Steamer and I: Shane Greene & Jesse Hahn

The Steamer and I series continues this week as I move onto starting pitcher comparisons. Today, I check in on two pitchers of whom the Steamer projections are significantly more bearish than my Pod Projections.

The average forecasted ERA of the 220 pitchers I compared projections for (which includes both starters and relievers) is 3.71 from Steamer and 3.56 for Pod. It’s a rather large discrepancy indeed. A whopping 161 (73%) pitchers I am projecting for at least a .01 ERA better than Steamer, while just 55 (25%) pitchers are projected for a better ERA by Steamer.

Both Shane Greene and Jesse Hahn were not highly touted pitching prospects, but posted sub-4.00 ERAs with solid underlying skills. Projections, unsurprisingly, are going to be all over the place for the pair.

Shane Greene

System IP ERA WHIP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 K% BB% BABIP LOB%
2014 78.2 3.78 1.40 9.3 3.3 0.92 23.5% 8.4% 0.330 74.4%
Pod 150.0 3.81 1.34 7.9 3.3 0.81 20.4% 8.5% 0.305 72.4%
Steamer 129.0 4.45 1.37 6.7 3.2 0.98 17.2% 8.2% 0.296 68.5%

The Yankees rewarded Greene for his solid performance by trading him to the Tigers as part of a three-team deal over the offseason. He’s now locked into the 5th slot in the rotation, which is where my 150 innings pitched projection comes from. It’s clear that Steamer doesn’t expect him to stick all year, which makes sense given the ERA projection.

What’s interesting is our WHIP forecasts are fairly close, yet there is a much wider gap in the ERA projections than one might expect given the fairly similar WHIP. That disparity is driven by two primary differences — our HR/9 and LOB% projections. Greene was hurt by the long ball last year, victimized by a 12.7% HR/FB rate. Given better fortune and a more forgiving home park, I figured improvement toward league average of 10%. It’s likely that Steamer is projecting something somewhat similar, but a much lower forecasted strikeout rate will lead to more balls in play, of which some will clear the fence.

My LOB% projection is an implied rate. I don’t manually project it, it’s simply spit out based on the ERA projection. I’m not sure why Steamer projects a significantly worse than league average (72.5% among starters in 2014) mark, but the difference is fueling the inflated ERA.

Probably the most contentious projected metric is Greene’s strikeout rate. Aside from his short time at Single-A in 2010, Greene’s Major League strikeout rate was well above what he had ever posted before. So a computer system that considers minor league stats is of course going to heavily regress that strikeout rate, and the result is the Steamer forecast. When looking at his minor league marks, it looks perfectly reasonable.

But Greene showed pretty solid swing and miss breaking balls with the Yankees, while also displaying the ability to get both called and foul strikes at around league average rates. My projected strikeout rate is just a bit above the 19.3% average for AL starters last year, which still factors in a healthy amount of regression, just not to the degree of Steamer.

Jesse Hahn

System IP ERA WHIP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 K% BB% BABIP LOB%
2014 73.1 3.07 1.21 8.6 3.9 0.49 22.9% 10.5% 0.270 76.7%
Pod 140.0 3.62 1.31 7.5 3.3 0.75 19.6% 8.6% 0.295 73.1%
Steamer 139.0 4.22 1.36 7.0 3.5 0.90 18.1% 9.0% 0.291 69.7%

Hahn was also involved in an offseason trade, coming over from the Padres in a more traditional two-team deal. Normally, leaving the friendly confines of Petco Park and the National League would be a serious negative, but he ended up in a fairly good situation in Oakland.

Naturally, both projection systems are expecting regression from last season. Part of that is the move to the American League and part is due to his minor league track record. We both call for fairly similar walk rates and Steamer is again more optimistic about the BABIP. But there’s that HR/9 and LOB% difference again. Given the favorable home park, I’m projecting a 9.5% HR/FB rate, which is slightly better than league average. It’s very possible that Steamer isn’t ready to give a sophomore that type of treatment. But the strikeout rate difference also plays a role here.

So aside from the unexplainable LOB% difference, we’re left with that strikeout rate gap. So let’s talk strikeouts. First of all, Hahn has never thrown a pitch at the Triple-A level. I get far less concerned when a pitcher skips Triple-A than a hitter, but it’s still worth considering. His strikeout rate in the Majors was right in line with what he posted at both Double-A and High-A. That’s not typical though, as generally rookie pitchers are going to punch out batters at a worse rate in the Majors than they did in the minors.

Therefore, Steamer and I agree that strikeout rate regression is coming. But I see that fantastic curveball (18.3% SwStk%), which led to swinging strikes and presumably called strikes as well. Because he posted a well above average looking strike rate, something a good curve will lead to. It all combines to result in a strikeout rate that should be just above the league average.

So which side do you lean toward, mine or Steamer, for these two sophomore pitchers in a new home this season?

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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.

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I lean toward your side for Greene, and sort-of your way for Hahn.

Greene has several quality pitches and he seems to have developed his control and pitch sequencing to the point where he gets more out of his talent than he had in the minors. Comerica Park will help his HR rate. I am all-in on Greene, and won’t be surprised if he posts a K/9 around 8.5.

I am less impressed with Hahn overall. He is a 2-pitch guy, but his curve (as you mentioned) is excellent. He keeps the ball down, generates ground balls and swings-and-misses. If he goes to the ‘pen, I would be in for a K/9 over 8, but if he is in the rotation I doubt he will get many swings-and-misses the 2nd and 3rd times through the lineup.