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Breakout Candidates For 2020 – Starting Pitchers

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The first two parts of the breakout candidates series took a look at infielders and outfielders with the potential to break out in 2020. Part three looks at five starting pitchers with the potential to break out in 2020. The methodology used to select potential breakout candidates for pitchers will consist of looking primarily at DRA, SIERA, and FIP, in combination with other stats. Additionally, pitchers who began to flash potential with a strong second half in 2019 were considered.

Max Fried

3.42 DRA

3.72 FIP

3.83 SIERA

Max Fried showed some major promise in 2019, his first full season in the Majors. He finished the season with a 4.02 ERA (113 ERA+) and 3.0 fWAR, both solid, but unspectacular numbers. Diving deeper, you see that DRA, FIP, and SIERA suggest Fried was even better. The real signs for a breakout, though, come from his second half numbers. Fried raised his K% by nearly 5% in the second half, while essentially maintaining his BB% (a decrease of 0.3%). That led to Fried posting a second half FIP of 3.39 and a second half ERA of 3.63. If he can maintain, or further improve on, his second half numbers, he could be the Braves’ top starter in 2020, especially if Mike Soroka regresses toward his peripherals.

Joe Musgrove

3.59 DRA

3.82 FIP

4.31 SIERA

Joe Musgrove is an interesting case as a breakout candidate, as he has now underperformed his peripherals in three straight seasons. However, his peripherals, combined with an interesting second half, give the belief that he can finally turn the corner.

Musgrove, like Fried, increased his strikeout rate considerably in the second half, seeing nearly a 5% increase. However, his 3.99 FIP and 4.84 ERA were both higher than his first half numbers. That’s because of a spike in HR/FB% from 9.3% in the first half to 15.5% in the second half. This is echoed by xFIP, which normalizes HR rate, as his second half xFIP was over a half run better than his first half. If Musgrove can maintain the spike in K% and return his HR/FB% at least to his career averages, he could be ready to finally break out.

Anthony DeSclafani

3.95 DRA

4.43 FIP

4.29 SIERA

At first glance, Anthony DeSclafani’s peripherals don’t exactly scream for a breakout. His FIP was merely 2% above the league average, and while SIERA and DRA were slightly more optimistic, they still suggested good rather than great.

DeSclafani’s breakout candidacy is based on a second half improvement, but one of a different kind. Unlike Fried and Musgrove, DeSclafani actually slightly decreased his strikeout percentage in the second half, while essentially maintaining his walk rate.

DeSclafani’s second half improvement lies in his batted ball profile. In the second half, his ground ball rate surged, going from 38.2% in the first half to 48.4% in the second half, a rate that would be nearly 6% better than his career average. The improvements don’t end there, as DeSclafani also dropped his hard hit percentage, per Fangraphs, from 43.9% in the first half to 36.2% in the second half. Additionally, his soft hit rate rose from 14.9% to 19.9%.

These changes in batted ball profile led to DeSclafani only allowing a .264 wOBA to opposing hitters in the second half. For reference, a .264 wOBA allowed would have ranked eighth best out of all starters facing a minimum of 350 batters in 2019. If that can be maintained and paired with his already above average strikeout and walk rates, DeSclafani could take a major step forward in 2020, and further improve the Reds’ already stellar rotation.

Dinelson Lamet

3.19 DRA

3.91 FIP

3.61 SIERA

Dinelson Lamet has shown some promise in limited MLB time over two seasons, but has yet to turn the corner. His peripherals provide hope that 2020 could be the year that he does turn that corner. In 73 innings in 2019, Lamet posted an above average FIP, and SIERA and DRA were even more impressed.

After returning to the Majors in July following Tommy John Surgery, Lamet got off to a slow start. He progressively improved through August and September, lowering his FIP each month while posting ERAs in the mid-3.00s.

Lamet brings with him a sky-high strikeout rate and a manageable walk rate. His biggest issue to this point has been keeping the ball in the park, so an improvement in this department could be important for success.

Projection systems are optimistic on Lamet’s outlook, with Steamer projecting him for a 3.74 ERA, 3.75 FIP, and 3.3 fWAR in 2020, and there is the potential there for him to beat those projections. Playing for a team with playoff aspirations, a breakout from Lamet could be the key to the Padres claiming a spot in the postseason.

Matthew Boyd

3.93 DRA

4.32 FIP

3.61 SIERA

Matthew Boyd differs from the rest of the players on this list as he actually got worse in the second half of 2019, after flashing potential in the first half. That second half regression was fueled by a decrease in strikeout rate and a large spike in walk rate. Boyd, however, took a large step forward in 2019 as a whole, increasing his strikeout rate by nearly 8% compared to 2018.

Part of the reason Boyd was unable to fully break out in 2019 was a significant spike in HR/FB%, and if he can get that back down closer to his 2016-2018 numbers while maintaining the increase in K%, he could finally break out.

On a rebuilding Detroit Tigers team, Boyd is clearly one of their top starters, and a breakout could make him a top trade chip at the deadline. While a breakout from any of the other candidates on this list would help their teams in a postseason hunt, a breakout from Boyd could be equally helpful for the Tigers, increasing a potential return and better positioning them for the future.

Others to watch: Zack Wheeler

Kyle Berger

Reds contributor for Max’s Sporting Studio. Follow on Twitter @KB_48