Here we will predict which players will take a step forward in their performances in the 2017 season. The players in the following article will have either experienced poor 2016 seasons or shown improved numbers across the board. Regardless of the players 2016 situation, advanced statistics tell us that they are primed for quality 2017 seasons and sustained success for the future.
Today, we will analyze the National League East, which unsurprisingly features 5 pitchers to keep an eye on given the lack of impact offense in the division.
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
Atlanta Braves – Mike Foltynewicz
Drafted 19th overall by the Houston Astros in 2010, expectations were always high for the flame throwing Foltynewicz, who was never able to put all his talents together in his first 2 major league season. However, during the second half of 2016 something incredible happened: he moved away from his powerful fastball and increased use of his off speed pitches. By decreasing his FB usage from 71% in 2015 to 62% in 2016, and throwing both his slider and changeup 4% more, Foltynewicz was able to increase the deceptiveness of his fastball. In addition, he posted the lowest walk rate of his career, and that could be attributed to his move away from overpowering hitters to instead mixing and matching velocities and pitch speeds. How he develops his newfound changeup in 2017 will prove to be crucial, and having already secured the 5th spot in the Braves starting rotation, he could emerge as a quality 3 or 4 starter during the 2017 season.
Miami Marlins – Wei Yin Chen
For a pitcher who succeed in Baltimore’s launching pad that is Camden Yards with a 3.90 ERA from 2012-2015, his 4.96 ERA in Marlins Park in the 2016 season was baffling to say the least. However, Chen posted career bests in BB/9 (1.8) and K/9 (7.3) during the 2016 season. While his .304 BABIP is more or less in line with his career BABIP of .293, his FR/FB rate of about 15% will likely regress in 2017 to his career mark of 12%, giving him a favorable outlook for 2017. A loss of 1 MPH on his fastball in 2017 and move towards throwing more off speed pitches negatively affected him, and perhaps a return to throwing 65% fastballs instead of the 60% he threw last year could be beneficial in setting up his off speed pitches in this season, all of which he actually he threw harder in 2016. While the elbow sprain he suffered in July could easily be to blamed for a poor 2016, the advanced metrics help decipher what was a strange 2016 season on the surface but was actually a statistical season more or less in line with his career averages.
Philadelphia Phillies – Jerad Eickoff
Eickoff quietly put together a monster 2016 season, winning 11 games with a 3.65 ERA in 197 innings of work, and most impressively with a WHIP of 1.16 thanks to a minuscule walk rate of 5.2% which showed improvement over his minor league numbers. As the season winded down, he threw his curveball about 8% more and his slider 3% less and the results were immediate, a lower HR/FB rate in the 2nd half of 2016. Will he never be able to overpower hitters, the break he is able to generate on the curveball should offset the lack of velocity on the fastball. His curveball is his biggest weapon, using it over 45% of the time in 2016 season to put hitters away, and with the horizontal movement and spin rate he is able to generate on the pitch he should be able to continue his success using the curveball. While he will never be the ace of the Phillies, his improved pitch selection raises the ceiling for Eickoff as he heads into his age 27 season.
New York Mets – Rafael Montero
It was not too long ago that any conversation about the Mets promising pitching prospects (try saying that fast 3 times) began with Rafael Montero. Understandably so, the success of his teammates made his struggles seem even mightier, but Montero has shown something in Spring Training which gives him a great outlook for 2017. Strikeouts have never been a problem for Montero, with a career mark around 8.8 per 9 innings, but rather his walk rates in the major leagues have been over double than his minor league numbers, from 5% in the minors to about 8% in the majors. This spring, Montero has walked 8 batters in 18 innings, which can hint that he’s not over his control problems, but he’s inducing ground balls at higher clip thanks to his move away from his fastball. A simple tweak in his pitch usage and increasing the use of his off speed pitches can offset the unsightly walk rates. He will probably crack the Mets 25 man roster as a middle reliever, but do not be surprised to see Montero starting for another team once the trade deadline comes; the Mets would be selling low on a pitcher who if he doesn’t succeed as a starter, would prove to be an valuable bullpen weapon.
Washington Nationals – Koda Glover
Remember the name. With his impressive spring and a vacant closer’s role, the 23 year old glover seems destined to open the season as National’s closer, and if his minor league peripherals suggest anything is that he will succeed in the role. Aside from his upper 90’s fastball, Glover posses a quality mix of command and strikeout ability, striking out over 35 percent of the batters he faced in the minor leagues while allowing just 5 homers over his two minor league seasons. A BB/9 of 2.60 bodes well for a late inning reliever who is extremely hard to hit evidenced by a his .220 opponents average against over his two minor league seasons. While his first taste of the bigs last year didn’t go as planned with an ERA in the 5’s over 19 games, his minor league numbers are enough to suggest that, if Glover is able to keep his walks down, he will be able to successfully translate his minor league results to the majors. Glover’s fastball to slider combination is very similar to that of Kyle Barraclough of the Miami Marlins, who has been able to succeed as a late inning reliever with a high walk rate by limiting hard contact and giving up few hits, both qualities that Glover posseses. For a team like the Washington Nationals which is operating on a tight budget and the price for late inning relief being its highest ever, the Nationals should give Glover every opportunity possible to seize the closer’s role before resorting to the trade market.