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Statcast Pitcher Risers/Fallers - Full Count Inefficiency (Week 11)


Welcome back to RotoBaller's series using Statcast to extrapolate, dig into, and commiserate over data to examine pitching performances. The weekly series will be dynamic as we fine-tune our findings and enlighten ourselves on the information and tools at our disposal.

As a pro-pitcher fantasy enthusiast and dedicated streamer, I regularly tune into starts hoping my viewership directly influences favorable results for my players. Therefore, there's nothing more miserable than watching starters labor as pitch counts rise to the 50s or 60s by the third inning. It's pure agony. In the Age of the Bullpen, inefficient at-bats are a death kneel to pitcher longevity.

For Week 11, we'll focus on inefficiency on full counts. At least five pitches into a plate appearance, it becomes increasingly nauseating as pitchers surrender foul balls or ultimately fail to record an out. We will lowlight a couple stomach-churners that can't put batters away and also find silver lining in guys that have been successful once they're in that full count jam. The argument is failing to record an out on a full count is a wasteful outcome, compounding the risk that the pitcher will get the hook sooner than us fantasy players desire.

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Bound to Pop

All stats as of June 13 for 105 pitchers that have thrown over 1000 pitches. Pitch results in the discussion include only non-out results for full counts (i.e. foul balls, balls, balls in play).

Kevin Gausman, Baltimore Orioles (3-5, 4.58 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 8.69 K/9)

Make no mistake, no pitcher should be regularly getting into full counts. But when Kevin Gausman finds himself in that situation, he's eighth-best in evading the prolonged at-bat. His 24 full count pitches that result in no outs represents only 1.9% of his total pitch count for the season.

Gausman's season has been marred by four rough outings. Aside from those blow-up games, he's registered seven quality starts. He's pacing ahead of his career rate for strikeouts and his K/BB is a strong 4.35. Gausman has increased his splitfinger usage to 25%, resulting in an excellent normalized pitch value of 2.13. The tangential benefits? It's allowed him to deemphasize a mediocre fastball and transformed his historically poor slider into an effective pitch. Gausman is generating the highest SwStr% of his career (13.0%) and for someone that's struggled with control, he could be turning the corner.

Unfortunately for Gausman, he plays on one of the worst teams in baseball so wins might be scarce. But he's holding his own and getting out of jams when necessary, extending his opportunities deep into games. That's all we can ask for. He's a worthy weekly streaming option in shallower leagues or could be cheap trade bounty from a frustrated owner.

 

Brandon McCarthy, Atlanta Braves (5-3, 5.03 ERA, 1.49 WHIP, 7.41 K/9)

Brandon McCarthy has also been a volatile pitcher. In 13 appearances, he's had seven starts allowing two or fewer earned runs, but three outings when he's imploded by surrendering five or more. As ineffective as his headline numbers are, he's 11th in the majors at avoiding inefficient full counts with only 22 full count non-out pitches (2.1% of total pitches thrown).

McCarthy's career resume (4.20 ERA) suggests that marginally better days are ahead. But his 3.69 xFIP this season could mean a bigger than expected leap towards fantasy relevance. Although a low fly ball mix impacts the numbers, his 21.1% HR/FB doesn't mesh with a harmless 92.9 MPH FB/LD exit velocity. Since last season, McCarthy has transitioned away from a diminishing fastball towards a cutter, supporting his K/9 in both seasons above his career rates.

McCarthy is in his twilight years with a skill set that won't blow anyone away. He's not a recommended must-start by any means. But, the veteran has excelled at putting batters away with full counts. As a member of the upstart Braves, he should be a worthwhile spot starter especially in favorable matchups. Negligibly owned in many leagues, gambling on McCarthy could yield low-risk rewards.

Other possible risers: Bartolo Colon (TEX, 19 full count non-out pitches, 1.7% of pitches), Jose Berrios (MIN, 22/1.7%), Jose Urena (MIA, 29/2.2%)

 

Due to Drop

Mike Foltynewicz, Atlanta Braves (5-4, 2.16 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 10.71 K/9)

Unsurprisingly, the worst pitchers on our full count inefficiency loserboard are immaterial fantasy pieces. But 12th on the list we find Mike Foltynewicz who's toiled through 55 non-out full count pitches (4.0% of total pitches). Foltynewicz's superb returns this season suggests the trend isn't a factor, but it's worth peeping inside the hood to find any warning signals.

Foltynewicz's strikeout tendencies exacerbate the issue, but his wasteful pitches on full counts have contributed to 9-of-14 starts with fewer than six completed innings. For a breakout pitcher, the short outings have killed his quality start potential and restricted him from winning more ballgames. Foltynewicz has truly enjoyed a terrific season to-date, but a deflated HR/9 (0.57) and high LOB% (81.2%) are things to nitpick. A 2.87 FIP (3.44 xFIP) confirms a likely creep up in his ERA.

Recent triceps tightness could make the case moot, but Foltynewicz appears to be getting better based on his monthly splits. So the primary argument against him is the excessive pitches. When he eventually endures some speedbumps, the lack of durability will further exaggerate his fantasy detraction. He needs to be more aggressive. Foltynewicz clearly has knockout stuff, but by dilly-dallying on full counts, he may become his own worst enemy.

 

Eduardo Rodriguez, Boston Red Sox (8-1, 3.64 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 10.17 K/9)

The premise for this topic occurred while watching Eduardo Rodriguez in a prior start. The commentators on the tube grumbled about his tendency to systemically wallow in full counts. Sure enough, Rodriguez has the 13th-most non-out full count pitches with 53 (4.0% of total pitches). In Week 6, Rodriguez was a "riser" as we argued his expected batting average foreshadowed better times ahead. He's lowered his 5.29 ERA by over a run and a half since, so let's flip the script and play devil's advocate.

A supporting case for Rodriguez's current performance is that the peripherals seem sustainable (3.56 FIP, .302 BABIP). But like Foltynewicz, his durability is the key concern. In 13 starts, he's only survived past six innings twice. Boston's winning ways has supported his victory count, but there's no guarantee it'll continue if he's getting yanked early and often.

Something to watch is the effectiveness of his four-seamer. As the best pitch in his arsenal, erosion in the fastball could be detrimental. In two June starts, opponent slugging percentage has leapt to .533 from .250 in May. It could be a short-sighted aberration, but the inconsistency monster has been a friend of Rodriguez. To fight off his demons, he'll need to improve at slogging during full counts or better yet, avoid them altogether.

Other possible fallers: Julio Teheran (ATL, 52 full count non-out pitches, 4.5% of pitches), Jose Quintana (CHC, 48/4.0%), Jake Arrieta (PHI, 42/3.9%)

 

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