Welcome back to another article and welcome to the New Year! Christmas and New Years’ Eve always seem like a blur when they come and go don’t they? Now that we are officially in 2021, we can turn the page on 2020 and look forward to a MUCH better year that will hopefully have many more baseball games. While assessing players for 2021, it’s important to use some of the data from the 2020 season. In a season in which a global pandemic was occurring, and we only had 60 games of data, it is incredibly hard to make assessments about players and their performances, and that includes Tarik Skubal, who I’ll be looking at in this article.
As with many sports, there are many factors that come into play when looking at how a player performed during a particular season. Players may be statistically slow starters, not play well in certain weather, have problems with certain teams that they continued to face in the re-alignment, and more. What a player has done in their career before 2020 needs to be taken into consideration for these exact reasons.
This offseason, I’ll be doing a series of articles looking at what went right, what went wrong, and the overall 2021 outlook for certain players. I can only take into account the data that has been given and use that to best assess what to expect from each player in 2021. This should be fun! Let’s dive into our next player in this series: Tarik Skubal.
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What Went Right for Tarik Skubal in 2020
Strikeout Stuff Seems There
Skubal’s first season with the Tigers saw him make seven starts, with one relief appearance where he accumulated 32 innings pitched. In those eight appearances, Skubal pitched to a 5.63 ERA, a 1.22 WHIP, and allowed 28 hits, walked 11, and struck out 37.
The numbers may not be the most attractive, but note the strikeouts; 10.41 K/9 in his first taste of the big leagues. Skubal was able to find his groove as the season went on as he struck out only 8 batters in his first 3 appearances and finished the season strong striking out 20 in his last 3 appearances. The display of his 95-mph fastball, improved changeup (more on that next), and slider, which opponents only hit .182 against, helped showcase his potential for future dominance. The result from these pitches was that all three had expected batting averages of .258 or less.
Skubal also only walked more than two batters in only one of his eight appearances. He was right near league average in his zone percentage but was able to parlay that into a 3% swing percentage and a 5% higher whiff percentage than the league average. That paired with a lower chase contact percentage than league average and a higher chase percentage to boot, this all pairs well with his deception and his ability to be a great strikeout pitcher.
Change in Approach and Revamped Changeup
Prior to a September 5th game against the Minnesota Twins, one of Skubal’s teammates happened to notice something wrong in Skubal’s approach. Catcher Austin Romine noticed Skubal wasn’t throwing aggressively, and that was going to need to change if he wanted to stick around.
According to Evan Petzold of the Detroit Free Press, Romine was reported as saying, “Hey, man, just come to me, like throw through me. “Attack through the glove.”
That seemed to be a turning point for Skubal as after this point, he started getting an increase in ground balls, more strikeouts, and fewer flyballs, which had plagued him early on.
A tie in right around this point was also a revamped changeup. Prior to his September 5th start, Skubal confided in fellow left-hander Matthew Boyd, on his changeup grip and the success Boyd had gotten since he started using it. The surprise came when Skubal changed to that grip in his following start and threw it a career-high 18% of his 78 pitches.
Skubal seemed to notice a big difference as he was quoted after as saying, “I flipped the seams a little bit, started working off a different seam so my fingers could catch something and I could really drive it down and get the sink and fade that I wanted. The grip that I was throwing, I just felt like I was back spinning it too much. I was getting velocity difference, but I wasn’t getting any fade to it, so it turned into just a BP fastball. And the results were BP fastballs, they were hitting it really hard.”
This is someone constantly working on their craft and not afraid to ask for help from teammates to better his game. That can go a long way in helping him become a better pitcher.
What Went Wrong
An Ugly Batted Ball Profile
When Skubal was hit in 2020, it was very hard. When looking at his Statcast page, there’s a lot of blue in it that might make you a little chilly. Skubal ranked in the bottom 27% in exit velocity, 22% in xSLG, and 13% in barrel percentage. He also ranked in the bottom 36% in hard-hit percentage to boot.
While these numbers look bad, Skubal also did not look good when looking at the ball in play. While Skubal did improve on limiting his flyballs later in the season, overall he had a 40.5% flyball percentage while corresponding that with a 28.6 groundball percentage. Those numbers leaguewide are 22% and 45.3% respectfully. A truly reverse split of what we’d ideally like to see. This also contributed to his putrid 2.53 HR/9 and a 20% HR/FB rate! This is why he gave up 11 in only 32 innings. He will need to consistently put the ball on the ground more if he wants to pitch deeper into games.
Facing Potential Innings Limit
With young pitchers, it is always a concern that they’re going to face an innings cap early on in their careers. Add in the fact that there were 60 games last season, and that only heightens the fact. Tarik Skubal’s agent is the one and only Scott Boras, who thinks every team across baseball should limit the innings of their pitchers. In fact, Boras thinks the increase should be no more than 60 innings over what they threw in 2020. That would Tarik Skubal at roughly 92 innings, a big deal if you’re looking to draft him on your fantasy team in a few months.
This will be something under a microscope not just for Skubal, but for around the league. With the young pitchers especially, it seems like a slam dunk that we should only expect that 50-60 innings increase. The veterans will be another story. It’s going to be important for teams to weigh the concern of injury to their prized pitchers by deciding what is right for the team for 2021 and beyond.
Looking again at the cover boy in this article, Tarik Skubal, what is realistic to expect of him for 90-100 innings? Could he have starts skipped to let him pitch longer in the season? Could he pitch fewer innings per start to have more starts for the team? Will one minor injury shut him down? All big questions in regards to what you can expect from him innings-wise next year.
Pitches Were Not Very Effective
The pitches that Skubal primarily throws (Fastball 58.9%, Changeup 16.4%, and Slider 15.7%) all had some successes in 2020. We talked about the expected batting averages, the whiffs, and the improvements.
However, these pitches still need a lot of work to become more effective at the major league level. Skubal’s two highest used offerings of the fastball and changeup, both had hard-hit rates of 42% and higher. The fastball and slider both had zero run values, while the changeup had a positive three. John Walsh of Fangraphs introduced this stat and applies two factors that contribute to the pitch’s final number. That is the outcome of the pitch and the count on the batter before the pitch was thrown. For comparison, Dinelson Lamet had a -19 run value on his slider which led all of baseball for one particular pitch.
Outlook for Tarik Skubal in 2021
Skubal finished his first season with a 5.63 ERA in 32 innings and eight games (seven starts). He had 37 strikeouts, allowing 11 walks and nine home runs. If you take out the Sept. 10 outing in a doubleheader with the St. Louis Cardinals, where he lost control of his pitches. He gave up 6 runs in 2 innings of work. Without that start on his resume, he would’ve had a 4.20 ERA. I know that’s a dangerous exercise to do for many players but if you look as a whole, six of Skubal’s eight appearances, he allowed two earned runs or less. People need to remember that at such a young age, there will be a learning process as he gets acclimated to the big leagues and will hopefully continue on the learning curve he started in 2020.
It was a small sample size, but Skubal shows promise, and Tigers fans should be excited about him headlining that rotation for years to come. It is super early in Skubal’s career and he is only 23, which makes deciding anything on Skubal’s game now premature.
According to NFBC ADP, Tarik Skubal is the 112th pitcher off the board at roughly pick 292. Skubal has all the tools there to become a great pitcher but needs to work on his command and his consistency going into the 2021 season if he wants to be successful. and he will be a value for your fantasy team in 2021. THIS season I would be hesitant to draft him as anything other than a last few round flier. The reason being for the innings cap that he’s going to face and with a disastrous offense around him, the chances for wins will be slim. Draft Skubal in 2021 not expecting much but setting up for a great pick down the road for years to come.
For more great rankings, strategy, and analysis check out the 2021 FantraxHQ Fantasy Baseball Draft Kit. We’ll be adding more content from now right up until Opening Day!
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