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FaBIO Analysis: Flyballer Starting Pitcher Prospects, Right-Handed Edition

Joe Ryan fantasy baseball rankings MLB prospects draft sleepers

I developed the Fielding- and Ballpark-Independent Outcomes (FaBIO) pitcher evaluation system circa 2013 as a tool for quantifying non-batted-ball and batted-ball fundamentals of individual pro pitchers versus batters of both and either handedness type. Since the model was first applied to affiliated 2013 MiLB play, its reach has been extended to MLB, NCAA Division 1, NCAA Division 2, and most recently select collegiate summer leagues.

Any circuit can be FaBIO'd if we know batter and pitcher handedness and have play event descriptions in full with most of the relevant batted-ball details. Meanwhile, its audience has expanded from readers of the since-retired minorleagueball.com baseball prospects website in 2013 to Twitter followers in December 2018 to MLB amateur scouting departments in 2021 with MLB player development departments a possibility in 2022.

Here at RotoBaller, we will bias its application to rookie-eligible pro pitching prospects who should interest at least dynasty league players and deep-league drafters. For those new to advanced stats, check out Rick Lucks' comprehensive series on Using Sabermetrics.

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Basics of FaBIO

Like most models FaBIO is not wholly original in that it follows the tERA/tRA philosophy of sorting batted balls by general type – groundball (GB), line drive (LD), outfield flyball (OFFB), infield flyball (IFFB) – and playing field directions based on batter handedness (thirds here, as opposed to halves in tRA) and assigning the pitcher each event's league-typical runs expectancy value per occurrence. The most pitcher-favorable of its 12 events are the strikeout (K) and IFFB followed by the Pull-Third GB (Pull GB). Least favorable are Pull-Third OFFB (Pull OFFB), LD (Pull LD and Center LD are more punitive than Oppo LD), and walk or hit-by-pitch (BB+HBP). The remaining 4 events (Center OFFB, Oppo OFFB, Center GB, Oppo GB) vary around neutral in step with league slugging environment (OFFB) and off-field infielder shift (GB) biases.

Key FaBIO outputs are: Overall Rating (a tRA-like measure of how the pitcher compares to a league peer qualifier group on expected runs avoidance); its 3 core subcomponents of Control Rating (based on BB+HBP%), Strikeout Rating (K%), and Batted Ball Profile Rating (expected run avoidance per batted ball); various batted ball profile subcomponent ratings (GB, IFFB, LD Avoid, OFFB Avoid, Pull OFFB Avoid per batted ball). Ratings will be expressed as percentiles (100-0) but it is standard deviations behind the curtain. A 97 amounts to plus plus (2 SD above average, a 70 else 7 on scouting scales), 84 is plus, 50 is average, 16 is minus, 3 is minus minus.


Application of FaBIO: Flyballer Right-Handed Starting Pitcher Prospects

Success of the flyballer is rooted in getting extra K via their fastball around the upper reaches of the strike zone versus what pitchers generally accrue on heaters. Ideally the 4-seamer's ride/carry traits also produce many IFFB, which are equivalent to K in expected runs (almost always an out, runners seldom advance). The approach's drawback is an increased risk of longer outfield flyballs, with Pull-Third OFFB much more likely to produce extra-base hits. The runs penalty of those longer balls varies with the pitcher's ability to avoid walks (see CTL) and singles (see LD Rating, especially) before them.

Below are the 17 MLB pitcher seasons from 2013 through 2021 in which a moderate to extreme flyballer (below half minus at each of GB Rating and OFFB Avoid Rating) RHSP qualifier rated plus at Overall. Note the approach-fueled bias of avoiding AVG (hits) better than ISO (extra bases) on batted balls. While FaBIO is blind to base hits and extra bases we ought to at least peak at that information to help in our pitcher evaluations.

It's a virtual "Scherzer and Verlander Show" as the duo occupies 11 of 17 rows. Their difficult to replicate success involves loading up on K+IFFB, seldom walking batters, and keeping LD avoidance safely above average while not fully bottoming out at Pull OFFB avoidance. Cole is 4-for-4 on plus overalls since his pre-2018 approach redesign but has met these flyballer criteria just twice. Bauer turned the trick in 2020 but came back to earth in an also-shortened 2021 (50 CTL/95 K/16 BATTED BALL PROFILE) as control reverted to past norms while a 0 Pull OFFB Avoid very undermined a 91 IFFB+92 LD Avoid (that was surprisingly close to 2021's largely unrepeatable 99+100 duo).

Joe Ryan is one flyballer RHSP prospect of present interest to dynasty and redraft leaguers alike. How his pitching fundamentals have evolved on the FaBIO scales since 2015 can be gleaned from the next table. To the bad, Ryan's Pull OFFB (ISO) risk isn't going away as effective fastball velocity and offspeed pulls risk can only be improved so much at this later developmental stage. Yet that Ryan's K+CTL combo remained so high in the first five MLB starts is very promising. Most SP prospects take larger K+CTL hits while cutting their MLB SP teeth, resulting in more baserunners and more batted balls versus their past; what typically unfolds for the more extreme flyballer in this scenario is a high wire act that the under siege, increasingly gun-shy hurler fails to walk long enough for K and  CTL to climb closer to prior MiLB standards.

A shortened MLB spring means fewer Grapefruit League frames to further assess Ryan's ability to K+IFFB+CTL+LD Avoid while facing near to full MLB-caliber batters. While Ryan has profile similarities to likelier 2022 rotation-mate Bailey Ober, the MLB ceiling (SP2 who could resemble a SP1 in better batted ball profile seasons) and floor (higher-leverage 7th-to-8th-inning K+IFFB RP) are higher. A SP future grows more certain if Oppo-Handed Batter Overall Rating rates plus in MLB as it did in all three MiLB seasons. The 2021 trade from AL East to AL Central should help from a venue and opposing batter standpoint. If Ryan keeps binging on K+IFFB while very avoiding walks (hypothetical CTL and K Ratings from 2018 D2 would also be very green) and mostly avoiding LD a fantasy owner need not entertain skipping starts at cozier corner-fenced venues like BOS, NYY, TOR, CLE, HOU.

Below are 2021 non-MLB FaBIO Ratings of select AL RHSP prospects with a larger flyball bias. For that season, how did control and the various batted ball profile stars align around the core K+IFFB fundamentals that should be there but may not? If this is the batted ball profile versus MiLB batters how might it look versus MLB ones? Is he young/malleable enough to tweak the fastball arsenal so as to get a couple more grounders per start without losing the present flyball-approach-rooted overall success? Are Oppo-Handed Batter outcomes stout enough to overcome a MLB manager stacking a lineup in that direction?

As flaws mount during the flyballer starter's pro development project them as a MLB K+IFFB short RP with attention given to how well the top offspeed offering may play in a higher leverage role.

  • Tommy-John-returnee Kutter Crawford should have better avoided AVG and ISO on batted ball balls with these batted ball profile fundamentals.
  • Will Jack Leiter CTL+LD Avoid enough in MLB to limit the runs from a forecast higher volume of Pull OFFB?
  • Cole Winn had no business avoiding ISO on batted balls that well with so many Pull OFFB.
  • Could Luis Gil or Deivi Garcia realistically pin down a long-term rotation spot in the Bronx with these control and batted ball profile fundamentals and not many option years ahead?
  • It's worrisome to see a once fundamentally well-rounded SP like Simeon Woods-Richardson profiling so K-or-bust in 2021.
  • Per 2021 FaBIO fundamentals and proximity to majors, Ryan, Crawford, and Tommy Romero (Rays tend to find a way) seem most ready to deliver 2022 MLB SP value to fantasy owners.

Below are 2021 MiLB FaBIO Ratings of select NL RHSP prospects with a heavier flyball bias.

Ryne Nelson taking an extreme OFFB approach to Triple-A Reno is dicey, although he, unlike Taylor Widener before him, hasn't always rated so extreme at OFFB in past. As a very successful relative GBer in 2020 D2, Brandon Pfaadt seems approach/fastball-flexible and not relegated to getting batted ball outs via just one route. The Diamondbacks duo could be up for second half MLB SP trials but the journey through Reno and into Phoenix may be bumpier.

Marlins prospect Eury Perez and Joey Estes (now with the Athletics) are very young and ideally do not flyball quite this much (and are more refined versus oppo-handeders) when a MLB debut call comes in a few years. Spencer Strider and Ryan Pepiot sport several flags that prophesize short RP careers and seem unlikely to deliver fantasy value beyond K if given 2022 MLB SP reps on what stand to be very competitive clubs.

On Deck

Yes, flyballer LHSP prospects.

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