Rankings Counterpoint: Matt Shoemaker is not a Cobbler
As you know by now, the industrious team of writers here at The Dynasty Guru put together a complete set of rankings for players at every position. If you haven’t seen them yet you should definitely check them out HERE! These rankings were built especially for use in dynasty leagues. Of course player values in dynasty leagues are dramatically different than in re-draft leagues but all the lists on other fantasy baseball sites were made for yearly leagues. We created our dynasty rankings as consensus lists compiling the opinions of all the TDG writers into the ultimate ranking system for dynasty leagues anywhere on the Net.
Since the lists were created on a consensus basis, sometimes each of us on the panel may disagree with the collective mind. I strongly believe our rankings are the best to be found anywhere, but that doesn’t mean I agree with the ranking of every single player. This article is the first in a series where I highlight a few examples of starting pitchers who I believe are more valuable than their rank.
Matt Shoemaker, Los Angeles Angels
- #118 on TDG’s Top 200 Dynasty Starting Pitcher Rankings for 2015 and beyond.
- #359 on TDG’s Top 500 Overall Dynasty League Rankings for 2015 and beyond.
In my personal opinion Shoemaker should be ranked much higher on both of those lists. I will tell you why. Let me know if you agree (or not).
The Long and Winding Road
Shoemaker is already 28 years old and has never been considered any sort of a top prospect by any stretch of the imagination. Nobody even drafted him after his senior year of college. He ended up getting a tiny $10,000 signing bonus from the Angels as an undrafted free agent. Needless to say, undrafted free agents rarely even make it to the major leagues, much less become one of the better players in baseball.
He slowly worked his way through the minor leagues one level at a time without ever doing much to impress the scouts enough to rank him on prospect lists. He did put up a 2.48 ERA in AA ball in 2011, but that was easily explained away by his lucky .261 BABIP and extraordinarily fluky 85% strand rate. He settled in at AAA to throw 423 innings across 3+ seasons and put up a miserable 5.38 ERA. Obviously that is not good at all. But remember, we are talking about the Pacific Coast League here — a notoriously gruesome place for pitchers. Shoemaker’s strikeout rate in the minors was always good but not great. As he worked his way up the ladder he gradually lowered his walk rates. By the time his 2013 season in AAA was complete he had led the league in the all-important K-BB% metric with a very good 16.8% mark. Others in the top 10 were Michael Wacha, Sonny Gray, Drew Pomeranz, Rafael Montero, Tyler Skaggs and Collin McHugh. Those younger guys were all considered top prospects with promising futures, but Shoemaker and McHugh were a few years older so they were ignored as just organizational Quad-A type players. But if you can strike batters out in the PCL you have some talent. It is hard to get movement on pitches in those high-altitude, arid environments and hitters feast on fastballs. You have to develop some savvy and excellent control if you want to survive as a pitcher in the PCL. It is literally a school of hard knocks.
One of the major themes of 2014 was the story of several older, veteran pitchers emerging from the PCL to experience instant success in the major leagues. Matt Shoemaker, Collin McHugh, Dallas Keuchel, James Paxton, Yusmeiro Petit and National League Rookie of the Year Jacob Degrom all did it last year. But that is the subject of a future column.
|2014 Fantasy Stats||Shoemaker|
Shoemaker won 16 games despite not joining the Angel’s starting rotation until May 13th. He lost only 4 games all year and led the majors in winning percentage. Out of the 120 pitchers who exceeded 130 innings, Shoemaker’s 3.04 ERA was 29th and his 1.07 WHIP was 7th in the league. He only tossed 136 innings, which limited him to 124 strikeouts. Ks were the one fantasy category that held him back from being an elite fantasy starter last year. He finished 2nd behind White Sox slugger Jose Abreu in the American League Rookie of the Year balloting.
|Rank Among SPs||Shoemaker|
Despite making only 20 starts Shoemaker was a top 30 starting pitcher in 2014. The missed innings hurt him more in points leagues than 5×5 leagues. Points leagues are all about racking up counting stats, whereas in 5×5 leagues the ratios have a bigger effect on the standings. This year Shoemaker will be in the Angels’ starting rotation right from the beginning of the season and if he stays healthy will make 32+ starts and approach or exceed 200 innings. If he throws as effectively as he did last year he could easily be a top 20 pitcher in fantasy leagues. But can he pitch that well again?
That is a good question because last year’s success came totally out of the blue. It was totally unexpected and nobody predicted it. The best way to predict how a pitcher will do in the future is to look under the hood at his peripheral stats to see if he really pitched as well as his traditional stats made it seem.
|Component Stats||Shoemaker||Major League Average|
Shoemaker’s strikeout rate was very good but not elite, ranking 34th in K/9 among the 120 pitchers with 130+ innings pitched. His walk rate was truly elite at 12th in the league. His K/BB ratio was also 12th. Shoemaker ranked 19th in K-BB%, which I consider to be the most important metric for predicting future success or failure. So these component stats show him to be totally legit as a top 25 starting pitcher.
|Composite Stats||Shoemaker||Major League Average|
These stats weigh the things pitchers have the most control over (BBs, Ks, HRs) and eliminate the things pitchers don’t have control over (team defense, ballpark, BABIP) to give us a better measure than ERA of how he truly performed after all the extraneous factors are stripped out. These metrics do a better job of predicting the future than ERA does. Given that Shoemaker’s strikeout and walk rates are so good, it is no surprise that these stats also look good. Maybe we shouldn’t expect him to quite replicate his 3.04 ERA but he should come close to it again next year. His peripherals indicate his ERA should have been closer to 3.20-3.30 than the 3.04 he ended up with. This is only a small disparity, but if the difference were larger we should definitely look for a reason why. Let’s do it anyway…
|Luck & Team Effects||Shoemaker||Major League Average|
|Defense Efficiency Rank||6th||15th|
|Park Factor (Runs)||26th||15th|
|Team Runs/Game Rank||1st||15th|
We can see that Shoemaker was just a little tiny bit fortunate on his BABIP and slightly more fortunate on his Strand Rate. But we should probably expect that to continue next year because he will still be with the Angels, who play very good defense all over the diamond. They also play their home games in a strong pitchers’ park that suppresses runs better than all but 4 other ballparks. The last row in that chart has a huge effect on his fantasy value. Above we talked about his 16-4 win/loss record. Part of that is because he pitched very well. Another major factor is the Angels scored a ton of runs last year, more than any other team in baseball. With an offense like that supporting him we can expect Shoemaker to deliver a lot of wins and take just a few losses even if he were only an average pitcher. A good pitcher on a great team is pure fantasy gold.
|Velocity||Shoemaker||Major League Average|
Shoemaker is not a fireballer. He has average velocity at best. He doesn’t blow the ball past hitters. He mixes five pitches to keep hitters off-balance and guessing. He has excellent control and command. His 25.6% usage of his 4-seam fastball is one of the lowest in the league. His repertoire has been compared to the Japanese import pitchers due to his heavy use of downward-diving pitches like the sinker and splitter. Many starters use only three pitches. Shoemaker’s repertoire is deep and varied and he knows how to use it. He may have been technically a rookie, but the 28 year old Shoemaker is a savvy veteran pitcher with the experience needed to get hitters out.
Where should he rank?
Shoemaker was ranked #118 on our list of starting pitchers for dynasty leagues between boring yle Lohse (I left off the K because he doesn’t strike batters out) and injured 2014 draftee Jeff Hoffman. In my opinion that is WAY too low. There are an awful lot of risky prospects and journeyman starters ahead of him who have never put up a season like the one Shoemaker did last year. I guess the other voters are thinking his 2014 season was likely just a fluke. I disagree. I think what he did on the field last year was totally legitimate. Even if Shoemaker takes a step back he will still be a top 75 pitcher — and I see no reason to believe he will take a step back. His peripherals were rock solid last year. Nothing in his underlying stats screams regression. He did not skate by on a wing and a prayer like Chris Young did (12-9 with a 3.65 ERA despite a 5.19 xFIP and 5.9 K/9). Shoemaker is not going to make the scouts drool with a blazing fastball or drop-off-the-table curveball. He just gets guys out, usually by striking them out. He has been striking guys out for years but it was disguised by his ugly ERA in the Hitters Heaven and Pitchers Hell known as the PCL.
I think Shoemaker should be conservatively ranked at #42 on our list of starting pitchers. That would put him just behind Jacob deGrom and Alex Wood, but just ahead of Andrew Cashner and Chris Archer. I would put Shoemaker at #122 on the Top 500 Overall list between Matt Holiday and Dellin Betances.
Shoemaker is not the type of pitcher you want to build around as the foundation of your pitching staff. He is not an ace or top-of-rotation type of pitcher, but he will help your team win your league. He can be obtained fairly cheaply because most people who own him are suspicious of him. They are worried he could be a fluke who will never repeat his 2014 success. Take him off their hands, stick him in your lineup and watch the stats roll in.
What do you think? Am I right or am I delusional? Let me know in the comments. Have another pitcher you are unsure about? Let me know and I will profile him soon too.