Now that the World Series has concluded, it is time to focus on the offseason and free agency. This year’s crop of free agents includes the best class of starting pitchers ever. This group, headlined by Shohei Ohtani, who won’t be able to pitch in 2024 following Tommy John surgery, also features a handful of upper-echelon starters. Julio Urias, Aaron Nola, Sonny Gray, Blake Snell, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Lucas Giolito are all top-tier No. 2 starters who have been considered aces at different points recently.
This article is not about those guys. This article is about finding a few pitchers from the third or fourth tiers, who in previous offseasons would be widely viewed as interesting bounce-back candidates and will more than likely be quiet signings this offseason. Most of these candidates are thought to have been high-potential starters at some point and have either fallen on hard times or have never quite reached that status.
The interesting part when considering these underrated pitchers is not that they will outperform expectations next year. Rather, changing your perspective on their current talent level while understanding simple modifications they must make to perform better. The combination of understanding which players are both better than perceived and still have adjustments to make, all the while those alterations being attainable is what constitutes underrated players, at least in my opinion.
Flaherty was once an ace. He had immediate success and kept on improving until injuries derailed the last couple of seasons. Returning to the mound in 2023, Flaherty could not recapture the level of performance he had once established. That being said, if you look closely at Flaherty’s numbers, you can see an improvement across the board in all his peripherals as the season progressed. His strikeout rate and walk rate both improved markedly during his Orioles tenure.
The issue with Flaherty is not his ability, per se; it’s more of a mechanical issue that bleeds into the effectiveness of his pitches. The problem with this mechanical issue is that I am unsure if it is fixable. Before I break down the mechanical issue itself, it is important to note that Flaherty’s arm was significantly slower than in previous seasons. That issue can go one of three ways: his arm never returns to where it once was, a mechanical adjustment will revive his career, or it will continue to convalesce.
Flaherty’s arm slot is low-three-quarters, which puts a lot of tension on his shoulder and was a major red flag for a potential injury, to which he eventually succumbed. That slot will not be what Flaherty must change, yet it is worth noting that when he was fatigued, his slot would be slightly higher and the Orioles worked with him to make it more consistently his usual lower three-quarters. While not ideal, his shoulder and arm can be significantly unburdened by extending his stride and staying closed, as well as using his lower half more efficiently.
Jack Flaherty stepped into the Orioles pitching lab and turned into an ace pic.twitter.com/8B6mxIKjvq
— Barstool Baseball (@StoolBaseball) August 3, 2023
Junis has flown extremely under the radar the past couple of seasons, yet he has quietly established himself as a quality back-of-the-rotation option. While these kinds of pitchers may not be sexy, having a consistent, reliable, and healthy established starter to anchor the back of the rotation is increasingly important in today’s game of inning shares.
The right-hander has experienced a velocity increase as well as an extreme repertoire alteration in which he now throws sliders almost 6o percent of the time. While low-ball hitters were all the rage for the last decade, making the sinkerballer all but extinct, that trend is now starting to reverse itself. Pitchers like Junis who have lots of movement on their two-seam fastballs are getting an opportunity to soak up innings.
Junis has been a league-average starter his entire career, yet this past season he reached new heights by increasing his strikeout rate by five percent, up to 26.2 percent, good for 10.0 K/9, which is well above average. His outlook has changed immensely due to the increase in velocity, the repertoire change, and the increase in strikeouts, as well as his consistently low walk rate. Junis may be more of a No. 3 starter than a swing or fifth starter at this point and will probably be an absolute bargain in free agency.
A name that I have begun to like in the free agent market is starting pitcher Jakob Junis. Pitched to a 3.87 ERA and 3.74 FIP this past season and had his highest K/9 of his career.
— Kevin Barral (@kevin_barral) November 4, 2023
Odorizzi was sidelined for the entire 2023 season after undergoing shoulder surgery. Before that, he’s had a very consistent track record as a back-of-the-rotation starter, pitching at a league-average clip his entire career. Given that he’s coming off an injury, he will be looking for a one-year prove-it kind of deal.
As a pitcher with a very short stride, he was a high risk for a shoulder injury which manifested this past season. Yet, now that he’s at a very different stage in his career, he may be open to altering his mechanics to sustain a lengthier career. With a longer stride, Odorizzi will be able to take undue strain off his shoulder and arm and should also gain command. Command has been his other bugaboo throughout his career, so if he can right both wrongs, he may be an extremely worthwhile buy-low candidate.
Fantastic performance by Jake Odorizzi!
Here are his 8 strikeouts.pic.twitter.com/EYkv5xDf7y
— APOLLO MEDIA (@ApolloHOU) July 31, 2022
Fedde was a replacement-level pitcher in MLB before excelling in Korea last year. He made significant changes to both his repertoire and his mechanics while in the KBO. Fedde used to throw mainly sinkers and cutters and would mix in an occasional curveball. All three of those offerings were average or worse. This past year, Fedde started throwing a four-seamer and a slider while nixing his cutter. A new four-pitch mix of four-seamer, sinker, slider, and curve worked way better for him.
He’s keeping himself more balanced over the rubber, driving off his back leg properly, and staying closed throughout his delivery. Correcting and overhauling mechanics in such a significant way has serious consequences for Fedde’s outlook. Mechanical consistency leads to better command and usually higher velocity. In Fedde’s case, his pitch movement has greatly increased, yet his velocity has stayed the same. His slider is a plus offering and the movement on his sinker has taken the pitch to a different stratosphere.
The improved mechanics, which have led to way better command, and an improved repertoire have been further buoyed by Fedde’s understanding of how to pitch. He is learning where to put each pitch and execute consistently. He learned so much in his year in Korea that he left MLB as a replacement-level pitcher and looks to be returning as a fifth starter, at the very least. Even that may be too conservative. Anyone who saw Merrill Kelly pitch in the payoffs understands the kind of value and productivity Fedde could bring to a team. He could be a surprise No. 2 or 3 starter in 2024.
Erick Fedde’s 2023:
— Shawn Spradling (@Shawn_Spradling) November 7, 2023
Similar to Flaherty, Severino looked well on his way to being the Yankees’ ace for the next decade. However, he missed three seasons due to elbow injuries and succumbed to Tommy John surgery. Severino collapses his backside too early, which leads to late pronation and undue stress on his elbow. This also impacts his command, as his arm tires out easier and then leads to more sporadic release points. The torque he can produce via collapsing his backside easily makes it more difficult for Severino to stay closed through delivering his pitches.
Severino showed a marked improvement through his final few starts of 2023 in which he produced results closer to that of the vintage Severino. This was accompanied by slight mechanical adjustments in the ilk of what he must overhaul completely this offseason to stave off future injury and pitch better.
The intrigue surrounding Severino is that if he figures out his mechanical issues, he will be a top-40 starter in the game, if not better. His stuff is top-notch. Armed with a high-90s fastball, a dastardly changeup, and a razor-sharp slider, Severino has Cy Young potential. If someone can fix him mechanically, they will be gifted with a cheap ace, which rarely happens.
Source says Luis Severino's rehab (oblique) has gone well, he's back to throwing currently and is feeling good, and there's been interest in him already from as many as 8 teams. The Yankees aren't believed to be one of them.
— Brendan Kuty 🧟♂️ (@BrendanKutyNJ) November 8, 2023
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