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3 Young Breakout Starting Pitchers That May Make The Leap In 2018

Breakout Starting Pitchers

Breakout players, much like sleepers, are a funny thing in this day and age. The term “breakout” implies that a player will come from relative obscurity, generally meaning youth, to have a major Fantasy impact on a season.

Sounds great in principle, however, considering we talk about baseball 365 days a year and that you can watch any game in any market from Twin Falls, Idaho – obscurity is getting harder and harder to find. So, here’s what we’re going to do.

Instead of seeking out new and exciting breakout candidates, let’s assess the likelihood of a few big-name youngsters actually taking the leap this year. I’m kind of cheating, but hey, percentages are fun!

3 Young Breakout Starting Pitchers

Luis Castillo, SP, CIN

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The Case For…

Only eight pitchers who threw at least 80 innings in 2017 did so with both a K/9 above 9.00 and a ground ball rate of at least 50%. Luis Castillo was one of those men. In fact, Castillo’s 58.8% groundball rate would have been good for seventh-best in baseball had he the innings to qualify.

The fact that he overwhelmed opponents in his rookie season is not too surprising when you consider his arsenal of offerings. Only Luis Severino had a higher average fastball velocity than Castillo last year, yet, you could argue that while the former pairs his fastball with a devastating slider and developing change-up – Castillo already has both. Electric stuff is never a bad place to start.

The Case Against…

Pitching at Great American Ball Park is always less than ideal. Not only has it ranked inside ESPN Park Factors’ Top-10 for home runs every year since 2005, but it also means that you pitch for Cincinnati. That’ll limit some win expectancy.

Castillo’s ground ball rate in nearly 100 innings at Double-A was just 39% and while he should hover around 50% in 2018, that’s still a massive drop off. Also, despite pitching 169.2 total innings in 2017, he threw only 89.1 at the major league level and was shut down in September. I would doubt the fledging Reds are any more aggressive with their prized young arm this season.

2018 Breakout Likelihood:

85%. He’s really good and his ADP reflects that notion.

 

Luke Weaver, SP, STL

The Case For…

All you need to know to get excited about Luke Weaver is that this six-game run actually took place during the latter half of 2017. Over the course of 36.1 innings, Weaver pitched to a 1.49 ERA with a 35.0% strikeout rate, 2.9% walk rate, and 55.8% groundball rate – that’s the Fantasy Baseball Holy Trinity. It should not come as a shock that Weaver won all six of these contests and drove his 2018 ADP up significantly in the process.

The Case Against…

Its kind of crazy to look at someone who had an 11.22 K/9 as a starter and ask if the strikeouts are legitimate, but Weaver does present some red flags in that regard. Of the 21 starters to have a double-digit K/9 in at least 50 innings in 2017, Weaver had the lowest swinging strike rate (9.6%) and one of the lowest outside the zone swing rates (25.5%).

Sure, this isn’t the be-all and end-all. Yadier Molina was still quite adept at framing balls as strikes as he transitioned into his age 35 season and this profile isn’t unheard of when it comes to high-end strikeout artists – think Trevor Bauer. However, as you’re thinking about Bauer, consider how long we’ve been waiting for him to breakout. I’m not even sure if he has and if he did late last season, it was primarily due to switching to a slider that produced a high SwStr%.

Weaver has also seen his FIP skyrocket from 2.12 to 5.56 over his MLB career when going through the order a second time. Whether this is this due to inexperience and sample; the lack of a true third quality pitch; or the absence of deception, is up for debate, yet, without a doubt, it’s a troubling trend.

2018 Breakout Likelihood:

55%. I see the upside. I see the pedigree. I also see an inflated price tag. It could definitely happen, but I’m wary.

Dinelson Lamet, SP, SD

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The Case For…

Strikeouts. Just like our prior two breakout hypotheticals, the argument for Dinelson Lamet emerging in 2018 is one based on strikeouts. Lamet struck out 11.02 per nine in Double-A. He fanned 11.42 per nine in Triple-A. His 10.94 K/9 ranked ninth of any pitcher with 100 major league innings thrown last season. Plus, with strikeouts as an established skill, one could definitely make the case that Lamet’s strand rate going forward will be much higher than the below-average 69.2% figure he posted with the Padres.

The Case Against…

Control. Lamet walked 4.25 opponents per nine innings in his MLB stint, walking four batters or more in in six of his 21 starts. Now, a .261 BABIP and a whole lot of strikeouts went a long way in nullifying the ramifications of Lamet’s free passes, but some bad cluster luck is always lurking around the corner – just ask Lance McCullers circa July 2017.

Lamet also finished out last season poorly after seemingly taking strides in the month of August. September’s 4.75 FIP and 5.08 BB/9 were season-highs on a per month basis, however, those numbers weren’t even the most concerning aspect. It’s not as if Lamet had been throwing his changeup much leading up to the season’s final month (only 21 times in July and August combined), yet, he abandoned the pitch completely in September, relying solely on his fastball and slider.

He proceeded to surrender a .609 slugging percentage on his four-seam over 2017’s final 28.1 innings pitched. Some pitchers survive without a third offering, most don’t and move to the bullpen. For Lamet’s sake, I hope he spent the winter working on his change.

2018 Breakout Likelihood:

35%. The strikeouts will make him a useful fantasy piece. The ratios will limit his ceiling.

Garion Thorne
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Garion Thorne

Garion Thorne grew up in Toronto in the mid-2000s as a Jays, Raptors, Dolphins fan, so you know the only championships he cares about are of the Fantasy persuasion. Garion was a Host/Senior Analyst at the FNTSY Sports Network, most of the time taking a specific focus on Fantasy Baseball and deep baseball analytics. You might have also stumbled across his work for the New York Daily News, the Associated Press, USA Today's HoopsHype, or NBA.com. Garion keeps a FanGraphs tab open in his browser at all times and he has never seen a bunt he agreed with.
Garion Thorne
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