Update, 3/18/14: Word on the street is Tyson Ross’ innings will be capped this year. I have amended my prediction accordingly.
Here’s the deal. I know most people outside of San Diego don’t know who Padres pitcher Tyson Ross is. Thus, it would be a bold enough prediction for me to say he’ll be a top-60 starter. Truthfully, I think he’ll be a top-30 starter. So, for the sake of splitting the difference, I did exactly that.
BOLD PREDICTIONS FOR 2014, #1: Tyson Ross will be a top-45 starting pitcher.*
*At the moment he is shut down for the season.
Ross, 27, debuted with the Athletics four years ago and has never once been fantasy relevant. Ross got stiffed in the wins category in 2013, going 3-8 through 16 starts for the mediocre-but-not-terrible San Diego Padres despite posting a 3.17 ERA and 1.15 WHIP. Many failed to notice so, again, he was hardly fantasy relevant. But that’s only according to the masses. In the case of Ross, the masses were wrong.
For starters, his 2013 ERA and WHIP would be 100-percent helpful in the context of any league, and his peripherals indicate his performance was legitimate. The BAbip may regress a bit, but the home runs allowed and runners stranded are about league average.
For Ross, though, his most important statistic is his strikeout rate: 119 K’s in 125 innings (8.6 K/9). Admittedly, it’s nothing to phone home about. Of pitchers with at least 100 innings, Ross ranks 25th on a strikeout-per-inning basis. However, Ross allowed the seventh-lowest contact rate and recorded the ninth-best percentage of swinging strikes of the lot. Contact rates and swinging strikes are (very) highly correlated with total strikeouts, and understandably so.
Thus, Ross’ strikeouts were not a fluke — at least, they weren’t in 2013 — despite recording a meager 5.7 K/9 through 70-plus innings in 2012. What gives?
The slider gives. Ross’ was the third-most valuable of all sliders thrown as measured by FanGraphs’ pitch value metric “wSL,” or “slider runs above average.” Only Yu Darvish and Francisco Liriano extracted more value from their sliders throughout the year than Ross. (I wrote about Justin Masterson’s slider a while back — it was fourth-most effective.) Even on a weighted basis, Ross threw the third-best slider per 100 pitches, behind only Randall Delgado‘s (which benefits from a small sample size) and Jose Fernandez‘s famous wipeout pitch. Moreover, Ross’ relied more heavily on his slider this year than in any other, throwing it in one-third of all pitches, up about five percent from his career frequency.
Something must have clicked for Ross, because his slider humiliated batters in 2013. Although it does happen occasionally, I have no reason to expect Ross will suddenly lose his touch. If he can come close to repeating his 2013 performance, his 2014 will look a lot like Patrick Corbin‘s 2013, but with a better strikeout rate. Corbin finished 2013 as the No. 23 starting pitcher. That’s upside on which I’m willing to gamble.
So there you have it, folks. This segment will recur throughout the offseason and will culminate before Opening Day, so stay tuned for more bold predictions!