2022 Review: Pitcher xERA Overperformers

Yesterday, I listed and discussed six pitchers with at least 150 innings pitched that most underperformed their Statcast xERA marks. Let’s now flip over to the overperformers. As you could guess, there are far more overperformers than underperformers. That’s because a pitcher is less likely to be allowed to record 150 innings if he significantly underperforms his xERA. At some point, results matter and teams don’t have the luxury of patience to wait for their results to match their underlying Statcast metrics. So pitchers that overperform are allowed to throw that many innings, even if their underlying metrics suggest impending doom. Until that impending doom actually occurs, they will keep getting the ball.

xERA Overperformers
Alek Manoah 0.244 7.1% 82.6% 2.24 3.31 -1.07
José Quintana 0.302 5.3% 74.2% 2.93 3.86 -0.93
Cal Quantrill 0.278 9.6% 76.4% 3.38 4.31 -0.93
Justin Verlander 0.240 6.2% 80.5% 1.75 2.66 -0.91
Logan Gilbert 0.292 9.2% 77.6% 3.20 4.11 -0.91
Adam Wainwright 0.302 8.1% 75.0% 3.71 4.53 -0.82

After a strong 2021 debut, top prospect Alek Manoah followed up by posting the fourth lowest ERA among qualified pitchers in baseball. But things weren’t as rosy as they seemed. First off, his strikeout rate plummeted, despite an increase in fastball velocity, as his four-seam SwStk% fell back to Earth, but still remained well above average. Second, he easily overperformed his xERA by the widest margin, as the only 150+ IP pitcher who overperformed by at least one full run. That’s thanks to far better than league average marks in all three of the luck trio metrics. It’s also the second straight season he has posted a mid-.240 BABIP. That his xERA is well below his less impressive SIERA suggests that there is some BABIP and/or HR/FB suppression ability here, but clearly nowhere near as much as he enjoyed in 2022. Depending on his draft cost, I will likely have absolutely no interest given his current strikeout rate, as I expect him to be massively overvalued. If he does get his strikeout rate back into the high-20% range, then he’ll have a chance to fend off inevitable luck metric regression and earn his cost…but on someone else’s roster.

Well gosh, who predicted José Quintana’s first career sub-3.00 ERA?! He, too, suffered a big decline in strikeout rate and posted his lowest mark since 2013. He has not been a consistent xERA beater, which makes it more likely this was a complete fluke, as opposed to something he does consistently that’s being missed by the equation. He’s been quite the journeyman over the year, but the Mets are a pretty good landing spot given Steve Cohen’s commitment to spending a record amount of money on his roster in order to win. The projections suggest Quintana shouldn’t implode, but I doubt he comes at a price I’m willing to pay on draft day.

I was waiting for Cal Quantrill’s implosion all season long and it just never came. Since his 2019 debut when he posted an ERA over 5.00, he has now overperformed his xERA by a significant margin. Perhaps that suggests he’s indeed doing something not captured by the equation. But don’t forget it’s only been 368 innings, which is essentially two full seasons. It takes a far larger sample size to determine whether a pitcher is inherently an xERA beater. It takes 2,000 balls in play for BABIP to stabilize, and he’s less than 75% of the way there over the last three seasons. Given his tumbling strikeout rate, he’s exactly the type of pitcher I want to nominate early in auctions when owners are flush with cash, in order to encourage them to overpay (in my mind) for someone with far more downside than upside at his expected cost.

It was an unbelievable comeback season for Justin Verlander, who returned after missing all of 2021 and only recording six innings in 2020 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. The skills remained top notch and his fastball was just above 95.1 MPH like always. Really, it’s unbelievable. Of course, he didn’t exactly deserve a sub-2.00 ERA, but his xERA was right in line with where he’s been, so this was a legit elite season. At age 40, though, he’ll probably be too risky to find his way onto my team given his expected cost. His age combined with regression in his ratios could result in him struggling to break even for his owners.

After disappointing results during his 2021 debut, former top prospect Logan Gilbert turned things around this year. Welllll, from a results perspective he did, but both his xERA and SIERA were essentially unchanged. What bad luck he endured in 2021 flipped to good fortune in 2022. His strikeout rate fell, despite a jump in fastball velocity, resulting in middling overall skills. A spike in LOB% was essentially the driver behind his ERA improvement, with a small boost from a slightly lower HR/FB rate. Like Manoah above, I’m not paying the market rate here as an overperforming former top prospect is almost assured to be overvalued. He’ll need to get that strikeout rate back up to give his future owners a better chance of breaking even and offsetting some ratio regression.

After two straight low-3.00 ERA seasons, it seemed like another age-defying season for Adam Wainwright. But, his strikeout rate fell to its lowest since 2017 and fourth lowest of his entire career. He has now overperformed his xERA for four straight seasons, but underperformed in his previous two full seasons before that. At age 40, I can’t believe he’s doing anything not captured by the equation. However, he has likely benefited from being on the Cardinals, as the team ranked third in baseball in Def rating and second in UZR/150. For a guy who allows so many balls in play, a strong defense in essential. In addition, Busch Stadium was tied for the fourth most pitcher friendly park in baseball last year and has consistently been pitcher friendly. That home field advantage is seen by looking at his huge ERA splits, where he has posted a 2.86 career ERA at home, versus a 3.99 mark on the road. So, it’s likely Wainwright continues to overperform his xERA, but that doesn’t mean I have any interest in rostering him with a sub-20% strikeout rate!

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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1 year ago

Although Gilbert’s advancements in ’22 were due to experience, he has yet to significantly improve the efficacy of his individual pitches. However, he changed his slider in September and noticed some noticeable improvements. The addition of a new slider could very well be that improvement in skill that metrics will notice in ’23 that current systems are incapable of accounting for his projections.

1 year ago

How does “experience” help if it doesn’t help a pitcher’s pitches?