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It’s been too long since I have written an article! Between writers block, the gloom and glum of the lockout, and fighting a cold it has been hard for me to push the keyboard. But we are back! 

Through this thick skull of mine, an idea dinged into my brain while I was in the shower. It could be obvious to some, but not everyone knows what to look for when it comes to spotting an early breakout with starting pitchers. 

It can be game-changing if you spot a potential breakout before your league-mates. Most importantly, it can lead you towards achieving that sought-after championship. Let’s run through this so we can bask in glory together when the date strikes October 2nd. 

Last season you could have grabbed several impact starting pitchers off of the waiver wire. Pitchers like Logan Webb, Tanner Houck, Alex Cobb, Carlos Rodon, Steven Matz, Alex Wood, Luis Garcia, Shane McClanahan, Patrick Sandoval, and even Robbie Ray. Too many to list! 

Okay, Mike but how can we spot this?! Well, there are a few factors you can look at! Also, stop yelling at me. Let’s start with my favorite one: K-BB%.

K-BB%

K-BB% is widely known to be the best in-season ERA predictor and also one of the most predictive overall. It stabilizes quickly making it one of the most important tools fantasy players can have in their belt. For reference, the league average last season was 14.5% and over 20% is typically considered really good.

In the shortened 2020 season, Robbie Ray finished the year with a 9.2 K-BB%. Yes, just 9.2%. He had a 27.1% strikeout rate with an atrocious 17.9% walk rate. The savvy players out there thought “he still has the strikeouts so why not take a shot?” But that didn’t ring true with everyone. 

Ray was still out there in a lot of leagues and according to my streamer sheet, he was 30% rostered between ESPN and Yahoo on 5/5. This means in shallow leagues he was still on the wire. You could have grabbed him early on if you just glanced at his K-BB%.

Much like 2020, his first two starts of the season provided terrible numbers with an overall -6.8 K-BB%. But then Ray turned up the dial and in the next three starts, he walked zero batters and averaged a 31.9% K-BB%. If you carefully watched and saw this uptick and bought in, you could have had Robbie Ray in your league.

How about someone not as obvious as Robbie Ray? Let’s take a look at Alex Wood. 

Between 2019 and 2020 Alex Wood had a 13.8 K-BB%, not terrible but not great either. He also finished those seasons with a combined 5.96 ERA taking him off of everyone’s radar. 

Alex Wood started the season off hot and if you caught it quickly you were rewarded. In his first three starts, he pitched 18 innings with a 1.50 ERA. More importantly, his K-BB% per start were 23.5%, 26.1%, and 29.2%. 

If you decided to snatch up Wood after his third start with an impressive K-BB% and held on after a start in Coors, you were greatly rewarded. Heading into his fourth start he was just 26% rostered, it would be the last time he was under 50%. 

Could this backfire? Sure. It’s your streaming spot though, where you take chances early and hold on hoping to hit the lottery. K-BB% certainly helps your chances at picking the correct numbers. 

Velocity

Velocity readings are huge in spring training and the reason being is the fact it could completely change a pitcher. The league average fastball velocity last season was 93.5 MPH. What’s so interesting about fastball velocity is how it doesn’t have to be at a high velocity for an increase to make a difference. For instance, if a pitcher goes from averaging 91 MPH to 93 MPH it could still make as big of a difference as opposed to 93 MPH to 95 MPH. 

Let’s bring in the beast Carlos Rodon. 

Rodon came into the 2021 season with fire in his eyes. He finished the year with a 2.37 ERA and a 0.96 WHIP and the accelerant to his fire was velocity. 

In the 2019 season, Rodon’s fastball averaged just 91.6 MPH. In 2020 he averaged 93.0 MPH (only 67 pitches though). But in 2021 he averaged 95.4 MPH. This means he bumped up his velocity by over two MPH. That doesn’t happen often.

You could have easily caught this if you looked at velocity readings consistently. In Rodon’s first start he pitched five innings with zero earned runs and nine strikeouts. His velocity in that start was 95.4 MPH. That right there, that one start should have lit the bulb in your head and sent you running to pick this guy up. 

Carlos Rodon’s rostered percentage heading into his first start was just 7%. He was available everywhere. 

Can a pitcher’s velocity spike up for one start or even two? Sure, but again it’s your streamer spot so why not hold on? I also want to note that studies have been done on velocity and typically when a starter’s velocity is up for three straight starts he continues a good pitching run. 

Pitch Mix Changes

Pitch mix changes are so fun to look for! Remember how fun it was to look for plastic eggs on Easter? Especially hoping you find the one that contains money in it. That’s the feeling I get when I am searching for pitch mix changes. 

Pitch mix changes are pretty simple to explain. It’s when a pitcher decides to throw a pitch less or more and it could easily lead to better performance. Pitch mixes are a bit tricky though, a pitcher could shift their pitch mixes based on opponent and game planning. While it’s tough to pinpoint when we can trust a new pitch mix it is still a viable tool. 

Let’s bring in the one and only Patrick Sandoval *yells his name for an abnormally long time*.

Patrick Sandoval has one major crutch and it continues to be his fastball. In both 2019 and 2020, Sandoval threw his four-seam fastball over 44% of the time dumbfounding many fantasy baseball players. 

Legend has it, Sandoval had a vision in bed one night as he was watching my “Did You Know?” videos and realized he should throw his changeup more. A lot more. 

Overall in 2021, he upped his changeup usage from 22.9% to 29.6% which lead to a 3.62 ERA in 87 innings. You could have caught this early on if you were looking for it. In his first three games, he threw his changeup 45.8% of the time. He clearly was changing things (see what I did there). 

Guess what, before his first start he was rostered in just 1% of leagues. It wasn’t until his seventh start did he break the 15% rostered threshold. If you decided to even wait that long, you would have rostered Sandoval for seven starts where he produced a 3.35 ERA and 26.7 K% for your team.

Look I know these three things seem a bit obvious but they are popular for a reason and sometimes we lose sight of these things once the season begins. These are things I will continue to point out throughout the season in my new in-season daily article called “What you need to know” spoiler alert! 

Using these three tools to try and spot early breakouts is the way to go. 

But wait there is more! 

I was fortunate enough to go to First Pitch Arizona, a fantasy baseball convention, where Eno Sarris gave a wonderful presentation about Stuff+. In his presentation, he discussed how Stuff+ was predictive in season quicker than K-BB%. It was super interesting and I highly suggest getting an Athletic membership for Stuff+ alone. 

Well, I’m going to go shut up now, I hope you enjoyed this article. Remember, keep an eye out for velocity changes, pitch mix changes, and K-BB% changes early in the season. You could end up striking gold!

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Michael Simione

Michael Simione

Michael Simione is the owner of SPStreamer.com. He started the blog based on a Twitter account he created back in 2018. He specializes in pitching as well as streaming pitchers. He most importantly is a die-hard Mets fan.

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