Post Break Prognosis: Starting Pitchers and Closers
Todd concludes his 5-part series with a post-break prognosis of pitching
Let’s wrap up this post break series with a look at the top-40 starting pitchers and top-10 relievers. Something to keep in mind with respect to pitching in general is the perception that you can’t gain or lose points in the ratio categories (ERA and WHIP) isn’t only a myth but the truth is there’s more movement in the ratios – through the last day of the season – than compared to the counting categories.
1. Clayton Kershaw (1H- 6, PROJ- 1): It’s not fair. The best got better. Kershaw is fanning more and walking even fewer than last season. Seriously, it’s simply not fair. Did I mention he’s also inducing more ground balls? Mike Trout will still be the overwhelming top pick in 2015 drafts but after that, it’s a crapshoot with Kershaw in the mix as the next player off the board.
2. Felix Hernandez (1H- 2, PROJ- 4): And the second best keeps trucking along as well. King Felix has also improved his peripherals from last season. At this pace, both Kershaw and Hernandez will have first-round ADP’s next season.
3. Adam Wainwright (1H- 4, PROJ- 6): I’m going to be honest, Wainwright’s drop in strikeouts is a little worrisome. He’s a little like Roy Halladay in that a ton of his value was derived from being a workhorse so his ratios had more of an influence (more innings) and his raw strikeout total matched that of pitchers with a better K/9 but tossed fewer innings. Wainwright’s velocity is down along with a lot of the advanced metrics used to analyze strikeouts. There’s a lot of innings on his arm when you include a couple of deep playoff runs. I’m not too concerned the rest of this season but going forward, I’m going to be reticent to invest in Wainwright. Once he ceases going as deep into games, his fantasy worth declines.
4. Chris Sale (1H- 9, PROJ- 3): Lather, rinse repeat. Sale is the third ace starter to better his walk and whiff rates from last year. This is the way the league is trending but still, it’s impressive. What’ll be interesting is next season, projection theory with the help of gravity is going to pull the expected peripherals of Kershaw, Hernandez and Sale all down. But there’s plenty of time to talk about that next spring.
5. Max Scherzer (1H- 28, PROJ- 7): Scherzer is the same guy he was last season when he was that toast of the town – except he’s running into some tough luck on batted ball fate. Maybe because he had a tough outing or two it seems Scherzer has taken a step back, but his owners have nothing to worry about, a strong finish is in store.
6. Stephen Strasburg (1H- 49, PROJ- 5): Separating Strasburg from those above is he doesn’t go as deep into ballgames as a true ace. He ranks 41st in the league, averaging 6.29 innings per start. This lessens the impact of his ratios and reduces the raw strikeouts total. It also means he’s more reliant on the bullpen which helps explain a rather low 71 percent left-on-base mark.
7. Johnny Cueto (1H- 1, PROJ- 35): With Cueto, it’s not a question of whether he’ll regress, but how much. His expected ERA’s are about a run higher than the actual 2.18 mark so carrying a number near 3.00 the rest of the season is reasonable. Of course, health is also a concern as Cueto has only surpassed the 200 inning level once. He looks fine now so the full boat should be expected but having another solid arm or two on your staff – just in case – can’t hurt.
8. Anibal Sanchez (1H- 23, PROJ- 14): it’s already been mentioned a couple of times that the number of innings projected can affect the ranking. Heading into the break, the Tigers had played the fewest games in the league so their starters were projected for a handful more than other comparable hurlers. In the case of Sanchez, this is enough to left him above a couple of others that may have slightly better rate stats. But, Sanchez is will get an extra chance or two and that matters. Actually though, looking closer at Sanchez’s post-break projections, I think too much of last season’s elevated strikeout rate is being carried over. There’s a lot of funky stuff going on with Sanchez this season (drop in whiffs, extremely lucky .258 BABIP and even luckier 2.9 percent home run per fly ball mark). When this is the case, I rely on xFIP more than anything and that’s a rather high 3.79. I’m not going to redo my projection now but I will take a look at it for my next update.
9. Madison Bumgarner (1H- 13, PROJ- 9): Hey look, another ace with better strikeout and walk rates than last season. Bumganer’s .323 BABIP is on the unlucky side of the ledger so his already decent 3.38 ERA should drop as more batted balls become outs.
10. Yu Darvish (1H- 10, PROJ- 12): Many, particularly those in the high-stakes arena questioned my spring ranking of 12 for Darvish. For many, he was the second best pitcher next to Kershaw and when Kershaw got hurt, Darvish was the first arm off the board in some late drafts. I’m not going to point to the results to date and say “I told you so” primarily because if Darvish had not missed a few stats, he would have finished higher over the first half. I’m still not as high on him as most since he’s so reliant on such a stellar strikeout rate. Of course, when he is whiffing that many, he gives you a huge edge, I just (probably unfairly) see some risk. His walk rate is higher than the elite and his home park favors hitters.
11. David Price (1H- 18, PROJ- 10): Whereas Sanchez benefited from a few extra projected innings, Price is punished since Tampa led the league in games played at the break so Price was docked a start or two. This is sufficient to drop him down a bit even though his ratios will be better than a few ranked higher.
12. Cole Hamels (1H- 44, PROJ- 22): Hamels is again pitching much better than 4-5 record indicates though his walk rate is up a tad. The health concerns from the spring have abated so if you drafted Hamels at a discount with the intent of weathering the storm, you’re being rewarded and should continue to reap the benefits of your calculated risk.
13. Hisashi Iwakuma (1H- 54, PROJ- 19): Iwakuma has done what’s expected since coming off the disabled list, albeit with a .69 BB/9 that will be hard to sustain. But even if it skyrockets all the way to last season’s mark of 1.7, he’ll still grade out to an ERA right around 3.10. I can live with that.
14. Zack Greinke (1H- 12, PROJ- 16): This probably isn’t the best form but there’s something wrong with my spreadsheet if Greinke’s rest-of-season projected ERA sits at 3.40. if I were a reader I’d troll me and ask me if I could be in a league with me because I know I can kick my ass. Greinke’s a top-ten guy going forward.
15. Jered Weaver (1H- 24, PROJ- 11): Weaver’s strikeout rate has fallen but he’s proven the ability to pitch effectively missing fewer bats. This does reduce his margin of error and open himself up to the occasional disaster but if you just leave Weaver in your lineup and just wait until the end of the season, the numbers will be there. Just be sure you’re making up the lack of whiffs elsewhere.
16. Cliff Lee (1H- 74, PROJ- 2): So much for giving Lee points for being so durable, reliable and consistent. When the rankings were put together, it was known Lee would be back right after the break but his skills were nicked a bit to account for the long layoff and the likelihood the Phillies will be rather conservative with his innings. Of course, of he is traded to a contender, he could get a bump for more innings as well as perhaps a better park and greater win potential.
17. Julio Teheran (1H- 5, PROJ- 48): Teheran’s skills and outlook is very good; just not top-five good. His 3.61 xFIP is nearly a full run higher than his actual 2.64 mark – a correction is likely. All three of the metrics most involving chance favor Teheran (which is usually an indication it’s not all luck, but not all his doing either). He’s sporting a .258 BABIP, 8.7 percent HR/FB and 80 percent left-on-base mark. All three are candidates for regression.
18. Scott Kazmir (1H- 7, PROJ- 92): It took a while for me to warn to Kazmir but I willingly admit – he’s good. That said, I’m not willing to count on an injury-free finish as Kazmir’s total of 158 innings last season was his seasonal high since 2007 when he tossed a career best 206 2/3rd. Now having admitted Kazmir is good, his 2.32 ERA is over a run below his 3.36 xFIP. So while Kazmir is good, he’s not top-ten material. But top-twenty ain’t chopped liver.
19. Jeff Samardzija (1H- 29, PROJ- 41): The rest-of-season projections were done over the break so the trade was incorporated. I wish I could offer more than the conventional suggestions that the park upgrade counters the league switch and Samardzija should win more with Oakland but that sums it up pretty well.
20. Sonny Gray (1H- 35, PROJ- 58): If those that rank prospects were asked two years ago which of Michael Wacha, Gerrit Cole, Taijuan Walker, Dylan Bundy and Gray would be the most accomplished starter presently, Gray may have been the least mentioned. Turns out he’s the most polished which is carrying over to the results. He’s slowly going deeper into games which is helpful for fantasy (as has been discussed previously). He’s also really fun to watch pitch.
21. Doug Fister (1H- 47, PROJ- 21): If you look at Fister’s 2.92 ERA you may assume things are playing out as expected – more K’s, lower ERA in the National League. But upon closer inspection, his strikeout rate has dropped and his xFIP is 3.92. Going forward, he’ll likely increase the whiffs a little while his ERA corrects (can’t sustain a 82 percent left-on-base rate.).
22. Jon Lester (1H- 14, PROJ- 47): Most of what Lester has done is real but he has enjoyed a lucky HR/FB mark (six percent). This is reflected in an xFIP half a run higher than his actual 2.50 mark. But if I were to promise you a 3.08 ERA the rest of the season, you’ll take that. From a skills perspective, a return to fanning more than a batter an inning is the biggest improvement.
23. Jordan Zimmermann (1H- 26, PROJ- 17): Zimmermann’s peripherals have improved from last season but he’s still not going as deep into games as some of the elite which tempers his fantasy value. It’s actually a little hard to believe his innings pitcher per game average is 5.9 (70th in the league), not even six innings a game. Granted, he’s pitched at least six frames in 13 of 20 games but still, his average is quite pedestrian.
24. Lance Lynn (1H- 52, PROJ- 46): If you don’t understand the concept of skills not always translating to the same outcome, check out Lynn’s 2013 and 2014 peripherals. They’re eerily similar across the board, best evidenced by how close his FIPs (3.28, 3.29) and xFIPS (3.66, 3.83) are, but yet last season his ERA was 3.97 while it’s 3.13 this year.
25. Hyun-Jin Ryu (1H- 33, PROJ- 25): And if you’re not yet convinced about the whole skills translating into outcome thing, check out Ryu. He’s improved both his whiffs and walks from last season but his ERA is a little worse. If it isn’t obvious by now, if you need a quick and dirty way to get a feel for what a pitcher may do going forward, use his FIP and xFIP as a guide.
26. Tim Hudson (1H- 15, PROJ- 84): There’s not a whole lot of luck with Hudson’s numbers but it’s still hard to believe he’ll maintain an ERA under 3.00. It will take a give-back of some skills improvement (especially walks). There’s just something too risky about relying on a pitcher whose strikeout rate is a mere 5.8 per nine.
27. Gio Gonzalez (1H- 80, PROJ- 27): Gonzalez is having a typical season with an ERA a little higher than his skills should dictate. Regression is never a sure thing but Gonzalez should have better results post-break.
28. James Shields (1H- 64, PROJ- 18): A month ago I questioned a few of my industry brethren that indicated they would prefer Shields over Corey Kluber for the duration of the season. The idea was my preference is for the tried and true over the lack of a track record, no matter how glorious the current performance appears. There’s some real irony that Kluber came out next in my rankings but it also adds to the narrative. Shields is actually pitching as usual (though it seems like he’s struggling as he’s out-pitched his peripherals two of the past three seasons). So the real question isn’t Shields, it’s….
29. Corey Kluber (1H- 21, PROJ- 43): I admit, I’m a big Kluber fan and was all over him in the spring. But as well as he’s thrown, there’s no track record he can keep it going. Note, this is different than expecting regression, it’s questioning whether Kluber can sustain a 9.8 strikeout per nine when he’s never done that previously. His 2.95 real ERA is actually worse than his 2.69 FIP and 2.82 xFIP. Arghh. I need to be consistent and if this were anyone but my mancrush, I’d be warning of a drop in skills so that’s what I’ll do here. Until Kluber shows he can maintain this level of dominance for a full 162, at minimum be prepared for some giveback the next couple months.
30. Alex Cobb (1H- 105, PROJ- 31): Swell, another bromantic guy. Cobb has taken a step back in terms of skills but I still believe in the talent – big time.
31. Ian Kennedy (1H- 63, PROJ- 68): Kennedy has punched out more than a hitter a frame which may be surprising. He’s thought of as a Petco Park guy but his home/road splits are pretty much the same despite a home ERA that is actually worse than his road ERA (that whole skills versus outcome thing). The real take home lesson is Kennedy is not just a streamer; he should be used on the road as well.
32. Michael Wacha (1H- 25, PROJ- 24): Wacha’s injury drops him and it’s actually a stretch to have him make the top-40. Prior to being hurt, Wacha was pitching as advertised though with a bit of batted ball luck. His BABIP allowed is .278 with a 5.9 percent home run per fly ball rate. When he returns, expecting similar numbers as before he left is a bit optimistic.
33. Mat Latos (1H- 91, PROJ- 26): Since returning from injury, Latos has rung up typical surface stats but is sporting a strikeout rate lower than usual. Expect that to ramp up as he gets more innings under his belt.
34. Alex Wood (1H- 51, PROJ- 32): It took a bit for Wood to rejoin the rotation but now that he has, good things will follow. Deception is part of his game, but it doesn’t matter how tricky you are if you don’t throw strikes. In his last five starts, Wood has fanned 27 while walking only 8 in 31 1/3rd innings so he’s getting it done.
35. Jose Quintana (1H- 60, PROJ- 56): Quintana has improved his strikeout rate for the second consecutive year as it now sits at 8.3 per nine, above league average. He doesn’t go far into games which hurts, but he could be better than most think which is where you pick up an edge.
36. Garrett Richards (1H- 16, PROJ- 151): I covered Richards pretty extensively during the first-half value review so here’s the Cliff Notes version. His improvement in strikeout rate is not a shock but the extent is going to be tough to maintain. As a ground ball pitcher a low HR/9 is expected but add on a low 4.3 percent home run per fly ball and there’s some luck there too. There’s a good chance Richards finishes higher than this list gives him credit for.
37. Jason Hammel (1H- 11, PROJ- 129): Hammel’s return to the American League should be a success. Solid is probably the best way to describe the righty. His peripherals are all a tad better than league average so when that’s put together, you get a guy well above league average.
38. Homer Bailey (1H- 90, PROJ- 23): Bailey’s skills have fallen back a bit but the real issue has been a high home run per fly ball rate. That should drop making Bailey at least palatable. Just don’t expect SP2 type numbers; he’s a back end SP3, strong SP4.
39. Tyson Ross (1H- 43, PROJ- 117): Ross is repeating what he did last season but unlike Kennedy, he does exhibit some pretty decent home/road splits so be a little more judicious when you use him out of Petco.
40. Charlie Morton (1H- 58, PROJ- 94): Morton’s whiff and walk rates are basically league average but his exceptional ground ball rate limits homers so all totaled, he checks in a little above average.
1. Craig Kimbrel (1H- 4, PROJ- 1): A few extra walks has bloated Kimbrel’s WHIP a tad, but his strikeout still make him worth the hefty investment.
2. Sean Doolittle (1H- 11, PROJ- 32): Doolittle’s an extreme fly ball pitcher which leads to an extra home run or two but his walk rate is tiny so unless he’s protecting a one-run lead, there’s nothing to worry about.
3. Greg Holland (1H- 7, PROJ- 3): Quietly one of the best and if he can get into a few more games, he’s on a pace to fan more than 90 hitters for the third straight campaign.
4. Koji Uehara (1H- 2, PROJ- 4): Truth be told, I figured his arm would have fallen off by now. Uehara continues to amaze.
5. Mark Melancon (1H- 15, PROJ- 27): Unfairly labeled as not having the guile to close a few years ago, Melancon has proven that notion to be false.
6. Kenley Jansen (1H- 17, PROJ- 2): A .370 BABIP is a bit mind-boggling and has resulted in a bloated 3.32 ERA. A 1.88 FIP and 1.93 xFIP say there’s nothing to worry about.
7. Glen Perkins (1H- 12, PROJ- 6): Perkins’ skills are a bit better than last season but a 66 percent left on base mark has artificially inflated his ERA a bit
8. David Robertson (1H- 19, PROJ- 5): The initial ranking at #5 suggested I was high on Robertson in the spring and he has not disappointed.
9. Aroldis Chapman (1H- 21, PROJ- 10): Chapman’s innings were cut a tad after he limped out of the All-Star game. If he’s healthy, he’s top-five quality.
10. Jonathan Papelbon (1H- 9, PROJ- 7): Papelbon’s skills have declined and his 2 percent home run per fly ball rate is extremely fortuitous but until Papelbon stops showing he can do the job, he deserves a spot on this list.
And thus concludes the second-half prognosis. Thanks for your patience and patronage.