Since the end of the season, we've seen Aaron Ashby be a popular breakout choice heading into 2022 as I discussed in my Offseason Dynasty Targets, and there's plenty of reason for optimism. Let's start with the basics - in the last several seasons we've seen the Milwaukee Brewers successfully develop the arms of Corbin Burnes, Brandon Woodruff, Freddy Peralta, Devin Williams, and Josh Hader. It's hard to say that Ashby already belongs with these names, given the small sample size that we've seen from him, but Milwaukee has proven they have the tools to cultivate his talent. It's also fair to say that with these names around, along with some others that he might not need to be that guy in 2022. Outside of the top three in the Brewers' rotation they also have Eric Lauer, who I highlighted in my NL Pitchers to Buy and Sell, as well as fringe candidates like Adrian Houser. Despite the speculation on his role moving forward, there's a lot to like from the south paw, and he's going to be a name talked about quite a bit leading up to Opening Day.
2021 At a Glance
After making his debut at the end of June, Ashby tallied 13 total appearances last year, making four starts, but only reached the fifth inning in one start this season. However, he did appear in six relief outings that lasted two or more innings. Though he ended the season with an unspectacular 4.55 ERA in just over 31 innings, if we take out his first and last appearances of the year, he had a 1.78 ERA with 38 Ks in just over 30 innings of baseball. His advanced analytics suggest, which we'll dive into as well, that he was unlucky too, with FIP liking him for an ERA in the mid 3s. In a small sample size, he also showed some nice ground ball tendencies, eliciting weak contact at a better than 7% rate, and a 61% ground ball profile. His wipe out stuff though is the stuff fantasy dreams are built on, featuring a 29% strikeout rate, and an average walk rate amongst big league pitchers.
Though he primarily relies on a sinker (34%), slider (38%) and change up (21%), he also utilized a curveball (4%) and four-seam fastball (2%) at the major league level last season. The slider is a pitch he used with devastating results last year, and could be one of the best offerings in baseball. With a .077 batting average against with a .154 slugging, that pitch was even better against right handed hitters who mustered a .031 average against. His expected metrics tell much of the same story as well, and he had a whiff rate north of 42%. Ashby's slider also has exceptional break, with almost 5 inches of vertical break and 4 inches of horizontal break in comparison to the league average.
The sinker was another offering that Ashby used at a high rate last year. Though he had a .333 batting average against on the pitch, advanced metrics show a little bit of bad luck here, as his expected batting average against was .252 and he induced groundballs at an almost 70% rate. When looking at his heat map of the pitch last year, it's evident that he had a tendency to leave this pitch over the middle of the plate, and we hope to see him change his usage if he can't locate that better moving forward. If he can be more effective with this offering, a pitch in the 90th percentile for velocity, we could see him take another step forward again in 2022.
The final pitch I want to highlight is the change up, a pitch that Ashby relied on the third most last season. Interestingly, Ashby threw the pitch 114 times last season, but all 114 of them came against right-handed hitters. When attacking opposite-handed hitters, the change up is the most frequent pitch that we see to keep hitters off balance. Another offering that has above average movement for Ashby, we saw him get a 35% whiff rate last season with a .167 batting average against.
Aaron Ashby in 2022 and Beyond
When looking at pitchers to target reminiscent of the high risers we saw in Freddy Peralta and Trevor Rogers from last year, Ashby make sense to look at based on his profile, but also the recent track record of the Brewers organization. However, in comparison, he has the nasty stuff we liked in Peralta, but doesn't yet have the track record of success, as we saw Freddy Peralta over parts of three seasons before last year's fantasy league winning season. With a high chase rate to match his strikeout stuff, the sky is the ceiling for him, but it makes sense to temper expectations a bit.
Despite his stuff, control is clearly one area where he needs to iron some things out. As we highlighted above, his sinker routinely missed over the plate, but he also posted double digit walk rates in the minor leagues more than once. If he can accomplish that, we could see a brand new pitcher moving forward, and Ashby is still early enough in his development where this isn't farfetched either.
We talked in the beginning that Ashby has a plethora of talented pitchers around him, and that could leave him in a swing role to start the year. This shouldn't be a surprise - Ashby has topped 100 innings once in his professional career, and we would likely see an innings cap even if he did start the year in the rotation, likely more so than we saw with Peralta. With five legitimate starting options, I expect the Brewers to give him a chance to compete for the job this spring. The Brewers also have some notable options in the bullpen with the presence of Josh Hader, Devin Williams and Brent Suter as well, leaving him with an unknown role much like last season.
All that said, Ashby is a guy I like a lot long term, and one I'm targeting to outperform his ADP (250 range) in redraft leagues. With his elite level stuff, the only things in his way at this point are questions about his stamina over the course of a longer season, and questions I have about his control. Though I think we see his innings capped, regardless of his role this season, he's a guy I like to top 100 innings this season and pitch to a mid-3s ERA, and expect his K/9 to stay around the 11 or 12 range. He's a pitcher I'll watch with great anticipation in the coming year to see what he can do.