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Advanced Stats Leaderboard: Starting Pitchers Soft% (2022 Fantasy Baseball)

by Josh Shepardson | @BChad50 | Featured Writer
Feb 1, 2022
Zack Wheeler

Zack Wheeler led Major League Baseball in Soft% during the 2021 season.

The fantasy baseball ranking season is in full swing. For me, that typically starts with searching advanced stats leaderboards. Advanced statistics are often more predictive than traditional box score statistics. Thus, they’re an excellent jumping-off point. This series will dive into a variety of my favorite advanced metrics. However, I must caution that no statistic in isolation is the secret sauce for unearthing a hidden gem or burgeoning stud. Instead, they are a piece of the puzzle and best viewed through that lens, using other statistics in conjunction with them to formulate a well-rounded opinion of the fantasy value of players.

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Soft Contact Percentage

Soft contact percentage is a quality of contact measure. FanGraphs houses the statistic on their leaderboards, and the data is pulled from Baseball Info Solutions (BIS). Neil Weinberg explained how the quality of contact is calculated using video scouts at BIS without divulging their proprietary algorithm. The article is a must-read for better understanding the application of the quality of contact data.

Dan Richards also examined the quality of contact stats for Pitcher List. I suggest reading Richards’ insightful piece. However, the cliff notes version is that quality of contact doesn’t correlate much to batting average or batting average on balls in play (BABIP). Instead, it does correlate to power numbers. Though, as Richards cautions, it’s paramount to look at the quality of contact in context. For instance, hitting a screamer in the air can result in a home run. Conversely, smashing the ball into the ground isn’t a damaging outcome.

Let’s add more context to last year’s Soft% data. The highest Soft% among 38 qualified pitchers was 23.0%, the lowest was 18.0% and the median mark was 16.4%. Additionally, as with all batted ball data, a larger multi-year sample is preferable to a single-year sample. Accordingly, I’ll discuss some notable multi-year data for the pitchers featured below.

2021 Qualified Starters Soft% Leaders

Zack Wheeler (SP - PHI) was the king of the mountain among qualified pitchers for inducing soft contact in 2021. However, he's not a one-year wonder. According to FanGraphs, out of the 20 qualified pitchers in the above leaderboard, from 2018 through 2020, Wheeler's 21.2 Soft% was tied for the second-highest mark with Max Scherzer's (SP - NYM) rate. So, there are two takeaways. First, Wheeler has a knack for coaxing soft contact. Two, Scherzer might be positioned for favorable regression in 2022.

Corbin Burnes (SP - MIL) is also excellent at getting soft contact, with a 21.9 Soft% that's tops among this group from the period between 2018 and 2020. Meanwhile, Luis Castillo (SP - CIN) joins Scherzer as another pitcher that might have favorable regression this year, owning an 18.7 Soft% from 2018 through 2020.

Unfortunately, not all possible regression will be favorable for the 2021 Soft% leaders. German Marquez (SP - COL) had only a 14.4 Soft% from 2018 through 2020, well below his 16.4 Soft% last season. Julio Urias (SP - LAD) had a rock-solid 18.7 Soft% during that time frame, but that's still markedly below his 20.8 Soft% in 2021.

Dylan Cease (SP - CWS) (14.8 Soft% in 2019 through 2020) and Tyler Mahle (SP - CIN) (14.7 Soft%) also greatly exceeded their Soft% marks in recent seasons last year. However, Cease broke out last year and Mahle extended a 2020 breakout through last year. Cease turned up his curveball usage at the expense of his changeup and Mahle changed his pitch mix while throwing harder starting in 2020, creating reasons for optimism their 2021 Soft% wasn't a blip on the radar. As a result, I am not wholly dismissing their soft contact gains.

Noteworthy Non-Qualified Starting Pitchers in 2021

It's unsurprising seeing Jacob deGrom (SP - NYM) on the list above. Obviously, he's the ace of aces. Unfortunately, the skills aren't the question. His ability to stay healthy is debatable after numerous ailments resulted in multiple trips to the Injured List in 2021.

It is promising for Chris Sale's (SP - BOS) 2022 outlook to see him on the table above. In 2018 through 2019, before losing the 2020 season to Tommy John surgery, he had a 22.0 Soft%. Sale's rotation mate, Tanner Houck (SP - BOS), has made 16 starts totaling 75.2 innings since debuting in 2020, recording a 21.5 Soft%. Unfortunately, only 17.0 innings on his ledger were thrown in 2020. So, it's wise to be open to new information as Houck piles up innings. Regardless, the early Soft% data is encouraging.

Patrick Sandoval (SP - LAA) is in the same breakout bucket as Cease and Mahle above. The 25-year-old southpaw had a ghastly 7.7 Soft% in 15 career starts lasting 59.2 innings before 2021. Thankfully, Sandoval appeared to figure things out in The Show last year, dazzling in most advanced metrics, including drastically improving his Soft%. Moreover, he has had a 49.6 GB% in 29 career starts. As a result, even if all of Sandoval's Soft% gains don't stick from now on, hard-hit grounders aren't alarming.

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Josh Shepardson is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Josh, check out his archive and follow him @BChad50.

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