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Three Starting Pitcher Breakouts Going After ADP 200 (2022 Fantasy Baseball)

Feb 22, 2022
Three 2022 Starting Pitcher Breakouts Going ADP 200+

How do we define a breakout? Well, you might get the definition from Webster’s dictionary as to “develop or emerge from suddenness.” This term carries a lot of weight in fantasy sports and especially fantasy baseball, as you can usually draft these “breakout” players at good values, and many can end up becoming the reason that someone wins their league.

Now that we know what breakout means, how can we determine who might be a player that’s due for one? There are a lot of factors that can potentially go into it, but we’ll be focusing strictly on the pitching side in this article. There are factors such as; Mechanical changes to deliveries, changing of arsenals, working with new coaches or teams, adding velocity, and so much more.

With all the data out there, it’s important to find what is important to YOU when determining which pitchers you think are due to make the next step. After doing nearly a dozen drafts, combined with research, I’ve determined the three players that I think have the biggest potential to “break out” and you won’t have to spend high draft capital to get. I’ll be using FantasyPros Consensus ADP for this exercise, which averages ADP from Fantrax, CBS Sports, NFC, & RT Sports.

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Tanner Houck (BOS) (Average Draft Position: 207.8)

2021 Season Stats

Okay, so I’m technically cheating with this first one as Houck is 0.7 under what I promised. Still, he’s close enough and too talented to not include in this article. So far in Houck’s career as a big-league starter, he’s compiled 75.2 innings with of a shiny 2.97 ERA to go along with 94 strikeouts and 24 walks. Not a bad start to your career and shows how effective you can be in a big-league rotation. In 2021 however, Boston didn’t just use Houck in the rotation. Instead, they moved Houck between the starting rotation and the bullpen to where Houck started 13 games and pitched five out of the bullpen. Houck pitched to a 3.68 ERA in 59 innings as a starter last season, with an even better 2.61 ERA in 10 innings as a reliever.

When it was all said and done, Houck finished with a 3.52 ERA in 69 innings in 2021, which is solid, but his FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) looked even better, grading out to a 2.58 FIP. Why do we use FIP? FIP is a great measure of a pitcher’s true impact as it takes away a pitcher’s defense behind them and just collects results directly correlated to the pitcher. That makes me believe Houck truly couldn’ve shined more last season had the ball metaphorically “bounced” his way more.

Houck didn’t just have the advanced earned run average metrics, he also was sending hitters packing in the batter’s box with a 30.5 percent strikeout rate, averaging an eye-popping 11.35 strikeouts per nine innings. He did this while walking only 2.74 batters per nine, and recorded a very rare feat towards the end of the 2021 season. Houck retired 30 consecutive batters over four appearances in what could be called a “modified perfect game.” That’s the type of potential this kid possesses and we’ll get into his arsenal next for why he’s just so hard to hit.

Arsenal

The stuff that Houck possesses is one of the reasons I’m extremely high on him. Houck throws a four-seam fastball, sinker, splitter, and slider as his four-pitch arsenal. I listed the slider last for a reason as that pitch arguably could be the filthiest in the game. Houck’s slider accounted for 41 of his 87 strikeouts in 2021, had a 42.4% whiff rate, and achieved nearly 100 rpm’s more on the pitch than he did in 2020. He also allowed a minuscule .159 batting average and an even lower expected batting average of .144 against the pitch.

Along with the devastating slider, Houck decreased his fastball usage by 5.4% from 2020 to 2021, and with that came an increase in the slider usage and an over 5% bump in the usage of his splitter, which became another great pitch for Houck down the stretch.

Why Will Tanner Houck Break Out in 2022?

Tanner Houck to me is the most likely candidate to earn a spot in the starting rotation to begin the 2022 season. He basically claimed the fifth spot out of necessity due to injuries and pitched to a 3.38 ERA in 15 games (11 starts) over 58.2 innings post-all-star break. Houck will be competing for a spot in 2022 with the combination of Nick Pivetta and Michael Wacha, as there will be two spots open between the three players. That is because Nathan Eovaldi, Chris Sale, and James Paxton seem to be locked with health permitting. I believe Garrett Whitlock is destined to stay in the bullpen and don’t see any of the minor league arms bumping Houck from the rotation.

A big reason outside the strikeout upside Houck possesses that I think has him on the inside track to the job is the growth in him as a pitcher to limit his walk rate. One of the things that’s important for starters is to keep walks to a minimum. That’s so one obviously you don’t allow free baserunners but second, it allows starting pitchers to pitch deeper into games. Houck had struggled with walking batters in 2020 where he walked 4.76 batters per nine. That number in 2021 decreased by a huge margin, by obtaining his lowest walk rate at any level of 2.74 batters per nine.

But let’s talk about another scenario too. Let’s say he doesn’t get the spot because some might say he’s only pitched into the sixth inning four times in 16 career starts, and never into the seventh. So instead of him being a starter, what if he becomes a multi-inning reliever that becomes a godsend for your ratios and racks up strikeouts like they’re going out of style. Houck could piggyback a starter and come in the third or fourth inning, go once through the lineup in three to four innings of work, and net you some cheap wins. Not only that, but Houck’s slider could potentially do even more damage with lineups only getting to see it once, and he could become one of the best weapons in baseball. Not necessarily a bad fallback option.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, the biggest question with Tanner Houck is he still needs to prove he can handle lineups two and three times through the order on a consistent basis and pitch deeper into games. The potential is there and 2022 is the time for him to put everything into action if he wants to make a name for himself in this league. Houck continues to improve and you combine his stuff with the poise he already possesses on the mound, you have a guy who hasn’t even come close to his ceiling. Houck has a FantasyPros Consensus ADP of 199.3 and that’s too low for a pitcher I believe will be a top 30 starter this year.

Aaron Ashby (MIL) (Average Draft Position: 279.6)

2021 Season Stats

If you take out Ashby’s first and last game (1.1 innings of 10 earned runs or an 81.81 ERA), Ashby pitched 30.1 innings of 1.79 ERA ball with 38 strikeouts. This is the same pitcher who won Brewers minor league pitcher of the year in 2019, where he posted a 3.50 ERA in 126 innings between two levels and has been a top ten prospect in their system over the last few years. As a whole in his first year in the big leagues, Ashby pitched to a 4.55 ERA in 31.2 innings, but with a much better 3.58 FIP. He also did this with an 11.25 K/9. Overall his chase percentage and chase contact percentages were both lower than the league average, along with his strong whiff percentage as well.

Arsenal

Ashby’s ability to miss bats with multiple pitches truly catches your eye.  Ashby throws a slider, sinker, changeup, curveball, and fastball. His ability to miss bats with multiple pitches, namely the changeup and slider is what jumps off the page. Hitters only hit .167 against the changeup with a 34% whiff rate. What’s even nastier though is his slider.

Aaron Ashby’s slider had a .077 BAA (.079 xBA) and had an astonishing 42 percent whiff rate that makes him a lock for strikeouts. In fact, Ashby trailed only Corbin Burnes (.069 average with his curveball) and Blake Treinen (.074 with his slider) for the lowest batting average against of a pitch thrown 200+ times with his slider at .077 average. The slider is obviously good, but he also uses his sinker at a 34% clip to keep hitters honest. The fastball sits in the mid-90s, which is enough velocity to make his sharp-breaking slider that much more lethal.

Why Will Aaron Ashby Break Out in 2022?

The blueprint is already there as mentioned above with his ridiculous rate of punching out batters. While we have a limited sample, Ashby has shown he also has what it takes to pitch deeper into games as in 2021 he had a .071 batting average against 2nd time through the order in 16 AB’s and a .150 batting average against when he threw 26-50 pitches.  It’s not a question that Ashby has already proved he can miss bats and mow down a lineup once through the order, but he must make that step forward this season to go deeper into games and do it three times through.

Ashby I think is a number three starter in the big leagues and will have the luxury of being a 4th or 5th starter with the Brewers’ insane pitching depth. If he doesn’t find his way in the rotation, we already know what he’s capable of as a multi-inning reliever, and that’s a lawnmower with how much he mows down hitters.

Conclusion

I don’t think you’ll find many that don’t find this lefty from a pure stuff standpoint a fascinating draft target. The only problem with Ashby it appears right now is his role appears unclear. The rotation is currently full, headed by studs Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, Freddy Peralta at the top, followed by Eric Lauer, and Adrian Houser. I personally believe that Houser is not the long-term answer at the 5th spot and that’ll be Ashby’s sooner rather than later. I look at the Brewers’ track record of having guys like Woodruff, Burnes, and Peralta start out in a long reliever role with nasty stuff and eventually move them into the rotation. I see something similar for Ashby and whether in a multi-inning relief role or as a starter, Ashby should be able to help your fantasy team significantly.

Cristian Javier (HOU) (Average Draft Position: 293.8)

2021 Season Stats

We know the potential Cristian Javier possesses just by his raw stuff and numbers. According to FanGraphs, Javier’s 28.8 percent strikeout rate of pitchers who have thrown 150 or more innings over the last two seasons rank 16th in baseball. That’s including findings done by Michael Simione (@SPStreamer) where he has a 32.4% K rate as a reliever and a 26.7% K rate as a starter. That looked to translate well in 2021 as on the season Javier finished with a 3.55 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, a 30.7% strikeout rate, and a 12.5% walk rate in 101 1/3 innings pitched. He also recorded 130 strikeouts and even threw in two saves to boot. While all those numbers were good, his 28.2% ground ball rate and 33.8% fly ball rates were not. Neither was his 2.6 weak contact percentage nor his 116.1 max exit velocity.

Arsenal

Javier throws mainly a four-seam fastball and slider while mixing in a curve and changeup each sub-8% of the time. The fastball and slider are both pitches that make Javier stand out as his fastball has a 12% swinging strike rate, while his slider has a nearly 20% swinging strike rate (19.6%). His slider is what needs to be emphasized though. Javier’s slider has a -10 run value and .098 xBA against with a 49% whiff rate. Not just that, but Corbin Young (Corbin_Young21) notes that it also had a .155 wOBA, and nine hits on 483 sliders thrown. To dig even deeper, Javier was one of nine starting pitchers that faced >100 batters & had a -10 run value on their slider, while keeping their usage of the pitch sub 30%.

Why Will Cristian Javier Break Out in 2022?

For those that don’t remember, Cristian Javier started the first nine games of 2021 in the Astros rotation, but when Luis Garcia emerged and they had Framber Valdez return from injury, they moved Javier out of the rotation and into the bullpen. It’s not like Javier was struggling either as he had a 3-0 record with a .087 ERA in April, and an overall 52.2 innings of 2.68 ERA ball before transitioning to the bullpen.

Once Javier transitioned to the bullpen, he began to struggle with fastball command and walked too many batters, while also becoming ineffective against left-handed hitters. A key change he made in the latter half of the season was transitioning back to a little more up-tempo with his delivery and, according to pitching coach Brent Strom, allowing momentum to speed up his delivery rather than being careful to try and throw strikes. That led to a 4% increase in his first-pitch strike percentage and allowed him to limit his walks while getting ahead of hitters. I believe Javier has worked on some of his weaknesses to really be a strong breakout in 2022 given the opportunity.

Conclusion

As it stands today, Javier is not expected to be in the Astros starting rotation, but he seems to be the first man up in case of struggles or potential injury. With a rotation that includes 38-year-old Justin Verlander coming off of Tommy John surgery, Lance McCullers Jr., and Jose Urquidy, I think there’s a definite possibility the latter could occur. As long as Javier continues to improve his fastball command with his newfound sped-up delivery and continue to make use of that fantastic slider, Javier will be a draft day bargain at this value.

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David Mendelson is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from David, check out his archive and follow him @DMendy02.

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