It’s a fun exercise to find players that could break out in 2022. This time, we’re examining breakout pitchers who could pull a Freddy Peralta-like season. Before we consider particular thresholds, let’s look at Peralta before 2021. In 2018, Peralta started in 14 of 16 games, then appeared in 45 of 54 games in relief in 2019 and 2020.
Over the previous three seasons, Peralta compiled a 4.67 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 31.2% strikeout rate, and 10.7% walk rate in 192 2/3 innings combined. The BABIP remained low at .298, but the 66.5% LOB% appeared to have room for improvements. Since Peralta profiles as a flyball pitcher with a 46.8% FB% allowed (2018-2020), it makes sense to see the lower BABIP.
Outside of the 2019 season, Peralta kept the home run rate in check, as evidenced by the 8.7% HR/FB% in 2018 and 7.7% in 2020. When compared to 2019, Peralta’s 15.5% HR/FB% remained higher, and the 1.59 HR/9 with the HR/9 below 0.92 in the other two seasons reflected that.
Peralta’s breaking pitches typically remained his best weapons for whiffs in the curveball and slider. Depending on the FanGraphs or Baseball Savant classification, we consistently find the breaking pitches improved and performed well with a career 20.4% swinging-strike rate on the slider. Before 2021, Peralta heavily relied on the four-seamer and breaking pitch over 95% of his total pitches thrown with adjusted usage. Peralta went from a fastball usage north of 73%, and then it dipped to 51.6% in 2021 due to the increased breaking pitch usage.
What’s the Freddy Peralta threshold?
With that overview of Freddy Peralta from 2018-2020, what’s the threshold for finding possible breakout pitchers? Keep in mind, some of these thresholds feel a bit arbitrary. However, we’re looking for a pitcher who appeared as a starter or reliever. Some other standards include a higher strikeout rate, an underwhelming ERA, and at least one quality pitch or maybe two.
A couple of other ADP benchmarks includes finding a pitcher after 200. For reference, the 2021 Main Event ADP for Peralta sat at 186, with an overall NFBC ADP at 289. In my TGFBI league, I drafted Peralta in round 23 at pick 340. So that gives us a wide range of pitchers to consider, although we might dig a little deeper into the player pool. However, not all breakout pitcher candidates will follow the ADP benchmark.
3 Breakout Pitcher Candidates Who Could Pull a Freddy Peralta
My Top Freddy Peralta-Like Breakout Pitcher – Jesús Luzardo (SP – MIA)
In mid-December 2021, I wrote up a piece for the Fantasy Baseball Buy or Sell series that included Jesús Luzardo and Luis Patiño. After a conversation with Mags (@Mags_S20), I moved Luzardo to the top of the Freddy Peralta breakout pitcher list. That conversation with Mags (one of the sharpest fantasy baseball players and a good person) solidified my thoughts on Luzardo.
Although folks can read the deeper analysis in the article, let’s highlight the main points. One organization to target for pitching involves the Marlins. A piece of evidence – Sandy Alcantara’s gradual improvements from 2019 to 2021, especially with the changeup usage going from 12.1% in 2019 to 23.5% in 2021. Health aside, we’ll note Pablo López’s changeup usage from 22% in 2019 to 32.5% in 2021 with a career 17.3% swinging-strike rate.
Luzardo struggled with Oakland and the Marlins shortly after the trade. However, like the Reds, Brewers, and Dodgers in past seasons, target the Marlins starting pitchers in drafts. Watch for the Marlins to help Luzardo develop the changeup into another effective pitch in 2022.
With Oakland, Jesús Luzardo had a 6.87 ERA, 1.63 WHIP, 23.1% strikeout rate, and 9.2% walk rate. Luzardo allowed a .330 BABIP and 64.4% LOB%, which should improve given a larger sample.
Then with the Marlins, Luzardo rocked a 6.44 ERA, 1.60 WHIP, .317 BABIP, and 65.9% LOB%. Luzardo struggled with control, evidenced by the 12.1% walk rate with a 22% strikeout rate. The ratios could regress, assuming the BABIP and LOB% adjust.
Luzardo’s Pitch Mix Change & Stuff
Monitor the pitch mix change with the Marlins since he dropped the fastball usage and upped the slider usage. As Mags wonderfully noted in our conversation, Luzardo struck out a season-high and career-high 11 batters against the Phillies in his final start of 2021.
We’ll highlight Luzardo’s pitch mix change once again via Baseball Savant, particularly from August and beyond when he debuted for the Marlins.
Outside of the BABIP and LOB% likely regressing in 2022, Luzardo’s skills improved in the small samples with Oakland and Miami. In six games started with the Athletics, Luzardo posted a 13.9% K-BB% with a 12.5% swinging-strike rate. Unfortunately, the K-BB% dipped to 9.8% with the Marlins in 12 starts, but the swinging-strike rate improved to 13.6%.
Luzardo’s 2022 Outlook
Overall, Jesús Luzardo possesses two pitches with a high swinging-strike rate in the breaking pitch (21.4%) and changeup at 16.9%. Luzardo adjusted the pitch mix with the Marlins, and the organization should help him build upon the late-season results. Prospect growth or growth, in general, isn’t linear, and we need to have patience with Luzardo as he potentially takes the next step in his development. With the early Draft Champions ADP over the past month sitting around pick 300, Luzardo ranks as the top breakout pitcher that could thrive in 2022 like Freddy Peralta.
Two More Freddy Peralta-Like Breakout Pitchers
Logan Gilbert (SP – SEA)
Although Logan Gilbert and Michael Kopech don’t meet the ADP thresholds, they have the skills and prospect pedigree to leap in 2022. Gilbert made his major league debut in 2021 with a 4.68 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 25.4% strikeout rate, and 5.6% walk rate in 119 1/3 innings. Throughout his minor league career, he boasted above-average K-BB% at 25.3%.
Gilbert struggled to begin 2021, then improved as the season went on. He had a 4.98 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 24% strikeout rate, and 7.3% walk rate in his first five starts. For the final 19 starts, Gilbert dropped his ERA to 4.61 with a 1.16 WHIP. However, the K-BB% improved to 20.6% from 16.7%. Gilbert allowed less contact with an 86.6% Z-Contact% down to 79.8%, plus a 1.8% jump in swinging-strike rate.
Overall, we’re dealing with a small sample, but the pitch mix slightly changed. Gilbert relied on the fastball (62.3%) and slider (23.6%) for just under 86% of his total pitches from June 13 and beyond. Meanwhile, the pitch mix looked a bit more balanced across three pitches in the fastball (58.3%), slider (25%), and curveball (13.5%) to account for 96.8% of the pitches thrown. Again small sample, but Gilbert’s four-seamer performed well, evidenced by the -19 Run-Value on Baseball Savant. That ranks of the 10th-best four-seamer behind Freddy Peralta and Julio Urías.
Gilbert’s 2022 Outlook
The early STEAMER projections have Logan Gilbert with a 4.17 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 24.7% strikeout rate, and 6.7% walk rate in 141 innings. It seems they’re projecting Gilbert’s 67.9% LOB% to regress to 73% in 2022, with the BABIP remaining similar. Gilbert’s slider elicited an 18.1% swinging-strike rate with a .301 wOBA allowed. It should remain an effective secondary pitch for Gilbert as a pitcher with above-average command and control.
Logan Gilbert's four-seamer finished with the 10th best four-seamer via Run-Value at -19.
It's a small sample, but Gilbert possessed 3 pitches with a double-digit SwStr%.
👀4-seam – 10.5%
🔥Slider – 18.1%
😍Changeup – 16.4%
Early drafters seem to like him too (132 ADP) pic.twitter.com/sDBpywm8mX
— Corbin (@corbin_young21) January 11, 2022
Based on NFBC ADP, Gilbert sits near other proven starters in Blake Snell, Nathan Eovaldi, Chris Bassitt, and Ian Anderson. Then we have the 2021 breakout in Carlos Rodón, plus others with upside, including Shane Baz, Framber Valdez, and Zac Gallen. On the flip side, progress isn’t linear, and we could be a year early on the Gilbert breakout campaign, but the skills and prospect pedigree should warrant the intrigue.
Michael Kopech (CHW)
As one of the headliner prospects in the Chris Sale deal, Michael Kopech experienced some bumps along the way to begin his career. Kopech underwent Tommy John surgery in 2019, then opted out in 2020 and dealt with a hamstring injury in 2021. He also discussed mental health issues, an area of analysis we sometimes overlook – the human component.
That said, Kopech thrived in 2021 primarily as a reliever with a 3.50 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 36.1% strikeout rate, and 8.4% walk rate in 69 1/3 innings. He made four starts, but only one of which went five innings. Kopech’s .304 BABIP and 78.3% LOB% don’t look too outrageous, but the strand rate could drop. It’s a small sample, but Kopech’s velocity increased from 95.4 mph in 2018 to 97.4 mph in 2021.
Michael Kopech’s four-seamer and slider combination remained an above-average combination. Kopech’s four-seamer boasted a 13.9% swinging-strike and the slider with a 15.8% rate. Meanwhile, the four-seamer had a .302 wOBA, plus a .241 wOBA on the slider. Kopech’s two primary pitches have above-average movement, with the four-seamer notably possessing 2.5 inches more than the average four-seamer. Meanwhile, Kopech’s slider gets the whiffs with the vertical rise (2 inches vs. Avg) and the weak contact with a 2.7 inches more horizontal break.
Kopech’s 2022 Outlook
According to the Statcast Swing-Take Visual, Michael Kopech thrived on the shadow area, evidenced by the -16 Run-Value. That’s also evident with the whiff rate by zone for Kopech in 2021. Outside of the small sample in 2021 as a reliever, Kopech’s ADP remains at pick 168 – a round or two behind Logan Gilbert.
Although Kopech mostly pitched in relief in 2021, STEAMER and Roster Resource projects him to slot into the White Sox starting rotation. Kopech projects for a 3.83 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 29.7% strikeout rate, and 8.7% walk rate in 145 innings pitched. We’ll note that the STEAMER projections have about half of his appearances in relief to monitor the jump in innings for 2022. Like Logan Gilbert, we might be a year early for Kopech to break out like Freddy Peralta. However, the above-average four-seamer and slider combination should remain a filthy mix in 2022.
Although these might be the most exciting breakout pitchers for 2022 that pop via the arbitrary thresholds, I’ll have more breakout pitcher candidates for at least one or two more future articles. Tune in next week for more.
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