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MLB Pitcher Studs and Duds - Advanced Metrics Leaders for Spin Rates (Week 21)

Welcome back to fantasy baseball and RotoBaller’s Statcast Pitcher Studs and Duds article series! Each week, I select one advanced metric, choose two pitchers with strong values and two with poor values, and analyze what those values may mean for future performance.

We are nearing the end of the season and I have yet to take a look at pitchers' actual arsenals. The two major components of pitches themselves are velocity and movement. I could spend a whole portion of this series focusing on specific pitches, but for this week, I am going to highlight some pitchers' specific pitches with high and low spin rates. Spin rates are measured in rotations per minute (RPM).

Generally speaking (but not always the case as we will see), the more spin a pitch has, the more actual or perceived movement it generates. This can allow pitchers to miss more bats or generate weak contact. At this point in the season, fantasy managers need pitchers who can turn in solid outputs more than ever. To that end, let's identify some pitchers who have particularly interesting pitches to offer!

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Spin Rate Studs for Fantasy Baseball

All stats are current as of Sunday morning, August 28, 2022.

Sonny Gray, Minnesota Twins (Four-Seam Fastball)
7-4, 3.04 ERA, Spin Rate: 2,529 RPM

Sonny Gray has had an up-and-down career but has been a useful to higher-end fantasy option for most of it. His newest chapter with the Twins has gone well, as he has managed a 3.04 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, and 24.2% strikeout rate over 20 starts.

One of the things that stands out about Gray is the spin rates he gets on all of his pitches. I am going to focus on the impressive 2,529 RPM of his four-seam fastball. How have his high spin rates helped him find success?

Gray's spin rates have allowed him to achieve success and generate strikeouts without having overpowering stuff. He mainly employs a five-pitch mix with each pitch being thrown at least eight percent of the time. His main two pitches are his four-seamer (27.5% usage) and his sinker (27% usage), which also has a high spin rate.

High spin rates on fastballs give them the appearance of rising. This has allowed Gray to stay in the top of the zone with both pitches without allowing damaging contact.

Gray's fastball isn't dominant in the traditional sense, but his high spin rate has allowed him to use it a bit more like a harder-throwing pitcher. His swinging-strike rate on the pitch is only 6.2%, but he has allowed a strong .227 batting average and .340 slugging percentage against it.

Gray has gotten strong results in most areas this season thanks to a varied and high-spinning pitch arsenal. The one knock on him is he has only averaged five innings per start, although he hasn't been all that inefficient at 80 pitches per start. Fantasy managers searching for wins may not find Gray the most enticing fantasy option, but everything else about his profile makes him a trustworthy middle-to-back-of-the-rotation starter for teams heading into the playoffs.

Charlie Morton, Atlanta Braves (Curveball)
6-5, 4.10 ERA, Spin Rate: 3,072 RPM

Charlie Morton started the season as a huge fantasy dud but has bounced back since then to the tune of a 4.10 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, and 28.6% strikeout rate. Like Gray, Morton gets a lot of spin on most of his pitches, but his prized Statcast pitch is his curveball with an RPM of over 3,000. His primary pitch for the past two seasons, how has the veteran managed to find success with the breaking ball?

As I mentioned, Morton has relied on his curveball primarily this season with 37.9% usage, and for good reason. It has been by far his best pitch with a .163 batting average, a .306 slugging percentage, and a 17.6% swinging-strike rate against, thanks in part to the above-average vertical and horizontal break.

The issues for Morton on the season have been his fastballs, particularly his four-seamer and cutter. He doesn't throw his cutter a ton which is a positive, but he has yielded a lackluster .257 batting average and .450 slugging percentage and .300 batting average and .581 slugging percentage with his four-seamer and cutter, respectively. Consequently, his overall exit velocity and hard-hit rate are below average and his 13.7-degree launch angle is a career-high.

Things certainly haven't gone as smoothly for Morton as fantasy managers would have hoped, but I suggested sticking with him earlier in the season and am still doing so.

He has looked much better in the second half with a 3.27 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, and 32.1% strikeout rate in seven starts. Not surprisingly, he has leaned on his curveball even more than his season average in those starts. Morton should be the high-end fantasy option managers drafted as long as he keeps turning to his deadly pitch.


Spin Rate Duds for Fantasy Baseball

All stats are current as of Sunday morning, August 28, 2022.

Lucas Giolito, Chicago Chite Sox (Slider)
10-7, 5.14 ERA, Spin Rate: 1,962 RPM

Lucas Giolito came into the season as a higher-end fantasy option but has been anything but. He is in the midst of one of his worst seasons with a bloated 5.14 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, and 25.3% strikeout rate. There are plenty of things to analyze under the hood, but one interesting thing is Giolito's use of his slider.

He has used it a career-high 24.4% of the time despite it having baseball's lowest spin rates. Giolito is rostered in 90 percent of leagues, but should he be trusted for the rest of the season?

One of the main things that stand out to me is Giolito's high BABIP overall. His current .357 BABIP is high in general and is much higher than his.278 career average. This theme applies to his slider in particular. Giolito has always had a flatter slider than most, almost like a cutter, but he has typically found success with it thanks to swings-and-misses as well as chases.

Those trends have not played out this season. Giolito's swinging-strike rate with the pitch is down from 19.1% in 2021 to a mere 12.7% this season. Further, his chase rate is down to 28.8% from 34.9%, his overall contact rate on the pitch is up from 63.5% to 72.9%, and his BABIP is up significantly to .330 from .200. In sum, hitters are only swinging at sliders in the zone and are making more damaging contact off of them.

This analysis yields similar results for all of Giolito's pitches, which helps explain his overall poor performance. It is difficult to explain why this trend has occurred; Giolito's velocity is down about one MPH on all of his pitches, but his spin rate on his slider at least has not suffered.

His 3.78 SIERA does suggest that he has gotten unlucky this season, but I would hesitate to rely on him with only a few weeks left of the season. At best, I would choose my matchups carefully to employ Giolito in my lineups and would be particularly wary in roto leagues.

Ranger Suarez, Philadelphia Phillies (Sinker)
8-5, 3.38 ERA, Spin Rate: 1,901 RPM

Ranger Suarez is another pitcher who hasn't been quite as good as he was last season, although it was unrealistic to expect such stellar numbers again. Suarez has pitched well overall regardless, compiling a 3.38 ERA, 1.31 WHIP, and 20.1% strikeout rate in 22 starts. He relies heavily on his sinker at 42.2%, and his sinker has one of the lowest RPMs in the league. Does this actually benefit him?

Indeed it does. Diving pitches such as changeups or sinkers can generate more drop with a lack of spin, and we see that with Suarez's sinker. He has generated both above-average vertical and horizontal breaks with the pitch, leading to a .213 batting average, a .279 slugging percentage, and a -3-degree launch angle against. Coincidentally, his next most-used pitch is a changeup, which has a very similar overall profile and results to his sinker.

Suarez hasn't been quite as electric as he was in 2021, but he has still proven to be a high-floor fantasy option. He is a pitch-to-contact pitcher and has done quite well at it by relying on pitches that drop down in the zone. He may not be the flashiest fantasy option, but he likely will not lose pivotal matchups for fantasy managers down the stretch.

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