Every year in fantasy baseball, we look at different ways to find breakouts. This is especially true on the pitch side.
Pitchers tend to be more volatile in year-over-year performance than hitters, paving the way for under-the-radar talent to emerge as frontline starters. When that happens, you’ll want them on your fantasy team.
A great way to identify a breakout on the horizon? Examine the changes in a pitcher’s pitch mix. Specifically, how far does a pitcher throw their fastball?
Editor’s note: Our incredible team of writers received 13 award nominations speak Fantasy Sports Writers Association including Baseball Writer of the Year, Football Writers of the Year, Best Baseball Series and much more. Follow their analysis, rankings and tips throughout the year and win big with RotoBaller!
As of 2015, fastballs and sinkers have been the hardest hit pitches.
BASIS WEIGHTED AVERAGE (wOBA) ALLOWED BY TERRAIN TYPE
- Fastball: .350
- Lead: .349
- Strawberry: .315
- Edit: .292
- Cursor: .269
- Curve: .263
- Distributor: .257
As you can see, there are clear benefits to throwing your fastball less. Obviously, you still need to have him as a threat or your other pitches might become overexposed, but there’s no need to rely on your fastball too much unless it’s a solid supply.
Today we’ll be looking at the pitchers who changed their overall fastball usage the most in 2021, compared to 2020. Who lied the most about their fastball and who got the memo they don’t need to be so dependent on an inferior ground? Answering these questions can help us identify breakouts for the 2021 season!
Pitchers who threw fewer fastballs in 2021
Sandy Alcantara, Miami Marlins
As someone who averaged 98 mph with his fastball last season, you’d expect a strikeout rate over 24% for Sandy Alcantara. The 26-year-old posted a 3.19 ERA and was an absolute workaholic with 205.2 innings pitched, but in order for him to be an all-around fantasy ace, he needs to knock out batters more consistently.
Fortunately, everything seems to be falling into place for Alcantara. In his last 12 starts, he has done about as well as expected:
- 28.4% K, 3.8% BB, 24.7% K-BB, 3.04 ERA, 3.01 SIERA, 15.1% swing rate
These are marquee ace level numbers. In the meantime, it was no mere coincidence. You see, the Alcantara Slider is an elite weapon; it induced an odor rate of 38.3% and a wOBA of 0.242. In this hot stretch, Alcantara started kissing her:
If Alcantara continues to use his slider like he did at the end of the season, his takedown potential is through the roof. Steamboat projects a 24% shrinkage rate for Alcantara, but that’s assuming it doesn’t continue its evolution as a true ace of fantasy.
In the past month, he was drafted as the 11th starting pitcher on the board. So, fantasy baseball managers are clearly confident that this evolution will continue. In my opinion, this is legitimately founded. Looking through a player’s pitch mix is a great way to understand the constant journey they face to become the best version of themselves. The Alcantara may have just hit that peak and you don’t want to miss it.
Jordan Montgomery, New York Yankees
With a 24.5% strike rate which basically matches the 24.4% strike rate he posted last season, it doesn’t look like Jordan Montgomery has changed much between 2020 and 2021.
However, that would not be the case. The 29-year-old increased his strike rate to 13.7%, but fewer strikes called may have played a role in him getting fewer strikeouts. That being said, strikes called aren’t very consistent from season to season, so a lot works in Montgomery’s favor when it comes to striking out more batters in 2022.
In Montgomery’s last six starts last season, he posted a 29% strikeout rate in addition to a 15.1% swing strike rate. It was a really good way to end the year, and now we have to hope it continues into 2022. Really, it all comes down to his pitch mix. As you can see, he threw less fastballs in 2022, which was already a good start to becoming the best version of himself. However, there is more to it. Let’s take a look at Montgomery’s stats by terrain type:
JORDAN MONTGOMERY STATS BY COURT TYPE
- Change: 0.233 wOBA allowed, 39.2% odor
- Curveball: 0.217 wOBA allowed, 42.9% odor
- Lead: .412 wOBA allowed, 11.7% odor
- Fastball: .327 wOBA allowed, 19% odor
- Cutter: .377 wOBA allowed, 20.3% odor
Clearly Montgomery’s change and curveball are his two best shots; since he will naturally face many right-handed hitters, the change should be a priority for him. However, be aware of the separation between his four-seam fastball and his sinker. Montgomery entered the league as a plumber, but that kept him from missing bats. In the last month of the season, he finally seemed to put everything in place.
With more four-seam fastballs, fewer sinkers and more changes, Montgomery may have finally realized his true potential. I think he’s a strong candidate to step up this season and would target him in the drafts; he is currently drafted as the 84th pitcher in NFBC drafts. It’s what we call evolution and I completely buy it for Montgomery in 2022.
The pitchers who threw the most fastballs in 2021
Zac Gallen, Arizona Diamondbacks
The main change for Gallen was that he threw his four-seam fastball much more in 2021, giving up his cutter for the most part.
Considering Gallen’s fastball is more effective than his cutter, it’s a promising development. That being said, there is cause for concern with his swinging strike rate of 9.1%, which is well below the 12.1% rate he posted in the previous two seasons.
What has changed for Gallen in 2021? For me, it’s his land location. In 2021, he lowered his average step height to 2.38 feet, which is quite low. So instead of being a north/south caster, he was just a “south” caster. With above average vertical movement across all of his major slots, this shouldn’t be the case.
Fortunately for Gallen, he will team up with a new pitching coach in Brett Strom. During his time as a pitching coach in Houston, Strom was one of the first innovators when it came to establishing a vertical north/south profile with respect to the location of the field, which makes it the ideal pair between pitcher and coach.
If Gallen starts to draw properly from his vertical arsenal, the ceiling is through the roof in terms of what he is capable of. He’s currently drafted as the 51st pitcher, which seems like an overreaction to the 4.30 ERA he posted last year. When projecting it in the future, he needs to consider his past success, and I expect him to set a career high for strikeouts in 2022. The ramifications of the Strom’s hiring in Arizona cannot be understated; Gallen could be assigned for a career year in 2022, and you won’t want to miss that.
Dylan Bundy, twins from Minnesota
Usually when you have a breakout season, you just keep doing what worked for you. For Dylan Bundy, however, that wasn’t the case.
In 2020, Bundy had a career season, posting a 3.29 ERA, 20.6% K-BB, 27% strikeout rate and 2.95 FIP. How did it happen? Well, to understand Bundy’s mystery, let’s start with his pitch mix:
DYLAN BUNDY wOBA AUTHORIZED BY PITCH
- Fastball: .373 wOBA allowed
- Cursor: .234 wOBA allowed
- Curveball: .252 wOBA allowed
- Change: .338 wOBA allowed
- Lead: .402 wOBA allowed
As you can see, Bundy’s fastballs struggled a lot, but his breaking balls thrived. This is the realization he seemed to have in 2020 after being traded to Angels:
After throwing his fastballs under 42% in 2020, Bundy hit 51.5% in 2021. Perhaps as a result, his strikeout rate has dropped to 21.2%, while his SIERA (4, 56) has reached its previous standards. In other words, he’s back to being the pitcher he was before 2020, as opposed to the front-row starting potential he displayed during the shortened season.
After signing with a new organization in the Twins, the hope is that Bundy can return to the pitch mix he demonstrated in 2020. It’s his best chance to miss bats and limit hard contacts, and that’s a change I believe he can make with a particularly progressive organization. If so, he could end up being one of the massive steals in the 2022 fantasy baseball draft. With an average draft position of 450 currently, what have you got to lose?