Lost password?

Don't have an account?
Join the Best Live Fantasy Chat Community!


Receive free daily analysis


Already have an account? Log In


Forgot Password


Articles & Tools
Import Your Leagues
Draft Rankings
Draft Simulator
Enter League Settings
Player Comparisons
Rookies & Call-Ups
24x7 News and Alerts

Exploring Soft Contact for Pitchers - Fantasy Baseball Starting Pitchers to Downgrade in 2023

Tyler Anderson - Fantasy Baseball Rankings, Draft Sleepers, Starting Pitchers

There are two ways for a pitcher to get a hitter out:

  1. Strike them out
  2. Generate a ball in play that can be handled for an out

We talk a ton about strikeout and walk rates here, as we should - those stats are the best predictors of success in baseball. But they don't tell the whole tale.

Since 2015, we have been able to better measure the quality of contact with Baseball Savant. We get a ton of information about each batted ball. This has helped us immensely in projecting hitters. We also talk a lot about the quality of contact allowed by pitchers. This is obviously something of great importance, since most of the time a plate appearance is ending with a ball put up in play, and the quality of the contact determines a lot of what happens with a pitcher's end-year stats.

Editor's Note: Our incredible team of writers received 13 award nominations by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association including Baseball Writer of the Year, Football Writers of the Year, Golf Writer of the Year and many more! Be sure to follow their analysis, rankings and advice all year long, and win big with RotoBaller! Read More!

In this post, I wanted to explore the statistic of expected weighted on-base average on contact (xwOBACON) allowed. Here's what I have come up with:


What Is it?

Here is how this thing works, basically:

  • For each batted ball, the launch angle and launch velocity are taken.
  • The system uses the history of similar batted balls to determine what the most likely outcome of that type of batted ball is.
  • It assigned a wOBA number to the batted ball event based on that history.

The most well-hit batted balls get an xwOBA figure of around 2.0. A ball that will go for an out nearly every time will fall really close to a 0. xwOBACON takes all of the batted balls and averages out those numbers.

The best mark of the last five seasons (not counting 2020) among qualified SPs was Corbin Burnes in 2021, who allowed just a .304 xwOBACON. The worst mark was Tarik Skubal's 2021 season where he allowed a .454 mark. The average is around .360-.365.


Is It Sticky?

What we are asking with this question is "if a guy excels in this one year, is it smart to predict that he will do so the next year?"

Strikeout-to-walk ratio (K-BB%) turns out to be a very sticky stat. This is largely skill-based, so a good pitcher will put up a good number almost every year and a bad pitcher will put up a bad number. The correlation between K-BB% in year N and the K-BB% in year N+1 is 0.82 - a strong positive relationship. Here's a look at all the pitchers with a K-BB% above 20% in 2021 and what they did in 2022:

The average K-BB% there in the 2022 column was 21.1% - an elite number. Almost all of the pitchers here posted a very strong number the following year as well - although we aren't without exceptions (Gilbert, Berrios, Webb, Giolito).

For xwOBACON, it's just not the same story. The correlation is 0.29 between qualified pitchers' xwOBACONs in 2021 and 2022. 2021 did not predict 2022 well at all.

Here's the same kind of table. I took all the pitchers in 2021 that put up marks below .350 and brought in their 2022 mark:

We still see most of the numbers in 2022 being below average, but we see plenty of jumps in either direction. Burnes could not replicate anything close to that .299 mark, Sandy Alcantara improved massively, and Kyle Gibson fell apart. This is a small number of pitchers we're showing here, but the trend of near randomness remains no matter what you're looking at - this statistic is not a true skill - there is a lot of randomness that goes into it.

That doesn't mean Corbin Burnes has any real chance of seeing a .400 xwOBACON in 2023. His pitches are tough to hit, so even when a hitter does make contact - it's going to be weak contact a lot more often than say Patrick Corbin. The point here is to say that it is not at all uncommon to see big shifts in this stat for an individual pitcher year-to-year.


The Outliers

I'm not a total egghead. I realize that there are some pitchers where this really is a skill. They have figured something out.

31 pitchers have thrown enough innings to qualify for my study in each of the last three years (2019, 2021, 2022). Only 10 of them have posted xwOBACON's below .350 in each of the three years. Those names:

Only these 12 names have been able to keep the number under .375 in each season:

Variance has a strong hold on the numbers here. I would say that for Sandy, Fried, Bassitt, Castillo, Wheeler, Scherzer, and Musgrove - it's fine to expect strong performance in this category in 2023. For the rest of the league, I'm not going to bother with predictions here. We would probably be more accurate just predicting the league average.


Pitchers to Question

Knowing all of this, the logical conclusion here is to be wary of pitchers that posted very good xwOBACONs in 2022. Unless they're one of the names we just mentioned, it's a bit foolish to expect them to repeat that strong performance in 2023. Here are some of the names that stand out:

Tyler Anderson, Anaheim Angels

2022 K-BB% 2022 xwOBACON 2021 xwOBACON 2019 xwOBACON 2018 xwOBACON
14.7% .306 .364 -- .349

Nobody is buying Anderson's 2.57 ERA from last year, but the Angels felt confident enough to give him a sizeable contract. Anderson's .306 xwOBACON was the lowest in the league, and it was a massive improvement on what he had done in the past. It's a near certainty that he adds 20+ points back to this total, which won't do him many favors with such a low K-BB%.

Cristian Javier, Houston Astros

2022 K-BB% 2022 xwOBACON 2021 xwOBACON 2019 xwOBACON 2018 xwOBACON
24.3% .308 -- -- --

We haven't seen much of Javier in the Majors, so it is possible that he will eventually join the Alcantara ranks with the ability to stifle hard contact at an elite level year in and year out. For now, however, we should have our doubts. The good news is that there is plenty of room for regression here with the 24.3% K-BB%. If he maintains that, he'll be an ace - but some regression from the 2.54 ERA we saw last year is likely.

Dylan Cease, Chicago White Sox

2022 K-BB% 2022 xwOBACON 2021 xwOBACON 2019 xwOBACON 2018 xwOBACON
20.3% .310 .380 -- --

Similar to Javier here. There's plenty to love like about the K-BB% above 20%. Cease was fantastic last year, and it's fine to consider him a very good pitcher for fantasy purposes. However, the .310 xwOBACON was an outlier outcome, and it's even more surprising when you see the .380 mark he put up in 2021. I think his performance in 2023 will fall firmly between these two numbers. That doesn't knock him out of the running to be an SP1 on your fantasy team, but it does make his newfound top-30 ADP seem a little bit unjustified.

Nestor Cortes, New York Yankees

2022 K-BB% 2022 xwOBACON 2021 xwOBACON 2019 xwOBACON 2018 xwOBACON
20.3% .316 -- -- --

A third guy here with a great K-BB%, so less reason for concern. The 2022 season was the first time we saw Cortes get a large number of starts, and he did not disappoint. The K% was strong at 26%, but short of the heights of Javier and Cease. He does have that lefty deception thing going for him, but I won't be drafting Cortes aggressively and I think you could really see some movement in the wrong direction in his 2023 numbers.

Martin Perez, Texas Rangers

2022 K-BB% 2022 xwOBACON 2021 xwOBACON 2019 xwOBACON 2018 xwOBACON
12.2% .327 .405 .328 --

Perez had gone on these runs of great starts without many strikeouts in the past, but the wheel fully fell off in 2021 as you can see there. He's not a strikeout pitcher, and he seems to have a run at least a little bit ahead of expectations in the contact-allowed categories last year. I don't expect anything close to another 2.89 ERA.

Tony Gonsolin, Los Angeles Dodgers

2022 K-BB% 2022 xwOBACON 2021 xwOBACON 2019 xwOBACON 2018 xwOBACON
17.1% .323 .335 .339 --

Gonsolin had the second-best ERA in the league despite a K-BB% well below 20%. Hitters had all kinds of trouble squaring his pitches up, and that wasn't exactly anything new. He posted strong numbers here in both 2021 and 2019, so maybe he is one of these guys - but there's also the chance that it's just three fortunate seasons in a row and he'll have a bad year coming up. He's still not a guy the field is buying into with an ADP above 170, so I don't have any real criticism of picking him this year - but felt he deserved inclusion on this list.


Relievers with Really Low xwOBACONs

Hope the list of names here helped, but my main point here is that if you see a pitcher that clearly benefited a ton from disallowing hard contact one year - hesitate to buy into them heavily in the next! We'll be back with more soon, happy 2023 everybody!

Download Our Free News & Alerts Mobile App

Like what you see? Download our updated fantasy baseball app for iPhone and Android with 24x7 player news, injury alerts, sleepers, prospects & more. All free!


Articles & Tools
Import Your Leagues
Draft Rankings
Draft Simulator
Enter League Settings
Player Comparisons
Rookies & Call-Ups
24x7 News and Alerts


Tyler Toffoli11 mins ago

Nets Two Goals Against Vancouver
Clayton Keller20 mins ago

Keeps Point Streak Going Friday
Jason Robertson32 mins ago

Sets New Stars Scoring Record
Adam Fox42 mins ago

Continues Hot Spell With A Goal
Casey Mittelstadt51 mins ago

Hands Out Two Assists
Steven Kwan2 hours ago

Plates Five In Win Over Seattle
Tee Higgins9 hours ago

Not Concerned About Contract Situation
Jeff Skinner10 hours ago

Scores Game-Winning Goal In Overtime
Devon Levi10 hours ago

Earns Victory In NHL Debut
A.J. Puk12 hours ago

Picks Up Save For Marlins Friday
Rhys Hoskins12 hours ago

Undergoes Successful Knee Surgery
Nick Solak12 hours ago

Mariners Acquire Nick Solak From Reds
Justin Verlander12 hours ago

Does Some Light Throwing
Luis Urías12 hours ago

Luis Urias Reportedly Heading To Injured List
Joey Wiemer13 hours ago

Reportedly Will Be Called Up
Anthony Rendon13 hours ago

Being Investigated By MLB
Willson Contreras13 hours ago

Receives Good News On Friday
Seattle Seahawks14 hours ago

Ryan Neal Becomes Free Agent
Pharaoh Brown14 hours ago

Joins Colts
Darrynton Evans15 hours ago

To Meet With Colts
Laquon Treadwell15 hours ago

Working Out For Cowboys
Zach Collins15 hours ago

Out Against Golden State
De'Andre Hunter15 hours ago

Out With A Knee Injury On Friday
Oscar Gonzalez15 hours ago

Starting On Friday
Obi Toppin15 hours ago

Will Start Against The Cavs
Jarrett Allen15 hours ago

Downgraded To Out On Friday
Nelson Cruz15 hours ago

Batting Cleanup On Friday
Mike Moustakas16 hours ago

Remains Out Again
Michael Brantley16 hours ago

Takes Batting Practice
Andrew Vaughn16 hours ago

Sitting On Friday
Gavin Sheets18 hours ago

Oscar Colas Starting On Friday
Paul Sewald18 hours ago

Picks Up Win On Opening Day
Garrett Whitlock18 hours ago

Making Rehab Start Friday
Josh Rojas18 hours ago

Hitting Leadoff Against Dodgers
Corey Julks18 hours ago

Making MLB Debut Against White Sox
Bryan Reynolds18 hours ago

Opt-Out Clause The Sticking Point For Bryan Reynolds Extension
Portland Trail Blazers18 hours ago

LaMarcus Aldridge Officially Retires From The NBA
Corbin Carroll18 hours ago

Hitting Fifth Against Right-Hander
Jamal Murray18 hours ago

Considered Questionable Against Phoenix
Nikola Jokic18 hours ago

Could Miss His Second Consecutive Game
Kenyon Martin19 hours ago

Jr. Uncertain To Play Against Detroit
Tobias Harris19 hours ago

Could Miss Friday's Game Against Toronto
Shai Gilgeous-Alexander19 hours ago

Upgraded To Questionable On Friday
Al Horford19 hours ago

Uncertain To Suit Up On Friday
Jaylen Brown19 hours ago

Tagged As Questionable With Lower-Back Pain
Jayson Tatum19 hours ago

Listed As Questionable Against Utah
Kelly Olynyk19 hours ago

Is Available Against Boston On Friday
De'Andre Hunter19 hours ago

Downgraded To Out On Friday
Trayveon Williams21 hours ago

Bengals Have High Hopes For Trayveon Williams
Joe Burrow21 hours ago

Bengals Begin Extension Discussions With Joe Burrow
Mac Jones21 hours ago

Bill Belichick Still Non-Committal On Mac Jones
Sammy Blais23 hours ago

Extends Point Streak To Six Games
Cam Talbot23 hours ago

Makes A Winning Return
Matthew Beniers23 hours ago

Logs Two Points Against Anaheim
Stuart Skinner23 hours ago

Grabs A 43-Save Shutout
Tristan Jarry24 hours ago

Records His Second Shutout
Matthew Tkachuk24 hours ago

Rolls To Four Points Versus Montreal
T.J. Oshie24 hours ago

Exits With An Upper-Body Injury
Mikey Anderson24 hours ago

Injured On First Shift Thursday
CJ McCollum1 day ago

Drops 23 Points In Easy Win Over Denver
Jamal Murray1 day ago

Salvages Solid Performance In Loss
Brandon Ingram1 day ago

Secures A Triple-Double Against Denver
Jaylen Brown1 day ago

Collects Another 30-Point Game
Jayson Tatum1 day ago

Drops 40 Points In Blowout Win
Naz Reid1 day ago

Set To Miss Significant Amount Of Time
Linus Ullmark1 day ago

Allows One Goal In Overtime Victory
David Pastrnak1 day ago

Scores Game-Winning Goal
Baltimore Ravens2 days ago

Ravens Have Been Active In Receiver Market
Baker Mayfield2 days ago

Kyle Trask To Compete In Training Camp
Courtland Sutton2 days ago

Broncos Could Still Trade Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton
DeAndre Hopkins2 days ago

To Stay With Cardinals?
Odell Beckham Jr.2 days ago

Jets The Most Likely Landing Spot For Odell Beckham Jr.
Carolina Panthers2 days ago

Panthers Not Settled On One QB For No. 1 Pick
Lamar Jackson2 days ago

Not Seeking Fully Guaranteed Deal
Nathan Peterman2 days ago

Re-Signs With Bears
Ryan Lindgren2 days ago

A Game-Time Decision Against New Jersey
Seth Jones2 days ago

Expects To Play Thursday
David Savard2 days ago

A Game-Time Call Thursday
Kirby Dach2 days ago

Set To Miss At Least One Week
Dre Miller2 days ago

Kendre Miller Ahead Of Schedule
Buffalo Bills2 days ago

Bills Re-Sign Jordan Phillips
Las Vegas Raiders2 days ago

Alex Bars Returns To Raiders On One-Year Deal
Dallas Cowboys2 days ago

Johnathan Hankins Re-Signs With Cowboys
NFL2 days ago

Wanya Morris Getting Close To 100%
Brendon Todd3 days ago

Has Success At TPC San Antonio
Ben Martin3 days ago

Has Value At TPC San Antonio
Nick Taylor3 days ago

A Boom-Or-Bust Option At Valero
Taylor Pendrith3 days ago

A Sleeper Option At TPC San Antonio
Chris Kirk3 days ago

A Good Option At The Valero Texas Open
Matt Kuchar3 days ago

Loves Playing TPC San Antonio
Will Gordon3 days ago

Offers A Wild-Card Option At Valero
Cam Davis3 days ago

Can Keep His Current Form At TPC San Antonio
Mark Hubbard4 days ago

A Low-Risk Value Option At Valero
Tyler Duncan4 days ago

Start Tyler Duncan At TPC San Antonio
Emiliano Grillo4 days ago

Not Recommended At Valero
Patrick Rodgers4 days ago

Don't Give Patrick Rodgers A Shot At Valero
Adam Schenk4 days ago

Wants To Keep Momentum Rolling At Valero
Ryan Moore4 days ago

Cannot Get Past The Cut Lately
Stephan Jaeger4 days ago

Could Warm Things Up At Valero
Si Woo Kim4 days ago

A Possible Contender At Valero
Taylor Montgomery4 days ago

Attempting To Find Weekend Consistency
Corey Conners4 days ago

Trying To Recreate A Little Magic
Thomas Detry4 days ago

Continues To Impress In Rookie Season
Aaron Rai4 days ago

Brings Positive Momentum To Valero Texas Open
Akshay Bhatia4 days ago

Looks To Stay Hot In Texas
Todd Gilliland5 days ago

Impressive At COTA
Ty Gibbs5 days ago

Finds His Footing At COTA
Chris Buescher5 days ago

Continues To Shine On Road Courses
NASCAR5 days ago

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Finishes Seventh
Austin Cindric5 days ago

Has A Solid Day
Marlon Vera5 days ago

Has Four-Fight Winning Streak Snapped
Cory Sandhagen5 days ago

Dominates Striking Department
Yana Santos5 days ago

Dominated In Decision Loss
Holly Holm5 days ago

Dominates In Co-Main Event
Austin Lingo5 days ago

Suffers Submission Loss
Nate Landwehr5 days ago

Shines With Second-Round Submission Win
Andrea Lee5 days ago

Suffers Defeat In Close Matchup Saturday
Maycee Barber5 days ago

Takes Close Matchup On Saturday
Chidi Njokuani5 days ago

Takes Close Loss In Split-Decision Showing
Albert Duraev5 days ago

Holds Off Opponent In Tight Split Decision
William Byron5 days ago

Rounds Out Top Five At COTA
Ross Chastain5 days ago

Caught Up To Fourth At COTA On Sunday
Alex Bowman5 days ago

Brings Home Third Place Finish At COTA
Kyle Busch5 days ago

Scrambles Up To Second At Austin
Tyler Reddick5 days ago

Dominates And Wins At COTA