Hello to everyone besides the Miami Marlins. By the way, who in the hell is driving a bus full of Marlins players and personnel COVID-19 positive? Anyway, a lot of MLB teams have been playing games as scheduled, and soon you'll participate in your first true FAAB with an actual sample size beyond a few games. And the options are plentiful... If you're like me, you're probably looking for attractive starting pitching candidates. And if you're not, you're doing it wrong.
THE PLAYER: Indians RHP Zach Plesac is currently available in all of my 12-team NFBC Rotowire Online Championship leagues.
THE SITUATION: Plesac, reportedly in a battle for the fifth rotation spot heading into the season, opened his 2020 campaign with a dominant, 11-strikeout effort against a respectable White Sox offense. The righty tossed 8.0 shutout innings, didn't issue a walk, and gave up just three hits.
Last season, Plesac finished with a very respectable 3.81 ERA over 115.2 innings during this rookie season. But people shied away from drafting him because of his below average strikeout numbers (6.85 K/9 and 18.5 K%), 5.36 xERA and 4.94 FIP. But his slider, thrown 18.8% of the time in 2019,
THE BREAKDOWN: Cleveland is very good at developing pitching, and Plesac showed legitimate signs, along with Aaaron Civale earlier in the week, of being the next in line for a breakout. Before we get into the stuff and usage, notice the slight, but important, change in arm action and length in the back from 2019 (left) to 2020 (right):
As it has done with Shane Bieber, who has a similar, short arm action in the back, Cleveland has changed the way Plesac delivers the ball too and so far the results are very encouraging. This is part of a new wave in pitching development. Lucas Giolito made headliners for his dramatic changes. Trevor Bauer made a similar adjusment. The list goes on.
Against the White Sox, Plesac increased his slider usage to 32.7% with an insane 56.5 whiff%. Again, we're working off a very small sample size here, but his slider spin rate was up from 2028 on average last season to 2142 in his first start. Interestingly, it didn't rate well in active spin last season, and I'd guess, based on the heavy amount of swings and misses, it rates better in that area thus far.
The slider is the swing and miss weapon, but it's not the only one. Plesac keeps lefties honest with a solid changeup, and mixes speeds with a curve to help keep hitters off the slider and fastball; both pitches generated seven swings and misses out of 29 combined offerings against the White Sox.
Plesac's fastball had an 89.9% active spin rate last year, but also a very poor .564 xSLG. He commands it pretty well, especially to his arm-side. Clearly, though, the Indians know they need ot lower the usage because after throwing it 50.8% last season he threw it just 37.8% in the opener. As you'll notice below, Plesac wasn't afraid to pitch backwards even in full counts and has enough control of three secondary pitches to keep hitters from tattooing his fastball.
Remember: Civale almost went an entire start without throwing a single fastball. So, Cleveland isn't opposed to maximizing what works best.
SHOULD I FAAB?: Looking ahead, Plesac is lined up for a potential two-start week with a Monday start at Cincinnati and a road start against the White Sox, the team he just dominated. That's going to make him pricey on its own. Although he received a little good luck, Plesac's swing and miss stuff and control are legit. Cleveland is among the best at developing arms right now, and he's worthy of a very aggressive FAAB. Take advantage of owners who might only seek a two-start pitcher and not a season-long impact SP.