Three Pitchers Who Do Not Pass the Eye Test

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.

Richards PU

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.




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Brad is a former collegiate player who writes for FanGraphs, MLB Trade Rumors, The Hardball Times, RotoWorld, and The Fake Baseball. He's also the lead MLB editor for RotoBaller. Follow him on Twitter @BaseballATeam or email him here.


39 Responses to “Three Pitchers Who Do Not Pass the Eye Test”

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  1. ettin says:

    Brad very surprised that you say Richards doesn’t have a repertoire. Has four above average pitches and his curve ball has the best vertical movement in the Majors and its not even close. Perhaps you should revisit your comments. Just because he uses them sparingly doesn’t mean they aren’t good.

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    • Brad Johnson says:

      Maybe I saw outings where he didn’t use them effectively? I’ve watched him closely twice this year and his curve ball looked fine but wasn’t used very effectively.

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    • geo says:

      Virtually no pitcher has four above average pitches. Even Clayton Kershaw doesn’t. I think you are over-stating things.

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    • fothead says:

      Watched Richards start vs the Yanks and his fastball moves an awful lot. Lotta bad, uncomfortable looking swings to me. 96 with that kind of dart to it is special.

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      • Brad Johnson says:

        I think you’re referring to the sinker, which isn’t quite tyson ross good, but it is good. That heavy sinker can be really hard to control because you don’t get the same movement when it’s in the strike zone.

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  2. atoms says:

    How about Colin McHugh? Great early results, but it seems like smoke & mirrors.

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  3. Franklin says:

    “Perhaps I’m just personifying a catcher…”

    catchers are people too…

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  4. sailenac says:

    Should I drop Tyson Ross for Drew Hutchison?

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    • FeslenR says:

      Similar pitchers on bad teams, I’d hang on to Ross. He has a better track record of some success.

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      • Brad Johnson says:

        I like Ross’ upside more in the summer months. Petco is quite a bit friendlier than the Rogers Centre and Ross is a groundballing beast. That said, Hutchison is a pitcher. Ross throws sliders and bowling balls and he has trouble controlling both. He’s kind of a reliever who’s being asked to start.

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  5. FeslenR says:

    Brad, I agree with you on Garrett Richards. I was never really impressed with his “pitchability, not just as a fantasy player, but when I see him on tv.

    I am glad he’s doing well right now, so I’ll take his success as it comes.

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    • FeslenR says:

      Blech, I type too fast. It’s supposed to say “pitchability”, etc.

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    • Brad Johnson says:

      He seems to be a polarizing guy these days.

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      • baltic fox says:

        I’m holding on to Richards in my AL only league. I guess I’m a masochist.

        He’s such a tease. Last summer, when he rejoined the starting rotation (August through September) he greatly reduced his walk rate down to 7.4%. This spring the walk rate has spiked back up to 12.7%.
        The encouraging thing is that he’s striking out a lot more batters than last year: 24% vs. 15% last year.
        The discouraging thing is that he’s still behind the major league average for strikes thrown with most of his pitches. And his whiff rate for everything but his slider is average at best.
        Like Brad said, you get the feeling that he’s almost there. You see the movement, you see the velocity, but the command is not there yet. But since he only cost me 8 bucks, I think I’ll ride this roller coaster for another season.

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  6. FeslenR says:

    Is Garrett Richards the new Sidney Ponson?

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  7. Detroit Michael says:

    Thanks for the article. It’s hard to criticize “break-out” pitchers with good ERAs and good xFIPs so far.

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  8. Duncan says:

    Great article. What are your thoughts on Danny Salazar? Is he going to be consistent enough to warrant a roster spot in a 12 team mixed league? Thanks

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  9. ??? says:

    For those who skipped this nonsense (like I should have), here’s a summary:

    “Tyler Skaggs, Drew Hutchison, and Garrett Richards are all young pitchers with plus stuff who haven’t figured it out yet. Let’s keep watching to see if they make progress.”

    There ya go. No need to waste anyone’s time.

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    • Fanthead says:

      Yeah, Brad, how dare you support your summary with actual evidence and analysis. Can’t you dumb things down so that “??? says” can finish his Big Mac without having to read at the same time?

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  10. Josh B says:

    Brad, we’ve sparred over Richards v Kluber before. My point is that I believe Richards has a higher ceiling than Kluber. Your article seems to indicate that Richards may indeed have a high ceiling. Can you really say the same for Kluber? We were all impressed with what Kluber did against the Royals in Cleveland last week. Three days later, Richards played ‘anything you can do I can do better’ against a much better team in New York City. Half of the pitches Richards throws are balls, that his terrible, and some of his other underlying stats are terrible too. And while I would argue that Kluber has some terrible underlyings as well, I do put some stock into the fact that Richards is succeeding and Kluber isn’t. The space between real life results and underlyings isn’t 100% luck or the result of small sample size. If it were, you could rank every pitcher by ERA and by xFIP at the end of the season and the lists would be in the same order. Richards is doing SOMETHING that is causing him to outperform his peripherals and Kluber is doing SOMETHING to underperform his. If Richards was a rookie you could say the league is still learning him, and that is contributing to the difference. There is obviously tons of regression waiting around the corner for Mr. Richards, I just don’t think it’s going to prove him out to be ‘Corey-Kluber-Bad’. And being told every week how great a pitcher Kluber is adds to the polarization you speak of above, at least for me.

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    • Brad Johnson says:

      I can agree Richards has a higher ceiling. A 96 mph fastball and good sinker can take you pretty far. For me, I see Kluber as possessing an actualized skill set whereas Richards is basically an experienced prospect.

      Kluber hasn’t been around long enough for me to expect him to underperform his peripherals. He’s pitched the equivalent of a little over a season. Tons of pitchers underperform their peripheral over a 250 IP stretch only to pitch to expectations thereafter.

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  11. zer0grav says:

    Are you serious? Skaggs’ K rate is down for a reason, and thats because he’s pitching to contact. Skaggs ground ball rate is at an all time high, yet, he doesn’t pass your “eye test.” Skaggs keeps posting QS after QS, and will be a good source of WHIP, ERA, and Ws in most leagues. Jordan Zimmerman and Hiwashi Iwakuma are a few examples of valuable fantasy starters who don’t punch out a lot of guys. FWIW, I expect Skaggs K rate to climb throughout the year. Pretty weak take on Skaggs, Brad…..

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    • Brad Johnson says:

      I don’t think I’ve ever rostered Tim Hudson because his strikeout rate is hard to manage. If I wanted Hudson, I’d roster the real thing, not somebody similar with 50% weaker command-control.

      I can’t use a pitcher with a 6 K/9 and 3.80 ERA for more than spot starts. That’s where I expect Skaggs to settle based on what I’ve seen.

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      • zer0grav says:

        I guess it depends on your strategy really. My league has 9 pitching spots. I always have five relievers in, and then I have three starters on my bench, and I roll every guy out for each start. I’m ok with that fact that he doesn’t put up elite strikeout numbers because he helps control ERA and WHIP, and keeps putting up quality starts. His xFIP- makes him a top 60 guy; to be fair though, I’m not sure how long that particular statistic takes to stabilize, and I haven’t found anything that says. Do you happen to know?

        Regardless, he’s walking less guys and allowing fewer homers. Also, I’m not completely buying the regression projected by xFIP. Because all FIP related stats assume a normal BABIP, it’s harder to apply to Skaggs IMO. I think that the drop in his BABIP is legit. Both FB and LD rates are way down for him in addition to his increased GB rate.

        When I’ve watched Skaggs, he just hasn’t given guys many balls to drive. Yeah, he’s not going to K a lot of guys, but he can still be a valuable, weekly contributor, based on what your team needs.

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  12. everdiso says:

    Hutch’s command may be a tiny bit spotty so far this year, probably related to his continued recovery from TJ, but he’s been a dominant command guy his entire minor league career. This is actually a strength of his, not a weakness.

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  13. james wilson says:

    Richards is an interesting case. When he loses it, he is terrifyingly bad. If he reminds me of anybody, it is a young Nolan Ryan. But Ryan had a bulletproof arm to take him through ten years of adventures before he figured it out. If Richards can be a 200 inning .500 pitcher he’ll have real value, and a guy I’d take the time to watch as well.

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  14. grassyjones says:

    In three weeks you are all going to have a good laugh about how awesome you thought Garrett Richards was.

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  15. paul says:

    Where did you source that table from? The one with the pitch type mix % etc….

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