Player Background

A prep lefty out of Santa Monica, Calif., Skaggs signed a slightly above-slot-estimate deal as the 40th-overall pick in 2009, with the Angels buying him out of a Fullerton commitment. He was considered a classically projectable southpaw, with a fastball that already touched the low 90s and threatened for more at maturity, thanks to a durable frame that scouts dreamed heavily upon. He didn’t stay in Anaheim’s system for long, however, heading to Arizona on his first day eligible—one year after signing—to complete the deadline deal that brought Dan Haren to Anaheim in 2010. He progressed steadily up the chain at that point, with a big, sharp 12-to-6 hook emerging as his money pitch, and ultimately topped out at No. 17 on the 2013 BP 101 on the heels of a cup of September coffee.

The hope at that point was for him to earn a rotation spot out of spring training in 2013, but a poor showing in the spring had him ticketed back to Reno in the PCL, where he got skittish about pitching off his average fastball, and the conductor was forced to gently apply the breaks for the first time in his career. Arizona, perhaps sensing asset stagnation, flipped him back to Orange County as part of a three-team deal after the season. The Angels sensed no such thing, promptly inserting him into their 2014 rotation and reaping the benefits of a strong 18-start effort in which he came to sit on a stellar 3.58 DRA by July 31, when he took a no-hitter into the fifth inning in Baltimore…and promptly blew out his elbow.

Some good ol’ Tommy John surgery followed, accompanied by a couple of bouts of shoulder stiffness on the back end of his rehab for good measure, ultimately led to an inconsistent return to the big-league mound almost exactly two years after he left it. He entered the 2017 season coming off 89 combined Triple-A and big-league innings last season,

What Happened Last Year?

Well, he pitched—against big-leaguers—and that’s good! He came back with about a half-tick of extra velocity, though his curveball lost some of its two-plane snap in translation, breaking with less urgency to the glove side as it had pre-surgery. That didn’t seem to faze its ability to generate weak contact, and the change produced okay results as well, albeit with fewer induced whiffs than we’d grown accustomed to seeing before he went down. He was able to generate his share of called strikes, which in turn fed a bump in his strikeout rate despite mediocre swing-and-miss rates.

Two years of rust came to bear on his fastball, which, despite the additional velocity, struggled to consistently find its intended target. And it got pummeled too often when it strayed. Opposing hitters teed off to the tune of a .515 slugging percentage against it, and they swung through it at a much rarer clip than they did an average fastball.

On balance, he struggled to take hitters out of the zone consistently, and spent a little too much time inside of it—often in the bad parts—as a result. His swinging-strike rate hobbled to a pretty solidly below-average rate, and he allowed a bunch of quality line drive and fly-ball contact. There also was the part where his control wavered pretty significantly for stretches, leading to an elevated walk rate that didn’t pair all that great with his in-zone fastball woes.

How’s It Going This Year?

Well, we know that command—and the feel for pitching, as such—can take a hot minute to come home after TJ rehab and, especially given Skaggs’ extended layoff, it wasn’t altogether surprising to see him struggle to hold his mechanics together for 80-plus pitches a start. Fantasy ballers noticed his upticks in raw velocity and strikeout rate, and they drafted him as an end-game option in the 21st round of NFBC drafts as the 90 pitcher off the board.

And through four starts he’s given managers a draft position-appropriate rollercoaster ride. His first couple of turns produced ugly five-earned-run affairs, while he’s followed up those stinkers with a couple of seven-inning gems in his most recent two. It is, of course, quite early to be looking for life’s answers in the data sets, but there’ve been a couple of interesting numbers to emerge from Skaggs work in the early going, highlighted by his four-seamer. The velocity is down almost 1 1/2 mph from where he was sitting at the end of last summer…and yet it has played, at least through our measly little sample here, as one of the most potent four-seam fastballs of any starter in the bigs thus far. He’s generating a whiff on more than a quarter of the swings he’s induced with the pitch so far, with the fourth-best rate going among starters who’ve thrown a hundred four-seamers. Counterpoint: the 44 percent line-drive rate on the end of those fastballs hitters haven’t missed is the highest in baseball, same sample.

It’s a fitting kind of Jekyll-and-Hyde dance thus far, and his off-speed offerings have gotten in on the mix as well. His curveball is generating more swinging strikes, and hitters are just 5 for 30 against it. On the other hand, his changeup’s been a mess, with much less movement and some ugly numbers hung on to the new, flatter version.

If you’re looking for trees through this muddled forest, I think the takeaways for the time being are that the overall swinging-strike —a metric that tends to stabilize against a pitcher pretty quickly—has jumped up nicely to an above league-average rate for the first time since his inaugural six-game introduction to the bigs back in 2012. He’s been inducing fishing expeditions at a higher clip, and batters have been less fruitful on those trips, too. He’s giving up a good bit of squared contact on balance, but a lot more of the hard stuff has come against a changeup that has been, if I may use a technical terms, quite wonky so far.

How It Going to Go For the Rest of the Year?

There’s enough of a baseline here to be mildly intrigued if you’re speculating on back-end types, but I wouldn’t go nuts yet, until we see if he can figure out what’s going on with the cambio and whether the early gains with fastball utility continue to hold. He’s managed to contain right-handed hitters for the most part in spite of the pitch’s weird shape and behavior, but pro scouts are good at their jobs, and pro hitters are great at making adjustments to do theirs. It’s not a pitch that has given him trouble in the past, and if he can find old form with it we might just be on to something sneaky here.

In the short term, a likely date this week with an Oakland offense that has struggled mightily against southpaws in the early going makes for a tasty matchup, while a subsequent matchup against Seattle looks more challenging on paper. I’ll be watching those two starts closely.

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