Yesterday, I identified and discussed 13 starting pitchers the 2019 Pod Projections forecasted a significantly lower ERA than Steamer. Today, I’ll take on the other group — those the Pod Projections are more bearish on than Steamer in ERA. I’ll only discuss those pitchers you truly care about.
Remember that overall, Steamer is more bearish than Pod in ERA, so the gaps here will be smaller than on the upside list. I’m also ignoring rookies, as they are really a crapshoot.
Joey Lucchesi came out of nowhere last season and he drove his owners on a roller coaster ride as literally every other month he was real good, mixed in poor months in between. I’m actually projecting a near identical strikeout rate as Steamer, but a slightly worse walk rate. The biggest drivers of the discrepancy here are BABIP and HR/9. Usually Steamer is the pessimistic one on BABIP, but this time it’s the only system below .300. Regression toward league average works both ways!
My .305 BABIP is driven partly by a new pitcher xBABIP metric I tried to develop a couple of months ago, but never published. Lucchesi’s xBABIP was .318, thanks to lots of balls hit at 95+ MPH against him, a high line drive rate, and a low IFFB%. He’s also a lefty, a handedness that suffers from higher BABIP marks. Similarly, along with my attempts at an xBABIP, I also developed an xHR/FB rate, which Lucchesi didn’t grade out very well in, but certainly better than his actual mark. I’m projecting regression toward league average, but clearly not as good as Steamer.
I guess this is why I believe Blake Snell is one of the most overvalued players in fantasy this year! The funny thing is I’ve loved Snell in the past given his varied mix of awesome pitches, but the breakout has pushed his price way too high. Steamer is well above my strikeout rate projection. It’s not that he was fortunate to post a mark above 30%, it’s just that he already had over 200 innings of far less impressive strikeout rates on his record. So my forecast is simply an acknowledgement than owning 30%+ strikeout rate skills is rare, and maintaining such a rate is really, really hard. Steamer is just short, but it’s far closer to 30% than I am.
Don’t forget than Snell’s SIERA was 3.30, which was wayyyyyyyyy higher than his 1.89 mark. There’s nowhere near enough data to suggest he’ll be a consistent low BABIP and/or HR/FB rate guy and he certainly can’t possibly maintain a near 90% LOB%. So, if his luck neutralizes and his skills are maintained, his ERA jumps near his SIERA. But if he can’t maintain a strikeout rate above 30%? Then he’s a mid-3.00 ERA guy with a mediocre WHIP. That’s not my idea of a second or third round pick or a top 10 pitcher.
So Robbie Ray went from sleeper to overvalued to sleeper again? I’m actually slightly higher than Steamer on his strikeout rate and we match in walk rate. The difference here is the BABIP and HR/9, as now Steamer has the opposite of the Matt Cain problem, assuming positive regression toward league average, when the pitcher has typically posted worse than league average marks that have been deserved.
Though I’m not confident enough in my pitcher xBABIP and xHR/FB rates yet to share them, they do tell a consistent story here. His xBABIP marks the last four years have remained in a narrow range between .301 and .312, which suggests he just doesn’t prevent hits on balls in play very well, thanks to ridiculously high rates of balls hit at 95+ MPH. Similarly, he has allowed lots of barreled balls and the fly balls hit against them have traveled a farther than average distance. Having dived into these underlying metrics, I think he either has to actually improve or benefit from great fortune again to post better than league average BABIP and HR/FB rate marks.
Seeing how early German Marquez has been drafted is one of the funnier stories of pre-season. On the one hand, his strikeout rate rose every single month, culiminating in a ridiculous 37.5% mark in September. Did he just wake up one day and become an elite pitcher? The answer to that is that he may have, as he nearly doubled his slider usage as the season wore on and the pitch produced a scintillating 21.5% SwStk%. But, he’s not going to beat Coors, so he’s going to post an inflated BABIP and HR/FB rate, and this newfound slider success may not last. Previously, his career high strikeout rate was just 23.9%, so the safe place is to expect healthy regression. You need that massive strikeout rate to be maintained for him to even have a chance to just break even for his owners at the price he’s going.
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.