STARTERS: Early command sub-indicator changes, 2018

It's still way too early to put significant stock into early-season skills in many cases, especially aggregate measures like strikeouts and walks. But looking into the components that drive them can be a helpful early-season exercise, since they represent a larger sample size of data points.

In fact, the same exercise at this time last season helped us identify that Luis Severino (RHP, NYY) was on the path towards a breakout:

Luis Severino (RHP, NYY) has been one of the biggest early-season surprises so far in 2017. His stats have been top-tier (3.00 ERA, 0.78 WHIP). So have his skills: 11.0 Dom, 1.3 Ctl, 56% GB%, 196 BPV. His swinging strike rate has surged from 7.9% in 2016 to 11.8% so far in 2017. His ability to pound the lower part of the strike zone has helped drive up his whiffs and groundballs. If he can continue to do that, his upside certainly carries immediate breakout potential. - April 29, 2017

For reference, you can review our research of each command sub-indicator here to understand how they drive surface skills like strikeouts and walks:

First, these SP have posted a wide change in their swinging strike rate from 2017 to 2018:

  • Swinging Strike Rate (SwK%) - 2018 YTD vs. 2017*
    
    Name                 League  SwK% '17  SwK% '18  Diff
    ===================  ======  ========  ========  =====
    Corbin, Patrick          NL       11%       18%    +7%
    Bundy, Dylan             AL       11%       17%    +6%
    Cole, Gerrit             AL       10%       15%    +5%
    Sanchez, Aaron           AL        6%       11%    +5%
    Mahle, Tyler             NL        7%       12%    +5%
    Happ, J.A.               AL       10%       14%    +5%
    Gray, Jon                NL        9%       12%    +4%
    Ross, Tyson              NL        6%       10%    +3%
    Teheran, Julio           NL        9%       13%    +3%
    Verlander, Justin        AL       11%       14%    +3%
    Morton, Charlie          AL       11%       14%    +3%
    Snell, Blake             AL       11%       14%    +3%
    Rodriguez, Eduardo       AL       12%       14%    +3%
    Scherzer, Max            NL       16%       18%    +3%
    Urena, Jose              NL        8%       11%    +3%
    Pivetta, Nick            NL        9%       11%    +3%
    Anderson, Tyler          NL       12%       14%    +3%
    ------------------------------------------------------
    Kluber, Corey            AL       16%       11%    -5%
    Romano, Sal              NL        9%        5%    -4%
    Giolito, Lucas           AL       10%        7%    -3%
    Duffy, Danny             AL       11%        9%    -3%
    Faria, Jake              AL       12%        9%    -3%
    McCarthy, Brandon        NL        8%        6%    -3%
    Gray, Sonny              AL       12%        9%    -3%
    Garcia, Jaime            AL       11%        9%    -3%
    Anderson, Chase          NL       10%        8%    -3%
    Clevinger, Mike          AL       12%       10%    -3%
    *min 20 IP each season

These SP are putting up a first-pitch strike rate (FpK%) that is significantly different from what they showed in 2017:

  • First Pitch Strike Rate (FpK%) - 2018 YTD vs. 2017*
    
    Name                 League  FpK% '17  FpK% '18  Diff
    ===================  ======  ========  ========  ====
    Pivetta, Nick            NL       59%       70%  +11%
    Odorizzi, Jake           AL       54%       63%   +9%
    McCullers, Lance         AL       56%       64%   +8%
    Bauer, Trevor            AL       57%       65%   +8%
    Greinke, Zack            NL       62%       71%   +8%
    Liriano, Francisco       AL       54%       62%   +8%
    Faria, Jake              AL       56%       64%   +8%
    Ross, Tyson              NL       47%       55%   +7%
    Lester, Jon              NL       58%       64%   +7%
    Graveman, Kendall        AL       56%       63%   +6%
    Carrasco, Carlos         AL       63%       69%   +6%
    Skaggs, Tyler            AL       62%       68%   +6%
    Roark, Tanner            NL       59%       65%   +6%
    Triggs, Andrew           AL       58%       63%   +5%
    Kennedy, Ian             AL       58%       64%   +5%
    Berrios, Jose            AL       59%       64%   +5%
    Gonzales, Marco          AL       60%       65%   +5%
    Martinez, Carlos         NL       59%       64%   +5%
    McCarthy, Brandon        NL       65%       69%   +5%
    Holland, Derek           NL       64%       68%   +5%
    Arrieta, Jake            NL       58%       63%   +5%
    -----------------------------------------------------
    Giolito, Lucas           AL       62%       46%  -17%
    Wacha, Michael           NL       66%       50%  -15%
    Duffy, Danny             AL       65%       53%  -12%
    Gray, Sonny              AL       62%       50%  -12%
    Gausman, Kevin           AL       60%       50%  -11%
    Davies, Zach             NL       57%       47%  -11%
    Nova, Ivan               NL       65%       55%  -10%
    Paxton, James            AL       65%       56%   -9%
    Price, David             AL       67%       60%   -8%
    Weaver, Luke             NL       61%       54%   -7%
    Velasquez, Vincent       NL       64%       57%   -7%
    Rodriguez, Eduardo       AL       61%       54%   -7%
    Strasburg, Stephen       NL       64%       57%   -6%
    Richards, Garrett        AL       60%       55%   -6%
    Hendricks, Kyle          NL       63%       58%   -6%
    Bettis, Chad             NL       60%       55%   -5%
    Anderson, Chase          NL       61%       56%   -5%
    Williams, Trevor         NL       62%       57%   -5%
    Sale, Chris              AL       67%       62%   -5%
    Godley, Zack             NL       61%       56%   -5%
    *min 20 IP each season

And these guys are throwing a lot fewer or a lot more balls as a percentage of total pitches than they did last season:

  • Ball Percentage (Ball%) - 2018 YTD vs. 2017*
    
    Name                 League  Ball% '17  Ball% '18  Diff
    ===================  ======  =========  =========  ====
    Holland, Derek           NL        40%        35%   -5%
    Ross, Tyson              NL        44%        39%   -5%
    Mengden, Daniel          AL        38%        33%   -5%
    Pivetta, Nick            NL        37%        32%   -5%
    Mahle, Tyler             NL        39%        34%   -5%
    Gonzalez, Marco          AL        37%        32%   -5%
    Clevinger, Mike          AL        40%        35%   -4%
    Carrasco, Carlos         AL        34%        30%   -4%
    Berrios, Jose            AL        37%        33%   -4%
    Bundy, Dylan             AL        35%        31%   -4%
    Bauer, Trevor            AL        39%        36%   -3%
    Kennedy, Ian             AL        37%        34%   -3%
    Harvey, Matt             NL        37%        34%   -3%
    Cole, Gerrit             AL        35%        32%   -3%
    -------------------------------------------------------
    Giolito, Lucas           AL        36%        47%  +11%
    Duffy, Danny             AL        33%        40%   +6%
    Williams, Trevor         NL        36%        42%   +6%
    Weaver, Luke             NL        34%        40%   +6%
    Richard, Clayton         NL        35%        40%   +6%
    Richards, Garrett        AL        35%        41%   +6%
    Stroman, Marcus          AL        37%        43%   +5%
    Wacha, Michael           NL        35%        40%   +5%
    Lopez, Reynaldo          AL        36%        41%   +5%
    Leake, Mike              AL        34%        39%   +5%
    Bettis, Chad             NL        36%        39%   +3%
    Sale, Chris              AL        32%        35%   +3%
    Teheran, Julio           NL        35%        38%   +3%
    Moore, Matt              AL        35%        38%   +3%
    Hernandez, Felix         AL        35%        38%   +3%
    Foltynewicz, Mike        NL        38%        40%   +3%
    Odorizzi, Jake           AL        39%        42%   +3%
    Martinez, Carlos         NL        35%        37%   +3%
    Davies, Zach             NL        38%        40%   +3%
    Paxton, James            AL        35%        38%   +3%
    Nova, Ivan               NL        34%        36%   +3%
    Anderson, Tyler          NL        34%        37%   +3%
    Newcomb, Sean            NL        37%        39%   +3%
    Boyd, Matt               AL        36%        39%   +3%
    *min 20 IP each season

Here is a closer look at several SP in each league whose command sub-indicators have changed significantly from last season.
 

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Trevor Bauer (RHP, CLE) finally is solidifying himself as an upper-tier starter, carrying his strong finish in 2017 into the early part of 2018 (2.41 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 97 BPV in 34 IP). His trio of command sub-indicators suggests he will push his BPV well into triple-digits soon (11.4% SwK%, 65% FpK%, 36% ball%), and all of them have surged significantly from 2017. His slider-heavy approach from 2017 (21.0% SwK%) has expanded in 2018 (18.0% SwK% on changeup, 13.0% SwK% on curveball), and his four-seam fastball is generating more swings-and-misses too (7.2% SwK% in '17, 9.5% SwK% in '18). Specifically, the growth in his change-up has enabled him to stymie lefties. These gains all point to Bauer having a big season in 2018.

Jose Berrios (RHP, MIN) faltered a bit at the end of 2017, giving reason to believe that he could be a year away from a breakout. Turns out he has started 2018 with a flourish, both in terms of stats (2.84 ERA, 0.76 WHIP) and skills (183 BPV). And his skills surge has been no fluke. They have been backed by an 11.3% SwK%, 64% FpK%, and 33% ball%, all of which have grown tremendously from 2017 (9.5% SwK%, 59% FpK%, 37% ball%). His curveball has gone from a good offering (14.2% SwK% in 2017) to a knockout pitch so far this season (22.2% SwK%).

Dylan Bundy (RHP, BAL) is showing signs of being able to fulfill the breakout upside he carried into the 2018 season. Not only have his stats been ace-like (1.42 ERA, 1.11 WHIP), so have his skills: 11.4 Dom, 2.6 Ctl, 38% GB%, 152 BPV. They come with strong backing from his command sub-indicators too: 17.4% SwK%, 62% FpK%, 31% ball%. In fact, no SP in the AL is missing bats at a higher clip than Bundy is. He's getting more whiffs on all three of his primary pitches compared to last season (7.8% to 11.5% SwK% on four-seam fastball, 13.6% to 18.0% SwK% on change-up, and 25.2% to 37.4% SwK% with slider). Having a four-seam fastball that generates whiffs along with two upper-tier off-speed pitches gives Bundy the tools to ride his early surge into a 2018 breakoutas long as he can stay healthy.

Gerrit Cole (RHP, HOU) has looked like an ace over his first five starts of the 2018 season. He has a 1.29 ERA, 0.77 WHIP, and nasty 49/8 K/BB in 35 IP, elite command that has led him to an anchor-like 181 BPV. It has been backed by a sturdy foundation of command sub-indicators too: 14.8% SwK%, 67% FpK%, 32% ball%. The key has been refinement of his off-speed pitches. In 2017, he did not have a 20%+ SwK% with any one pitch. This season he has two (22.4% SwK% with curveball, 20% SwK% with slider).

Lucas Giolito (RHP, CHW) has looked like a total mess so far in 2018. His skills have been horrible (-147 BPV) due to an ugly 9/19 K/BB in 20 IP. His command building blocks are just as messy: 7.0% SwK%, 46% FpK%, 47% ball%. If you play in a keeper league, Giolito is someone you want to stash given his upper-tier upside. But those in non-keeper formats should bench or drop him.

Daniel Mengden (RHP, OAK) was an attractive end-gamer during 2018 drafts. So far he has delivered some good value to owners who speculated on him. He has a 3.86 ERA and 1.12 WHIP in 30 IP, along with a 23/3 K/BB and 114 BPV. More importantly, all three of his command sub-indicators have improved from 2017: 8.9% to 9.4% SwK%, 58% to 61% FpK%, 38% to 33% ball%. He's getting more than twice as many whiffs on his four-seam fastball in 2018 compared to last season, and his slider and curve are both decent strikeout pitches too. He remains a good end-rotation stash.

Lance McCullers (RHP, HOU) does not own very good surface stats after five starts (4.67 ERA, 1.44 WHIP). But underneath those marks is an elite 156 BPV that has been hidden due to a 38% H% and 21% hr/f. Few pitchers are missing more bats than McCullers is (13.9% SwK%), and he's also getting strike one at a higher rate (64% FpK%) than he did in 2017 (56% FpK%). Interestingly, McCullers finally is showing good control against RHers (8.0 Cmd vR) after struggling to do so prior in his career. It's an adjustment that gives him a shot at becoming a rotation anchor in 2018.

Aaron Sanchez (RHP, TOR) has delivered so-so results so far in 2018 (3.69 ERA, 1.33 WHIP in 32 IP). His skills wouldn't seem to give him much room for growth (37 BPV). On the plus side, Sanchez's overall whiff rate has nearly doubled from last season to this one (5.6% SwK% in '17, 10.8% SwK% in '18). With a steep groundball tilt, Sanchez has a unique profile of being able to induce grounders and miss bats. At age 25, he has more room for growth than you might realize.

Tyler Skaggs (LHP, LAA) is showing some very early signs that suggest he could post his first sub-4 ERA in 2018. His skills have never been better (100 BPV). The reason for it has been more whiffs (10.5% SwK%) and getting ahead of hitters (68% FpK%). He has done so by expanding his arsenal. Only his curveball had a 10%+ SwK% in 2017. All four of his pitches are eclipsing that threshold so far in 2018.

Blake Snell (LHP, TAM) had a huge spring, giving hope that he could deliver on his post-hype promise in 2018. So far, so good (2.54 ERA, 0.99 WHIP in 28 IP). A 24% H% and 80% S% certainly have helped, but his overall skills have been strong (109 BPV). He's also missing a lot more bats (13.7% SwK%) than he did in 2017 (10.8% SwK%). The key has been his slider. He owns an elite 30.0% SwK% with that pitch. The missing piece from him remains control, as he still struggles to get ahead of hitters (55% FpK%) and attack the strike zone (39% ball%). That weakness will leave him prone to volatility.
 

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Patrick Corbin (LHP, ARI) owns the highest swinging strike rate (18.2% SwK%) of any SP in MLB not named Scherzer. It's a huge jump from the 11.0% SwK% he put up in 2017. The reason for it has been his slider, a pitch that's generating an amazing 33.2% SwK%. He also has incorporated a good curveball into his arsenal (18.0% SwK%). And his ability to keep the ball on the ground when batters do make contact (54% GB%) reduces his blowup risk. No reason to sell high on Corbin.

Jon Gray (RHP, COL) isn't helping any of his owners (5.79 ERA, 1.47 WHIP after six starts). But his skills have been just fine: 9.6 Dom, 2.5 Ctl, 41% GB%, 126 BPV. His rates of swinging and first-pitch strikes both have improved so far in 2018 (12.4% SwK%, 65% FpK%). Credit a much-improved curveball for his impact skills. He had a so-so 12.9% SwK% with it in 2017. This year, he owns a 22.8% SwK% against it. Jump at the chance to get Gray at a discount from a frustrated owner.

Matt Harvey (RHP, NYM) might be considered a buy-low target in some leagues given his recent role demotion and the good skills he has posted in 2018 (104 BPV). However, those skills have not been backed by any underlying support: 7.7% SwK%, 59% FpK%. Until he starts missing bats, we can't expect Harvey to resurrect his career in a starting role.

Kyle Hendricks (RHP, CHC) has not looked like a top 150 player so far in 2018, even though he was drafted as one (113 ADP). While his skills haven't been bad (88 BPV), his command sub-indicators have all been below par: 7.5% SwK%, 58% FpK%, 37% ball%. All of those marks have eroded from 2017. His only strikeout pitch is his changeup (21.2% SwK%). With a mid-80s fastball and limited raw stuff, he's a risky bet to remain an upper-tier SP.

Tyler Mahle (RHP, CIN) has put up an ugly 5.00 ERA and 1.41 WHIP over his first five starts. That said, there is reason for hope. He carries a 31/9 K/BB in 27 IP, command that has helped to produce a 122 BPV. His struggles have been due to a 27% hr/f more than anything else. And these indicators suggest that he can continue his impactful skills: 11.6% SwK%, 64% FpK%, 34% ball%. Now's a good time to buy low on Mahle, especially in deep leagues.

Nick Pivetta (RHP, PHI) has started the 2018 season with a flourish. He has a 2.57 ERA and 1.00 WHIP after five starts. His underlying skills have been just as good: 9.0 Dom, 1.3 Ctl, 45% GB%, 150 BPV. The key has been an elite collection of command sub-indicators (11.2% SwK%, 70% FpK%, 32% ball%). Pivetta has put up an 18/1 K/BB in 14 IP vs. RHers, as well as a solid 3.3 Cmd against lefties. He's another pitcher whose improved slider is helping him miss more bats (18.6% SwK% with slider in '17, 25.4% SwK% with slider in '18). Those who made him a part of their drafts (400 ADP) are set to earn a significant profit from him.

Tyson Ross (RHP, SD) has looked like the old Tyson Ross now that he's back in SD (3.64 ERA, 1.18 WHIP over five starts). His base skills support those marks too: 9.4 Dom, 3.0 Ctl, 48% GB%, 113 BPV. Note that Ross still carries significant risk though. His command sub-indicators reflect more reason for worry than optimism: 9.6% SwK%, 55% FpK%, 39% ball%. His fastball is more likely to settle at 90 mph now than in the mid-90s, and his once-dominant slider (30.8% SwK% in '16) has been more good than great so far in 2018 (16.7% SwK%). Be prepared for more ups-and-downs from Ross going forward.

Michael Wacha (RHP, STL) owns a solid 3.62 ERA after his first five starts. However, his skill foundation is shaky at best: 7.6 Dom, 4.0 Ctl, 42% GB%, 50 BPV. It looks even riskier one level deeper too, especially concerning his control: 9.9% SwK%, 50% FpK%, 40% ball%. Given his balky shoulder, now might be the time to capitalize on Wacha's early solid stats and use him to improve your roster elsewhere.


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  For more information about the terms used in this article, see our Glossary Primer.