STARTERS: Very early command sub-indicator changes

It's still way too early to put heavy stock into early-season skills, especially aggregate measures like strikeouts and walks. But looking into the components that drive them can be a helpful early-season exercise, since they contain a larger volume of data points. We call those components command sub-indicators as they have a strong correlation with the metrics that comprise a pitcher's command (K/BB) ratio.

For reference, you can review our research of each command sub-indicator here:

The following SP have posted a wide change in their SwK% from 2016 to 2017:

  • Swinging strike rate (SwK%) - 2017 YTD vs. 2016*
    
    Name                 League  SwK% '16  SwK% '17  Diff
    ===================  ======  ========  ========  =====
    deGrom, Jacob            NL     10.7%     18.0%  +7.3%
    Salazar, Danny           AL     11.1%     16.7%  +5.6%
    Sale, Chris              AL     11.3%     15.8%  +4.5%
    Martinez, Carlos         NL      9.4%     13.3%  +3.9%
    Severino, Luis           AL      7.9%     11.8%  +3.9%
    Hahn, Jesse              AL      6.0%      9.6%  +3.6%
    Porcello, Rick           AL      8.2%     11.3%  +3.1%
    Paxton, James            AL     11.7%     14.7%  +3.0%
    Gallardo, Yovani         AL      6.4%      9.2%  +2.8%
    Wacha, Michael           NL      8.2%     10.8%  +2.6%
    Miller, Shelby           NL      7.0%      9.6%  +2.6%
    Greinke, Zack            NL     10.4%     12.9%  +2.5%
    Tanaka, Masahiro         AL     10.9%     13.4%  +2.5%
    Samardzija, Jeff         NL      9.2%     11.7%  +2.5%
    Skaggs, Tyler            AL      8.1%     10.5%  +2.4%
    Straily, Dan             NL     10.1%     12.2%  +2.1%
    Estrada, Marco           AL     10.9%     12.9%  +2.0%
    Anderson, Chase          NL      8.2%     10.2%  +2.0%
    ------------------------------------------------------
    Hamels, Cole             AL     12.2%      7.5%  -4.7%
    Hendricks, Kyle          NL     10.0%      6.2%  -3.8%
    Nova, Ivan               NL      9.4%      5.9%  -3.5%
    Verlander, Justin        AL     12.0%      8.6%  -3.4%
    Kershaw, Clayton         NL     15.3%     11.9%  -3.4%
    Moore, Matt              NL     10.4%      7.9%  -2.5%
    Snell, Blake             AL     10.9%      8.4%  -2.5%
    Teheran, Julio           NL     10.3%      7.8%  -2.5%
    Musgrove, Joe            AL      9.4%      7.1%  -2.3%
    Harvey, Matt             NL     10.1%      7.9%  -2.2%
    Cain, Matt               NL      8.5%      6.3%  -2.2%
    Hellickson, Jeremy       NL     10.8%      8.6%  -2.2%
    Peralta, Wily            NL      8.5%      6.4%  -2.1%
    Gsellman, Robert         NL      8.8%      6.7%  -2.1%
    *min 20 IP in '17, 40 IP in '16

These SP are putting up an FpK% that is significantly different from what they showed in 2016:

  • First-pitch strike rate (FpK%) - 2017 YTD vs. 2016*
    
    Name                 League  FpK% '16  FpK% '17  Diff
    ===================  ======  ========  ========  ====
    McCarthy, Brandon        NL       62%       77%  +15%
    Peralta, Wily            NL       56%       67%  +11%
    Teheran, Julio           NL       62%       71%  +10%
    Hernandez, Felix         AL       59%       69%   +9%
    Pineda, Michael          AL       67%       76%   +9%
    Cole, Gerrit             NL       60%       68%   +7%
    Colon, Bartolo           NL       63%       71%   +7%
    Anderson, Chase          NL       58%       65%   +7%
    Skaggs, Tyler            AL       60%       66%   +6%
    Fulmer, Michael          AL       61%       67%   +6%
    Salazar, Danny           NL       54%       59%   +5%
    Sale, Chris              AL       62%       68%   +5%
    Corbin, Patrick          NL       56%       61%   +5%
    Gallardo, Yovani         AL       54%       59%   +5%
    -----------------------------------------------------
    Walker, Taijuan          NL       64%       54%  -10%
    Hahn, Jesse              AL       66%       56%  -10%
    Koehler, Tom             NL       59%       50%   -9%
    Lester, Jon              NL       63%       54%   -9%
    Manaea, Sean             AL       65%       56%   -9%
    Samardzija, Jeff         NL       64%       56%   -8%
    Martinez, Carlos         NL       62%       55%   -8%
    Perez, Martin            AL       65%       58%   -7%
    Eickhoff, Jerad          NL       61%       55%   -7%
    Iwakuma, Hisashi         AL       64%       58%   -6%
    Davies, Zach             NL       62%       56%   -6%
    Chacin, Jhoulys          NL       62%       57%   -6%
    Arrieta, Jake            NL       59%       54%   -5%
    Syndergaard, Noah        NL       64%       58%   -5%
    Greinke, Zack            NL       68%       62%   -5%
    Bauer, Trevor            AL       60%       55%   -5%
    Zimmermann, Jordan       AL       65%       60%   -5%
    Keuchel, Dallas          AL       63%       58%   -5%
    Hendricks, Kyle          NL       69%       64%   -5%
    *min 20 IP in '17, 40 IP in '16

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%) - 2017 YTD vs. 2016*
    
    Name                 League  Ball% '16  Ball% '17  Diff
    ===================  ======  =========  =========  ====
    Estrada, Marco           AL        37%        32%   -6%
    Hernandez, Felix         AL        37%        32%   -6%
    McCarthy, Brandon        NL        38%        33%   -5%
    Richard, Clayton         NL        38%        34%   -4%
    Nelson, Jimmy            NL        37%        34%   -4%
    Corbin, Patrick          NL        39%        36%   -4%
    Strasburg, Stephen       NL        34%        30%   -4%
    Anderson, Chase          NL        39%        35%   -3%
    Pineda, Michael          AL        35%        31%   -3%
    Musgrove, Joe            AL        34%        31%   -3%
    Gallardo, Yovani         AL        41%        39%   -3%
    Skaggs, Tyler            AL        36%        33%   -3%
    -------------------------------------------------------
    Manaea, Sean             AL        33%        41%   +8%
    Perez, Martin            AL        36%        43%   +6%
    Ray, Robbie              NL        36%        42%   +6%
    Iwakuma, Hisashi         AL        33%        39%   +6%
    Cain, Matt               NL        36%        42%   +5%
    Gausman, Kevin           AL        36%        41%   +5%
    Snell, Blake             AL        40%        44%   +5%
    Hamels, Cole             AL        37%        41%   +4%
    Holland, Derek           AL        36%        40%   +4%
    Norris, Daniel           AL        36%        40%   +4%
    Kennedy, Ian             AL        35%        39%   +4%
    Lester, Jon              AL        36%        39%   +4%
    Nolasco, Ricky           AL        36%        39%   +4%
    Zimmermann, Jordan       AL        34%        37%   +3%
    Tanaka, Masahiro         AL        33%        36%   +3%
    Verlander, Justin        AL        33%        36%   +3%
    Miller, Shelby           NL        37%        40%   +3%
    Duffy, Danny             AL        33%        36%   +3%
    Samardzija, Jeff         NL        34%        37%   +3%
    Leake, Mike              NL        34%        37%   +3%
    Davies, Zach             NL        36%        39%   +3%
    Quintana, Jose           AL        37%        39%   +3%
    *min 20 IP in '17, 40 IP in '16

Here is a closer look at several SP in each league whose command sub-indicators have changed significantly in the early part of 2017.
 

AMERICAN LEAGUE

Cole Hamels (LHP, TEX) is humming along with a 3.03 ERA and 1.13 ERA after five starts. But there are some very early warning signs lurking underneath those stats. For one, his skills have been terrible: 4.1 Dom, 3.3 Ctl, 47% GB%, 9 BPV. And his command sub-indicators have fallen through the floor: 7.5% SwK%, 57% FpK%, 41% ball%. Specifically, his SwK% has dipped significantly on his change-up (23% SwK% to 16% SwK%) and his curveball (17% SwK% to 13% SwK%). He might re-gain feel for those pitches as the season goes along given his long track record. But risk-averse owners or those wanting to sell high on him should do so soon.

James Paxton (LHP, SEA) entered the 2017 season as one of the game's best SP breakout targets. He hasn't disappointed in the early going (1.39 ERA, 0.84 WHIP). And his skills have fully backed up those numbers: 10.9 Dom, 1.7 Ctl, 39% GB%, 167 BPV. He's getting tons of swinging strikes (14.7% SwK%) and getting ahead of hitters (65% FpK%) too. He remains on a breakout trajectory.

Danny Salazar (RHP, CLE) owns some poor stats so far in 2017 (4.37 ERA, 1.50 WHIP). However, his underlying skills are very promising: 14.3 Dom, 4.4 Ctl, 31% GB%, 149 BPV. And his command sub-indicators validate his high strikeout rate and give his wobbly control some upside: 16.7% SwK%, 59% FpK%, 35% ball%. There remains significant upside here if you can stomach his lack of durability and injury risk.

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.

Tyler Skaggs (LHP, LAA) has not looked that good on the surface this season (4.44 ERA, 1.36 WHIP). His underlying skills haven't been very promising either (76 BPV). But few pitchers have produced more '16-'17 growth in their command sub-indicators than Skaggs has: 8.1% to 10.5 SwK%, 60% to 66% FpK%, 36% to 33% ball%. There's a good chance Skaggs will begin to surge if he can stay healthy.

Blake Snell (LHP, TAM) is a former top SP prospect who owns a sub-3.50 ERA after four starts. But that mark has been a mirage. It has been fueled by a 21% H% and 81% S%. His aggregate skills have been terrible (-38 BPV). As have his command sub-indicators: 8.4% SwK%, 56% FpK%, 44% ball%. In fact, he's throwing balls at a higher rate than any other SP in MLB. He's a good sell-high target in non-keeper leagues.
 

NATIONAL LEAGUE

Chase Anderson (RHP, MIL) owns a nifty 1.13 ERA and 1.04 WHIP after four starts. While those marks have been produced by a friendly 92% S% and 4% hr/f more than elite skills (104 BPV), it is noteworthy that Anderson has shown extensive improvement in his command sub-indicators from 2016 to 2017: 8.2% to 10.2% SwK%, 58% to 65% FpK%, 39% to 35% ball%. There's some value here that might still be hidden in many leagues.

Jacob deGrom (RHP, NYM) has started the season very strongly (2.55 ERA, 1.22 WHIP). Those marks have been backed by an elite 142 BPV. And his 11.7 Dom has the support of an amazing 18.0% SwK%, suggesting that deGrom's stuff is firmly intact. It remains to be seen if his health will hold up over an entire season, but in the meantime, there's no reason to avoid him.

Kyle Hendricks (RHP, CHC) has not begun the season where he left it in 2016. He has a 4.50 ERA after four starts. And his base skills have been very mediocre (45 BPV). The culprit has been a sharp reduction in command (3.9 to 1.8 Cmd). And that drop has been the result of a big decline in all of his command sub-indicators: 10.0% to 6.2% SwK%, 69% to 64% FpK%, 35% to 37% ball%. It's too early to panic, but if you need to help your roster in other areas, keep in mind that the window to sell Hendricks at his peak could be closing quickly.

Jeff Samardzija (RHP, SF) has an ugly 7.40 ERA and 1.52 WHIP after four starts. Blame a 38% H%, 53% S%, and 29% hr/f for those terrible stats. His underlying skills show plenty of reasons for optimism (128 BPV). And his stuff has sharpened a bit from 2016 to 2017 (9.2% to 11.7% SwK%). Samardzija makes for a good early-season buy-low target in spite of his volatility.

Dan Straily (RHP, MIA) owns a near-4 ERA after 20 IP, but he's someone who is pitching better than his ERA might indicate. His skills have been good (101 BPV). His command sub-indicators have been even better: 12.2% SwK%, 64% FpK%. Just keep in mind that his struggles against lefties have remained the same (1.8 Cmd vL, 4.3 Cmd vR), so you'll want to keep sitting him against lineups with good LH bats.

Michael Wacha (RHP, STL) has bounced back a lot from a bad 2016 so far in 2017, both on the surface (2.55 ERA, 1.09 WHIP) and beneath it: 8.4 Dom, 2.2 Ctl, 37% GB%, 107 BPV. His stuff appears to be at the same level that he showed prior to his shoulder woes (10.8% SwK%). Just keep in mind that his chronic shoulder problems aren't likely to go away, so he's someone to consider selling high on if you want to maximize your return on investment.


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