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Statcast Pitcher Risers/Fallers - Middle-Inning xBA (Week 18)

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.

Throughout the season, a common theme in our discussions has been pitcher efficiency. Whether it's laborious full counts, two-strike ineptitude, or periodic splits, the objective is to target guys that achieve outs in an orderly manner and avoid the ones that don't. On the casual side, it certainly makes the pitcher viewing experience more enjoyable. From a fantasy perspective, tidy innings dilute the omniscient forces of pitch counts and innings limits, ultimately extending a starter's ability to factor into games.

For Week 18, we'll look at xBA for pitchers in the middle innings (three through six). To keep things relevant, we'll focus on middle-inning xBA since June 1. By comparing that metric to a starter's season-long body of work, we can determine the buys and sells. For reference, the median xBA between the third and sixth innings since June 1 is .260. For the entire season across all innings, it's .255.

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Bound to Pop

All stats as of July 30 for 103 starting pitchers with over 750 pitches since June 1.

Anibal Sanchez, Atlanta Braves (5-3, 3.00 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 8.54 K/9)

Leading off our topic is veteran Anibal Sanchez. At some point in every season across his 13-year career, Sanchez rears his head as a potential fantasy asset. With his zombielike, impossible-to-kill characteristics, he's the baseball-equivalent of Frank Gore (shout-out to our Rotoballer NFL counterparts). Since June 1, Sanchez is seventh-best in baseball with a .201 middle-innings xBA.

Through 14 appearances this season (13 starts), Sanchez has yet to allow more than four earned runs in any outing. He's registered quality starts in four of his last five. This season, Sanchez has heavily leaned on a cutter (20% usage) and changeup (24%). His normalized wCT/C of 3.91 is best in the majors, perfectly setting up a change that's generating a whiff rate above 20%. Sanchez has successfully undergone the veteran's transformation, abandoning his former strengths (fastball, slider) and incorporating a repertoire that better suits his aging skill set.

While it's tough to trust a guy that once shared the mound with Dontrelle Willis and Brian Moehler, baseball-Gore deserves a chance. A 3.97 FIP and .249 BABIP indicate some bumps to the finish, but a 3.08 K/BB with almost a strikeout per nine is very playable. Due to the commodity-like attributes, his trade value is likely cheap. But if Sanchez isn't your guy this year, you can always grab him when he's available in 2025.

Carlos Rodon, Chicago White Sox (3-3, 3.24 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 7.56 K/9)

Even for the most patient fantasy owners, Carlos Rodon was long a fantasy afterthought until he made his debut on June 9. After three starts, he held a 4.41 ERA. Yawn. Since then, he's been anything but uninteresting, landing 13th on our middle-inning xBA rankings at .210.

Across his last six starts, Rodon carries a 2.79 ERA and 1.00 WHIP. Very pertinent to our emphasis on endurance, he's gone into the eighth inning three starts in a row. When on the mound, walks have been a self-inflicted wound; he's limited the damage this year by allowing more than three walks only once. Unlike Sanchez, Rodon remains in the power stage of his development, utilizing a fastball-slider combination to excellent results. While it's easy to disregard a guy that's made only 21 starts the past two seasons, Rodon was a former third overall pick and thoroughly-hyped prospect.

The advanced metrics don't love Rodon (4.55 FIP), but the gamble seems worth the tradeoff considering his low ownership. A .212 BABIP will give, but should be offset by a bump in his K-rate which has hovered above 9.0 throughout his pro career. Health is a risk, but it's reasonable to assume he's missed his allotment for 2018. Rodon is a golden opportunity for willing owners. He could be a key piece for the stretch run.

Other possible risers: Mike Clevinger (CLE, .188 middle-inning xBA), Jack Flaherty (STL, .199), Sonny Gray (NYY, .205)


Due to Drop

Patrick Corbin, Arizona Diamondbacks (7-4, 3.26 ERA, 1.06 WHIP, 11.04 K/9)

Full disclosure, we touted Corbin earlier this season and doubled down in our midseason recap. So it's a modest bummer to see Corbin with a middle-inning xBA of .297, grading fourth-worst in baseball ahead of names like James Shields and Alex Cobb. Yikes. That's 63 points worse than his season-long xBA of .234.

Corbin's consistent start to the year has turned highly volatile. Across his last nine starts, he's relinquished four or more earned runs four times and has mostly shutdown his opponents in the other five. While his K/9 over the period is still a sturdy 10.22, it is down. For a guy that predominantly relies on one pitch (slider) for whiffs, his strikeout numbers could continue eroding. While Corbin misses sweet spots (3.9% Brls/PA), increased batted-balls could convince an elevated 42.6% Hard% to influence a more normalized HR/9 (currently 0.73).

As we argued in defense of Corbin, the fervor over his decreased velocity earlier this season was overstated. His velocity has normalized and he's still broadly handling hitters with his key pitches. Our argument is relative, rooted in the fact that marginally lower strikeouts and recent inconsistency could exploit the high xBA. Having Corbin's services would be beneficial to most fantasy teams, but it might be prudent to target him below market value.

Jake Arrieta, Philadelphia Phillies (8-6, 3.45 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 6.41 K/9)

A perusal of Jake Arrieta's peripheral numbers suggests he may actually defy Statcast logic. The league's third-worst 7.1% SwStr% confirms the pitiful strikeout numbers, compounding a 65.6% LOB% that makes no sense (implying bad luck, if anything) and his batted-ball metrics scream no red flags. But Arrieta's .287 middle-inning xBA is ranked 17th-highest, so we must discuss him.

Despite the pedestrian numbers, Arrieta has put together a respectable season, with 11 quality starts in 20 apperances. While his velocity is mostly unchanged, a collapse in whiff rates across his arsenal helps explain the vanishing strikeouts. While his pitch-to-contact strategy (84.6% Contact%) could skew the numbers upward, opponent slugging is up against his historically strong sinker and curveball. While Arrieta's evolution through his career is more scattered than straight line, the current profile more closely resembles his early stages as an Oriole with an ERA north of 5.00 than the Cy Young contender days with the Cubs.

Admittedly, we could be grasping for straws arguing against Arrieta. He might be experiencing a late-stage career renaissance like fellow geriatric Sanchez. But it's tough to buy into a guy whose contact rates have increased annually and lost almost three full strikeouts per nine since 2015. Arrieta could continue deploying his anti-Statcast voodoo on some fantasy believers, but I'm buying the xBA. Hard pass.

Other possible fallers: Tyson Ross (.297 middle-inning xBA), Rick Porcello (BOS, .288), Gio Gonzalez (.287).


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