2019 Bold Pitcher League Leaders – A Review

I continue my review of my pre-season predictions, moving along to my bold pitcher league leaders. While the randomness of many of these metrics make it extremely difficult to get a call right, it also means that I have a much better chance of hitting on one than I did with the hitters. That’s because Dee Gordon has essentially a 0% chance of leading the league in homers, but with some good fortune, it’s in the realm of possibility that Steven Matz wins the NL ERA title. I did not boldly predict a wins league leader, because wins are dumb.

American League

ERATyler Glasnow

Welp, it didn’t take long for the Podhorzer injury curse to rear its ugly head! Glasnow was on the breakout path after his first eight starts, posting a microscopic 1.86 ERA (3.28 SIERA), driven by a scintillating 30.1% strikeout rate and shockingly improved 4.9% walk rate. Sadly, he then went down with a forearm injury and didn’t return until early September. He surely was worth the extra buck while he was on the mound, but we hoped for more than just 60.2 breakout innings. Maybe in 2020.

WHIPShane Bieber

Bbbbbbbut, I thought Bieber and his “bad” fastball was so hittable? He finished this season with a .296 BABIP, exactly at the league average. He jacked up his strikeout rate to just above 30%, while maintaining an elite walk rate. Combined with the aforementioned rebound in BABIP, Bieber managed to post an impressive 1.05 WHIP. While that didn’t come close to league leader Justin Verlander and his ridiculous 0.80 WHIP, Bieber’s mark did rank third in the league. That’s as spirity a win for this column as it gets!

SvBrad Boxberger

LOL. It’s hard picking a closer that would be considered a bold choice to lead the league in saves, as really any desginated closer could do it. At the time, the Royals hadn’t annointed a closer, and in fact, they never formally did until it was clear that it was Ian Kennedy’s, who performed admirably in the job. Anyway, Boxberger surely had the opportunity at the beginning, so I was right about that. What I was wrong about was that he would be good enough to hold the job. He was not.

National League

ERALuis Castillo

This was looking real good through July, as Castillo posted a 2.63 ERA. But an inflated BABIP in Aug, low LOB% marks in Aug and Sep, and an inflated walk rate in Sep pushed Castillo’s final ERA well above 3.00 to settle in at 3.40. His skills remains elite though and he posted an insane 15.9% SwStk%. The high walk rate is worrisome as you never know whether a pitcher is hiding an injury, but assuming that means nothing, he remains a BUY.

WHIPJoe Musgrove

Musgrove was a popular sleeping heading into the season, and with impeccable control leading to a low walk rate, was as good a bold choice as any to lead the league in WHIP. He failed to do so, of course, and his WHIP actually increased marginally from his 2018 mark. His skill set has remained remarkably consistent, so you wonder if there’s another level here or if this is what he is. Will he get his ERA below 4.00 one of these seasons?

SvPedro Strop

Another pitcher hit by the injury bug, but he did act as the Cubs primary closer until he got hurt. Then the team went out and signed Craig Kimbrel, so he had no shot to regain his old job back. Of course, his skills took a sudden dive, as he posted his highest ERA and SIERA during any full season going back to 2012.

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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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Was there any kind of leading indicator that Bieber’s fastball would improve so much? Hitters had an .863 OPS against it in 2018 and a .717 OPS against it in 2019. Per your comment, I presume the 2018 numbers are what scared a lot of buyers off.


Well the biggest driver is a huge swing in BABIP from .375 to .261 against his fastball. The plate discipline stats are relatively similar in 2018 and 2019, with the other notable differences being an increased fly ball tendency and more pop ups. His xwOBA on 4 seamers was essentially unchanged. I would argue that he got unlucky last year and got a bit lucky this year on the pitch.

In general I think the point is people worried too much about his fastball. It did help him cutting down on its usage a bit this year and improving his breaking stuff, but it was a fine pitch to begin with. There’s just generally a tendency to blame bad BABIP on hitable fastballs when it’s often just luck. He was a solid pick for WHIP because he never walks anyone and his advanced metrics were great last year.