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FQOs And The Hidden Caden Dana
Nate Handy does a deep dive into Caden Dana's profile while discussing what an FQO is.
A starting pitcher going six (or more) strong innings is valuable across all fantasy formats, whether quality starts are a category in your league or six strong earn you bonus points, innings pitched directly or indirectly help you. And when those innings are of high quality, you’re winning this fantasy pitching thing.
Finishing that sixth inning separates starting pitchers in both real-life and fantasy scoring. We act like we want to hunt five-tool starting pitchers for our teams; pitch six, don’t give up runs, don’t give up too many baserunners, strike batters out, and win games. Points leagues or categories, that’s basically the formula. Yet we are often left lamenting our starters going 5.2 and coming up just short. Are we hunting the right arms? Why are we acting surprised our minor leaguer with the gaudy K numbers, pitch-inefficiency, and a track record of going 4 or 5 innings on the farm doesnt go six in the bigs?
Going six is a requisite for getting the “stud” label or a high-brow prospect value from yours truly. Horsepower, the ability to get batters out in multiple ways, and exuding the efficiency to pile up IPs are the traits required. The changing landscape of today’s game might be making these traits harder and harder to obtain, by both the players themselves and us dynasty owners. Yet, I’m not done hunting for them, suspecting the payoff is getting larger and larger.
We all know what a quality start is, yet, I’ve found looking for something better in the minor leagues points me in the direction of future MLB horsepower, something I playfully call Fantastic Quality Outing, or FQO. An FQO is:
6 (or more) IP
3 ER (or less)
6 (or more) K
2 (or less) BB
A game WHIP under 1.3
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I’d love to be able to show you some number wang and how this stat is predictive, but I don’t have that for you...yet anyways, so for now it’s just a theory…well, it would still be with the fancy math too, but I think it suffices to say if you show the skill, you may be able to do it later. Through 7/29 there have been 403 such outings across the four levels of full-season ball. Considering there have been 11,417 games started by pitchers here, you’re talking about FQOs occurring 3.5% of the time. An FQO is a special occurrence. There’s about a total of four a day in full-season ball.
Pitchers as young as 19, and as old as 36 have thrown FQOs in 2023. Not all FQOs carry the same amount of impressiveness, obviously. Of the 266 pitchers who’ve thrown an FQO, only four have done it three times or more while being a significantly young pitcher for his league (two or more years young):
20/21 year old Angel Bastardo has five with High-A Greenville, 4/21, 5/17, 6/11, 7/15, and 7/21.
22-year-old Connor Phillips threw two with double-A Chatanooga, 6/7, 6/18 and one with triple-A Louisville, 7/21.
19/20 year old Yu-Min Lin threw two with High-A Hillsboro, 6/24, 7/1 and one with double-A Amarillo, 7/16.
And the youngest pitcher to throw an FQO, 19 yo Caden Dana has thrown three with High-A Tri-City over his last three starts, 6/28, 7/4, and 7/15. Over those three games he’s gone 18.2 IP, 0,99 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, 25 K, 5 BB while, with a 64.4 Strk%, and of course, allowing no home runs.
Phillips has gotten attention as his Fantrax roster% has risen to 25%. Lin is on a healthy rise at 14%, while Bastardo and Dana are at only 5 and 6%. I’ll leave Bastardo for Chris Clegg and the other East coasters to tout, which it appears he’s started to. Clegg’s most recent update has Phillips 90, Bastardo 228, Lin 288, and Dana 454. There’s been plenty of due chatter on the first three, with so much more of them to see, while Dana remains somewhat hidden away out west.
Let’s put all this number-wanging aside and get to the good stuff, right? Some video of Dana? But here in lies some of the trickiness and why he may remain a great dynasty deal…there just isn’t a lot to watch. Only five of Dana’s 14 GS have been broadcast, and one of those was a fairly useless (for our purposes) pressbox view. We aren’t going to see much of him the rest of the year either, as there will only be two more broadcasts, at the most, unless an unlikely promotion occurs.
I’m not a year-long follower of preps, but Dana’s power north/south attack caught my attention during a Perfect Game showcase, and he’s one of the rare prep arms I kept tabs on leading up to the 2022 draft. The Angels selected him in the 11th round and gave him a 1.5M bonus, which was second round money. Dana was a top fifty player in his class according to Perfect Game, and as he showed out against the best of the best, going toe to toe against the more highly touted arms in his class, more than holding his weight, it seemed fair to wonder if he was as promising as any arm in his class. A lack of consistency may have left him out of this conversation for some.
This question still floats around my head, and appears it will for awhile still, as Dana has already ascended to high-A while showing some of this sought after horsepower. Impressive for anyone, let alone a northern prep teenager. So here’s what’s caught my attention most watching what is out there for us:
Dana has stones. He doesn’t pitch scared. He will attack hitters aggressively, or try to. He isn’t a precision machine at this juncture, but he’s better or just as good in these regards, than darn near all his contemporaries. Dana makes mistakes sometimes and has given up hard contact when doing so. That’s how it goes for everyone though. Some make less mistakes than others, and some are granted more leeway. The following at bat vs Thomas Gavello (an accomplished college bat), 4/21/23, illustrates all of this. Dana misses with an aggressive first-pitch fastball inside, but then uses it to play the breaking ball off of it getting an ugly swing and miss. Going back to that well, which was a great idea, pitch three, he pays for hanging one:
Gavello’s next time around was interesting. San Jose had beaned three 66ers the inning prior and then this happened on an 0-1 count:
Deciding to hit a guy 0-1 doesn’t typically happen, so I doubt this was intentional, but sometimes there’s a silver lining in your misses. (Gavello was the opposing catcher too, if that matters at all.) It’s worth noting Dana has hit his fair share of batters, but these two at-bats vs. Gavello illustrate why this may be happening. A young arm trying to tighten the screws aggressively pitching inside produces such collateral damage.
Dana’s deploying a heavy two-pitch attack. The fastball probably sits around 93, capable of getting into the high 90s. And the breaking ball comes at any time. I find the confidence Dana has in his breaking ball to be remarkable for his age. It’s rare to find a teenager throwing breaking balls in 3-0 and 3-1 counts as frequently as Dana appears to be doing, and even more rare to find them doing it this successfully. Here are some examples of hitters sitting on fastballs in fastball counts and Dana not giving in, starting with a 3-0 breaker in San Jose, then refusing to give in on 3-1 and 3-2 counts, earning a K, and then the confidence to go right back at the same pitch after just missing it. There’s loads of confidence in this pitch:
Here’s a few fun looks at a prep arm vs the Golden Spikes winner from his draft, the Hispanic Titanic Ivan Melendez:
Dana gives him the biz round one:
And then produces weak contact round 2:
Perhaps I make too much of the following, but Dana strikes me as a young pitcher who has his head above the game. Teenage pitchers in A-ball controlling the run game as Dana can, aren’t the majority. It’s not so much about limiting stolen bases, as it is exuding the mental capacity to be in control of things. Some guys can struggle with this all the way up into the bigs. I often wonder if Caleb Kilian struggles with this, but that’s neither here nor there. Dana exudes the ability to run the show througout the archive review. Dana catches too much plate versus a good young hitter here, Diego Velasquez, but makes up for it by picking him off:
Here’s a montage of some good stuff from Dana which was too large to fit here, but Twitter, or X or whatever it’s called now could handle it:
As well as Dana can execute the breaking ball at times, he’s not immune to losing the feel. Here he tried to finish a hitter a few times with it, but finally settled on the high fastball:
It’s only fair to show some not-great stuff too. A HBP on an 0-2 count and some hard contact:
None of these looks are from Dana’s recent FQO heater, though. A lot of this is while he was running a 6/7 ERA in High A. A lot of that was from a blow up at Everett, whereupon he gave up three home runs. (Homeruns don’t seem to be an issue at this point as he’s allowed four all year.) It would be nice to get a good look at this current Dana putting up these FQOs, but my suspicion is it will look pretty similar, minus a few less wild hairs getting out of place.
The Angels are pushing some prospects fast, but I can’t help but think it’s justified. Dana can handle where he’s at. The other players they’ve pushed seem to be as well. A polished-up version of this two-pitch attack could go far for Dana, but my suspicion is this changeup you catch him shaking off now will need some attention. I only caught a few coming out, and I think he garnered whiffs on all of them, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a good pitch. Clearly, he doesn’t like using it much. Maybe more advanced lefties doing damage against him will be the motivation needed to work on that third offering more often?
There are qualities here you don’t run across every day in such a young arm. Particularly the ability to go deep/be allowed to go deep into games. The Angels have skipped Dana some weeks to manage the load as well, so this doesn’t seem like an irresponsible course for Dana. Dana’s also big and strong, which could help.
For my tastes, there’s a very young potential 5-tool major league arm here. There’s plenty of growth to be had/screws to tighten, but there’s also hard to check off boxes getting checked. The rare combination of plus stuff with plus execution could be budding here, and that will always have me throwing bets down. While some are drawn to arms with nasty offerings pitching 3 innings in popular organizations and putting up guady K/9s…it may be more worthwhile to start considering Dana as a dynasty asset as promising as anyone his age. He’s doing things his contemporaries aren’t in the horsepower department. There’s going to be lots of time and opportunities to sharpen tools or find new ones. At the very least, with a 6% roster%, he’s a smoking hot deal right now in my humble opinion.