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Starting Pitcher Sleepers for 2020

What do Tyler Glasnow, Cole Hamels, and Spencer Turnbull all have in common?

New York Yankees v Detroit Tigers - Game Two Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images

Today’s effort is based on a very basic idea. That is, that MLB hitters do the most damage on line drives, and MLB defenders are more advanced than at lower levels (which renders ground balls less useful than fly balls). Fly balls can obviously be a pain if they turn into home runs, but we can see which pitchers did a good job of limiting those, so no big deal.

I wanted to see which pitchers were above average with regard to line drive and fly ball rates in 2019. I used HR/FB rate to remove pitchers who allowed too many dingers. Because, if you were better than average at limiting home runs with the happy fun ball of last year, maybe you’ve got something pretty good going on, right?

Lastly, I wanted strikeouts in this sort, too. So here are the league average marks we’ll need, derived from a list of qualified starting pitchers in 2019. There are no relievers and no small sample sizes in this sort. Here’s the line:

21.6% LD, 42.7% GB, 35.7% FB, 15.5% HR/FB, 38.4% Hard, 22.3% K

There were 35 guys who were better than average at limiting line drives last season. Now let’s trim the fat...

Anyone with a HR/FB rate over 15.5% was removed. It was a pretty noteworthy group: Tanaka, Verlander, Bieber, DeSclafani, Strasburg, Cole, Nola, Castillo, Leake, Boyd, Kershaw, and Darvish. Apparently allowing a few home runs isn’t a huge deal if you do other things well. But for the sake of research, let’s keep rolling...

Anyone with a fly ball rate higher than the league average of 35.7% was removed. I lost 12 names: Alcantara, Lucchesi, Berrios, Gonzales, Scherzer, Lynn, Fiers, Minor, Teheran, Porcello, Giolito, and ReyLo. Sure, fly balls by themselves aren’t bad, and some guys get more leeway if their home parks are favorable. But I want to see who is better than average in all of these facets.

Everyone with a below average strikeout rate was removed, which according to 2019 data was 22.3%. We lost some interesting names, including Joe Musgrove and Marcus Stroman.

The remaining six names were Jacob deGrom, Patrick Corbin, Noah Syndergaard, Sonny Gray, Zack Wheeler, and Eduardo Rodriguez. Let’s discuss.

How weird is it to see three pitchers from the Mets’ 2019 season in the grouping? They sure do know how to waste talent. Anyway, Eduardo Rodriguez is a guy I’ve not generally considered much in drafts. But as Fenway isn’t the hitter’s haven it’s made out to be—and given E-Rod’s skill set on display here—he looks like a nice way to get some solid value in the middle of your fake drafts.

We’ll dig in a bit more in a second, but now for the fun part. I’m going to lighten up a bit on the innings restriction, with only a minimum of 50 innings necessary. I want to see who met these thresholds in limited time, and see if there are any conclusions we can draw for draft day value in 2020.

I removed guys who were over the fly ball rate and HR/FB rate thresholds to trim that list, and then I removed the low strikeout rate guys again. Here’s that list of guys removed: Joe Musgrove, Marcus Stroman, Pablo Lopez, Steven Brault, Wade Miley, Brad Keller, Andrew Cashner, Jose Urena, and Brett Anderson.

Lastly, I added in NFBC ADP with the low strikeout guys removed. I’m really glad two more names popped up besides Glasnow (who we all know is good). Otherwise this would have been a long exercise for nothing! Here goes...

Above AVG LD, HR/FB, FB, K

Name Team LD% GB% FB% HR/FB Hard% K% NFBC ADP
Name Team LD% GB% FB% HR/FB Hard% K% NFBC ADP
Jacob deGrom Mets 21.10% 44.40% 34.60% 11.20% 29.90% 31.70% 8.39
Patrick Corbin Nationals 17.90% 49.50% 32.60% 14.40% 34.50% 28.50% 46.73
Tyler Glasnow Rays 15.80% 50.40% 33.80% 8.50% 28.80% 33.00% 68.77
Noah Syndergaard Mets 19.80% 48.00% 32.10% 13.30% 29.10% 24.50% 72.44
Sonny Gray Reds 17.90% 50.80% 31.30% 13.00% 37.90% 29.00% 104.01
Zack Wheeler Mets 21.40% 43.20% 35.30% 10.90% 31.40% 23.60% 120.17
Eduardo Rodriguez Red Sox 19.00% 48.50% 32.50% 13.30% 28.70% 24.80% 136.10
Cole Hamels Cubs 19.80% 47.30% 33.00% 12.90% 36.40% 23.20% 244.20
Spencer Turnbull Tigers 19.50% 48.30% 32.30% 10.10% 41.40% 22.30% 535.81

So, we have our original six, obviously. On top of that we have Glasnow, who is a surprise to no one. And then it gets interesting, as it appears my Atlanta Braves have stumbled onto a gem in Cole Hamels—who still fared well with these thresholds despite being injured a bit in 2019. And last but not least, there’s Spencer Turnbull of the hapless Detroit Tigers, all the way in the 500s per NFBC ADP. Wow! Talk about a screaming value, perhaps especially in matchups against teams who strike out a good bit, as he exactly tied the league average 22.3% strikeout rate.

So I’ll have at least one pitcher to really dig into for Starting Pitcher Week here at Fake Teams. I’m looking at you, Turnbull. Marcus Stroman and Joe Musgrove are candidates to dig into as well. Any sort of change in pitch mix that aids in the area of strikeouts, and both of those guys are hitting all of these thresholds, too. I’ve seen a bit of chatter on Stroman already, after his move to the Mets in the latter part of 2019. Here’s some propaganda:

Not sure how much I’ll enjoy Stroman’s K-rate bumping up four ticks if the cost is that ghastly 1.47 WHIP. But he’ll still be worth checking in on ahead of 2020. But his cutter was a legitimate weapon against lefty bats:

So he’ll be fun to dig into a bit more.

Joe Musgrove has a little switch we can point to as well, so check it out:

And go figure, I just read an excellent piece by SP Streamer, a deep dive on Spencer Turnbull. Click here to be transported.

Isn’t it cool when there’s a tangible change we can point to that bolsters our already existing biases? What say you all? Did I miss anyone, and why?