2016 Fantasy Baseball Starting Pitcher Rankings (#1-30)

Below are THE BACKWARDS K 2016 FANTASY BASEBALL STARTING PITCHER RANKINGS (#1-30). Included for each player is “The Backwards K Quick Take” and a self-produced player projection for 2016.

***Please note the following:

  • The player’s names are color coded to signal different tiers at the position.
  • The rankings reflect standard 5×5 roto scoring settings (W/SV/ERA/WHIP/K) with position eligibility requirements as 10 total games played at a position in 2015, or 5 total games started at a position in 2015 (i.e. Yahoo! settings).
  • The numerical order is not necessarily a suggested order to draft them in, but it is the order that is calculated based on each player’s listed projections, unless noted otherwise.
  • Noted in some players’ “Quick Takes” is if they gain or lose notable value in points leagues that factor penalize hitter strikeouts and reward hitter walks.

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Jonesing for More (and other notes from 7/12/15)

Consistency from year to year can often be overlooked in fantasy baseball because often times we want the flair for the dramatic, the opportunity to own a player for his big breakout season.  So sometimes we will forego the opportunity of making the “safe” pick of drafting a player that is easier to predict and we “know” what to expect from him because we want the upside for more instead.  Over the last four seasons, one of the most consistent and reliable fantasy outfielders has been Adam Jones of the Orioles.  There’s been some fluctuation in his RBI and runs scored due to his spot changing in the batting order, but for the most part he has been much the same player from year to year from 2011-14.  Take a look:

  • 2011 – .280/.319/.466 with 25 HR, 83 RBI, 68 R, 12 SB, 4.7 BB%, 18.3 K%
  • 2012 – .287/.334/.505 with 32 HR, 82 RBI, 103 R, 16 SB, 4.9 BB%, 18.1 K%
  • 2013 – .285/.318/.493 with 33 HR, 108 RBI, 100 R, 14 SB, 3.6 BB%, 19.7 K%
  • 2014 – .281/.311/.469 with 29 HR, 96 RBI, 88 R, 7 SB, 2.8 BB%, 19.5 K%

Jones has missed 11 games this season due to various minor injuries to his ankle, shoulder, and toe, but with 2 HR off Max Scherzer on the day right before the All-Star break, Jones is now hitting .281/.326/.490 with 14 HR, 43 RBI, 43 R, and 3 SB, which puts him near pace to have another season that is pretty consistent with the past four seasons.  However, there is one big difference in his performance so far that in the end could allow him to break the some of this consistent production in a positive way.  That difference is that this season he is striking out at a career low rate of 14.5%.

Jones has always been a free swinger who doesn’t really enjoy taking walks, and this season he is sporting a career high swing rate by offering at a whopping 60.2% of pitches, which is much higher than his 55.9% career rate.  However, he has been able to make contact on more of those swings with a career best 11.4% swinging strike rate.  His career swinging strike rate is 13.5%, which isn’t too much higher than his current 2015 rate, but it’s still a noticeable enough difference and appears to be the primary factor to the decline in his strikeout rate.

The drop in his strikeouts is significant because in theory he should see an uptick in his batting average if all other things in his batted ball profile are mostly constant.  Jones’ BABIP over the last several seasons is something that has also been consistent with marks of .304, .313, .314, and .311, but this season it is down to a very uncharacteristic .292.  His hard hit rate is the only thing that would really suggest a decline in his BABIP as it is at 30.4%, which is the lowest it’s been since 2011, but that’s not too far off from his career mark of 31.9%.

So if Jones can get his BABIP back up to a level that he is used to giving, paired with the decrease in strikeouts, that could lead to his first .300 AVG season of his career.  If he is unable to achieve so, then at the very least he should end the season once again in very familiar territory that is consistent with what he’s been known to do.  That wouldn’t be a terrible thing, but definitely not overly exciting and it would leave the fantasy baseball community jonesing for more.

Let’s take a look at the rest of Sunday’s action as we enter the All-Star break.

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Yes Way Jose (and other notes from 7/2/15)

As a 20-year old phenom, Marlins pitcher Jose Fernandez took the baseball world by storm by earning the 2013 NL Rookie of the Year Award with a 12-6 record, 2.19 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, and 187 K/58 BB in 172.2 IP.  Big things were expected of him in 2014 and he showed much of the same in 8 starts to begin the season with a 4-2 record, 2.44 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, and 70 K/13 BB in 51.2 IP.  But after that 8th start, it was learned that he would have to undergo Tommy John surgery, breaking the hearts of fantasy owners around the nation and Marlins fans…errr, nowhere.

A few weeks ago, the Marlins tabbed July 2 as the date that the now 22-year old Fernandez would take the mound in a Major League game for the first time in nearly 14 months.  And for the most part, his rehab went pretty well so it was expected that Fernandez would step right in and make an immediate impact for the Fish.

So the day finally came on Thursday in front of the home crowd and it didn’t get off to such a hot start as Fernandez gave up 3 hits and a sacrifice fly in the 1st inning to fall behind 2-0.  However, he settled down after that to allow a total of 3 runs on 7 hits and 0 walks in 6 innings while striking out 6.  He also helped his own cause by smashing his 2nd career HR off Matt Cain, and he admired it for a few seconds before beginning to round the bases, giving Cain a good glare as he rounded first base.  Fernandez hit the upper 90’s on the radar gun multiple times, getting as high as 99 MPH, and his average fastball velocity was right in line with what it was before the Tommy John surgery, which is obviously a great indication that he’s feeling great.

What we need to watch for though is how his command and control are in the next few starts.  Pitchers in their first year back from Tommy John surgery tend to struggle in that area, especially when it’s just around 12-14 months after their last Major League game (as opposed to the 19-20 months that Matt Harvey had).  However, Fernandez had good control to begin with, so any possible struggle wouldn’t take away too much from his game.

For the rest of the season, I’ll give Fernandez a line of 6 W-3 L, 3.04 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and 88 K/25 BB in 80 IP.

Now let’s look at the rest of Thursday’s action!

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All-Star Game Roster Predictions: National League

Predicting the All-Star teams can sometimes be a hopeless exercise due to the unpredictability, but it is all fun and games. The first pieces that come into play for the All-Star rosters are the fan submitted votes where the leading vote getters at each position (three in the outfield) are automatically named to the All-Star team as a starter.  Next, the players vote for 8 pitchers (5 starting pitchers and 3 relief pitchers) and for a backup at each position (if the leading vote getter amongst the players was already voted in by the fans then the second leading vote getter amongst the players is named as an All-Star reserve).  Then the managers of the All-Star teams select the remainder of the roster until the roster has 33 players. Finally, there are then 5 players from each league that are put on the “final man ballot” to be voted on by the fans for the 34th and final spot on each league’s respective roster.

The National League fan voting isn’t as odd as the American League, as the fans are getting most of the situations right. What you’re about to read isn’t who I think should be All-Stars, but rather it is what I think will happen with both the fans and the players/manager votes. Continue reading

Rodney’s Reprise? (and other notes from 6/26/15)

About six weeks ago is when I first began suggesting that Fernando Rodney be removed from the closer’s role to make way for the young and more talented Carson Smith, and then I gave it a full rundown in the “BLOW-PEN Report” on May 23.  Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon ended up giving Rodney a lot of leash because he likely didn’t want to have to remove Rodney as his closer, but McClendon finally saw enough.  On June 6, Smith recorded his first career save in perfect fashion.

Since Smith took over as the team’s closer, entering Friday’s game, he had converted 5 straight save opportunities by pitching 5.2 innings allowing 2 runs on 2 hits and no walks while striking out 8.  So he has been having little issue in finishing games stress free.

Since Rodney lost the closer’s role, entering Friday’s game, he has done much better, only being scored upon once in 5 outings for 1 run in 5.2 IP with 4 K/3 BB.  In that small sample, it hadn’t been the best of performances, but clearly it was much better than what he had been doing in the 9th inning trying to close out games previously.

Friday night presented an interesting situation for the Mariners though as Smith was brought on in the middle of the 8th inning where he let Mike Trout and Albert Pujols reach base before getting a double play to end the inning for a total of 10 pitches thrown.  And then Rodney was brought in for the 9th inning to try and close the game against the bottom part of the Angels order, and he successfully did so after allowing one hit.

Initially when I first called for the switch of closers in Seattle, I had said that Smith was the better pitcher but that McClendon would probably eventually give Rodney another opportunity to close if he proved that he was able to work out his issues in lower leverage situations.  But then when Smith began to have so much success and displayed that he could potentially handle 9th inning duties with ease, I thought that Rodney would never be getting his job back.  So the way things played out on Friday is a bit peculiar to me since Smith did nothing in the way of performance to give back the job.

However, in this game, the higher leverage situation was actually in the 8th inning with the Angels best hitters (and two of the best in the AL so far this season), Trout and Pujols due up.  So the thought process for McClendon could have been that they really needed to get by Trout and Pujols before even thinking about seeing a save opportunity for the game, which meant that they needed to go to their best option.  So then McClendon might have thought that once Smith got by the heart of the order, then Rodney could come in to a more ideal situation to face the weaker hitters and possibly instill some confidence in him should he finish the game cleanly.

So I am still going to have to believe that Smith is the closer until he blows some saves (fingers crossed that he doesn’t). Maybe Rodney will snipe some opportunities away like he did on Friday, but I see little reason why Smith shouldn’t remain the man for the job and I would be shocked and lose any faith I had in McClendon as a manager if he were to switch things back with no probable cause.  But we will have to wait and see just what happens next.

Let’s check out the rest of Friday baseball.
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J.D. (Just Dongs) Martinez Goes Yard Thrice (and other notes from 6/21/15)

J.D. Martinez spent parts of three seasons on the Major League squad for the Astros and he never was able to compile a full season of success.  The Astros then released him before the start of the 2014 season and the Tigers picked him up and he ended up breaking out for a real surprise season with a .315 AVG, 23 HR, 76 RBI, 57 R, and 6 SB in 123 games. Martinez was able to complete this transformation and breakout by completely retooling the mechanics of his whole swing, and it’s always nice to know that there are actual tangible reasons as to why a player finally has a breakout season.  The high batting average of .300 wasn’t necessarily going to be there this season given that his .315 AVG from last year was driven by a likely unsustainable .389 BABIP, but it was reasonable to expect that this season he would be able to put up similar power production with the maintaining of his new swing mechanics.

After a month of the 2015 season, Martinez was hitting just .216 on May 8 but the 6 HR that he had at that point were respectable.  The culprit of the low batting average was the fact that his BABIP was much lower than last season (which was expected) and he was also striking out at a much higher rate.  However, over the last couple weeks, Martinez has really trimmed down his strikeout rate to a nearly identical mark that he was at last season.  With the decrease in strikeouts, Martinez’ batting average has gone up a lot and now sits at .275 after his big day on Sunday, and his .325 BABIP is a much more realistic mark to suggest that this could be the area in AVG that he finishes the season with.

His game on Sunday consisted of a 3 HR and 6 RBI performance to give him 16 HR and 41 RBI for the season so far to put him on pace to do even better than last year in those areas.  Also, his ISO is now up to .240, which is right in line with his last year’s mark of .238 to further prove that his power is legitimate and for real.  The triple dong outburst from Sunday has me believing that the J.D. stands for Just Dongs.  Expect to see him continue his power stroke as the season goes on, and he makes for a good play as a part of a Tigers offense that can do very dangerous things.

Now let’s check out what else happened on Sunday!

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Do You Smell What The Brock Is Cooking? (and other notes from 6/16/15)

Brock Holt came on for the Red Sox last year in a super utility role and finished the season hitting .281 with 4 HR, 29 RBI, 68 R, and 12 SB in 106 games.  From a season long viewpoint, those stats aren’t anything special, but his worth to the team was invaluable and he made for a decent spot starter for fantasy squads with his extreme multi-position eligibility.

This season Holt has been doing much of the same, playing all over the field — he has started at least 1 game at every position except pitcher and catcher — and coming up with some big hits.  Holt has been collecting more starts as of late, starting 13 of the Red Sox 15 games in June so far, filling in all over the diamond as the Red Sox have been dealing with some slumping players and minor injuries.  On Tuesday, Holt showcased his talents by hitting for the cycle to bring his season line up to a .309 AVG with 2 HR, 15 RBI, 20 R, and 3 SB in 49 games.

Just like last season, those numbers are not that great overall in the grand scheme of things when viewing it from a fantasy perspective.  But for season long fantasy leagues, his ability to be slotted into a variety of positions can be extremely helpful, especially in leagues that allow daily changes — check out “Fantasy Baseball Strategy: Player Multi-Functionality” for an in depth look at how someone like Holt can help fantasy teams win championships.  And in daily fantasy sports (DFS), Holt can make for an excellent plug in as a cheap option at different positions whenever he is in the starting lineup, especially when he is slotted into a prime spot in the lineup like he was on Tuesday in the leadoff spot.  The sample size is small, but he has hit for a .391 AVG in 64 AB this season when he has hit 1st or 2nd in the order.

We can’t expect Holt to continue to start in games at the rate that he has lately, but he’s still going to get his fair share of starts and deserves fantasy consideration for his multi-position eligibility and perhaps he does eventually ascend to full-time starter status if there is a long term injury for one of his teammates.  However, because he doesn’t start everyday, his value is maximized in leagues that allow daily lineup changes.

Let’s see what else happened on Tuesday!

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Seattle Hoping for a Platter of Trumbo Jacks (and other notes from 6/4/15)

On Wednesday, the Diamondbacks and Mariners agreed on a trade that sent first baseman/outfielder Mark Trumbo and pitcher Vidal Nuno to the Pacific Northwest, and catcher Welington Castillo, pitcher Dominic Leone, and two prospects (one of which is the nephew of former Major League star Vladimir Guerrero) were sent packing to the desert.  What kind of impact does this have for the fantasy community?

We’ll start with the Mariners side of this.  Trumbo has been one of the better home run hitters in the game since he became a full-time player in 2011 with the Angels.  Since 2011, Trumbo has hit 118 HR (or as I like to call them, “Trumbo jacks” or “Trumbombs”), which is the 12th most in the Majors — and that is with only playing half the season last year due to injury.  Playing his home games at Chase Field in Arizona was a great spot for Trumbo and his right-handed power, so the move to the pitcher friendly confines of Safeco Field in Seattle will curb his appeal a bit.  Just look at Nelson Cruz and how playing at Safeco Field has suppressed his power numbers.  Only 4 of Cruz’ 18 HR this season have come at home.  Also, Trumbo moves from an offense that was the top run scoring team in the National League to an offense that is the 3rd lowest scoring in the Majors.  So maybe his presence will help the players surrounding him like Cruz, Robinson Cano, and Kyle Seager, but Trumbo’s value also takes a little bit of a hit in this regard.  Another fantasy loser from the Mariners side of the deal is Logan Morrison.  Trumbo is slated to be the team’s first baseman and will also see time at DH, which will shift Morrison into a bench role, but Morrison was likely not on many fantasy rosters to begin with.

For the Diamondbacks, this trade cleared up a big logjam that they were about to have with the impending return of third baseman Jake Lamb from the DL.  Lamb started the season very hot and the Diamondbacks are high on him and need a left-handed power bat like his in the middle of their lineup.  While he has been on the DL, Yasmany Tomas has been seeing most of the time at third base and has been very impressive with his hitting skills to all fields, so the Diamondbacks didn’t want to lose his bat from the lineup.  So once Lamb returns, Tomas will move from third base to the outfield (but should also see some time at third base) and be a part of an outfield rotation that also includes A.J. PollockEnder Inciarte, and David Peralta.  Diamondbacks manager Chip Hale will continue to give all of these guys playing time as he mixes and matches based on matchups, so the good news here is that none of these Diamondbacks stand to lose any value.

From a non-fantasy baseball perspective, I like the trade for both sides as the Mariners look to infuse their lowly offense with some life.  Trumbo is set to become a free agent after this season, but the Mariners are in a year where they were supposed to be legitimate AL West contenders after adding Cruz in the off-season, so it makes sense to make some sort of move like this one.  And the Diamondbacks traded from a position of strength and surplus to clear up their third base and outfield situations, and they got a decent backup catcher and some prospects in the process — in exchange for a player that they probably weren’t going to be able to keep after this season anyway.

Let’s take a look at Thursday’s action now.

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Thor Drops the Hammer on the Brew Crew (and other notes from 5/17/15)

***I apologize for the delay in these notes from Sunday 5/17/15.  I had jury duty all day Monday!  But I am catching up.

Noah Syndergaard of the New York Mets is commonly known as “Thor” amongst his teammates and soon the whole baseball community will be calling him that and will understand the power he wields.  After watching him pitch on Sunday versus the Brewers, I see why he has that moniker, with his big frame and flowing locks of blond hair.  He even has “Thor” embroidered on his glove so obviously it is something that he embraces, but who wouldn’t?  Whether it’s the Norse mythological god or the Marvel superhero character that he is being likened to (though essentially it is the same thing since the Marvel character is based off Norse mythology), it must be nice to be seen in the same light as someone so mighty.

Syndergaard shut down the Brewers on Sunday, going 6 IP allowing 1 ER on on 3 H and 1 BB while logging 5 K on his way to his first Major League victory.  After his first Major League start last week versus the Cubs at Wrigley Field, I said that his mediocre start went as I would have expected out of him in his debut, as he had some command and control issues but was able to miss some bats to get the strikeouts.  Well, before his second Major League start with the Brewers, I told a friend that this matchup  was much more favorable for Syndergaard and I expected him to come out and show an ace type of line.  The reasons that I told my friend that I believed this were because this was his first start in front of his home crowd that he would be pumped up for and he already got the big league jitters out at Chicago, and that the Brewers are not a patient hitting team as they ranked third to last in walk rate, which would help Syndergaard have better results in the end.  I watched this whole start and I loved what I saw from Syndergaard.  I know that I said after his first start that he’s not a must own in redraft leagues, but I am going to say that he is very close to a must own (if not one) after seeing him with my own eyes.  I don’t think that he will be as dominant as Matt Harvey was in his first full season, as he will likely experience some growing pains and some control issues every now and again, but in the right matchups he is going to be a very good play.

So with Syndergaard, the Mets have Thor who wields a mighty hammer (his devastating curveball) that only he has the strength and power of picking up.  Mets’ incumbent ace who has returned from Tommy John surgery, Matt Harvey, has earned the nickname of “The Dark Knight” for being the hero that the borough of Queens in New York City had been waiting for to come and save them to instill hope within the Mets organization that they could rise again soon.  So what other superheroes do the mets have on their pitching staff? Jacob deGrom is a really skinny guy as in his 6’4″ frame he only weights 180 lbs. and he looks like he is going to break whenever he is up to bat.  He also was a relative unknown before his 2014 breakout rookie campaign.  So for these reasons I will deem him as Steve Rogers, a frail young man who was enhanced to perfection to become Captain America.  Jon Niese can be Hawkeye just for the mere fact that he is a lefty and the Jeremy Renner portrayal of Hawkeye in The Avengers films is also left-handed (though in the Marvel comics he was right-handed).  And Bartolo Colon can be Groot from Guardians of the Galaxy for reasons that may or may not have to do with the attraction (or lack thereof) of each of their faces.

Let’s go ahead now and recap the Sunday fun day action.

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Hitters Feasting on Some Strasburgers (and other notes from 5/12/15)

Stephen Strasburg pitched at Arizona on Tuesday night and was handed a beat down in one of the worst outings of his career as he only lasted 3.1 IP while allowing 8 runs (7 ER).  On the season, Strasburg is now 2-4 with a 6.06 ERA, 1.71 WHIP, and 35 K/11 BB in 35.2 IP.

I am not sure what exactly is the cause of his putrid performance, but clearly he isn’t doing much right.  Strasburg did leave his previous start with some shoulder irritation, so maybe that played a part in Tuesday’s nightmare, but he hadn’t exactly been sharp in his 6 starts before Tuesday either.  Yeah, he has an incredibly high .398 BABIP and a horrible 60.2% strand rate, but there comes a point where you examine things and just have to say that perhaps he is creating his own bad luck.

There’s not much in his velocity or pitch selection that jumps out in a negative light, besides the fact that his velocity on his fastball has been down 0.4 MPH from last year, but that’s not that great of a difference to think that it is the primary factor in his awful season thus far.  But examining his plate discipline numbers, there are a few stats that stand out (the following stats do not include data from Tuesday night’s game).  First, hitters have been making contact off Strasburg at a rate (84.3%) that is way higher than his career rate (75.9%).  Coincidentally, Strasburg also has been inducing swinging strikes at a rate (7.0%) that is much lower than his career rate (10.9%).  Next, Strasburg is throwing pitches in the strike zone way more than usual (54.2% this year vs. 45.3% career).  And then Strasburg is getting much fewer swings on pitches out of the zone (28.0% this year vs. 32.8% career) and when hitters are swinging on pitches out of the zone, they are making contact on them a lot (73.2% this year vs. 60.0% career).  To me, all this data would suggest that he is creating his own bad luck by just grooving a lot of pitches that batters can easily handle since he is working within the strike zone so much more than he has in the past.  The plummeting swinging strike rate though is a big concern and possibly could be indicative of just losing his stuff so to speak.

Another possible explanation could be he has been pitching with an injury all along, even before the previous start that he left with shoulder irritation.  A possible injury could cause loss of command of pitches, which leads to the pitch grooving.  Also remember that Strasburg did undergo Tommy John surgery in August of 2010, and somewhere I read that the average threshold for a pitcher to have to undergo Tommy John surgery a second time is around 650 innings pitched.  Now I am not sure where I read that or what statistical analysis was used to back up that claim, but I know that I did read it.  So if we want to believe that, Strasburg has now pitched 637.1 innings since his Tommy John surgery.  Perhaps he is due for another surgery, or perhaps it is something else.  Either way, something is not right for Strasburg and he could be in for a long season.

Let’s see what else happened in Tuesday night action… Continue reading

Shelby Miller and Jake Odorizzi, CUT It Out!

The cutter, also known as a cut fastball, is a pitch that is a hybrid between a slider and a fastball.  It is a power pitch that offers a late sharp break when approaching home plate.  Typically it does not have the same octane in regards to velocity as a regular four-seam or two-seam fastball and not as much wipeout break as a slider, but that late break that it has often gets the pitch classified as a slider when referring to pitch type data.  When mastered it can be a truly effective and devastating pitch to have in an arsenal.  The pitch was widely made famous by the great Mariano Rivera who was known to break a lot of bats of left-handed hitters as they had difficulty squaring up the barrel of the bat on the ball due to the late break in toward their hands.  In addition to breaking bats of opposite handed batters, the pitch generally induces a lot of weak contact and more ground balls to go for easy outs, and the addition of the pitch to any pitcher’s arsenal could potentially keep hitters off balance to generate more whiffs.

There may not ever be a cutter as amazing and valuable as Rivera’s, but every year there seems to be a couple of pitchers who could be previously classified as “mediocre” or worse that go on to have a breakout season due to the addition and mastery of a cutter.  We saw it last year with Jake Arrieta of the Cubs.  Arrieta was a top young arm in the Orioles organization for several years, but was traded in July of 2013 along with Pedro Strop to the Cubs in exchange for Scott Feldman and Steve Clevenger (ouch, Baltimore!).  Before coming over to the Cubs, Arrieta had a lifetime line of a 5.34 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, 7.00 K/9, and 4.15 BB/9 in 433.1 IP.  But it was when he joined the Cubs that he began to use the cutter.  Initially, the results weren’t phenomenal as he was still learning the pitch and using it minimally, but he was seeing better overall results.  Fast forward to 2014 and Arrieta ramped up his cutter usage to near 30% and he saw a big jump in his ground ball rate and soft contact rate from the previous year.  The cutter was a true revelation for Arrieta as it was the second most valuable cutter in baseball behind Adam Wainwright’s.  Arrieta finished the year with a 2.53 ERA, 0.99 WHIP, 9.59 K/9, and 2.36 BB/9 in 156.2 IP.

Two young pitchers who were once regarded as top pitching prospects like Arrieta who have not had breakout success at the Major League level in their young careers yet are Shelby Miller of the Braves and Jake Odorizzi of the Rays.  But wouldn’t you know it, each of them has developed a cutter and are seeing improved results because of it.  Let’s examine Miller first. Continue reading