Last week I ran the 2015 Steamer projections through Zach Sanders’ Fantasy Value Above Replacement system and compared them to early NFBC ADP data to identify potential sleepers and busts. This week we’ll do the same with starting pitchers. We’ll start with busts today.
Mat Latos, Miami Marlins
Latos is being drafted as the 45th starting pitcher off the board, which is basically just above the cut line for guys that have to be owned in all shallower mixed leagues. Once you get past the top 50, you’re pretty much in streaming territory. But Steamer doesn’t think he’s anything more than a potential streaming option as he comes in 84th in the projection rankings.
I certainly get the disconnect here as making sense of Latos’ 2014 season is difficult. For one thing, he only pitched 102 innings after sitting out until mid-June and shutting it down a few starts early in September. And his fastball velocity was down about two miles per hour from where it was in 2013. So you can’t feel too confident in Latos chewing up innings this year, although Steamer isn’t down on him because of a low innings projection as he’s projected for 182.
But that drop in velocity also likely had a fair bit to do with his strikeout rate being 17.6% after being 21.2% or higher in every one of his four full seasons prior. Despite the lack of strikeouts, Latos continued to prevent runs at an above average level (3.25 ERA), but he had a 4.08 SIERA with the lower strikeout total. Per Jeff Zimmerman, it’s unlikely that Latos will regain any velocity, although there’s a good chance he won’t lose any more velocity. But without the velocity coming back, it’s hard to expect his strikeout rate to return, and his run prevention could regress towards 4.00 where his SIERA and xFIP were last year.
You may be thinking that the change in home ballparks may help Latos, but according to our park factors, Marlins Park is no more pitcher-friendly than Great American Ball Park, at least on a basic level. Great American Ball Park does cede many more home runs than Marlins Park, but Latos hasn’t had a problem with home runs in his last 300+ innings in Cincinnati. Any advantage gained from the switch in ball parks could be offset by a downgrade in the defense behind him. Cincinnati ranked third in defensive efficiency last year while Miami ranked 27th.
All that said, I’m definitely on Steamer’s side on this one.
Yordano Ventura, Kansas City Royals
Ventura had an impressive rookie season as he was well above average in terms of run prevention (3.20 ERA) and slightly above average in terms of strikeouts (20.3% K%). That led to him finishing 46th among starters in our end-of-season rankings. Drafters are expecting him to take another step forward as he’s going 31st among starters, but Steamer has him taking a step back and ranked 65th among starters.
I’m not sure what rationale drafters have, but we know exactly what Steamer is thinking. Steamer has Ventura projected to do what he did last year in almost every category except for one, strand rate. Ventura stranded 77.3% of base runners last year compared to the league average of 72.5% for starters. Steamer has him regressing back to 71% leading to an ERA projection of 3.86, which is almost exactly where his SIERA was last year. That seems pretty reasonable to me. Plus, Chris Cwik looked at pitchers who posted similar numbers to Ventura at the same age Ventura was last year, and a majority of them saw a slight decline the next year. It’s kind of natural to expect good, young players to improve, but Steamer and the comps don’t see that happening. Again, I’m on Steamer’s side.
Jacob deGrom, New York Mets
Despite starting just 22 games and only throwing 140 innings, deGrom finished as the 35th best fantasy starter last year. Among the 107 starters with 140+ IP, deGrom’s 2.69 ERA ranked 16th and his 25.5% K% ranked 10th. He’s going 27th among starters, so it seems like drafters are expecting a similar level of performance, maybe slightly worse, with a higher inning total. But Steamer is expecting quite a bit of a decline as he comes in 60th in the projection rankings.
Like Ventura, Steamer is projecting a very similar regression in strand rate for deGrom, which might lead us to expect Steamer to project deGrom’s ERA to be what his SIERA was last year (3.19). But Steamer is also projecting a big decline in strikeout rate, all the way to 21%, which is probably why his ERA projection is 3.93. Why? I’m not exactly sure. I ran deGrom’s numbers through Podhorzer’s expected K% formula, and his xK% of 25.1% last year was very much in line with his actual K%. His strikeout rate did not taper as the months went on last year, and his strikeout rate in the second half was quite a bit higher than it was in the first half. I don’t see the reason for the significant drop in K%, and thus, I’m with the drafters on this one.
Sonny Gray, Oakland Athletics
First of all, I can’t help but notice that Gray and Ventura had somewhat similar seasons last year. Gray had more innings and slightly better rate stats, so I have no issue with Gray going 12 spots higher on average than Ventura assuming the drafters are right about liking both guys. But we already know I don’t think the drafters are right on Ventura.
Steamer has Gray 52nd among starters compared to his ADP of 19. As with Ventura, Steamer is projecting regression in strand rate, though Gray’s was not as high as Ventura’s, and Steamer is also projecting BABIP regression, which was not an issue for Ventura. Strand rate and BABIP can both be be affected by the defense behind a pitcher and the ballpark in which he pitches, and both of those things work in Gray’s favor. Oakland has ranked top three in defensive efficiency in each of the last three seasons, and Oakland’s ball park has the seventh most pitcher-friendly basic park factor. And Gray’s BABIP and strand rate were almost identical to what he did in 64 innings in 2013. That and it’s not like his strand rate and BABIP have been too far from average. For those reasons, I’m not necessarily expecting regression in those stats.
Steamer is also projecting a decline in strikeout rate, which I can get on board with a bit. After big strikeout numbers in his short 2013 debut, Gray only struck out 20.4% of batters faced last year, but his xK% was just 18.7%. Steamer has him declining to 19.4%. I can’t argue with that.
Given that I agree with Steamer on strikeout rate but not on strand rate/BABIP, I probably fall between the drafters and the projection here. But that means I’m not willing to pay the price to acquire Gray as opposed to deGrom for whom I would pay up.