Let’s return to reviewing my Pod Projections, this time diving into popular preseason sleeper, Taijuan Walker. Though he posted a poor 4.56 ERA in 2015, he had been a heavily hyped prospect and averaged over 94 mph with his fastball. So that made him a favorite target with serious breakout potential in 2016. In April, he made his newly minted owners proud, as he posted a microscopic 1.44 ERA and 2.69 xFIP. But then the wheels fell apart and he ended up missing time due to a foot injury. Sadly, the strong April wasn’t enough to keep his ERA from finishing above 4.00, and now he gets to start 2017 on a new team and in a new league. Let’s what what I projected for 2016 and how it compared to his actual results.
Projected IP: 185 | Actual: 134.1
The injury knocked him out for a total of nearly a month and a half, but that wasn’t the only explanation behind him falling short of expectations in the innings department. He also averaged about a half inning less per start than he did in 2015, even though he posted a slightly lower ERA. He only averaged about 5.4 innings a start, so if you were in a league that counts Quality Starts, he killed you in the category.
Projected K%: 22.0% | Actual: 20.8%
Given a high octane fastball and excellent splitter/changeup, you would expect higher strikeout rates from Walker. So I could forgive you for being a blind optimist heading into 2016. Unfortunately, the splitter stopped generating swings and misses at anywhere near the rate it had, while his curve ball still stinks. His fastball remained good, but it was the secondary pitches that caused him to post a strikeout rate barely above the league average for starters.
Projected BB%: 7.1% | Actual: 6.5%
Walker’s walk rate plummeted in 2015, falling well below what we would have expected from his minor league track record. So the typical reaction from a projectionist is to forecast regression, which is exactly what I did! And while he did comply, he managed to hold the majority of his strike throwing gains and kept his walk rate below my projection.
Projected GB%/LD%/FB%: 40% / 21% / 39% | Actual 44.1% / 18.1% / 37.9%
I figured his inflated 2015 LD% would drop and turn into ground balls, which is exactly what happened. Except they did so a bit more than I forecasted! So far, Walker hasn’t shown any real penchant for the fly ball or ground ball. I don’t really like the middle guys. The high ground ballers limit home runs, while the high fly ballers can suppress BABIP. The middle guys don’t do anything special as a result of their distribution.
Projected HR/FB%: 10.5% | Actual 17.6%
Walker posted an inflated 13% HR/FB rate, which I will almost completely ignore when it comes from just one full season. So I heavily regressed toward the league average. Sadly, the home run surge happened and he couldn’t prevent such a high rate of fly balls from leaving the yard, even beyond the league power spike. Walker’s new home park, Chase Field, is even more home run friendly, so it’ll be interesting to see how much, if any, he can improve that ghastly HR/FB rate. He’s never going to break out until he brings it down.
Projected BABIP: .290 | Actual .267
The Mariners figured to have an average defense, but they ended up ranking just 23rd in the Majors in UZR/150 with a negative mark. Didn’t matter to Walker, who posted a very suppressed BABIP! Tell me how a pitcher allows a 17.6% HR/FB rate (hitters are hitting him hard!), but a .267 BABIP (man he’s really generating weak contact!).
Below is my final projected pitching line, along with the other systems for comparison:
It was a disappointing year for Walker and his fantasy owners, especially after such a promising first month. I have no idea how ZiPS ended up forecasting a 4.33 ERA, but it ended up by far the closest! Also notable is that Walker nearly matched mine and Steamer’s WHIP projection, yet was far above the ERA. That, my friends, is thanks to all those homers. Now in the National League and at a likely cheap draft day cost, I’m buying.
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.