The Most Improved Pitchers This Season by Projected WAR

What follows represents an attempt by the author to utilize the projections available at the site to identify the five starting pitchers whose per-inning WAR projections have most improved since the beginning of the season.

For every pitcher, what I’ve done is first to calculate his preseason (PRE) WAR projection prorated to 150 innings, averaging together Steamer and ZiPS forecasts where both are available. What I’ve done next is to calculate the prorated WAR for every pitcher’s rest-of-season (ROS) WAR projection (again, using both Steamer and ZiPS when available). I’ve then found the difference in prorated WAR between the preseason and rest-of-season projection.

Only those pitchers have been considered who (a) are currently on a major-league roster and (b) have recorded at least 50 innings at the major-league level and 20 innings this season and (c) are expected to work predominantly as a starter for the duration of the season. Note that PRE denotes a player’s combined Steamer and ZiPS preseason projection; ROS, the rest-of-season projection. Diff is difference between the prorated ROS projections and the PRE one. Data is current as of Tuesday.

5. Chase Anderson, RHP, Arizona (Profile)

Proj. IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 FIP WAR
PRE 150 6.3 3.2 1.2 4.60 -0.6
ROS 150 7.2 3.1 1.2 4.45 0.6
Diff 0.9 -0.1 0.0 -0.15 1.2

Notes
Like some of the other pitchers who appear below, Anderson’s improved WAR projection isn’t merely a function of a more encouraging FIP projection, but also of a change in role. After struggling in a starting capacity at Triple-A over the first half of 2013, Anderson finished last year as a reliever — in which role he was partially projected for 2014. The same pitcher will typically record both a higher strikeout rate and lower ERA in a relief role than in a starting one. What Anderson has done, though, is simultaneously improve upon both projected figures while also transitioning back to a full-time starter’s role.

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4. Josh Tomlin, RHP, Cleveland (Profile)

Proj. IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 FIP WAR
PRE 150 5.4 1.7 1.3 4.33 0.0
ROS 150 6.6 1.6 1.3 4.16 1.2
Diff 1.2 -0.1 0.0 -0.18 1.2

Notes
Over his first four major-league seasons (about 350 innings), Tomlin recorded a strikeout rate of 13.2% (4.9 K/9). This season, in 86.2 innings, he’s improved upon that mark by about 50%, striking out 21.3% of all batters faced (8.0 K/9) — this, while also only walking about a batter per every nine innings. The precise reasons for his improvement are the province of another post. The effect on his projection is clear, however: the rest-of-season variety portends an improvement of 1.2 strikeouts per nine relative to the preseason one.

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3. Tanner Roark, RHP, Washington (Profile)

Proj. IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 FIP WAR
PRE 150 6.1 2.8 1.0 4.16 -0.1
ROS 150 6.5 2.5 0.9 4.02 1.1
Diff 0.4 -0.3 0.0 -0.14 1.2

Notes
Between 2011 and -13, Roark recorded a strikeout-walk differential slightly greater than 13 percentage points. As an actual major-league starter this season, the 27-year-old has produced a strikeout-walk differential of slightly greater than 13 percentage points. If one takes for granted that most of the hitters in the major leagues are better than most of the hitters in Double- and Triple-A — a reasonable assumption, that — than one is led to believe that a pitcher, upon graduating to the majors, will produce less impressive strikeout-walk differentials (those differentials serving as a good proxy for overall success). That hasn’t been the case for Roark, however. His rest-of-season projections reflect that.

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2. Roenis Elias, LHP, Seattle (Profile)

Proj. IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 FIP WAR
PRE 150 6.0 3.8 1.2 4.82 0.2
ROS 150 7.7 3.5 1.0 4.15 1.5
Diff 1.7 -0.3 -0.2 -0.67 1.3

Notes
There has been considerable and justified enthusiasm over the past year-plus regarding Seattle’s young pitchers; however, almost all of it (i.e. all that enthusiasm) has been directed in the direction of Danny Hultzen, James Paxton, and Taijuan Walker. That triumvirate have accounted for only 31.1 major-league innings this season and slightly less than zero wins relative to replacement level. The left-handed Elias, meanwhile — who received so little consideration as to be omitted from a Mariners’ consensus top-26 prospect list — has produced a league-average xFIP and 1.4 WAR in 129.0 innings. At such a time as he records two more outs, he’ll pass the injured Masahiro Tanaka for first place among rookie pitchers by innings pitched.

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1. Dallas Keuchel, LHP, Houston (Profile)

Proj. IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 FIP WAR
PRE 150 6.0 3.0 1.0 4.23 0.5
ROS 150 6.4 2.7 0.8 3.87 1.8
Diff 0.4 -0.2 -0.2 -0.36 1.3

Notes
Keuchel produced above-average fielding independent numbers last season (18.0% K, 7.6% BB, 55.8% GB), but those figures were such a departure from his recent minor- and major-league history that he entered 2014 with relatively modest projections. What he’s done this season, however, is to produce better fielding-independent numbers (18.7% K, 6.0% BB, 61.8% GB) and to do so exclusively as a starter (after working some of 2013 in a relief capacity). The projections are still conservative regarding his true talent, forecasting him to produce league-average numbers roughly on a rate basis; however, that’s likely product of those modest pre-2013 figures that are still extent in the data which informs his projections.

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Two additional notes:

  • Had he not been demoted in mid-July, Arizona right-hander (and Chase Anderson’s teammate) Mike Bolsinger would actually appear atop this list. His preseason projections called for him to produce a -1.4 WAR; his current rest-of-season ones, a 0.8 mark (i.e. 2.2 wins better).
  • The least improved pitcher by this methodology appears to be Jake Peavy. Per 150 innings, his combined WAR projection has declined from 2.7 to 1.5.


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