Last week 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. Today we’ll look at some sleeper candidates.
Tony Cingrani, Cincinnati Reds
After an impressive 100-ish inning debut in 2013, Cingrani struggled mightily last year. His season ended in mid-June after he was sent to the minors to work on his command, and he then revealed he had been dealing with a shoulder issue. Apparently he’s expected to come to Spring Training healthy and is a likely candidate for a rotation spot, but drafters aren’t buying a bounce back as his ADP among starters is 97. But Steamer does see a bounce back as he comes in 46th in the projection rankings.
What Steamer is projecting doesn’t seem all that unreasonable because the substantive numbers represent a significant decline from what he did in 2013. If there is one thing about the projection that seems iffy, it’s the 163 innings projected. He threw just 63.1 innings last year, and he only threw 136 innings between the majors and AAA in 2013. So take issue with that if you want. But it’s harder to take issue with the other projected numbers. You basically have to throw out his 2014, which is something even our first five fan projections have done. And if you compare Steamer’s projection to his 2013 numbers, you’ll see that he’s not a “sleeper” because he’s expected to repeat an incredible 2013. He’s a sleeper because even significant regression from what he did in 2013 still represents a pitcher worth owning in mixed leagues, which is something drafters don’t seem to realize.
Brandon McCarthy, Los Angeles Dodgers
As Jeff Sullivan noted earlier this offseason, all you have to do to see Mccarthy’s upside is take a look at his xFIP from last year. Sullivan looked at similarly aged pitchers with numbers similar to what McCarthy posted last year (excluding ERA), and the results were more than encouraging. Why might his ERA trend towards his xFIP? Aside from the encouraging comps just mentioned, a full season in the National League and in his new home ball park has to help. If his velocity gains from last year hold, he could strikeout more than eight batters per nine in the NL. As for the ball park, Dodger Stadium had a basic park factor of 96 last year compared to the park factors of 104 and 103 he saw in Arizona and New York. He also had defenses behind him last year that ranked 28th and 18th in defensive efficiency, while the Dodgers ranked 13th.
Like Cingrani, it’s not like McCarthy’s Steamer projection is projecting an absolute best case scenario, which would be McCarthy’s ERA getting all the way down to 3.00 where his xFIP was last year. Steamer is projecting a 3.45 ERA with an improved 1.15 WHIP thanks in large part to a projected drop in BABIP from .328 to .292. The projection even has McCarthy regressing a bit in his strikeout and walk rates, but he’d still be above average in those categories. None of that seems unreasonable. Also like Cingrani, you could take issue with McCarthy’s innings projection of 163 considering Mccarthy threw 111 and 135 innings in 2012 and 2013, respectively. But he did throw 200 innings last year after adopting a much discussed new training regimen. I’ll gladly take a flier in the 20th round or later that McCarthy realizes all that upside in his new digs.
Mike Fiers, Milwaukee Brewers
Fiers had an incredible 10 start run to close out 2014. His 2.09 ERA (2.76 SIERA) was bested by only Clayton Kershaw and Michael Pineda among starters with 60+ innings. And his 23.3% K-BB% was bested by only Kershaw and Chris Sale. Despite that incredible stretch, I’m a little suprised that both Steamer and drafters are as high as they are on Fiers as it was just 10 starts. Steamer has him just inside the top 30 among starters and his ADP is 52nd among starters. I’m not saying I think either the projections or drafters are wrong to think so highly of Fiers. I’m just surprised given that he basically had a full season’s worth of starts between 2012 and 2013 where he had a 3.70 ERA (3.33 SIERA) and 19% K-BB%. There’s obviously nothing wrong with those numbers, but I thought maybe people wouldn’t totally be buying much of what he did last year.
That said, people aren’t buying his 2014 numbers as much as Steamer, and that’s obviously why he’s being discussed here. But once again we have Steamer not projecting the best case scenario. With Cingrani, Steamer isn’t projecting anything near his breakout 2013, but even significant regression from that point is still valuable. With McCarthy, Steamer isn’t projecting anywhere near a 3.00 ERA in line with his 2014 xFIP, but even a 3.45 ERA makes him undervalued. And with Fiers, Steamer isn’t projecting him to do anything like what he did at the end of last season. But Steamer is projecting him for numbers very similar to his 2012-2013 production with a projection of a 3.68 ERA and 16.8% K-BB%. I’m not sure how you can argue with a projection that is definitely on the conservative side. And according to the z-score method, that conservative projection represents a top-30 starter.