This early in the season, I essentially ignore ERA. Of course, this sentiment is not much different than how I treat the statistic for most of the year, but with just a few starts under most pitchers’ belts, ERA is pretty meaningless. As usual, I focus on the underlying skills, which of course do not escape the sample size issues, but they are certainly less flukey than earned runs at this point. I sorted AL starters by xFIP so far and below are my thoughts on some of the leaders that are rising in value. For those who missed my band-studded tiers of AL starters, the original rankings could be found here.
Edwin Jackson | 2.52 xFIP
I have probably reached my quota for articles that mention Jackson, but he leads the AL in xFIP, so he was worth mentioning again. He was originally ranked in the fourth tier, but he would have been in my personal third tier and should be there now. The GB% jump from last year has been sustained thus far, though his fastball velocity is down a bit like many pitchers. Also worth noting is that he is throwing his slider more than ever before at 42.2% of the time. The pitch has always been his best, so that is a darn high number of sliders to be throwing per game! This may be a situation where buying high is the prudent move.
Ricky Romero | 2.71 xFIP
Romero currently ranks third in xFIP and was ranked in the fourth tier as well. He has the ultimate skill set, combining a multitude of ground balls with above average strikeout ability and solid control. He obviously pitches in a tough division, though you could remove the Rays from the list of offensive forces he will have to face a couple of times. He is another guy like Jackson whose name value has likely not caught up yet with his potential fantasy value.
Jeff Francis | 3.05 xFIP
Francis found himself in the unenviable Miley Cyrus tier number eight, but he has pitched surprisingly well so far. His control (1.31 BB/9) has been superb, but that cannot be expected to last. The most interesting metric is his GB%, which is currently sitting at a career best of 56.9%. His pitch mix is not much different than in past years, so unless he is consciously throwing it lower in the zone than ever before, this is likely to decline. Interestingly, he has gotten swinging strikes 10.8% of the time, yet his strikeout rate sits at a lowly 5.7. The one concern is his velocity, which is down 1.7 miles per hour from last season so far. I would not touch him in a mixed league, but if that velocity does not end up being much of a problem, then he could produce some profit in AL-Only leagues.
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.