It’s time for the first pitcher to experience the Pod projection process. Aside from Yu Darvish, Michael Pineda has probably been the most newsworthy pitcher of the off-season after the recent trade to New York. FanGraphs covered every angle of the trade, including speculation on how he might perform moving away from the pitcher’s haven in Seattle to the home-run happy Yankee Stadium. As such, I figured it would be appropriate to actually try to figure this out by mixing all the numbers together and spitting out a projection. But before you go any further, make sure you read my pitcher projection introduction.
Like I did with hitters, I will discuss each metric I manually projected and then provide my final projected fantasy stat line with the familiar 5×5 categories.
IP: 190. He pitched 171 last year, so although 200 is very possible, it seems more prudent to keep the projection at this level.
LOB%: 73%. My spreadsheet includes a formula that take a number of projected stats into account to calculate an expected LOB%. For veteran pitchers, I usually only use it as support for my projection and then manually project the LOB% myself. For young pitchers like Pineda, though I typically leave the expected LOB% as my actual projection. In this case, the formula spit out 73% given his other skills. Last year, his LOB% was only 69.7%, below the league average of 72.5%. That was the primary reason his ERA was much higher than his SIERA and xFIP last year. Unless someone could provide me a compelling reason why Pineda should be projected to once again strand runners at a lower rate than the league average, I expect an improvement.
GB%/LD%/FB%: 40%/19%/41%. Pineda only induced ground balls at a 36.3% clip last year, but over the second half of the season, his GB% jumped to 44% from just 31% in the first half. Since batted ball distribution is usually relatively consistent, this signifies that there may have been a real change. Sure enough, our own David Golebiewski looked into this surge recently and found that Pineda threw his fastball less often and relied on his slider even more. As a result, I projected an increase in GB%, but hedged a bit by not going all the way up to the mid-40% mark.
HR/FB%: 11%. He posted a 9.0% mark last year and is moving from a park that reduced right-handed home runs by 18% to one that inflates homers to lefties by 43% and righties by 15%. Although that is a huge difference in park effects, the good news is that his strong strikeout rate dampers its impact.
BABIP: .295. He benefited from a .258 mark last year playing in front of another fantastic Mariners defense and being an extreme fly ball pitcher. SAFECO Field also decreases batting average, while Yankee Stadium is more neutral. Since I am projecting more ground balls, which go for hits more often than fly balls, and assume he will have a worse defense behind him, I am projecting him close to the league average.
BB/9: 2.8. One of the things that I don’t think gets discussed enough about Pineda is his amazing control. As a rookie, he posted the 13th best F-Strike% among all starters. That’s pretty darn awesome. His minor league walk rates never jumped above 2.5, so it is clear that he truly has sterling control. I wouldn’t be surprised if he posts a 2.5 BB/9 or so, but feel more comfortable only projecting a minor drop.
K/9: 9.2. He posted a 9.1 mark last year, so this represents a slight increase. Did you know that Pineda led all starters in SwStk%? So, 13th in F-Strike% and 1st in SwStk%. As a rookie. Ridiculous. He even saw his strikeout rate surge from an 8.7 mark in the first half to 9.7 in the second. Funny how those who only look at his ERA would claim he declined in the second half, when in fact he actually got even better. Since we know that strikeout rate peaks early, it is hard for me to project much higher than this mark, as regression to the mean is a powerful force. But like the upside I still see in his walk rate, I think this number is beatable too.
So those are all the numbers I project by hand. After they are all entered into my spreadsheet, a projected ERA, WHIP and win total gets spit out. Now let’s compare my projections with the rest, but keep in mind these are likely not taking into account his trade to New York.
The interesting thing is that although everyone knows moving out of SAFECO and into Yankee Stadium is bad for his ERA, my ERA projection actually represents a decline versus last year. This is primarily because he was actually unlucky last season and usually I project luck to neutralize for the upcoming season. Combine that with a projected small skills improvement and you are left with a pitcher who may actually be undervalued due to people’s fears about him pitching in that ballpark.
Mike Podhorzer is the 2015 Fantasy Sports Writers Association Baseball Writer of the Year. He produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X 2.0: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.