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This year, RotoBaller is embarking on a new series using Statcast to extrapolate, dig into, and commiserate over box scores to examine pitching performance. I'm honored to take the reins on this new endeavor. The structure of the series will be dynamic as we fine-tune our findings weekly and I gradually make myself smarter about the information and tools at my disposal. The good thing is that Statcast tracks essentially every minutiae of data, so hopefully we'll have ample interesting topics to discuss.

This week, we'll look at Barrel Percentage for pitchers and how that compares with their headline numbers. Barrels (Brls) is a batted-ball event (BBE) that surpasses certain minimum criteria (batting average, slugging, exit velocity, launch angle). You can find a definitive definition from MLB.com here. Without getting into the nitty-gritty, the pitchers on last year's loserboard for highest Brls per PA were, well, not desirable fantasy options.

With almost two weeks of game action on record, we'll focus on pitchers with over 150 pitches thrown to-date which translates into at least two starts through April 10.

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Bullish Signals

Tyson Ross, San Diego Padres (1-1, 5.25 ERA, 1.17 WHIP)

Tyson Ross opened 2018 with an encouraging outing against the Rockies (W, 6.0 IP, 3 ER) and was off to a promising start before unraveling in Houston and taking a loss (6.0 IP, 4 ER, 7 Ks). Through 188 total pitches, Ross has given up one Brl (0.53%). In 2015, his last full season, Ross was top-20 in lowest Brls/PA for pitchers with over 190 BBEs so the start is certainly promising. The decent WHIP, 2.25 BB/9 and 3.35 xFIP alleviates the inflated ERA. After battling health issues the past two years, Ross' velocity is down but we'll give him a pass as he rediscovers his diamond-legs. Ross is striking out batters at only a 6.75 K/9 clip but holds a career mark of 8.34.

Before injuries derailed his career in 2016, Ross was riding two-plus excellent seasons in San Diego between 2013-2015 and earned his place in this year's rotation as a non-roster invitee. His historic bill of health is tainted, but Ross' ownership tag makes his investment horizon weekly or start-to-start. In 262.2 career innings at Petco Park, he holds a 2.84 ERA, 1.11 WHIP with 266 strikeouts. On cue, Ross is slated to pitch Friday night at home against San Francisco. Another solid outing and the bounceback hype could crescendo dramatically.

Lance McCullers Jr., Houston Astros (1-1, 3.48 ERA, 1.45 WHIP)

Lance McCullers Jr. cruised to a victory in Texas (5.1 IP, 2 ER, 10 Ks) before taking a loss at home against the Padres after allowing seven hits and three walks (5.0 IP, 2 ER, 7 Ks). McCullers currently leads the majors with a 14.81 K/9. The strikeout appeal alone is enough to whet our fantasy appetites but McCullers has also allowed just one Brl in 182 pitches (0.55%). Despite an inconsistent 2017, McCullers was top-25 in lowest Brls/PA so he's familiar with avoiding sweet spots. Other positive signals include his MLB second-best 1.31 xFIP and obnoxious .455 BABIP.

McCullers has struggled with control to start the year and has been lucky with his strand rate. If he continues his strikeout pace, the elevated pitch count could jeopardize his ability to accumulate innings. McCullers was also off to a hot start last season before collapsing after the All-Star break, missing all of August and posting an 8.23 ERA. One anomaly so far this season is an unusual 39.1% Hard% despite the one Brl. All things considered, the keys to McCullers appear to be his workload and durability across a full season. So far, so good. A visit to Target Field and the Twins is on deck.

Update: McCullers was hammered in Wednesday's start against the Twins (L, 3.2 IP, 8 ER, 7 H, 6 BB), the endorser's jinx is alive and well. At least he struck out six and surrendered only one Brl amidst the shellacking. Let's remain optimistic. For now.

Other possible outperformers: Carlos Martinez (STL, 0.49% Brls/Pitch), Lucas Giolito (CHW, 0.55%), Vince Velasquez (PHI, 0.59%)

 

Bearish Flags

Zack Greinke, Arizona Diamondbacks (0-1, 5.06 ERA, 1.31 WHIP)

Zack Greinke pitched well in his debut against the Rockies (ND, 5.2 IP, 1 ER, 9 Ks) but was roughed up the following week in St. Louis (L, 5.0 IP, 5ER, 5 Ks). Greinke is second-worst in the majors with a 3.55% Brls/Pitch, giving up a total of six barrels. Correspondingly, his Hard% and BAA are currently above career averages so far this young season. His average heater is averaging just 88.8 MPH and the difference between fastball and changeup is 3.2 MPH compared with a career norm of 6.4 MPH.

In fairness, Greinke was firmly in the bottom-third of pitchers in 2016 and 2017 in terms of Brls/PA with mixed end results (subpar 2016, solid 2017). His .400 BABIP and 2.00 xFIP suggest better days are ahead. He also hasn't issued a walk this season so command is not an issue. Further, Greinke's fastball velocity has been in structural decline since 2014, along with his fastball-minus-changeup delta so velocity isn't particularly alarming. Greinke is not an advisable drop after two starts but at 34, he might be walking a fine line between continued success and father time. His next opportunity comes Friday in Los Angeles against the Dodgers.

Michael Wacha, St. Louis Cardinals (1-1, 5.59 ERA, 1.66 WHIP)

Michael Wacha is 11th-worst in the majors with 2.72% Brls/Pitch. Wacha followed-up an ugly debut in Queens (L, 4.2 IP, 4ER) with a win against Arizona, but needed 89 pitches to get through five innings while allowing four hits and five walks. Not efficient. Despite the objectively terrible start, his numbers have been helped by a .250 BABIP and 77.5% LOB% which are much better than career figures. His fastball velocity year-to-date is also down to an uninspiring 92.5 MPH. Wacha's xFIP of 5.54 reconciles with his ERA, suggesting luck hasn't been a factor.

Wacha enthusiasts can find solace in a 46.7% Hard% (20.0% HR/FB) that's sure to come down and an abnormally low 1.10 GB/FB ratio for a guy who's hovered at 1.40. However, Wacha has been mediocre-to-bad since 2016 and his ownership rate seems tied to his name brand. He's never been a strikeout pitcher (7.98 career K/9) and doesn't have overpowering stuff. Unlike Greinke, Wacha's Spring Training price tag was not expensive and it's been all risk and no reward thus far. This early in the season, fantasy owners might have more slack in their leash but his next start Thursday in Cincinnati should determine whether he deserves a roster spot at all.

Other potential underperformers: Mike Leake (SEA, 2.58% Brls/Pitch), Marco Estrada (TOR, 2.55%), Ian Kennedy (KC, 2.43%)

 

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