Perhaps the most defining moment of feel versus analytics occurred during game six of the World Series when the Rays removed Blake Snell in the midst of a scoreless contest with one out after giving up a single to Austin Barnes with Mookie Betts on deck. Nick Anderson promptly served up a double to Betts scoring the winning run, charged to Snell. When Snell left the mound, his frustration felt palpable.
Entering 2021, Snell once again faces an uphill battle versus the Dodgers but on the mound with the Padres after a trade this offseason. It's been a rollercoaster ride with Snell in fantasy since his 2018 Cy Young Award winning season. En route to the award, Snell went 21-5 with a 1.89 ERA, 221:64 K:BB and 0.97 WHIP over 31 starts spanning 180.2 innings. Since then, he's only made 34 starts the last two years dealing with injuries and a truncated season. In 2019, he missed games due to a toe issue and loose bodies in his left elbow.
Perusing his numbers the last two years, Snell's suffered some migration to the mean upon his arrival in San Diego:
- Snell Last Two Years: 10-10, 34 starts, 157 IP, 210:58 K:BB, 3.96 ERA, 3.58 SIERA, 1.25 WHIP, 32.6 K%, 9 BB%, 16.9 SwStr%
Leaving Tampa Bay could allow Snell to reset his value in the marketplace but how many innings will the Padres let him accumulate? Jayce Tingler made his debut as the manager in 2020 and his starters worked at least six innings in 22-of-60 regular season contests. For comparison sake, the Rays only recorded nine such events in 60 games with zero of them by Snell.
Diving deeper into game data on Baseball Reference's Stathead, of Snell's 108 career starts, he's worked at least six innings in 44 of these outings. Here are his totals and record by season:
At least 6 IP
It's unknown how much preserving Snell's health played a role in how Tampa Bay handled his starts in 2020, but when he works deeper into games his overall 30-6 record in them stands out. Our own general manager, Jim Bowden, references a player's DNA when determining if he's injury prone, an unfair label at times. Noting the Padres only allowed its starters to pitch at least six innings in just under 37 percent of starts last year along with a deep bullpen, Snell may be limited to around 160 innings in 2021. This needs to be accounted for when viewing his projections.
As for his results last year, Snell went 4-2 in 11 starts with a 63:18 K:BB 3.24 ERA, 3.57 SIERA and 1.20 WHIP over 50 innings. This averages out to just below four and two-thirds innings per outing. Last year remains unique when trying to discern workloads for pitchers with the starts and stops caused by the pandemic. Since 2018, Snell's averaged below five innings per start as well. Weighing how much of this resulted by his franchise and performance welcomes a healthy debate.
According to Statcast, Snell yielded 122 batted ball events last year giving up 12 barrels (9.8 percent), an 87.8 MPH average exit velocity and 36.9 hard hit percentage. Again, small sample size alert but Snell allowed career highs in barrel and hard-hit rates last season. Beneath his numbers, Snell's expected statistics of a 3.95 expected earned run average (xERA), .232 expected batting average (xBA) and .295 expected weighted on-base average (xwOBA) provide mixed results.
Snell uses four pitches within his arsenal illustrated below by Statcast displaying all of his swinging strikes from 2020:
Delving further into his results from last season, here's how each pitch fared:
- Snell Four-Seam Fastball: 50.6 percent usage, 23 whiff percentage, 20 K%, 18.4 put away percent
- Snell Changeup: 19.8 percent usage, 31.5 whiff percentage, 0 K%, 0 put away percent
- Snell Slider: 15 percent usage, 49.3 whiff percentage, 54.8 K%, 23.3 put away percent
- Snell Curve: 14.6 percent usage, 61.8 whiff percentage, 64.1 K%, 32.9 put away percent
On the surface, it seems like Snell should throw more curves to induce more strikeouts. This could happen with San Diego. As for a reminder of his strong outing in game six of the World Series during which he notched nine strikeouts against the Dodgers, here are Snell's pitches in 3-D view:
A healthy mix of his pitches and the results from the Statcast game feed:
This could be a template of his 2021 patterns. Heed his spring usage patterns with San Diego as a guide to how he may mix pitches going forward. As for his other results, Snell increased his ground ball percentage to 50 last year but lost ground in whiff percentage throwing fewer curves. Still, Snell finished in the 84th percentile in strikeout percentage and the 86th percentile in whiff rate against his peers.
Before diving into his projections, Snell's pitches on Brooks Baseball provide swinging strike percentages and ground ball rates. Once again, here's his breakdown by pitch:
Taking all of this into account, Snell's projections by five sites agree with an earlier premise in this profile regarding his total innings for 2021:
There's room for Snell to finish on either side of these numbers but he's a bit risky to rely on as an “ace” for a fantasy staff as a result. As a second starter with upside in a team build, Snell makes sense. Value him accordingly and heed his health all spring long.
THE BAT courtesy of Derek Carty
ATC courtesy of Ariel Cohen
ZiPS courtesy of Dan Szymborski