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Pitchers With New Pitches - Should We Care For Fantasy Baseball? Part Three

Tylor Megill fantasy baseball rankings waiver wire pickups draft sleepers

Welcome to another episode in this FSWA-award-winning series Pitchers with New Pitches. We take the simple premise that not every new pitch should be greeted with praise. The new pitch, like the shiny new toy, might be exciting on its own, but it also needs to be a complement to what a pitcher already has.

So instead of just celebrating that some pitchers are throwing new pitches, I watch the pitch in action, check in on its performance, and looked at the Statcast Spin Direction graphics to see if it might actually make the pitcher any more effective. From there, I try to give you a simple verdict as to whether or not we should care about this new toy or not.

It's also important to note that for many of these pitchers, this is the first time they've thrown these new pitches in a game situation, so the overall quality and consistency may get better over time, and I've tried to take that into account in my analysis. We should also note that, for the purposes of this article, I will also be including pitchers that have reworked or revamped a pitch to make it "new" even if it was technically a pitch they already threw.

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Tylor Megill - Slider and Change-up (re-shaped)

Tylor Megill came out of nowhere last year and flashed some potential but finished 4-6 with a 4.52 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, and 19 K-BB%. However, due to the injury to Jacob deGrom, Megill found himself in the rotation to start the 2022 season and has been a revelation, pitching to a 4-1 record with a 2.43 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, and 21.5 K-BB%.

A big driver of Megill's success this year has been the result of reworking both his slider and change-up in the offseason. While the new slider is thrown at basically the same velocity as last year, Megill added three inches of drop and just over an inch of horizontal break. It's still a hard, bullet slider, with just 3.5 inches of sweep overall but the added drop now gives the pitch above average vertical movement compared to the MLB average.

The added drop also gives it more differentiation from the four-seam, which is important since the pitch doesn't sweep as much as a traditional slider. In the Spin Direction graphics below, you can see how the slider actually starts at a similar trajectory to the fastball but now has more deviation so it ends up almost opposite the fastball on the clock. This means the slider appears similar to the fastball until the bottom drops out, which can increase the effectiveness of both pitches.

On the season, the slider has registered just a .042 batting average against while racking up a 14.3 SwStr% and allowing no barrels, 76.9% poor contact against, and a -3.45 deserved ERA (dERA). Considering the pitch registered a 2.81 dERA last year, that's a massive improvement and one we need to take note of.

However, Megill might have made bigger alterations to his change-up this year. For starters, Megill is now throwing his change-up at 88.9 mph, which is a huge jump from the 85.4 mph pitch he was throwing the pitch last year. Additionally, after throwing the pitch with 28.9 inches of vertical drop and 13.2 inches of run, he's now throwing it with 27.6 inches of drop and 15 inches of run, so slightly less drop and a bit more run away from lefties.

While the movement profile alone doesn't seem like a major change, considering the 4 mph increase, it makes the pitch look markedly different and also changes the way it pairs with the fastball, as you can see in the video below.

I think that the way the three pitches work together is likely more important than the pitchers individually. In fact, the re-shaped change-up has not been more effective in 2022. It has a .267 average against, a .500 slugging percentage allowed, and a 13.3 SwStr%. Last season, Megill's changeup allowed a .256 average, .512 slugging percentage, and 18.5 SwStr%, so the contact allowed is basically the same with slightly worse swing-and-miss.

However, there have been some changes in the quality of contact. Last season, the change-up allowed a 17.2% dynamic hard-hit rate and induced just 40% groundballs. Since it was hit hard in the air (91 mph exit velocity on fly balls and line drives), that was an issue.

However, this year, the change has allowed just a 7.7% dynamic hard-hit rate and is inducing a 57.7% groundball rate. The pitch also isn't being hit nearly as hard in the air (83.5 mph exit velocity on fly balls and line drives), so while the surface-level stats aren't great, it seems as though the new change-up is inducing weaker contact and becoming a key groundball pitch for Megill.

While the change-up itself isn't a better offering, the revamped arsenal is allowing Megill's four-seam fastball to play up more. Since the change-up is faster and has less hump, it appears like a fastball for longer, creating more deception with the fastball, which you can see in the video above.

So while this version of the change-up is fairly similar to last year's version, Megill's slider has been electric and his four-seam is missing more bats (16.5 SwStr% up from 10.4%) and is more effective overall (2.04 dERA compared to 5.35 dERA). To me, the improved fastball performance is likely tied to this re-shaped arsenal. That makes more sense than saying the whole reason for the improved fastball performance is because it's being thrown 0.9 mph harder. Sure, that helps, but that's not enough of a reason to see that level of improvement.

VERDICT: CLEARLY IMPACTFUL. Megill is growing as a pitcher and putting together an arsenal that works well off of one another. He may not be an elite strikeout pitcher because none of these pitches is putting up crazy SwStr% numbers, but I think that his arsenal has enough depth and deception to make him a reliable fantasy and real-life starter. We will see regression in his ratios, and his lack of elite out pitch will lead to some more laborious outings, but this is not a flash in the pan.

What is interesting to note, and a conversation, for another time, is that Megill's four-seam is the only pitch with over a 29% CSW. While the swing-and-miss rates and his change and slider are solid, his called strikes are not particularly high, which might mean he's not varying to use and location of those pitches. But that would take a deeper dive to figure out.


Zach Eflin - Cutter and Curve (Re-Shaped)

Last year was a solid year for Eflin, who pitched to a 4.17 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, and 18.8% K-BB% in 105 innings before missing the rest of the season with knee surgery. It was expected that Eflin would have a delayed start to the season, but he quickly emerged as a rotation option in Spring Training and then broke camp with the team.

Through five starts, Eflin is 1-2 with a 4.50 ERA, 1.29 WHIP, and 12.7 K-BB%. However, he's also registered a 3.77 xFIP, 3.89 SIERA, and 2.66 xERA, so what can we really make of Elfin?

Well, for starters, as you can see below, Eflin has modified his pitch mix slightly as a 28-year-old in his seventh MLB season. Eflin has added a cutter while also decreasing the use of his slider, increasing the of his four-seam slightly, and making his curve his second most-used pitch.

Let's start with adding the cutter since this is an article about new pitches. On the positive side, the cutter has a 14 SwStr%, which is pretty solid. However, the pitch hasn't been great, registering a 7.35 dERA with a 37.5% hard contact rate, and a 30.9-degree launch angle, so it's also not the groundball pitch that many cutters are.

Theoretically, the cutter should be a good pairing with Eflin's primary pitch, his sinker. As you can see from the Spin Direction graphics below, the cutter and sinker approach the hitter at a similar trajectory and both have practically the same deviation, but the sinker runs in on righties, while the cutter moves away.

It may seem like using the slider, which Eflin did last year, is better because it has more overall movement, but the cutter and sinker moving almost the same but in opposite directions would allow those pitches to tunnel better together. However, so far on the season, the sinker is being hit harder than it was last year, and we already established that the cutter hasn't been overly successful.

Getting rid of the slider was also not a slam dunk move for Eflin. Last season, the slider showed the potential to be a pretty good pitch. It registered a 14.2 SwStr%, 33% CSW, and allowed just 1.6% barrel rate. The slider did have a .321 batting average against but just a .216 xBA; however, it did have an 11.3% dynamic hard-hit rate, which was the second-most of any of his pitches. For that reason, the deserved (dERA) for the slider was 6.34.

So, in short, the pitch was good at missing bats and didn't allow a lot of barrels, but the good contact it did allow did a lot of damage. So, Eflin's change was to remove a mediocre pitch, but one that was good for missing bats, and replace it with a mediocre pitch that is almost equally as good at missing bats. It's conceivable that the shape of the cutter (harder and straighter than the slider) allows the sinker, and even the change-up, to play up more than last year because the pitches would tunnel a little better than with the slider and thus create more deception for the hitter.

However, I don't think that makes Eflin a different pitcher. The only thing that really changes him is that he responded to cutting back on his sinker by increasing the use of his curve. In 2021, Eflin's curve had a 4.10 dERA, 16.8% SwSr%, and 36.4% CSW, so even last year, it was his best pitch for swings and misses. This year it's been even better and has a 17.9% SwStr. Eflin is now also throwing the pitch 24% of the time in two-strike counts after throwing it just 15% in similar situations last year. Last year, he also threw the slider 21% in two-strike counts but has cut that down to just 11% now.

So this is certainly a promising development, but it has nothing to do with the cutter.

VERDICT: NOT IMPACTFUL. Eflin using the curve more overall and in two-strike counts is the big news here. The addition of the cutter really does nothing for me. Eflin's slider is also still offering nothing, so it's possible that he should just ditch one of those offerings. There's really no reason he needs to be throwing six pitches.

If he focuses on the sinker and curve and then continues to use the four-seam as a two-strike pitch, which he's been doing successfully this season, he would have the foundation of a strong arsenal. He would then be able to mix in the cutter and change-up depending on the handedness of the batter, but right now he's throwing a little bit of everything at everybody and it's not really working for him. However, he's an intriguing arm if he can iron out his pitch mix. 


Merrill Kelly - Change-Up (re-shape)

Merrill Kelly is off to a fast start, pitching to a 1.22 ERA and 1.03 WHIP after six starts. He's also improved his strikeout rate to 23% and his K-BB% has climbed to a solid 16.9%. Now, Kelly is still not a strikeout pitcher, with just a 9.3 SwStr% so the questions we have to ask are: How is he doing this, and is it sustainable?

Well, three things jump out in regards to how. The first is that Kelly's fastball velocity is up just under one mph, which has also led to his sinker and changeup also being thrown slightly harder. The second is merely health, which I covered in an offseason article detailing how solid Kelly was last year before testing positive for COVID.

However, the third change that we need to discuss is how Kelly re-shaped his changeup. In the offseason, Kelly added spin to his changeup, which helped to create more drop and arm-side run in relation to similar pitches. You can see the difference and the way in which the change-up pairs with his other pitches here.

I believe the pairing of the change-up and the cutter are crucial for Kelly. In fact, those are the biggest changes to his pitch mix as well. Kelly has upped the use of his cutter from 14.1% in 2021 to 22.6% in 2022 and has upped the use of his change-up from 17.4% in 2021 to 23.6% in 2022, making it his second most-used pitch.

Both of those pitches have currently returned a batting average under .200 and have allowed Kelly to move away from using his sinker, which was his worst pitch last year. So why is the new change-up such a good pairing with the cutter? For starters, let's look at the Spin Direction graphics below.

The first thing that should stand out is that the four-seam, change-up, and cutter all approach the batter at a similar trajectory (image on the left) but then the cutter has a +45 deviation to the left, so away from a right-handed hitter, while the change-up has a -60 deviation into the right-handed hitter. The four-seam rides the middle, which creates nice deception between the three offerings.

You'll also notice that the sinker and change-up move in similar directions, with the same deviation, so it's not really necessary for Kelly to feature both. Since the change-up is four mph slower and has more vertical drop, it has become the better partner for the other offerings and has a 30% whiff rate on the season, the most of any of Kelly's pitches. It has also allowed just a .179 batting average against, which has made it Kelly's best pitch overall.

Just as a final note, you'll see that Kelly's curve is almost a perfect mirror of the three other offerings, so while Kelly is not using that pitch as much this year, it gives him a fourth pitch that meshes well with his other offerings, which helps raise his floor.

VERDICT: CLEARLY IMPACTFUL. I think Kelly was being underrated coming into this season, but the new change-up makes him even more stable in my book. The fact that he has enough confidence in his new change-up to significantly dial back on his sinker usage is just a feather in his cap. Kelly has optimizes his arsenal, which will help him get consistent results. He's not going to be a high strikeout arm, and we know his ratios will not remain this low, but I think Kelly will remain a strong 12+ team league pitcher this whole year. 


Spenser Watkins - Slider and Curve (re-shaped)

Now, let's look at an option for deep leagues. You're probably not rostering Watkins anywhere right now except maybe in AL-only leagues; however, the right-hander has a 3.22 ERA and 1.39 WHIP across 22.1 innings to start the season; albeit, with just a 10.3% strikeout rate.  

Coming over from Detroit last year, Watkins was solid in Triple-A for Baltimore, but got hit around to an 8.07 ERA and 2.30 HR/9 in 16 games for Baltimore at the MLB level. A big issue for Watkins was his fastball, which allowed a .347 batting average, .643 SLG, and six of his 14 total home runs.

On top of that, Watkins really had nothing to support it. He threw his cutter 30.9% of the time, but it had a .275 BAA and just a 10.2 SwStr% and 21.4% CSW. His curveball got slightly more whiffs - with an 11.4 SwStr% - but it allowed a .382 average and .765 SLG. In short, nothing worked.

In 2022, three things are different for Watkins. The easiest to see is that his four-seam is up to 92.4 mph, which is a 1.6 mph increase from 2021. That's not nothing; however, his fastball is pretty flat and still has just a 2.6% whiff rate in 2022 despite only a .240 batting average against.

The other keys for Watkins might be his new slider and re-shaped curveball. The slider has been great for Watkins partially because it gets well-above-average 16.3 inches of horizontal movement, but also because of the way it pairs with the curve, which you can see here:

Although he only throws the pitch 16.4% of the time, the slider gives Watkins a true swing-and-miss pitch. As of now, he is using it pretty much exclusively for righties.

I think that Watkins could even get away with using the slider more to lefties because it pairs relatively well with the cutter but is 8 mph slower and could keep hitters off balance. It would also give him a true strikeout pitch against lefties because the cutter, change, and the curve have not proven to be that.

However, the curve is also an intriguing new pitch since Watkins is throwing it a full mph slower but has also added far more movement. Last year, Watkins' curve had 0.5 inches of horizontal movement; this year, it has 5.6 inches of break. Last year, it also had 51.7 inches of drop, but this year it has 59.5 inches of drop. He is currently earning a 23.8% called strike rate on the pitch and 33.3% CSW, which shows that it might be fooling hitters.

Those are two pretty drastic changes to his arsenal, which shouldn't be overlooked, but we're also talking about a 29-year-old who has yet to break through in the majors, so I don't think this will wind up being anything other than AL-Only fodder or potentially a one-off streamer in deep leagues.

VERDICT: POTENTIALLY IMPACTFUL. Now, remember, potentially impactful for Watkins means that he might be relevant in deep leagues, which would be a big change given where he was last season. He'll need the curve and the slider to both be impactful because he has a bad fastball, but there is a future where Watkins ditches his fastball and could carve out a value for himself as a pitcher with a low walk rate who pitches to a low 4.00 ERA and a K/9 just under 8.00. That's usable in deeper leagues but certainly not something you're chasing in redraft formats.  

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League Winners for Fantasy Football Best Ball: Draft Targets Include Isiah Pacheco, Jameson Williams, Christian Watson, Mark Andrews, more

Fantasy football best ball drafts continue to build momentum as an entertaining way to play fantasy football. As the hype around drafting teams grows throughout the preseason, the appetite for more BB contests continues to grow without putting more in-season management on drafters' plates. Best ball is a format where you draft a team and... Read More

Jaylen Waddle - Fantasy Football Rankings, Draft Sleepers, NFL DFS Picks

Dynasty Fantasy Football - 2023 Fantasy Football Busts To Buy In 2024

When a player busts, confidence begins to drain. However, separating facts from feelings is easier when they are not on your team to begin with.  Some preseason-hyped players were total busts in 2023. Many fantasy football managers will avoid these players in 2024 drafts, but should they? Taking advantage while their perception is down, or... Read More

Demario Douglas - Fantasy Football Rankings, Waiver Wire Pickups, Draft Sleepers

Cheap Dynasty Fantasy Football Buys With Upside in 2024 - Fantasy Football Outlook

Let’s be honest. When it comes to dynasty fantasy football, the ultimate goal is to win championships. Drafting rookies and playing scout is fun, but the only thing people remember is who wins titles. One of the most integral parts of playing dynasty fantasy football is recognizing marketplace inefficiencies and acting on them accordingly. Player... Read More

DraftKings Best Ball 2024 Fantasy Football Rankings and Tiers (Top 350)

Hello and welcome to RotoBaller's DraftKings Best Ball Fantasy Football Rankings for 2024 Best Ball leagues on DraftKings. A reminder that on the DraftKings Fantasy platform, NFL best ball leagues only have four potential positions -- Quarterback (QB), Running Back (RB), Wide Receiver (WR), and Tight End (TE). You will see these four positions in... Read More

Tyjae Spears - Fantasy Football Rankings, Draft Sleepers, Waiver Wire Pickups

Tony Pollard, Tyjae Spears - Fantasy Football Outlook for Tennessee Titans RBs in 2024

The Tennessee Titans backfield underwent significant changes this offseason. Longtime starter Derrick Henry left for the Baltimore Ravens in free agency. Tennessee’s offense has been centered around Henry for years, and this rushing attack will have a very different look in 2024. While Henry is gone, second-year back Tyjae Spears remains in the fold. The... Read More

Running Back Sleepers and Undervalued Picks for 2024 Fantasy Football

The word "sleeper" is tossed around often in the fantasy football community. So much so that players sometimes lose the sleeper label by the time many leagues conduct their drafts. Fantasy managers are always looking for the next sleeper running back in drafts, especially those who opt to dive headfirst into a "Zero RB" draft... Read More