March 24, 2017
Five to Watch
NL Post-Hype Pitchers
It might be a touch early to label Foltynewicz a post-hype guy, but the former 19th overall pick has logged nearly 230 innings across parts of the last three seasons in the big leagues with a 5.46 DRA, so I’m going to assume there are enough skeptics in the room to warrant some discussion here.
Throughout his professional career, command and control have always been the bugaboo for Folty. The stuff has certainly never been in question: his four-seamer sits 96 with above-average “rise,” and he compliments it with two solid, hard breaking pitches. Oh, and for good measure he has gradually continued to improve his changeup to where last year – albeit in still-limited deployment – he coaxed an empty swing at the pitch about 40 percent more often than league-average. The other big development last year?
He pounded the zone at a heretofore unprecedented rate, working ahead in the count more frequently than any other pitcher not named Kershaw or Scherzer. And at least part of that success came from a top-tier ability to manipulate the strike zone to generate an outsized probability of called strikes. Notably, he was able to accomplish this feat despite throwing about two-thirds of his innings to A.J. Pierzynski and Anthony Recker, two poor framers. Tyler Flowers, the recipient of the other third, is an elite framer, and the man who figures to catch the bulk of Atlanta’s games this season.
Folty still staggers through a given lineup on the third turn – hitters rocked him for a collective .909 OPS – but one wonders what increasing the deployment of that changeup could do to alleviate some of the late-game pain. Given the ADP it certainly won’t cost you a ton to find out if he can take another step forward, with strikeout potential that suggests wholly attainable double-digit earnings and a tidy ROI, as an end-game pick even in shallower 10- to 12-team mixed formats.
The Marlins popped Conley in the second round out of Washington State back in 2008, and for a good while there it looked like that might just end up the sum total of his career highlights. But after taking a ligament-induced siesta in 2015, he came back as good as ever and forced his way into the second-half rotation with an interesting little two-seamer that played well with a slider. He emerged last winter in this exact range, sitting 102nd/350th in final ADP numbers. But alas, as is known to happen from time to time, he stagnated after ascending to a rotation spot out of the gate. He jumped out ahead of hitters more efficiently, but once ahead he struggled figuring out what to do next. He ended up nibbling a lot, working more consistently out of the zone than he had, and he enticed less swings when he did. His walk rate leapt up into double-digits as a result, and he gave up harder contact.
There were some positives hidden within, however: his changeup took a nice step forward, as he drew out a little extra fade, missed a few more bats, and generated more grounders. That gave him three average-ish pitches to work with, and from the left side that can be plenty enough to create value over the long haul of a season. He’s also shown an ability to coax relatively harmless aerial contact, with hitters posting a .118/.116/.362 line against him in the air (compared with a league-average slash of .174/.169/.539). Marlins Park coddles that skillset effectively, and coupled with a marginally above-average strikeout rate Conley offers the potential for stable accumulation at the back end of medium and deeper mixed leagues.
Anderson is one of the most fascinating pitchers in baseball for my money. The 20th overall pick in 2011, he alternated between really solid performance and gnarly arm injury throughout his ascent up the minor-league ranks. He missed a bunch of time in 2013 with a shoulder injury, then all of the time in 2015 with a busted elbow. Then he came back last year at 26 and dropped a 97 DRA- over 19 starts – including 12 at Coors Field, mind you – despite essentially abandoning any semblance of a breaking ball. The southpaw’s cutter picked up the slack, inducing a ton of groundballs and a whole bunch of whiffs for good measure. That pitch type, it should be noted, is a good one to feature at Coors Field, where Anderson performed terrifyingly well (3.00 ERA, 1.26 WHIP, 68 strikeouts in 78 innings) last year. While some degree of regression on the home performance should be priced into Anderson’s value – it is still Coors Field, and the Rockies’ defense is still the Rockies’ defense – he is better-positioned than most to dodge the trappings of his home environment. He’s best left for NL-Only formats or 16-plus mixed leagues, but he should be in the streaming mix in most places.
George touched on Alex Wood a couple weeks back in his broader look at NL pitchers to watch, but with the news coming out a couple days ago that Wood has indeed secured a tenuous hold on one of LA’s rotation spots out of Spring Training, I figured he was worth revisiting in a little more depth here. I’m admittedly a sucker for lefties with weird deliveries, so I’ve always rooted for Wood with somewhat irrationally-colored glasses on. And for a brief, shining month or so last summer it looked like he might just be fixing to turn that inevitable corner into sustained awesomeness. His curve missed bats at an elite rate, and he went to it with increasing frequency as the season progressed. His change wasn’t bad, either, giving him two secondaries with which to chase whiffs. His walk rate has steadily crept in the wrong direction for a while now, but otherwise the stuff itself really hasn’t flown many warning flags. A last-man flyer on his ability to remain out of the trainer’s room isn’t the worst idea, and he should probably be playing a bit above this ADP now – the impact strikeout potential gives him a leg up on a lot of the other names available at this stage of a draft.
Man, not that long ago Archie Bradley was going to be a guy in fantasy and real baseball alike. The seventh-overall pick in 2011 has whiffed a ton of guys in his career, but a clunky delivery that he’s never been able to reliably repeat has left the command and control far below where they need to be. He’s walked nearly five-per-nine across almost 450 minor-league innings, and that rate has pretty much translated verbatim against big-leaguers, too. In the meantime his stuff has taken a couple hops in the wrong direction, with a fastball that sat just shy of 97 in his 2013 professional debut retreating by almost exactly four ticks by last summer, and losing a bunch of its movement to boot.
His velocity has returned this spring, though, as he’s been cracking 95 on the regular (though it still hasn’t been moving as briskly). Perhaps even more importantly, he hasn’t walked a batter in any of his last three turns. Spring Training stats, of course, mean nothing. But squinting into the dimmed light of a high first-rounder with strikeout-an-inning stuff isn’t the worst thing to find yourself doing in the last round of a 16-team draft. He appears to be on the outside looking in at a rotation spot right now, which puts him at a potential crossroads with the organization: they could elect to keep him in Phoenix as a reliever, or they could ship him out to Reno as their presumptive sixth-starter. Neither option’s a great one for right now, but as a stash or follow Bradley should remain at least on the margins of your radar.