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Pitchers Advanced Metrics Leaders for Launch Angle - Statcast Studs and Duds (Week 4)

Ranger Suarez - Fantasy Baseball Rankings, Draft Sleepers, Waiver Wire Pickups

Welcome to another edition of RotoBaller’s Statcast Pitcher Studs and Duds article series for the 2024 season! Each week, I will select one stat, choose a few pitchers with strong metrics and poor metrics, and analyze them to determine how their future performance may change. Last week, I wrote about average exit velocity (EV), and this week, I'll focus on a related metric: launch angle (LA).

Pitchers can find success by allowing fly balls. However, they generally try to avoid them since a ground ball, even a hard-hit one, is less likely to go for a hit or damaging contact. The shift ban may have altered ideology slightly, but pitchers historically have tried to keep the ball out of the air.

LA is a key piece to a pitcher's performance puzzle and can indicate future results throughout the season. I will pick two SPs in the top percentiles of LA and two in the bottom, take a look under the hood, and predict what we can expect from them in the coming weeks. Pitching has been volatile in both output and injuries early on, so any insights we can find are that much more useful in gaining an edge!

Be sure to check all of our fantasy baseball waiver wire pickups and weekly lineup resources:

 

LA Studs for Fantasy Baseball

All stats are current as of Sunday morning, April 14, 2024.

Ranger Suarez, Philadelphia Phillies

2-0, 2.65 ERA, 0.71 WHIP, 0.9-Degree LA

Ranger Suarez burst onto the fantasy scene in 2021 and has provided varying value since. He has gotten off to a great start this season with a 2.65 ERA, 0.71 WHIP, and 30.2% strikeout rate. This could have to do with his 0.9-degree LA. How much of his success can fantasy managers expect to last?

The thing that stands out is Suarez's increased use of his sinker. Suarez only threw the pitch 28.0% of the time in 2023, but that number has jumped to 38.5% to start 2024. Additionally, he has located all of his pitches well. Suarez has lived mostly in the bottom of the zone, which makes it harder for hitters to lift the ball.

Digging deeper, there are plenty of signs that Suarez may not continue to be quite as excellent. Suarez has been a high-contact pitcher throughout his career and that has held in 2024 with an  81.0% contact rate. However, his career strikeout rate is 21.6%, much lower than his current 30.2% mark. Suarez is not an overpowering pitcher and is throwing his sinker even more, so I expect his strikeout rate to come down.

Finally, Suarez's 82.4-MPH exit velocity is much lower than his career mark of 87.3 MPH, and his .184 BABIP reflects that he has gotten lucky on batted balls. His career marks are still solid, but I would not be surprised to see regression in that direction.

Suarez has flashed different skills throughout his career, which are fully on display in 2024. Fantasy managers should enjoy it while it lasts, but they should not be surprised to see his performance regress back toward his career averages. This does not mean he will not continue to be a valuable fantasy arm, but fantasy managers should not fully buy into his current level of performance.

Seth Lugo, Kansas City Royals

2-0, 1.45 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 3.4-Degree LA

Seth Lugo returned to a full-time starting role with the Padres in 2023 and was a surprise fantasy asset. His success has continued into 2024 with the Royals, as he has a 1.45 ERA and 1.18 WHIP in his first three starts. He has kept the ball out of the air with a 3.4-degree LA. Can he repeat his 2023 season for fantasy managers?

Things don't look quite as positive under the hood. Lugo's career LA is 10.7 degrees, which is fine but is much higher than his current rate. Further, his current pitch mix and location don't seem to support such a low LA. Lugo has throw his sinker 19.1% of the time and has unsurprisingly induced a -1-degree LA.

However, his lowest LA pitch at -9 degrees has been his curveball, which is his primary off-speed pitch. I wouldn't question this if his pitch location weren't directly in the middle of the plate. Lugo has found middling success with the pitch, but I would expect that to decrease if he continues to locate the pitch poorly.

Lugo's overall batted-ball profile has not supported his peripherals. He has allowed slightly better-than-average hard contact, but his 3.87 xERA and 4.78 SIERA suggest that his overall quality of contact has not been great.

Players can sometimes outperform their underlying numbers, but Lugo does not have a history of this. It is hard to say what could happen after only three starts, but signs point to lesser performance than what Lugo has achieved. He is currently rostered in just 35% of leagues, but I would try to sell high on Lugo if there was any interest.

 

LA Duds for Fantasy Baseball

All stats are current as of Sunday morning, April 14, 2024.

Cristian Javier, Houston Astros

1-0, 1.10 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 25.3-Degree LA

Cristian Javier posted a surprisingly poor 2023 season after a successful few seasons. The good news is he has looked more like his old self to start 2024 with a 1.10 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, and 19.1% strikeout rate in his first three starts. He has always been a flyball pitcher and his 25.3-degree LA aligns with that. Can fantasy managers start to trust him again?

Javier's approach is different this season than the rest of his career. He is still throwing his fastball in the top of the zone, but he has thrown it drastically less in favor of his changeup.

Javier has never truly used a three-pitch mix, but he has gotten great results with his changeup and has located it well in the bottom of the zone. Oddly, he has gotten a 23-degree LA with the pitch despite the location, but that could normalize as the season goes on.

His 5.49 SIERA indicates that his batted-ball profile has been poor, but his LA and lower exit velocities do not suggest that. What has been objectively poor is his career-high 13.2% walk rate. He hasn't thrown the ball in the zone nearly as much as he did earlier in his career, which is never ideal.

Overall, Javier has gotten excellent results and has some positive underlying indicators to support them. He has worked well in the top of the zone with his fastball and has introduced an effective third pitch into his arsenal.

However, he has put too many runners on for free and some of his underlying stats do not align with his batted-ball profile. I am cautiously optimistic at this time but would prefer to see a few more starts from him before coming to any conclusions.

Nestor Cortes, New York Yankees

1-1, 3.50 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 22.3-Degree LA

Nestor Cortes is back and healthy for 2024, compiling a 3.50 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, and 18.1% strikeout rate through his first three starts. His current 22.3-degree LA is among the highest in baseball and aligns with his career mark. What can fantasy managers expect from Cortes now that he is healthy again?

Cortes' pitch mix and batted-ball profile are very similar to 2023. His 2023 peripherals were poor, but Cortes is a perpetual tinkerer, so it is tough to say that he will replicate those numbers in 2024.

Cortes does not throw hard and relies on contact in the air, so he has little room for error. This means fantasy managers should expect more variability from him compared to other pitchers. In line with this, Cortes' expected metrics do not currently agree. His 2.98 xERA is encouraging, while his 4.61 SIERA is not.

It is tough to say if fantasy managers can expect 2021-22 Cortes, 2023 Cortes, or something in between. Nothing under the hood currently points one way or the other. At this point, fantasy managers should continue to monitor his starts to see if anything reveals itself.



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