One month through the season and those playing ottoneu are likely getting a clearer idea of if they are buying or selling. It’s a tricky pendulum, as no playoff structure exists. In determining to sell, owners are likely targeting players who have performed much better than expected over the first month. While there are several ways to determine who these players are, one of the most common ways is to examine projections to see which players have actually improved. Today, I want to look at a couple of pitchers who have improved their projections the most, while examining a couple underlying skill changes that may or may not exist in each of these. The degree of these changes represents my willingness or unwillingness to buy.
|Name||Pts Delta||P/IP||P||K/9||BB/9||FIP||Z-Contact Delta||Z-Contact||Zone% Delta||SwStrk%|
-50 IP pitched in 2016
-20 IP pitched in 2017
A bit of background into what I am looking for. I am looking for starters who have increased their projections relative to the preseason. For those who have done this there are two subsets I am considering:
1.) I want to see if opponents are making less contact on their stuff in the strike zone. If a player can induce less contact than he had previously, while also pitching in areas that are easier to make contact, that can shed further light on his improvements. (Negative Z-Contact Delta is good, positive is bad.)
2.) I have also included the change in percent of pitches thrown in the strike zone. The rationale for this is similar, if the number of pitches in the strike zone increase, and opponents still make the same amount of contact as (or less than) before, the pitcher is more likely to have improved. (Positive Zone% Delta is good, negative is bad.)
The list is sortable.
Let’s start at the top, first Cahill, Sale, and Paxton have shown the largest improvements in their projections from the pre-season till now. Each shaving a 3rd of a point or more from their original FGpts projections. In terms of FIP, all three should be owned in ottoneu FGpts leagues. Sale and Paxton are probably the two of most impressive pitchers on this list in looking at the different categories I have outlined. Both are inducing 8% less contact in the strike zone, while either improving or throwing nearly the same amount of pitches in the zone. While projections have already improved, their underlying peripherals show room for additional improvement. If we end the season with Sale as the number 2 SP behind Kershaw, and Paxton as a $30 SP, don’t be shocked.
My Updated Prices: Sale $44 – Buy, Paxton $27 – Buy
Cahill, benefiting from the national league, falls behind these two, but fits into a slightly different bucket of pitcher. Those who have not improved their contact in the strike zone. While I view this as a negative, perspective is necessary. For a pitcher like Cahill, who was not worth $1 at seasons start, the improved projections alone are reason to take notice. Certainly we don’t expect him to run a 2.64 FIP rest of season, but when you were on the fringes of rosterability to start the year, anything you can do to succeed is worthwhile. Andrew Triggs is a similar story, while he allows slightly more contact than Cahill, their rest of season lines look pretty similar. I would consider both usable spot starters moving forward. Those can be very useful in selecting the best innings to pitch as you inch toward a championship.
Like I said with Cahill, perspective is necessary, and with that come two pitchers I am bearish on relative to the perceived market. Luis Severino and Sean Manaea. First some acknowledgements. Both have improved relative to the preseason, and I would prefer each of them to Cahill or Triggs, if only because the demand for them in trades due to youth and pedigree will be higher.
While each has had fantastic results so far this offseason, it is important to look at how these results have been achieved. Neither is achieving less contact on their pitches in the strike zone, and in Severino’s case is throwing in the zone at roughly the same rate. In short, the majority of his improvement is that hitters are making less contact on his pitches outside the strike zone. While this is a positive (less contact is always better than more contact), my concern is that as hitters begin to lay off pitches outside the zone, he will be forced to throw strikes. Hitters don’t appear to be struggling to make contact on the strikes he throws.
Manaea is slightly more concerning. Injury aside, he is going the route of Robbie Ray and avoiding the strike zone all together. Throwing 10% less pitches in the zone than last year. With both Severino and Manaea, my concern is the tipping point at which they have to throw more pitches in the zone. If that point never comes, they will succeed. I suspect it will.
My Updated Prices: Severino $13 – Sell, Manaea $11 – Sell, Cahill $6 – Hold, Triggs $6 – Hold
Speaking of Robbie Ray, while he is throwing less in the zone (9%), his Z-Contact rate is far less than any of the other players mentioned – just behind Degrom, Sale, Paxton, and Salazar. Because of this, I am far less concerned about his long term outlook than I am with Severino or Manaea. I would slot him behind Paxton, but would still be buying him in the mid $20s.
My Updated Price: Ray $24 – Buy
The last group of pitchers I want to touch on are those who have improved the number of pitches they have throw in the strike zone. The king of this type of change is Ivan Nova, throwing nearly 10% more pitches in the zone than in 2016. Like Triggs and Cahill, he wasn’t exactly a key asset to teams to start the season, but with this change, he has valuated himself into a usable starter for teams who can be started in most matchups. He isn’t making inducing less contact (the same as last year) but to be able to hold this level steady, while also throwing vastly increased amounts of strikes is an achievement. He has a good home park and plays in the NL, which also work in his favor.
Michael Pineda, Lance McCullers, and Danny Salazar are three others in this tier. Each has improved their projections by roughly .07-.15 points per innings. In addition their strikeout upside is immense. To bring this full circle, consider these three to be similar versions of Sale and Paxton, hitters are making less contact against them than they have previously by a significant amount. This has happened in the midst of throwing more pitches in the strike zone.
My Updated Prices: Pineda $25 – Buy, McCullers $25 – Buy, Salazar $19 – Buy, Nova $14 – Hold
Joe works at a consulting firm in Pittsburgh. When he isn't working or studying for actuarial exams, he focuses on baseball. He also writes @thepointofpgh. Follow him on twitter @Ottoneutrades