Dynasty Deep Dive: Tigers RHP Alex Lange

Does Detroit have a future closer on their hands in Alex Lange?

This is a weekly column written primarily for those who play in deeper dynasty formats. I will be focusing on players, mostly prospects, who are rostered in less than 20 percent of Fantrax leagues – because that is the most commonly used platform for dynasty.

This season—perhaps more than any in recent memory—will be about pop-up prospects. It has been well over a year since we last saw minor league baseball, and many previously unheralded prospects have been quietly developing behind the scenes. Some have made changes to their swing, or to their pitch mix, while some have simply gotten stronger or faster or just straight-up better – which will give us prospect hounds and deep league dynasty players a whole new slate of athletes to pay attention to, and speculatively add, in our fantasy leagues.

This weekly column will focus heavily on pop-up guys throughout the summer, once we finally start seeing those changes put into game action, because getting the jump on those players in deeper dynasty formats can be paramount in building a contending roster in future years.

However, with the minor league season still less than a week old, today’s article will focus on a completely different type of player, the failed starter turned two-pitch reliever, a segment of fantasy players that often gets overlooked. After evaluating Brewers right-hander Drew Rasmussen a few weeks ago, today’s article will focus on another player in that ilk in Tigers right-hander Alex Lange, a former first-round pick who has mostly looked sharp in his first MLB action of out Detroit’s bullpen.

Today we will take a look at Lange’s history, both at LSU and coming up through the Cubs and Tigers’ system, his overall pitch mix, his dedication to studying analytics and their impact on his performance, and his path to fantasy relevance in Detroit’s pen in both the short and long term.


How Did We Get Here?


Alex Lange’s story began at LSU in 2015, when he had one of the most jaw-dropping freshman seasons in recent memory, going 12-0 with a 1.97 ERA, 1.16 WHIP and a 131/46 K/BB ratio in 114 innings for the Tigers, immediately cementing himself as one of college baseball’s rising stars.

However, Lange’s velocity – which sat in the mid-90’s as a 19-year-old in 2015 – dipped over his final two seasons at LSU, causing him to fall to the late first round where the Cubs snapped him up and managed to sign him for under slot value in 2017, thanks to concerns about his back during a physical.

Lange breezed through short-season ball after getting drafted (which advanced college arms are expected to do) before embarking on his first full season at High-A in 2018, where he made 23 starts and posted a 3.74 ERA (3.47 FIP) and a 1.18 WHIP, but with a rather lackluster 20.4% strikeout rate.

He increased the strikeouts in a repeat at High-A in 2019, up to 22.4%, but everything else was a disaster as he posted a 7.36 ERA and a 1.76 WHIP, thanks mostly to a huge spike in his walk rate (7.7% to 11.4%) and a rather unlucky .372 BABIP. He did make nine starts at Double-A with Chicago that season, posting a 3.92 ERA with ugly peripherals, before he was dealt along with Paul Richan to the Tigers at the trade deadline for outfielder Nick Castellanos.

The Tigers had a very full rotation at Double-A Erie, with Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, Matt Manning, Alex Faedo, Joey Wentzand Anthony Castro among the many top-tier prospects who pitched for the Seawolves in 2019, so Detroit pushed Lange to the bullpen – a move that so far looks to have paid off handsomely for the Tigers.

Lange made nine appearances for Erie down the stretch in 2019, posting a 24.6% strikeout rate (his highest since short-season in 2017) as well as a 3.45 ERA and a 2.79 FIP – although his 13.1% walk rate was a tad concerning.

Still, it was clear Lange’s path to success in the Motor City was going to be out of the bullpen, and turning starters into relievers is one of the few areas the Tigers have had a fair amount of success lately, with Shane Greene, Buck Farmerand now Gregory Soto all having success in one inning roles, and potentially Beau Burrows and Kyle Funkhouser following suit.

Although Lange did not make the big league team out of camp, thanks to a rather erratic spring, he was quickly recalled and found success right off the bat, posting a 1.80 ERA and a 7:2 K:BB ratio in his first six outings before struggling in some of his more recent appearances, giving up six earned runs (on four home runs) albeit with a tidy 6:0 K:BB ratio since then.

Note: I don’t believe in players getting jinxed while writing about them, but this one tested me.

Lange’s pitch mix certainly looks like one that will play well out of the bullpen, and his dedication to learning as much as he can about spin rate, spin axis, pitch tunneling, and many more finer points of pitching analytics should help him continue to grow and improve his already solid fastball/breaking ball combination.


A Beautiful, Analytical Mind


Lange is basically a two-pitch pitcher for Detroit this season, throwing a four-seam fastball that sits 96 mph as well as an 83 mph slider that moves and spins far more like a curveball because, well, at least according to Lange himself – it is a curveball.

In fact, before we dig too far into Lange’s breaking ball – let’s hear (or read) what he has to say:

“Analytically, you look at the pitch and it’s not very good,” Lange told David Laurila of FanGraphs back in early March. “The spin efficiency is anywhere from 45% to 55%, and when you think of a breaking ball, or a curveball, you’re like, ‘Nah, that’s not very good.’ The depth on it is negative-10 to negative-12 inches of vertical break, so you’re like, ’Nah, it’s not very good.’ But when it’s thrown hard with the spin axis being as close to six as it gets sometimes, that’s where we’re getting the swings-and-misses and takes on it. That’s because you’re not seeing the dot. You’re seeing the ball rotate just like my four-seam rotates, but in the opposite direction. And it’s hard, and it’s late. I think that’s why it’s effective. I just try to stay on top of it, rip it straight down, and get 12-to-six action on it, and try to pair it with the heater.”

Lange is, as you would expect, spot on with the numbers on his “slider” which is listed as having the most vertical drop among all sliders in the MLB, simply because it doesn’t move like traditional sliders and is much more like a curveball with its 12-6 movement.

Lange went on to explain that his goal is to sit 83-86 with his breaking ball (it currently averages 84 miles per hour) while being able to work top to bottom with his fastball/curveball combo, burying curveballs down and keeping the heaters up – a blueprint we love to see here at PitcherList.

Lange has mostly had success with that plan, with his observed spin showing his breaking ball moving more vertically than horizontally, and a fastball that rides in the exact opposite direction – which he hopes will help fool hitters.

“I spike my curveball,” Lange continued. “I’ve always done it. I’m right over the top of it, right over that four-seam, just try to come straight down over the top and create that front spin. Any differential in the spin, I believe the hitter is going to be able to see. If I’m able to create as much of a mirror image, the front spin to the backspin of the curveball, as I can… if I can tunnel those together and create the illusion that it’s the same pitch, and it’s thrown hard, and there’s no real pop to it, I think that’s when it’s most effective.”

Let’s take a look at those two pitches to get a better sense of how Lange tries to attack hitters by mirroring the spin of his fastball and curveball, and effectively going fastballs up and curveballs down.

Here is a great example of how it works, courtesy of the outstanding Ben Brown, with Yankees outfielder Clint Frazier the unwitting test subject:


It’s not perfect yet, but you can see the clear point, about halfway to the plate, where these two pitches diverge – with the fastball riding up to the top part of the zone while the curveball drops down and out of the zone, leaving poor Frazier to swing through both offerings.

Lange’s understanding of how to effectively pair his fastball/curveball off each other is top-notch, and it is clear he has the physical ability to execute his plan against big league hitters. While his overall results haven’t always reflected the level of execution seen in this clip, as evidenced by his last few outings, I am certainly willing to gamble on a guy who has a clear plan on how he wants to attack hitters, the necessary talent to do so, and the understanding of what tweaks he needs to make to get there.


Fantasy Focus


From a fantasy baseball perspective, Lange’s value will be determined primarily by how many opportunities he gets to close out games – and as of right now that is a murky situation in the Motor City. Detroit is primarily utilizing a combination of Soto and Bryan Garcia in the ninth inning, and last week another converted starter, Michael Fulmereven picked up a save in an extra-inning affair.

Lange is being used almost exclusively in the middle innings of games, earning one hold back on April 14 but otherwise coming in when the team is losing, and often losing big. Of course, this is the Tigers we are talking about, so they don’t really have many options to use relievers when they are winning.

Still, it will probably take sustained success from Lange (which is doable) and struggles from Soto and Garcia (not out of the question) for Lange to work his way into a more prominent role in the pen.

Lange isn’t worth a roster spot in redraft leagues just yet, but this is a dynasty article (and a deep one at that) so I am advocating for him in those formats – particularly ones that count holds or other reliever-friendly stats, like K/9, K%, goose eggs, etc.

I don’t think it is crazy to imagine Lange takes hold of an eighth-inning or even closing role in Detroit by the end of the season and considering his pedigree, his above-average stuff, and his willingness to continue getting a better understanding of pitching analytics and how they can help him succeed, it sure looks like the future is bright for this 25-year-old hurler.

“I know it’s helped me develop,” Lange said in a follow up with Laurila in April, discussing pitching analytics in general. “I know I’ve gotten better from it. I think it’s a really, really good tool to help guys learn their stuff, and learn what makes them successful.”

“Once you know what you’re good at, and why you’re good at it, then it’s easier to become more successful.”


Featured image by Justin Paradis (@JustParaDesigns on Twitter)

Andy Patton

Andy is the Dynasty Content Manager here at PitcherList. He manages all of the prospect content on the site, while also contributing a weekly article on dynasty deep sleepers, and the weekly hitter and pitcher stash lists. Andy also co-hosts the Never Sunny in Seattle podcast on the PitcherList Podcast Network, and separately hosts the Score Zags Score Podcast.

One response to “Dynasty Deep Dive: Tigers RHP Alex Lange”

  1. theKraken says:

    His dedication to studying analytics and their impact on his performance should not carry any weight in any analysis. You are just praising a set of ideals. Also consider how simple it would be to be agreeable to saying that you were doing such a thing. Personally, I would rather own a player throwing bullpens than looking at the a simple table that takes 5 minutes to digest.

    Shelving pitches and getting down to two is standard for a failed SP such as Lange as is some ability to describe the action on your own breaking ball. The analytics is nonsense IMO. Put another way, you could have the exact same conversation and not use buzzy terms. That is just simple pitchFX analysis which takes less than five minutes. Believe it or not, you don’t need a machine to describe your breaking ball. Leave it to a machine to compare a CB to a SL though and find it to be confusing. You can see how this works if you want – say that you are all-in on progressive metrics and buzzwords and get a fan club. If he really were some student of the game and benefiting from powerful insightful analysis he would not be at this point in his career. Former first rd draft pick converted to low leverage reliever for one of the worst bullpens in baseball. Of course, his results will improve as an RP, but it won’t necessarily have anything to do with being brilliant or analytics. Most players get better when they go to the bullpen – it is a far easier assignment in every way. The idea that his willingness to improve separates him from the competition is laughable especially considering that the talent that he was gifted and the point in his career that he is at. If anything, this guys is busy talking when others are working, but this is a good example of saying what people want to hear. I don’t know if he is going to be good or not, but I know that a brief interview should have any bearing on it.

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