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Statcast Pitcher Risers/Fallers - June FB/LD Exit Velocity (Week 13)


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.

We touched on the topic of Exit Velocity (EV) earlier this season, using the sparse evidence out there to drive our discussion that week. What'd we learn? Most importantly, hitters dictate the bulk of EV outcomes so any talk related to pitchers needs to be digested with some thoughtful skepticism. However, there are links between EV, FIP and ERA and a modest correlation exists for a pitcher's year-over-year EV.

With baseball's halfway point rapidly approaching, we'll look at June Exit Velocity of the fly ball and line drive variety (FB/LD). We all know hard hit balls roped in the air do outsized damage than ones on the ground. By comparing FB/LD EV in June to a pitcher's season-long trend, we can determine which way starters are trending. Since a change in EV of only 1-2 MPH makes a material difference in batted-ball outcomes, that matters. Let's check out the results.

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Bound to Pop

All stats for 128 pitchers with over 300 pitches in June, as of June 25. Batted-ball events do not include pop ups.

Brent Suter, Milwaukee Brewers (8-4, 4.15 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 7.32 K/9)

After shuffling between the rotation and bullpen early in the year, Brent Suter became a starter for good on May 12. Since then, he's compiled a 3.57 ERA and 0.99 WHIP in eight starts. He's finally getting accustomed to the gig, lasting seven innings in each of his last two starts. Suter sits atop our Statcast leaderboard with a stingy 85.8 MPH FB/LD EV in June.

For a guy that averages 86.7 MPH on his fastball, you'd think Suter is a typical junkballer. Wrong. Not only is Suter utilizing his four-seamer 68% of pitches, it's increased as the year's gone on. Suter is fourth in the majors with a 69.3% F-Strike%, giving him the upper hand in the majority of plate battles. With the count in his favor and pinpoint control (1.86 BB/9), Suter's been able to progressively achieve more whiffs for not only his fastball, but also his complementary changeup and slider.

A final reality check for Suter is observing the difference in his FB/LD xwOBA and wOBA. Great news, it's been minimal at just .013 this season and an even more microscopic .002 delta in June, limiting the prospects of negative regression. Suter's peripheral figures look fine, a low-ish .270 BABIP is offset by an abnormal 28.4% LD% and acceptable 32.3% Hard%. Suter has the look and feel of reincarnated a Jamie Moyer. Let's embrace the throwback.

Eric Lauer, San Diego Padres (3-4, 5.05 ERA, 1.75 WHIP, 8.05 K/9)

Don't let the headline numbers fool you. A mere six weeks ago, Eric Lauer was staring at a horrific 8.14 ERA and 2.10 WHIP. With his major league tenure on the line, he recovered admirably. Since May 22, the 24-year-old rookie has pitched well in 6-of-7 starts with a 3.25 ERA. Lauer's also improved his FB/LD EV to 87.2 MPH in June, third-best in baseball.

Lauer's advancement lies primarily in his control. He's lowered his BB/9 from 4.60 in April and May to 3.90 this month. Excluding a seven-walk debacle on June 8, the June figure sinks to a very passable 1.99. Similar to Suter, Lauer doesn't have overpowering stuff (90.7 MPH fastball), so accuracy is of the essence. Without performing statistical analysis, we can conclude the drop in his BAA from .359 to .315 has some connection to the falling walk rate.

Lauer is still a work in progress. Despite the June strides, none of his pitches values grade favorably and the season-long numbers are difficult to trust. But he's extended his lifeline in the bigs, and the Padres will likely tolerate the learning curve for their No. 13 prospect. Lauer's fantasy ownership tag is basically zero. In fact, he doesn't even exist in the renowned Brooks Baseball database. It's risky, but gambling on Lauer in the near-term could be a lucrative arbitrage opportunity.

Other possible risers: CC Sabathia (NYY, 88.3 MPH FB/LD Exit Velocity), Lance Lynn (MIN, 88.4 MPH), Tyler Anderson (COL, 89.3 MPH)

 

Due to Drop

Gerrit Cole, Houston Astros (9-1, 2.56 ERA, 0.90 WHIP, 12.44 K/9)

For all his triumphs this season, Gerrit Cole has endured a mortal June. In five starts, he's registered a 3.77 ERA and 1.06 WHIP. Oh, the horror! Those numbers are admittedly serviceable in any context, but for a universally owned fantasy asset, we must scrutinize the work. In June, Cole holds the ninth-worst FB/LD EV of 95.8 MPH, up from 93.9 MPH for the season.

Cole's June swoon is a consequence of past success. The guy was basically unhittable through May. He's been a touch wild this month, with a 4.06 BB/9. The control issues have adversely influenced the whiff rates of his filthy fastball-slider combo. While still on track for career-best strikeout numbers, his slider whiff rates have fallen four points to 17% and the fastball has lost some zest with a modest decline to 12%. The trickle-down impact has affected his fastball effectiveness, with opponent slugging spiking from below .250 to .667.

The analysis here is relative. Don't rush to trade away Cole for Suter or Lauer. The strikeouts are here to stay, his SwStr% (13.6%) and Contact% (71.6%) are amongst the best in the business and the Astros will support his win value. All we're saying, is for a fly ball pitcher (45.8% FB%), an elevated FB/LD EV and diminishing pitch potency are warning signs. Cole would reap a handsome reward in the trade market. Owners may be wise to field offers.

Luis Castillo, Cincinnati Reds (5-8, 5.70 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 8.71 K/9)

It might not be fair to list Luis Castillo as a faller when he's arguably settled in the basement, but the ownership rate still seems excessive. Castillo's actually inflated his 22nd-worst 94.2 FB/LD EV this season by posting a 95.7 MPH clip thus far in June. All the hopes of a May rebound (3.48 ERA, 1.25 WHIP) have been dashed this month with three subpar starts and a 6.33 ERA.

Rather than build on May where he enjoyed success by emphasizing his slider and changeup, Castillo reverted to his fastball in June, increasing its usage from 35% to 48%. With a poor normalized pitch value of -0.88 for his fastball this season, the increased predictability has lowered his whiff rates across the board. Sure he's averaging over 96 MPH on the heater, but it's not fooling anyone. Hitters are slugging .585 against the pitch and smacking line drives at 32% in June. For the record, he's lost over 1.5 MPH on the four-seamer compared to last year.

When potential doesn't evolve, its meaning transforms from promising to toxic. That moment could be now for Castillo in 2018. There's replacement-level value on the waiver wire for a 5.15 FIP and a 2.53 K/BB, no matter the strikeout prowess. Long ago a high-90s fastball was a foolproof recipe for success. But not in 2018. Until Castillo parlays the fireballs with a consistent secondary arsenal, it's time to let go.

Other possible fallers: Jaime Barria (LAA, 98.3 MPH FB/LD Exit Velocity), Jose Quintana (CHC, 95.2 MPH), Justin Verlander (HOU, 94.6 MPH)

 

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