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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 2 (4/8-4/14): Fantasy Baseball

My apologies for missing last week, things were hectic to start the season! I’m back and I plan on getting a weekly article out either on Saturday or Sunday for starting pitcher streaming options for the following week. I’ll be using the FantasyPros ownership rate that combines Yahoo and ESPN ownership rates. The threshold for a streamer is 25% owned and under. I did this for the first time all of last year and here’s how I did last season. I love looking back and realizing I streamed Matt Boyd a total of seven times! Overall, he performed well for me and now he’s breaking out this year! No streaming Boyd this year as his ownership has jumped to about 40%, which is far too low. Let’s find out who this year’s Matt Boyd is.

I am hoping to pile up more strikeouts and wins without hurting those ratios. Without further ado, here are my week 2 streamers. Here were last season’s streaming results

IP ERA WHIP K W
Season Totals 666.0 3.57 1.15 615 41

Jordan Zimmerman (SP – DET) – 16% Owned; 4/9 Home vs CLE
I know that I said I wanted more strikeouts in the intro and Zim isn’t going to help there. It’s a long season though fellas. Zimmerman has been lucky with a .184 BABIP and an 87.5% strand rate, so those numbers are clearly going to regress. He is throwing his slider and curveball more frequently while deploying his fastball less often. That’s good because his breaking balls perform much better than his terrible fastball. The Indians have produced the league’s second-lowest offensive production with a .221 wOBA and are striking out over 30% of the time. This seems to be a safe six-inning quality start with 4-5 strikeouts. STREAM

Freddy Peralta (SP – MIL – 25% Owned; 4/9 Away vs LAA
Peralta twirled eight shutout innings with an amazing 11 strikeouts against the Reds in Great American Ballpark no less. I told you in the intro I wanted to seek out more strikeouts this season and early in the year is where I can grab them. His velocity is up about 1.5 MPH which is a big deal since his fastball was sub-92 MPH last year. Peralta has some deception in his delivery and the Angels are not familiar with it. The Angels have only managed to hit five home runs to date and will be without Upton and Ohtani. Feel free to use Peralta in the road here and just hope Trout doesn’t make him pay. STREAM

Trevor Richards (SP – MIA) – 22% Owned; 4/10 @ CIN
Here’s another high-risk, high-reward streamer this week. At some point, the Reds are going to heat up, but let’s hope the weather stays cool and Richards stays red-hot. The Reds are rock bottom in the Majors with a .221 wOBA and a 27.2% K rate. That’s almost like an entire team of Chris Davis’. Richards changeup is arguably one of the best in the game and he’s throwing it 36% of the time. How good is his change? Well, it produced swings outside the zone over 50% of the time with a 36% strikeout rate against in 2018. This isn’t a lock but how many streamers have 10 K upside? STREAM

Frankie Montas (SP – OAK) – 7% Owned; 4/10 @BAL
Montas has bumped up his velocity early on this season and has added a splitter. Montas averaged 98.1 MPH on his fastball in his first two starts and the splitter, on average induces the most swings and misses. Montas has some serious strikeout upside against a Baltimore team that loves to swing and miss. I would prefer this game to be in Oakland but beggars can’t be choosers. My only fear is his control which could mess with his ratios. However, I’ll still gladly take Montas and his 7% ownership rate but don’t expect seven innings. STREAM

Jeff Samardzija (SP – SF) – 5% Owned; 4/11 Home vs COL
Shark is back, well kind of. The Rockies are one of the worst teams offensively on the road. In fact, last year, they produced a 79 wRC+ on the road, that’s 21% below league average. They are just as bad to start this year as well. Couple that with the game being at home in Oracle Park and I just don’t see a poor outing from Samardzija. The problem here is, I don’t see much upside in terms of strikeouts. I’d stream him if you are looking for ratios but not much else.

Michael Pineda (SP – MIN) – 17% Owned; 4/12 @DET
Pineda looks good coming off of Tommy John Surgery and this will be his third start of the season. I’d expect something closer 90-95 pitches and hopefully six innings from the big man. Detriot is going to be a target to stream against and my early research looking at HR Park Factors show that Detroit is not a good park for home runs. I’ve even seen Niko Goodrum hit out of the cleanup spot in one game for the Tigers this past week. Let’s hope this start gives Pineda some confidence going forward in his comeback. STREAM

Domingo German (SP – NYY) 19% Owned; 4/13 vs CHW
When I said I wanted strikeout upside, I meant it! German has control issues and is inconsistent, there’s no doubt about that. His strikeout upside is huge, however. Wait, am I backtracking? The White Sox have had a nice start to the season with a better lineup than appears on paper. Yoan Moncada and Tim Anderson have been hot recently and the middle of the order looks a little scary with Jose Abreu and Eloy Jimenez. I fear that lefty power bats, Yonder Alonso, and Daniel Palka could do some damage as well. There’s a ton of strikeout upside here but given his scary walk rates, I’m staying away from German in this one. Yup, I’m backtracking.

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Source: Mark Brown/Getty Images North America)

Starting Pitchers to Stream -Minor Fiers won’t have you running from the CaHills


Welcome back to another week of SP streaming options that are 25% owned and under per FantasyPros.com combined ownership. With rosters about to expand, things are going to start getting interesting with quicker hooks and deeper bullpens. Let’s take a look at the pitching options for the upcoming week.

Trevor Cahill (OAK), 21% at Home vs TOR, Tuesday, July 31st
Cahill is healthy at pitching at home against the rebuilding Blue Jays. He’s got an above average K rare and his normally high walk rate sits at league average. Cahill is throwing his change up more than last year and it’s a pretty incredible pitch. It gets swings outside the zone 50% of the time and has a swinging strike rate of 25%! Between that pitch and the sinker, he’s getting over 60% ground balls. I like Cahill to keep the power dependent Blue Jays in check at home while piling up some strikeouts. STREAM

James Shields (CWS), 8% at Home vs KC, Tuesday, July 31st
Oh boy, here we go! I’ve avoided Big-Lame James like the plague the last few years. While Shields isn’t pitching well, he’s throwing his change up more and fastball less, which is good. His K rate is low but his swinging strike rate is identical to last year and he no longer has a major gopher ball issue. In fact, since July 1st, his K/9 is 9.3! He gets to face the Royals at home who just traded their best hitter, Mike Moustakas to the Brewers. In the last 30 days, the Royals have a 25% K rate and a 6% walk rate which ranks 27th and 30th, respectively. This could blow up in my face but if there’s ever a chance to stream Shields, it’s this start. STREAM with caution.

Nick Tropeano (LAA), 3% on the Road vs TB, Wednesday, August 1st
Tropeano has some real gophoritis going on with a 1.93 HR/9 this year. In his last start, on Thursday against the White Sox, he had one of the most amazing stat-lines – 6.1 IP 5 H, 5 ER, 5 HR, 2 BB, 7 K. Yup, his BABIP was .000 and he gave up 5 solo homers but still managed to strikeout 7. That was his second start off the DL, so what should we expect this time? Who knows, because he’s getting a lot of swings and misses but has some issues with control and hard contact. I think the risk is just too high with Trop this week but if you’re desperate, I could see a high K outing with decent ratios, you just have to squint really hard to see it. I’m staying away


Mike Fiers (DET), 20% on the Road vs OAK, Friday, August 3rd
Mike has been on Fiers lately, am-I-right? Since  June 9th, he’s sporting a 2.70 ERA with a 1.13 WHIP and while the Ks are low, his BB% is only 5.6% in that time frame. Fiers is kind of a junkballer and he’s doubled the use of his cutter this year which has proven to be his best pitch per FanGraphs pitch value. Other than that, he’s basically the same pitcher he’s always been, so not all that exciting. Here’s what is exciting though, the Athletics have a wOBA of .295 at home this season as a team which ranks 28th in all of baseball. Yes, their park is brutal, for a team that hits so many home runs, they rank 24th in home runs while at home as opposed to FIRST, yes first, when on the road. They have hit 96 HR on the road and 46 at home. There’s enough of a spark here for me to give Fiers a shot, I’m STREAMing

Mike Minor (TEX), 9% Home vs BAL, Saturday, August 4th
Minor is coming off an impressive start against the Astros today. Well, technically the game isn’t over but he’s managed just 2 hits and 1 run with 7 strikeouts in just under 5 IP. So, regardless of the result, he’s done well. And let’s face it, the Machado-less Orioles are not good and are especially bad away from Camden Yards. As a team, they rank 29th in both wOBA and strikeouts. That’s a recipe for success for Mr. Minor. Unfortunately, Minor’s velocity is down as a starter this year, so his margin for error is slim. However, since the middle of June, Minor has a 3.46 ERA and his HR/FB is at a somewhat respectable 11.8%. The strikeout improvement against Houston shows me that he could easily get a K per inning against the Oriole and I like his chances at a win. STREAM.

Yonny Chirinos (TB), 1% at Home vs CHW, Friday or Saturday, August 3rd or 4th
Yes, Yonny is back! Chirinos had a decent run early in the season and is back in the rotation after Nathan Eovaldi and Matt Andreise have been traded. There’s also talk that Chris Archer could also be on the move. With Snell on the DL, what are they going to do, a bullpen game every day? Anyways, Chirinos pitched well against the Yankees earlier this week and struggled against the Orioles today, go figure. I think Chirinos has good stuff and and his sinker induces a lot ground balls. The last time Chirinos faced the White Sox, he went 5.1 scoreless with 5 Ks and 5 base runners. That start was in Guaranteed Rate and this one is at home where I think he can go 6 IP with a K per inning. STREAM.