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

Nick Lodolo - Fantasy Baseball Rankings, Draft Sleepers, Waiver Wire Pickups

In the fifth installment of a 6-part series focused on pitchers who exhausted rookie eligibility during the '22 MLB season, I review how the pitching fundamentals of select National League Central pitchers have evolved and use that information to forecast their MLB futures.

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

Let us begin with individual analyses of three key National League Central 2022 pitcher prospect graduates: Nick Lodolo, Hunter Greene, and Roansy Contreras.

Be sure to check all of our fantasy baseball lineup tools and weekly lineup resources:

 

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 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.

 

Nick Lodolo, Cincinnati Reds

Nick Lodolo - Fantasy Baseball Rankings, Draft Sleepers, Waiver Wire Pickups

The Reds made Nick Lodolo the 7th overall pick of the 2019 Draft. Around that, in 2019 he posted a 99 OVERALL in D1 and a 98 in MiLB. A 99 OVERALL in 2021 MiLB (mostly AA) was amassed over a batters-faced sample limited to just 201 by Injured List stints owed to blisters and a shoulder strain.

Lodolo fared well enough in 2022 spring training to earn an MLB rotation spot but was shut down after three starts due to a lower back strain. He returned in early June and held a starting spot until the season ended in October. A 67 OVERALL Rating was framed mostly around a 91 K Rating that was excellent for a first season as a major league starter.

A groundball-biased pitcher ideally avoids line drives nearly as well as they induce grounders. In the case of Lodolo LD Avoid Rating consistently lags behind GB Rating and explains in part why he has often struggled to avoid hits on batted balls (the highest ISO Avoid on Batted Balls in any pro row of the table is a 32). This makes Lodolo rather susceptible to singles while else avoiding flyballs and extra bases (ISO) on batted balls rather well. Control is where MLB and pre-MLB marks differ dramatically; CTL rated just 3 in the 2022 debut despite having never rated below average in any other row of the table.

Strikeouts will still lead the profile ahead but hopefully not so lopsidedly. To evolve from a good MLB starter to a plus to better one Lodolo needs to improve line drive avoidance by optimizing the movement of his harder offerings, inch control nearer to and ideally beyond average, and gradually better opposite-handed batter outcomes to lower vulnerability to righthanded-batter-stacked lineups.

For the sake of 2023 fantasy Lodolo will deliver strikeouts at a high rate. CTL will rise but likely not past an average 50 mark. A year to two down the road Lodolo may amount to a lefthanded version of Kevin Gausman as a beyond-plus MLB SP who gets many K around a few too many LD (singles) with not much to fret over in the realms of walks and flyballs. Daily fantasy players to bettors should note how highly lefty Lodolo has rated against lefthanded batters with no Same-Handed Batters Overall Rating lower than 94 from his sophomore NCAA season up (a lower arm slot has a hand in this).

 

Hunter Greene, Cincinnati Reds

hunter greene fantasy baseball rankings draft sleepers pitcher waiver wire

The Reds took potential two-way player Hunter Greene out of high school with the 2nd pick of the 2017 Draft. He batted some in a brief post-draft debut but has only pitched since. Greene rated near plus OVERALL in 2018 A (albeit with 9 OHB vs 99 SHB OVERALL forward splits) and again so in a 2021 split between AA and AAA. In between those endpoints he missed 2019 due to Tommy John surgery and spent 2020 at the club's alternate training site. Minor league FaBIO Ratings over that interval qualify as more good than great.

Greene made the 2022 MLB rotation out of spring training and stayed there until an August 5th Injured List trip attributed to a shoulder strain. The 2022 MLB FaBIO profile provides an accurate synopsis of what went down as lots of strikeouts were counterbalanced by almost as much loud aerial contact, and relatively many walks amplified the runs penalties of the latter. The biggest surprise was reverse batter handedness splits, as FaBIO outcomes were much better versus opposite-handed hitters than same-handed hitters. Greene's best FaBIO work came after the All-Star Break around 6 weeks lost to the Injured List by way of a 139-batter 94 OVERALL  41 CTL/99 K/50 BATTED BALL PROFILE (7 GB, 94 IFFB, 31 LD Avoid, 22 OFFB & 45 Pull OFFB Avoids).

Between the stronger 2022 finish and upper 90s fastball velocity Greene is incredibly popular now in both fantasy and reality baseball. The Reds went so far as to declare him their Opening Day starter... ON MARCH 9th! Yet 2023 seems at least one year too soon to coronate Greene as a top MLB starting pitcher. He just hasn't fared well enough collectively at LD Avoid+Pull OFFB Avoid+IFFB+CTL to thrive as an extreme four-seamers-up starter in a home stadium that plays as small to all outfields as Great American Ball Park does. Instead, 2023 should be a developmental year for diversification of the fastball arsenal and approach to erect a batted ball profile that better resembles the 2021 MiLB one and less like that of a power RP.

Greene is unlikely to deliver production in line with how he is being valued in most 2023 full redraft leagues (draft positions circa 100). Dynasty owners should lightly shop him now to see how others value him even if gut instinct favors holding him for the first month to two of the season to see how his pitching profile for 2023 sorts out. There are some scenarios in which Greene's dynasty trade value may never be higher and especially so if he fails to evolve beyond challenging hitters upstairs with four-seams and tunneling sliders (or sliders and changeups) off that.

 

Roansy Contreras, Pittsburgh Pirates

Roansy Contreras fantasy baseball rankings MLB prospects draft sleepers waiver wire pickups

Roansy Contreras first caught the eye of FaBIO as a 2018 short-season A starter. Fundamentals rated far more ordinary after being moved up to full-season A and that rang true in 2019 as he repeated the level. His alternate-site-less 2020 must have gone very well. Yankees added him to the 40-man roster that November before the Rule 5 Draft and just two months later the Pirates landed him in the Jameson Taillon trade.

Contreras would proceed to post among the most dominant FaBIO profiles of 2021 MiLB SP via a mostly AA 234-batter 100 OVERALL featuring a triple plus CTL/K/BATTED BALL PROFILE trio. 55 more Arizona Fall League batters yielded similar results save that GB and OHB OVERALL were each down several ticks.

2022 MLB SP FaBIO fundamentals were remarkably low relative to the sterling 2021 MiLB marks; CTL, K, and BATTED BALL PROFILE declined anywhere from 1.5 to three standard deviations versus before. Among what also stands out is that the fastball approach shifted from one that yielded a near plus GB Rating in 2021 MiLB to one that yielded a near minus GB Rating in 2022 MLB. More four-seamers produced rather many IFFB but failed to land the K that should have also come via that tactical change. Half minus CTL, average LD Avoid, and minus-minus Pull OFFB Avoid made for a combustible cocktail in the realm of run avoidance. Over a pair of AAA option assignments completed earlier and later in the season Contreras again resembled his '21 self but he could not transfer those same fundamentals consistently to MLB starts.

Down to a single option year remaining, Contreras is already at a career crossroads of sorts in that he needs to boost his MLB SP fundamentals (strikeouts, especially) quickly. Pirates will extend him a long MLB leash to avoid exhausting it, inclusive of potentially shifting him into more of a swingman to long RP role if the MLB SP fundamentals stay shorter or workload management necessitates such.

At this stage of the preseason Contreras projects to be minors stash to future waiver-wire add in redraft leagues. Dynasty league owners should do what they can to hold him with an eye trained on early to midseason 2022 MLB SP fundamentals and consideration, given to how his dwindling option years could limit opportunities to MLB SP beyond 2023.

 

Other NL Central Pitcher Prospect Graduates

Lodolo and Greene were hardly the only Reds to lose rookie eligibility during 2022.

Unforeseen 2022 10-save-getter and projected closer Alexis Diaz must lean heavily on K+IFFB+LD Avoid to offset a volatile mix of BB (CTL should rise some, yes) and Pull OFFB that seems surer to produce far more extra bases (ISO) and runs than he surrendered in the MLB debut (especially in a flyball-unforgiving home park).  Graham Ashcraft is a weak-contact-first ground-baller RHSP who could peak around an SP3 in seasons where CTL+K pushes average and the non-GB elements of batted ball profile align more favorably; high ISO avoidance is a given here but he should have avoided AVG on Batted Balls much better in 2022 at all levels per the underlying batted ball profile fundamentals (some combination of unreliable infield defense and poor location of subpar off speed pitches?).

Well-traveled Connor Overton had an elite batted ball profile over 6 staggered MLB appearances but has not done it anywhere else lately. Largely ignore the unsightly 2022 MLB 6.36 ERA as Joel Kuhnel projects to be a half to full plus CTL+GB RHRP; like Ashcraft, he should have avoided hits (ISO) on batted balls better in MLB with those core batted ball profile fundamentals. Reiver Sanmartin must CTL better than he did in 2022 MLB to complement Kuhnel as a quality CTL+GB LHRP in the bullpen. By now I think it safe to add infield defense as another reason why relative ground-baller Lodolo did not avoid hits as well as he should have (are home park turf conditions another?).

Between Colin Holderman and Yerry De Los Santos, the Pirates may have a pair of quality weak-contact-inducing fastballer RHRP in the fold, with De Los Santos the better bet for higher-leverage duty and fantasy speculation. Also Reds rookie graduate Dauri Moreta is now with the Pirates after reproducing only the IFFB part of a sensational 2021 CTL+K+IFFB+LD Avoid mix.

Cardinals graduated rookies Andre Pallante, Packy Naughton, and Zack Thompson. GB-biased weak contact is the forte of Pallante; smallish projected experiential gains in CTL+K should enable average OVERALL Ratings and more so at per-game workloads under 10 BF/G. Naughton assumes the CTL+GB left-on-left-leaning LHRP role of since-departed T.J. McFarland. Recent FaBIO lines of 2019 19th overall pick Thompson are emblematic of what can happen when the Cardinals push top prospects up the minor league ladder too fast, as they often do; will he even amount to an above-average MLB short LHRP ahead?

How much can 2021+2022 MiLB RP standouts Brandon Hughes and Peter Strzelecki improve their CTL, K, and BATTED BALL PROFILE fundamentals in a second go at MLB batters? As a lefthander who enjoyed considerable pre-MLB overall success against batters of each handed type (and at BATTED BALL PROFILE, notably), Hughes seems the strategic fantasy grab of the duo (Hughes collected 8 saves as a rookie but is better cast in a 7th- to 8th-inning role barring larger 2023 gains in outcomes). A shoulder injury has journeyman Jason Alexander out of the Brewers staff picture for a few months; upon return, he must CTL much better in MLB to extract more value out of his groundball-heavy profile.



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