We have come a long way when it comes to evaluating a pitcher’s performance. No longer do we look at W/L record, hits allowed and other metrics that are greatly influenced by factors outside the pitcher’s control. We have learned to focus on the pitcher’s underlying skills. However, it remains very difficult to look past ERA for the majority of fantasy owners. This is somewhat understandable when looking at full year results, but when we’re still just a month and a half into the season with pitchers generally in the 50-60 innings range, ERA should be almost completely ignored. ERA estimators such as SIERA are much more predictive of rest of season performance. So with that in mind, here are your SIERA underperformers and acquisition target list. I have only included pitchers whose SIERA marks are below 4.00. If a pitcher is sporting a 7.00 ERA with a 4.70 SIERA, then sure he may be a bit unlucky, but he still stinks!
It should surprise no one to see CC Sabathia’s name atop the list. Mike Petriello broke down Sabathia’s early season results two weeks ago and concluded that some better luck should lead to better results. The southpaw is currently on the DL with a knee injury, which provides an easy explanation for his struggles so far. But his skills and SIERA are actually the best of his career, so we should immediately ignore any media outlet blaming his knee on his performance. It’s possible that his continued velocity decline will lead to an inflated BABIP and HR/FB ratio. But there’s just no way those two marks remain as high as they are. His DL stint provides an opportune time for savvy owners to buy at quite the inexpensive price.
Brandon McCarthy has parlayed significantly increased fastball velocity with a career high strikeout rate. His sinker’s SwStk% has essentially doubled over the past two seasons, while both his curve and cutter are generating swinging strikes at rates above his career averages. All this while displaying his always pinpoint control and inducing grounders at a career best clip. But like Sabathia, homers have killed him and they’re making it impossible for him to strand runners at a respectable rate. He hasn’t had homer problems since his first two years in the league, so you have to assume this is a complete fluke. He makes for an excellent target in NL-Only leagues and could even earn some mixed league value the rest of the way.
I have been a Homer Bailey fan for some time now, but when reviewing his 2013 performance, concluded that this is as good as it’s going to get. While I didn’t see any further upside, I never would have imagined an ERA in the mid-5.00 range in the middle of May. It’s true that his skills have deteriorated a bit from last year, which is precisely what I expected. But it merely puts him back in line with previous seasons. All of his underlying skills, as well as his fastball velocity, are right there. He’s even inducing a better than average IFBB%, while allowing line drives at a below average clip. Yet, his BABIP sits at a ridiculous .348 and he’s giving up homers like crazy. Neither of those two things should continue for much longer, making Bailey a prime hold for current owners and a target for non-owners no matter the league format.
I thought it would be impossible for David Price to sustain the elite control he displayed last year. Instead, he has improved it even further, having walked just six batters in nine starts and pumping in first pitch strikes like never before. Despite fastball velocity down another mile per hour, he has posted a career high SwStk% and strikeout rate. Unfortunately a high BABIP and HR/FB rate are hampering his results. Maybe Price and Sabathia should get together and figure out why their fly balls keep flying out of the park and balls in play simply cannot find gloves.
For the third season in a row, Tim Lincecum is significantly underperforming his SIERA. Both his walk and strikeout rates are solid, while he has limited fly balls. But as has been a theme here, he has suffered from a sky high BABIP and inflated HR/FB ratio. Unlike the rest of the list so far, his high BABIP looks deserved. His line drive rate is second highest and IFFB% second lowest among all qualified starters in baseball. Combine that with a ground ball tilt, and it’s no wonder his BABIP is high. With a sub-90 mph fastball now, one wonders if that’s the culprit. How much is it that weak fastball and how much has been poor fortune? Batters still struggle to make contact with Lincecum’s pitches, but when they do, they have no problem teeing off. It’s difficult to understand how that could happen. Since this has now essentially been going on since 2012, it’s also hard to remain confident this all turns around and his ERA drops toward his SIERA. He remains a head scratcher. As an owner, I’m holding, but I don’t think I’d target him in a trade.
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.