It only seems fitting that rookie pitchers are following the path of their hitting counterparts. In recent seasons, we’ve seen dynamic performances from hitters in their inaugural seasons. At the same time, we’ve seen pitchers get the call, show signs of dominance followed by struggle. This season, however, we’ve seen rookie pitchers flourish, and not only aid their Major League teams, but help fantasy owners as well. This week, I want to focus on six rookie pitchers that have been consistent in this week’s installment of “That’s Amore!” Rookie Pitchers Performing in Fantasy & in the Majors.
Mike Soroka – Atlanta Braves
Season: 10 GS/7-1/1.38 ERA/57 Strikeouts
After starting the season on the injured list rehabbing a shoulder injury, Soroka has been the Braves top starting pitching since he joined the team. As of Sunday, the Braves sat one game behind the division-leading Philadelphia Phillies, and much of the Braves success can be attributed to Soroka’s strong performance to start the 2019 season. Of his 10 starts, nine have seen him give up one earned run or less. Looking deeper, opposing bitters have a weak .219 BABIP, and Soroka has a high 79.9 LOB%. The peripheral stats are great, but what’s made Soroka even more dominant is the fact that he’s been difficult to get hits off of (0.87 WHIP), and he’s managed to keep walks to a minimum. Add the single home run he’s given up on the season, and it’s easy to see why teams simply don’t score many runs when he’s on the mound.
Of qualified rookie starting pitchers, Soroka’s 58.4 GB% is second to Dakota Hudson’s 61.4%. In terms of FB%, Soroka leads the way with a miniscule 19.7 FB%. When batters make contact off Soroka, very rarely have they been able to drive the ball into the air. When I research pitchers, I always pay attention to contact percentages (Soft, Medium, Hard), and Soroka’s 21.4 Soft% sees him fifth in the league, among rookie starting pitchers, behind only Zach Plesac, Sandy Alcantara, Trent Thornton, and Yusei Kikuchi. We are only entering the second week of June, and Soroka could be on pace for a spot on the National League All-Star roster, and he’s making a strong case for National League Rookie of the Year.
Spencer Turnbull – Detroit Tigers
Season: 13 GS/3-5/3.01 ERA/68 Strikeouts
Regardless if you’re a rookie, or veteran, it’s tough playing for a losing team. Entering the season, it was no secret the Tigers were going to be near the bottom of the AL Central standings, but there have been bright spots on their roster, most notably closer Shane Greene and starting pitcher Spencer Turnbull. While Turnbull hasn’t gotten the run support you’d want as a starting pitcher, he’s done his job admirably having given up three earned runs or less in 12 of his 13 starts.
While Turnbull has one of the highest BB/9 among rookie starting pitchers, I have been impressed with his ability to not allow the free passes to score. Even so, when he’s given up a home run (six in 71.2 IP) he’s been able to keep the crooked number low in the box score. Still, Turnbull has been on the tougher side of being able to hit, and is among the rookie league leaders with a 33.7 Hard%. If you’re looking for a starting pitcher that is still available in many leagues, Spencer Turnbull’s ability to keep runs and Hard% in check, makes him a solid target while he’s getting the job.
Chris Paddack – San Diego Padres
Season: 11 GS/4-4/2.97 ERA/66 Strikeouts
After a strong Spring Training aided in Paddack making the Opening Day roster, he became one of the more sought after rookie starts in fantasy drafts. Paddack paid huge dividends to his fantasy owners having average 6.5 strikeouts through his first seven starts of the season. A lot like Turnbull, Paddack wasn’t getting the run support from his offense and had no decisions in his first three Major League starts. Still, there’s a lot to like about Paddack, especially his league-leading 9.79 K/9 among qualified rookie starting pitchers.
Like Soroka and Turnbull, Paddack has done a solid job leaving runners on base currently sitting with a 72.7 LOB%. In terms of batted ball, Paddack has been tough to turn on, as hitters have relied on hitting the ball the other way which has factored into Paddack being second to only Yusei Kikuchi’s 31.3 Oppo% with a 28.3 Oppo% of his own. What’s impressed me is the life on Paddack’s high-90s fastball. He’s been able to get many swings and misses on his fastball. When the 2019 season comes to end, there’s no questioning Paddack will be among the leaders of all qualified rookie starts, in numerous categories, and he already sits third, behind Trent Thornton and Spencer Turnbull, with 66 strikeouts. The Padres are currently 3.5 games behind for a Wild Card spot, and continued strong performance from Paddack will only help the Padres for a late-season playoff push.
Yusei Kikuchi – Seattle Mariners
Season: 14 GS/3-4/4.99 ERA/51 Strikeouts
A rookie in Major League Baseball, Kikuchi has earned numerous accolades from his time spent pitching in Japan. His rookie MLB season, has seen many ups and downs, with Kikuchi hitting a bit of a rough patch having given up 16 earned runs over his last three starts (10 IP) and going 3.1 innings in each of those starts. Even so, numerous of Kikuchi’s starts have given the Mariners ample amount of opportunities to win if they would’ve simply scored runs. After a hot start to the season, the Mariners offense has hit a rough patch of their own.
Through the early part of the season, Kikuchi has been among rookie leaders in strikeouts, GB%, and Soft%. Looking at Kikucki’s last three starts that have seen him struggle, I clearly see a few trouble spots. Nearly ever start has seen Kikucki only get first-pitch strikes in 50% of the batters he’s faced. When he’s been successful, he’s gotten ahead in the count often. Secondly, his put away pitch has been his off-speed pitch. When hitters are ahead in the count, he’s had to go to his fastball which is more than hittable when left out of the plate. It’s a learning curve for Kikuchi, as he relied heavily on his off-speed pitches to get hitters out during his days in Japan. I feel a lot of hitters are laying off his breaking balls, and making him turn to the fastball. Kikuchi his given up six home runs over his last three starts, and nine of his 14 home runs have come when behind in the count. Moving forward, Kikuchi absolutely needs to get ahead of hitters, and mitigate any damage that is done. It’s been a bumpy ride for Kikuchi, but he’s pitching in a favorable home stadium, and there are adjustments that need to be made.
Dakota Hudson – St. Louis Cardinals
Season: 12 GS/4-3/3.70 ERA/45 Strikeouts
There’s a lot to like with Hudson. While he doesn’t rack of strikeouts like some of the other rookies, he doesn’t give up home runs, and he’s a high groundball pitcher leading rookies with a 61.5 GB%. Through 12 starts, Hudson has kept the Cardinals in numerous games having 11 of his 12 starts seeing him give up three earned runs or less. This is the kind of the production the Cardinals need gunning for the NL Central, and arguably one of the closest divisions in baseball with the last place team only trailing the division lead by 8.0 games.
What’s made Hudson appealing in fantasy is the fact that six of his last seven starts has seen him pitch a quality start. While there are a number of feeling toward the quality start, you have to commend the fact that he’s giving the Cardinals a chance to win. Early on, Hudson was leaving pitches up, and he gave up eight home runs through his first four starts, but since he’s given up one home run in his last eight starts. On of his downfalls has been walks. Only Sandy Alcantara (32) and Trent Thornton (31) have given up more than Hudson’s 30 walks, but the fact that Hudson keeps the ball on the ground has allowed him to keep runs in check, while getting hitters to ground into double plays.
Zach Plesac – Cleveland Indians
Season: 3 GS/1-1/1.86 ERA/14 Strikeouts
Making his debut on May 28, Plesac has been solid in his first three starts. The Indians have been beaten up with injuries and a stagnant offense through much of the 2019 season, but Plesac has been a breath of fresh air since making his debut. Through his first three starts, he’s pitched 19.1 innings, to go along with 14 strikeouts, three walks, and having given up only four earned runs in his 19.1 innings of work. He’s given the Indians a chance to win in each start, and he’s been phenomenal leaving 91.6% of runners on base.
What’s made Plesac successful has bee limiting hitters when contact is made. He currently has held hitters to a .235 BABIP, and he’s tough to make solid contact off of. Even though he’s only made three starts on the season, Plesac leads all rookies with a 24.5 Soft%. Again, when hitters do make contact off the rookie right-hander, they are not getting great contact on their swings. If you’re looking for availably pitching off the waiver wire, take a serious look at Plesac. Again, he’s only made three starts, but if he can do what he’s done against the Red Sox, White Sox, and Yankees, think about what’s he capable of against lesser offenses.