2021 Bold Pitcher League Leaders – A Review

Yesterday, I reviewed my 2021 bold hitter league leaders. It wasn’t pretty. Today, I’ll recap my 2021 bold pitcher league leaders. These are slightly easier since pitchers could luck into category wins with help from their defense, bullpen, and/or lady luck, whereas luck plays a much smaller role in hitter category wins. As a reminder, I don’t bother boldly predicting wins. It’s possibly the dumbest baseball stat and not worth the effort of trying to guess.

American League

ERARobbie Ray

HOLY GUACAMOLE! Seriously, I can’t believe I already got one right. It actually wasn’t even close here as Ray was the only qualified AL starting pitcher who posted a sub-3.00 ERA. This is more unbelievable given he was coming off an ugly 6.62 ERA in 2020 and posted an ERA just over 4.00 in 2019…in the NL, without the DH. The difference this season? He suddenly found his control, posting the lowest walk rate of his career and without sacrificing strikeouts. His fastball velocity also jumped by nearly a mile per hour to its highest mark since 2016.

Of course, he couldn’t have posted a sub-3.00 ERA without some lady luck goodness, as his .268 BABIP was the second lowest of his career and just the second time it was below .290. In addition and even more unsustainable was an absolutely insane, MLB high 90.1% LOB%. That’s the highest mark over a full season…EVER! That’s right, Ray just set a new all-time LOB% record for a qualified starter (I’m ignoring two names from last year that posted slightly higher marks, but in just 70+ innings). His 3.22 SIERA tells us he was still fantastic, but just remember the drivers of potential downside next year, especially if he can’t maintain his control gains.

1 for 1

WHIPRyan Yarbrough

Yarbrough continued to display elite control, one of the keys to a low WHIP. Unfortunately, the strikeout rate upside I thought he had didn’t materialize and he ended up posting the lowest mark of his career. As a result, his 1.23 came nowhere close to leading the league, but likely was a positive, or at worst neutral, for his fantasy teams. That 5.11 ERA is another story, however, driven mostly by an inability to strand runners (62.8% LOB%). He’s a reminder of the risks of relying on low strikeout pitchers.

1 for 2

SOTarik Skubal

Not only did the Tigers limit Skubal’s innings down the stretch, resulting in just 149.1 for the season, but his strikeout rate actually decline from last year’s strong, but not elite, mark. His SwStk% also dropped, as he’s looking far less whifftastic than he did in the minors. Skubal suffered a severe bout of gopheritis this season, as a flyball pitcher who allowed a whopping 20.5% HR/FB rate. His SIERA did nudge below 4.00, and perhaps the Tigers will take off the kid gloves in 2022. That means he’s likely going to end up on my teams again as a breakout candidate once again.

1 for 3

SvTanner Scott

I’ve given up trying to figure out who’s going to garner the saves in the Orioles bullpen. I’m going to guess that for as long as Brandon Hyde is manager, it’s going to continue to be a nightmare picking one horse. Who would have ever guessed that the 36-year-old Cesar Valdez, who came into the season with just 65 innings pitched and a 6.23 ERA, would open the season as the team’s closer?! Amazingly, even though a number of Orioles relievers garnered at least one save, Scott failed to do so. That’s right, I ended up picking a guy to lead the league in saves who ended up earning 0 saves!

To be fair, Scott wasn’t very good as his control continues to be a major issue. But there were times where his ERA was below 3.00 and you would have thought he’d record a save, but it never happened. No more Orioles closer bold predictions from me.

1 for 4

National League

ERAMarcus Stroman

Stroman posted the lowest ERA of his career, but with seven NL starters posted sub-3.00 ERAs (Stroman finished just above at 3.02), he wasn’t close to actually leading the league. In my original blurb, I said this:

His stuff always seemed like it should result in a higher strikeout rate, so maybe a full season in the NL will make it happen.

Sure enough, a career best strikeout rate did indeed happen and it was driven by a nice surge in SwStk%. That said, he massively outperformed his SIERA, though he’s now done that in three of his last four seasons. However, for his career, his SIERA outperformance is only minor, so I wouldn’t exactly peg him as a guaranteed future SIERA beater. I think he’ll remain solid, but don’t pay for another 3.02 ERA next year.

1 for 5

WHIPChris Paddack

After a thrilling 2019 debut, the former top prospect has been a massive disappointment. Last year, it was gopheritis that plagued him while his underlying skills remained stable. This year, his strikeout rate dipped again, but this time his LOB% plummeted, even while his HR/FB rate rebounded to the lowest mark of his short career. Always something with Paddack. His season was also cut short due to injury, so his future is cloudier than ever. I’m still fine buying low here if we know he’s healthy and has a rotation spot as his overall skills haven’t changed much since his debut.

1 for 6

SOFreddy Peralta

I knew innings was going to be Peralta’s biggest challenge in winning the strikeout crown, but no other pitcher felt bold enough to lead the league in the category that didn’t have the similar innings concern. Peralta posted the third highest strikeout rate among pitchers with at least 140 innings and finished 13th overall in total strikeouts. Peralta has really diversified his repertoire as his fastball% has come down dramatically since his 2018 debut. He has now increased the usage of his slider and threw a changeup nearly 10% of the time as well.

He’s now essentially Max Scherzer, but with worse control and innings question marks.

1 for 7

SvRichard Rodriguez

Yeah yeah, it was obvious he was be traded and lose his closer job, but those seemingly obvious things in the offseason don’t always materialize. Most other closers named here wouldn’t have been bold anyway. Rodriguez did manage to save 14 games and post a sub-3.00 ERA, though his skills crashed, driven by a disappearance of his strikeouts.

1 for 8

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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Detroit Michaelmember
7 months ago

No one can say that the Robbie Ray prediction wasn’t bold. Congratulations!