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Bill James Projections Fun: Pitcher Surprises Edition

On Wednesday, I dove into the recently published Bill James projections and examined how they compared with the actual performances of some of this past season’s biggest surprises on the hitting side. Today I check into some of the most surprising starting pitchers of the year.

R.A. Dickey

Season Team IP W L ERA WHIP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP
2012 Mets 233.2 20 6 2.73 1.05 8.9 2.1 0.9 0.275
2013 Bill James 226.0 16 8 3.58 1.12 6.1 2.2 0.8 0.267

The runaway choice for NL Cy Young this season, Dickey actually wasn’t as surprising as perception would lead you to believe. In 2010, he posted a 2.84 ERA and in 2011 a 3.28 ERA. The surprising aspect of this year’s performance was mostly driven by his 20 wins, which always looks pretty, and the more impressive strikeout rate surge. Bill James is clearly not a fan. Despite a lower projected BABIP and WHIP and higher strikeout rate than what Dickey posted in both 2010 and 2011, the ERA is projected to actually be higher. James puts nearly zero weight on this season’s strikeout rate spike. There has obviously been a lot written about Dickey all season, including a flood of digital ink spilled trying to explain those additional strikeouts. With a harder knuckleball than we have historically seen and the ability to change speeds on it, along with a fantastic 12.2% SwStk%, I think his 2013 K/9 will be much closer to his 2012 rate than what Bill James is projecting.

Wade Miley

Season Team IP W L ERA WHIP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP
2012 Diamondbacks 194.2 16 11 3.33 1.18 6.7 1.7 0.7 0.293
2013 Bill James 199.0 12 10 3.57 1.26 6.8 2.3 0.8 0.308

After an uninspiring minor league career, Miley was a surprisingly strong Rookie of the Year candidate, narrowly missing out on the award to Bryce Harper. Miley’s ERA primarily benefited from a low HR/FB ratio, which is tough to do in the home run happy Chase Field. Bill James is projecting a similar strikeout rate and a jump in walk rate, with ERA and WHIP marks just a bit higher than Miley posted this season. Miley’s F-Strike’s was almost exactly league average, while his SwStk% and Contact% were worse than league average. These underlying metrics don’t make me very optimistic that Miley will come come to replicating his skill rates next season. I think his strikeout rate has a better chance of being sustained, since that was below average to begin with, but he typically displayed only mediocre control in the minors, so he could see a big spike there. With both skills and luck regression possible, I think the over on Miley’s ERA projection is an excellent bet.

Tim Lincecum

Season Team IP W L ERA WHIP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP
2012 Giants 186.0 10 15 5.18 1.47 9.2 4.4 1.1 0.309
2013 Bill James 197.0 13 9 3.47 1.30 9.6 4.0 0.7 0.308

There are no words to describe how much Lincecum hurt fantasy owners this year. I think the scariest thing about Lincecum is that when working in relief during the playoffs, his fastball velocity didn’t even jump. That means that he is physically incapable of throwing harder. Whatever the explanation, Bill James is projecting an almost complete rebound. Check that strikeout rate, that’s higher than even his 2011 season! I think this projection is going to end up being more optimistic than any fantasy owner would be willing to project himself. Since this wasn’t just a case of poor luck (which he may have endured given his 3.97 SIERA), but a deterioration of his fastball velocity that likely had a domino effect on the rest of his pitches, it’s difficult to be confident in rebound to previous seasons. I think I’d take the over on the ERA, but of course, nobody really has a clue what we’ll get next year.

Jon Lester

Season Team IP W L ERA WHIP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP
2012 Red Sox 205.1 9 14 4.82 1.38 7.3 3.0 1.1 0.312
2013 Bill James 211.0 12 12 3.71 1.29 8.2 3.2 0.9 0.306

Almost as big a disappointment as Lincecum, Lester had been as consistent as it gets since 2008. This time, Bill James seems to be weighting the 2012 season more than in Lincecum’s case. He projects some rebound in strikeout rate and some increase in walk rate, while his BABIP barely drops, despite possessing a career average BABIP mark right around the league average. He’s also expecting Lester to have less trouble with the home run ball. Many of his underyling metrics and skills, including velocity and pitch selection, were similar to 2011, so it’s tough to come up with an explanation for the poor performance. I think Lester has a better shot at a full rebound than Lincecum, but his strikeout rate may have finally caught up to his league average SwStk% the last two years, which is cause for serious concern.