For the vast majority of the season, I completely ignore ERA, instead relying on SIERA for rest of season projection purposes. While this method is far better than looking solely at ERA, what about the pitchers you expected to be good, but have been terrible, with weak skills to match? These are the guys whose SIERA confirms they have pitched poorly, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they will continue posting such weak skills. So let’s discuss three starters we expected better from, but whose current skills don’t provide much hope for a rebound.
7.71 ERA | 4.28 SIERA
Obviously, Stroman hasn’t actually been as bad as his ERA would suggest, but his SIERA does sit at a career worst mark, the first time it has jumped above 4.00. His strikeout rate has declined and walk rate ballooned. He’s still generating gobs of ground balls, at least. But if we stick with his batted ball profile, we find that he hasn’t induced one pop-up all season! That’s crazy. You can bet that if he were to face Joey Votto 100 times, the result of those plate appearances would never be a pop-up.
Stroman dealt with shoulder inflammation during spring training and you have to wonder if it has had lingering effects on his performance. Obviously, the first place we have to look is at his fastball velocity. Over his first seven starts of the year, his sinker has averaged 92.8 mph. That’s more than a mile per hour below what he averaged in his first seven starts last year (93.9). When I see velocity loss, especially tied to a recent injury, along with a decline in underlying skills, I no longer believe in the rules of ERA meeting SIERA.
Stroman is also throwing strikes at the lowest rate of his career. Usually an elbow injury messes with control, but maybe his shoulder has really screwed him up. Perhaps he’s trying to compensate by altering his delivery, which has robbed him of velocity and hampered his control. Who knows. Since he has never been a big strikeout guy and he outperformed his SIERA considerably last season, I don’t find him a particularly compelling buy low option. Sure, he’ll improve, but if you’re attempting to buy here, it’s likely with the expectation he posted a mid-3.00 ERA the rest of the way, If you get something over 4.00, then why bother?
7.25 ERA | 6.38 SIERA
Ahh, Lucas Giolito, just another in the ever growing example pool of spring training inflating expectations. No matter how many times we read that spring training stats have little predictive value, breakout and sleeper lists still use them as data points. While Giolito wasn’t very good last year (ignore his sparkling 2.38 ERA, his SIERA was a far less impressive 4.49, backed by soft skills), he’s been an absolute disaster this season, as he’s actually walked more batters than he has struck out.
His fastball velocity is already in a scary downward trend, declining from 94.1 mph in 2016 to 92.7 last season, to 92 this year. With a total inability to throw strikes (his strike percentage is third lowest in baseball), he can’t afford to be losing velocity.
Unfortunately, I can’t diagnose the problem here, as he’s posted pretty good minor league skills in the past, but just hasn’t been able to translate them to the Majors. I’m not optimistic about a turnaround and even a rebound would still result in a pitcher with mediocre skills at best, and a 4.00+ ERA. Give me a middle reliever over him regardless of format.
5.60 ERA | 4.51 SIERA
After posting strong skills in his 2016 debut, marred by an inflated BABIP and HR/FB rate, his luck turned around last season and he posted a sub-4.00 ERA over 60.1 innings. He didn’t generate a ton of swinging strikes, which certainly gave some fantasy owners pause. But he made up for those lack of whiffs by inducing an above average rate of both called and foul strikes. So his strikeout rate was more or less earned.
This season, things have gone downhill. His strike percentage has plummeted, and all three of his strike type rates have dropped. That’s a recipe for strikeout and walk rates moving in the wrong direction. The immediate question is whether he has lost velocity. Nope! His fastball velocity has actually jumped from 92.4 mph in 2016 to 93.4 last season to 94.3 this year. He’s even throwing his curve ball a bit more at the expense of his fastball, which normally would raise a pitcher’s strikeout rate. But perhaps he’s the rare exception, as his curve ball actually stinks at getting whiffs.
His fastball has induced a higher rate of swings and misses than his curve every season. And it’s not even like his curve is a ground ball generator. In fact, he has allowed a massive rate of line drives (43.8%!) on the pitch, which not surprisingly has led to an absurd .500 BABIP. His changeup has been his best whiff pitch, but even that generates a below average SwStk%. That means he really has no out pitch and one wonders how he has managed such strong strikeout rates in the past.
I think the lesson here might be that generating whiffs is very important to maintaining a high strikeout rate. A pitcher’s swinging strike rate is far stickier than his ability to induce called or foul strikes, so even though the latter two skills do correlate decently from year to year, pitchers that rely on them are at greater risk of seeing their strikeout rates regressing. I would expect some semblance of a rebound here, but I think I’m taking the over now on all the rest of season ERA projections with a mark a smidge over 4.00.
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.