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FANTASY

From Deep: 3 underperforming players who’ve become playoff heroes

Mackenzie Gore has had a pretty fascinating career for a guy most Fantasy Baseball players don’t think about much anymore. He was, at one point, arguably the top pitching prospect in baseball before going through a stretch where he couldn’t find the strike zone as a prospect, leading to him falling from the top-10 of most prospect rankings to not mentioned at all in the span of a year. 

And, even when he was enjoying success at the major-league level, like he did early last season when he posted a 3.57 ERA with 74 strikeouts in his first 58 innings, it always felt like something was missing. His stuff often looked very good, but the command came and went, and he was too fastball reliant to sustain that level of success. And when the other shoe dropped, it dropped hard – he had a 5.06 ERA over his final 16 starts last season. 

What if the missing piece was a changeup? Technically, Gore has always thrown a changeup, but only as a last resort, seemingly; in 2023, he used it just 2.9% of the time. In his first start of the season Monday against the Pirates, that changed in a seemingly significant way, as he threw 17 changeups out of 101 pitches. That’s the most changeups Gore has ever thrown in a start, and it looked like a potentially much more promising version of the pitch than we’ve ever seen from him before. Gore dropped more than 2 mph of velocity from the changeup, an even more noteworthy drop because his fastball velocity was also up to 97 mph, two ticks up from where he was in 2023. 

That increased separation from his fastball velocity is noteworthy, as was the fact that Gore took nearly 300 rpm of spin off the pitch. As a general rule, you want to take spin off your changeup – that’s not always true, but it helps create more of that signature late dive you’re typically looking for with the pitch – with the average changeup in 2023 coming in at 1,791 RPM on average, compared to 2,283 RPM for the average four-seamer. That gap barely existed for Gore’s changeup, which came in at 2,175 RPM, barely below his 2,286 RPM four-seamer. Among 518 pitchers who threw at least 50 changeups and four-seamers in 2023, Gore’s 111-RPM average difference between them was the 30th-smallest gap. 

I don’t mean to argue that this pitch is a panacea for what has held Gore back in his career. He was merely decent Monday, surrendering three earned runs in 5.1 innings while striking out six against the Pirates. But, the changeup looked more promising than I think it ever has, and he also tweaked his slider, adding 2.5 mph and two inches of vertical break to the pitch, as Lance Brozdowski noted in his terrific Substack here. Per FanGraphs’ Stuff+ model, Gore rated out with a 109 rating in his first start, 26th out of 103 pitchers in the first week of the season; last season, his 100 Stuff+ rating was 57th out of 127 with at least 100 innings.

 

It’s just one model for one start, but it matched what my eyes and what the data suggested, which is that this could potentially be a much more interesting version of Gore than we’ve ever seen at the MLB level. I’m buying. 

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