SHOULD I FAAB? Changes in delivery for Touki Toussaint, Tyler Mahle have sparked encouraging results
Last week, I praised Zach Plesac and, basically, swooned over his breakout by noting a very Indians-esque developmental change with a shortened arm action. And then I came up short in both NFBC leagues by not busting out the FAAB wallet and instead thinking I could get him for around $110. It will prove to be my biggest regret of the fantasy baseball year.
So, I'm sure I'll overbid for the players in this week's column and they'll probably blow up in my face worse than Ian Happ's center field defense helped Tyler Chatwood implode. Sigh...
THE PLAYER: Braves RHP Touki Toussaint is owned in just 5.0% of NFBC leagues.
THE SITUATION: Once upon a time, the Braves had more starting pitching depth than they knew what to do with; they were overflowing with talented prospects. Now, injuries have decimated their depth and top prospects like Kyle Wright haven't looked the part.
In his last start against the Blue Jays, Toussaint, a former top prospect, pitched 6.2 innings and gave up three earned runs on four hits with zero walks and nine strikeouts; he left the game with a 3-2 lead but an inherited runner was allowed to score.
Last year, Toussaint pitched almost exclusively out of the bullpen and had a 5.62 ERA with a 4.99 FIP and 5.62 BB/9. As a prospect, Toussaint started every game he appeared in besides two.
THE BREAKDOWN: In 2019, Toussaint threw his sinker, a terrible pitch, 24.8% of the time. So far in 2020, he's thrown it just once all year. Instead, Toussaint has increased his four-seam usage and spin and is again throwing his curve a ton, which is his best pitch and currently boasts a 55.2 whiff% after finishing at 45.8% in 2019. A good athlete, Toussaint is capable of throwing deep into games, and even busted out a quick pitch effectively in his last start.
Thanks to MLB and Baseball Savant for that video and the others in this column... Instead of using his sinker as a fourth pitch, Toussaint added a slider, and the initial results are not good from a batted-ball perspective. But in looking back at each slider thrown, Toussiant's command is the issue; it's definitely a work in progress, but I found it very interesting he went to it multiple times in key situations during his final inning against Toronto. This one against Vladdy, Jr. came in at 87.5 MPH and his best one of the season.
That's a lot of confidence in a new pitch, especially considering how good the hook is. But if Toussaint is going to throw deeper into games, a better slider is going to be needed. As for his three other pitches, with the split-finger joining the mix as the clear third offering, they all rate solid or better this season in whiffs and batted ball results.
Beyond the addition of the slider and ditching the sinker, Toussaint made other changes. As you can see below, in 2019 (left image) the righty started on the left side of the rubber and had a more condensed leg kick before attacking the plate. This year, Toussaint is starting more in the middle of the rubber with a bigger, freer leg kick, which he's able to repeat because of his athleticism.
Where has it aided Toussaint? We'll have to dissect a small sample size, but isn't everything during this shortened season going to be a small sample size? Go big or go home. Signed, the dumbass that didn't listen to his own Plesac advice. Anyway, some key areas, thanks to Fangraphs, Toussaint has improved dramatically:
Look at the second from the right in the top of the image. That's first-strike percentage. Huge improvement. To the right of it is swinging strike percentage and then third from the right is amount of pitches in the strike zone. Toussaint's biggest issue in his career has been his control. So far, it's improved substantially, and then you can see the much improved contact rates on pitches in the strike zone and a dramatic increase in chase percentage.
Beyond the changes in mechanics and pitch usage, I think something is happening with Toussaint he's never experienced before: he knows he's a starting pitcher, and he knows he's needed to throw deep into games. Removing the mental block of trying to force a starter into a reliever and a pitcher dealing with uncertainty of role and MLB status can wear on a young arm. Right now, Toussaint is free to attack and challenge hitters with his strong stuff.
SHOULD I FAAB?: Long-term, Touissaint is an intriguing play worth putting a modest bid on because there are real signs of a high strikeout pitcher capable of logging a lot of innings. Here's the issue: he's currently projected to pitch at Yankee Stadium next week and misses the Marlins series. Looking ahead, he should be a two-start pitcher the week of August 17th, but if the season has proved anything, it's hard to predict what schedules look like over a week from now.
SUNDAY 12 P.M. EDIT:
The Reds decided to adjust their next five scheduled starts, and Mahle is not among them. It's a bizarre move to force Miley into the rotation. He looked terrible his first appearance.
So, DISREGARD EVERYTHING BELOW ABOUT TWO-STARTS AND SPENDING FAAB. BASICALLY, COVID-19 IS A GIGANTIC PAIN IN THE ASS FOR FANTASY BASEBALL AND ALL OF THE WORK BELOW BASICALLY WENT TO WASTE. DAMMIT.
THE PLAYER: Reds RHP Tyler Mahle is currently available in 62% of NFBC leagues.
THE SITUATION: In 2019, Mahle, a mainstay in the Reds rotation for the second-straight season, produced a mix bag, which included a 4.98 ERA, 5.25 FIP and 3.99 xFIP. Mahle produced respectable K-BB% numbers his first two full seasons, but the longball was a major issue.
So far in 2020, Mahle has a 1.80 ERA over 10.0 IP, and the early-season numbers are no fluke because his xERA is 1.80. He's coming off 6.0 shutout innings against the Indians with just one hit, two walks and six strikeouts.
THE BREAKDOWN: Bye bye, curve. Hello, slider. See ya never, split finger. Welcome to the mix, changeup. Oh, and Mahle is throwing harder - average four-seam velocity is 94.1 MPH compared to 93.3 MPH in 2019 - and with more spin - 2382 RPM compared to 2161 in 2019 - than he did last season. It's almost like the Reds have an excellent pitching coach and hired the head of Driveline to be their minor league pitching coordinator. Oh wait. They did just that.
Mahle actually threw a slider in 2018, which was replaced by a cutter in 2019. Back in 2017, his average RPM was 218 RPM less than it is today. Big difference. And like all his stuff, Mahle is commanding it well, which has resulted in some impressive whiffs against good hitters.
Now with basically just a three-pitch mix, because he throws his curve only 1.8% of the time thus far, Mahle is attacking hitters with a hard breaking ball and a firm changeup. Before I even looked at the pitch mix, I thought Mahle reminded me of Nathan Eovaldi with his arm action and finish, and he does indeed look like he's throwing with more intent.
Like Toussaint, Mahle has also executed some delivery changes. They probably look subtle, but they're making a difference in Mahle's velocity and the timing of his arm, plant, and release. Let's roll the tape:
On the left and in the grey is Mahle in 2019 with his hands starting low and on the right in 2020 with hands starting in the chest.
When Mahle got into his legkick in 2019, his hands went from very low to high near his face; envision the amount of glove movement in the delivery going from the image above quickly to the image below. Now, Mahle's glove and hands are quieter with significantly less movement.
This might not seem like much, but this is again an example of a pitcher adjusting his arm path and arm action by shortening it. On the left, you can see Mahle with some of what scouts refer to as a "stab" in the back; on the right, Mahle's arm action is shorter and doesn't have that same stab.
How Mahle finishes pithces in 2020 is very similar to how he did in 2019 with maybe a slight difference in how the ankle/foot reacts with the rubber. Most importantly, Mahle's arm seems on time more with his body this year than last season.
Across the board, Mahle's contact rates have improved noticeably, and so far batters are having a very difficult time barreling his stuff.
SHOULD I FAAB?: Mahle is projected to face the Royals - don't laugh because they're mashing right now - and the Pirates this upcoming week. In his last start, the righty threw 98 pitches. So, he's clearly not working under any restrictions. And he's clearly going to be expensive.
Is he worth it? It appears so. The Reds are quickly building a reputation like the Indians for pitching development. Look what they're doing with guys like Tejay Antone, Lucas Sims, the reincarnation of Sonny Gray, etc. They're an organization you can trust right now, and Mahle is showing true breakout potential.
Photos courtesy AP Images