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Pitchers Advanced Metrics Leaders for Statcast WHIP+ Studs and Duds (Week 16)

Jake Irvin - Fantasy Baseball Rankings, Draft Sleepers, MLB Injury News

Welcome to another edition of RotoBaller’s Statcast Pitcher Studs and Duds article series for Week 16 of the 2024 fantasy baseball season! Today we'll be taking a look at Chris Sale, Jake Irvin, Chris Bassitt, and Kevin Gausman. 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.

Most fantasy managers are familiar with WHIP, as it is usually a pitching category in roto leagues and impacts points league totals. However, WHIP+ is a less-used metric for player analysis. Any metric with a + at the end indicates it is normalized around league-average values and set at 100. For WHIP+, a value lower than 100 indicates the pitcher's WHIP is 100-X percent below the league average, and vice versa.

While fantasy managers typically look at absolute values, considering how players are doing to the rest of the league can be insightful. This exercise can be particularly useful for determining buy-low and sell-high candidates. Let's dig in as we wrap up the first half of the season!

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


WHIP+ Studs for Fantasy Baseball

All stats are current as of Sunday morning, July 7, 2024.

Chris Sale, Atlanta Braves

11-3, 2.71 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 71 WHIP+

At age 35, Chris Sale is putting together one of his best seasons. He has gone 11-3 with a 2.71 ERA, a 0.91 WHIP, and a 32.7% strikeout rate in 16 starts and 99 2/3 innings pitched. His WHIP corresponds to a 71 WHIP+, which is the lowest among qualified starters. Sale has had a great career overall, but his 2023 left something to be desired for fantasy managers. What has changed, and should they expect it to continue?

Breaking down his WHIP specifically, Sale has done an excellent job not putting runners on for free. His 4.9% walk rate is lower than his 5.8% career mark, which is already solid. He has thrown the ball in the strike zone more this season, with a 52.8% zone rate. The interesting thing is that this mark, while an improvement from 2023, is still lower than his 54.2% career average.

This can be explained by the other portion of his WHIP. Sale has done a better job allowing hits, as indicated by his .283 BABIP compared to a .294 average. He has achieved this in large part by striking out so many hitters. Sale's 32.7% strikeout rate is above his 30.6% career average, and he has managed that despite his relatively low zone rate thanks to a career-high 36.0% chase rate. His slider and changeup have fueled this chase rate.

In sum, everything has clicked for Sale this season. His Statcast page is littered with red and supports the notion that he has been one of fantasy's best pitchers this season. His lack of walks, high strikeouts, and avoidance of hard contact while keeping the ball on the ground have led to an outstanding WHIP+.

The only potential concern is health. This has been an issue for Sale throughout his career, and age isn't on his side. Worried fantasy managers could sell very high on Sale, but he has already pitched almost as many innings as he did all of 2023. I think he has been too good to part with, and all controllable facets of his game point to a top-tier pitcher.

Jake Irvin, Washington Nationals

7-6, 2.80 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 78 WHIP+

Jake Irvin does not have anywhere near as much fantasy clout as Chris Sale, but he has put together a great first half. The 27-year-old has a 2.80 ERA, a 1.00 WHIP, and a 22.7% strikeout rate in 18 starts and 106 IP. His WHIP+ is among the top 10 best for qualified pitchers. This is just his second big-league season, and his first season wasn't fantastic, so what should fantasy managers make of his current performance?

Starting with the positives, Irvin has significantly improved his walk rate. His walk rate during his rookie season was too high at 10.2%, but it has been a solid 5.8% this season. He has also avoided damaging contact, as indicated by his .254 BABIP. This could be due to inducing a lower launch angle, which has yielded a 45.6% groundball rate in the 64th percentile of baseball.

This is where things start to get more confusing. First, despite doing a good job keeping the ball on the ground, Irvin has still allowed plenty of hard contact. His average exit velocity and hard-hit rate are both in the bottom quarter of baseball. He has still allowed room for fly balls; his 11.5-degree launch angle is lower than last season, but it isn't what one would associate with a groundball pitcher.

Irvin's batted-ball profile isn't that much different from last season, yet he has gotten much less damaging results. He has allowed fewer fly balls, but his HR/FB rate has dramatically dropped from 13.8% to 9.4%. Given the changes in his batted-ball profile, I wouldn't expect that much of a drop. His 3.74 SIERA also supports that he has overachieved to this point.

Irvin has gotten great results this season and has seen substantial changes in several aspects of his game. Unfortunately, there isn't a ton of underlying evidence to support those outcome changes. He has cut his walk rate and has gotten slightly more ground balls, but he has still allowed a lot of hard contact and isn't a true groundball pitcher.

His SIERA is about one run higher than his ERA, suggesting he has gotten lucky. I think fantasy managers should be pleased with what they have gotten from Irvin, given his pre-season expectations, but I would not be surprised to see second-half regression.


WHIP+ Duds for Fantasy Baseball

All stats are current as of Sunday morning, July 7, 2024.

Chris Bassitt, Toronto Blue Jays

7-7, 3.43 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 113 WHIP+

At a quick glance, Chris Bassitt's 3.43 ERA and 21.1% strikeout rate are what fantasy managers would expect and align with his career averages. He has also averaged a solid 5 2/3 IP/GS in his 18 starts. One metric that stands out for the wrong reasons is his 1.42 WHIP, which is by far his highest mark since 2016. Consequently, his 113 WHIP+ is the fourth-highest among qualified starters. What should fantasy managers make of these contradictory data?

Looking under the hood, Bassitt's 9.2% walk rate is his highest since 2018 and is not close to his 7.5% career average. The good news is there isn't really anything that explains this. His zone rate, chase rate, and first-pitch strike rate are all around his career averages, so there aren't any indicators to suggest that his increased walk rate is necessarily a problem.

The culprit is Bassitt's results on balls in play. His career BABIP is .284, but his BABIP this season is .325. This is peculiar, as he has done a good job limiting hard contact. His hard-hit rate is league-average, and his average exit velocity is in the 78th percentile of baseball. His relatively poor supporting defense plays a part in this, but I would not expect a BABIP that high, given his batted-ball profile.

Bassitt's WHIP+ may be very high, but his other underlying stats do not necessarily align. He has done a pretty good job limiting hard contact but has a bloated BABIP. His 4.27 xERA indicates his batted-ball profile may be mediocre, but the type of contact he has allowed is similar to previous seasons when his WHIP was lower. I am not convinced that his elevated WHIP will continue.

Kevin Gausman, Toronto Blue Jays

6-8, 4.64 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 107 WHIP+

Kevin Gausman was considered a top fantasy option coming into the season, but his 6-8 record, 4.64 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, and 24.0% strikeout rate have all been very disappointing. Most of his stats are the worst they've been in his last four seasons, and his WHIP and 107 WHIP+ are no exception. Should fantasy managers hold out hope for a second-half turnaround?

Gausman's high WHIP+ seems puzzling when looking under the hood. His 6.4% walk rate is actually down from last season, and his .321 BABIP, while high, is the same as last season. His WHIP may be so much higher because he is allowing more contact in general. Gausman's strikeout rate is at its lowest mark since 2018, and his 77.5% contact rate is its highest since 2016.

Gausman's 16.7% CSW rate is well below his 28.1% career average and has been fueled by an unusually low 11.5% swinging-strike rate. He has seen big swinging-strike rate drops in his changeup and his split-finger fastball, which is his go-to secondary pitch. He has located his splitter well, but hitters may simply be seeing it better, as he has seen a big drop in chase rate, a drop in swing rate, and a spike in contact rate.

Hitters' patience has allowed them to expect Gausman's fastball, which they have hammered with a .306 batting average and a .554 slugging percentage. Gausman's fastball velocity has been down this season by about one MPH, which may have something to do with it. Gausman's overall batted-ball profile is not much different from his past couple of seasons, but his increased contact rate is exacerbating things.

It is hard to get to the bottom of why things aren't going well for Gausman, but the whats are apparent. His key secondary pitch has not been nearly as effective this season, which has negatively impacted his fastball. He has allowed much more contact this season, which has bloated his WHIP and has impacted his other peripheral stats. I would be hesitant to sell low on him, given his history of success, but fantasy managers may not have a choice if he continues to struggle.

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