Yesterday we discussed four players who passed the eye test. In other words, my amateur scouting opinion is in agreement with their early season numbers. In the hands of an amateur, the eye test can only take us so far; data is still going to be king. Even so, there is value in knowing how a player looks on the field. Chris Coste was briefly quite good, but he never passed anybody’s eye test. So when he went from 33-year-old stud to 34-year-old dud, nobody was surprised.
Generally speaking, hitters are fickle beasts. They can look all kinds of ugly and still be very effective at the plate. I find pitchers to be a lot easier to scout. We get to watch 100 pitches within a couple hour span compared to maybe three to ten swings from a hitter. After watching a couple starts, I’m usually comfortable with including my scouting opinion in my analysis. What follows are three pitchers who did not pass my eye test.
Tyler Skaggs: The three mph velocity boost he found during spring training has remained, which has made Skaggs a popular breakout target. In the early going, he’s impressed with a 3.34 ERA. His decent 3.84 FIP and 3.90 xFIP indicate he should continue to succeed as a major league pitcher, but those numbers are hard to use in fantasy. His swinging strike rate is low at 7.4 percent. Unsurprisingly, he’s only striking out 16 percent of batters, another point against him in fantasy. The good news is he’s walking very few batters – just 6.6 percent.
So why doesn’t he pass the eye test? His fastball command and control reminds me of J.A. Happ. Despite the low walk rate and the ability to move the ball in, out, up, or down, Skaggs hasn’t been great about hitting his spots. The way I visualize it, if you give Skaggs a spot to hit with this fastball, he’ll hit somewhere within a six inch by six inch box around the target. In his last outing, Hank Conger appear genuinely surprised when he didn’t have to move his glove. Perhaps I’m just personifying a catcher…
I’ve seen a lot of pitchers come through the majors with this tenuous grip on command and control. While he’s riding the tiger, he’ll remain a good asset. Sometimes these types of pitchers improve – Jose Quintana comes to mind. Sometimes, they lose whatever little edge they found and it’s game over. Like Vance Worley.
Drew Hutchison: For somebody who isn’t invested in fantasy baseball, Carson Cistulli is very good at finding haystack needles. Hutchison is whiffing guys over 10 percent of the time, which translates to a 27 percent strikeout rate. His walk rate is good at 7.2 percent. An ERA of 3.81 is actually above his 3.00 FIP and 3.22 xFIP.
In the case of Hutchison, I could be biased. I’ve watched three of his starts, and they were his worst. While he has limited walks, he has the same command-control issue as Skaggs. Unlike Skaggs, he’ll sometimes spot very well, only to lose his touch two innings later.
I don’t want to say Hutchison is Max Scherzer, but do you remember back when Scherzer was all tease and no output? Hutchison has a similar feel; he needs to put some things together or else he’ll be prone to occasional meltdown outings. As the weather warms, I expect to see more mistake pitches deposited in the seats. The good news is his whiff rate should limit the downside.
Garrett Richards: Yes, he throws very hard – 96 mph according to our very own internet pages. He also has a whiff-friendly slider and curve ball – at least when he deigns to use them. And therein lies the rub. Richards has a 2.58 ERA, 3.18 FIP, and 3.70 xFIP, but he doesn’t have a repertoire. He only whips out the breaking balls when he’s ahead in the count.
With his shoddy walk rate (12.7 percent of batters) and low 43.7 first pitch strike rate, he falls behind way to often to succeed with so many fastballs. If he entered the league with this profile and succeeded from the outset like Tony Cingrani, I might be more reluctant to dismiss his pitch usage. Since he’s been doing this for awhile with tepid results, he’ll need to “prove it” with more than five games of good data.
Where scouting comes into play is this – while he’s good at generating ground balls, his hard fastball doesn’t really dominate hitters. They usually look comfortable taking full hacks. I prefer pitchers who produce a lot of confused swings. Watch Michael Wacha melt a few hitters and you’ll know what I mean.
Richards is almost there. With his velocity, he doesn’t need true command and control, he can continue to be effectively wild so long as he trims his walk rate down to about eight percent. An effective change-up would be a godsend.
Parting Thoughts: One thing all three pitchers have in common – they could have very good seasons. But based on visual evidence, they have a tenuous grasp on the skills necessary to be a fantasy asset at the major league level. Each needs to improve in some way to continue posting strong numbers throughout the season.
Print This Post