It has been nearly a month since I first took a look at the differential between starting pitchers’ ERA and xFIP. With two months now in the books, it is time for an update. From message board posts and various articles, it seems that many fantasy owners wait until June to really analyze their team and look for trading opportunities. Determining which pitchers have been the luckiest and which have been the most unfortunate is a good exercise to undertake to identity potential trade targets or sell high candidates.
Funny, Jair Jurrjens was one of just three pitchers I singled out as original members of The Overvalued Club this pre-season, and I was actually just called out on it two days ago. Jurrjens’s strikeout rate is at the lowest of his career, as is his SwStk%, and his fastball velocity is down 1.5 miles per hour. Sounds like a recipe for a disastrous season, huh? Well, he has offset that with an elite walk rate, despite the fact he is throwing just about the same percentage of first strikes as usual, and has actually thrown the fewest pitches inside the strike zone in his career. So that looks quite unsustainable. The GB% spike is good to see, though, and may continue as he has shown that ability in the past, back in 2008. So not only will Jurrjens’ luck run out at some point, but his walk rate is likely to jump, combining for a double whammy. Bold prediction: Jurrjens posts an ERA above 4.00 for the rest of the season. Owners should be trying to trade him as aggressively as humanely possible.
Hmmm, Josh Beckett is pitching almost identically to last year from a skills perspective, with the exception of a slight drop in his GB%. Yet, his ERA has dropped four full runs so far. His velocity is down again, for a second straight year, and now at a career low. However, it has not affected his SwStk% or K/9 yet, so maybe it is nothing to worry about. I have always been a big Beckett fan and would expect around a mid-3.00 ERA going forward. Of course, like any pitchers on the lucky list, it couldn’t hurt to at least shop him around to see if you could pick up a top bat in return.
I have written about Jeremy Hellickson several times, including making an official bold prediction during the pre-season that he would be the most valuable Rays pitcher. Of course, I made that prediction with the expectation that it would be a skills-fueled performance, not luck-fueled. Despite the 2.80 ERA, he has actually been a disappointment, as his walk and strikeout rates are both worse than I had forecasted. The good news is that his SwStk% suggests a much better K/9 and his F-Strike% hints at better control moving forward. As a result, I think his peripherals will improve, narrowing the gap between his ERA and xFIP before that ERA really has a chance to spike to dramatically. Therefore, Hellickson owners should probably hold.
Man, it’s a shame that Josh Johnson simply cannot stay healthy. Ground balls? Check. Strikeouts? Check. Excellent control? Check. A top talent for sure.
Alexi Ogando pitched yesterday, but his start is not reflected in the above table. His xFIP definitely improved, but I am not sure whether the differential narrowed. Obviously, his owners are loving this start as he likely came rather cheaply and simply refuses to experience the regression that many have been assuming will come. He is a tough one when it comes to the trade market because he still may not garner much in return, especially in single-season leagues. In keeper leagues, he may be a very attractive target for dumping teams. Keeper league owners going for it this year may be able to get a lot for him and I would highly suggest making the move.
After another clunker, Ryan Dempster’s ERA and xFIP are one the rise once again. However, he is pitching almost exactly the way he pitched last year, even posting a nearly identical xFIP-. His fastball velocity is down a tick and the pitch has gotten crushed according to his pitch type values. This also seems to be hurting his slider’s effectiveness, as right now the pitch is worth less than 1.0 runs above average per 100 pitches for the first time since 2004. His SwStk% and Contact% are way off from previous seasons, which makes it curious that his K/9 has not dipped. That likely has to do with my gripe of using outs as the denominator rather than plate appearances. Looking at K/PA, his rate has indeed dropped from 22.7% to 20.3%. Though he clearly has been unlucky as he is not truly deserving of his current 6.32 ERA, it seems like something clearly is not completely right here, but unfortunately I don’t know what that is. Buy low if it is low enough, but obviously do not value him as you did in the pre-season.
I could have told you that after allowing at least four runs in each of his last four starts, Bronson Arroyo was guaranteed to get good results now that he was facing my pitcher. Rants about not getting any run support aside, as unlucky as Arroyo may be, I still have little interest, even in NL-Only leagues.
Fausto Carmona’s primary problem is his ridiculous 56.6% LOB%. However, his extreme ground ball ways makes him like a mini Chien-Ming Wang, but with greater strikeout potential. His skill set is unlikely to generate significant value in mixed leagues, but he looks like a nice target in AL-Only leagues.
Chris Narveson’s ERA is somewhat perplexing as he has suffered from a bit of bad luck on the BABIP and LOB% side, but not significantly, and his HR/FB ratio is actually below league average. He was a popular add at the beginning of the season when he got off to a fast start, but he has probably been dropped by now in all the shallower leagues he was added in. His SwStk% suggests even further K/9 upside, so better luck may even earn him some mixed league value. If nothing else, he makes for an excellent NL-Only target.
Not too interested in Brian Duensing as his GB% is down and his increase in strikeout rate has been offset by worse control. He lacks the skills upside and strikeout potential to really be a good AL-Only target.
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.