This is the starting pitcher edition of Welcome to Splitsville, where we discuss players at the position from both a daily and seasonal perspective. Here are the previous editions in this series for 2017:

Introduction and catcher week

First-base week

Second-base week

Third-base week

Shortstop week

Outfield week

Starting pitcher splits are a little different than hitter splits in daily leagues because teams will often change their lineups based on pitcher handedness, and lineups sometimes aren’t posted until after rosters lock. When we play a left-handed batter against a right handed pitcher, we know that the left handed batter we selected will get at least a few cracks at that right handed pitcher. When we start a left-handed pitcher against a lineup that often features left handed batters as regulars, managers sometimes opt to give their LHB the day off and start backup RHBs against that pitcher.

Pitcher splits can be helpful in picking hitters to target or avoid. Some pitchers demolish same-sided hitters but struggle to get opposite side hitters out. This can be because of a limited repertoire, like a lack of a good change up or splitter, or because of poor deception from the opposite side. For example, Joe Ross is hell on right-handed batters, but has not been able to get lefties out well so far in his career. He’s held RHB to a .198/.244/.305 line with a 2.85 FIP, but lefties have a .297/.372/.446 line with a 4.25 FIP. Part of it is that his primary offering is a fastball/slider combination, and he lacks a solid out pitch to lefties. His changeup hasn’t quite developed yet the way some had hoped. I avoid right handed batters like the plague when Ross is facing them, but certain left handed batters could be useful, at least until Ross’ change up develops into a better pitch.

Pitcher splits can also be helpful in picking a starting pitcher. Examining the lineups that are released before slates lock can show what type of opposition that particular pitcher is facing that day. If a team is starting a lot of left handed batters against a left handed starting pitcher who eats up left handed batters, the starting pitcher is generally a better play that day than if a team is using a lot of right handed batters, assuming the LHB and RHB have similar production levels.

Here are the 10 best and worst performers against each handedness among starting pitchers from the last two seasons, sorted by wOBA against. League average wOBA in 2016 was .318.

Best vs. LHB




Clayton Kershaw



Dallas Keuchel



Madison Bumgarner



Jake Arrieta



Josh Tomlin



Jon Lester



Stephen Strasburg



Justin Verlander



Jake Odorizzi



Marco Estrada



Best vs. RHB




Max Scherzer



Clayton Kershaw



Rich Hill



Joe Ross



Aaron Sanchez



Jake Arrieta



Julio Teheran



Kyle Hendricks



Corey Kluber



Kenta Maeda



Noah Syndergaard



Worst vs. LHB




Alfredo Simon



Bud Norris



Ryan Vogelsong



Chris Young



Rubby de la Rosa



Andrew Cashner



Mike Pelfrey



James Shields



Wily Peralta



Doug Fister



Worst vs. RHB




Tyler Duffy



Drew Hutchison



Nick Martinez



Adam Morgan



John Lamb



Anibal Sanchez



Kyle Lohse



Chase Anderson



John Danks



Joe Kelly



Some thoughts on various pitchers:

Clayton Kershaw is a generational pitcher and will go down as one of the greatest to ever throw a baseball. Kershaw had previously been largely indestructable in his career, averaging 222 IP per season and 32 starts per season, with the only dent coming in 2014 where he missed 5 starts early in the season because of a back injury. 2016 was different. Kershaw missed 12 starts and only threw 149 IP, his lowest since his rookie season. He was still incredible at preventing runs when he came back, with a 1.29 ERA and 2.36 FIP, but his profile was a little different; his strikeout rate fell to 26% (27.3% if you include the postseason), which is still well above average and in the top 10 among starters, but noticeably down from the ridiculous 33% it was prior to his back injury. A 26-27% strikeout rate is more in line with where it was for him from 2009-2013, rather than the 33% it was from 2014 to pre-injury 2016. The strikeout drop could be just noise, but strikeout rate stabilizes within that sample size, so there might be some signal there. His swinging strike rate also fell to 12% (12.6% if you include the playoffs), down from 16% in 2015 and 2016 before the injury. The good news is that his fastball velocity didn’t decline and neither did his high vertical movement, so maybe he just had a more difficult time spotting his pitches with a sub optimal back. I am interested to see what Kershaw looks like in 2017 coming off the injury. There was some rumbling that he wasn’t 100% healed yet after coming back in September and gutted it out for the sake of his team for the playoff run. That’s a testament to how great Kershaw is, to still be highly effective even with a bad back. Is he now fully recovered with a full offseason? Kershaw is going to be awesome this year, but the strikeout rate decline after coming back from the injury is worth considering.

Noah Syndergaard looked like the right handed version of a healthy Clayton Kershaw early in the season, posting a 1.91 ERA, 1.80 FIP, 33% strikeout rate and 4% walk rate through his first 11 starts in April and May. He started throwing a 92-mph slider, which topped out at 95, and was routinely sitting 98-100 with his fastball. But Syndergaard had a bone spur flare up in his elbow in June, and went through a rough stretch where he said he was having trouble finishing his pitches because of his elbow pain. After that point, Syndergaard pitched to a 3.03 ERA, 2.60 FIP, 28% strikeout rate, and 7% walk rate the rest of the season. That’s still excellent, but not quite the same superhuman performer he was during his first two months. Syndergaard added about 15 pounds of muscle this offseason and said he wants to throw harder this year than last year. If he stays healthy, he will be among the most elite pitchers in the sport, and has as much upside as anybody in the game.

Max Scherzer is having problems with his knuckle early in spring and has had to switch his fastball grip for the time being. Scherzer originally broke his knuckle by pitching through pain late in the season, which eventually caused a stress fracture in his hand. He says his knuckle is essentially healed structurally, but might not be ready for opening day. He also wasn’t able to throw a baseball this winter and instead had to throw different types of balls that were easier for him to grip. This sounds like a potential problem, and it’s worth monitoring as spring training evolves.

Jacob deGrom’s pitching coach, Dan Warthen, said that he’s encouraged by deGrom’s release point early in spring. Last year, according to Warthen, deGrom’s Trackman release point fell to 5-foot-4 at times as he pitched through some bothersome injuries. Early on this spring, it’s back up 6 inches, to 5-foot-10, which is more in line with where it was in 2015. Maybe that’s an indication he’s feeling healthier. deGrom’s velocity fell dramatically early last season after a deep run into the playoffs in 2015, averaging 92.5 mph in April, down from 94.9 mph in 2015. He was bothered by a lat injury in March and April, but eventually built some arm strength back up into the summer and averaged 93.7 mph with his fastball after June 1. deGrom was shut down in September with an ulner nerve injury in his elbow, which he had surgery on. He is not expected to be limited this spring.

deGrom’s teammate, Matt Harvey, is also coming off an injury. Harvey had one of his ribs surgically removed to treat Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, a nerve condition that was making it difficult for him to feel and grip the baseball. Harvey had the worst season of his career last year with an ERA of 4.86 and strikeout rate of 19%, down from a 2.53 ERA and 26.6% strikeout rate in his career prior to 2016. The injury played an enormous role in his production drop. His command suffered badly and his breaking pitches weren’t nearly as sharp. If Harvey can regain his command and sharpness, I expect some degree of a bounce back, although I don’t know if we will ever see ace level Harvey again.

Alex Avila and Dioner Navarro caught the majority of Chris Sale’s starts last season, which is notable because of how poorly they graded as pitch framers. Avila ranked as BP’s 100th worst pitch framer at -6.8 runs, and Navarro ranked dead last at -16.8 runs. In Boston, Sandy Leon is expected to be the starting catcher, but he wasn’t much better with framing, ranking 93rd at -4.7 runs. However, Christian Vazquez ranked 17th at 7.0 runs above average, so that’s worth keeping an eye on if he catches some of Sale’s starts.

Diamondbacks pitchers, most notably Zack Greinke, will get a substantial pitch-framing upgrade when newly signed Jeff Mathis starts at catcher. Mathis ranked as BP’s 15th best pitch framer last season at 7.4 runs. Welington Castillo, a poor pitch-framer who caught 100 games last year, has departed to Baltimore, so Mathis will likely replace a lot of those starts. Castillo ranked as the ninth-worst pitch framer in 2016 at -9.8 runs.

Felix Hernandez has put on muscle working with a trainer in an attempt to gain some velocity back. Hernandez says he weighs 224 pounds now, up from 207 pounds last season. His trainer said they are trying to get Felix’s velocity back to 93-94 mph, which he hasn’t averaged since 2011. You often hear these types of fitness stories early in spring because they make for good stories to write about, but even if a velocity rise is unlikely, it’s worth monitoring, because at least something tangible changed in Felix’s preparation.

Rich Hill stands out to me as a guy that is underrated going into fantasy drafts early on. Last year, Hill finished in the top 60 in Yahoo 5×5 scoring, the 16th most productive starting pitcher, but his ADP is around 130. I know the profile is weird, and he’s definitely an injury risk, but I don’t think his performance was a fluke. Batters just can't seem to differentiate his pitches at all, and he’s great at playing his fastball and curveball off each other, hiding each one behind the other. Hill’s deception has helped him become elite at preventing batters from squaring him up. Via, Hill’s Statcast derived exit velocity and batted ball angle expected slugging last year was .307, the third lowest in baseball among pitchers with at least 100 IP. The only two ahead of him were Clayton Kershaw (.302) and Jose Fernandez (.303), and the MLB average is .417. Batters rarely make loud contact against Hill. Combining weak contact with his ability to miss bats at a high level is a huge recipe for success.

A late pick that might be useful is R.A. Dickey. He is getting out of the American League East and Rogers Centre and moving to the NL East, a much more forigiving environment for pitchers. It’s not clear exactly how newly built Sun Trust Stadium will play until the season starts, but it appears to be pretty neutral based on the construction. Dickey might have some use as a back of the roster starter. Dickey’s current early ADP is about 440 overall, the 122nd starting pitcher off the board.

Robert Gsellman is a player that a lot of us at BP are high on. Our BP prospect team ranked him as the 17th-best prospect in baseball, well above where other outlets had him ranked. I agree with our prospect team, and think Gsellman is going to be a strong sleeper in most fantasy leagues. Gsellman isn’t even on the NFBC ADP list because of how under the radar he is. Jarrett Seidler wrote a great piece on Gsellman over at BP Mets, which I encourage fantasy owners to read for in depth detail on Gsellman.

Thank you for reading

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While it's a different type of split, any chance there will be a companion article looking at starting pitchers with big home/road splits?
That could be a possibility. Off the top of my head, Strasburg and deGrom have been a lot better at home than on the road. Jose Fernandez was, too. The one difference between pitchers at home and on the road is that home pitchers come directly from their pregame bullpen to the mound, while road pitchers have to sit in the dugout for a half inning. That could impact some guys and their timing. In the meantime I would look more to park effects for pitcher home/road splits.