On the surface, most of Tarik Skubal’s numbers are not what we’d call … well, good.
Skubal entered Saturday tied with Cole Irvin, Mike Foltynewicz, Mitch Keller and former Mets superhero Matt Harvey for the third-most losses (seven) in the majors. His 4.35 ERA was the 35th-worst mark in the majors.
Skubal also had the sixth-most walks per nine innings (4.35), third-lowest groundball rate (30.2 percent) and third-worst home runs per nine rate (2.10) among pitchers with a minimum of 50 innings pitched.
Those numbers, plus the fact he pitches for the Tigers, don’t exactly place him on most fantasy radars. But things aren’t always as they seem.
As unattractive as those numbers are, the 24-year-old entered Saturday with the 17th-best strikeouts per nine rate (11.10) and ranked 17th in strand rate (83.8).
After taking a no-decision on Friday, Skubal is 3-3 with a 3.32 ERA, 56-15 strikeout-walk rate and a .248 opponent average over his past seven starts. From May 7 through Thursday, he led the league in strikeouts per nine (14.06), ranked 11th in strand rate (88.6 percent) and 17th in swinging-strike rate (13.7 percent). He also had the 27th-best ERA, ahead of aces like Gerrit Cole and Tyler Glasnow.
Sure, he had the 11th-highest walk percentage (8.8 percent) and three losses, but he also had allowed more than two earned runs only once in that six-start stretch.
Before Friday, Skubal had struck out 37 while going 3-1 with 2.14 ERA with a .215 opponent average over his previous four starts. That stretch included a game last Saturday against the powerful White Sox (the team he faced Friday), in which he surrendered just one earned run over five innings while striking out a career-high 11 and walking three. He also pitched six scoreless innings while striking out eight against the Yankees on May 30.
What has aided this sudden turnaround?
A big part of what’s changed is being less reliant on his four-seamer. Though Skubal averages 94.4 mph (98.8 mph max) with his fastball, it is the pitch that seems to get him in the most trouble. He has struck out 32 with the fastball, but he also had walked 23, allowed eight homers and opponents are hitting .276 against the pitch, which he uses 58.9 percent of the time.
After throwing his fastball more than 50 percent of the time in five of his first seven starts, he has used it less than 50 percent in five of his past six starts — making it more effective. His slider usage in those games increased, and opponents are hitting .210 against it with 26 strikeouts and a 34.6 percent whiff rate. Opposing hitters have just four hits and 20 strikeouts against the slider in his past five starts.
The biggest change, however, was Skubal ditching his splitter. It was a pitch he used just 5.8 percent of the time, but opponents pounded him to the tune of a .333 average with two homers and .917 slugging percentage.
Skubal has instead turned to his changeup, a pitch he is using about 10 percent of the time. Opponents are hitting .182 against it with nine strikeouts and a crazy 48.8 percent whiff rate (and this is happening against right-handed hitters since he only has thrown the changeup to a lefty once out of 106 pitches). He also has a 36.0 percent put-away rate and has walked one with the pitch.
If Skubal, who was the fourth-most added pitcher in ESPN leagues this week and is still 65 percent available, can keep his walks in check, the ball in the park and continue to rely on his secondary pitches, there is no reason to believe this recent stretch of success is a mirage. Pick him up with confidence.
Austin Gomber SP, Rockies
He is 3-1 with a 1.96 ERA, 24-1 strikeout-walk rate and a .202 opponent average over his past four starts. He has allowed more than two earned runs in just one of his past eight starts while walking four and striking out 48.
Justin Upton OF, Angels
Entered Friday with a seven-game hitting streak — going 9-for-24 (.375) with four homers, eight RBIs and a 1.542 OPS in that span.
Luis Garcia SP/RP, Astros
Took the mound Saturday after going 5-0 with a 1.86 ERA, 33 strikeouts, eight walks and a .184 opponent average over his past five starts.
Jonathan Schoop 1B/2B, Tigers
Has at least one hit in 15 of his past 18 games — going 27-for-70 (.386) with seven homers, 15 RBIs, a .443 OBP and 1.200 OPS in that span.
David Peterson SP, Mets
Has not won since April 14, going 0-4 with a 6.32 ERA and .279 opponent average. He has a max exit velocity of 117.3 mph, sixth-worst in the league, and has the 17th-worst walk rate (4.03 BB/9) in the majors.
Jurickson Profar 2B/OF, Padres
Was 2-for-24 (.083) with one RBI, nine strikeouts, a .290 OBP and .374 OPS in his first nine games this month.
Carlos Martinez SP, Cardinals
Allowed 15 earned runs over his past two starts while going 0-2 with a 28.93 ERA, 1.266 opponent OPS and .481 opponent average.
C.J. Cron 1B, Rockies
Not only has he not homered since May 4, but he is 11-for-56 (.196) with three RBIs, 20 strikeouts and a .593 OPS in his first 20 games since.
- Cincinnati’s Lucas Sims, who is owned in 26.3 percent of ESPN leagues and was the second-most added qualified reliever, has not allowed an earned run since May 21. In his six appearances since, he has collected five saves (in five chances) while striking out nine and allowing a .250 opponent average.
- The Mariners optioned stud prospect Jarred Kelenic to Triple-A on Monday after he went 0-for-37 with 17 strikeouts and a .119 OPS from May 26-June 6. He is owned in just 38 percent of ESPN leagues and should be a good stash in dynasty leagues. He wasn’t ready yet, but that doesn’t mean he won’t be in the future.
- Detroit’s Eric Haase was the most added catcher in ESPN leagues this week after going 10-for-26 (.385) with six homers, nine RBIs, seven runs and a 1.564 OPS in his first eight games this month. On the down side, he did whiff in 46.2 percent of his at-bats over that stretch.
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