2023 Projection Showdown — THE BAT vs Steamer Starting Pitcher ERA, Part 4

We finish up our starting pitcher ERA projection comparison, as part of the 2023 projection showdown, pitting THE BAT against Steamer. Today, I’ll discuss the next six names down on the list of Steamer ERA favorites compared with THE BAT. This is the list of the six pitchers Steamer was most bullish on compared to THE BAT.

Steamer Starting Pitcher ERA Favorites
Name THE BAT ERA Steamer ERA ERA Diff
James Paxton 4.86 4.26 -0.60
Yusei Kikuchi 4.49 3.89 -0.60
Kyle Muller 4.39 3.79 -0.60
Shintaro Fujinami 5.02 4.43 -0.60
José Quintana 4.39 3.80 -0.59
Blake Snell 3.98 3.39 -0.59

Injury after injury has limited James Paxton to just 21.2 innings since 2020. He finally seemed ready to rock this year, before suffering a hamstring strain in the beginning of the month, which is likely to delay his season start by a couple of weeks. At least it wasn’t arm related! Given his lack of pitching, his projections are really just a dart throw. All his forecasts project a strikeout rate well below his historical norms, with Steamer and THE BAT actually lowest among systems, the latter sitting at the lowest. It’s hard to believe that the career 26.5% strikeout guy, who hasn’t posted a mark below 28.3% since 2016, would drop all the way down to the 21.5% THE BAT is projecting. We should have a better feel once he starts throwing in games and we get some velocity readings. Even if he’s lost some velocity, he would really have to collapse to hit near that pessimistic THE BAT ERA projection, so I’m definitely leaning toward Steamer here, and that’s not because I drafted him late in LABR!

Oh Yusei Kikuchi, you heartbreaker you. That velocity spike in 2020 had me all excited for his future, but he developed gopheritis, in addition to control issues, in 2022, as his ERA ballooned back over 5.00. The two systems are actually projecting similar strikeout and walk rates, and even BABIP isn’t too far apart. One of the main differences here in the forecasts is his LOB%, in which Steamer is highest and THE BAT lowest among systems. His career mark is being dragged down by a super low mark in 2020 over a small sample, so I think THE BAT is too pessimistic here. All the systems agree that his HR/9 is going to improve significantly as his HR/FB rate regresses closer to league average. However, Steamer is far more optimistic than the other systems, including THE BAT. His xERA has generally been around or higher than his actual ERA marks, suggesting that some combination of his BABIP and HR/FB rates are deserved and he hasn’t actually suffered from bad luck as SIERA suggests. So I actually think Steamer’s bullish HR/9 projection is too optimistic. I actually lean toward THE BAT’s ERA projection here but acknowledge there’s significant upside. There’s just a lot to fix here, but he seemingly does own the stuff for the light to suddenly turn on. It’s just not something you could project.

The Athletics acquired former prospect Kyle Muller from the Braves in mid-December and he should get an opportunity to spend a significant amount of time in the team’s rotation. Steamer is much more bullish on his strikeout rate than THE BAT, which is the lowest among systems. With a healthy overall SwStk% and a solid slider/curveball combo generating those whiffs, plus a rising strikeout rate as he climbed the minor league ladder, I like Steamer’s more bullish strikeout rate projection compared to THE BAT. Steamer is also most optimistic about his walk rate, which is putting lots more faith in his 2022 Triple-A mark than everything surrounding that. Since 2019, he has posted double digit walk rates everywhere he’s pitched except that Triple-A stint. I’m going to lean toward THE BAT’s walk rate forecast, which somewhat offsets my preference for Steamer’s strikeout rate projection. Overall, while I think THE BAT’s ERA projection might prove a bit high, I think ultimately Muller’s ERA finishes closer than the much more optimistic Steamer forecast.

Shintaro Fujinami will be making his MLB debut this year after coming over from the Japanese league. He has posted mediocre strikeout and walk rate combos in Japan, as he has struggled with his control at times. His career strikeout rate sits at 24.2%, while his walk rate is just into double digits at 10.5%. All systems are projecting a drop in strikeout rate, along with an increase in walk rate. I actually figured his walk rate would improve in the Majors while his strikeout rate drops, so I lean toward Steamer’s combination as it’s the least bearish on his walk rate. Overall, I’m betting on Steamer’s ERA projection versus THE BAT, but I’m in no way interested in rostering him, regardless of format. While the home park is good, the strikeout rate upside isn’t really there, he’s a potential WHIP killer given the lack of control, and the Athletics offense isn’t going to give him much run support to rack up the wins.

José Quintana has been quite the journeyman these past couple of season and he now starts a new life with the Mets. Steamer is more bullish on both his strikeout and walk rates, while THE BAT is projecting the lowest strikeout rate and highest walk rate among the systems. He has maintained a double digit SwStk% for the last three seasons (though one of those seasons was just 10 innings and another included time in the bullpen) after never reaching that level previously, though his strikeout rate fell to the lowest mark since 2013 last year, so clearly those additional swings and misses weren’t enough. His four-seam fastball velocity did drop to its lowest mark since his 2012 debut, so that’s something to watch. I actually thing most of the systems are too optimistic about his strikeout rate and would bet it lands closer to THE BAT’s more bearish forecast, though lean toward Steamer’s walk rate projection. Overall, I’ve never been much of a Quintana fan and kind of thing his ERA finishes in between the two systems, but perhaps slightly closer to Steamer. Either way, I’m not buying him at what figures to be an overvalued price given his sub-3.00 ERA last year.

For some reason, Blake Snell still feels like a young pitcher who we’re waiting on a big breakout from. Instead, he’s just a veteran who has rarely pitched a full season, or doesn’t last long enough in games to record a high inning total. In addition, his ERA has really been up and down through the years. Both Steamer and THE BAT are projecting him to post a sub-30% strikeout rate for the first time since 2017, which is somewhat fair given his age, but still feels too pessimistic. THE BAT is also projecting a walk rate back into double digits, which is always possible, but not something I would project. I’m very surprised to see Steamer as the lowest system for projected BABIP, as it’s a mark that’s well below his career average and his lowest since 2018. I think that’s too optimistic. This is a bit tough as I agree with some metrics from one system and some from the other. But overall, THE BAT’s ERA projection is way too high and although Steamer’s might prove a bit too optimistic, I think Snell ultimately comes closer.

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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