Yesterday, I got outrageously bold with predictions for the league leaders in the five fantasy hitting categories. Today, I check in on the pitching side of the ledger with some equally crazy forecasts.
ERA – Yu Darvish
This probably won’t be so bold to many, but considering he did post a 3.90 ERA last year, he should qualify. Some of those line drives should become ground balls, so strong ground ball rate? Check. Gobs of strikeouts? Yes siree. Now he just has to work on his control. Of those three skills, I will always bet on the control improving before hoping the other two do. Of course, given his draft price, he almost has to lead the league in ERA just to break even for his owners.
WHIP – James Shields
Shields’ BABIP has been up and down throughout his career and he’ll now be pitching in front of a worse defense and a less forgiving park in terms of hits allowed. But, according to math ninja Steve Staude, Kauffman Stadium suppresses HR/FB rate even more so than Tropicana Field. That’s a boon to Shields who has struggled in that department throughout his career. Would be homers might now become fly outs, reducing his hit total and WHIP along with it.
Strikeouts – Matt Moore
He threw just 177.0 innings last year, so you have to assume the workload will increase. The Fans are calling for 204.0 innings, which would certainly put him into the strikeout leader conversation. His K/9 was actually a bit disappointing last season at 8.8, but an 11.8% SwStk% suggests upside, while his fantastic minor league record validates that he is quite capable of better.
Wins – Doug Fister
Based on the various projected standings, the Tigers are expected to score the most runs in baseball this season, and for good reason. Fister missed time last year due to injury, but could be ready to surpass the 200.0 inning plateau once again. I considered Max Scherzer here, but he is much less bold, plus I am projecting more innings pitched for Fister and a nearly identical ERA for the two.
Saves – Glen Perkins
For some reason, Perkins is not getting the draft day respect he does as his Mock Draft Central ADP is just 14th among closers. Maybe it’s because he’s a lefty or maybe it’s because he only moved into the closer role in the middle of last year, garnering 16 saves. But man this guy has the skills. He has posted sub-3.00 SIERA marks the last two seasons as his velocity spiked upon his move to acting as a full-time bullpenner. He has excellent control as well. Take advantage of the “inexperienced closer” label discount.
ERA – Andrew Cashner
It wouldn’t be a Pod list without including Cashner in it somewhere. The minimum number of innings a pitcher must throw to qualify for the ERA title is 162.0, so Cashner has a chance to barely squeak by. I’ve talked about him enough and I’m just hoping none of my local league mates have read this, otherwise I’ll be forced to consider paying $10 for his services at the auction.
WHIP – Dan Haren
At one time, Haren was a great WHIP guy. He still possesses excellent control and the move back to the National League should boost his strikeout rate, which would reduce his hits allowed total. At least, that’s what i keep telling myself since I keep managing to draft him.
Strikeouts – Matt Harvey
His innings total will be key here, but he did pitch about 170 of them last season, which suggests he may be limitless this year and capable of reaching 200 frames. It’s a relatively small sample, but his stuff was absolutely dominant in New York, inducing swinging strikes at a 12% clip and punching out 10.6 batters per nine. While it’s highly unlikely he will sustain that strikeout rate, it’s not unreasonable to think he could whiff a batter an inning, or maybe more.
Wins – Mat Latos
Amazingly, the Reds ranked just 21st in baseball in runs scored last year. This time, projections figure them for the second best offense in the National League, behind the Rockies who have yet to cobble together a Major League pitching staff. Though Latos’ HR/FB did jump after the move from San Diego, he BABIP’d his way to a nearly identical ERA. His strikeout rate should rebound, so he should come close to matching his performance from last year, and a better Reds offense could increase his win total.
Saves – Jason Grilli
Grilli won the lottery when incumbent Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan was traded during the offseason. He has had an up and down career in relief and sports an unattractive 4.34 career ERA. But something changed last year, as his velocity jumped 1.2 mph and his SwStk% moved into the stratosphere, taking his strikeout rate along for the ride. While we can’t expect a repeat and he does have inconsistent control, he should have no problem holding onto the job all year. And if you’re a relatively solid relief pitcher who finds himself saving games all year, then you have as good a chance as any to lead the league in the category!
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.