One of my first articles for Fantrax was on breakout pitchers for 2022. I performed a statistical analysis to identify common attributes that made a pitcher successful. Ranking in the 70th percentile or higher in fastball velocity, fastball spin rate, and breaking ball spin rate all proved to be significant attributes. A pitcher who ranked in the 70th percentile or higher in all three categories was statistically more likely to have a lower ERA than a pitcher who did not. If you want to check out that full article and see the 4 pitchers, I predicted to have a breakout you can here!
As a community, we tend to overreact to Spring Training results even though statistics cannot stabilize in a three-week span. However, what can point to future success is a velocity increase. I was curious as to if there were pitchers that just missed out on the 70th percentile mark in 2021 but have shown an increased fastball velocity in Spring Training this year. This article details three pitchers who ranked in the 70th percentile or above in spin last season and could break into the 70th percentile or higher for velocity in 2022!
Breakout Pitchers for 2022
Mitch Keller- SP Pittsburgh Pirates
Keller is one of the players to receive the most hype through Spring Training. He spent much of the offseason working with Tread Athletics to rework his entire motion and the results have been astounding. Keller looks like a new pitcher with 4mph more on his fastball. Mitch Keller’s fastball averaged 93.8mph last season. During Spring Training, that velocity is up to 97.3mph. Earlier in the offseason, my colleague Corbin Young wrote an article looking for the next Freddy Peralta and mentioned Mitch Keller as a possible candidate. In his article, he mentions that Keller’s fastball has really struggled against big league hitters. This added velocity could help solve his issues with this pitch.
If Mitch Keller can sustain his new fastball velocity, he would rank in the 96th percentile for that category. This is a massive increase from the 60th percentile ranking he had in 2021. Despite his struggles, Keller has always had good movement on his pitches. He ranked in the 75th percentile for fastball spin and the 72nd percentile for breaking ball spin. This added fastball velocity would put him in the same category of breakout pitchers I was predicting earlier this offseason.
I cannot blame anybody for being skeptical of Keller. Even I am unsure if he will find success in 2022. However, the Spring Training results have been optimistic. So far, Keller has yet to allow a run across 8.2 innings and has posted a 7:1 strikeout to walk ratio. The velocity has stayed up and he has shown improved control thus far. In his career, Keller has only posted a 2.08 K/BB ratio. Hopefully, in 2022, he can use his newfound fastball velocity to improve that. Keller is basically free in fantasy drafts and might not be owned in any of your leagues. He is worth a dart throw on your bench because the statistics say he should have a lower-than-league average ERA in 2022!
Tyler Mahle- SP Cincinnati Reds
Despite constant trade rumors surrounding Mahle, he still will be playing in Cincinnati in 2022. Fantasy managers cannot be thrilled about this as his home/road splits are drastic. Pitching in Great American Ballpark in 2021, Mahle posted a 5.63 ERA and gave up 19 home runs across 78.1 innings. In 101.2 innings away from home, Mahle had a spectacular 2.30 ERA and only allowed 5 home runs. Playing his home games in Cincinnati clearly has a negative impact on Mahle’s value. Nonetheless, Mahle still has some of the best stuff in baseball and with the way trades are trending in Cincinnati, he could be traded at any point during the season.
During the 2021 season, Mahle’s fastball ranked in the 71st percentile for spin, and his slider ranked in the 78th percentile for spin. This gave him two of the three attributes I was looking for in my previous article. His fastball averaged 94mph which ranked in the 63rd percentile for velocity. Tracking velocity in Spring Training can be difficult. Only certain teams implement tracking information in their stadium and the Reds are not one of them. However, according to some reports this spring, Mahle’s fastball has been sitting between 94 and 96.
Even a slight increase in velocity would thrust Mahle into the 70th percentile or higher for fastball velocity. This would give Mahle all three attributes we identified as being key to a pitcher’s success. Combine that with the possibility of a trade and Mahle’s value could soar to new heights in 2022. Without a trade or increased velocity, Mahle will likely continue to improve and have a solid 2022. The upside however is that he could turn into an ace which is worth monitoring for fantasy managers.
Tony Gonsolin- SP Los Angeles Dodgers
Gonsolin only threw 55.2 innings in 2021 primarily due to a shoulder injury. In that small sample size of data, he struggled and had to earn a spot in the rotation entering 2022. Dave Roberts has come out and said that Gonsolin will be the team’s fourth starter to start the season and he could be in line for a major breakout. Like Mahle and Keller, Gonsolin had two of the three attributes I was looking for to identify breakout pitchers. He posted an 81st percentile fastball spin rate and a 71st percentile breaking ball spin rate. His fastball only averaged 93.8mph last season which failed to qualify him for the 70th percentile in fastball velocity.
However, looking deeper the 93.8mph is far below his average velocity in 2020.
There is a clear connection between Gonsolin’s shoulder injury and his decline in fastball velocity. The Dodgers are another team for which pitch data is unavailable for Spring Training. However, if Gonsolin just adds a little bit of velocity back he would hit the 70th percentile in fastball velocity. There have been times in the past when Gonsolin has looked dominant on the mound. In 2020, he posted a 2.31 ERA which was supported by his underlying statistics. The Dodgers at least for the time being appear committed to Gonsolin as a member of their rotation. Dustin May is due back in the middle of the season and there is always a chance Trevor Bauer comes back, but for now, Gonsolin is finally getting his opportunity to shine. The velocity coming back to his fastball could help set him over the edge.
Gonsolin was going outside of the top 300 in most fantasy drafts. He has upside and although the sample size has been small, he has had success in the majors before. The potential for his velocity to return to 2020 levels makes him a worthy investment for your fantasy teams and it is something that you can monitor early in the season. If the velocity does not return, there is no shame in cutting ties with him early if he struggles. The breakout potential is there for Gonsolin and now is a great time to invest before it is too late.