It’s time for another (and perhaps final) comparison between my Pod Projections and Steamer. Today we’ll look at another starting pitcher who I am significantly more bullish on by ERA than Steamer.
Carlos Rodon was the third overall pick in the 2014 June Amateur Draft and if there was a better term than “flew” to describe his time through the minors, then that term applies. Because if you blinked, you may have missed him in the minors. After all, he recorded just 34.2 innings down on the farm across three levels. The White Sox decided not to exercise any patience whatsoever, and recalled him to make his Major League debut in late April. He made three relief appearances before joining the rotation for good. He pretty much performed exactly how we expected — lots of swings and misses, especially from his slider, along with a poor first strike rate and control issues. Let’s find out why I am so much more optimistic than Steamer is on his 2016 prospects.
The innings difference is due to the fact that I’m projecting one additional start and because I’m forecasting a better ERA, also a slightly higher innings pitched per start. He pitched 149.1 innings last year, so it certainly doesn’t seem like an innings limit type issue holding down the Steamer innings forecast. Perhaps it’s just a hedge given his lack of professional innings.
Let’s skip over to the strikeout and walk rates. For a young pitcher with such limited experience, it’s rather surprising that we’re so close. Rodon’s 2015 xK% was identical to his actual strikeout rate, while his xBB% was slightly lower than his actual walk rate. So we’re both forecasting Rodon to improve ever so slightly over his 2015 mark.
As we figured, his slider was excellent at inducing swings and misses, though I wouldn’t say elite. But with it grading out at 60/70 by Kiley back in 2014, it would seem to have the potential to be even better. Plus, he possesses above average fastball velocity, so you’d think he is capable of better than a measly 5.5% SwStk% with the pitch, which is below league average.
The walk rate, well, it has to get better, right? If you like to analyze small sample sizes, his walk rate last August was down to 10% and in September/October, he posted his lowest monthly walk rate of 9%. So at least it was trending in the right direction last year. But two months of splits likely offer minimal predictive value. I’ll just bet on a young pitcher sharpening his control as many often do.
So we’re nearly identical on the strikeout and walk rates, though Steamer is a bit lower on the strikeout rate and higher on the walk rate. The bigger discrepancy is in his projected home run rate. He posted a 9.8% HR/FB rate last year and my HR/9 projection is based on a 10.5% HR/FB rate, given the hitter friendliness of his home park. Apparently Steamer is expecting an even higher HR/FB rate!
We then move on over to BABIP and find that Steamer is actually projecting a lower mark than I am. Rodon posted an inflated .315 BABIP last year, as he pitched in front of a defensive unit that ranked 26th in UZR/150. Unfortunately, the fielding support is not expected to get any better. The defense is projected to finish second worst in runs saved, which is precisely why I maintained a worse than league average BABIP projection.
Last week when comparing my Sonny Gray projection to Steamer, I wondered if Steamer accounted for projected team defense in its BABIP forecast given the higher than expected projection for Gray. Since the Athletics defense is supposed to be weak, I figured that might be an explanation. Clearly though given Rodon’s projection, this doesn’t seem to be the case. So I’m simply at a loss.
Last, we shuffle on over to the LOB% column, where we essentially have our answer. I’m projecting a two percentage point decline in Rodon’s left on base percentage, and Steamer is forecasting two percentages points lower than I am! As a reminder, I don’t manually project LOB%. It’s simply a calculation derived from my ERA projection and the number of baserunners allowed. I’m not sure how Steamer does it, but their projection is actually below the league average. Given his high strikeout rate and what should be a solid bullpen, I’m not sure how one could forecast a below league average LOB% for Rodon.
So we have our answer. Steamer is projecting Rodon to allow a higher home run rate and strand a lower percentage of his baserunners than I am and that’s leading to a 0.35 run discrepancy in our ERA forecasts.
I should also add that sometimes young pitchers improve their control dramatically, seemingly overnight. There is always the potential for that to happen for Rodon, giving him a chance to blow both our projections out of the water. Because of this, it would seem Steamer’s ERA projection reflects his ultimate downside this year rather than a reasonable 50th percentile type projection, like mine feels like.
So which Carlos Rodon projection do you think will be proven more accurate — Pod or Steamer?
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.