Bailey Ober, Kutter Crawford and more WIZSOOZ standouts to know for fantasy baseball 2024

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When I come up with a stat, my hope is that your reaction is, “Well, duh!” In other words, it’s so obvious that players who are good at the stat would be good in real life and that the performance in it is a better descriptor of pitching performance than, say, ERA.

The second reaction that I hope to engender is, “But how come I’ve never heard of this stat before and why isn’t anyone tracking it?” See, we have a mountain of data now and it’s so daunting that it’s easy to just throw up our hands and ignore it all. But within that mountain is forecasting gold if we can just mine it properly.

Last year, I came up with a stat that, as far as I know, wasn’t used before. It incorporates stats that have only recently been tracked — two that we make into one. It’s Whiffs on Swings in Zone and Out of Zone Swings, adding the percentages of each according to Baseball Savant. My hope is that you could explain this to your grandmother and she would get that being good at these things makes you a good pitcher — you throw strikes that are missed and get swings on pitches that are balls. What could be better?

I first used this stat last May 18. So let’s see how it did in forecasting the pitchers. Adding up their WIZSOOZ (whiffs in zone plus swings out of zone), the model said to get the following struggling hurlers (in ERA): Sandy Alcántara and José Berríos. It also said to believe in the pitchers who were pitching well but were barely rostered: Nathan Eovaldi, Tyler Wells, Domingo Germán.

Alcántara and Berríos went from a combined 4.80 ERA to a combined 3.58. That’s great. Not so great were the pitchers I said were believable. Germán, Eovaldi and Wells had a combined ERA over 4.00 (though Germán did pitch the first perfect game in 11 years and Eovaldi did have a 2.95 ERA in six postseason starts that I’m not counting). I give it a B.

It also said to sell Framber Valdez, Bryce Elder, Shane Bieber and Hunter Brown (who were pitching well and widely rostered). Their collective ERA went from an average of 2.85 to 4.56. Their ratios and Ks also declined precipitously. The model also said to forget about potential turnarounds for Graham Ashcraft and Aaron Nola (4.39 before and 4.58 afterwards). I give it an A here. So let’s call this a B-plus overall or, if you want to quibble, a solid B.

So let’s look at the WIZSOOZ leaders in 2023 among qualifying pitchers and their ADP and spot the bargains.

Here’s the full list.

But I’m most interested in the elite pitchers, who all had WIZSOOZs over 50%:

End of list.

Nola obviously rebounded in the stat but his ERA did not improve. He’s just an underachiever in ERA for some reason. I can’t figure it out but I’m going to stop fighting it by expecting better results.

The expected wOBA of the Top 10 was .294 — great. Their actual K% was 28.7%. Now look at the bottom 10: xwOBA was a terrible .348 and K% a disgusting 17.1%.

I like this. The only guy we’re consistently drafting in this bottom group is Marcus Stroman. I’ll pass. So should you.

But at the top of the list, we have some bargains based on NFBC high-stakes ADP from last weekend (Main Event drafts). Let’s focus on these pitchers who the model says are good-to-great values.

Bailey Ober (ADP: 90, WIZSOOZ rank: 2nd of 100): His expected ERA was slightly higher than actual but still ranked in the top 30% of pitchers. His chase percentage, walk rate and extension are elite. It’s rarely talked about, but the pitching mechanics experts all agree that extension robs pitchers of actual velocity (adding perceived velocity). When you throw as soft as Ober (13th percentile velocity), that seems like a good trade.

Kutter Crawford (181, 7th): This is my breakout pick. His expected ERA was top 87th percentile — great. He has 95th percentile RPMs, which I value now more than velocity. He can throw up in the zone and his four-seamer was just utterly dominant in 2023 (.177 expected average). He has a sweeper and slider that measure great (whiff rates 38%+) and just has to use them more (combined 12%). Crawford is a Top 30 pitcher, I predict, and could contend for a Cy Young Award. Go ahead. Mock me.

Nick Pivetta (123, 10th): He has four pitches the league hit .215 or less against. That’s the actual average against. None of his five pitches had an expected average over .238. He has four pitches with a whiff rate over 31%. That’s just crazy. He has good velocity and great extension, so the offerings all play up relative to their mph. He gives up a lot of hard-hit balls, however, way more than makes sense. Maybe that positively regresses. Maybe he tips his pitches. Non-high-stake league ADP for Pivetta is in the 180s. (And Crawford is a reserve pick in most leagues — a totally free roll.)

Merrill Kelly (127, 15th): Kelly’s expected ERA was about a run higher than actual. But he’s a ground-ball pitcher with an above-average K% — the ideal combination for run prevention. I get that he’s not sexy. I like that even the sharps who just look at his Statcast page are not going to be impressed. But combining whiffs in the zone and swings out of the zone, he’s an 85th percentile pitcher, which is impressive and something most are probably going to miss. But now you know.

(Top photo of Kutter Crawford: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports)

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