One exciting breakout starting pitcher came from the Brewers this year in Freddy Peralta. Several of the Brewers pitchers found success in Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, and Peralta. Even their relievers in Josh Hader, Devin Williams, and Brent Suter provided value in real life and the fantasy world. However, we also observed flashes from the fringe Brewers pitchers such as Aaron Ashby, Eric Lauer, and Adrian Houser.
Way back in the 2021 fantasy baseball draft season, I noted Houser as a deep-league starting pitcher to consider past pick 400. As a groundball-heavy pitcher, Houser doesn’t boast high strikeout rates. Even though Houser keeps the ERA in check, the WHIP looks risky given the profile. Sometimes it’s a good idea to identify organizations to target for pitchers.
The recent success for Brewers pitchers led us to find fringe Brewers pitchers to consider in 2022. Since we have a larger sample with Lauer and Houser, we’ll have the opportunity to dive a little deeper than we would with Ashby. However, Ashby might possess the filthiest arsenal and helium in 2022 redraft and dynasty leagues.
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Fringe Brewers Pitchers – Adrian Houser, Eric Lauer, and Aaron Ashby
Adrian Houser (SP – MIL)
With the groundball-heavy approach, Adrian Houser finished 2021 with a 3.22 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 17.5% strikeout rate, and 10.7% walk rate in 142 1/3 innings pitched. In 15 of Houser’s 26 appearances, he threw five or more innings with two or fewer earned runs. Outside of the ERA and WHIP, to some extent, it’s an ugly K-BB rate. Houser boasts a 59% groundball rate similar to 2020 at 58.5%, but slightly higher than his career average of 56.4%.
The .259 BABIP looks a bit low given the career .286 BABIP plus the groundball tendency. However, Houser’s 74.6% LOB% sits near his career 72.8% LOB%. Houser’s ERA estimators of a 4.33 FIP and 4.31 xFIP ended up over a run higher than his actual ERA. Overall, that’s unsurprising given Houser’s surface stats. Even Houser’s 13.8% HR/FB% sat much lower than the 18.4% in 2019 and 24.2% in 2020.
Houser’s Pitch Mix and Results
Since Adrian Houser uses a groundball-heavy approach, it’s no surprise that he relies on the sinker 53.8% of the time. The sinker resulted in a ridiculous 68.4% ground ball rate with a 95.7% Z-Contact%. Houser limited the quality of contact, evidenced by the .272 wOBA and .268 SLG allowed. He also used three other pitches over 11% of the time in the curve (14.4%), four-seamer (13.4%), and changeup (11.1%). Outside of the four-seamer with a 10.8% swinging-strike rate, Houser’s other primary pitches didn’t provide many swings and misses.
Houser’s sinker boasts above-average horizontal and vertical movement. Add in the -23 Run-Value on the sinker, and it’s an elite pitch as the second-best pitch in Run-Values and ranks first amongst all qualified sinkers.
Interestingly, Houser adjusted his pitch mix throughout the past few seasons, where he used to throw the four-seam more than it slowly faded into a secondary pitch behind the sinker. From a movement standpoint, the curveball boasts a decent amount of vertical movement (2.7 vs. Avg), and the four-seamer possesses 1.7 versus the average horizontally. We note the curve and four-seamer since they both end up as two of Houser’s better swing and miss pitches.
What can Houser do in 2022?
Adrian Houser’s ratios may not look great in 2021, particularly the WHIP, given the groundball rate with a career WHIP of 1.31. However, Houser flashed a WHIP of 1.24 and 1.28 in 2019 and 2021. Expect Houser’s strikeout rate to increase higher than 17.5% in 2021 since the swinging-strike rate dropped to 7.2% compared to his career rate of 8.7%.
Houser will likely never provide a higher K-BB% since he relies on called-strikes over swinging strikes given the profile. With a sinker-heavy profile, Houser uses it for groundballs and pitches to contact with a 95.7% Z-Contact% with that pitch. It’s hard to see Houser leaping Freddy Peralta in 2022 with the low upside profile. If Houser’s improves his secondary pitches from a swing and miss standpoint, we could see more strikeouts and upside moving forward.
Early STEAMER projections have Houser with a 4.32 ERA, 1.44 WHIP, 18.7% strikeout rate, and 9.4% walk rate in 149 innings pitched. After a 3.22 ERA in 2021, STEAMER regresses the .259 BABIP allowed to .307 and the 13.8% HR/FB% to 16%. At first glance, the ratios look gross plus an unexciting K-BB%. He’s a streamer at best.
Eric Lauer (SP – MIL)
In 2021, Eric Lauer came off near career-best season with a 3.19 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 23.9% strikeout rate, and 8.4% walk rate in 118 2/3 innings pitched. On the surface, it appears Lauer ran into some fortune with a .249 BABIP and 79.4% LOB%. That stands out compared to a career BABIP of .305 and 73% LOB%.
After two seasons with the Padres (2018-2019), Lauer had a 4.40 ERA, 1.46 WHIP, 20.6% strikeout rate, and 8.4% walk rate in 261 2/3 innings pitched. During those two seasons, Lauer’s .323 BABIP and 72.7% LOB% aligned with his career averages.
Lauer’s Pitch Mix & Results
Outside of Eric Lauer’s four-seamer thrown 43.9% of the time, he mixes up a cutter (18.3%), curve (14.5%), slider (12.1%), and changeup (11.3%). Although he isn’t a high strikeout pitcher, Lauer boasts three pitches in the cutter, curve, and slider with a swinging-strike rate of 11% or above. The dip in four-seamer usage from 52% in 2020, 53.1% in 2019, and 57.7% in 2018 intrigues us. Lauer uses four different non-fastballs to keep hitters guessing.
Interestingly, Lauer increased the cutter velocity at 90.3 mph in 2021 when it hovered around 88 mph in 2018 and 2019. Lauer added velocity on every pitch, most notably the slider at 87.4 mph compared to 81.6 mph in 2018 and 82.1 mph in 2018. The cutter ended up as one of his best pitches from a movement standpoint too. Lauer’s cutter boasts 4.1 inches more vertical movement compared to the average.
Lauer added velocity and three pitches elicited a double-digit swinging-strike rate, so that adds reasons for optimism. Not only that but Lauer’s pitches, particularly the four-seamer and cutter resulted in less contact while performing better from a whiff standpoint. However, from a Run-Value perspective, Lauer’s four-seam rated as his worst pitch.
Eric Lauer in 2022 Fantasy Baseball
With all the hype surrounding Brandon Woodruff, Corbin Burnes, Freddy Peralta, and reliever Aaron Ashby – don’t sleeper on Eric Lauer. No, Lauer doesn’t possess the skills for a Peralta-type breakout in 2022. However, it’s more of a late-round pitcher to target because the Brewers have a positive thing going with their pitchers.
In 2021, Eric Lauer adjusted the pitch mix, increased velocity, and elicited less contact with improved results.
— Corbin (@corbin_young21) November 4, 2021
Several positives in Lauer’s favor include the increased velocity and improved swinging-strike rates. With the added pitch velocity, we also noticed the above-average movement on the cutter and four-seamer. Plus, Lauer boasted reduced contact rates and improved results on most pitches.
As with any pitcher, Lauer possesses risks such as the outlier .249 BABIP and 79.4% LOB%. If that regresses close to Lauer’s career .305 BABIP and 73% LOB%, the ratios will regress too. The early STEAMER projections account for the regression with a 4.25 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 23.4% strikeout rate, and 8.6% walk rate in 129 innings pitched. Overall, the skills improvement is worth monitoring in 2022.
Aaron Ashby (P – MIL)
We can’t discuss fringe Brewers pitchers without discussing Aaron Ashby right. Since it’s a small sample of Ashby’s 2021 MLB debut, take some of the data with a grain of salt. In 31 2/3 innings pitched, Ashby finished with a 4.55 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 29.3% strikeout rate, and 9% walk rate.
Ashby made four starts with 13 total appearances and only reached five innings once during any game started. However, Ashby also made six appearances in relief of two innings or more. We note that Ashby projects to pitch as a reliever to begin the 2022 season, although he can make starts as needed.
Ashby ran into some misfortune with a 55.6% LOB% yet a .273 BABIP. Take it for what it’s worth, but Ashby’s LOB% in 2019 at Single-A and High-A sat at 68.5% and 66.2%. It’s unlikely that correlates much, but it’s worth noting minor league experience. Ashby profiles as a high strikeout pitcher with above-average stuff yet may struggle with the control evidenced by the double-digit walk rates at 11.1%-11.6% in 2019 and 2021 in the minor leagues.
Ashby’s Pitch Mix & Results
Let’s head to the fun stuff – Aaron Ashby’s pitches. Known for the slider, Ashby throws it the most at 38.5% of the time. Ashby’s slider elicits a 42% whiff rate with above-average horizontal and vertical movement. The slider boasts 4.6 inches more drop and 3.8 inches more break than the average slider. Granted, it’s a small sample, but Ashby’s slider finished with a .077 BA, .154 SLG, and .148 wOBA allowed.
Ashby throws the sinker the second most at 34%, yet it’s mostly to elicit ground balls with a 69.8% ground ball rate. Even Ashby’s slider results in a ground ball rate of just under 59%. It makes us wonder if Ashby adjusts the usage since the sinker resulted in a .333 BA, .451 SLG, and .375 wOBA. That said, we’re still dealing with a small sample of under 32 innings. Ashby makes hitters chase, evidenced by the strikeouts and whiffs just outside the zone.
Typically, it’s helpful for lefties to have a changeup to keep right-handed hitters off balance. Interestingly, Aaron Ashby uses it for that purpose with a changeup. Ashby used the changeup 21.4% of the time, and he threw all 114 of them all righties. It’s another secondary pitch for Ashby to use for whiffs that boast a 16.7% swinging-strike rate and 34.6% whiff rate. Oh, and the vertical movement profile looks positive with 3.3 more inches of drop than the average changeup.
Aaron Ashby Moving Forward
Amongst the fringe Brewers pitchers, Aaron Ashby likely possesses the most hype given the electric stuff. Adrian Houser looks merely like a streamer, but with little upside since he relies on the sinker so much. Eric Lauer made positive changes with the increased velocity and improved whiffs. The leap of faith with Ashby involves projecting that he will enter the starting rotation early or sometime during the 2022 season.
Aaron Ashby's slider elicited a 17.5% SwStr% & 42% Whiff% with above-average horizontal AND vertical movement.
— Corbin (@corbin_young21) November 5, 2021
Although this reminds us of Freddy Peralta’s ascent, Peralta gave us 192.2 innings pitched over the previous three seasons. If we’re thinking about skills, Aaron Ashby’s stuff could compare to Peralta’s in terms of swings and misses. It’s tricky because the Brewers have an elite bullpen with Josh Hader, Devin Williams, and even Brent Suter.
Add in Ashby, and it’s safe to wonder if Ashby’s arsenal fits into a middle relief role or should he move into the rotation? The likely scenario involves Ashby starting as a reliever and making a spot start here or there. That said, depending on ADP, take Ashby as a flier later in drafts, but understand that he comes with risks given the control and limited sample.
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