Last week, I talked about a group of five hitters that I believe will flourish when MLB again takes the field. Time to move on to pitchers! I’m itching for baseball to return after COVID-19, but in the meantime, let’s explore five pitchers who can get the job done in 2020 (or whenever baseball comes back).
- Zac Gallen, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks
I had to start off with another Diamondback (Nick Ahmed was my first hitter last week)! Though he really has to cut down on the walks (4.05 BB/9 between Miami and Arizona in 2019), Gallen is primed to step up in 2020 at the bottom of a rotation featuring southpaws Robbie Ray and Madison Bumgarner. Combining for 80.0 IP between Miami and Arizona, Gallen maintained a sub-3.00 ERA, punched out 96 batters and allowed opposing batters to hit just .211.
Gallen is capable of mixing his pitches well. He commands a four-seam fastball that clocks in the low-90s at best, but chimes in with curveballs, changeups and sliders often while also rarely throwing sinkers. Expect Gallen to hammer down on his control while limiting batters’ ability to get on base. I’m excited for him to notch a full season with the Diamondbacks, but because of COVID-19, we’ll have to wait until 2021 for the possibility.
- Matthew Boyd, SP, Detroit Tigers
Spencer Turnbull, closer Joe Jiménez and Boyd may be the only consistent sources of production on this Tigers’ pitching staff. Notching 238 strikeouts in 185.1 innings in 2019, Boyd is certainly the ace of an underwhelming starting rotation that just added Iván Nova through free agency from the division rival White Sox.
He mixes his fastball, which tops out in the mid-90s, with a slider for most of his pitches. He also utilizes a curveball and changeup to round out his arsenal, which combined accounted for just over 10% of his pitches in 2019. The southpaw gave up 39 long balls last year, which accounted for a career-high 18.2% HR/FB ratio (home run/fly ball). If he can work to attack the bottom part of the plate more aggressively, he may be able to lower his ERA to 4.00 or lower in a full season, although there may be a possibility of increasing his walk total. His strikeout metrics were at a high in 2019, and it’d be easy to see him continue to excel despite playing in a division with brutal competition in the Twins and Indians.
- Eduardo Rodriguez, SP, Boston Red Sox
“E-Rod” was decent in 2018 but became the top Boston starter in 2019 after Chris Sale was shut down for the season. Rodriguez was able to build upon his 2018, recording 19 wins and striking out 213 batters in 203.1 IP. Most impressively, his ground ball percentage skyrocketed from 38.7% in 2018 to 48.5% last year – a jump of almost 10%! Accordingly, his fly ball percentage fell nearly the same amount – from 41.2% to 32.5%.
Hitters had a harder time making solid contact on E-Rod’s pitches, with the latter’s soft hit percentage (19.8% to 22.7%) rising and his medium hit percentage (52.2% to 48.6%) falling. His hard-hit percentage did rise, but by under a percentage point. Assuming E-Rod can keep this trend going, he should keep hitters guessing with a mix of his four-seam fastball, changeup, cutter and sinker (with an occasional slider as well).
With Sale shut down due to Tommy John surgery, E-Rod is going to be the ace of a rotation that includes Nathan Eovaldi and free agent acquisitions Martín Pérez and Collin McHugh (currently injured).
- Jack Flaherty, SP, St. Louis Cardinals
Yes, I know what you’re thinking – Flaherty’s an obvious choice for this list given how dominant he was in 2019 – but I think his ceiling is even higher.
Flaherty’s BB/9 and opponent’s BABIP both dropped to considerable lows (2.52 and .242, respectively) in 2019. He gave up just four more earned runs in 2019 despite pitching an additional 45.1 innings (196.1) compared to 2018 (151.0). Like I mentioned with Rodriguez earlier, Flaherty also saw an increase in opponents’ soft hit percentage as well as decreases to their medium-hit percentage.
Every metric for Flaherty implies he’s not a fluke. His repertoire features a four-seam fastball and slider, with the occasional sinker, above-average curveball and changeup rounding out his arsenal. The changeup can hit as high as 87 MPH, which can throw off some hitters looking for his mid-90s fastball.
The easy ace of the Cardinals’ rotation, Flaherty is due to make just $604,500 in 2020 (assuming the Cardinals don’t cut a portion of his salary due to COVID-19). Once he’s eligible for arbitration next year, he should be raking in a large payday as he’ll enter the 2021 season at just 25 years old.
- José Leclerc, CP, Texas Rangers
The hard-throwing Leclerc somewhat struggled last season, allowing 33 earned runs in 68.2 IP. With an ERA of 4.33 and seven long balls allowed, Leclerc had a tough time shutting down the opposition in 2019. That being said, I think he’s trending upward, and here’s my take on why.
Leclerc threw a lot more splitters in 2019 than ever before, using it almost 12% of the time compared to under 7% in years past. In addition to this, his soft hit percentage dropped nearly 8 points while his hard-hit percentage climbed over 9. Despite being a fly ball pitcher, his fly ball percentage dropped a few percentage points last year, yet his HR/FB ratio jumped over 8 points, indicating a lot of hanging pitches being sent out of the park.
I believe Rangers’ pitching coach Julio Rangel will work with Leclerc to increase his confidence with the splitter and utilize more of an even split between the other pitches in his arsenal (hard changeup, curveball, four-seam fastball and sinker). Being in the AL West with the Astros and the Athletics, Leclerc’s outlook may seem bleak, but he’s capable of notching 30+ saves as a full-time closer if given the opportunity. I’m under the impression that he’ll turn his metrics around for the better.
Who do you think will dominate on the mound in 2020? Let me know in the comments below! Follow me on Twitter (@PCaldwellMLB), as well as The Bullpen (@TheBullpen12) for additional content!
Photo Credit to Bill Greenblatt/UPI
Sports writer and lover. Four-year Army veteran. Fantasy sports fanatic. Black olives disgust me.
Alumnus of Husson University in Bangor, ME, where I majored in Mass Communications with a Sports Journalism concentration.
"We enjoy sports because we love being able to forget about the stress in our lives from time to time, even if it’s for 30 minutes or so before picking up the kids from soccer practice or heading off to work. Knowing this, I’m humbled I have the opportunity in this country to become a journalist - hopefully, one others can look up to in the future."