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Tom Koehler: Now with 20% More Excitement?

One of the poster children for mediocre starting pitchers, Koehler is easy to overlook. However, he has made some interesting changes that are worth a look.

Chicago White Sox v Miami Marlins
Can this guy be more than a streamer in fantasy?
Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images

Tom Koehler is right-handed and pitches for the Miami Marlins. He is a starting pitcher. He pitched for them in 2013, 2014, and 2015, too. I thought that was necessary to say because I would not blame you for not knowing who he is. He has had very little fantasy value the last three years, as he has been almost the definition of “league average”. That even includes the fact that he pitches at a very pitcher-friendly home park.

His ERAs the last three years: 4.41, 3.81, 4.08. His strikeout rate has bounced around from 15 to 19%. He has walked about 9% of batters during that time. There is nothing exciting here. This is a very boring profile.

Looking at this full season 2016 numbers, you might think nothing has changed. He is still striking out 18.6% of batters, he is now walking 10.6% of batters, and his ERA is 3.83. Same old Tom. His xFIP is a poor 4.77, the worst of his career. So, what is the point of this post? Why would he be more exciting now?

His surface numbers don’t tell the full story here. His swinging strike rate and contact rate tell a different story. Here are his swinging strike rates from 2013 through 2016: 7.3%, 8.5%, 7.3%, 9.8%. Which one stands out? After always being below league average in whiffs, he has finally gotten above average. His contact rates: 83.8%, 80.9%, 83.4%, 77.7%. Again, 2016 is a career best. Getting whiffs and limiting contact are very good things. His hard hit percentage is the same deal. A career low 27.1%. His previous low was 30%.

In addition to getting more whiffs, part of how he is doing this is by getting more pop-ups. His infield fly % sits at 12.7%, way above his previous high of 7.5%. He is throwing his slider more than ever this year, throwing his fastball less, and his slider has actually gotten more whiffs than previously. His changeup is also getting more swings and misses. His curve is well below average for whiffs on a curve ball, but his slider is way above.

Let’s explore his pitch selection a little bit more.

Here you can see him throwing more sliders than ever this season. Pay special attention to the last three months. Look at how his slider usage has clearly gone up while his fastball use is dropping.

Look at how his whiff rate against righties is trending. Look at the last three months again. Does that trend look familiar? As he has increased his slider use, righties are whiffing more and more, while lefties remain unchanged. Since he will see more righties than lefties most of the time, that’s a good development.

I should also point out that, while he is not a good ground ball pitcher, his curve gets an excellent 58.9% ground ball rate. So, despite the poor whiffs it gets, it still has value. What does all this mean? In June, July, and August, here are his stats:

3.33 ERA, 20.7 K%, 7.6 BB%, 11% SwStr%, 75.6% contact rate, 9.9% infield fly rate

Yes, his FIP is still only 3.73 and his xFIP 4.32 over that time, but those numbers clearly show a pitcher succeeding with an altered repertoire. His increased slider use has boosted his strikeout rate in a real way. That is why I feel confident projecting him to be better than average the rest of the season. If he is available in your deep league, you should grab him immediately. If you are in a shallow league, you might be able to wait, but don’t wait too long. He is a different pitcher now than the Wonder-bread boring guy he used to be. I estimate he has increased his excitement level 20%. Take another look at him. Tschus!