By The Numbers: Shane Bieber, Aaron Judge, German Marquez
The Cleveland righty just makes the cut as one of seven starters sporting a WHIP of 1.00 or lower. Throw in a 3.49 ERA buoyed by a 3.28 FIP, and he’s the ninth-ranked starter on FantasyPros’ player rater.
Since getting shelled for five runs in 1.2 innings by the Yankees — two starts after getting rocked by the Red Sox — Bieber boasts a 2.40 ERA, 0.75 WHIP, 54 strikeouts, and four walks in six dominant turns. Perhaps the most important stat from that stretch, he has surrendered just one home runs after relinquishing 16 in the previous 14 starts. Double-digit strikeout gems against the feeble Tigers and Orioles helped his cause, but he also flourished at Arlington and Great American Ball Park.
As every armchair pitching coach hoped to see heading into 2019, Bieber is throwing his fastball less and his slider more. Yet his four-seamer has also developed into an effective offering that has yielded a 97 wRC+ despite a microscopic 4.2% swinging-strike rate. While riding his slider has led to 150 strikeouts in 118.2 innings, a curveball has truly cemented his All-Star ascent. Along with matching the slider’s 62 wRC+ against, it has spawned a massive 26.3% SwStr rate. The 24-year-old has responded by using it more during his recent hot streak.
Is it time to anoint him an ace? Skeptics will point to a 90.7 mph average exit velocity and 44.9% hard-hit rate to suggest more blow-up outings are around the corner. While the gap has diminished in recent weeks, his .309 expected wOBA remains higher than his elite .277 wOBA. Given his elite strikeout and walk patterns, it may not matter if he can corral the long ball within reason.
To the extent anyone can in this environment, Bieber is well equipped to not get bombarded by deep flies. Take away 14 pop-ups, and FanGraphs classifies just 28.7% of his batted balls as fly balls. Even if his ERA trends a tad upward because of the hard contact, he should remain a top-20 starter. And that’s a conservative projection.
Aaron Judge: 9.8° Launch Angle
Judge entered MLB as the optimal embodiment of the Statcast era. The modern marvel perfectly typified a three-true-outcome slugger who also pummeled the ball well enough to avoid a low batting average.
He’s still walking (16.9%) and striking out (28.3%) in spades, and a .244 ISO — 99 points lower than his Herculean 2017 clip — is still exemplary. However, he’s also hitting .304 with an entirely altered batted-ball profile. As of Wednesday, per Baseball Savant, his lower launch angle matches the likes of Russell Martin, Alex Gordon, Brian Anderson, and Martin Maldonado. His fly-ball rate has dropped accordingly, establishing a clear trend in his career rates.
This seems bad, but it merely means he won’t notch another 52-homer season. Judge has traded some elevation for even more scorching contact, solidifying a 98.0-mph average exit velocity that laps runner-up Christian Yelich’s 94.2. A whopping 56 of his 89 batted balls went the 95 mph necessary to classify as a hard hit. Jumping to FanGraphs’ categorization, he has upped his line-drive rate to 29.2% while not hitting a single pop-up.
This version of Judge is different, but still awesome. These skills make him even more equipped to maintain a high BABIP. Statcast gives him a .296 expected average, so the rest-of-season projections — none have him hitting better than .270 going forward — are far too tame on this genetic outlier. As for the power, it’s not like he’s Billy Hamilton now. Judge has still clocked 10 homers in 38 games. He could offer roughly 15 more this season and reside around the 40 range with a full year of health.
German Marquez: 7.07 ERA at Coors Field
Coors Field remains undefeated. One of, if not the most polarizing player this draft season, Marquez delighted his backers by garnering a 2.93 ERA through seven starts. Last season’s transformative second half carried over into April, and investors laughed in the faces of skeptics who didn’t trust the Rockies starter’s ability to navigate his unforgiving home park.
His ERA rose to 5.12 after getting annihilated for 11 runs last Monday by the Giants, who climbed all the way to 27th in team wOBA. Back when the world was in his hands, Marquez tossed a one-hit, complete-game shutout against those same NL West foes at San Francisco’s pitching paradise. He also opened the season with a gem at Miami, baseball’s only better combination of park and opponent for a hurler.
Marquez’s season, albeit at a more extreme factor than expected, has unsurprisingly boiled down to the venue. On the road, he’s twirled a pristine 3.33 ERA and 0.90 WHIP. At Coors, opponents have teed off to a .336/.374/.521 slash line and a higher wOBA (.375) than that of Nolan Arenado and Trevor Story. It’s not what anyone wants from someone selected as a top-25 starter with Cy Young Award upside, but the 24-year-old righty is only playable away from Colorado’s high altitude.
The metrics behind his season still aren’t terrible. He touts a 3.90 FIP, 3.91 SIERA, and 3.61 xFIP with 128 strikeouts and 28 walks in 130 innings. Marquez’s skills aren’t the problem. Trade him today, and he’s immediately a top-flight arm. Coors bears all the blame. Colorado’s park is MLB’s most conducive stadium to runs and every type of hit. The splits are even more defined against right-handed pitchers, and the home runs are especially terrifying this year. Lazy fly balls are flying over the fences in neutral parks, so what chance does any pitcher stand if these trends are magnified at Coors? As noted by ESPN’s Sam Miller in late June, its park factors are the highest since installing a humidor in 2002.
There are two valuable takeaways to remember next year. First, don’t celebrate anything a month into the season. Second, don’t draft a Rockies pitcher. Just don’t do it.