Breakout Arms – 2015

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Mike Fiers

Caveball’s “breakouts” combine pitchers with upside, who are generally under the key age of 27 and displayed better numbers in the second half of 2014, with the highly touted elite arms who will have their innings limit removed for the coming year. 

2014 produced a league average WHIP of 1.28, the lowest since 1972.
Major league pitchers may vary to a degree on when they begin to perform at their absolute optimum, but the big leap in their career, or “breakout”, generally occurs in their 3rd or 4th season.This is the year when their talent combines with their experience to create a kind of magic. The experience could be anything from learning how to hide their pitches better, to getting to know hitters’ weaknesses, to dealing with the pressure of being a major league pitcher both on and off the field, and so on.

I like to examine the counting stats and the percentage stats separately when assessing a pitcher’s overall performance. Innings Pitched (IP), Hits against (H) and Strikeouts when grouped together can give you a clear indication of effectiveness, because they are typically very close. If the Ks are higher than the IP, and the IP are higher than the H, then the pitcher can certainly be deemed “fantasy relevant”. Then you can begin to look at his control/walks (BB). This will typically get flushed out in the percentage stats, especially in the all-important Walks and Hits per Inning Pitched (WHIP).

Here’s a rating of Excellent to Awful WHIPs:

Rating WHIP
Excellent 1.00
Great 1.10
Above Average 1.25
Average 1.32
Below Average 1.40
Poor 1.50
Awful 1.60

WHIP is the purest of the percentage stats for pitchers, and may be the best guide in predicting how a pitcher will perform in the coming season.

Presently, we are in the midst of a pitcher’s era. 2014 produced a league average ERA of 3.74, the lowest since 1989, and a league average WHIP of 1.28, the lowest since 1972. So, the days when any ERA under 4 was considered very good are now in the past. 

Another percentage stat I like to peruse is Batting Average Against. This, as well, has changed with the times. In 2014, the league batting average was .251, the lowest since 1972, as well.

2014 League-wide Averages: 3.74 ERA/.251 BAA/1.28 WHIP

You can use the above guides accordingly as we compare each pitcher’s pre and post all-star stats So, let’s get to it. Here are Caveball’s breakout candidates for 2015:

1. Stephen Strasburg - “Strasburg hits Stratosphere” is the type of headline I’m expecting to see in 2015. Half a century ago his nickname might have even become “Stratosphere”. Nowadays, I suspect the dubbing would be a tad too wholesome, and not “sick” enough to stick. Pre All-Star his line included a 3.46 ERA/.261 BAA/1.22 WHIP. Post All-Star he had a 2.70 ERA/.222 BAA/0.98 WHIP. Strasburg continued to get better with each month after the break, finishing September with a stellar 1.13 ERA/.194 BAA/0.75 WHIP. The 26 yr. old (turns 27 in July) has found another gear. If he falls to the 3rd or 4th round in a draft, I will be tempted to take him, despite my aversion to taking a pitcher before the 5th. 

2. Alex Cobb - The contrast between his pre and post All-Star break stats is even more drastic than Strasburg’s numbers. Before the break he had a pedestrian 4.14 ERA/.245 BAA/1.25 WHIP. After the “mid-summer classic” he skipped a gear on his way to the next one, firing an impressive 1.79 ERA/.218 BAA/1.04 WHIP. Like Strasburg, Cobb starts the 2015 season as a 26 yr old, which means we may see Cobb at his optimum this year.

3. Collin McHugh – He was very good all year, but was unconscious in September, when he allowed just 15 hits and 5 earned runs in 28.1 IP over four games. This bodes well for the strikeout artist who finished 2014 with 154.2 IP/117 H/157 K and a 2.73 ERA/.208 BAA/1.02 WHIP. Even a little expected regression from these fantastic rookie numbers still constitutes a great full year. He enters 2015 as a 27 yr. old, who should avoid the growing pains normally associated with younger sophomores.

4. Chris Archer - Even with their loss of John Maddon, Ben Zobrist and Will Myers, the Rays have maintained a very good and prime-aged rotation (apologies – sounds like a steakhouse advertisement). 4 of their 5 starters make this list, even in consideration of their offensive-minded A.L. East rivals. I’m beginning to think the Rays could surprise us all this year. Anyway, Archer, another 26 yr. old, finished 2014 right on the league average WHIP of 1.28, despite a better than average 3.33 ERA. This was due to a fairly high walk count, and not his hits against. He boasts a .235 BAA through his 2.2 yrs in the majors. Last year he allowed 177 hits in 194.2 innings with 173 Ks. A breakout is bound to occur if Archer gains a touch more control.

5. Carlos Carrasco - At first glance Carrasco’s terrific, albeit shortish, stint as a starter for the Indians looks like an outlier, in which case one might expect a regression. However, there might just be a greater possibility that the 27 yr. old has learned how to pitch. There’s also a possibility that the Venezuelan pitches better in the warmer months. Whatever the reason, you cannot ignore his elite stats from the second half: 1.72 ERA/.197 BAA/.90 WHIP.

6. Drew Smyly - Smyly was locked in after he was traded to Tampa. His final 6 games, before he was shut down for the year, comprised two 2-hitters, two 3-hitters, and two 4-hitters. This included games against the Blue Jays, the Yankees, the Red Sox, the Rangers and two against the offensive power-house Orioles. His short tenure with Tampa includes a line of 47.2 IP/25 H/9 R/44K. The Tigers favoured Porcello over Smyly from the outset. This was one of their few mistakes over the past couple of years. He turns 26 in June. 

7. Zach Wheeler – Wheeler will never wow us in the WHIP category, as his minor league stats suggest, but he makes up for it with the Ks. He’s a perennial K/IP standout, and he improved in the second half, as well. Pre: 3.90 ERA/.253 BAA/1.36 WHIP. Post: 3.04 ERA/.223 BAA/1.29 WHIP. If the Mets get the old David Wright back, then they could be a contender, and Wheeler could reach the 15-win plateau. He turns 25 yrs. old in May. 

8. Jake Odorizzi - Yet another Tampa pitcher. They just keep coming and coming, much like in Oakland’s system. Odorizzi’s numbers parallel Wheelers to a great extent. High Ks are his greatest asset, along with decent stats in the other areas. Having pitched 168 innings in 2014, with 156 hits allowed and 174 K, I expect he will have his innings limit lifted this season. His pre and post All-Star splits reveal a slightly worse ERA, but a much improved WHIP and BAA. He turns 25 this month.

9. Mike Fiers - It’s difficult to comprehend his stats given that his fastball averages 88 mph. One would assume by looking at his K-rate that he was a fireballer, but it is his change-up and curveball that have baffled opponents. It will be very interesting to see how he does over a full season, but his excellent numbers have been more consistent than most pitchers. In 483 IP in the minors Fiers allowed 372 hits and had 537 K, with a 2.75 ERA/.210 BAA/1.02 WHIP. Last year with the Brewers his smallish sample size over 71.2 IP, included 46 hits, and 76 K, with a 2.13 ERA/.181 BAA/0.88 WHIP. Let him continue to baffle scouts with his lack of speed. It won’t fool me any longer. He’s no fluke. I’m all in.

10. Danny Salazar - Since 2011 Salazar has been pinballed around from A to AA to AAA to the majors, and has yet to spend even close to a full season at one level. The 110 IP for Cleveland last year, his most at any level, was broken up by 3 stints in Triple A. Such is the life of a minor league prospect, but it seems too extreme in his case. He had a poor first half with a 5.53 ERA/.301 BAA/1.62 WHIP. Then there were some insights that he may have been tipping his pitches, and after the break he found his rhythm and fired a decent line of 3.50 ERA/.255 BAA/1.24 WHIP. His strongest asset is his K-rate. He has 185 Ks in 162 IP with the Indians. Once this talented kid gets comfortable with his surroundings, watch out.

OK, We know you guys have your opinions. So, let’s have ’em.
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