Over the past couple of weeks, I have published several of my hitter projections with a detailed explanation of each metric projected. Today, it’s finally time to switch over to the pitching side. Kris Medlen returned from Tommy John surgery with a bang last year, posting a microscopic 0.97 ERA and 0.81 WHIP as a starter. A performance like that will grab the attention of fantasy owners and it has vaulted him up the ADP charts, as he has been getting drafted 75th overall and 14th among starting pitchers on Mock Draft Central. With a limited history, projecting him is tough. Let’s go through the process, of which you can read more about here.
He threw a combined 151 innings last season, including his short stint at Triple-A and that was the most he has ever thrown in one year. So he’s not without risk if approaching a new career high. But, we can’t just assume he will be unable to pitch this many innings and it is unlikely to be due to poor performance that keeps his innings down.
Last season, Medlen suddenly became an extreme ground ball pitcher. In previous years, he posted a near league average batted ball distribution, though the ground balls were replaced with line drives. Since batted ball rates are quite stable, this is a big question mark. There doesn’t seem to be any changes in his pitch selection that would point to the sharp increase in worm burners. So, I decided to hedge and projected some regression from last season’s above 50% ground ball rate, but not so much that he would turn into a below average ground ball inducer.
I generally stick to 10% for the majority of pitchers unless they call an extreme ball park home or have had three full seasons, at the very least, of better/worse than average HR/FB rates. There is so much luck involved here that it takes a while for a pitcher’s true talent level to shine through. With just 315.2 career innings to Medlen’s name, it’s simply not enough. A tiny 5.7% HR/FB rate was a big reason for his miniscule ERA last year.
Like HR/FB ratio, there has to be a compelling reason to project a young pitcher with a limited history for anything other than around a league average BABIP. As would be expected for a pitcher who posted a 1.57 ERA, Medlen benefited from an unsustainable .261 BABIP last year. He was a ground ball pitcher and his line drive and IFFB% didn’t dramatically differ from the league average. This suggests to me that he should revert right back toward league average this year.
However, it is worth noting that he generated a high O-Swing% last season, which fits the story line of allowing weak contact. That metric actually correlates pretty well year-to-year, so maybe he’ll be able to repeat and post another below league average BABIP. Since he hasn’t been this good in his previous two seasons, then I’m unwilling to give him the benefit of the doubt based on a strong two-thirds of a season.
In 83.2 innings as a starter last year, Medlen walked just 10 batters for a 1.1 walk rate. His F-Strike% was high and he has always displayed excellent control. But, unless we’re dealing with a pitcher who has consistently posted sub-2.0 walk rates, then I will automatically regress at 2.0 at the very least. Only 10 qualified starters in baseball posted a sub-2.0 walk rate (after rounding), so it is clearly difficult.
Medlen also dazzled on the strikeout front last year, punching out 84 batters in those 83.2 innings. His SwStk% was very good and he also got an above average rate of called strikes. But, he’s armed with a below average fastball and relies on location and a great change-up. That’s fine if all we’re looking for is a potentially excellent starting pitcher. But it doesn’t usually lead to high strikeout rates.
Below is my final projected pitching line, along with a smattering of other projection systems for comparison.
This is some of the biggest variance between projections I have seen. A low ERA of 2.90 and high of 3.78 is a rather large range. It just drives home the point that Medlen is extremely hard to project. As he should be, his level of complete awesomeness last year doesn’t happen very often.
Decide who I should publish a Pod Projection for! Tell me in the comments which pitcher you want to see and whoever gets named most will become the subject of the next post.