One thing I like to do one a semi-regular basis is check the pitching leaderboards on FanGraphs. I like to check two stats in particular; Swinging Strike % and Groundball %. Both of these are obviously good for pitchers, but often times the best pitchers in baseball will be found in the top 30 in both of these categories. I make it a habit to check FanGraphs leaderboards for these two stats over the last 30 days, and I do this at least on a monthly basis. Often times you can see who has been pitching very well and sometimes get a jump on the competition to find the breakouts. In case you haven’t noticed, I like writing about breakouts a lot. So lets look at where we stand so far in 2017 after 1.5 months of play.
It is good enough to be on just one of GB% and SwStr% top 30 but to be on both suggests a lot of success. And sure enough if we cross-reference these two lists there are a number of guys we would expect, namely Strasburg, Cole, Kershaw, Keuchal, Tanaka, Lester, Martinez, and McCullers. Then there are a few other guys that stand out to me as not usually being this dominant, Trevor Cahill, Nate Karns, Andrew Triggs, and Michael Pineda. If you look just beyond the top 30 you can find Charlie Morton and Luis Severino as well. All these names have been great so far this year. Two in particular are in the top 10 of each of these categories, Cahill and Karns. I’d say Pineda and Severino are the two out of these 6 that already have plenty of attention. Severino ownership % is at 82% and Pineda at 91% (in Yahoo! leagues). Cahill is at 55%, Karns 27%, Morton 47% and Triggs 79%. So maybe Triggs has gotten his fair share of attention already too.
So Cahill, Karns, and Morton are the three real sleepers here. At least in Yahoo! Cahill and Karns are even SP/RP eligible, which boosts their value even more. None of these guys are young so we are definitely looking at mid-career breakouts here. Let’s take a quick glance at each one.
Trevor Cahill looks to be throwing his fastball less and added a cutter to his arsenal. This seems to be very effective as there is nothing about his underlying numbers that suggests he’s bound for a fall off. The only troubling thing about him is his history with too many walks. So far he seems like he’s been sufficiently dominating for the walks to not be a problem and I’d consider him as a top 40 pitcher. Being in Petco Park only helps his case.
Nate Karns might seem even more scary because he wasn’t even assured a starting job out of spring training. But sure enough here he is with huge jumps in GB and K rates despite not showing a major change in his pitch mix. Being in KC should help his historical HR problem. The only major thing I can find that has changed is where he’s throwing the ball. Last year he was putting about 31% of his pitches down below the zone and this year it’s up to 40%. He’s thrown only about 6% of pitches in the top 1/3 of the zone, down from 11% last year. This must be helping how his curve and change play quite a bit as their pitch values have gone way up from last year. Without digging too much into this I’d conclude his approach to attacking hitters is responsible for the change in stats and I’d buy it. Top 40 SP from here out on with strikeout upside. He’s struck out 29 in his last 17 innings.
Charlie Morton is someone I’ve already wrote about. We are still seeing the bump in velocity he showed last year. I wouldn’t hesitate to put him in the top 40 SP’s rest of season either but perhaps top 50 is more reasonable. He has struck out 35 in his last 24 innings. He feels really safe to me for some reason but time will tell.
Obviously you could dig deeper into all three of these guys to understand more of their breakout but this at least provides you with a starting point. Hopefully these pitchers give you some options to replace the injury I’m sure you’ve suffered on your pitching staff. You may even be inclined to start one of these instead of your slumping starters such as Arrieta, Verlander, Tanaka, or Salazar. Maybe one of these scrubs can help hold you over til the aces get their stuff together and start pitching like we all know they should. I’d also recommend returning to the GB% and SwStr% top 30’s on FanGraphs every so often. You might just be surprised who has been dominating lately.