Is it Legit? 5/9: Nolan Gorman, Marcus Stroman, Vince Velasquez

Have these six players made real changes to drive their hot starts?

Six weeks’ worth of data leads to more confidence. Most unexpected hot starts have been picked up and the stragglers dropped. Now we’re switching gears to buy low/buy high guys in trades. In order to make the best possible trade decisions we need to know what’s real and what isn’t.

Nolan Gorman, 2B, St. Louis Cardinals

The biggest question with Nolan Gorman has always been if he can put the ball in play enough. His quality of contact numbers are all very good. Throughout his minor league career, he posted a K% in the low-30s. FanGraphs gave him a 60 future Game Power, and 70 future Raw Power, but only a 40 future Hit Tool. In 313 PAs with the big league club in 2022 he struck out 32.9% of the time, yet still ended up with a 107 wRC+. Through 113 PAs thus far in 2023 he has a 136 wRC+ while modestly lowering his K% to 28.3%.

He doesn’t quite have the equivalent of one full season in MLB and turns just 23 a day after this is published. Happy birthday Nolan. He has plenty of time to become a more well-rounded hitter as he gets more PAs and more time with the more advanced analysis and advice a Big Leaguer is privy to.

Verdict: Legit. Gorman has lowered his O-Swing% from 30.6% in 2022 to 25.8% in 2023. It has been steadily dropping ever since he was promoted to MLB. Something also seems to have clicked in mid-April when his Z-Contact suddenly jumped from about 70% to about 90%. I wouldn’t expect him to maintain that kind of strong contact ability, but he doesn’t have to. I imagine he will have the occasional bump in the road where he strikes out an inordinate amount of time. However, further modest improvement in plate discipline will allow him to make enough contact to develop into one of the better sources of power from the 2B position.

Marcus Stroman, SP, Chicago Cubs

Marcus Stroman has consistently been a reliable, but unspectacular SP for fantasy purposes. Mid-3 ERAs, OK WHIPs, and about a 20% K% have been the standard for him. However, through 41.1 IP in 2023, Stroman is posting a career-best 2.18 ERA, 23.3% K%, and 1.09 WHIP.

He’s always been a stereotypical groundball guy. He doesn’t give up many HRs but has a below-average K%. So is he doing anything substantially different this year?

He is throwing the cutter about 4% more, but his pitch usage is virtually identical to the last two seasons. He has been keeping the ball down a bit more. His loLoc% is up to 59.8% (98th percentile) from 52.9% in 2022. This has led to an even better GB% of 64.8% (97th percentile).

Verdict: Not legit. His heat maps and pitch usage show that he is trying to do the same thing as last year. It looks like he’s been more precise this year, but knowing what we know about command, I wouldn’t expect that to continue. Even if it does, he will still only be modestly improved from the last few seasons. He also has an unsustainable 86.1% LOB%. He is worth trying to sell high now if you can. He will likely soon revert to being a useful fantasy SP, but a better real-life SP.

Vince Velasquez, SP, Pittsburgh Pirates

Vince Velasquez is 30 years old and has struggled with injuries throughout his career, especially in the last three seasons, compiling just 203.2 IP. He’s had average four-seam velocity of about 93.5 mph. He has a career 4.84 ERA. 2021 was his healthiest season of the last three years with 94.1 IP. He really struggled that year with a 6.30 ERA, 5.88 FIP, and 1.48 WHIP.

Across 7 starts and 35.1 IP in 2023 he has a 3.06 ERA, 4.09 FIP, and 1.16 WHIP. His K%-BB% of 14.2% is about the same as last year and actually below his career average of 15.6%. His GB%, LD%, and FB% are all in line with what he’s done in the past. So what, if anything, is different?

He has modestly reduced his HC% to 25.0% from 30.4% and significantly improved his Brl% to 7.0% from 12.3%.

Verdict: Legit. Velasquez has made significant changes to his pitch mix. He has basically ditched the sinker and curveball in favor of drastically increasing his slider usage. In 2021 he threw it 12.9%, 22.5% in 2022, and 43.9% in 2023. He throws it more than 96% of SP. Regardless of handedness, he focuses on throwing it on the outside of the plate and has done a good job of it. This has caused batters to hit the ball to the opposite field 35% of the time (93rd percentile), zapping their power. If he can remain healthy and stick with his plan he can turn himself into a useful fantasy SP.

Courtesy of Baseball Savant

Vs. LHB                                                                                   Vs. RHB

Jake Burger, 3B, Chicago White Sox

Jake Burger is on the IL, but is expected back around the middle of May. He is off to a great start with a 145 wRC+ and .383 wOBA. Those numbers are driven by an insane .388 ISO.

Verdict: Not Legit. His K% is 31.2% and O-Swing% is in the 7th percentile. He also has little help in the White Sox’ lineup. Unless he significantly improves his eye, pitchers will learn to not give him anything and won’t let him get to that power. Babe Ruth had a career .348 ISO and Barry Bonds a .309 ISO.

Connor Joe, 1B/OF, Pittsburgh Pirates

Connor Joe began his MLB career in earnest in 2021 at 28 years old for the Rockies. Since then he’s been a league-average hitter with a 100 wRC+. In 2023 for the Pirates, that is up to a 145 wRC+. Has he made any real changes?

His Swing% has dropped from 40.4% to 36.0% and his O-Swing% has drastically dropped to 17.4% (98th percentile) from 24.7%.

Verdict: Legit. Being a bit more patient seems to have made Joe much better at laying off bad pitches. His HC% has increased to 29.2% and his Brl% has jumped way up to 11.8%. While some regression can be expected, of course, it looks like he can be an above-average hitter going forward.

Austin Hays, OF, Baltimore Orioles

Austin Hays has been an important contributor to the Orioles in 2023 with a .291 AVG, .345 OBP, and .361 wOBA. Most of his Savant sliders have turned from blue to red and his Brl% has jumped from 5.0% to 14.9%.

Verdict: Legit.  He seems to have made the conscious decision to be more selective. His Swing% has dropped from 50.9% to 43.3%. This has led to an increased K% and BB%. It has also allowed him to improve his quality of contact across the board. He is more of a Three True Outcomes guy, but his SLG and xSLG are up to .495 and .542, respectively.

Featured image by Doug Carlin (@bdougals on Twitter)

Andrew Krutz

Andrew writes for Pitcher List and is a lifelong New York Yankees fan. During the warmer months he can be found playing vintage baseball in the Catskill Mountains of Upstate New York.

2 responses to “Is it Legit? 5/9: Nolan Gorman, Marcus Stroman, Vince Velasquez”

  1. Babbo B says:

    Can you really call Hays a “three true outcomes guy” when HR/BB/K only account for 38 percent of his plate appearances (44/117), barely above the major league average of 35 percent? By comparison, the poster child for the phrase, Joey Gallo, is at 58%, Patrick Wisdom 56%, Kyle Schwarber 55%, etc.

    • Andrew Krutz says:

      Sorry that I am just seeing this. I did say MORE of a Three True Outcomes guy, but I agree that it was probably a poor term to use. Thank you for your feedback and have a nice day.

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