2019 Pod vs Steamer — ERA Upside

Let’s continue our comparison of the 2019 Pod Projections (last year’s most accurate non-aggregate forecasting system!) and the Steamer projections. Today, we move on to pitchers, where I’ll compare our ERA projections. First, it’s worth noting that Steamer is far more pessimistic on ERA than Pod is, so there are more upside guys than downside. It’s not a big deal for fantasy baseball though, as value is driven by projected stats versus replacement. So whether the league ERA is projected at 11.00 and Chris Sale is at 9.50 or the league is at 4.50 and Sale is at 3.00, it doesn’t make a difference from a valuation perspective.

Before sharing the list of pitchers, remember that it’s typically rather easy to determine the cause of the ERA gap. Usually it’s a difference in strikeout or walk rate projections, or BABIP, HR/9, or LOB%. Essentially, we’re either off on underlying skills or the luck metrics. Since Steamer is a computer system, it regresses the luck metrics toward league average more aggressively than I might, which is why it was consistently wrong on Matt Cain, for example, until he stunk, of course.

ERA Upside
Player Pod Projected ERA Steamer Projected ERA Diff
Yusei Kikuchi 3.76 4.56 -0.80
Kyle Hendricks 3.42 4.05 -0.63
Alex Wood 3.55 4.15 -0.60
Collin McHugh 3.82 4.35 -0.53
Clayton Kershaw 2.77 3.29 -0.52
Stephen Strasburg 3.15 3.63 -0.48
Ryan Yarbrough 3.95 4.39 -0.44
Jake Arrieta 3.81 4.25 -0.44
Jose Berrios 3.85 4.28 -0.43
Touki Toussaint 3.95 4.37 -0.42
Zack Godley 3.80 4.22 -0.42
Aaron Nola 3.16 3.58 -0.42
Zack Greinke 3.57 3.99 -0.42

Surprise, surprise! Atop the list sits Yusei Kikuchi, who will be making his Major League debut after beginning his career in Japan. I shared my Pod Projection earlier this year, so you’ll see precisely how I developed each of my forecasts. Steamer’s strikeout rate forecast is a bit below mine, but the real difference is the HR/9 (no HR/FB rate projection is published), in which I’m at 1.17 and Steamer is at a projection system high of 1.53. That’s super high and why they are easily the highest ERA forecast. With no data from professional baseball in the States, it’s really anyone’s guess what Kikuchi does this year.

Kyle Hendricks owns a career .276 BABIP in over 700 innings and continues to be supported by a superb defense. His highest BABIP was .296 and second highest was .281. Yet, Steamer’s BABIP projection sits at .298, because like I mentioned earlier, it heavily regresses it toward the league average. I’m at .285, which would still represent his second worst mark, but it results in fewer hits and a dramatically lower ERA. Steamer also forecasts a career low strikeout rate, likely because it uses velocity as an input. No projection system using velocity is going to be a fan of Hendricks’ mid-to-high 80s velocity! But he’s had that velocity all this time and owns a 21% career strikeout rate.

Here we go again with Steamer projecting skills to fall off the table, this time with Alex Wood. Yes, his back injury makes him questionable, but that’s unknown to Steamer. The projection system is forecasting his second lowest strikeout rate and second highest walk rate. Why? Probably another velocity thing.

Even though Collin McHugh owns a career 74% LOB%, Steamer is projecting a career worst over a full season of just 71.5%. He hasn’t been below 74.3% since becoming good in 2014.

Let’s ignore Clayton Kershaw’s injury, since it’s not reflected in Steamer’s pessimistic projection. Once again, it’s overly regressing his BABIP, which has only been above .281 once, and that was in his 2008 debut. It then also projects the lowest LOB% of his career, en route to his first ERA above 2.91 since that debut season. You can certainly argue that the injury could push him toward Steamer projections, but if Steamer knew he was hurt, the forecasts would likely be even worse. He’s a great example of a pitcher Steamer is always wrong on because of his BABIP-beating and HR/FB prevention skills.

Staying with the career worsts theme, check out Steamer’s Stephen Strasburg strikeout rate projection! It’s at 25.9%. He’s never finished below 26.1% (okay, so not a big drop), but his second worst mark was 27.3%. Over the last four seasons, he hasn’t finished below 28.7%. I don’t get it.

I’m projecting better skills for Ryan Yarbrough, given his excellent Triple-A performance and strong changeup/slider combo.

You know how many times Jake Arrieta has posted the .300 BABIP Steamer is projecting? Once, in 2012 when he was still terrible. As a good pitcher, he’s never posted a mark above .287. BABIP beaters really confuse computer projection systems.

Gosh, I had no idea I was bullish on Jose Berrios, which is funny because I continue to find him being overvalued. There’s no drastic differences between the forecasts, but rather many small differences resulting in an ERA gap. Check the difference between the projections for him! THE BAT is most bullish at 3.44, while Steamer is at 4.28. I can’t recall such a big divergence by projections for a guy who has thrown nearly 400 innings.

Touki Toussaint is pretty much a crapshoot, but I’m a bit more bullish on his control given decent walk rates at Double-A and Triple-A in 2018, and the fact that young pitchers could sharpen their control seemingly overnight.

Man, Steamer is projecting another big drop in strikeout rate for Zack Godley, after already declining from 2017. I’m essentially projecting a repeat of that 2018 strikeout rate. His xK% marks support my projection, so I can’t see him declining so greatly again.

Once again, Steamer is high man on the ERA totem pole, this time for Aaron Nola. Here, some of it is the skills and BABIP, but it’s also an oddly low LOB%. I’m not sure if Steamer actually projects it or it’s an implied rate. Mine is implied, as it has a dramatic effect on ERA if I were to change it.

No doubt, Zack Greinke’s velocity decline is driving his projected strikeout rate down. I think Steamer was a bit overly aggressive.

We hoped you liked reading 2019 Pod vs Steamer — ERA Upside 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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Re: Kershaw, independent of the health issues, do you have no concern about his actual skills taking a big step back last year? Pull%, Hard%, Contact% way up while his velocity and whiffs were also down significantly.