2020 season age: 28 – Throws: Right – Bats: Right – Contract: – Pre-arb: $583,500 (Spotrac estimate)
2019 in review: The Indians were forced to rely on Plutko a lot longer in 2019 than they probably would have liked to have. He made 20 starts (21 games overall), pitching 109.1 innings with a 4.86 ERA. He struck out 78 and issued 26 walk and allowed 22 homers. He added 0.7 fWAR to a younger, talented, but dinged up Indians rotation. He performed solidly at times and provided average production while the Indians rotation needed something reliable with all the injuries it went through. Plutko himself was hurt in 2019, missing the early part of the season with a forearm strain. But once he came back and had time to ramp up, he gave the Indians some value as a 5-and-fly fifth starter.
Beyond the stats: One thing that most people notice that stands out about Plutko’s pitch profile are obviously his below-average fastball velocity (91.1 with league average in 2019 being 93). To pair with it, he also has extremely average fastball spin (2265 RMP, good for 54th percentile in 2019). That’s not a great pairing. One thing that sticks out is his curveball spin of 2886, which put him in the 93rd percentile in 2019, tied with Charlie Morton, who has a great curve. Spin rate alone is not a good way to judge how good a pitch is. Having average spin rate is generally not good, but spin efficiency is a good way to determine if the amount of spin if generally effective and makes the pitch good. Plutko’s curveball had 54.5 inches of drop last year, which was about 5% below average. So the spin rate is possibly not all that effective. Perhaps a better spin axis would help with the drop and shape of his curve. That’s easier said than done because Putko has probably been throwing his curveball the same way for years. But his curveball did have an xWOBA of just .191 last year, so perhaps he just doesn’t throw it enough. Anothe thing that is interesting to point out about Plutko is that his fastball, while average in spin and below average in velocity, had 14 inches of vertical drop, and league average was 12 in 2019. All fastball’s naturally drop, but the more spin gives it the appearance that the ball is ‘rising.’ The Indians appeared to have had Plutko pitching up in the zone last year with his fastball, because he sits in the middle with his spin, so his fastball has too much spin to work traditionally low in the zone as a ground ball machine, but lacks higher end spin to miss bats. Perhaps working up in the zone with his fastball worked better for where his spin rate is being a fly ball pitcher in conjunction with the rest of his arsenal.
On the mound: Plutko operates with the standard four pitch mix; fastball, curveball, slider and changeup. He threw the fastball 54% of the time in 2019, the most of any of his pitches. He follows that with the slider, change, then the curve, in that order. He threw the curve the least amount of any of his pitches, but according to Baseball Savant, his .191 xWOBA on the bender was the best of any of his four offerings. Perhaps he should throw it more. Plutko is an average 5th/6th starter type, as seen by now, that offers the ability to eat some innings at a league average rate. He gives up his share of homers, as pitchers who throw 91-93 do, with pretty an average repertoire. He’s useful depth as a reliable rotation arm that’s going to usually give you consistent results every time out with a few exceptional starts and clunker’s mixed in.
2020 role: Plutko is out of options going into 2020, so if he doesn’t win the fifth starter spot out of camp in Goodyear, there’s a very good chance he’s going to pitching in a different organization come March 26th. The Indians saw how quickly their pitching depth eroded a year ago, and with Shane Bieber hitting career high innings, Carlos Carrasco’s uncertain health/durability, Zach Plesac’s big innings jump a year ago, and the rest of the starting options being extremely young, the Indians will probably have every intention of Plutko breaking spring training in their rotation to preserve their depth. Plutko earning a spot in the rotation probably sends one of Aaron Civale or Plesac to Columbus to start 2020. While both are more talented and offer more upside, the Indians know what they’re getting with Plutko every fifth day and as long as he doesn’t get blown away by either in camp, they’ll probably opt to keep the safeguard of depth by starting the year as their fifth starter. He has been working with Core Velocity in the offseason, working on increasing velocity by increasing positive hip actions. Perhaps that brings him into the 92-94 range, which could marginally help him.
Fantasy impact: At best, Plutko is a streaming option in deep fantasy leagues. If you need innings and aren’t too concerned with ERA, you can usually get five innings and three runs from him with about four strikeouts. He won’t hurt your WHIP unless he’s particularly hittable on a given night. Using Plutko as a fantasy starter is also extremely matchup dependent. Last year his best start came against the Orioles, which was highly predictable. One of his worst came in Washington, against a very deep and patient lineup on a hot day in decent hitters ballpark. He’s not draftable in any type of format outside of maybe a 14 team, AL only league because he’s probably going to have a job out of spring training. But even then, there should be better options.