Welcome to the first edition of my weekly Fire & Ice articles here on Fantrax. Each week I’ll be looking at a player who has been under performing (Ice) and over performing (Fire) and diving into the numbers to evaluate whether their performance is legitimate or anomalous. The title is also as close as I could get to a Game of Thrones reference without getting too carried away (and if you ever want to talk Thrones please find me @NathanDokken on Twitter).
There’s only one week in the books, so a lot of stats aren’t worth a lot just yet. Look, it’s a 17.50 FIP! It’s a 65% K%! He’s making 58% hard contact!! It takes a lot more than a week to stabilize many of these rates, but in this edition I look into two things that are important to keep an eye on early in the season – pitch deployment and velocity.
Fire – Patrick Corbin
Considering I wrote about Patrick Corbin rather glowingly both here and here this off-season, you might say that I was a little invested heading into the season. Thankfully, Corbin has pulled through for me so far in a very big way. After two starts he’s 2-0 with a 1.38 ERA and a 20:2 K:BB ratio. Not too shabby. It’s additionally encouraging when considering his matchups, which were against the Rockies and Dodgers. Both offenses were top 10 in wOBA in 2017, with the Rockies finishing fourth at .332 and the Dodgers seventh at .330. He’s not just beating up on depleted lineups.
The key to Corbin’s success last year was the increased use of his slider, particularly over the final two months of the season in which he used the pitch over 40% of the time. That’s Chris Archer territory. I was worried about him deciding not to continue that extreme usage into this season, thinking that he would worry about his arm falling off because of all the sliders. It would be disconcerting to lose ones arm. On the other hand, fewer sliders would likely render him less effective. Thankfully, he is not only continuing the usage – he’s increasing it. He’s throwing 51% sliders this season and 47% fastballs, essentially a late inning reliever profile except he’s tossing 5+ innings per game. Let’s take another look at this beautiful filth that is his slider.
You can see how he piled up 12 strikeouts over 7.1 innings in his last start against the Dodgers. Over his last 83 innings (including last August/September) this is what we’re left with:
3.14 ERA (3.63 FIP)
Those are ace caliber numbers. It’s hard not to think that much slider usage will catch up with him eventually, but there’s been more conjecture about sliders being damaging to your elbow than actual scientific study. Heck, Archer has been throwing 39%+ sliders since 2015 and he’s made at least 33 starts each season. At 28, with one Tommy John already under his belt and being a free agent in 2019, he may well be willing to leave it all on the field this season. That’s how I play fantasy too, so I’m ready to buckle in and enjoy the ride. It doesn’t feel great that Corbin is living off such a limited arsenal, but when your FB/SL combo is that lethal, he can get away with it. I’d be holding on to Corbin for sure and soaking up the profits from his cheap ADP.
Ice – Luis Castillo
I was also very high on Luis Castillo coming into the year. At just 24 years old in 2017, he struck out over a batter per inning with a 3.12 ERA over 89.1 innings with the Reds. Coming in just shy of 170 innings between the bigs and Triple-A, I had/have reason to believe he can put up 180 innings this year and push towards true fantasy ace status. Unlike Corbin however, Castillo was relatively pricey in drafts. Also unlike Corbin, Castillo’s start wasn’t so rosy.
Castillo gave up six runs over five innings in his debut against the Nationals, although that did come with a nice 6:1 K:BB ratio. His changeup was still in full effect, generating a whopping 19 swinging strikes. It’s a glorious pitch. His slider was there as a change of pace, but it’s not a great offering – he tossed 19 and didn’t get a single whiff. What really buttered a lot of bread for him last year was his sinker. It’s also what got him in trouble in his first start of 2018.
In 2017 his sinker got an astonishing 77% ground balls. That’s a great way to find success in hitter-friendly Great American Ballpark – keep the ball on the ground. He had an elite 58.8% ground ball rate in ’17 thanks largely to that sinker, but in his debut he tossed 32 sinkers without inducing a single ground ball. It was either smoked for a line drive or crushed into the air, so it shouldn’t be too surprising that he gave up two homers and had just a 46.7% GB% on the day.
Castillo has lost 1.7 MPH of velocity from the end of last season, which could be part of the problem. Perhaps he’s still ramping up and he’ll gain that velocity back, but he still averaged 95.9 MPH on his sinker, so it shouldn’t be a huge problem. His location of the pitch was in line with where he was tossing it last year, but if it continues to get smoked like it did in this start against a very tough Nationals lineup, he will want to live out of the zone a little more.
It was discouraging to begin the season like this, but it’s hard to imagine he’s suddenly lost the sinker that was so successful for nearly 90 innings last year. His changeup is still elite, and his slider is a good enough third pitch to turn over a lineup 2-3 times with regularity. Hopefully his velocity rebounds, but even if he’s averaging 96 MPH…well, that’s still pretty darn good. Don’t hit the panic button just yet.