Fantasy Baseball: Drew Pomeranz Could Keep Racking Up Strikeouts

Pomeranz's strikeout numbers are promising, and if he's wise, he can continue the hot start.

For fantasy baseball purposes, Drew Pomeranz entered the 2016 season as a National League-only or deep-league target after he was traded this offseason to the Padres from the Athletics in exchange for Yonder Alonso and Marc Rzepczynski.

Pomeranz, in 2015, pitched well across 86 innings (including nine starts) for the Athletics, posting a 3.62 ERA that was supported by a 23% strikeout rate and 8.7% walk rate, per FanGraphs.

Pomeranz was drafted fifth overall in the vaunted 2010 MLB draft that produced Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Matt Harvey, and Chris Sale. He has struggled to live up to the lofty expectations that accompany being a former top-five pick, but he has produced some very nice returns for fantasy owners this season.

Over his first four starts, Pomeranz has struck out 33% of batters faced in 2016. On the flip-side, he has also walked a ghastly 12.8% of batters faced (he has walked exactly three batters in every game he has started) this season.

4/25/2016 SDP @SFG 1 27.30% 13.60% 0.368 2.31 69.80% 5.38
4/20/2016 SDP PIT 1 37.00% 11.10% 0.167 1.05 85.70% 1.43
4/14/2016 SDP @PHI 1 34.80% 13.00% 0.15 1 87.00% 4.08
4/9/2016 SDP @COL 1 31.80% 13.60% 0.211 1.4 71.40% 2.08
Total - - - - - - 4 33.00% 12.80% 0.22 1.36 77.20% 3.08

Each of those rates will regress as the season goes on, but will Pomeranz continue to perform as top-30 starting pitcher?

Causing Trouble With His Curveball

According to Baseball Prospectus' PITCHf/x leaderboards, Pomeranz's curveball has been the most devastating of its kind by whiff rate this season.

While the standard small sample size caveats apply to Pomeranz's results, we do know that strikeout rate normalizes quickly during the season (after about 60 batters faced).

Pomeranz, in each of his four outings, has struck out at least six batters. But how is he putting away batters? The answer is that curveball.

Rank Player Team Count H Mov V Mov Whiff/Swing GB/BIP
1 Drew Pomeranz SDN 164 3.12 -8.49 53.03% 64%
2 Gio Gonzalez WAS 61 5.62 -8.28 52.17% 80%
3 Jose Fernandez MIA 147 6.75 0.45 48.39% 25%
4 Matt Moore TBA 105 2.52 -4.6 45.71% 64%
5 Chris Tillman BAL 57 3.8 -10.76 45.45% 67%
6 Sonny Gray OAK 67 10.34 -5.98 45.45% 75%
7 Aaron Nola PHI 122 11.39 -6.42 44.83% 55%
8 Kendall Graveman OAK 53 7.68 -0.32 42.86% 43%
9 Jerad Eickhoff PHI 125 6.28 -9.21 42.55% 38%
10 Yordano Ventura KCA 89 2.54 -5.23 41.67% 64%

The second thing you may have noticed is when batters aren't whiffing on the curveball, they are putting the ball on the ground. 64% of Pomeranz's curveballs put in play have resulted in ground balls, which frequently results in outs (or at least not home runs, which is principally why ground ball percentage is valued within the baseball community).

While reviewing the names of the top curveball artists in baseball, two other notable details about Pomeranz's curveball may have caught your eye: the first being that Pomeranz has thrown his curveball more than any other pitcher on this list (Rich Hill surpassed Pomeranz for the season during his gem on Wednesday and has now thrown 194 curveballs in 2016 but is not in the top 10 by whiff rate).

In fact, Pomeranz has thrown his curveball to hitters 41% of the time this season, while still generating the highest percentage of swings and misses in the league. That is a very good sign for long-term success.

A Strong Secondary Pitch

In addition to the nasty curveball, Pomeranz has been sprinkling in an effective sinker about 10 percent of the time.

According to Brooks Baseball, batters are slugging only .286 against the sinker.

Conversely, Pomeranz's four-seamer has been his Achilles heel in 2016, as hitters are slugging .469 against the pitch. Additionally, the four-seamer has been the last pitch throw by Pomeranz in 7 of the 12 walks he has issued, suggesting that Pomeranz either does not trust the pitch in the zone while in a hitter's count or he simply does not have command of the pitch.

Whichever is the case, as a fantasy owner, you want Pomeranz to throw the four-seamer with less frequency going forward.

If Pomeranz is able to maintain an elite whiff rate with his curveball and integrate his sinker more frequently into his pitch selection (preferably at the expense of his four-seamer), then fantasy owners could have a massive bargain on their hands.