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MLB Pitcher Prospect Graduates - Sophomore Fantasy Baseball Outlooks (AL Central)

Jhoan Duran fantasy baseball rankings closers saves draft sleepers

In the second installment of a six-part series focused on pitchers who exhausted rookie eligibility during the 2022 MLB season, I review how the pitching fundamentals of select 2023 American League Central pitchers have evolved over time and use that information to forecast their MLB futures.

Fundamentals will be quantified using my Fielding- and Ballpark-Independent Outcomes (FaBIO) pitcher evaluation model.

We will begin with individual analyses of two key American League Central 2022 pitcher prospect graduates who are Twins but hardly twins per their disparate batted ball profiles and fastball velocities: Joe Ryan and Jhoan Duran.

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Quick Overview of FaBIO

An earlier RotoBaller article more fully explains the FaBIO methodology. Every plate appearance is sorted into one of 12 event-type bins (BB+HBP, K, IFFB, Pull OFFB, Center OFFB, Oppo OFFB, Pull LD, Center LD, Oppo LD, Pull GB, Center GB, Oppo GB), and the pitcher is charged with the league's average runs value for that event type.

We eventually wind up with loads of fundamentals-rooted percentile ratings expressed on a 100 to 0 scale where 97 is plus plus, 84 is plus, 50 is average, 16 is minus, and three is minus minus.

The all-in-one Overall Rating (based on expected run avoidance per batter faced over all of that pitcher's batters faced) will be used primarily as filtering criteria with relatively more attention paid to how the three core sub-Ratings of Control (or CTL, based on BB+HBP per batters faced), Strikeout (or K, based on K per batters faced), and Batted Ball Profile (based on expected run avoidance per batted ball) combine to produce Overall Rating.


Joe Ryan, Minnesota Twins

Joe Ryan, acquired from the Tampa Bay Rays via a late trade in 2021, was the focal point of a preseason piece I penned on right-handed flyball pitching prospects. The FaBIO forecast had the 92 mph four-seam rider continuing to get strikeouts and infielder fly balls in bushels, and avoiding walks and line drives well enough that the expected pulled outfield flyballs (and extra bases) on batted balls would not be so punitive.

The lone surprise in the 2022 MLB season was that CTL rated roughly half minus (28) as the prophecy rang true. Did Ryan become gun-shy and nibble as a consequence of aerial outfield trauma? CTL seems surer to rise in 2023 but remains rather shy of plus (84). Fewer walks would help offset any dip in LD Avoid and limit base traffic ahead of pull-third OFFB and more well-struck OFFB to other fields, reducing the run consequences of such.

Another FaBIO plus OVERALL seems realistic, perhaps a lower 90s one if CTL eclipses average and LD Avoid stays in the half-to-full plus range. Assuming strikeouts stick around, about the only scenario in which Ryan is not an American League average SP by FaBIO OVERALL is an unlikelier misalignment of the CTL, LD Avoid, and Pull OFFB Avoid stars. Ryan has refined his slider and toyed with a splitter this spring; either could increase strikeouts, but also Pull OFFB if they are not located more risk aversely.

Ryan resembles 2020 prospect graduate RHSP, Cristian Javier. They are similar enough in design to justify valuing them comparably in fantasy leagues with Javier's K edge upping his valuation a few ticks more. As years go by, dynasty fantasy owners should be on alert for batters increasingly zeroing in on trick four-seam fastballs like these upon repeat viewings, primarily so with intra-division foes in the pending era of universal interleague play. Technology could present a broader future threat to this variety of starting pitcher with batting lineups increasingly able to face (simulate facing) an unusually deceptive 4-seam fastball's ride and carry via pitching machines (virtual reality) in the hours before a game they are announced to start.


Jhoan Duran, Minnesota Twins

Extreme groundballer Jhoan Duran throws his primary fastball almost 10 mph harder than his extreme flyballer teammate, Joe Ryan. Between being limited to five AAA games and 75 batters in 2021 by an elbow injury and Duran down to one option year, the Twins opted to MLB debut him in their bullpen to open 2022 and he remained there for the duration.

As with Ryan, the biggest FaBIO surprise was CTL, which nearly reached plus as an MLB RP after not topping 50 since 2017 as a MiLB SP. Elsewhere, K (94) and GB (96) remained high while LD Avoid (59) and Oppo-Handed Batters (42 OHB OVERALL) stayed short in theme with prior MiLB seasons. A near plus plus groundballer like Duran should also be avoiding LD in the neighborhood of plus to plus plus; when LD Avoid comes up short relative to GB, the overall Batted Profile Rating is undermined and the pitcher usually ends up allowing more hits on batted balls than that level of GBer typically does (note that the last three AVG Avoid on Batted Balls are in 31 to 7 range).

Duran's velocity and movement can work against him in biasing grounders the opposite way and making them more likely to be singles versus shifts; uniquely optimized positioning of rangier, more accurate if not stronger, armed defensive infielders are required in his case.

A second flaw in the 2022 batted ball profile was that OFFB contact was biased earlier (69 Pull OFFB Avoid lagged well behind 97 OFFB Avoid). That undesirable outcome likely stemmed from more riskily locating the "splinker" splitter-sinker hybrid. More risk-averse placement of the pitch ahead would allow better pull-third OFFB avoidance and lower probability of extra bases (ISO) on OFFB.

Full redraft fantasy league players should spot flags on 2023 Duran. He probably overachieved at control in 2022. There is a track record of not avoiding line drives and singles well on batted balls by the extreme groundballer standard. Shortcomings against opposite-handed batters may warrant a rescue from a stronger-versus-LHB reliever that won't always come. He surely will not avoid runs commensurate with the debut 1.86 ERA. He stands to remain in a 1-to-2-innings played, seventh-to-eighth-inning leverage role that has him logging a hodgepodge of holds, saves, and wins as opposed to many saves. Beyond the volatile cocktail of 100 mph fastball velocities and a 2021 elbow injury, his Spring has gotten off on the wrong leg via a hamstring injury.

Dynasty leaguers should recognize that there is little chance of an impact on the MLB SP's future between the one option year remaining, control not rating nearly as well versus SP peers pre-MLB, some holes in an otherwise groundball-heavy batted ball profile, and forward splits that render him vulnerable to lineups stacked with lefthander batters. Yet, Duran can continue to be a full to 1.5 plus OVERALL short RP on FaBIO scales over the years ahead and deliver value to the dynasty organization (even around any future year lost to an elbow injury), with more annually if or when he assumes a one-and-done closer role. Ideally, by then, he has improved some more versus opposite-handed batters and has cleaned up the batted ball profile.


Other AL Central Pitcher Prospect Graduates

The Twins reliever to rescue Duran from a quality left-handed batter in a moment of higher leverage would logically be LHP Jovani Moran, who rated 95 OVERALL versus Same-Handed Batters in the 2022 MLB season and 94/95 at that in 2022 and 2021 MiLB; the symbiosis works in reverse as the lefthander may require a similar assist from the forward-split righthander. Moran at his price should convey more 2023 value for redraft leaguers than Duran at his. Josh Winder rode a Ryan-like K+IFFB approach to great success as a 2021 AA+AAA SP but lost two standard deviations of the more vital K component with just a 17 K Rating in each of 2022 MiLB and 2022 MLB; OFFB Avoid and Pull OFFB Avoid were really red at both stops, increasing extra bases on batted balls.

Max Castillo flashed an improved batted ball profile in 2021 and paired that with better K outcomes in 2022 during which he made his MLB debut with the Blue Jays before being traded to the Royals; a run of 50+ OVERALL Ratings over fuller MLB SP seasons ahead seems unlikely but the fundamentally solid righthander could eat innings competently for the rebuilding Royals in a back-of-rotation to swingman role.

Hopes for RHRP Dylan Coleman were high after an impressive K-leaning 99 OVERALL in the 2021 AA and AAA MiLB campaign that was followed by good CTL+K outcomes in a 25-batter MLB debut; yet, an 8 CTL/45 K/37 BATTED BALL PROFILE line over 289 2022 MLB batters does not match the profile of an impact MLB RP or one who will routinely post ERA seasons circa 2.78 at the level.

Jonathan Heasley made three MLB starts at the end of his 2021 debut after an okay AA campaign that rated nearly half plus OVERALL; CTL and K Ratings spiked over six AAA starts to begin 2022, and from there, the Royals forced too much MLB too soon to the tune of a dismal 8 CTL/11 K/35 BATTED BALL PROFILE over 465 batters.

Davis Martin could not carry his 2022 AA+AAA K gains to the MLB versus 2021, but at least collected the batted ball cousin of K in IFFB (K and IFFB are virtually equivalent in run expectancy value) in a surprisingly solid 55 OVERALL 19 BF/G MLB SP debut with White Sox; barring surprises, Martin fits best in an MLB back-of-rotation to swingman role long-term with not much fantasy value.

In three MLB seasons and a single MiLB one around an impressive 2021 AAA 95 OVERALL, Jimmy Lambert has posted four OVERALL Ratings in the zero to 14 range. After a pair of lackluster pre-pandemic campaigns, Konnor Pilkington resurrected his prospect star via a 2021 AA 90 OVERALL season that began with the White Sox affiliate and ended with the Cleveland one; K and BATTED BALL PROFILE out-generation fundamentals came back to earth in 2022 AAA and expectedly fell more over 258 MLB batters at 17 BF/G.

NCAA Division II product Beau Brieske gained 2021 steam as an odder CTL+IFFB+LD Avoid back-of-rotation SP prospect but had trouble getting IFFB in 2022 AAA and later both IFFB and LD Avoid in 2022 MLB.

Former 18th overall pick, Alex Faedo, put himself back on the prospect map with a 2019 AA flyball-heavy 81 CTL/94 K/81 Batted Ball Profile line but later lost the 2021 MiLB return to Tommy John surgery; CTL and K spiked over a mostly A ball April return before each cratered and the path to BATTED BALL PROFILE stayed eerily empty in the MLB over the next two-and-a-half months before a hip injury ended his reboot at the All-Star Break.

Jason Foley was a CTL, GB, and LD Avoid standout in 2022 MLB but struggled to get K and contrarily (to plus LD Avoids) allowed many hits (AVG) on batted balls. Garrett Hill, who has consistently shone on the MiLB FaBIO scales, oddly flipped from a groundballer to flyballer in 2022 AA and AAA but lost the more important K part of K+IFFB while spending a full second half in the MLB.

Cases can be made that with so many of their planned starting pitchers out of action (Turnbull, Mize, Manning, Rodriguez, etc.), the Tigers forced too much MLB too soon on Brieske, Faedo, and Hill, and as such, it may also be too soon to dismiss them as future MLB contributors.

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