The Z Files: Would You Rather, Pitching Style

The Z Files: Would You Rather, Pitching Style

This article is part of our The Z Files series.

Recently, the Tout Wars participants were asked to choose which starting pitcher from a group of three they preferred for the rest of the season. The results are posted here

Please note, the question was asked May 24, and the 12 hurlers have all started at least once in the past week. I'll share my initial thoughts, as well as anything that has altered my opinion over the last week. The tally from the Touts and my Twitter followers is also included.

Sandy Alcantara, Aaron Nola or Joe Ryan?

PitcherToutsTwitter
Aaron Nola35.5%18.4%
Sandy Alcantara22.6%45.8%
Joe Ryan41.9%35.7%

Even though he doesn't lead my own rest-of-season rankings, I chose Nola and am sticking with the choice even after he yielded three homers to Atlanta the day after the poll was first circulated. There is a chance his poor outing and recency bias affected the Tout poll.

Beginning with Alcantara, I was suspect heading into the season. Clearly, I had no idea he's struggle to this extent, but I sensed yellow flags. This is my own profile:

Alcantara was rewarded for a special season with the NL Cy Young award. His 228 2/3 innings were the most since three achieved it in 2015. No one has thrown more frames since 2019. From a fantasy sense, Alcantara needs the volume. Even though he gathered 23 2/3 more innings than second place Aaron Nola, Alcantara finished just eighth in raw strikeouts. Therein lies

Recently, the Tout Wars participants were asked to choose which starting pitcher from a group of three they preferred for the rest of the season. The results are posted here

Please note, the question was asked May 24, and the 12 hurlers have all started at least once in the past week. I'll share my initial thoughts, as well as anything that has altered my opinion over the last week. The tally from the Touts and my Twitter followers is also included.

Sandy Alcantara, Aaron Nola or Joe Ryan?

PitcherToutsTwitter
Aaron Nola35.5%18.4%
Sandy Alcantara22.6%45.8%
Joe Ryan41.9%35.7%

Even though he doesn't lead my own rest-of-season rankings, I chose Nola and am sticking with the choice even after he yielded three homers to Atlanta the day after the poll was first circulated. There is a chance his poor outing and recency bias affected the Tout poll.

Beginning with Alcantara, I was suspect heading into the season. Clearly, I had no idea he's struggle to this extent, but I sensed yellow flags. This is my own profile:

Alcantara was rewarded for a special season with the NL Cy Young award. His 228 2/3 innings were the most since three achieved it in 2015. No one has thrown more frames since 2019. From a fantasy sense, Alcantara needs the volume. Even though he gathered 23 2/3 more innings than second place Aaron Nola, Alcantara finished just eighth in raw strikeouts. Therein lies the conundrum. Projecting playing time is more art than science. There was a time pitchers strung together multiple 220 innings seasons just to stay in shape. Looking at the last 10 years, Alcantara is due to for an innings dip (that's the science), but he is showing no indications of fatigue, or injury, so the consensus will be another 200-inning campaign. We incorporate historical regression into skills projections, but playing time continues to be handled individually, without regards to history. If you're drafting Alcantara as one of the top five pitchers, you're expecting 220 innings. That's a HUGE ask.

Not shown is additional concerns over how legislating the shift, and the Marlins sketchy infield defense, would be detrimental. Even if Alcantara rights the ship, there are still some residual worries.

As for Nola and Ryan, there is a fine line between trusting a track record and being myopic to a tangible change. There is no doubt Ryan is better than a formulaic projection based on his track record. His velocity is up, and he's added a split-finger to his repertoire. His swinging strike rate is up, helping fuel a 24.1 percent K-BB% rate which is fifth highest among pitchers with at least 60 innings pitched.

OK, so I need to raise my expectations for Ryan. The question is if I'm willing to elevate him above my expectations for Nola?

This is so tough, since I give Nola extra credit for consistency, reliability and durability. This season though, his strikeouts are way down while homers are significantly up. His pitch mix syncs with previous seasons, but his four-seam, cutter and sinker velocity are all down a tick. My hypothesis is pitchers working in the 92-mph range are more susceptible to a decline in performance when losing velocity as compared to a hurler throwing much harder or softer. (I am going to test this and present it in my next Todd's Takes).

If this is accurate, Nola either recaptures his lost velocity and is fine, or doesn't and will continue to struggle unless he adjusts. Looking at his game logs over his career. Nola's velocity increases as the season progresses, but as it's starting from a lower baseline, its apex will likely also be lower.

It should be noted my Saturday SiriusXM MLB Network Radio partner Erik Halterman warned that Nola (and Zack Wheeler) could be subject to a decline of this nature after the Phillies endured a longer playoff run than any team in history.

I may be all wet, but I still trust Nola to find the lost zip and/or make adjustments. 

Kevin Gausman, Zac Gallen or Corbin Burnes?

PitcherToutsTwitter
Kevin Gausman51.6%30.1%
Zac Gallen38.7%46.2%
Corbin Burnes6.5%23.7%

The subliminal questions here are

  1. Do you feel Burnes will rebound?
  2. If no, who do you like more, Gausman or Gallen?

I chose Gausman, so my answer to the first question is no, or at least, not fully. I favored Gausman heading into the season and thus far, nothing he or Gallen has done has changed my mind. Considering how well Gallen is pitching, this is more of a pro-Gausman take than anti-Gallen. Even though it's likely unwarranted, I give Gausman a slight edge in durability.

One of the tricks to this sort of exercise, at least for me, is looking at everyone under the same objective lens. I say for me because some take each case individually, and when faced with the same set of factors, they come to different conclusions, perhaps injecting some form of bias.

In this case, there are some similarities between Nola and Burnes. The reason for their respective struggles isn't exactly the same, but there are parallels. What I need to avoid is confirmation bias, since I was higher than the field on Nola, but a bit lower on Burnes. If my contention is Nola is too good not to figure things out, doesn't Burnes deserve the same treatment?

Burnes' velocity is down which is cratering his strikeouts. He's walking more hitters as well, matching Nola in both areas. Burnes isn't dealing with the hangover from extra postseason games, but he is coming off his first 200-plus innings campaign.

Maybe it's rationalization to satisfy my bias, but my gut feel is Nola has a better chance of regaining his velocity and/or adjusting, while I'm concerned Burnes can't do the same. The main reason is we've seen Nola do it already in previous seasons. That is, he has a longer track record than Burnes, though Burnes' peak numbers are superior to Nola.

Bryce Miller, Chris Sale or Alek Manoah?

PitcherToutsTwitter
Bryce Miller38.7%44.3%
Chris Sale58.1%44.7%
Alek Manoah0.0%11.1%

This may be my favorite trio since it reveals a bit about philosophy, and not just player evaluation. The question with Sale relates not to his talent but whether he's able to sustain his current level for the bulk of the season, after compiling fewer than 50 innings at the MLB level since 2019. Similarly for Miller, the question is not whether he's good, but whether a rookie with just 70.2 innings of Double-A ball and no Triple-A experience can continue to baffle hitters using his fastball 70 percent of the time.

By not including Manaoh in the above paragraph, it can correctly be inferred he's not a consideration for me. We all know the deal. There were signs Manoah was being over-drafted, specifically his lack of dominance. However, some obstinate analysts (like me) wishcasted his bulldog-like approach onto his swinging strike rate with the anticipation of more punchouts.

As an aside, while I am a numbers guy, I've always incorporated some "heart over head" analysis and will continue to do so. I've had my shares of hits, as well as misses. Granted, Manoah has been a swing and miss of epic proportions, and the lesson is to think twice if not three times before "overriding the system", but I suspect most would prefer my honest evaluation, albeit with an explanation, if it goes against the "little black box."

All that said, I have nothing other than, "he used to be good" to make a case for Manoah. Furthermore, I have him on some keeper and dynasty clubs. Clearly, I can get nothing for him this season, but I'm beginning to ponder if he'll be an asset next season. There will be around 20 more starts from which to garner more information, but that's how dire Manoah's plight has become. I generally finish a discussion of this nature with, "I can't wait to take advantage of the discount next season." As of now, I'm not so sure.

I chose Sale, primarily because he's more likely to get even better than Miller, and they both have workload concerns. Miller's overreliance on his fastball doesn't bother me. When you have plus command, you have more than one fastball - you have a down and away heater, a high and tight version, etc. Not to mention, he is developing his secondaries, and may use them more the second and third time he sees the same lineup. To that end, the new schedule is in his favor, since he'll see divisional opponents fewer times and draw most clubs just once all season.

Mitch Keller, Eduardo Rodriguez or Nathan Eovaldi?

PitcherToutsTwitter
Mitch Keller64.5%42.7%
Eduardo Rodriguez6.5%9.8%
Nathan Eovaldi29.0%47.5%

The last grouping features a big contrast in the three profiles, but at the time the question was posed, they were nearly identical in earned auction value. In full disclosure, I wanted to have Keller be involved and was looking for a pathway, and this seemed pretty cool.

The reason I strove to include Keller are the similarities to Ryan. Admittedly, it's not an apples-to-apples comparison, but both changed their arsenal and upgraded their stuff. Keller may have had more pedigree, though Ryan was beginning to gain recognition in prospect circles. I was curious if either or both of them would be trusted by the masses, and if not, ponder the difference in treatment.

As it turns out, the Touts and Twitter are buying into both Ryan and Keller, though their level of competition in this exercise is decidedly different. Even so, the trust in Keller, especially from the Touts, is telling. Before discussing that, it should be noted the poll coincided with Eovaldi's complete game gem, so there is likely some recency bias kicking in.

The level of support for Ryan and Keller speaks towards the earlier point revolving around when to put credence into a new performance level. I'm surmising some of this is generational, where the younger crowd is quicker to buy into a change, whereas those of a certain age may need more evidence. The caveat is the younger crowd may be more receptive to next-level analysis generated via Statcast and the like.

Personally, I like to think I blend, um... "experience" with an appreciation for and application of advanced metrics. That said, I continue to lean toward, "That was impressive, let's see you do it again" in general approach, which is likely detrimental to my team management.

As for the question, I am Team Keller. Obviously, the injury to Rodriguez takes him out of the running, but he was fine when the question was presented, and at the time I was worried about his staying power. The same is true for Eovaldi; his durability is an issue.

I have no concerns with Keller's workload, and both number scouting and my eyes are satisfied he's taken the next step. Let's just hope the Pirates don't deal him in a Chris Archer type scenario.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Todd Zola
Todd has been writing about fantasy baseball since 1997. He won NL Tout Wars and Mixed LABR in 2016 as well as a multi-time league winner in the National Fantasy Baseball Championship. Todd is now setting his sights even higher: The Rotowire Staff League. Lord Zola, as he's known in the industry, won the 2013 FSWA Fantasy Baseball Article of the Year award and was named the 2017 FSWA Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year. Todd is a five-time FSWA awards finalist.
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