Burning Questions: Which Pitchers are Likely to Breakout This Season?
The numberFire baseball staff will be posting a weekly feature called Burning Questions. The idea is simple: we pose a general question to the numberFire baseball staff, getting contributors to provide an answer and an explanation on the particular subject.
This gives you, the reader, a chance to hear opinions from many different experts, who, believe it or not, don't always agree on everything. What we do have in common is a knowledge of and love for the game, and we want you to be a part of the conversation. Feel free to pose an answer to this or a future Burning Question on Twitter, or tell us why you agree or disagree with one or more of our answers. These features are designed to start the conversation, not to offer a comprehensive solution, and often there is not a clear correct answer.
And now, our answers to this week's burning question: Which pitchers are likely to breakout this season?
Scott KazmirChris Kay's Thoughts:
My breakout player for this season is a name we all know, but had recently forgotten about until last season, Scott Kazmir. Kazmir finds himself in another new city, but this time it’s more of a pitcher’s park. Oakland ranked as the fifth-worst park to hit at last season, which is an upgrade from Cleveland, but admittedly not by much, as Cleveland ranked as the ninth-worst park to hit at in 2013. So, while the upgrade isn’t by much, it’s still an upgrade. I
Last season, Kazmir posted some of his best numbers since 2008: a 9.23 K/9 and a BB/9 of 2.68. The last two seasons Kazmir threw 145-plus innings were in 2009 and 2010. His K/9 during those two seasons were 5.58 and 7.15, respectively, and he also walked 4.74 and 3.67 per nine innings. For a future Kazmir owner, this increase in K/9 and decrease in BB/9 is a good thing.
His season-long improvement in the K/9 category was due to his performance in the second half of the season. His 10.25 strikeouts per nine innings ranked him sixth overall in that category. That’s a juicy number, but it’s not all about strikeouts and walks in fantasy baseball.
Kazmir posted a 4.04 ERA in a season where his BABIP was almost 19 points higher than his career average. There is reason to believe that his season could have gone better with a little better luck in that department, and his SIERRA/xFIP both show that. It's worth noting that, while both stats look at different on field occurrences, his SIERRA and xFIP were below 3.50. His SIERRA (3.45) and xFIP (3.36) were actually his career best numbers.
Kazmir's been around since 2004, but he’s only 30 years old. Yes, he has risk due to the fact that he has pitched 200-plus innings just once in his career, but who doesn’t have risk when looking far down the fantasy baseball rankings?
Danny SalazarJim Sannes' Thoughts:
Well, America, Matt Harvey 2.0 has arrived. His name is Danny Salazar, and he makes me all tingly.
The similarities between the two are shocking. In his 10 2012 starts, Harvey had a 2.73 ERA, 3.30 FIP, 10.62 K/9 and a 3.94 BB/9. In his 10 2013 starts, Salazar finished with a 3.12 ERA, 3.16 FIP, 11.25 K/9 and a 2.60 BB/9.
Salazar throws straight gas (average fastball velocity of 96.2 mph) and has a pretty dirty changeup, so he should be able to keep his K/9 at least around 10 over the course of an entire season. Give this guy 33 starts, and he'll be a top-of-the-line starter in no time.
Taijuan WalkerDaniel Lindsey's Thoughts:
My breakout pitcher is another hyped up prospect: Taijuan Walker for the Seattle Mariners.
Last week I mentioned the Mariners could be a surprise team. If Walker lives up to his billing, he could be one of the keys to a postseason berth.
Not much is known about Walker just yet. He was the Mariners top prospect in 2013, but posted a 9-10 record at AA and AAA. A win-loss record is not indicative of Walker's abilities though, so lets look at his other strengths.
Last season in the minors, Walker had 160 strikeouts over 141 1/3 innings, good for a 10.19 K/9. His ERA was 2.93 over 25 starts, but most of that came from quality starts at AA. At the AAA level, his ERA jumped to 3.61. His WHIP was a respectable 1.12 at both levels as well.
Walker's stats might not jump off the page, but it's what you'd expect out of a prospect that is wanted at the major-league level. He improved from year one to year two in AA, and probably would have done the same if able to stay at the AAA level.
Walker will need to improve on going deeper into games to fully succeed in the majors, but if he can keep his WHIP down and his ERA at a manageable level (don't forget what division he is in), he could provide just enough juice for the Mariners. He doesn't need to be the ace, but if he puts together enough quality starts, he'll be a great asset for the Mariners.
Trevor BauerDan Weigel's Thoughts:
My breakout pitcher in 2014 is post-hype prospect Trevor Bauer. While nothing about Bauer’s statistics suggest that he should breakout this year, I refuse to believe that his poor 2013 means that he is destined to be a bust.
Bauer was the third-overall pick in the 2011 draft and dominated the low levels of the minors with K rates that were so high they were almost comical. He made his MLB debut the next year and was typical Trevor Bauer, meaning that he coupled a high K rate with an absurdly high BB rate.
He was dealt to Cleveland the following offseason in a deal that many analysts, including myself, saw as a steal for the Indians. However, Bauer stumbled in both the Triple-A and MLB level last season, leading many to wonder whether he would ever overcome his control issues and fulfill any of his prospect hype.
Rumors from this winter say that Bauer has made some mechanical tweaks that have yielded positive results, and if so, he could revert to his status as a top prospect. The tools remain in place - he throws a multitude of pitches and has solid fastball velocity, but poor control has always done him in. However, I don't believe that mechanics are the root of his troubles.
Instead, I think Bauer's main issue has been his mental approach, not his physical ability to pitch the baseball. He isn't a Carlos Marmol type who simply throws hard and has no idea where the ball is going. Rather, Bauer seems to always nibble and go for the strikeout instead of attacking hitters.
Bauer’s stuff is good enough that he can throw pitches over the white part of the plate plate and still be effective. Some pitchers, such as Mark Buehrle, need plus-plus command to be successful, but Bauer is not one of those pitchers. If he can change his approach from always going for strikeouts at the expense of a high walk rate to a pitcher who attacks hitters, Bauer could enjoy a successful season in the Cleveland rotation.