Landing Gear: The Emergence of Dylan Covey

Do you remember the 2017 MLB DFS season? Is your memory a bit blurred? Can’t even remember what you had for breakfast today? Well, let me refresh that memory – the 2017 MLB DFS season was one where targeting Dylan Covey with bats against him made me a ton of money. That Beamer in my driveway? Courtesy of Dylan Covey via stacking against him. Ok, ok…while I didn’t exactly make a BMW worth of loot off targeting Covey last season, the returns were very fruitful. So, imagine my own surprise when I found myself plugging him into my lineups this past Sunday. Why would I do such a thing? What has changed between then and now where I went from stacking against him to actually inserting him in to my pitching slot? Lets take a look.

Rewind to last year – 2017 was not a good one for the then rookie. He finished with 70 innings under his belt and the numbers were laughable – a 2.57 HR/9, an ERA of 7.71, over 4 BB/9, a paltry 5.27 K/9, and maybe most egregious of all, 20 HRs allowed in those 70 IP. Admittedly, I didn’t use him on April 28th when he faced KC and subsequently allowed 4 runs (but no homers), but when I saw he was facing the Orioles on May 23rd after being called back up to the bigs, I wasted no time getting those birds into my lineup. And then the unthinkable happened – he only allowed one run. Surely, I must have done something to piss off the DFS gods that day so when I saw his next start against the Indians, I was salivating at the chance to fire up Lindor, Ramirez, and Brantley against this scab. The results were better this time around but not as good as I had hoped as Covey did not allow a homer for the third straight game. When his last start against Milwaukee came up this past Sunday, I decided to turn the tables and actually play him. He spun a gem, pitching five innings of no-run ball with seven strikeouts. The Dylan Covey that had won me so much money in the past by stacking against him had now amazingly won me money by playing him. Contrary to popular belief, I wasn’t crazy for playing and actually saw a number of reasons that led me to the play.

The first thing I look at when a pitcher is either under or over performing their history is their velocity. The sinker is Covey’s main pitch and last year, he threw it at an average of 92.5 mph. His four-seamer came in at the same speed, 92.5. This year, Covey is throwing that sinker 1.5 mph faster and in turn, is allowing almost 200 less ISO points against that particular pitch. Another thing to note is that last season, Covey threw the sinker and fourseam fastball at a 1-to-1 ratio and this year, he has essentially abandoned the fourseam from his repertoire, only throwing it 13 times through four starts. That was probably a wise decision on his part since that pitch yielded a 1.090 OPS to opponents last season. The increased velocity couple with better location have resulted in a 66% groundball rate compared to just 56% in 2017. It wasn’t just the sinker that gained velocity, it was all his pitches across the board, including his slider which has increased over a mile per hour over last season.

Speaking of that slider, the next thing I do when looking into a pitcher’s increase or decrease in production is check out the movement from year to year on their “out” pitches. A closer inspection on Fangraph’s PitchFX tool of that slider shows an average of almost two more inches of horizontal movement away from RHB’s. This would explain almost 6% more pitches thrown in the “low-and-away” quadrant of the strike zone. It’s that same quadrant where MLB’s STATcast tells us he allows his lowest exit velocity of the four quadrants of the strike zone. This would make sense as a pitch that is low and away to righties induces less hard, solid contact than pitches that are down and in. A better break on his slider causing better location of the pitch that results in fewer well-hit balls is backed up by the fact that Covey has only allowed 2 barrels all season which amounts to a 2.9% barrel rate allowed. According to MLB Statcast, he allowed a barrel rate over 8% last season. What this all has resulted in is a slider that has allowed a .083 SLG, a 33% K rate and a remarkable -51 wRC+ allowed this season, a drastic improvement over last year’s marks of .590, 17% K, and 158 wRC+ allowed on the pitch. Bottom line: movement and location matter a lot, particularly in Covey’s case.

As I mentioned, Covey eliminated the fastball from his offerings and the slider has become his second-most thrown pitch. Last year, he threw the sinker at 1.5-to-1 ratio to his slider and this year, that has widened to approximately 5-to-1. You would think the repetitiveness of the sinker would allow hitters to figure it out better, but that hasn’t been the case as the previous numbers indicate. What may have been happening last season was that he threw the slider so close to the amount of sinkers, and both at slower speeds, that hitters were able to guess when they were coming. This season, he throws the slider so much less in relation to that sinker and so much faster this season that it makes it harder to guess when it’s coming and harder to discern from that sinker. The evidence is telling – he has no homers through his first four starts where last year, he was allowing an average of 1.5 per start!

What does this all mean for us? It means, first and foremost, that we should think twice before stacking against Covey. Secondly, if he is available in your fantasy leagues, you should consider picking him up, if to at least stash on your bench to see if he can keep this up. The numbers, however, suggest this isn’t really a fluke and he really has improved his velocity, pitch mix, and location. While writing this, I looked at who his next opponent is and it is, of course, the Boston Red Sox, so while we may not want to fire him up in our DFS lineups in that start, he should definitely be a guy we consider going forward after that start.

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(All pitchFX data sourced from Fangraphs.com and barrel sourced from mlb.statcast.com)
(Photo credit: Brian Cassella, Chicago Tribune)

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