Take a Chance on a Potential Blake Snell Breakout
Blake Snell Made Adjustments to Improve His Productivity
Something I have worked on improving over the past couple of years is removing players names from the stats. All of us that play Fantasy Baseball play them because we are fans of the sport. We all have teams and players that we enjoy rooting for, and usually, we will want those players on our Fantasy teams. We are all guilty of creating excuses or giving passes to our favorite players for poor performances.
My ultimate goal is to strip away those names, just look at the numbers and let those dictate the players I back in Fantasy Baseball. The more I did that this winter, the more Blake Snell jumped off the page to me. And the deeper I dug with Snell, the more I grew to like him.
I understand he may have burned you in the past, but while you were studying up on which running back to grab first last summer, Snell made improvements that make him an interesting draft pick at his current price.
A Tale of Two Seasons
First, I split his season into two parts; his first 11 starts of the season (through July 18) and his final 13 starts (from July 24 on). In those first 11 starts, he averaged 8.2 K/9, 5.95 BB/9, with a 4.98 ERA, 5.18 FIP, and a 5.32 xFIP over 56 innings pitched.
Yeah, those are classic Snell numbers. He allowed way too many walks, which caused him to yield more runs, but it also resulted in an average of just five innings per start. Walks were not the only issue for Snell during this span, as he allowed hard contact 37.2 percent of the time (Hard Hit%), along with a 12.7 percent HR/FB rate. He also generated a 9.3 percent swinging strike rate, which was below the league average of 10.5 percent.
It all changed for Snell over his final 13 starts, as he averaged 8.35 K/9 and 2.70 BB/9, with a 3.31 ERA, 3.44 FIP, and a 3.97 xFIP over 73.1 innings. As you can see, the strikeouts had a slight uptick, but the biggest improvement was to his walk rate. His improvement of 55 percent helped lead to his lower ERA, FIP and xFIP. But, just like with his struggles, the walks played a big role, but there were other reasons that figured in the change. During this stretch, Snell had a Hard Hit rate of just 29.4 percent. He lowered his HR/FB rate to 9.6 percent and his swinging strike rate increased to an above league average of 12.2 percent.
Avg Exit Velocity- 85.5
On LD/FB- 91
Avg Exit Velocity- 86.4
On LD/FB- 91.7
Brls/PA- 2.9 #FantasyBaseball
— Michael Florio (@MichaelFFlorio) January 30, 2018
Snell Turns Down the Heat and Changes Things Up
While the numbers are clearly better in the second half, you may be asking yourself, was this just a hot streak? While that could be the case, the reality is that Snell made adjustments that should carry over into the 2018 season, beginning with a change to his pitch selection.
|First 11 starts||59 percent||15.5 percent||17.6 percent||7.9 percent|
|Final 13 starts||51.7 percent||11.7 percent||24.2 percent||12.4 percent|
As you can see, Snell altered his pitch selection, opting to lay off his fastball and slider to incorporate his changeup and curveball more often. This makes sense, as his changeup was by far his most valuable pitch according to FanGraphs. While his curveball and fastball were both positive pitches, his slider was, by far, his worst rated pitch.
Additionally, below (courtesy of Brooks Baseball) you will see that both his changeup and curveball garnered more Whiffs than his fastball, and his slider got more swings and misses as he started to use it more selectively:
Snell threw his best pitches more often, leading to a higher whiff rate down the stretch. However, pitch selection was not the only change that led to Snell’s successful sudden half. His pitch location also changed.
The Heat Maps Illustrate the Dramatic Change
Below is a heat map of Snell’s first 11 starts:
Below is a heat map of Snell’s final 13 starts:
As you can see on these heat maps (courtesy of FanGraphs), Snell was able to avoid the center of the plate much more frequently in the second half compared to the first. During the second half, he was able to pound the plate low-and-inside against left-handed batters, and low-and-away against right-handed batters. The results show that his Hard Hit rate dropped while his groundball rate jumped from just 39.6 percent over the first 11 starts, to 47.3 percent in his final 13 starts.
Snell has burned Fantasy Baseball owners in the past and he’s definitely been inconsistent over his Major League career. There will be people who will want to stay away, thinking his second half was an outlier, or that he is too inconsistent to sustain this success. But at just 25 years old it is quite possible that Snell, a former top prospect, has not only become more comfortable at the Major League level, but has learned how to maximize his pitch arsenal.
He may yet struggle to maintain these adjustments in 2018, but for a pitcher who can realistically go 200 innings this season, those second half improvements are very enticing to Fantasy owners. He’s currently being drafted as the 63rd SP off the board and the 219th pick overall, according to FantasyPros. He is easily worth an 18th round pick in 12-team leagues, or a 14th round pick in 15-team leagues to find out whether the adjustments that led to more strikeouts and groundballs, with fewer walks, home runs and less hard contact, are real.
Make sure to follow me on Twitter, @MichaelFFlorio.
Blake Snell Photo Credit: AP Photo/Kathy Willens
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