4 Potential Breakout Pitchers in 2015
The 2014 season saw pitcher after pitcher bust out of the woodwork into the national spotlight.
Names like Corey Kluber, Jacob deGrom, Yordano Ventura, Matt Shoemaker, and Masahiro Tanaka stood out among the crowd. Will 2015 have a similar feel? Here are some guys to look out for as breakout candidates in 2015.
Wheeler is a lot different than the other pitchers on this list because he has already, in a sense, had his “breakout season” in 2014. He posted a 3.54 ERA in 185 innings, while striking out 187 batters. He also held batters to a .237 average, better than the likes of David Price, Jordan Zimmermann, and Doug Fister. However, Wheeler just tapped into his potential in 2014, and 2015 could see him turn into one of the better pitchers in the NL East, and the NL as a whole. On a side note, if Jacob deGrom continues to progress and Matt Harvey recovers well from his 2013 Tommy John, Wheeler could be the the latter end of one of the most dangerous pitching trios in baseball.
There is no reason to believe Wheeler can’t take that next step. A very good comparison to Wheeler, at least statistically, is Yordano Ventura. Although Ventura edged out Wheeler in ERA and WHIP, he also did it in front of one of the league’s best defenses. Wheeler was significantly better at missing bats than Ventura, however, striking out nearly two batters more per nine innings, as well as edging Ventura out in FIP. Ventura had the better peripherals, as well as flashing signs of dominance in 2014, but Wheeler was more dominant. And he’s only 23.
Duffy is similar to Wheeler because he, too, has already had what some would call a breakout season. However, Duffy didn’t hit his stride fully in 2014 due to his throwing just under 150 innings last season. Despite missing time to injury and inconsistency over the last few seasons, those 150 innings were better than anyone expected out of Duffy going into 2014. Coming out of camp, Duffy had been relegated to mop up duty in the bullpen, due to his erratic and, quite frankly, terrible Spring Training.
He had a 11.45 ERA in 6 James Shields' vacating Kansas City, Duffy is a strong candidate to exit camp as the club’s number-two starter, behind Yordano Ventura, and, if he stays healthy, could make waves in the AL Central behind his fastball. Among starters, Duffy’s fastball was 10th-best in all of baseball at 13.8 wFB. He also he also had the third-highest average velocity behind his fastball, at 93.1 mph, among all left-handed starters. Duffy has improved his command and off-speed stuff, but his upside is quite simple. Power left-handed arms don’t grow on trees, let alone find starting rotations.
I wrote up on Danny Salazar just a bit last season in the Indians season preview, talking him up as the staff’s potential ace. We can just ignore that I looked right past Kluber, if it’s okay with you guys. Salazar, however, was a tremendous flop. He posted a 4.25 ERA, alongside a 87 ERA+, during his injury-plagued sophomore season. However, being just 25 years old and under club control until 2020, there is still plenty to excited about with Salazar.
The first of which being his strikeout numbers. Despite struggling throughout the season, Salazar struck out over nine batters per nine innings in 2014, as well as garnering an 11% swinging strike percentage. The numbers also suggest that Salazar might have ran into some tough luck in 2014. His home run to fly ball ratio and line drive percentage both dropped in 2014 from his solid 2013 campaign, but Salazar still managed to have his BABIP jump 20 points. That should even itself out. However, improvement is going to have to be made by Salazar as well.
Salazar has electric stuff. His average fastball velocity sat at 94 miles per hour in 2014, slightly down from his 96 in 2013, but still very solid for a starter. The dip in velocity is a bit of a caution flag, but given his struggles with injury and the fact that he’s only 25, it isn't increasingly concerning. More than the dip in velocity, the lack of usage of his changeup was a major culprit in his regression. Salazar is a three-pitch pitcher, with his changeup being the most effective. For his career, his changeup has been his only pitch to grade out positively, according to wCH, at 2.9 runs above average, and yet he used it only 11% of the time in 2014, compared to 17% in 2013. It’s hard to be productive when he doesn't throw his best pitch, and if he gets back to his roots, he could very well be the pitcher the Indians envisioned him to be.
Sanchez dominated hitters in his first cup of big league Joe last fall, registering a 1.09 ERA in 33 innings out of the bullpen. As 2015 rolls around, he is an obvious candidate for a Blue Jays rotation spot, and barring any unforeseen circumstances (such as being placed in the closer role), he should be penciled into one of those five rotation spots come opening day. And it will be much to the excitement of fans of big arms.
Sanchez has one of the most lively young arms in baseball, with an average fastball clocked at 97 miles per hour during his rookie season, and there is a lot more behind his fastball than some hot air. Sanchez’s fastball didn't just look dominant -- it was dominant -- and it registered a 9.6 wFB. Although his 30 innings weren't enough to be a qualifier, that wFB would have been good for a top-20 fastball among relievers in baseball.
There is a lot to be excited about with Sanchez. It should be expected to see that velocity drop just a bit if he becomes a starter, but he will still likely have one of the better arms in his division. The fact that his curveball was graded at 1.6 wCB is just icing on the quality starter cake. Relievers can get by with a dominant fastball (Jake McGee, anyone?), but it is encouraging that he at least has an average breaking ball ready. It wouldn't surprise me one bit if he received some Rookie of the Year votes in 2015.