Starting Pitchers: Negative Regression Candidates
In the words of Hall of Fame NFL coach Bill Parcells, “You are what your record says you are.” While Bill has clearly never been on the hill on the losing end of a 1-0 shutout, the point is well taken. If we are still making excuses for players who just aren’t cutting it in late June, then we aren’t likely to see any cash, trophies, or, preferably, championship wrestling belts in the mail once October rolls around. We’ve reached a point in the 2019 season where the pitcher sample sizes are legitimate. Most starting pitchers who have stayed healthy throughout will be making their 15th, 16th, or even 17th start of the season this week.
It’s probably time to give up on Jake Junis, Matt Harvey, Jeff Samardzija, and Chris Archer. You’ll feel a lot better when you open the box score and see seven earned runs next week, and it’s not on your roster. However, there are a few players who have showed flashes of brilliance throughout the season and whose underlying numbers should keep these players hanging around, even if just on your bench. Others may be worth counting your blessings for getting any value out of them this year, and selling for pennies on the dollar before the bottom drops out. Let’s run through a few of these on each end of the spectrum today. If you need a deep refresher on FIP (fielding independent pitching), xFIP (expected fielding independent pitching), and SIERA (skills-interactive ERA), check out the Fangraphs links. But in short-
FIP: a pitcher can only control his strikeouts, walks, hit batters, and home runs allowed. He cannot control what happens behind him.
xFIP: In short, FIP with the league average HR/FB rate replacing the number of home runs the pitcher actually allowed. The pitcher cannot control what happens behind him, or if the fly ball he gives up goes out of the park or not.
SIERA: Strikeouts are good, walks are bad, balls in play are complicated.
For the sake of this exercise, I looked for pitchers with 40 innings pitched or more, who have started at least five games, and whose ERA sat between 2.50 and 4.00. From there, the pitcher would need to have ALL three metrics (FIP, xFIP, and SIERA) to expect at least a half-run increase in ERA. I removed any SPs with an ERA under 2.50, as I feel the Hyun-Jin Ryu and Luis Castillo types deserve the benefit of the doubt after 15 starts. This narrowed us down to a list of 20 starters. A few of these names are worth a deeper dive, while in other cases the track record seems obvious of whether to trust or not.
(All statistics as of the start of day 6/17)
|Zach Davies||Brewers||2.60||4.29||-1.70||4.91||-2.31||5.17||-2.57||Sell for anything.|
|Rich Hill||Dodgers||2.60||4.21||-1.62||3.35||-0.75||3.54||-0.94||Trust the track record.|
|Mike Minor||Rangers||2.63||3.73||-1.10||4.03||-1.40||4.13||-1.50||Ride out, unless someone buys as Top 20 SP.|
|Zack Greinke||Diamondbacks||2.65||3.37||-0.71||3.67||-1.02||3.86||-1.21||Trust the track record.|
|John Means||Orioles||2.67||4.08||-1.41||5.07||-2.40||4.67||-2.00||Sell for anything.|
|Zach Eflin||Phillies||2.81||4.14||-1.33||4.69||-1.88||4.52||-1.71||Sell high.|
|Yonny Chirinos||Rays||2.88||4.07||-1.19||4.07||-1.19||4.10||-1.22||Ride out, unless someone buys as Top 20 SP.|
|Julio Teheran||Braves||2.92||4.22||-1.30||4.92||-2.00||5.00||-2.08||Sell for anything.|
|Jose Berrios||Twins||3.01||3.78||-0.77||4.21||-1.20||4.08||-1.07||Emerging ace.|
|Wade Miley||Astros||3.14||4.32||-1.18||4.18||-1.04||4.37||-1.23||Sell for anything.|
|Spencer Turnbull||Tigers||3.27||3.83||-0.56||4.53||-1.26||4.53||-1.26||Matchups play.|
|Trevor Bauer||Indians||3.41||4.13||-0.72||4.44||-1.03||4.33||-0.92||Trust the track record.|
|Dakota Hudson||Cardinals||3.55||4.74||-1.19||4.38||-0.83||4.83||-1.28||Sell for anything.|
|Trevor Richards||Marlins||3.68||4.53||-0.85||5.19||-1.51||4.96||-1.28||Sell high, bad team.|
|Chris Bassitt||Athletics||3.68||4.44||-0.76||4.67||-0.99||4.62||-0.94||Matchups play.|
|Merrill Kelly||Diamondbacks||3.73||4.33||-0.6||4.71||-0.98||4.84||-1.11||Hot stretch, sell if possible.|
|Anibal Sanchez||Nationals||3.84||4.53||-0.69||5.1||-1.26||5.00||-1.16||Matchups play.|
|Brett Anderson||Athletics||3.89||4.46||-0.57||5.04||-1.15||5.33||-1.44||Sell for anything.|
Mike Minor: Ground Ball rate of 44.0% is closer to his elite relief season of 2017 (42.4%) than his subpar starting season of 2018. 9.31 K/9 is closer to 2017 (10.2) than 2018 (7.57) as well. 10 of his 15 starts have been six or more innings. Temper expectations, as he is not an ace, but a trustworthy rotation horse who is unlikely to have his innings limited at 31 years of age.
2018 – 4.36 ERA, 3.80 FIP, 4.02 xFIP, 4.02 SIERA, 8.65 K/9, 2.60 BB/9, 1.13 HR/9, 68.4 LOB%
2019 – 2.81 ERA, 4.14 FIP, 4.69 xFIP, 4.52 SIERA, 7.43 K/9, 2.14 BB/9, 1.24 HR/9, 84.2 LOB%
Compared to 2018: Far higher FIP, xFIP, and SIERA, fewer Ks, more HRs, far more runners left on base, and an ERA a run and a half lower. Something doesn’t add up here. Prime “Sell High” candidate.
Yonny Chirinos: 0.93 WHIP is 5th of 79 qualified pitchers. There’s something to be said for that. Chirinos is showing up as a top 20 to 25 pitcher on any and all player raters. If someone is willing to buy him with top 20 value then you can move him due to lack of track record to be safe, but I’ve enjoyed this ride so far.
Spencer Turnbull: Likely a matchups play depending on the depth of your league. The biggest discrepancy comes from the xFIP, which is likely due to a low HR/FB rate of only 9.1%. However, Turnbull has had low HR numbers at all levels, which may keep this sustainable.
Dakota Hudson: High Walks, Low Ks. leave him for someone else.
Trevor Richards: xFIP (5.19) and SIERA (4.96) are scary. Pitches for a bad team. Run.
Merrill Kelly: Hot stretch over last month, featuring a 2.50 ERA over his last six starts. But even isolating those six starts shows a 4.59 xFIP and 4.64 SIERA. See what you can get here in trade.
Anibal Sanchez: Reinvented himself over the past year and a half. Sanchez has thrown four great outings since returning from the IL, giving up four runs over 23 1/3 innings. Don’t count on him long-term, but he’s worth a roster spot at the moment.
One important thing to note is that there are many players who spend their career outperforming their peripherals. Many of the players highlighted above are early enough in their career where it’s too early to tell whether that will be the case for them. It will be interesting as the season winds down to look at this group and see where they end up from this date forward. After all, they are what their record says they are.
(Follow Bob on Twitter @BobOsgood15)