Breakout or Bust: Why We Are Buying Into Blake Snell’s Late Season Flourish

by Eric Stashin (aka The Rotoprofessor)

The Rays’ Blake Snell has been considered one of the best pitching prospects over the past few years, though we’ve seen many similar pitchers stumble upon reaching the Majors.  Snell was no different, especially as his control continued to be an issue.  Late in 2017 we saw a change, though, as he posted BB/9 of 2.67 in August and 2.93 in September.  Now the question is if he has finally figured it out and can continue on that path, or if it was nothing more than a flash in the pan.

The key has been a change in approach, as he started throwing his secondary pitches more over those two months:

April - July57.76%7.96%15.37%18.91%
August & September51.80%13.17%11.08%23.95%

Snell was throwing fewer fastballs overall, with a significant increase going to his changeup and curveball.  It makes sense that he’d throw his secondary pitches nearly 50% of the time, as all three are capable of generating swings and misses (Whiff%):

  • Changeup – 13.54%
  • Curveball – 20.17%
  • Slider – 25.16%

While he may not be quite that good, the consistent swings and misses outside the zone (his 34.0% O-Swing% in the second half was the seventh best among qualified pitchers) shows that he was fooling opposing batters and could maintain an improved mark.  His 12.4% SwStr% also shows that there’s the potential to maintain a strikeout rate over 9.00, and that’s going to further add to the appeal.

Obviously he’s going to be pitching in the AL East, which is going to hurt his bottom line.  While a 43.9% overall groundball rate is enough, there’s the risk that he struggles with home runs (especially going to the opposing ballparks around the AL East).  That’s going to ultimately cap the appeal, but it’s impossible to overlook the potential.

Assuming he’s found his control, and the change in approach indicates that he could have, he has the upside of a Top 30 starting pitcher.  We all know he can strikeout opponents, and an increase there will help to offset the home run risk he carries.  If other owners have lost hope and aren’t willing to buy into his late season surge, a buying opportunity is going to be there.  He could easily perform as a SP3 or better, so if you can get him at an SP5/6 price don’t hesitate to pull the trigger.

Skills Summary:

  • Strikeouts – Potential to post K/9 of 9.00 or better (12.4% SwStr% in second half)
  • Walks – Change in pitch mix led to dramatic improvement and a significant number of swings outside the strike zone helps support it
  • Groundballs – Home runs are a concern, but strikeout potential helps to overcome
  • Miscellaneous – Pitching in AL East hurts, but upside is far too high
  • Verdict – SP3 upside, as long as you can buy as SP5/6

Sources – Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball

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Make sure to check out all of our 2018 Projections:

Date Published
Cano, Robinson10/09/17
Castillo, Luis10/03/17
Gerrit Cole10/30/17
Didi Gregorius11/20/17
Wil Myers10/24/17
Quintana, Jose11/13/17
Sanchez, Aaron12/05/17
Schoop, Jonathan11/27/17
Stroman, Marcus10/16/17
Walker, Taijuan 11/06/17

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