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Starting Pitcher Breakouts Due For Negative Regression

As a fantasy baseball manager, there is nothing better than catching a player in their breakout season. Not a lot of people talk about the downside to owning a breakout player, though.

We are all humans and a lot of us get attached to these players. That could certainly cloud your judgment because as we all know a breakout doesn’t necessarily mean the player can repeat the following year.

Below are three starting pitchers who had breakout seasons in 2019 and why we need to be suspicious. 

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Dakota Hudson, St. Louis Cardinals

Dakota Hudson enjoyed a really great 2019 season as he put up 16 wins in 174.2 innings and a 3.35 ERA. This was Dakota Hudson’s first full season in the MLB and he certainly impressed as well as provided a lot of value since he mainly went undrafted. 

Hudson was successful by creating a ton of weak contact. Among starters, he had the highest GB% at a 56.9 rate. He had a .354 xwOBAcon while the league average was .354, he had a 6.8 Barrel% while league average was 7.4%, and he had a 63.9 Weak% while league average was 62.1%. All great, right? So why is he in a regression article?

There are some major flaws within Dakota Hudson’s game. His first issue is the lack of control, Hudson posted a 4.43 BB/9 and 11.4 BB%. League average BB/9 was 3.29 and league average BB% was 8.5%. Hudson clearly was a control issue and he lets people on base a lot. If that weak contact goes away or is skewed more towards the normal he will be allowing a lot more runs. Another flaw is the lack of strikeouts, in 2019 his K% was 18.0% which was 5% lower than average. Hudson only has one pitch with strikeout upside which was his cutter that provided a 39.4 O-Swing% and 20.2 SwStr%. Otherwise, his sinker, four-seam, slider, and changeup all had a below-average SwStr%. 

Hudson seemed to get very lucky last year as well, four out of his five pitches show regression in terms of batting average. While he is a ground ball pitcher and you can expect a low BABIP, his BABIP is still very low at .274.

Hudson seems to have benefitted from some luck and while he did provide a lot of weak contact the control is a major concern. When you are drafting a team for fantasy baseball you want a pitcher with high upside, none the less high strikeout upside. We most likely saw Hudson’s best year and if he starts to let up harder contact with all of those hitters on base we could and should be looking at a major downfall. 

2020 prediction: 4.55 ERA


John Means. Baltimore Orioles

John Means had a breakout year in 2019 as he posted a 3.60 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and 13.0 K-BB%. He was the lone bright spot in another bleak season for the Baltimore Orioles. Unfortunately, that bright spot will most likely burn out.

While on the surface Means seems like a great pitcher, his 3.60 ERA came with a 4.41 FIP and horrible 5.02 SIERA. This is most likely because of his unsustainable BABIP of .256. When you break down John’s stats by month, four out of the six months his FIP was above four, and in five out of the six months, his xwOBA was higher than his wOBA. Much like Hudson, there seems to be a ton of luck here.  

The main problem with Means (besides playing in Baltimore) is that he is a two-pitch pitcher. Two pitch pitchers can survive but Means two pitches are only about average. His four-seam was okay with a .273 batting average against and 2.9 pVAL and his changeup was decent with a 13.8 SwStr% and 38.9 O-Swing%. Neither seems special and then you look at his slider that didn’t cause batters to chase and a curveball that put up a .455 ISO and 242 wRC+!

Much like Hudson, luck seemed to be a significant reason for Means great 2019 season. The main issue of his lack of repertoire and a horrible home park to pitch in really cements the regression we should see in 2020. Let other owners draft Means and fall for that 3.60 ERA from 2019.

2020 prediction: 4.25 ERA


Brandon Woodruff, Milwaukee Brewers

This might surprise a few people as Woodruff has been highly touted this offseason and one of the future stars in baseball. Woodruff lit the fantasy baseball world on fire as he put up a 3.62 ERA, 29.0 K%, and 3.01 FIP. He has great command, provided strikeouts, and his underlying ERA numbers show positive regression, so why the heck is he on this list?

The first problem with Woodruff is that he only had two pitches. While Means two pitches were average, Woodruff’s were actually very good. Woodruff boasts two amazing fastballs, his four-seam put up a .219 batting average against with a 11.9 SwStr%, and 14.2 pVAL. His sinker/two-seam put up an insane 60.0 GB%, 10.1 pVAL, and above-average movement. That is where the pitches pretty much stop. His slider only had a 12.7 SwStr% and 28.4 O-Swing%, while his changeup only let up a 130 wRC+ and .301 batting average against. So the question is, which one will be his third pitch?

As stated earlier Woodruff had a really high strikeout rate of 29.0%. Alex Chamberlain created expected metrics for walks and strikeouts and they aren’t too friendly to our boy Woodruff. In 2019 his expected K% was 26.9%, a solid 3% lower than his season number. The rule of thumb is to take a players SwStr%, double it and you should be around their K%. Woodruff’s SwStr% was 11.6% in 2019 which means he should have had a K% around 23%. 

Woodruff certainly has great stuff and room to grow and become an elite pitcher. As for 2020, the lack of a third pitch and with his strikeouts likely to come down we probably won’t be seeing a 3.62 ERA again. 

2020 prediction: 3.95 ERA

More Fantasy Baseball Busts and Avoids


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