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The 2018 season has now come and gone (so sad!), so it is now time to dive into trends and projections for next season! One of the main sabermetric stats for measuring pitchers’ success is walks/hits per inning pitched (WHIP).

Walks and hits directly translate to fewer points in fantasy, so the lower the WHIP the better. These pitchers saw their ratios lowered, which makes them rising stars on the fantasy circuit.

Let’s take a look at some of the pitchers who lowered their WHIP the most from 2017 to 2018 and what it may mean for their output in 2019.

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WHIP Breakouts of 2018

Tyler Glasnow (SP, TB): WHIP Decrease 2017(2.02)-2018(1.27) = -0.75

Let’s start with the player who had the biggest decrease in WHIP among pitchers who threw at least 50 innings in 2017 and 2018. The 25-year-old flamethrower was regarded as a top prospect for the Pirates in 2017 but had a serious control problem his rookie season, posting a 6.39 BB/9 rate. Perhaps it was just a matter of figuring things out at the big-league level or a change of scenery, but Glasnow looked like a completely different pitcher in 2018, especially once he got to Tampa Bay. His fastball velocity increased (96.5 mph vs 94.6 mph), he found the strike zone more often (51.1% vs 48.9%), and his stuff was better (80.4% zone contact vs 88.1%; 44.1% out-of-zone contact vs 59.3%).

The improvements are impressive, but will Glasnow be able to continue into 2019? There isn’t a ton of big-league data to go on, but based on his low WHIP through the minors, it seems like Glasnow will look more like his 2018 version next season rather than his 2017 version. His strong arsenal should continue to keep hitters missing and he still has room to improve in terms of command; Glasnow posted a lackluster 4.27 BB/9 rate in 2018. If he can continue to make positive strides and learn to control his pitches, Glasnow will quickly become a mid-to-higher-tier fantasy rotation fixture.

Blake Treinen (RP, OAK): WHIP Decrease 2017(1.39)-2018(0.83) = -0.56

We’ll now turn our attention to a great story out of the bullpen, where a surprise player delivered a Cy Young-worthy performance. 30-year-old Blake Treinen was one of baseball’s best closers upon moving to Oakland; his 38 saves were a career high and tied for fourth-most in baseball. Treinen also posted a career high in K/9 rate and a career low in ERA, BB/9 rate, and WHIP (0.83 vs career 1.22). While definitely an impressive season, one may ask how such a turnaround happened for Treinen. Let’s look at a few key factors that can be attributed to his career-low WHIP. The first was a full season in his new park. The Coliseum was the third-best park for pitchers in 2018 (0.84 park factor runs) compared to a hitter-friendly Nationals Park in 2017 (1.057 park factor runs). The second factor ultimately comes down to good luck. Treinen posted a career-high whiff rate (35.9% vs 29.3% career) and a career-low BABIP (.230 vs .304 career) while also posting a career-high line drive rate (24.3%), fly ball rate (23.8%), and hard hit rate (29.2%).

Treinen had a career season in 2018 and his WHIP reflected that. However, it is unlikely and unreasonable to expect his numbers to perfectly align again next season. He will still be a solid closer option, but regression back to his career averages should be expected. Don’t be surprised to see his WHIP come closer to his career 1.22 (which is still quite good) instead of his immaculate 0.83.

Zack Wheeler (SP, NYM): WHIP Decrease 2017(1.58)-2018(1.12) = -0.46

Here’s an interesting case of a guy who looked solid his first two big-league seasons, then missed two and a half out of the next three seasons with injuries, and may finally be back on the right track. Zack Wheeler only pitched 86 ⅓ innings in 2017 before being shut down with arm injuries, but during those innings he experienced decreased velocity and a career-high walk rate, leading to an elevated WHIP. His 2018 stats could likely be explained by Wheeler being fully healthy again. His whiff rate (24.8%) was close to his 2017 mark (22%) but his velocity returned to his normal 2013-14 mark while his walk rate (2.71 in 2018 vs 4.17 in 2017) and hard hit rate (24.8% in 2018 v 32.8% in 2017) decreased significantly.

Wheeler could be a big fantasy underdog in 2019 if he can stay healthy. This past season highlighted his potential when he is 100% and the only thing that would prevent him from repeating his 2018 performance would be another setback.

Blake Snell (SP, TB): WHIP Decrease 2017(1.33)-2018(0.97) = -0.36

The Rays had a bunch of interesting, young pitchers this season, including a starter who was tied for the fourth-lowest WHIP amongst qualified starters. Blake Snell delivered the long-awaited breakout season fantasy owners had been hoping for, going 21-5 with a minuscule 1.89 ERA, a 0.97 WHIP, and an 11.01 K/9 rate. The clear contributors to his lowered WHIP were a better arsenal of pitches and a decrease in walks. Snell threw all of his pitches about 1 to 2 mph faster than in 2017, and it seemed to make a big difference in hitters’ ability to make contact. Snell’s 2018 batted-ball profile was similar to his 2017 version, but his contact rate was much lower. His zone contact decreased from 83.6% to 77.1% and his out-of-zone contact decreased from 55.3% to 45.7%, leading to an overall whiff increase of 8.3%. Snell was also able to lower his walk rate by about a batter per nine innings to a respectable 3.19 BB/9.

Snell had shown flashes of fantasy promise earlier in his career but everything finally clicked for him this season. His improvements were exponential but seem legitimate. With better pitch location and bat-missing stuff, it seems safe to assume that Snell will be a top fantasy pitcher with a solid WHIP for seasons to come.

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