UPDATE 3.3.21 -- Framber Valdez has been diagnosed with a fractured left ring finger. He suffered the injury Tuesday in Grapefruit League play when he tried to field a comebacker off the bat of Francisco Lindor . He managed to stay in the game and complete his scheduled two innings, but testing conducted Wednesday revealed the broken bone in his pitching hand. There is no official timetable for his return at this point.
Houston southpaw Framber Valdez enjoyed a successful 2020 campaign that has fantasy owners pushing him earlier and earlier in drafts. Across 70.2 regular season innings of work, he posted a 3.57 earned run average, (2.85 FIP), 1.12 WHIP, 26.4-percent strikeout rate and 5.6-percent walk rate. Then, because he didn’t want fantasy owners to get him at a good value in 2021, he had to go out there and post a 1.88 ERA, 1.00 WHIP and an even strikeout per inning across 24 innings in the postseason. Thanks, Framber. He continues to be a ground ball machine and in 2020, he took the strikeouts up a notch, averaging over one strikeout per inning. The Houston offense should provide plenty of run support in 2021 for the southpaw, but did his late season heroics push him up too far in drafts?
Valdez is a ground ball machine to say the least. He’s posted a GB/FB ratio above 3.00 for the third time and 2020 was the third-straight season that he’s posted a negative launch angle. Yes. You read that right. He has induced a launch angle in the negatives. His launch angle is slowly elevating, but a -0.8 degree launch angle in 2020 is still excellent. For the record, it was at -4.2 degrees and -1.3 degrees in 2018 and 2019 respectively. Through 178.1 career regular season innings in the bigs, he has a launch angle of -1.6 degrees. He’ll need to continue to induce plenty of ground balls but some of his other batted ball metrics are far from encouraging.
Even when Valdez is inducing ground balls, he’s still hit hard. In 2020, he allowed the 10th highest average exit velocity on ground balls. However, when he’s not inducing ground balls, he’s in some serious trouble. In 2019, he allowed the fourth-highest average exit velocity on fly balls and line drives. In 2020, it was the third-highest. In fact, only two other pitchers posted a higher average exit velocity than Valdez! The lesser of two evils for Valdez is certainly hard contact on ground balls, but the batting average against is rising there as well.
Courtesy of FanGraphs
Since 2018, of pitchers that have at least 170 innings pitched, he has the highest ground ball rate, but the third-highest HR/FB ratio. He dropped the 4-seam fastball in 2020 to exclusively ride out his sinker and curveball, with a throw in changeup every now and again. His sinker didn’t generate as many whiffs as the year prior, and opponents are hitting him harder. While the ground ball rates remain cushy, the line drives are increasing in droves.
In a sense of pure numbers, look at these marks and how they are increasing year after year.
Courtesy of Baseball Savant
He posted a 24.4-percent whiff rate in 2020, which is slightly below league average, so he’s not going to take a huge jump in his overall strikeout. Posting a rate above K/9 for the second year in a row would be great for Valdez, and I don’t expect that mark to be much higher, if at all, than in 2020.
Valdez is an elite ground ball inducer, but some of those batted ball metrics are horrifying. He’s getting hit harder and harder, and his ground ball rate is slipping each year. His postseason was strong, which makes it easy to forget his final 32.1 innings of the regular season, when he posted a 5.01 ERA, and .393 slugging percentage. He’s traversing rough waters, and it could eventually catch up to him at some time, but as long as that ground ball rate remains right around 60 percent and the average launch angle remains in the negatives or around zero degrees, Valdez should be just fine in 2021.
I am comfortable drafting him as my SP2 for this season, or as a luxury SP3. You’ll want to pair up Valdez with some higher strikeout starters/relievers, but he should provide solid ratios with around one strikeout per inning.