Jake Arrieta and Other AL SP Musings

We already have a month of baseball in the books and pitcher ERAs are not surprisingly still all over the place. This is my favorite time of the season as it is hard for many owners to ignore a bloated ERA, and the opportunity to improve your staff by buying at a discount is there. If you have a tough time yourself ignoring ERA, you must be strong! Look at the underlying skills and be confident that eventually the ERA will match it. Now for some American League starting pitcher talk…

I first talked about Jake Arrieta in early April when I noted his increased fastball velocity. I was pretty optimistic about his chances for a breakout given the velocity jump combined with elbow surgery that supposedly helped his control. He pitched a gem last night against the Yankees, dropping his ERA to 3.52 which will likely get mixed league owners to strongly consider adding him. I had not acted in my own mixed league because I had several concerns. The primary one is that despite the increased fastball velocity, his SwStk% coming into last night’s game was just 5.7%. That is significantly below the league average and simply does not match up with a K/9 above 7.0. It is a bit surprising because watching him pitch, his stuff appears quite good, so I would have thought for sure his SwStk% would be league average at the very least. Next, his F-Strike% had been just 49.6%, which is absolutely terrible and also suggests that his walk rate was headed upwards, perhaps dramatically. But then he goes out and has a game like last night and all these underlying metrics go out the window.

I didn’t watch last night’s game and am not sure how many swinging strikes he induced or how many first pitch strikes he recorded. So I am in a bit of a bind on how I feel about him right now. He still pitches in a difficult division and in a park that inflates home runs, which is scary for a pitcher who only has a league average ground ball rate throughout his short career. I will say that he outwardly does appear to be a better pitcher than in previous years and given his prospect pedigree, is probably worth a shot in a mixed league, especially if you have a roster spot available to take the chance.

-Wondering if another Orioles hot starter, Jason Hammel, is for real? I highlighted him in a recent ground ball surgers article, but unfortunately PITCHf/x guru Josh Smolow analyzed his pitches and results and came away less optimistic. He concluded that the ground ball rate appears to nearly be a complete fluke as his two-seamer has little natural sink and there doesn’t seem to be any real reason his ground ball rate has spiked. That will probably make everyone breathe a sigh of relief, because seriously, it would have been hard to pick up a veteran like Jason Hammel thinking this is suddenly his breakout year and be confident enough to start him each week.

-Now might be a good time to inquire about Philip Humber in your AL-Only league. His owner is probably thinking that he lost his chance to sell high and may jump at the opportunity to trade him away when his perfect game is still on our minds. Dave Cameron told us why Humber is for real given the change in his pitch selection and this process-based analysis is spot on.

-Is my count off, or does Luke Hochevar own the record for the most blowups each and every season? He has only started 5 games so far this year and he has already allowed 7 runs and 9 runs in separate games over a total of 8 innings. Last year, he allowed 6 runs four times and 7 runs once. I dare you to find another pitch more prone to imploding.

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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.

20 Responses to “Jake Arrieta and Other AL SP Musings”

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  1. Robert Dudek says:

    I don’t think he’ll be a world-beater, but Hammel looks to me like he’ll remain effective. From what I saw of him, he has excellent control and enough stuff to get by. He’s definitely in the top half of current starting pitchers in the AL.

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  2. GTW says:

    10 strikes swinging for Arrieta last night according to B-Refs game log. I was actually wondering how he would fare leading up to last night’s game since he had only induced a combined 5 whiffs in his 2 previous starts.

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    • That’s more like it, but his season SwStk% still sits at just 6.3% now, which doesn’t match a 7.8 K/9. Something’s gotta give. Naturally, he was picked up in one of my leagues.

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  3. Congo Hammer says:

    What upside do you really think Humber has? I’ve been on a few fangraphs and other chats and they say Humber at best is a useful back end (#4 or #5) starter. What are your expectations for him this year?

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    • I think a reasonable expectation for Humber is a high 3.00 ERA, maybe like 3.70. His strikeout rate should remain up from last year, when he had a 3.89 SIERA and he had always been a ground ball pitcher. He might earn a couple of bucks at best in mixed leagues, but def has decent value in AL-Onlyers

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  4. sirvlciv says:

    So, if I can only roster one, Humber > Arrieta > Hammel?

    Where would Duffy slide in?

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    • Hmm, that’s a toughie. I think Humber and Hammel will have similar peripherals, but Humber plays in an easier division, but worse ballpark. I think I like Hammel a tad more than Arrieta given the better ground ball rate.

      As far as Duffy, I want to see how he performs after missing a turn with an elbow issue. I think he has the highest upside of them all, but his control has still not been where it has in the minors.

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  5. Anonymous says:

    MLB’s highlights of Arrieta’s day:

    All these Orioles pitchers have a tough schedule ahead of them (BoSox, Rangers, Rays, Yankees again… that’s four of the top five offenses in terms of WRC+), so it’s probably better to wait a few more starts before playing them. In addition to Arrieta, Matusz is also worth keeping an eye on.

    I think people look at Hammel’s past ERA and tend to write him off as a fluke, forgetting he was pitching in Colorado. His FIP, xFIP and SIERA all agree that he had the makeup of a quality #2 guy back in 2009 and 2010. I think he’ll exceed that this year with his increased velocity.

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  6. fhyrew says:

    Arrieta got Teixeira and Cano swinging last night on curveballs that dove in on their hands. Obviously I’m only talking about a grand total of two pitches here, but it looks like he has a real weapon to use against lefties when he executes it properly.

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  7. CommonCents says:

    In terms of blow-ups, how about AJ Burnett?

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    • Ha, I considered ending my post with a rant about how in the 3 leagues I’m in that he’s owned, he was on the bench in all! Nothing beats seeing your opponent’s pitcher get clobbered, but it’s annoying when the pitcher is on their bench, boooo.

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  8. Colin says:

    Just traded Ubaldo (18 in auction keeper league) for Duffy (4), good move?

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  9. Kevin says:

    Obviouly Arrieta’s improved walk rate of 6% has been key to his success this season. As you note, his F-strike % is below average but it’s now up to 51%. On the other hand, his Zone % is above average. It’s 48.5% compared to a league average of 45.9%.

    Do we know which stat shows a higher correlation to walk rate? I know I’ve seen studies showing the correlation between F-strike % and BB% but I don’t recall one being done for Zone %. Is it possible that his Zone % offsets his low F-strike %?

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    • The study I saw that highly linked F-Strike% to BB/9 found that there was no correlation with Zone%. However, I have noticed that when F-Strike% does not match BB/9, it does seem like Zone% is at a level that might provide some of the explanation, which is why I am not totally sure we should be ignoring it.

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  10. joe says:

    Liriano is definitely a contender for the implosion title. Last year 4 games of 5ER (avg. under 3.2IP in those outings..blows up fast) and 3 games of 7ER (avg 4.1 IP)

    His 2012 numbers in 5 starts of one 4ER outing and four 5ER outings all averaging 4.1 IP.

    Question is where do you draw the line between being implode prone and just plain bad.

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  11. Mark says:

    Arrieta or Lilly ROS?

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    • Lilly. Strikeouts should be similar, Lilly is much safer in ERA department, but he is nearly guaranteed to be better in WHIP. Even Arrieta’s ceiling this year might still be a tad short of what you’d figure from Lilly.

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  12. yaboynate says:

    Remember way back when you agreed that Humber was for real?

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