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Week 1 Statcast Review: Starting Pitchers (2021 Fantasy Baseball)

Apr 7, 2021
Tyler Glasnow

Welcome to the 2021 season. I hope everybody is having all of their wildest fantasy baseball dreams come true thus far. My name is Jon Anderson. I’ll be doing a lot of Statcast data analysis this year, including a weekly version of this post and a similar one for hitters.

In this series of posts, I will be giving a rundown of notable Statcast data points. Statcast data is a great way to get ahead of breakout and bust players because it gives us rich information about individual events that we previously could not obtain. This is the best place to go to spot skills changes, which are the things that drive breakouts and busts.

We have just short of a week’s worth of data to look at at this time of this writing, but most of the league’s starting pitchers have already made a start, so I thought we could pull it off. Let’s go through a few different categories of interest and points out some players that are standing out.

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Everybody loves a good fastball. I went through and checked the max velocity numbers for everybody that has thrown a pitch so far. Here are the notable pitchers that appear to have added some velocity this year.

Mike Foltynewicz (SP – TEX): It wasn’t a good first start in a Rangers uniform for Folty, but he did get his sinker up to 97.3 miles per hour, which is about four ticks above the league average velocity for a sinker. In a limited sample from 2020, Folty’s sinker maxed out at 92 miles per hour. His four-seamer was also up to 96.4 on that Monday start, while it had topped out at 92.9 in 2020. Folty’s velocity is back to what we saw in his 2018 season when he made the All-Star team.

Trevor Rogers (SP – MIA): Another guy here that didn’t have his first start go according to plan. Rogers did not have his command early and ended up walking four batters in four innings while using 77 pitches to get there. However, his stuff was good as his four-seam velocity reached 98 miles per hour after it had topped out at 96.2 in 2020. His changeup velocity also came up two miles per hour to 90.2 miles per hour. He generated tons of swings-and-misses (22% SwStr% on his four-seamer and 25% on his slider), so despite the bad boxscore line, things are looking up for Rogers.

Madison Bumgarner (SP – ARI): The 2020 season was disastrous for Bumgarner, and he is looking to get back on track here in 2021. It did not start well for him as he gave up seven hits and six earned runs in four innings against the Padres. The good news was he also struck out six batters and also added almost two miles per hour to his four-seamer, which averaged just 90.8 in 2020. A four-seamer that maxes out at 92.5 is still not very notable or enticing, but the increase should be noted.

Nick Pivetta (SP – BOS): Earning a win in his first start in the Red Sox uniform, Pivetta made it through five innings, giving up just two hits and striking out four. He did walk four as well, which is not what you want to see, but there were many positives from the start. One of those was the added velocity, as he got his four-seamer up to 97.1 miles per hour after it had topped out at 95.4 in 2020. That’s notable because he actually threw quite a bit out of the bullpen in 2020, where pitchers typically add velocity. The slider was pretty strong, too, with a big 18% swinging-strike rate. Pivetta has always been a talented pitcher, and this could finally be the year where he finds himself as a solid fantasy option.

New Pitches

One common thing that drives pitcher breakouts is adding a new pitch to the repertoire. Here are some notable pitchers that have added a new pitch for 2021.

Tyler Glasnow (SP – TBR), Slider: One constant criticism of Glasnow so far in his young career was his limited pitch arsenal. He threw almost exclusively four-seamers and curveballs, making him one of the most predictable pitchers in the league. He was still able to have a good amount of success because of how good those two pitches were, but he might be taking himself to the next level with the addition of a slider. He threw that slider for 26 of his 77 pitches on Opening Day, and the results were great. He piled up a 19% swinging-strike rate and a 42% called strike plus whiff (CSW) rate. If that success continues, Glasnow is going to have a huge year.

Lance McCullers Jr. (SP – HOU), Slider: He was a bit wild in his first start with three walks, but he got through five innings and earned a victory while striking out seven and allowing just two hits. He used his new slider quite a bit, throwing it 36% of the time. He earned a swinging strike just 9% of the time, but he was able to throw it in the strike zone enough to earn a really strong 47% CSW rate on the pitch. Adding this to his hard sinker and his strong curveball, you have all the makings of a really successful pitcher if he can rein in the walks.

Kyle Gibson (SP – TEX), Cutter: Gibson got crushed in his first start of the year, getting just one out while giving up five earned runs on four hits and three walks. That will make fantasy players run for the hills, but this segment is about new pitches, and gosh darn it, he threw one. He threw the cutter 25% of the time in the outing. Obviously, the results were not there, so you should probably just leave Gibson on the bench or waivers for right now, but we’ll check back later to see how that cutter performs when he gets a few innings under his belt.

Freddy Peralta (SP – MIL), Changeup: Over the last few years, Peralta had been super reliant on his four-seamer, which is a good pitch, but it’s always tougher to have success without a strong secondary option. In his first outing (as a reliever), Peralta threw a new changeup 9% of the time in addition to that four-seamer (53%) and his curveball (38%). That only amounts to five total pitches, but three of them went for strikes (one by the whiff), so it was a good start for the changeup. Adding anything to complement his great four-seamer should make fantasy players very interested, especially since he is going to get some starts with this Brewers team.

Adrian Morejon (SP – SDP), Changeup and Sinker: With Dinelson Lamet on the shelf, Morejon gets the nod as the Padres five starter. He is not long for that job unless another injury would happen, but we should have an eye on him for now. In 2020 he threw a four-seamer, a curveball, a slider, and a splitter. In his first start on Monday, he scrapped his splitter and threw a sinker and a changeup in its place. The changeup is a very similar pitch to the splitter, so we are probably just talking about a slight tweak to his grip that is driving that classification change. However, the sinker is brand new, and he threw it awful hard at 97.5 miles per hour. He piled up a 35% CSW% and a huge 24% swinging-strike rate with the pitch while hitters put it on the ground 67% of the time when they were putting it in play. The overall results weren’t very good for Morejon, getting just two strikeouts and lasting just four innings, but his stuff is enticing as long as he’s in the Padres rotation.

In future weeks we will take a closer look at batted ball data to locate things like ground-ball rate changes, but for right now, we just don’t have enough 2021 data to do that. Check back every week for these posts! Thanks for reading!

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