2018 Bold Pitcher League Leaders

Yesterday, I unveiled my bold hitter league leaders, with the acknowledgement that far more difficult to hit than the generic Bold Predictions. The pitching side of the ledger is a bit easier, though. Given that there is both more luck and factors outside the specific pitcher’s control that shape his surface results, it’s more conceivable that a non-favorite leads the league in a category.

In an effort to avoid double dipping and naming the same pitcher in two categories, there may have been a slightly better bold choice for a particular category. I opted to come up with different names in each. Also keep in mind that it is challenging to balance boldness with realistic, considering this requires me to bet against a group of names in which it’s like a 95% lock that one of them wins the category. I eliminated many names that I didn’t think were bold, but maybe you do. I also eliminated names that have no real chance at leading in the category. I decided against a bold wins league leader, because wins are silly and unpredictable. All I usually do is pick a good pitcher on a top offense.

American League

ERALance McCullers

McCullers essentially owns the perfect skill set. Strikeouts? Check. He owns a 26.5% career strikeout rate, fueled by a mid-90s fastball paired with an elite curve ball. Walk avoidance? Possibly check. He cut his walk rate in 2017 by throwing slightly more strikes, but more importantly, dramatically reducing the number of times he finds himself in a 3-0 count. Ground balls? Check. His 61.3% ground ball rate last season ranked fourth in baseball. The Astros infield isn’t actually good, but grounders are needed more than ever now with fly balls leaving the ball park at historically high rates. Health is really the only question mark — can he actually start enough games to qualify for the ERA lead?

WHIPJames Paxton

I wanted to go with an Angels pitcher here given a defense that is expected to be superb, but Shohei Ohtani is unlikely to pitch enough innings to qualify for the leaderboard and the rest are too longshotty. Instead, I’ll go with a Mariners pitcher whose excellent stuff finally fueled a strikeout rate spike. All three of his primary pitches — four-seamer, curve ball, and cutter — generated SwStk% well above the average for the pitch. So that strikeout rate spike appears mostly for real, and he combines that with sharpened control off his pre-2016 seasons. Lots of strikeouts plus excellent control is what results in a low WHIP.

SOBlake Snell

I’m upset that I own 0 shares of him this season, but it’s clear that I’m not the only one excited by his 2018 potential. He posted just a 21.8% strikeout rate in 2017, but if you divide his starts up by pre- and post-demotion, you find he improved from a an 18% mark to a 23.7% mark. That still won’t be enough for him to sniff the strikeouts lead, but his minor league track record splattered with several 30%+ strikeout rates hints at further upside. Furthermore, both his slider and curve ball last season were elite at inducing swings and misses, while his changeup also generated a low teens SwStk%.

SvNate Jones

How do you go bold with a saves leader when saves are so unpredictable that any closer could realistically lead the league? Pick one who hasn’t even been named the closer! Right now, the supposed plan is to use the oft-injured, but dominant when healthy Jones along with veteran Joakim Soria. I think Jones has greater upside and am projecting him for the higher strikeout rate, so he’s my pick to run away with the job…provided he could stay on the field.

National League

ERALuis Castillo

You read about my entire process projecting Castillo and probably came away with the idea that I was relatively bearish on the sophomore. That’s certainly not true, and I could envision the path to an ERA title. While you can never actually forecast it, there’s the possibility his ground ball rate surge is for real, and he’s got upside in his walk rate given his marks in the minors since 2016. His strikeout rate surge was supported by an elite changeup and solid slider, to go along with a mid-to-high 90s fastball. The skills are there and the upside is massive.

WHIPAaron Nola

Nola boosted both his SwStk% and strikeout rate thanks to a consistently awesome curve ball and improved changeup. His walk rate jumped, but he’s got a history of better marks, so he’s likely to get that mark back below 7%. Do we really think he’s going to post a BABIP of at least .309 for a third straight season? It’s not like he’s allowing a whole lot of line drives or hard contact. A rebound in walk rate, plus better batted ball fortune, pushes his WHIP well below 1.20 to a career best.

SOSean Newcomb

His control is going to be what makes or breaks this prediction. A high walk rate is going to limit his innings and make it impossible to reach even 200 strikeouts. But outside the control questions, he featured a strong four pitch arsenal last season, with above average SwStk% from his four-seamer, changeup, and slider. That’s quite the deep repertoire of goodness. He also consistently posted strikeout rates in the minors in the mid-to-high 20% range.

SvArodys Vizcaino

I opted to choose a guy who already has the closer job this time, but one who just notched a new career high in saves last year of just 14. He has the skills to hold the job all season though, as his 14.7% SwStk% was splendid, and driven by an absolutely elite curve ball that generated a 26.5% SwStk%. His four-seamer wasn’t too shabby either, which shouldn’t come as a surprise given that he maxed at 100 mph with the pitch and average over 97 mph.

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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.

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Thanks Pod. With you on the Snell love but have also come away with 0 shares so far (one last chance tonight!). Can you explain to me how the 4-man rotation is going to impact the TB starters? Do they expect their starters to pitch shallower into games but more innings throughout the season? That alone could lead to a higher volume of innings and make your K leader prediction more likely to happen.


I’m not 100% sure but I think it will be normal innings for the starters and that 5th day will be a complete bullpen day. Hopefully 2 pitchers go 3 innings.