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Starting Pitcher Busts Due to Bounce Back In 2020

Starting pitching busts are the worst types because they usually show severe decline in production. At least when your hitter busts, it’s a minor decline in career norms - but with pitchers, we sometimes see them completely fall-off in their bust seasons.

These two pitchers are former aces for the Cleveland Indians. Both of them had severely disappointing seasons, either due to injury or decline in production. Each pitcher enters 2020 with a clean slate on a new team. 

Let’s take a look at why Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer, two of the biggest starting pitcher busts in 2019 Fantasy Baseball, look poised to return to career norms. This will be a deep dive into their pitch mix, team contexts, and 2020 outlooks to demonstrate why you need to draft them on your fantasy teams this year.

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

 

Corey Kluber, Texas Rangers

Year NFBC ADP IP ERA WHIP SIERA K-BB% SwStr%
2018 29.09 215.0 2.89 0.99 3.23 22.3 12.0
2019 95.62 35.2 5.80 1.65 4.68 13.7 12.3

Corey Kluber is coming off a disappointing 2019 season that was cut short due to an oblique injury. His numbers were down across the board, partly resulting from some bad luck on batted balls and stranding base-runners (.370 BABIP, 63.8 LOB%). Let’s analyze his pitch mix to see if there were any signs of decline.

Pitch Mix

2019 Season
Cutter Sinker Curveball 4-Seamer Changeup
29.0 Usage% 26.7 Usage% 22.9 Usage% 12.9% Usage 8.5 Usage%
6.1 Barrel% 19.4 Barrel% 0.0 Barrel% 8.3 Barrel% 0.0 Barrel%
16.7 SwStr% 6.1 SwStr% 18.8 SwStr% 4.9 SwStr% 9.8 SwStr%
.347 xwOBAcon .508 xwOBAcon .205 xwOBAcon .454 xwOBAcon .279 xwOBAcon

 

2018 Season
Cutter Sinker Curveball 4-Seamer Changeup
29.4 Usage% 32.7 Usage% 22.5 Usage% 8.9 Usage% 6.6 Usage%
4.8 Barrel% 6.1 Barrel% 9.5 Barrel% 9.1 Barrel% 5.6 Barrel%
15.8 SwStr% 2.6 SwStr% 19.7 SwStr% 9.2 SwStr% 21.8 SwStr%
.340 xwOBAcon .393 xwOBAcon .362 xwOBAcon .335 xwOBAcon .313 xwOBAcon

Pitch Mix

As you can see here, Kluber’s sinker got absolutely pounded in 2019. Kluber relies on this pitch to induce weak contact, especially since his four-seamer has been a below-average pitch throughout his career. Even worse, his four-seamer was less effective than usual, as hitters were able to barrel this pitch at a higher rate. This made it tough for Kluber to get off to a strong start in the 2019 season. The good news here is that his velocity remained similar to 2018 norms. It’s also encouraging that this bout of ineffectiveness was a small sample of only 35.2 innings. But the most promising aspect of Kluber’s 2020 outlook lies within his career pattern.

Monthly Splits

March/April 227.2 IP 3.91 ERA 1.20 WHIP 24.9 K% 6.1 BB% 18.8 K-BB%
May/October 1,114.0 IP 3.01 ERA 1.06 WHIP 27.5 K% 5.3 BB% 22.3 K-BB%

Kluber is the type of pitcher who tends to start slowly before finding his rhythm, eventually dominating opposing hitters down the stretch. It’s possible that Kluber was simply following his usual pattern of getting off to a slow start. Once the calendar turned to May, Kluber suffered the oblique injury, so his season was over before he could put everything together. 

Team Context

Kluber now joins the Texas Rangers in their first season in a new stadium, Globe Life Field,  which includes a retractable roof, projecting to play as more of a pitcher’s park than the previous home run haven. Pitching in this air-conditioned stadium should do wonders since the overwhelming Texas summer heat often had a negative impact on pitchers. The Rangers staff also has proven to be effective in pitching development - veterans Lance Lynn and Mike Minor had career years in 2019.

Outlook

Don’t let an injury-plagued season cause you to think that this is a pitcher in decline. Instead, focus on the five-year track record. Be optimistic about the change in team environment - there’s a chance that the Rangers coax more production out of Kluber, just like they did with Lynn and Minor. Entering his age-34 season healthy, Kluber looks poised to bounce-back in 2020.

 

Trevor Bauer, Cincinnati Reds

Year ADP IP ERA WHIP SIERA K-BB% SwStr%
2018 31.19 175.1 2.21 1.09 3.21 22.9 13.3
2019 79.80 213.0 4.48 1.25 4.14 18.8 12.2

Trevor Bauer was another pitching bust in 2019, as he was unable to live up to lofty expectations after a breakout 2018 season. Bauer was possibly affected by prevailing trade rumors that lasted until the deadline. He also had to acclimate to a new team and league for the second half of the season. Let’s delve further into his pitch mix.

Pitch Mix

2019 Season
4-Seamer Knuckle-Curve Cutter Slider Changeup Sinker
38.8 Usage% 19.6 Usage% 16.4 Usage% 13.8 Usage% 7.6 Usage% 3.7 Usage%
12.3 Barrel% 4.6 Barrel% 5.0 Barrel% 7.9 Barrel% 4.8 Barrel% 10.3 Barrel%
9.2 SwStr% 12.9 SwStr% 13.9 SwStr% 18.1 SwStr% 11.8 SwStr% 9.7 SwStr%
.411 xwOBAcon .373 xwOBAcon .313 xwOBAcon .329 xwOBAcon .378 xwOBAcon .402 xwOBAcon

 

2018 Season
4-Seamer Knuckle-Curve Cutter Slider Changeup Sinker
36.9 Usage% 26.7 Usage% 10.5 Usage% 13.7 Usage% 7.0 Usage% 5.2 Usage%
7.5 Barrel% 5.8 Barrel% 2.1 Barrel% 1.6 Barrel% 0.0 Barrel% 0.0 Barrel%
7.5 SwStr% 15.2 SwStr% 21.6 SwStr% 21.5 SwStr% 15.5 SwStr% 0.0 SwStr%
.356 xwOBAcon .389 xwOBAcon .307 xwOBAcon .287 xwOBAcon .190 xwOBAcon .301 xwOBAcon

We can see that Bauer tinkered with his pitch mix to undesirable results this past season. Bauer increased his cutter usage by 5.9%, which led to a decline in Swinging-Strike rate by 7.7%. Since he turned to his cutter more, he used his knuckle-curve less - it’s possible that the decreased use of this breaking pitch made his four-seamer less effective. Bauer likely needs to turn to his knuckle-curve more often for his four-seamer to induce more weak contact - .356 xwOBAcon rose to .411 xwOBAcon this past year, as hitters were able to turn on the pitch more often. We also saw a significant decline in effectiveness with his changeup and sinker - both pitches saw large increases in xwOBAcon. We can reasonably project some more knuckle-curve usage for Bauer in 2020 as he attempts to return to his 2018 form.

Monthly Splits

Indians 152.1 IP 3.49 ERA 1.16 WHIP 28.1 K% 9.3 BB% 18.8 K-BB%
Reds 68.1 IP 6.19 ERA 1.39 WHIP 27.7 K% 8.7 BB% 19.0 K-BB%

Bauer struggled mightily upon being dealt to Cincinnati - this is possibly attributed to his acclimation to new hitters in the National League. We also need to account for the small sample size of 68.1 innings. It’s more likely that Bauer’s statistics in Cleveland are a more accurate representation of his ability going forward. The poor performance in Cincinnati has led to a discount on Bauer’s 2020 value.

Team Context

The Reds’ coaching staff has shown some recent promise with pitching development, as Luis Castillo was able to ascend to stardom, and Sonny Gray had a career resurgence in the first season for new pitching coach Derek Johnson. The team has also hired Kyle Boddy, creator of Driveline Baseball, which is a data-driven player development program that has gained popularity due to its recent success with pitchers like Bauer, among others. Bauer’s familiarity with Driveline will likely be an asset not only as they continue to work together, but also on the rest of the Reds’ pitchers. 

Outlook

Don’t let the small sample in Cincinnati cause you to miss out on Bauer. A full offseason and shortened year in Cincinnati should lead to a bounce-back. The Reds project to be a contending team with the additions of Nicholas Castellanos and Mike Moustakas, so Bauer will have opportunities to rack up wins. Draft Bauer with confidence in 2020.

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