On Monday I ran the 2015 Steamer projections for starting pitchers through Zach Sanders’ Fantasy Value Above Replacement system and compared them to early NFBC ADP data to identify some possible bust candidates. I looked at four guys specifically, but there are a few more names that I think are worth discussing.
Andrew Cashner, San Diego Padres
Despite having a 2.55 ERA last year, early drafters seem to recognize that Cashner has some limitations. He’s going 35th among starters, but given his ERA last year and some perceived name value, it wouldn’t surprise me if he was going at least in the top 30. Presumably concerns about his ability to pitch a healthy number of innings and his lack of strikeouts in recent years have tempered Cashner enthusiasm. But according to Steamer, drafters are still too enthused as Cashner comes in 67th in the Steamer rankings.
The difference is really just in ERA expectations. Our fan projections aren’t necessarily in line with what drafters are thinking, but the early fan consensus of a 2.97 ERA makes sense with the ADP of 35. The reason Steamer has him outside the top 60 is an ERA projection of 4.00. I don’t really get that considering his ERA is 2.87 in the last two years in almost 300 innings. Steamer is projecting a well below average strand rate of 68.8% and a BABIP 26 points higher than it has been in the last two years. Obviously those numbers might lead to a significantly higher ERA, but I see no reason why his strand rate and BABIP are suddenly going to be much different.
That said, I’m not really wild about paying a top 40 price for Cashner. For one thing, there’s still the concern about innings. He’s had some sort of injury issue in each of the last four years, and he made just 19 starts last year and dealt with elbow, neck and shoulder issues. If he did stay healthy and threw 180+ innings, yes, he’d be a top 40 pitcher. But even if he does pitch that much, I’m not sure he cracks the top 30.
As he told Eno early last year, he’s focusing on throwing his two-seam fastball a lot to get quick outs. The two-seamer is really good, and it’s helping Cashner accomplish his goal. But it’s not great for fantasy owners as his two-seamer usage cuts down on his strikeouts. It has helped his walk rate as well, but his strikeout rate has been league average with this approach. Given how well he has prevented runs with this approach, we can’t expect him to change it. And without the strikeout potential, Cashner doesn’t have a ton of upside. His current ADP is totally reasonable, but for a guy with injury concerns, I’d prefer if he had the upside to return more than what was invested in him. But I don’t see him being much better than a borderline top 30 pitcher even if everything goes right.
Tyson Ross, San Diego Padres
Pretty much all the starters I’ve discussed in this post and Monday’s are young. The average age of the eight pitchers I’m going to discuss is a shade under 26. That’s interesting to me because I’ve been considering making focusing on youth a strategy for my drafts this year. But given that all these guys are young and being over-drafted according to the projections, I’m realizing that going young might not be a great strategy just because most people love a shiny new toy. I thought the reality of the aging curve might make targeting young guys a good strategy to find value, but the public’s penchant for young players might make targeting young a guys a -EV strategy.
But I digress.
As with Cashner, Steamer is projecting a below average strand rate and a big spike in ERA. I don’t necessarily expect Ross’ ERA to be under 3.00 again, but Steamer’s 3.71 projection seems unreasonable to me. So I’m not on board with Ross being 50th in the Steamer rankings. I love his combination of an elite ground ball rate and well above average strikeout rate. Basically, I feel about Ross almost exactly like Podhorzer does. I’m not exactly sure where Pod would have Ross ranked, but I’m guessing it’s much closer to his ADP of 23 than 50. I also agree with Pod that I’m a little worried about the extremely high slider usage he had last year, so he does have some downside. But I think I’m good with his price tag.
Julio Teheran, Atlanta Braves
Gerrit Cole, Pittsburgh
Both Teheran and Cole are borderline top 20 starters according to ADP, but Steamer has them as only borderline top 40 starters. This disconnect between drafters and Steamer is a little different than those I’ve previously discussed. Every other guy covered has been ranked by the projections as someone who doesn’t necessarily have to be owned in all shallow mixed leagues, but Teheran and Cole are definitely 100% owned types. The disagreement is over whether or not they’re capable of being among the best at the position.
As for Teheran, Karl de Vries recently did a good job of framing the perspective that Teheran might not be ready to be a “front-line fantasy hurler.” The short story is that Teheran lost velocity last year, which caused a drop in strikeout rate, and had a pretty significant gap between his ERA and his ERA estimators. Steamer is projecting his strikeout rate to decline a bit further and his ERA to regress pretty significantly towards where his SIERA and xFIP were last year. And de Vries also made a good point in mentioning that Teheran’s supporting cast likely won’t be as good this year both in terms of run support and defensively.
But Cole feels like more of a breakout candidate. For one thing, Eno recently wrote an article entitled “Should Gerrit Cole Be Striking Out More Batters?” despite the fact that Cole ranked 22nd in strikeout rate among the 112 starters with 130 innings or more last year. The Pirates preach, and Cole adheres to, a philosophy that doesn’t focus on the strikeout, so we can’t necessarily expect him to improve on an already healthy strikeout rate. If he did, that would obviously push him towards front-line hurler status. But even if he can just hold his strikeout rate steady, that might be enough to push him to the next level if he stays healthy all year. Because as Eno noted, Cole may have had some bad luck on balls in play given his strikeout and walk rates. If that evens out, his ERA could trend down towards where his SIERA was last year in the low-threes.
I’m not sure either becomes a stud starter, but if I had to gamble on one of them, it would be Cole.