Dynasty Baseball Performance Report: Pitcher 2.0
Jan 12, 2024
The Dynasty Baseball Performance Report is a regular series, highlighting each position and providing insight into the risers and fallers of both the major leagues and prospects. Each week we’ll publish a positional report on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
These performance reports have been a blast to write and they keep chugging along. Last month, I hit on four pitchers that were seeing their dynasty value rise and four pitchers that were seeing their dynasty value fall.
Both Minor League pitchers that were highlighted last article made their debut in the past week. If you did not grab Bryan Woo or Andrew Abbott after last article make sure you keep reading to see which Minor League pitchers are seeing their value rise after the month of May.
JP Sears – OAK
An Oakland pitcher trending up? Seems hard to believe when you are talking about a team looking to avoid setting the MLB record for losses in a season. Oakland has not had many bright spots in 2023, but the JP Sears’ value is trending in the right direction.
Sears was acquired by Oakland from New York in the Frankie Montas deal and is looking like the best piece of that deal. Sears pitched 70 innings last year to a 3.86 ERA but received little attention heading into this year.
So far in 2023, he has made 12 starts with a 4.20 ERA, 5.07 FIP, and a 4.90 xFIP. Wait. This is supposed to be the section for pitchers seeing their dynasty value trending up. Why should dynasty managers be interested in a pitcher with those numbers?
Well, Sears has looked like a different pitcher over his last six starts. Sears owned a 6.23 ERA through his first five starts but has a 2.82 ERA in the seven starts since. He is turning a corner and those in the fantasy community need to take note.
Six starts might not mean a whole lot if you are facing weak offenses as the beneficiary of a soft schedule. This however could not be farther from the truth for Sears. His last seven starts have come against some of the better-hitting offenses in baseball. Some of the opposing teams are Houston, New York, Seattle, and Texas. Sears is doing his best work against some of baseball's best hitters.
In fact, looking at it from more of a macro perspective, Sears has been excellent all season. According to PLV, Sears ranks in the 96th percentile in terms of Quality pitches minus bad pitches. This basically means that not only does Sears throw quality pitches at some of the highest rates possible (94th percentile), but he also throws bad pitches at one of the lowest rates in the game (96th percentile).
Mistakes are few and far between with Sears giving hitters fewer opportunities to make him pay. Looking deeper at PLV, amongst pitchers with at least 800 pitches thrown this year, Sears ranks seventh in PLA. The six pitchers ahead of him?
The five pitchers right behind him?
Talk about some good company to be in. His PLA on the year is a minuscule 2.64. His sweeper, which is thrown 36% of the time, has a PLV of 5.61 with a 1.89 PLA. Sears’ sweeper ranks better than Shane McClanahan's and is comparable in this context to Shohei Ohtani's.
The best part about this pitch is that it is brand new. This off-season, Sears worked to transform his curveball by adding five inches of horizontal break and PLV is loving the adjustments. There is reason to believe this pitch can continue getting even better. My colleague Ryan Amore dove even deeper into Sears’ pitch mix in a recent article that you should check out here.
Sears. Slider. Strikeout.
JP Sears is up to a career-high 8 K's pic.twitter.com/HG8VtAegIC
— A's on NBCS (@NBCSAthletics) April 22, 2023
Sears does not garner the same attention as other young pitchers due to the team he plays on. Although this can hurt his win totals, it creates an opportunity to garner value for fantasy baseball leagues. Sears has a good fastball, a shiny new sweeper, and excellent command. He is only getting better, and it is time fantasy managers take notice. His value is trending up and now might be your last chance to get him at a cheap price.
Braxton Garrett – MIA
Despite pitching 88 innings with a 3.58 ERA last season, Braxton Garrett was a difficult player to figure out on draft day. On one hand, he was a pitcher who struck out 11 batters twice during 2022 with solid peripherals to back up his success.
On the other, Miami's rotation was seemingly full and Garrett seemed destined for a swing-man role. He was already behind Alcantara, Luzardo, Cabrera, and Rogers on the depth chart and then the team went out and signed Johnny Cueto making it difficult to envision Garrett having a big impact on the 2023 season.
Well, that apparently would have been the perfect time to acquire Garrett in a dynasty league. If a player has enough talent, an opportunity will always find a way to present itself. Cueto was a disaster early on before landing on the IL opening up a spot for Garrett. His first four starts went well as Garrett threw 19 innings with 18 strikeouts and a 1.89 ERA. The strikeouts were underwhelming although I do not think any fantasy managers were complaining.
Then all of a sudden in his next start, Garrett surrendered 11 runs in 4.1 innings against Atlanta. That start followed by a subpar start in Arizona must have been the wake-up call Garrett needed as he has a 2.70 ERA in the fiv3e starts since.
Two successful four-game stretches sandwiched around disappointing starts alone is not enough to land any pitcher in this section of the pitcher performance section. However, it is the changes Garrett has made that really are making his stock soar.
Early on in his career, Garrett had been viewed as a low-variance pitcher. He had plus command with a solid pitch mix, but he lacked the strikeouts that come from a fantasy ace. He fit into the tier of a fantasy streamer more than a fantasy star. That being said, this is the same pitcher who struck out 11 batters on multiple occasions last year. He throws a slider that generated a whiff rate of 40% in 2022. He clearly has the stuff to be a fantasy ace, and recently he has been proving it.
Since the disastrous start against Atlanta, Garrett has seen his strikeout rate jump from 20.4% before to 29.9% after. A lot of this has to do with a new cutter that is generating a whiff rate north of 30%. In fact, if you look at PLV, this pitch ranks even higher than his slider (which is also a very very good pitch).
Since April 27th, Garrett has essentially ditched his four-seam fastball (his worst pitch) while replacing it with the cutter (now his best pitch). The results have been incredible. In April, Garrett was relying on his four-seam fastball 20.3% of the time against right-handed hitters with two strikes.
Now, Garrett has switched that out in almost a 1:1 ratio for the cutter which is generating a whiff over 26% of the time in similar situations. A second true strikeout pitch was the only thing holding Garrett back and now that he has found one the sky could be the limit.
Another thing that Garrett has working for him is age. He is only 25 and will not turn 26 until August. He is still developing and already has three pitches that have a PLA below three. His dynasty value is soaring at the moment making now your last chance to get in on him before it is too late.
Alek Manoah – TOR
I am not sure I have ever seen somebody's dynasty stock go from so high to so low in the span of two months. Entering the 2023 season, Manoah was one of the young bright stars at the pitcher position. After throwing just 35 Minor League innings, Manoah burst onto the scene in 2019. Over the past two seasons combined, Manoah threw over 300 innings with a 2.60 ERA including a 2.24 ERA last season.
The best part for dynasty managers was that he is going to be 25 for the entire 2023 season. A young pitcher seemingly getting better with every season is the dream for a dynasty manager. He was viewed universally as a top-fifteen option for this format.
Well, things could not have changed any faster than they did. To say Manoah has been disappointing this year would be understating just how poorly he has played. Through 13 starts, Manoah is 1-7 with a 6.36 ERA. He has given up at least five runs six times already this year. Entering this year, he had only done such a thing four times in his career.
To make matters worse, his peripherals actually paint the picture of a pitcher who has been lucky. Manoah has a 6.42 xERA paired with a 6.52 FIP. His PLA sits at 5.39, while not a single pitch grades out as above average. Manoah is trending down in just about every category possible with very little reason for optimism.
In a patience or panic article, Ryan Loren dove into a little bit of how Manoah's pitch mix has shifted this season. Essentially, Manoah has turned away from the four-seam fastball and now favors his sinker. This is likely Manoah's attempt to keep the ball in the yard more, but it has actually had the opposite effect.
If you miss badly with a sinker, it is one of the most favorable pitches to hit out of the yard. Especially when the sinker is thrown below 93 mph. As you can see by the far left hand bar, Manoah is making tons of mistakes with his sinker.
His sinker registers as a bad pitch 36.4% of the time. While this is right around league average, Manoah's sinker usage ranks in the 88th percentile in baseball. So, not only does Manoah throw a pitch with a 5.34 PLA, but he relies on it almost more than anybody in baseball.
Is Manoah really this bad? That question is difficult to answer. Rarely do we see a pitcher dominate baseball for two seasons before falling off at age 25. While it is likely Manoah was never as good as his surface numbers, this drop off seems to be extreme.
Regardless, it is abundantly clear that Manoah's value has plummeted for dynasty. Instead of long-term staff ace, he is a project you are stuck rostering hoping things turn around. Manoah should be treated as an unproven prospect with upside at this point until he proves he can turn things around.
His start on Monday was the straw that broke the camels back as Manoah was optioned to the Florida Complex League. Wait … The Complex League?? Yes, this is where Toronto has their pitching lab and provides a stress free environment for Manoah to work through his kinks. The demotion emphasizes the drop in his value, but it at least provides a glimmer of hope that Manoah will be able to work through his issues and return to the pitcher we once knew.
Michael Soroka – ATL
Back in 2019, Michael (known then as Mike) Soroka set the league on fire. As a 21-year-old rookie, Soroka won 13 games for Atlanta with a 2.68 ERA. Despite suspect peripherals, Soroka appeared to be the ace of the Braves staff moving forward until injuries derailed his career.
He ruptured his Achilles just three starts into the 2020 season and then later ruptured the same Achilles again as his rehab process was winding down. This resulted in Soroka missing the entirety of the 2021 and 2022 seasons.
Still, there was hope for Soroka amongst dynasty players as the once promising arm is still just 25 years old. He has not suffered any major arm injuries before and entering 2023, his return to the mound was imminent.
One of the most recent feel-good stories, Soroka did return to the mound for his first Major League start in nearly three years on May 29th. The results however have not been encouraging. Through two starts, Soroka has an 8.38 ERA with more walks than strikeouts even though one of these starts was against Oakland.
Rust is an understatement when describing how Soroka has looked so far in his return to the Major Leagues. Adding insult to injury, the Braves decided it would be best for Soroka to work through these issues in the Minor Leagues and optioned him back to Triple-A.
There is the possibility that Soroka was never as good as he seemed back in 2019. His excellent season came with a 4.28 SIERRA and a 3.85 xFIP. In three starts back in 2020, he posted a 3.95 ERA with a 4.62 xFIP. Soroka always was due for regression, but his return to the mound has still been a disappointment for fantasy managers. There is still plenty of time in his career for Soroka to turn things around, but his dynasty value could not be trending any more down than it is right now.
Julian Aguiar – CIN
Last month I wrote about Andrew Abbott flying up ranking boards. Turn the page to June and now another Reds prospect is making headlines. To be fair, at least Abbott was universally ranked on Cincinnati prospect lists. Aguiar is virtually unheard of.
Aguiar was selected in the 12th round of the 2021 draft out of a California JuCo. Nobody thought anything of it at the time and Aguiar went on to strikeout 14 batters across 8.2 innings of work at the Complex League in his professional debut. All of those appearances came out of the bullpen though and nobody paid him any attention.
Fast forward to 2022 and Aguiar was excellent yet again this time in Low-A. Across 88.1 innings, Aguiar struck out over 27% of batters with a walk rate below 6% to the tune of a 3.16 ERA and 3.25 FIP. Still, nobody paid him any attention.
Well, now in 2023, Aguiar is finally starting to receive the recognition that he deserves. He has come out of the gates firing at High-A with a 1.60 ERA across his first eight starts. His control is excellent and he is still generating just as many strikeouts as at Low-A.
Originally viewed to have relief risk, Aguiar has fired at least four innings in each of his starts while pitching six complete innings on multiple occasions.
With a filthy changeup, a fastball that continues to gain velocity, and a slider to add to the mix, Aguiar is seeing big-time success in the lower levels of the Minor Leagues. The Reds have recently seen Nick Lodolo and Hunter Greene develop nicely and might be onto something for pitcher development. Aguiar's dynasty value is trending straight up as buzz has started to pick up around him on Twitter.
Julian Aguiar(CIN/21/A+) is underrated in dynasty. Has a 1.60 ERA and a 0.76 WHIP in 39.1 IP. 30.9% K/6.7% BB/34.1% CSW/66.3% StrikesThrew a gem last night, only damage came in the 6th w/ 2 BB.Strong command, FB sits 95 up to 97.Sinker, SL, CB to RHB4-Seam, CB, CH to LHB pic.twitter.com/LF04i00hLz
— Chris Clegg (@RotoClegg) May 27, 2023
The great dynasty team of Chris Clegg and Zac Beck have been tweeting and writing more about Aguiar over the past week which is only fueling the buzz around him. Now is the time to get in on Aguiar before the Reds continue to move him up through the system.
Plus command with good strikeout stuff is exactly what fantasy managers should look for, and Aguiar has both working for him early in 2023.
Carson Whisenhunt – SFG
Fellow pitcher Kyle Harrison garners the bulk attention when it comes to San Francisco Giants’ prospects, but Carson Whisenhunt is quickly becoming one of my favorite Minor League pitchers. Whisenhunt was taken in the second round of the 2022 draft by the Giants out of Eastern Carolina University.
The real story is wondering where Whisenhunt would have gone if he was able to pitch his final collegiate year. He tested positive for a banned substance (which Giants officials believe was tainted) and had to forfeit his final season. He fell to the Giants at 66th overall and is looking like possibly the biggest steal of the draft.
Whisenhunt made his professional debut last season, firing 7.2 scoreless innings between the Complex League and Low-A. The Giants decided to keep him in Low-A to start this season where he struck out over 35% of batters before earning a promotion to High-A.
Instead of struggling with the jump in competition, Whisenhunt seems to have gotten even better. Since the promotion, he has only surrendered more than one hit in a singular appearance which is also the game in which three of the four total High-A earned runs were scored against him.
Outside of that one blemish, he has been virtually unhittable across his other six starts. Whisenhunt's strikeout rate has grown to 38% while maintaining strong control of the zone.
The most impressive part of Whisenhunt's early career is the developments he is making to his arsenal. Known for his changeup coming out of college (the pitch seriously is filthy), Whisenhunt has been working throughout this season to implement more curveballs. The addition of another true-out pitch helps to eliminate some of the relief risk a pitcher with a low to mid-90s fastball comes with.
He is still working through gaining a consistent feel for it but based on some of the whiffs it has already generated, the curve could be a plus pitch. He already possesses a changeup that he can throw in any count to both righties and lefties to generate some pretty silly swings. Adding a plus-curveball to this would be borderline unfair.
Part of my love for Whisenhunt comes from organizational trust. The Giants have been a team to have a lot of success with pitcher development. Whether this be through their own farm system (Logan Webb) or through free agent signings (Alex Cobb), the team is successful at helping pitchers get the most from their arsenal.
Whisenhunt was likely on his way to being a first-round selection before his suspension. So far, he is looking every bit like a first-round talent. Being selected out of college, Whisenhunt has a chance to move quickly through San Francisco's system and needs to be on dynasty managers’ radars. His value is trending up and now might be your last chance to get in.
Owen White – TEX
Owen White was regarded just about as high as possible entering 2023. Despite being selected in the 2018 draft, White dealt with injuries early in his career which prevented him from making his professional debut until 2021. Since then, he has done nothing but dominate.
White struck out 40% of batters he faced in Low-A and made quick work of High-A in 2022. With a four-pitch mix that featured a wipeout slider, White appeared to be on the fast track to the Major Leagues.
Things started to take a step backward for White when he was promoted to Double-A to finish 2022, and have not gotten better since. His strikeout rates with each promotion are as follows:
As the competition has continued to increase, White's stuff has looked less and less spectacular. His walk rate in 2023 has jumped all the way above 10%. This could be a result of White pressing to generate results or simply regression of control. Either explanation is concerning. He is still holding opposing batters to a .228 batting average, which is in line with previous seasons.
The biggest reason for the downward trend in White's dynasty value is an adjustment of expectations. Early on last season, it appeared that White was going to be a strikeout pitcher with plus control. After seeing how he has performed against Double-A hitters, White might be more of a pitch-to-contact pitcher than we originally believed. There is nothing wrong with this, but it lowers his fantasy upside moving forward.
Mason Montgomery – TB
After being the Rays’ sixth-round draft pick in 2021, Mason Montgomery took the league by storm last season. His first stop at High-A saw him strike out 41.6% of the batters he faced and that is when the comparisons started. "Here we go again, another breakout pitching prospect for the Rays". At the same time as Shane McClanahan was breaking out at the Major League level, it seemed as though the Rays had another lefty coming right behind him.
Montgomery finished the 2022 season at Double-A where the strikeout rate dipped, but the control seemed to improve. The big jump from High-A to Double-A did not seem to faze Montgomery much and expectations were that he would continue his success in 2023.
Montgomery's fastball velocity does not jump off the page, but his delivery more than helps the pitch play up. He uses his glove and a high leg kick to keep hitters off balance while the fastball rides up and past them.
The issue with deceptive pitchers can sometimes be a lack of consistency. Coming out of Texas Tech, the biggest concern scouts had was his control. He struggled with walks in college and that issue is popping up again in 2023. So far this season, Montgomery is walking 13% of the batters he faces leading to a 4.75 ERA and a 4.80 FIP.
The optimism surrounding Montgomery came from the Rays seemingly fixing his control issues in just one season. 2023 is proving that Montgomery is far from a finished product. The strikeouts remain plentiful. However, the walks are painting the picture of a pitcher with serious relief risk. After reaching peak value during the 2022 off-season, Montgomery's dynasty value is trending in the wrong direction.Bryan Woo Andrew Abbott Major Leaguers Risers JP Sears – OAK Spencer Strider George Kirby, Shane McClanahan Pablo López Joe Ryan Logan Webb Gerrit Cole Zack Wheeler Sandy Alcantara Justin Steele Julio Urías Shohei Ohtani Braxton Garrett – MIA Braxton Garrett Johnny Cueto Fallers Alek Manoah – TOR Michael Soroka – ATL Prospects Risers Julian Aguiar – CIN Andrew Abbott Nick Lodolo Hunter Greene Carson Whisenhunt – SFG Kyle Harrison Carson Whisenhunt Logan Webb Alex Cobb Fallers Owen White – TEX Owen White Mason Montgomery Shane McClanahan