2018 Mid-May Potential Starting Pitcher xwOBA Improvers

Earlier this week, I looked at Statcast’s expected metrics to identify hitters who may improve or decline from their current ISO marks. Today, let’s talk pitchers. I’m simply going to sort the Expected Stats leaderboard by difference between wOBA and xwOBA and discuss the fantasy relevant starting pitchers with the biggest negative gaps between wOBA and xwOBA (higher wOBA than xwOBA). Remember that xwOBA fails to account for home ballpark, defensive support, quality and opposition, and perhaps other factors I’m not able to come up with at the moment. It’s why I stick to the extremes, as even with all factors accounted for, it’s highly likely these guys are still due for the same directional move in wOBA, though perhaps not to the same degree.

xwOBA Improvers
Player wOBA xwOBA Diff
Alex Cobb 0.427 0.357 0.070
Vince Velasquez 0.332 0.290 0.042
Kenta Maeda 0.345 0.307 0.038
Brandon McCarthy 0.387 0.361 0.026
Jaime Garcia 0.387 0.363 0.024
Tyler Anderson 0.328 0.306 0.022
Lance Lynn 0.396 0.375 0.021
Noah Syndergaard 0.298 0.279 0.019
Lg Avg 0.312 0.334 -0.022

Would you look at that, massive disappointment Alex Cobb has apparently been the unluckiest starting pitcher in baseball so far according to Statcast. Of course, that xwOBA is still well above the league average, both the actual and expected marks. That means that although he hasn’t pitched as poorly as his 7.06 ERA would indicate, he has still been rather awful. Clearly, no starting pitcher is bad enough to deserve a .384 BABIP and it’s not even like he has allowed a ton of line drives. The obvious issue is that his splitter simply hasn’t been the same since returning from TJ surgery, as its SwStk% has collapsed, and his sinker has always been terrible at inducing whiffs. The park doesn’t help and he plays in a tough division, so I wouldn’t touch him regardless of format.

Vince Velasquez is back! That is, if you could look beyond his ugly 5.05 ERA. His underlying skills have fully rebounded back to his pre-2017 days, but slightly worse than league average marks in all three luck metrics have overshadowed his bounce back. The velocity looks good, so no concern there either. An extreme fly ball rate is an issue, and it’s being exacerbated by an inflated HR/FB rate, but that should improve. I’m buying here in most formats.

Kenta Maeda’s skills have taken a step forward, with a career best SwStk% and strikeout rate, but his ERA has jumped near 5.00, thanks to an absurd .384 BABIP. Unlike Velasquez, it’s a bit easier to explain that high BABIP — his LD% is an inflated 26.7% and he hasn’t induced one pop-up all season. He’s never dealt with those issues in the past, so either something truly is wrong or his batted ball profile reverts soon enough. Buy buy buy for as long as there are no health questions.

I probably shouldn’t spend much time writing about Brandon McCarthy, but he fits into the Cobb mold of pitching better than his results, but still pitching poorly. His velocity is back to pre-surge days, and he’s lost his ability to miss bats. Give me a middle reliever in an NL-Only league.

Jaime Garcia gets the same writeup as Cobb, but the interesting thing here is that the former ground ball pitcher has suddenly transformed into a fly baller. It’s why his HR/9 has shot up to a career worst mark, and his HR/FB rate isn’t high enough to think improvement is coming.

I will rarely, if ever, recommend a Rockies starter, but Tyler Anderson at least is somewhat intriguing. I don’t know what happened to his ground balls, and being a fly ball pitcher in Coors seems ultra risky. But, he has boosted his SwStk% to an impressive 13.1%, thanks to a knockout cutter/changeup combo. His xFIP is actually very similar in home and away games, so it’s not even like it’s a lock to start him away. He’s an NL-Only option for me.

Geez, I don’t think this is what the Twins expected when they signed Lance Lynn. Of course, one only needed to check his SIERA from 2017 to discover that Lynn was pretty terrible back then too. His control has completed deserted him, but surprisingly his SwStk% sits at a career high. The loss of control suggests something is going on with his arm, so I wouldn’t bother with him in any format.

How on Earth does Noah Syndergaard consistently allow BABIP marks well above .300 with the kind of stuff he possesses?! That .279 xwOBA mark ranks 16th out of 160 pitchers who have faced at least 100 batters. His actual wOBA is just 64th, however. He definitely needs to figure out how to generate pop-ups and this year he suddenly has a line drive problem. I feel like this is exactly what a pitching coach should be advising him on.

We hoped you liked reading 2018 Mid-May Potential Starting Pitcher xwOBA Improvers by Mike Podhorzer!

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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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