Six Starting Pitcher Targets According to SIERA

When the calendar flips to June, it typically signifies the time to deeply evaluate my team, strengths, and weaknesses, and identify trade targets and players I should seek to trade. So let’s discuss six starting pitchers whose SIERA marks are significantly below their actual ERA marks, suggesting vastly improved results over the rest of the season…if they maintain their current skills. This last piece is important as SIERA isn’t a projection. Rather, it’s backwards looking at does a far superior job of evaluating a pitcher’s skill than ERA. You could surely use it as a projection, as it does a much better job than ERA, but that’s now what it’s designed for.

You first have to ask yourself if the underlying skills driving SIERA (strikeout and walk rate, along with batted ball profile) are sustainable over the rest of the season. SIERA is useless if you don’t expect the pitcher’s skills to remain stable. So for this exercise, we have to make the assumption that the skills will indeed be maintained over the rest of the season. If that does happen, all of these pitchers should enjoy dramatically better ERA marks over the rest of the way.

SIERA Underperformers
Carlos Carrasco 28.7% 4.0% 0.353 20.0% 73.8% 4.98 3.33 1.65
Chris Sale 34.3% 6.6% 0.291 16.4% 67.1% 4.35 3.05 1.30
Gerrit Cole 37.4% 6.5% 0.294 21.9% 70.0% 3.94 2.73 1.21
Eduardo Rodriguez 25.5% 7.0% 0.346 13.1% 67.6% 4.88 3.90 0.98
Noah Syndergaard 23.6% 5.8% 0.323 12.5% 64.5% 4.83 3.96 0.87
Zack Wheeler 26.7% 7.4% 0.320 12.9% 68.3% 4.68 3.81 0.87

I left Carlos Carrasco in the table as he ranked as the second biggest SIERA underperformer among qualified starters. His skills are as strong as always, but has gotten BABIP’d to death and has been bitten by the long ball. Unfortunately, he was just placed on the IL yesterday after being diagnosed with a blood condition. We don’t know yet exactly what that condition is or how long he might be out for. So at this point, he really only makes sense trading for him in a keeper league if he’s at a good price (unlikely) or if you’re giving up little of value.

For all the concerns about Chris Sale’s velocity (which were definitely legit) and early season struggles, his skills have remained pretty darn elite. Not quite peak Sale, but at a level where you should buy him with full confidence. Right now, it’s the home run ball (a career high HR/FB rate) and a career low LOB% that’s kept his ERA above 4.00. It won’t stay there for much longer.

Last season, Gerrit Cole went from solid enough pitcher with seemingly untapped upside to dominant ace. Looking solely at ERA, you might think that last year was a bit of a fluke and he’s right back to that high-3.00 ERA he had been. You would be wrong. Cole’s strikeout rate and SwStk% have taken another step up, but like the two above him, he has been crushed by the long ball. He might never come cheaper again than right now.

Eduardo Rodriguez is displaying similar skills as past years (with a career best SwStk% to boot), but career worsts in all three luck metrics have pushed his ERA to near 5.00. Since he’s likely to come cheapest of the six on this list, he’s an excellent target.

Whether it’s injury or a perpetually inflated BABIP, Noah Syndergaard always seems to find a way to disappoint his fantasy owners. This year, he’s managed to make it into June without injury, but his strikeout rate sits at a career low, driven by a career worst SwStk%, and his HR/FB rate has jumped back into double digits after spending his last two full seasons in the high single digits. For some reason, he has thrown his four-seamer more at the expense of his slider, which is clearly behind his drop in strikeout rate since that slider has yielded the highest SwStk% of all his pitches over his career. There are some red flags here for sure, but he’s not going to continue underperforming his SIERA by nearly a full run and for his career, his ERA and SIERA are nearly identical. This isn’t a serial SIERA underperformer despite the high BABIP marks.

Zack Wheeler’s skills are as strong as ever, with a career high strikeout rate driven by a career best SwStk% mark. And his fastball velocity is at a career best, jumping even higher after setting a career high last year. Expectations may have been inflated, because last year’s ERA was deceptive and led to lots of misplaced hype, thanks to a suppressed BABIP and even more suppressed HR/FB rate that was not going to be repeated. But still, this is a solid skill set and there’s no reason to believe he’s going to continue to underperform his SIERA by nearly a run.

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.

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damn, comments on all of them except Wheeler?