2017 Pod’s Picks & Pans — Starting Pitcher

Alas, we have reached the end of the Pod’s Picks and Pans series. We conclude with a look at starting pitchers. Since there are just so many differences of opinion, I didn’t strictly go down the line of pitchers with the largest gaps, but rather cherry picked a bit that would be the most insightful.

Starting Pitchers March Rankings Update

Pod’s Picks — Starting Pitcher
NAME Mike RG Consensus Diff
Jeff Samardzija 21 50 -29
Michael Pineda 34 62 -28
Drew Hutchison 78 139 -61
Nate Karns 76 128 -52
Jaime Garcia 59 98 -39

After a disastrous 2015 in the American League, Jeff Samardzija rebounded after a return to the NL, posting an ERA more than a full run lower than his 2015 line. His strikeout rate partially bounced back, but it’s still a far cry from his pre-2015 rates. No one else seems to be buying it though, except for me, and Jeff, whose rankings are based on the projection systems. Why? He plays half his games in a top pitcher’s park that suppresses homers (something he needs given his inflated HR/FB rates at times) and in front of what is expected to be an excellent defense. He has also thrown over 200 innings in each of the past four seasons, so while he might not dazzle in the ratio categories, he’ll be more than good enough, and do it over enough innings to contribute soundly in both wins and strikeouts. He’s become a boring vet and it’s led to undervaluation.

How is it that I’m the top man on Michael Pineda (surprise, surprise), yet only managed to roster him in one of my three leagues? Perhaps I should be a bit quieter and stop talking about his sparkling SIERA so I actually have a chance to buy him and similar pitchers in the future. I think this will be the year I will finally admit to being wrong or be vindicated. BABIP and HR/FB regression apply to the vast majority of pitchers, but there are some outliers. Pineda could prove to be one, but I think we need more than two seasons to determine that. He hasn’t been particularly expensive in my leagues, but I had hoped for cheaper, given the possibility that he is one of those outliers.

I always love pitchers moving from the AL to the NL, especially coming from a major hitter’s park to one that favors pitchers. Drew Hutchison finds himself in that very situation, and moves to an excellent environment. Somehow I was the only one with a ranking in the top 100! Years ago, he was a trendy sleeper and breakout pick, and even though he’s now in a much better situation to succeed, seemingly everyone has already moved along. Don’t forget his name, as he makes for an excellent reserve rounder in 12-team mixed leagues.

Like Hutchison above, I’m easily the high man on Nate Karns and the only one ranking him inside the top 100. I love any starting pitcher in Kansas City with the excellent defense and pitcher friendly home park. With a batted ball profile that’s heavier on fly balls than the league average, KC is a fantastic landing spot for him. Add the always high strikeout rate and he’s one of my favorite sleepers. I even put my money where my mouth is, buying him in AL Tout Wars on Saturday (will get to a full write-up of Tout soon).

I’ve been finding that Jaime Garcia ends up sitting atop my values at the end of all my drafts/auctions! No one wants him. But the guy has a 3.57 career ERA with a heavy ground ball profile and acceptable strikeout rates. Infield defense is mighty important to Garcia’s success and the Braves figure to be above average everywhere except at third base, where one wonders how long Adonis Garcia is actually going to remain the starter. I’m not too excited in a shallow mixed league, but in deep mixed and NL-Only leagues, he’s probably a bargain.

Pod’s Pans — Starting Pitcher
Name Mike RG Consensus Diff
Gerrit Cole 45 19 26
Danny Salazar 48 28 20
Aaron Sanchez 37 22 15
Michael Fulmer 55 34 21

I’m the only ranker lower than 27 for Gerrit Cole and it’s due to a combination of health issues and a dramatic degradation in underlying skills. Elbow injuries mean I can’t project more than 170 innings, which hampers both his potential win and strikeout totals (and hurts his dollar value, of course). And his SwStk% dropped below the league average, driving his SIERA to above 4.00. I like Cole’s potential and stuff, but I feel like his consensus ranking fails to account for all these risk factors.

I used to be a big Danny Salazar fan. No longer. It’s a health thing again. I’m the only one with a ranking greater than 30 here and I’m even more confident than for Cole. We have heard that elbow issues correlate to control problems. Guess what? Salazar’s walk rate spiked to 10.8% last year, easily a career high. And while I place limited weight on spring stats, he has walked 12 of the 89 batters he has faced for a whopping 13.5% walk rate. Who knows, maybe he’s just working on things that would explain it. But when he dealt with elbow issues last year, which most certainly affected his control, and he’s battling control issues again now, well, the saying goes, where there’s smoke, there’s fire.

I find Aaron Sanchez to be one of this season’s most overvalued pitchers. He posted an ERA a full run below his SIERA, thanks to a suppressed .267 BABIP. This, despite the fact he’s an extreme ground ball pitcher who induces few pop-ups, and he even allowed a 30.3% Hard%! It’s the type of batted ball profile you would expect would lead to a BABIP well above .300. He’s no better than a league average strikeout guy and he still has to prove he could go 200 innings. Frankly, I’m baffled as to why this guy gets so much love, outside the sparkling surface ERA and sexy 15-2 record in 2016.

I guess it’s not surprising that the reigning AL Rookie of the Year Michael Fulmer is overvalued in my eyes. He pulled a Sanchez by recording an ERA about a full run below his SIERA, thanks to a suppressed BABIP and inflated LOB%. There’s nothing in his profile to suggest he will continue to keep balls in play from becoming hits at that rate and since we have just one season’s worth of data, we can’t make the assumption that he’s an outlier. It’s no wonder that all the projection systems are forecasting major regression, while the Fans are a half run lower on the ERA. He definitely has some strikeout rate upside, but it won’t be enough to counter the regression dragons once his BABIP and LOB% fall back to Earth.

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.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
5 years ago

Should I be terrified of the risk or excited by the upside in this staff I drafted last night?

Strasburg, Carrasco, Maeda, McCullers, Paxton, Nola, Walker, Cotton, Wacha

Limited moves, so streaming not really possible. H2H league, so I try to have a high upside collection of arms.

5 years ago
Reply to  CasonJolette

If it makes you feel any better, I’m with you.

Carrasco, McCullers, Rodon, J. Gray, Odorizzi, Bundy, Walker, Cotton, S. Gray

We are also H2H but have daily moves, so that helps. But yeah.

5 years ago
Reply to  gootchgootch

We have daily moves as well, just a budget for the season to add/drop players ($1 through the regular season, $3 post all-star break, $5 in playoffs)

5 years ago
Reply to  Mike Podhorzer

It’s a 10 team h2h OBP league, so it’s a shallow format, but I really love my offense.

C Martin
1B Votto
2B Villar
3B Rendon
SS Story
OF Harper
OF Bautista
OF Broxton
UTL Santana
BN Thames

I took your advice and let Rendon fall to around pick 100 before I grabbed him, getting the best value. Someone actually ended up reaching over 60 spots for Sano before my pick, so made it an easy choice for me.

5 years ago
Reply to  Mike Podhorzer

I have Yahoo to thank for that, they have Votto 22nd and I grabbed him with the 19th pick after taking Harper second overall. This is only our second year doing OBP, so guys are still adjusting to the projection adjustments, but I’ll be happy to exploit.

baltic wolfmember
5 years ago
Reply to  CasonJolette

Good god! How many teams in your league? I only play in deep and keeper leagues so it would be impossible to assemble a starting pitching staff like that.

5 years ago
Reply to  baltic wolf

Only 10…old fraternity league we’ve had going for past 10 plus years. Decent chunk of money involved as well.