2014 Bold Pitcher League Leaders

Yesterday, I went beyond the obligatory 10 bold predictions and shared my bold hitter league leaders in each of the five standard fantasy categories. So today, I take on the pitchers. Although still difficult to hit on any, the pitchers are a bit easier to get right than the hitters for two reasons. One, there are two ratio categories, rather than one, so playing time expectations are less important. And two, there’s a larger luck component involved in pitching which makes the elite guys less of a lock to lead the league in any specific category.

In 2012, I hit on one of my 10 picks. Last year, I was demoted back to the minors after putting up an 0-fer. Let’s hope that lit a fire under my butt and results in a breakout predictions year.

American League

ERACorey Kluber

I debated whether Alex Cobb and Danny Salazar would be considered bold and decided that they would not be. So Kluber is the pick. Kluber finished seventh in the AL last year in SIERA among pitchers who threw at least 140 innings. I’m a proud member of the Society and believe that his breakout was legit. The only thing he needs is some better defensive support to bring that BABIP down and his HR/FB rate to drop toward the league average.

WHIPR.A. Dickey

He was one of my Pod’s Picks for a reason. A healthier Dickey with better knuckleball velocity enjoyed a skills rebound during the second half of the season. He possesses excellent control and knuckleballers do have the ability to prevent hits on balls in play. Those ingredients mix to create a recipe that results in a pretty darn good WHIP.

StrikeoutsScott Kazmir

Blah, unless Yu Darvish gets hurt, any other name represents pretty poor odds. Kazmir’s career high innings total is just 206 and he has already had a triceps issue during spring training. But his strikeout ability is back now with a return of his velocity and he punched out over a batter per inning last season. Obviously, innings will be key here. Even with 200 innings, he has little chance of taking the strikeout title, so this is more of an “I like Scott Kazmir” thing than really believing he has a chance to lead the league in Ks.

WinsSonny Gray

This was a tough one. I think Gray will probably be a bit overvalued in most leagues, but he owns an intriguing skill set. It’s one that includes the holy skills trifecta. He threw a total of 182 innings last year, so it wouldn’t be crazy to think he can go 200 this season. The Athletics continue to run out a solid and underrated offense, so run support shouldn’t be a major problem.

SavesNate Jones

There aren’t many closers that would truly be considered a bold choice as we are all well aware of how fluky the saves stat is. The White Sox have not officially named a closer yet, but you figure it’s going to be Jones who gets the first shot. He throws really hard and induces a healthy rate of ground balls. With no other standout candidates in the Sox bullpen knocking on the door, there’s no reason to believe that Jones shouldn’t hold the job all year, and perform quite well.

National League

ERAAlex Wood

Like with AL strikeouts, any pick not named Clayton Kershaw is highly unlikely. This may be cheating a bit because Wood is almost a lock to spend some time in the bullpen, which should benefit his ERA. As I mentioned in my 10 bold predictions article, I love his ability to generate grounders while also inducing swings and misses and displaying good control. He’ll need to pitch at least 162 innings to actually qualify for the ERA title, which may be beyond the upper limit of what the Braves plan to do here.

WHIPDoug Fister

Assuming his elbow issue is nothing, Fister should really benefit from the move to the National League. His strikeout rate should get a boost and he should receive better defensive support, reducing his hits allowed total. He has posted a WHIP as low as 1.06 before, so it’s not outlandish to believe he is capable of producing a WHIP low enough to compete with the Kershaws and Cliff Lees of the world.

StrikeoutsJose Fernandez

Bold? Not bold? He finished 14th in the league in strikeouts last year, so I’m voting bold. I am projecting him to post the second highest K/9 in the league, so it’s going to be an innings thing. He threw 172 innings last year, so can he get to 200-210 this time around?

WinsMatt Garza

A (hopefully) full season of Ryan Braun, along with new left fielder Khris Davis, the Brewers sport one of the best offense in the National League. Garza has thrown 200 innings twice over his career, so if healthy, we know he has the stamina to do so.

SavesSteve Cishek

Why not? He has excellent skills, combining a strong ground ball rate with a high strikeout rate and improved control. Despite featuring a fastball/slider combo, he was still excellent versus left-handed batters, limiting them to a .288 wOBA and posting a 3.21 xFIP last season. He doesn’t get the fanfare, but he’s as good as any other closer beyond the top tier.

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Mike Podhorzer produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X: 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. He also sells beautiful photos through his online gallery, Pod's Pics. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

15 Responses to “2014 Bold Pitcher League Leaders”

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  1. Jared says:

    Do you really think that Wood spends time in the bullpen? I may see them skipping a start here and there, but I was thinking about 180 innings.

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    • Javen says:

      I second this notion/question. If he’s as effective as he was in the second half of last year I don’t see how the move him to the bullpen with Beachy and Medlen gone. Even before those two injuries, I felt as though everything would have to break right for the Braves to have the luxury of moving him to the pen.

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    • I thought that was the plan from the Braves front office. He threw about 140 innings last year, so he would seemingly be able to go 150-170. Maybe the plan changes with all the injuries.

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      • I Like Baseball Sports says:

        The Braves keep close tabs on young pitcher’s workloads. I’ll be surprised if Wood exceeds 170.

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  2. Rob says:

    Your WHIP and strikeout leaders in the NL aren’t super bold or anything. But I really liked your bold AL picks.

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  3. Rob #2 says:

    As a dynasty league owner of Kluber, Kazmir, and Gray, I approve of this list.

    I also think it is bold to pick a knuckleballer for the WHIP crown, even though he has maintained surprisingly low WHIPs in his career. I would imagine consistently throwing a knuckleball for strikes is like tossing a paper airplane off a building and predicting where it will land.

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    • Feeding the Abscess says:

      The speed of his knuckleball probably provides two benefits; it allows less space for the ball to dance around, and less time for the hitter to figure out where it’s going.

      Total speculation on my end, but it seems to make sense that a faster knuckleball would be more accurate than a 60 MPH one.

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  4. JY says:

    I really like Kluber, and own him in a couple of leagues. However, I am also a bit concerned. He has a line drive rate around 25%, and it is fairly consistently across all of his splits.

    Looking at his pitch f/x, it looks like some of his pitches just get rocked. Is this a case where he needs to update his pitch mix? Or is he going to be someone who annually under performs his FIP due to his propensity for high LD%?

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    • One year LD% is extremely flukey for pitchers and has low YoY correlation. Nothing to be concerned about.

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      • Feeding the Abscess says:

        Kluber has a relatively low first strike rate (60.2%), compared to his zone% and BB/9 (52.4%, 2.02). Perhaps, as his start against Oakland today demonstrated, he’s not getting ahead of enough hitters, but he his throwing a majority of his pitches in the zone, so plenty of hitters are getting very hittable strikes in hitter’s counts, leading to better contact for the hitter.

        Seems simple enough to say, but throwing more hittable pitches for strikes in the first pitch of the at-bat is probably a better idea than throwing that same pitch in a 2-1 or 1-0 count.

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  5. Eric Dykstra says:

    What is your or the Fangraphs definition of a “bold prediction” ? It’s not actually a prediction, right? You don’t think any of these are the most likely leaders.

    I’m not calling you out or something, just curious about what the point of “bold predictions” is, and what they’re supposed to mean.

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