Future SP Improvers: SIERA Underperformers

A week ago, I looked at the 10 pitchers with the largest difference between their ERA and SIERA marks; those whose ERAs have outperformed their SIERA. These were the pitchers you can expect to disappoint in the near future. Today I look at the opposite end of the spectrum, the potential improvers whose ERA has underperformed their SIERA marks.

Max Scherzer 11.3 3.7 0.376 68.2% 17.3% 5.76 3.15 2.61
Jake Arrieta 8.3 2.7 0.322 59.2% 14.1% 5.89 3.49 2.40
Luke Hochevar 6.9 2.9 0.352 59.5% 8.2% 6.27 4.01 2.26
Gavin Floyd 8.5 2.7 0.302 68.9% 16.7% 5.63 3.54 2.09
Tim Lincecum 9.6 4.9 0.335 61.0% 9.4% 6.00 3.92 2.08
Mike Minor 7.6 3.5 0.292 64.3% 14.9% 6.01 4.17 1.84
Carl Pavano 4.7 1.1 0.329 56.9% 10.7% 6.00 4.29 1.71
J.A. Happ 9.4 3.7 0.349 72.9% 16.0% 5.33 3.63 1.70
Adam Wainwright 8.3 2.7 0.319 65.0% 14.5% 4.75 3.20 1.55
Joe Blanton 7.3 1.3 0.307 66.7% 16.5% 4.86 3.34 1.52

No surprise to see Max Scherzer‘s name at the top. It has been difficult trying to come up with an explanation for his surface struggles and even hearing it from the pitcher himself hasn’t exactly led to satisfactory answer. The home run ball and inflated BABIP are the obvious problems here, both of which have driven down his LOB%. Both rates simply have to improve. However, the Tigers defense, which ranks second to last in UZR/150 and third to last in BABIP allowed, is going to remain an issue. I’m still buying here and crossing my fingers.

I last talked about Jake Arrieta a month ago, at which time his ERA stood at 3.52. I remained somewhat pessimistic because his low SwStk% and F-Strike% did not match up with his strikeout and walk rates. So what has happened? His SwStk% and F-Strike% have both improved, while his K/9 and BB/9 have been sustained, but his ERA has skyrocketed. Though his BABIP and HR/FB ratios are both inflated, the biggest problem is his pathetic LOB%. He has never shown such an issue before, so this looks like a complete fluke. I still feel that his strikeout rate is due to fall and walk rate will increase, so that SIERA is going to rise. As a result, even if his luck does neutralize, I’m still not sure he’ll have any value in mixed leagues.

So much for Luke Hochevar‘s second half last year that placed him on many sleeper lists! He has always underperformed his peripherals and sports a terrible career LOB% of just 63%. Is 656.0 innings enough to confidently conclude that he is just much worse with runners on? I am not positive. If you are desperate for pitching in an AL-Only league, then it may be worth taking a risk here, but that’s probably the only situation he should find his away onto your roster.

SIERA thinks this has been Gavin Floyd‘s best season so far, ERA laughs at that notion. What’s pretty amazing is that since his first full season in the rotation, his SIERA has dropped every season, while his ERA has risen each year! Like Hochevar, he has also had trouble stranding runners, but not nearly to the degree the Royals right-hander has. The home run ball has given him problems, something he had experienced before 2008, but not since he has started full-time. With a career high SwStk% and a low LD% and career best IFFB% both suggesting batters aren’t just hitting him hard, he makes for an excellent acquisition target.

Oh Tim Lincecum. What the heck has happened to you? Even if we assume all of it is bad luck, a 3.92 SIERA is still a major disappointment. His LD% is an astounding 26.0%, while he has barely induced any pop-ups all season. His strikeout rate looks fine, but when you take into account a .335 BABIP and look at his K% instead, you realize that his strikeout ability has actually declined for a third straight year. His velocity remains way down and his Zone% is at a career low (though oddly his F-Strike% is at a career high). While his ERA will undoubtedly improve, is he going to just give his owners a 4.00 ERA the rest of the way or will vintage Lincecum show his face again at some point?

The innings sample size hasn’t exactly been large, but this is the third year in a row that Mike Minor‘s ERA has been significantly higher than his SIERA. He has experienced bad luck in a different metric each year, which is actually a positive sign that it’s less likely he truly has trouble in one area we usually label as luck. This year his SwStk% is down and below the league average and he remains an extreme fly ball pitcher. I am slowly losing my faith that even if his luck does improve, he’ll be worth anything in mixed leagues.

I’d like to think that the luck Gods are simply making up for the amazing fortune J.A. Happ enjoyed in 2009 and 2010. Though his strikeout rate will decline once his BABIP does (SwStk% good, but not great), his underlying skills have clearly improved and this is the best Happ appears as a pitcher during his short career. He’s even throwing more first pitch strikes than ever before. I still worry about his control regressing and him being unable to sustain his ground ball spike, so I have little confidence in his SIERA staying so strong all year. That said, he’s a decent target in NL-Only leagues.

Though pitchers usually struggle with their control early on in their return from Tommy John surgery, Adam Wainwright has not. His F-Strike% is at a career high and BB% right in line with past years. I would label him a near perfect buy low, but his SwStk% is below the league average and barely better than his 2007 career worst level in which he posted a 6.1 K/9. So I am not sure he can maintain an 8.0+ K/9 unless he starts inducing more swings and misses. I think he’s a good target, but his SIERA overestimates a bit how much improvement you might get.

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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.

7 Responses to “Future SP Improvers: SIERA Underperformers”

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  1. nolan says:

    With Lincecum it’s complicated. For one thing, hitters are now laying off his high fastball which was always one of his better pitches. When he’s ahead 0-2 he has this annoying habit of throwing a 58-foot breaking ball that isn’t fooling anyone. I think he’s still learning how to pitch without the dynamite stuff he had his first five years in the league.

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  2. lester bangs says:

    Excellent piece. Great stuff, Mike.

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  3. lester bangs says:

    I’ve seen a lot of flat Minor fastballs that scream out “crush me.” I don’t think his HR problem is merely bad fortune.

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    • JDanger says:

      This is often of criticism of HR regression techniques of any sort, but more often than not it’s an observer bias. A pitch tends to look a lot flatter once it’s been clubbed 420 ft.

      Fortunately, we live in a new age of information where you can go check the horizontal and vertical movement of said ‘flat Minor fastballs’, and report your findings.

      Go get ’em.

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  4. phoenix2042 says:

    I would be very interested to an article on fangraphs proper about what lincecum can expect in free agency if he keeps this up. More or less than he was offered as an extension from the Giants? How much will his recent struggles (assuming he struggles next year as well) weigh in compared to his early success (those cy youngs still look good)? Historically, what happened to guys who dominated and then fell off the table relatively early in their careers, and not due to missed time by injury?

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  5. Paul says:

    We know that SIERA is the best predictor of future ERA. However, we should be cautious out at the extremes. If you look at FB values for all these guys to this point, most of them are quite poor including Lincecum as mentioned, and Wainwright (no surprise coming off surgery).

    So their performances to date are certainly warranted as their FB values have been relatively poor, so their past performances should be considered. For all of them these spreads are so large that it would be best to split the difference in general.

    For risk-takers, or if you’re just looking at a low risk opportunity, would you bet on Lincecum figuring it out in the second half, or Minor magically gaining FB command? Joe Blanton back in the 3.00s after a bad first half with the FB, which includes the cutter (his only positive run value pitch), or Wainwright gradually gaining better command of his sinker/cutter combo?

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  6. YankeeGM says:

    I’ve seen Arrieta pitch a number of times, and I think you have it wrong there. From a ‘stuff’ and pitching IQ perspective I think SIERRA/FIP/xFIP have it right and we’ll see his ERA come down to match…

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