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Statcast Pitcher Studs and Duds - Exit Velocity for Week 4


Welcome back to RotoBaller’s pitchers risers and fallers article series! Each week we will select an advanced stat, choose two risers and two fallers, and analyze what those stats could mean for future fantasy output. The next stat we will use is one that has become immensely popular for hitters but can also be used to analyze pitchers: average exit velocity (EV).

EV is a better stat for hitters than pitchers as hitters have a greater influence on the measure. That being said, EV is related to ERA for pitchers, and generally speaking, pitchers don’t want to give up hard contact as it improves the hitter’s chance of getting a hit. I will focus on starting pitchers for this article, as it is difficult to draw conclusions off of small batted-ball samples for relievers at this point in the season.

Rather than pick risers and fallers, I will pick two SP in the top percentiles of EV and two in the bottom percentiles, take a look behind the curtain and predict if their performances to this point have been legit or fake. Without further ado, let’s get into it!

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Top EV Pitchers

All exit velocity stats current as of Monday, April 22.

 

Caleb Smith, Miami Marlins

(2-0, 2.35 ERA, 0.87 WHIP)

This pitcher showed some intriguing fantasy signs in 2018 before getting hurt and has started 2019 off strong. 27-year-old Caleb Smith is a tidy 2.35 ERA with an improved 33.3% K rate in 23 IP. He is also allowing a mere 82.7-MPH average EV. Is Smith a name that fantasy players should be targeting?

Smith has shown some interesting changes in his arsenal from 2018 to 2019 that have helped him avoid contact in general. His fastball velocity is just about identical to 2018 at 92.8 MPH. However, his spin rate on the pitch is up (2464 revolutions per minute vs 2365 in 2018), giving the pitch a greater perceived rising motion. His slider has gained significant velocity (84.1 MPH vs 81.6 in 2018); consequently, his K% on the pitch has jumped from 36.5% to 45.5%. Finally, his changeup has slightly less velocity (83.3 MPH vs 84 in 2018) but has an increased spin rate of 1961 revolutions per minute vs 1826 in 2018. These changes have helped Smith post an impressive 33.3% K rate. With his improved arsenal, hitters are having trouble making contact and are not currently hitting the ball well when they do make contact.

Smith’s pitch velocities and movements bode well for his strikeouts and hard contact, but there are some aspects of his game that do not. His average launch angle is too high at 14.9 degrees, and his pitch locations on his fastball and changeup have been in the middle of the plate too often, which could leave to harder, more damaging hits. His 0.87 WHIP is also a good deal lower than his 1.24 career mark, so it would not be surprising to see some negative regression in that department as well, meaning more hits.

The takeaway for Smith’s EV is unclear at this point. His K% is a legit fantasy tool, but his pitch location and launch angle concern me. I consider him to be a sell-high candidate at this point but fantasy owners should not just give him away until they get a better idea of what he can do. While it seems like a cop out to punt, I would say let’s see how Smith does in his next few starts, especially in his next matchup against a tough Phillies lineup.

 

Charlie Morton, Tampa Bay Rays

(2-0, 3.38 ERA, 1.16 WHIP)

Charlie Morton has been a fantasy asset for the past several seasons with the Astros and seems to be picking up right where he left off with the Rays. The 35-year-old has a solid 3.38 ERA and 1.16 WHIP and has been avoiding hard contact with an average EV at 83.7 MPH. Let’s take a deeper look into Morton’s numbers and see what they can tell us.

Morton’s low EV is not surprising, as he has always been able to limit hard contact (86.6 MPH average since 2015). Part of the reason he is able to consistently do this is that he throws hard (94.7 MPH on fastball, 93.8 MPH on sinker), has strong spin rates/movement on all of his pitches, and generally has good command of his pitches. In addition to limiting hard contact, Morton’s arsenal and command generate a good deal of strikeouts (30.9% K rate this season).

His command has been uncharacteristically off for his fastballs to this point (24% walk rate on fastball, 20% on sinker, 16.7% on cutter) but he has still pitched well by relying on his curveball. Morton’s 35% usage of the pitch his season is noticeably higher than the 29.3% he used it last season. His curveball is a good one and it has helped him out across the board; the pitch has generated a .104 batting average, a .147 expected batting average, and an 81.1 MPH EV.

Morton has continued to be a top-end fantasy pitcher this season and has all the underlying numbers to support his performance. He has been able to pitch well and limit hard contact despite not having complete control of his fastballs. Given his caliber and track record, fantasy owners should not worry about him regaining control of those pitches. His 3.74 SIERA suggests that his performance has been legitimate, and I expect him to continue to produce at a high level.

 

Bottom EV Pitchers

All exit velocity stats current as of Monday, April 22.

 

Carlos Carrasco, Cleveland Indians

(2-2, 7.41 ERA, 1.76 WHIP)

Carlos Carrasco has been a top fantasy starter for several seasons now, although one would never think it looking at his 2019 numbers. He has definitely stumbled out of the gate to the tune of a 7.41 ERA and a 1.76 WHIP and has gotten hit hard with a poor 95 MPH EV. Fantasy owners may certainly be worried after taking Carrasco early, but should they be?

Carrasco’s season to this point has been a tale of Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde. He has two outings of allowing six earned runs, one of which he didn’t make it out of the first inning. Then he has another two starts in which he allowed two combined earned runs with 16 strikeouts (typical Carrasco). The two bad starts, especially the short outing, are extremely uncharacteristic of him and should not be considered a sign of declining skills, especially given the other two stellar starts he has turned in. Stats don’t always tell the whole story on their own, as is the case with Carrasco’s season ERA and WHIP.

Due to his two bad starts, Carrasco’s EV and 23.5-degree launch angle are significantly higher than his averages since 2015 (87.4 MPH and 11 degrees, respectively). Despite these numbers being skewed, Carrasco has still managed to post a career-high 36.3% K rate while keeping his command in order (6.3% walk rate vs 6.3% career mark). He also has a stellar 2.83 SIERA, indicating that he has pitched much better overall than his basic stats suggest.

All in all, it seems like Carrasco’s inconsistencies have been mental rather than physical. Per the Spokeman Review's Tim Booth, Carrasco was quoted saying “The last game I didn’t have that [confidence]. That’s what I worked on the last four days, just to get to this game.” If he can make the proper mental adjustments, which it seems like he can after his last start, then he should be a top-end fantasy piece once again. I am selling his poor numbers early on and consider him to be a strong buy-low candidate.

 

Tyler Mahle, Cincinnati Reds

(0-2, 3.52 ERA, 1.26 WHIP)

Tyler Mahle has gotten off to good start this season, posting a respectable 3.52 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, and 25.8% K rate. However, he has been getting hit hard with an average EV of 93.1 MPH. The 24-year-old had some good starts last season and looks like he could be putting things together at the big-league level, but should fantasy players be scared away by his high EV?

There are some good signs and some bad signs on Mahle. We’ll start with the good. His low launch angle (6.8 degrees) is a good contrast to the high EV because it really doesn't do a batter much good to hit the ball hard into the ground (baseball is in a Flyball Revolution now, but not for Mahle). His 3.31 SIERA also suggests that he has been pitching well with his batted-ball profile considered. But now to the bad. Mahle has yet to develop a good pitch mix and relies on his fastball way too often. He is throwing the pitch 70.5% of the time and has one of the lowest revolutions per minute on the pitch at 2094.

Consequently, his xwoBACON, or expected weighted on-base average for contact is significantly higher (.413) than the rest of the league (.370). Even pitchers with great fastballs cannot get away with throw it 70% of the time in the big leagues, and I fear that hitters, who are already hitting the ball hard off Mahle, will eventually get his number and start doing damage against him. If you own Mahle, I would say try to sell high on him now because once his fastballs start getting hit in the air, he’ll quickly find himself on your bench and then the waiver wire.

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