Sabermetrics

2018 Breakout All-Star Team: Pitchers

A couple of weeks ago, I concocted a 2018 Breakout All-Star Team for position players. The only criteria was that the player had not been named to an All-Star team in previous seasons. Five of those 10 players were named to the All-Star Team. Breakout pitchers have been plentiful this season, and here are 10 that have really stepped their game up in the 2018 season:

P Mike Foltynewicz

The former Houston Astros first round draft pick has unleashed his potential this year in his fourth full MLB season. After posting earned run averages that were never below 4.31 in his first three years with the Braves, Foltynewicz is currently rocking a 2.66 mark.  With a 3.38 FIP and a 80.4% strand rate, Foltynewicz is likely due for some regression, but he has definitely taken a step forward. With a fastball that averages 96.3 MPH, Foltynewicz’s strikeout rate has jumped from 20.7% in 2017 to 28.9% this season.

P Miles Mikolas

After last pitching in the MLB for the Rangers in 2014 (and posting a 6.44 ERA), Mikolas has made a triumphant return to the big show with all-star caliber season. A big key to Mikolas’ success has been his breaking balls, including a slider and a curveball. Combined, Mikolas has thrown the pitches 45% of the time (24% slider, 21% curveball) with a .199 wOBA against the slider and a .229 wOBA against the deuce. Mikolas has also excelled at generating soft contact, with with an average exit velocity against 85.5 MPH, 19th best among all pitchers.

P Aaron Nola

Nola started to show his stuff in 2017, but he has staked his claim as one of the more dominant pitchers in the MLB this season. The former first round pick finished 2017 with a 3.54 ERA, but has posted a pristine 2.27 mark in this year’s campaign. So what has been the difference? Nola has excelled at keeping the ball in the ball in ballpark this season, only giving up six home runs over the course of 123 innings. The young Phillies ace has also had more success with his fastballs, as the wOBA on his four seam fastball has dropped from .336 to .265 and his wOBA on sinkers descending from .370 to .237.

P Trevor Bauer

Believe or not, Bauer has a higher pitcher WAR than perennial aces Max Schezer, and Corey Kluber, and Justin Verlander. And while we’re naming pitcher’s that Bauer is ahead in WAR, we coud list off just about everyone in the MLB, because the flamboyant Cleveland righty is tied with Chris Sale for the lead in pitcher’s in wins above replacement halfway through the season. Like Nola, Bauer has benefitted from a significant decrease in home runs allowed, with only 5 bombs given up in 129.1 innings (compared to 20+ in each of the last three seasons). The former Diamondbacks prospect has made a huge jump in 2018, as his 2.23 ERA is significantly lower than the 4+ earned run averages he’s put up in past seasons. He’s also sporting a 11.7 K/9 this season, in large part due to his nasty slider. After throwing the pitch just 1 percent of the time in 2017, Bauer has tossed the slider on 15 percent of his pitches, with a minuscule .086 wOBA and a 55.6 K%.

P Tyler Skaggs

While Skaggs hasn’t been quite as dominant as some of the pitchers on this list, he has shown significant improvement and has been one of the better starters in the American League. Another pitcher who had not posted a season with an ERA below 4, Skaggs 2.57 mark shows he’s transformed into one of the better starters in the AL this season. Skaggs has generated more ground ball outs this season, as his averages launch angle has dropped from 15.0 in 2017 to 10.6 in 2018. The 27-year old has also exhibited the best K/9 of his career at 9.64.

P Blake Snell

The talented young pitcher seems to have put it together this year and shown his potential to become an ace for years to come. Snell is tied for 5th among pitchers in hard hit percentage (95+ exit velocity) at 27.7%. His strikeout stuff has improved as well, as his curveball (.160 wOBA) and slider (.137 wOBA) have both been top-of-the-line pitches for the former first round pick.

P Ross Stripling

With two big league seasons under his belt, Stripling has shown his pitching prowess in a big way in his 2018 campaign. With a ground-scraping 2.08 ERA, Stripling has excelled at generating soft contact while also not walking batters. With a league leading 7.71 K/BB ratio, the 28-year old has only walked 14 batters while sending 108 hitters back to the dugout on strikes. Stripling’s elite hard hit rate of 27.6% puts him just above Blake Snell and fourth in the MLB.

RP Josh Hader

If you haven’t seen Josh Hader’s dominance this season, I would recommend looking up a highlight video or two to take some time and watch a sample of top notch pitching. Hader’s 16.53 K/9 leads all of baseball and the long haired-sensation may have busted up the prototypical elite relief pitcher “closer” role with his multi-inning saves and situational excellence. Primarily a fastball pitcher (73.5%), Hader’s deception in his delivery makes a pitch that averages 94.0 MPH look much harder. His slider has also been downright nasty, with a .109 wOBA against the pitch and a 56.8 whiff rate.The former Astros and Orioles prospect has shone with a 1.55 ERA in nearly 50 innings out of the ‘pen.

RP Edwin Diaz

The 24-old American League leader in saves has simply been lights out this year for the Mariners, who have thrived in close games. Sporting a 2.25 ERA and a 0.79 WHIP, Diaz has been a big part of that success. With an outstanding 14.8 K/9, Diaz has turned himself into one of the toughest pitchers to face in the AL. With a fastball averaging 97.4 MPH and a slider generating a 1.66 wOBA and a 54.9 whiff percentage, Diaz has flat out dominated. He may even have been a bit unlucky, as is 1.45 FIP shows that may be even better than his ERA shows.

RP Blake Treinen

After 37.2 innings pitched led to a 5.73 ERA pitching for the Washington Nationals in the first half of the 2017 season, Treinen was sent back to the team that drafted him in 2011. Since returning to the A’s organization, the 30-year old has pitched much better, especially in the 2018 season. Through 38 appearances and 46 innings this year, Treinen has produced a 0.98 ERA and a 0.96 WHIP. Like the other relief pitchers on this list, Treinen relies on a fastball-slider combination to foil hitters late in the game. Treinen has excelled at getting batters to swing out of the zone, with a chase rate of 38.4%, significantly higher than the major league average of 28.2% When he does get hitters to chase, they have only managed to make contact 39.5% of the time, more a significant drop from the MLB average of 60.5%.

Who do you think should be included on the 2018 Breakout All-Star Team: Pitchers? Let me know in the comments below.

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About Cole Schuessler

I recently finished my undergraduate coursework in sport management at Concordia University, St. Paul, also adding a minor in analytics. I am now pursuing a masters in degree in sport management at CSP while working as graduate assistant in athletics. Since discovering the stats page of MLB.com as an elementary school kid, I have loved the statistical side of sports and hope to one day work in the field of sports analytics.
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