Starters That Projection Systems Like Less Than ADP

On Monday I took a look at pitchers that all three of Steamer, ZiPS and Mike Podhorzer’s projections like more than their ADP. Today I’ll look at pitchers that all systems like less than their ADP. I’ve also looked at hitters that the projections like more and like less. To turn the projections into ranks I used the Auction Calculator and the z-score method. Below are the three starters with the biggest difference between the projections and their ADP.

Sonny Gray ⋅ SP ⋅ Oakland Athletics

I’ve written about Gray twice this offseason (here and here), and both times the gist of it has been that I don’t think you should draft him. With an ADP of 24 among all pitchers, there’s little chance for him to be better than the 24th best pitcher. Last year he was the 26th best fantasy starter, and it’s hard to see how he could improve to a top 25 pitcher, especially when every projection system expects him to be worse.

But to be fair to Gray, he also might not have a ton of downside, which can be valuable. All the projection systems have him with a .290+ BABIP despite his .277 BABIP in 283 career innings. That’s not a huge sample size, but in the last three years Oakland starters have the second lowest BABIP in the league. That is a big sample size, and it’s not at all unreasonable to expect Gray to better than average in that statistic. For that reason, maybe his ratios don’t have the downside that the projection systems indicate.

That said, I still don’t see the value in Gray. There are other ‘safe’ guys you can take that are actually projected to provide production in line with the cost to acquire them.

Jeff Samardzija ⋅ SP ⋅ Chicago White Sox

Samardzija is similar to Gray in that he’s being drafted as if he’s going to be a bit better than he was last year, but it’s once again hard to find the upside. The Shark has an ADP of 22 among all pitchers, but last year he finished 21st among starters, which means he had to be worse than 22nd among all pitchers. According to ESPN’s player rater, ten relievers were more valuable than Samardzija, so it’s fair to say he was around the 30th best fantasy pitcher last year.

As another exaple of how deep pitching is these days, Samardzija was just a top 30 fantasy pitcher despite a 2.99 ERA (with an xFIP and SIERA to back it up) and a K-BB% of 18.1%. That’s stout. The excellent K-BB% came about because he cut his walk rate significantly by seriously upping his first pitch strike percentage. That’s obviously encouraging and will be a key to Samardzija fighting off as much downside as he can.

But the downside is undeniable given that he’s a guy with a career home run per fly ball rate of 11% who is moving to a home park with a HR park factor of 111 after spending half a season in a home park with a HR park factor of 92.

To Samardzija’s credit, he mitigated the home run problem on his own somewhat last year by inducing more groundballs than he ever has. His 50.2% GB% was the main reason his HR/9 was 0.82 after being just north of 1.00 in his first two years as a starter. It really wasn’t spending a few months in Oakland. In fact, Samardzija allowed more home runs per pitch in Oakland than he did with the Cubs last year. There are obviously sample size caveats there, but Samardzija deserves some credit for doing what he can to address the problem. Keeping balls on the ground at a high rate is another way he can combat the ballpark forces that will conspire against him.

However, saying Samardzija is doing things that might help him navigate a less-than-ideal set of circumstances does not mean he’s going to mitigate the effects of those circumstances completely. And it certainly doesn’t mean he’s likely to improve. Given that he’s only worth his price tag if he improves, he’s better left alone.

Jacob deGrom ⋅ SP ⋅ New York Mets

Unlike Gray and Samardzija, deGrom isn’t going to have to be better than he was last year to be worth his ADP of 35 among pitchers. All deGrom has to do is maintain a similar level of production over more innings. With 140 stellar innings last year, deGrom was the 35th most valuable fantasy starter. If he had maintained his level of production for another 20-25 innings, his numbers would have been somewhat analogous to those of Garrett Richards and Colin McHugh who were the 15th and 20th most valuable fantasy starters, respectively.

Obviously the projection systems don’t think he can maintain a similar level of production. Steamer is extremely pessimistic projecting him for a 3.83 ERA while ZiPS is more reasonably pessimistic pegging him for a 3.30 ERA. ZiPS like deGrom the most and has him as the 49th best pitcher.

But Eno rightly pointed out in deGrom’s FG+ profile that the projection systems are selling deGrom short somewhat by including minor league strikeout numbers in the calculation of his projection. Eno notes that deGrom was an older prospect who had just one pitch three years ago. But he’s added to his repertoire, and he now has a four pitch arsenal that includes three pitchers that graded out well above average according to our pitch values last year.

The long story short with deGrom is that he doesn’t have to produce at a level we haven’t seen before to be worth his price. In fact, he could even be a bit worse than he was last year and still be worth it so long as he throws more innings. He didn’t make his first start until May 15 last year, and this year he should be in the rotation from day one. Aside from just being extremely conservative with your innings projections for young pitchers, there’s no reason deGrom can’t tack on at least another 25-30 innings.

Below are all 24 starters that all three projection systems like less than their ADP listed in order of their ADP.

Felix Hernandez, Jeff Samardzija, Sonny Gray, Jake Arrieta, Jacob deGrom, Michael Wacha, Anibal Sanchez, Andrew Cashner, Mat Latos, Zack Wheeler, Chris Archer, Jose Quintana, Jake Odorizzi, Chris Tillman, James Paxton, Danny Duffy, Clay Buchholz, Kevin Gausman, Taijuan Walker, Tim Lincecum, Wily Peralta, T.J. House, Rubby de la Rosa, Alex Meyer

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The big thing with Gray that wasn’t addressed is the strikeouts. I think a lot of people are buying the 2013 K%. But I think it is more likely that Gray ends up a a slightly better Porcello type

Emcee Peepants
Emcee Peepants

I think Alex Cobb is a closer comp. They were 4th (Cobb) and 5th (Gray) among qualified starters in GB%, 26th (Cobb) and 41st (Gray) in K/9, and 22nd (Gray) and 28th (Cobb) in BABIP. They’re decent strikeout pitchers with extreme groundball tendencies that induce weak contact. As a result, they had very similar, strong xFIPs Cobb 22nd, Gray 27th.

I’d be interested to see the difference in ADP and projections between them.