The Dynasty Baseball Performance Report is a regular series, highlighting each position and providing insight into the risers and fallers of both the major leagues and prospects. Each week we’ll publish a positional report on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
These performance reports have been a blast to write and they keep chugging along. Last month, I hit on four pitchers that were seeing their dynasty value rise and four pitchers that were seeing their dynasty value fall. I feel like it is best to check in on how the other pitchers mentioned in the first article of this series have fared:
- MacKenzie Gore– No longer rising. Falling slightly
- Joe Ryan– Has continued rising into one of the game’s best pitchers
- Andrew Abbott– Has continued rising with elite performances at the Major League level
- Bryan Woo– Has looked excellent at the Major League level and is still rising
- Michael Kopech– Value bounced back before some struggles lately. Value has gone unchanged from earlier evaluations
- Max Scherzer– Scherzer has looked better in his last three starts, but the results are still underwhelming. Slight rise recently
- Kyle Harrison– Continues to be plagued by inconsistency. No real change after his early fall
- Daniel Espino- N/A- has not pitched due to injury
Tarik Skubal – DET
A couple of years ago, the Tigers had three exciting pitching prospects rising through their system. Casey Mize and Matt Manning were the most popular in dynasty and baseball circles. Then, there was Tarik Skubal, their ninth-round pick from 2018. Although he was a ninth-round pick, the lefty out of Seattle dominated every level of the Minor Leagues. Skubal allowed just one earned run in his first 22.1 innings of professional work and made it all the way to Double-A prior to the pandemic. He never posted an ERA over 2.58 or a FIP over 2.56 at any level. All indications pointed to Skubal being the real deal.
Skubal impressed the Detroit coaching staff so much that he made his Major League debut in 2020. He made seven starts for Detroit, but the results were disappointing. Skubal struggled to a 5.63 ERA much of which could be attributed to his 2.53 HR/9. He was generating strikeouts at the Major League level, but making far too many mistakes that opposing batters could easily punish. This issue carried over into 2021 when Skubal posted a 4.39 ERA with a 2.11 HR/9. During the 2021 season, opponents slugged an absurd .611 with 22 home runs off the four-seam. The most concerning part was that the four-seam was Skubal’s most used pitch.
Turn the page to 2022 and things started to change for the better. The sinker that Skubal developed in 2021 saw its usage increase from 12.9% to 21.1%. His slider (which is his most effective out pitch to lefties) became his most used pitch. Skubal also increased the usage of his changeup. The increase in his secondaries created less of a reliance on his four-seam and lowered his HR/9 to 0.69 during the season. Through 21 starts, Skull’s ERA sat at 3.52 and his FIP was 2.96—both of which were the lowest in his Major League career.
Unfortunately for Skubal, his 2022 season was cut short due to an elbow injury. This injury cost him the first three months of 2023 as well, but the good news is that Skubal is back. Skubal returned from the IL and dominated in his first start of 2023. Working on a limited pitch count, Skubal fired four no-hit innings on Tuesday placing emphasis on his return. The start came against a struggling Oakland team, but four no-hit innings are impressive no matter the opponent. Want to hear something even more impressive? Skubal’s fastball velocity was up over two miles per hour from where he was sitting last year. The pitch maxed out at 98.4 mph.
Tarik Skubal, 98mph Bohemian Rhaspody Sword. ⚔️⚰️?? pic.twitter.com/4pA4E1DY5y
— Rob Friedman (@PitchingNinja) July 4, 2023
Returning from an extended IL stint is always going to increase a player’s dynasty value. However, simply returning and looking dominant in a return is all the more impressive. Skubal appeared to be on his way to a breakout 2022 campaign before injury ruined his season. Well now, Skubal is still only 26 years old and might be better than ever. Skubal’s dynasty value is trending straight up and it honestly might be too late to get him at a discounted price.
Brayan Bello – BOS
I am not sure enough attention is being given to the development of Brayan Bello. The Bello hype first started in 2021 when he came out of the pandemic firing on all cylinders. Between High-A and Double-A, Bello struck out over 32% of the batters he faced while keeping his walk percentage under eight. He followed up his strong 2021 season by dominating Double-A, making quick work of Triple-A, and earning himself a Major League promotion.
Bello’s first stint in the Major Leagues was a mixed bag. The most notable change from the Minor Leagues was a stark reduction in his strikeout rate. Bello struck out 33.8% of the batters he faced in both Double-A and Triple-A before seeing that number fall to 20.5% in the Major Leagues. Bello had four starts in which he surrendered one or fewer runs, but also four starts in which he allowed at least four runs. Overall, he finished with a 4.71 ERA, but a 2.94 FIP which provided reason for optimism moving forward.
Bello started the 2023 season on the IL and then his first two starts did not go as planned. Bello gave up eight earned runs in just 7.1 innings and it was easy to wonder if maybe Bello was not the pitcher we hoped he would become.
Bello’s response has been impressive. In the ten starts since, he has posted a 2.37 ERA and has only allowed one earned run in each of his last three starts. Bello’s value is especially rising in points leagues. The strikeout rate has not jumped up, but he has pitched seven innings in four of his last seven starts. Guys like Merrill Kelly and Miles Mikolas have fantasy value for a reason. They might not post the most gaudy strikeout numbers, but they are able to work deep into games and rack up points in other ways. Bello is proving that he is capable of doing just that.
Not only is Bello performing better on the box scores, but his stuff has taken a massive step forward this year. The most notable difference has been his improvements with his sinker. Bello spent the off-season learning from one of the best to ever do it—Pedro Martinez. So far, it seems like his hard work has paid off. Opponents hit .402 off the sinker last year. This year, they are batting just .235. According to PLV, his bad pitch percentage on the sinker has dropped from 34.2% last year to 31.8% this year.
The Red Sox appear to have found a key piece of their starting rotation for years to come. From a dynasty perspective, you need to be able to form a team with a mix of high-ceiling and high-floor players. Bello might not have the highest ceiling, but his recent stretch of performances is an early sign that he has a high floor. That being said, why should we question that this is all there is for a 24-year-old pitcher? Bello already has an elite out-pitch in his changeup that generates a whiff rate of over 44%. Bello’s dynasty value is rising and rising fast. Creating a stable fantasy floor could be the first step in his rise to dominance. Get in on Bello now before it is too late. At worst, you acquired an innings eater. At best, you were able to get somebody that is developing into a future star.
Roansy Contreras – PIT
Roansy Contreras originally signed with the Yankees back in 2017 and was slowly working his way through the low levels of the Minor Leagues prior to the Covid-19 pandemic. With little fanfare, he was acquired from New York by Pittsburgh in an acquisition that did not attract much attention. After joining the Pirates organization, it seemed the Pirates might have hit the jackpot. Contreras really took off in the Minor Leagues during the 2021 season. His strikeout rate soared to 34.9% in Double-A and rose even higher to 37.5% in Triple-A. He posted a sparkling 2.64 ERA across both levels backed up by a 2.63 FIP.
Contreras’ meteoric rise even resulted in a Major League promotion during the 2021 season. He struck out four players across three scoreless innings and was a popular breakout pick for the 2022 season. To the dismay of many, Contreras started the 2022 season in Triple-A but was up in Pittsburgh by the end of May. His first three starts and six appearances went about as well as anybody could have hoped for. He posted a strikeout rate above 27% with an ERA below two. I was as excited as anybody as the pure stuff represented a starting pitcher with an incredible upside:
Roansy Contreras has the same:
Slider spin as Ohtani
Curveball spin as Cole
Fastball spin as Verlander
Fastball velocity as Eovaldi
Changeup spin as Kershaw
29% whiff rate 33.7% chase rate
1st pitch strike at 63.2%
Small sample but 1.93ERA 1.03WHIP so far. Could be elite
— Matt Heckman (@Heckman_Matt115) June 6, 2022
After his strong start, Contreras cooled off considerably. Across his final 15 starts, Contreras posted a 4.40 ERA with a more modest 19.2% strikeout rate. Still, even with the disappointing performances down the stretch, this was a 22-year-old pitcher who just posted a 3.95 ERA in his first full Major League season. He posted an overall PLA of 3.94 and his fastball and slider (which represented 81% of his pitches) graded out with a PLA of 3.87 and 3.63. It was easy to assume that at just 22, Contreras was more than capable of developing a third pitch to fill out his arsenal while taking the next step to become a dominant pitcher at the Major League level.
Instead of getting better, things have taken a turn for the worse in 2023. Contreras made 11 starts to start the season in Pittsburgh’s rotation posting a 5.91 ERA with a 4.77 FIP. His last two starts were especially bad. Contreras surrendered 12 earned runs in just 4.1 innings. His strikeout rate has dropped below 20% and his control (which was always a weak point) has gotten even worse. The Pirates were hoping a trip to the bullpen could help get Contreras back on track, but so far that has not been successful. In six appearances, his ERA sits at 7.36 making you wonder how far off we are from a demotion back to Triple-A.
On the bright side, Contreras has reduced the usage of his four-seam fastball this season. His slider usage has jumped to his most used pitch, but he is still relying on those two pitches over 84% of the time this season. PLV is a big fan of Contreras’ slider. The four-seam though? Not so much. While this pitch grades out just under league average, the issue comes from how many really bad mistakes Contreras is making with the pitch. Looking at his PLV chart below, you can see just how many mistakes he is making.
Contreras’ career is still young. He does not turn 24 until November and is more than capable of becoming a Major League starter. That being said, a move to the bullpen this season and a continued reliance on just two pitches makes me worry that the team is starting to view him as more of a reliever long-term. At his age, all I am looking for from a dynasty perspective is steady growth. There are going to be ups and downs for every player at the beginning of his career, but you want to be able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. The tunnel has gotten darker this season for Contreras and his dynasty value is trending in the wrong direction.
Aaron Nola – PHI
Aaron Nola has been one of the premier pitchers in baseball over the past seven seasons. From 2016 to 2022, Nola has an ERA of 3.61 with a FIP of 3.23. He has struck out at least ten batters per nine innings in every season since 2019 while walking under two batters per nine in each of the past two seasons. Nola does not throw the hardest or have the highest spin rates, but it is difficult to deny his impressive resume from the past several seasons.
2023 is a contract year for Aaron Nola. He and the Phillies were unable to get close to a deal during the off-season and decided to postpone negotiations until the end of the season. The added contract incentive to be great on top of his past season performances made it realistic to expect big things out of Nola this season. Unfortunately, this has not been the case. Overall on the season, Nola has a 4.51 ERA with a 4.31 FIP (both of which would be the highest marks of his career). He has just one scoreless start on the year while allowing at least four runs in nine of 17 starts.
The biggest issue for Nola this season has been working out of the stretch. Entering his start on Tuesday, Nola had a WHIP of just 0.97 with the bases empty. If that number was his total WHIP, he would rank second in all of baseball trailing only Tyler Wells. Unfortunately, his WHIP skyrockets to 1.40 with runners on base. If that number were his overall WHIP, he would rank toward the bottom of baseball between Kyle Freeland and Josiah Gray.
Taking a quick look at Nola’s stuff, it does not seem like there is anything drastically different. Although his PLA is not the sparkling 2.29 number he posted last season, it still sits at an impressive 2.80 on the season. According to PLV, every single pitch in Nola’s arsenal grades out as above average.
So, what is the issue? Although it is difficult to say, it does seem like the pitch clock is having an effect. Nola was one of the slowest workers in baseball last season and that number only got slower with runners on base. From 2018-2022, Nola was averaging 13.9 seconds between pitches with the bases empty and 21 seconds between pitches with runners on. This was by far the slowest of any starting pitcher on Philadelphia’s staff. With the pitch clock, Nola has had to adjust this tempo. He has shaved two seconds off (11.1) with the bases empty and over six seconds off with runners on (15.2). From a visual perspective, Nola has had meltdown innings on a repeated basis this season. An obvious conclusion would be that Nola is struggling to slow things down and work in high-pressure situations due to the pitch clock.
Truly, a great pitcher like Nola should be able to work through some of these issues as the season moves along. Change is hard no matter your profession. Sure, these pitchers are paid millions of dollars, but it is also hard to adjust to something that you have been doing your entire life. His struggles in 2023 cannot simply be ignored. There is a chance that Nola does not adjust to the pitch clock and continues to struggle from the stretch. Although I am not out on Nola moving forward, his dynasty value is trending down this year.
*Note that this was written prior to Nola firing 7.1 innings of one-run ball against Tampa on Tuesday. The Phillies fan in me is hopeful that this is the sign of him turning the corner although my concerns about the pitch clock and working out of the stretch remain.
Josh Stephan – TEX
The COVID-19 pandemic led to a shorter draft during the 2020 season. With fewer players being selected, the Rangers were able to sign Josh Stephan as an undrafted free agent prior to the 2021 season. Coming out of high school, it came as a surprise that Stephan chose to sign with Texas as opposed to honoring his commitment to Stephen F. Austin. The lost year of development prevented Stephan from making his debut until 2021, but he is quickly making up for lost time.
His first stop in professional baseball came at the Complex League where Stephan performed well, but did not gain much notoriety. He pitched to a 3.86 ERA, but that came with a 5.36 FIP. He then struggled at his first crack at things in Low-A posting an 8.25 ERA across 12 innings. After repeating Low-A to start 2022, Stephan earned a promotion up to High-A to end the season. Across the two levels, he struck out 27.3% of batters he faced en route to a 3.14 ERA. Most importantly, the command of his pitches seemed to take the next step. He managed to drop his walk rate from 9.3% in 2021 to 7.3% in 2022.
Tall and deliberate in his wind-up (similar to Aaron Nola), Stephan likes to work up in the zone with his fastball that features excellent arm side run. This pitch ties batters up and backs them off the plate before Stephan strikes them out with a slider that profiles to be a plus offering.
Now in 2023, Stephan has gotten even better. Still at High-A, his strikeout rate has jumped over 30% and his walk rate has dropped even lower. Stephan has not allowed a free pass in four of his last six starts while featuring two starts that saw him strike out 10+ hitters. Perhaps Stephan’s best attribute is his ability to keep the ball on the ground. In today’s day and age of the long ball, finding a pitcher with plus control that can keep the ball in the park is rare. Stephan has this ability and continues to show improvements each season.
The next challenge looming for Stephan is the jump to Double-A. His dominant stretch of performances at High-A is sure to result in a promotion in the near future. With two fastballs and an out pitch to righties, the biggest key will be the development of Stephan’s changeup. If this pitch develops into at least an average pitch to attack lefties with, Stephan could soar through the Minor Leagues. Stephan’s dynasty value is trending up and now might be your last chance to get a share. If Stephan dominates in his eventual promotion to Double-A, it will be a mad dash to pick him up. Get in now and see if his value continues increasing.
Jackson Jobe – DET
The 2021 third-overall pick did not have the debut season many in the fantasy industry envisioned. Most of Jobe’s starts came at Low-A, where he struggled with consistency. Overall, he posted a 4.52 ERA across 18 starts before finishing the season with three starts at High-A. Although there were six starts in which Jobe surrendered unearned runs, his underlying FIP painted the same picture as his ERA. A rough 2022 has opened the door to doubts about his long-term value.
Although his struggles are worth noting, it is important to remember how young Jobe was. At just 19 years old, he was three years younger than the average player at Low-A and four years younger than the average player at High-A. Straight out of high school, Jobe did not get eased into the action at the Complex Level but rather was assigned aggressively. Also worth noting is that Jobe posted a 2.45 ERA across his last eight starts. The transition from high school baseball to the Major Leagues is almost never going to be seamless. Jobe showed steady growth as the season moved along which is all you can ask for from a 19-year-old.
During Spring Training, reports out of the Tigers’ camp indicated lots of praise for Jobe. One look at Jobe’s arsenal and it is easy to understand why he generates the levels of hype he does. His slider generates over 3000 RMPs to go with a fastball that sits in the mid-90s.
Jackson Jobe's slider is literally too nasty for his catchers to handle pic.twitter.com/yG06dVmqBY
— Aram Leighton (@AramLeighton8) April 29, 2022
Unfortunately for Jobe, he suffered a back injury that caused him to miss the first three months of the season.
Jobe’s dynasty value trending up has as much to do with his health as anything else. Working his way back, Jobe has appeared in three games so far and has yet to surrender a run. Early on, he is striking out over 40% of the batters he has faced and, most importantly, Jobe has yet to surrender a walk. As if this is not enough to increase Jobe’s dynasty value, he has also developed a new cutter. Scouts have often referenced Jobe as having some of the best pure stuff in the Minor Leagues, but it seemed that hitters were able to easily differentiate between his fastball and slider. Jobe has worked to combat this issue by developing a cutter to work as a middle pitch. This should help create more deception in his arsenal and provide a big boost to his strikeout numbers.
We are talking about the number three overall pick from the draft just two seasons ago. Jobe’s profile comes with draft pedigree and a reputation for having incredible raw stuff. Now that Jobe is healthy in 2023, his dynasty value is back on the rise. The implementation of a new pitch could bring his ceiling to the next level and he needs to be a top priority target for all of your dynasty teams. I already moved him up my Top-100 list and his value could grow even higher if he continues to dominate in his return to the mound.
Gordon Graceffo – STL
Gordon Graceffo’s rise to fantasy relevance last season came out of nowhere. Graceffo was the Cardinals’ fifth-round pick back in 2021 and went relatively unnoticed heading into the 2022 season. Graceffo posted solid numbers during his 2021 debut, and really put it together during his time at High-A in 2022. Across 45.2 innings, Graceffo posted a 0.99 ERA, 33.9 K%, and an incredible 2.9 BB%. Dynasty managers rushed to pick him up and the Cardinals even were considering him one of their untouchable prospects. A meteoric rise to stardom for a fifth-round draft pick.
The jump from High-A to Double-A proved difficult and now in 2023, it appears fantasy managers should have been paying more attention to the indications Graceffo was struggling. The wheels have really fallen off now in 2023 as Graceffo is struggling in Triple-A. Let’s look at how Graceffo’s numbers have declined with each promotion:
One tweet that sticks out in my head is from Chris Clegg. The tweet basically said that it is important to evaluate more than just the stat lines of pitchers having success in the low levels of the Minor Leagues. Pitchers in the lower level of the minors can easily get away with one or two good pitches due to the lower level of competition. As a pitcher moves up, they need a more complete repertoire to find success. Graceffo’s arsenal consists of a plus slider and changeup both generating excellent whiff rates. Where Graceffo is struggling this year is with his fastball which is generating a swinging strike rate under ten percent. While his fastball velocity is close to average, the spin on the pitch is well below average which might be why batters at these higher levels of the Minor Leagues are picking it up easier.
From a fantasy perspective, the decline in strikeout rate is a massive hit to Graceffo’s potential fantasy value. Not only does Graceffo’s ceiling seem lower now than it did at this time last year, but his struggles make me question whether or not he is going to turn into an effective Major League starter. Maybe the Cardinals are just trying to limit Graceffo’s innings, but it is also concerning that he has not thrown more than three innings in each of his last three starts. Graceffo’s dynasty value is trending in the wrong direction.
Blake Walston – ARI
Arizona selected Blake Walston out of high school with their first pick in the 2019 draft. The lefty has always been known for having a deep arsenal of pitches despite lacking a true plus fastball. The stigmatism of a “crafty lefty” fits Walston’s profile perfectly. He throws a changeup, curveball, and cutter to keep batters off balance and helps to disguise his four-seam fastball that sits in the low-90s.
A lot of Walston’s success came during his time in the lower levels of the Minor Leagues. Much like Graceffo, Walston has seen his strikeout rate come crashing down as he has progressed through Arizona’s system. After striking out around 33% of batters in both Low-A and High-A, Walston saw his strike-out rate drop to 24% in Double-A before falling all the way down to 15% in Triple-A.
Not only has Walston’s strikeout rate dropped down, but he seems to have lost his control. Control was one aspect of Walston’s game that helped to make up for his lack of velocity. All of a sudden now in Triple-A, his walk rate has increased to 13.9%. This spike in walk rate has directly correlated to a spike in ERA for Walston who is struggling in Reno. The results have been especially poor over his past nine starts. Since May 14th, Walston has posted an ERA of 6.55.
Judging pitchers in Arizona’s system is a little bit more difficult than other teams. The PCL is filled with hitter-friendly parks which can cause inflated ERAs and can sometimes disguise a prospect’s true talent level. The reason that Walston’s dynasty value is declining has little to do with his ERA. Yes, the results have been discouraging but the issues are more with his declining strikeout and rising walk rate. At this point, it is difficult to envision Walston having much of an impact from a fantasy perspective at the Major League level. For shallow dynasty leagues, he is not worth holding onto and could continue to see his dynasty value decline.