the freezing hitter list, BLASPHEMY. It’s true though, Mr. Trout has gone 2 for his last 23 with 1 HR (last night) and 1 SB. Is anyone concerned? No, I didn’t think so. Trout will be just fine, maybe his feelings are hurt because there’s talk of Mookie as the AL MVP. As great as Betts has been, I’m still taking Trout ROS, he’s somehow making more contact this year, so we could see a career year from Trout this year. I’m sure no Trout owner is panicking, there’s no selling and or buying opportunity here, move along.

Paul Goldschmidt on the other hand is a whole different can of worms? Ball of wax? Situation, there we go. Goldy hasn’t only been struggling this past week, it’s basically been all season. I wrote an in depth article on Goldy, take a look here! Basically, he can’t hit at home, he can’t hit righties, he’s striking out more, and he’s not hitting the ball as hard. So, any Goldschmidt owner is not going to get a good return on their investments. I’d sell him for a top 25-30 player if you can. Check out my write up

Nomar Mazara was on the hot list last week and now has gone 5/26 with no homers and 1 RBI. I mentioned that Mazara had made some positive changes but still lacks significant power upside due to his limited fly ball approach. Nothing’s changed, it’s the ebbs and flows of the season and with his decent contact rate, he should provide a solid average with 25 or so homers this season.

Didi Gregorius is now on here for the second straight week. Where did all the Didi backers go? HELLO, ARE YOU THERE? He’s gone 1 for his last 17 and the Yankees have even starting sitting him for a game or two trying to get him right. I guess when you perform head and shoulders above your talent, this is what happens. I’m kidding obviously, but here’s what I see, the BABIP is extremely low, that’s going to come up. He’s still walking more and his K rate is fine. A HR/FB around 12-15% is what you should expect ROS. So is he goes .260-25-85 will you be disappointed as an owner?

Marcell Ozuna is 3 for his last 25 with no home runs. I also could have written about Altuve but I want to do a deep dive on Jose later this month or in early June. Back to Ozuna, with only 3 HR and 8 XBH this season gives me cause for concern. This was supposed to be a middle of the order power bat. Instead he’s hitting under 30% fly balls and has a 50% ground ball rate. He’s never been a big fly ball guy and he’s actually hitting the ball harder this year. I think his BABIP goes up and he can still hit 25-28 HR. I’d be buying his from a frustrated owner for cheap and holding if I was an owner.

Dee Gordon hasn’t stolen a base this past week and is only hitting .161 the last seven days. Obviously Speedy Dee (no one calls him that) needs to get on base to steal, and I don’t see anything that will prevent him from this in the near future. The suspension to Cano is a concern for runs but if Haniger, Seager, or Healy can step up in his place, I wouldn’t be all that concerned, you got him for steals and he will get you plenty of them. Stick with Dee.

Freezing Pitchers
Oh hi there Kevin Gausman! Just when he was giving owners some confidence in starting him, he rips your heart out. He’s given up 8 ER in his last 12 IP but it’s come with a .358 average against. That’s not sustainable. What is sustainable is Gausman being inconnsistent. I can’t recommend him unless you really want an ulcer. Watch, next time he’ll throw complete game shutout. That’s the Gaus-Man.

Sonny Gray owners need to cut bait if they haven’t already. His velocity is fine so there probably isn’t an injury but his walks are way up, hard contact is up, and his strikeouts are down. Long hot summer nights in Yankee Stadium are not going to be kind to Gray. Don’t let your ego get in the way, there’s a lot better options on the wire.

Danny Duffy may have had one too many Duff Beers before he gets on the mound to pitch. Sorry, that was a low blow. Duffy should not be owned, I hope owners have moved on from Duffy, there’s something wrong, his velocity is down (similar to last year when he struggled) and his slider is trash. There could be some human factors at play here. He may need a DL stint or some time off before we can think about even streaming him.

Ugh, Drew Pomeranz is not very good this year. HR are up, walks are up, ground balls are down (literally), and hard contact is up. I’m sure owners have moved on but he’s probably hurt. His velocity is down over 2 mph and his curve ball has been bad. I wouldn’t be surprised if he hit the DL in the next week or so. He’s a safe drop.

Jason Hammel, how are you still in the league. Hammel hasn’t been effective since the first half of 2016 with the Cubs. He’s usually a first-half pitcher, and now, he’s not. Nothing to see here, don’t even think about streaming him.

So Chad Bettis has come back down huh? I think we all saw that coming. He can safely be dropped and forgotten about. I mean it, don’t even think about streaming him in the future, he’s not good. No strikeouts, too many walks, too many extra base hits. Leave him be.