It probably hasn’t been lost on anyone who visits DRaysBay very often, but the Blake Snell Breakout (patent pending since 2016) is finally and officially upon us.
While the 2018 sample itself (28.1 IP) is not enough to crown Snell our Once and Future King, if we go back to the end of 2017—the stretch that got hopes so high for Snell before this current season—the numbers are just as strong. (For a somewhat less optimistic take on Snell, see Carl’s analysis).
Over his last 15 starts—basically half a season—he is 8-2 with a 2.74 ERA, 3.18 FIP, and 3.83 xFIP. He has 87 strikeouts compared to 28 walks over that time period, and he has thrived in terms of keeping the ball in the yard (9.1 percent HR/FB rate).
The best part about this Snell Breakout is that it is not at all difficult to imagine a world in which this breakout becomes the new normal.
While there is a bit a of gap (1.09) between his ERA and xFIP, Snell has been among the best in baseball at limiting damage on fly balls for the entirety of his MLB career. Since his debut in 2016, only James Paxton and Noah Syndergaard have allowed a lower HR/FB rate.
A big part of that is the stank level on Snell’s repertoire. Only two lefties in all of baseball (Paxton again and Robby Ray in a virtual tie) have more heat on their fastball than Snell (94.1 mph) over his 246.2 career innings. Snell’s portfolio goes four pitches deep, with his curve (14.66%), slider (13.65%), and changeup (14.05%) all well above the 10 percent cut off for a pitcher to really have a pitch in their portfolio. (I swear that wasn’t intentional shade at Chris Archer and the changeup he refuses to crack the ten percent cut off with.)
During this most recent 15-start stretch, it has been Snell’s curveball that’s really been out of this world, with a near-.100 slugging percentage against
And a spicy whiff rate right around 25 percent
All of this has combined to make Snell one of the best pitchers in baseball over this stretch, and it has been a welcome sign for a pitcher who never truly struggled in his time in the majors, but is undoubtedly putting up the best performances of his young career right now.
For years now, there has been running angst over Chris Archer and whether or not he can be defined as an ace in the modern baseball scene. If Snell keeps up his current pace, he may pass his veteran teammate if not in reputation, then at least in production, and give the Rays the undisputed ace they are so clearly longing for in 2018 and beyond.