Mike Podhorzer’s Bold Pitcher League Leaders

Yesterday, I made some bold predictions for the league leaders in the five fantasy hitting categories. Today, I check in on the pitching side of the ledger with some equally crazy forecasts.

American League

ERA
Yu Darvish- We still cannot be sure exactly how he will perform, but there are some extremely positive signs that he could be quite an ace. We should take his actual spring results with a grain of salt, as we should of nearly all players. But we can at least evaluate the quality of his stuff. After his debut, Eno Sarris was impressed with his repertoire, which was pretty much as good as his scouting reports had suggested. Possibly the most overlooked aspect of Darvish’s potential is his extreme ground ball rate in Japan. Though I have had a hard time finding the exact number, several articles have mentioned a rate of 60%+ which would be at or near league leading. All those ground balls will go a long way to combating the home runs Rangers Ballpark allows. Even if his control isn’t as good as he displayed in Japan (and it is unlikely to be), he still has the strikeout and ground ball rate potential to be top notch, with upside to post a sub-3.00 ERA.

WHIP
Tom Milone- He isn’t even guaranteed a spot in the Athletics rotation, but given his minor league skills, it would be a surprise if he didn’t lock down a slot. His calling card is elite control, as he walked a miniscule 1.0 batters per nine in 148.1 innings at Triple-A last year, and just 1.3 at Double-A in 2010. Though the sample size was small at just 26.0 innings, he only walked four during his cup of coffee with the Nationals last year and threw a first pitch strike an amazing 70.9% of the time. He has enough strikeout potential to avoid being your typical soft-tosser who allows a ton of runners via base hits. When you combine the pinpoint control with the decent strikeouts and the BABIP reducing Oakland Coliseum as a home park, you are left with a rookie who could be quite the WHIP surprise.

Strikeouts
Brandon Morrow- It will be tough for a pitcher to seemingly come out of nowhere to appear on the strikeout leader boards, so I had to go with a slightly more obvious candidate than normal. Leading the league in strikeouts needs both an excellent K/9, as well as a ton of innings. Morrow has the K/9, but his career high innings total that came last year was just 179.1. Part of that was due to a 4.72 ERA which got him pulled from games early. Since I expect that his luck will take a massive turn, he should easily increase his innings total even if he makes the same number of starts. I think he should be capable of throwing 200+ innings at this point, so with that strikeout rate, he has a real shot.

Wins
Max Scherzer- With a downright scary middle of the order now, Tigers pitchers should see a nice uptick in run support. Scherzer’s skills were just as good last year as they were in 2010 when he produced a 3.50 ERA. Assuming his luck neutralizes, his ERA should drop back below 4.00, which should also allow him to reach the 200 innings plateau. Given how much luck is involved in recording wins, this puts him in the hunt for the league lead.

Saves
Jim Johnson- Really, any closer who opens the year with the job and has the skill set to hold it could potentially lead the league in saves. Johnson isn’t your prototypical ninth inning guy, choosing to induce ground balls, rather than blow his fastball by hitters. This is somewhat similar to Brandon League who also has an excellent fastball in terms of velocity, yet typically doesn’t have the strikeout rates associated with such heat. Johnson has posted SIERA marks around 3.00 the last two years, so there should be no fear about him losing the job at any point.

National League

ERA
Zack Greinke- I realize that to most FanGraphs readers, this prediction is probably not all that bold. You are all probably well aware that he led all of baseball in SIERA last year, yet finished with an ERA over a full run higher. While Greinke has battled inflated BABIPs nearly his whole career, he should still see at least some decline, even if it doesn’t come all the way back down to a league average rate. His HR/FB ratio is also a near lock to fall. It is doubtful he will post another K/9 above 10.0, the move to the NL and his SwStk% all support a rate better than a batter per inning.

WHIP
Brandon Beachy- One of the biggest surprises of the 2011 season has owners somewhat skeptical during early drafts, which is understandable. However, he actually pitched far better than his ERA suggests, as his .307 BABIP was quite high, especially given his extreme fly ball rate. His strikeout rate will most definitely decline, which is obviously a negative for his WHIP. But, he may offset that with some control upside given his strong F-Strike% and minor league history.

Strikeouts
Gio Gonzalez- Moving to the NL is always a recipe for a strikeout rate boost. Gonzalez already posted an 8.8 K/9 last year and struck out 9.9 per nine back in 2009. If he can get that strikeout rate back over 9.0 and maybe throw another 10-15 innings or so, he’ll be right in the thick of the strikeout crown race.

Wins
Mat Latos- Yeah, yeah, everyone is scared $hitless about his move out of PETCO and into the GABP. But what if his strikeout rate rebounded to his 2010 level, while his walk rate dropped to that season’s mark as well? That will easily be enough to offset an increase in HR/FB rate. The Reds tied for second in the league in runs scored, and their offense should once again be excellent. Latos should enjoy his first 200 inning season this year and my projection is actually for his ERA to barely budge. So with the huge pendulum swing in run support, he should be right up there on the wins leader board.

Saves
Frank Francisco- Why this guy is treated as some crap closer is beyond me. The Mets didn’t sign him for $6 million a year to remove him from the role after 10 poor innings, so any concerns that he could get yanked are likely unfounded. And besides, he’s a pretty darn good pitcher. The highest SIERA he has posted since 2008 has been 3.04. I’m sure some will argue that he lacks the guile or closer mentality or some other BS to explain his blown saves or mediocre ERAs. Remember people, his career has spanned a whopping 334.0 innings. That’s only like a season and a half for a starter. Since when do we look at a starter’s ERA over such a small sample size? The skills rule in this instance and Francisco’s got them.




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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.


19 Responses to “Mike Podhorzer’s Bold Pitcher League Leaders”

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  1. Schu says:

    I think people look down on Francisco not because of his stats, but because they expect the Mets to win like 60 games :P

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  2. Mrs. Met says:

    “Why this guy is treated as some crap closer is beyond me.”

    Yet, you ranked Frankie Frank #30 in your reliver rankings, and your colleagues were even lower on him. He cam in at #36.

    Can you justify your treatment of Frankie Frank in the rankings? Orm, if your thinking has evloved, can you at least explain what your fellow writers were thinking? Why is he ranked behind so many relivers who are crappy and/or have not shot at saves?

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    • Good catch! It’s basically how I, and most systems, generate projections. Given his injury history and the fact that he has never pitched more than 63.1 innings in a season in the majors, plus has never saved more than 25 games, it’s weighing all the possibilities.

      So I have him only projected for 55 innings and 28 saves, yet with a 3.02 ERA. If he makes it through the entire system healthy and pitches a career high 70 innings, then he can very well save in the upper 30′s to low 40′s, since he’s plenty good enough.

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  3. hifilofi says:

    Another great post. Adding to Latos’ Win value is the schedule – he’s gonna feast on the Cubs, Astros, and Pirates.

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  4. Joseph says:

    Where can I find siera’s listed?

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  5. Madoff Withurmoni says:

    “It will be tough for a pitcher to seemingly come out of nowhere to appear on the strikeout leader boards..”

    Matt Moore?

    Actually I think a bold answer to each of the 1st 4 categories could have been Matt Moore, Matt Moore, Matt Moore, and Matt Moore.

    Actually, I think he can lead the league in Saves too. Why not?

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    • Congo Hammer says:

      I could see Dustin McGowan making a splash here. He’s an injury risk, sure, but he was always a good K pitcher. Matusz may do well here too, like what I’ve seen in ST, he may be back to form.

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    • Haha, to be honest, I seriously considered Moore not bold enough to make any of the categories. I think he has legit shots at all of them. Yeah, maybe saves too. A 20 win, 50 save season? While Matt Wieters goes 50 HR-150 RBIs, right?

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      • Madoff Withurmoni says:

        I guess Moore is right on par with Darvish or Morrow in terms of boldness. He hasn’t done anything yet and it’s not like your picking Verlander or King Felix.

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      • Bill says:

        Um, Matt Wieters will also get 20 wins and 50 saves. Pitching left handed all while crushing Iran’s nuclear program.

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  6. Brad says:

    I sure hope you’re right; my fantasy team’s starting staff is Matt Moore and four guys from this article: Darvish, Latos, Beachy, and Morrow.

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  7. Mike L says:

    Milone in the minors in total
    Milone: 3.05 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 1.46 BB/9, 8.10 Ks per 9
    Slowey: 2.14 ERA, 0.89 WHIP, 1.25 BB/9, 8.60 Ks per 9

    Slowey crushes Milone in every single stat. Granted Oakland has better defense and a more pitcher friendly park, but Slowey’s also a little older, which should help.

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  8. Mike L says:

    With better stats. My only point is Milone has worse metrics across the board than Slowey. Also, Slowey’s sample size is not only small, but he’s had an exceedingly high BABIP and absurdly low LOB%.

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    • Matt says:

      And at this point, Slowey looks like he’s not getting a starting job in Cleveland, and he’s injury prone.

      I’m not really sure what your point even was in comparing the two.

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      • Matt says:

        I’d also like to add that Milone has increased his strikeout rate at every level in the minors. In 148 innings at AAA last year, he was fanning more than a batter per inning, while walking less than 1 per 9.

        And I really hate when people use career numbers to back up a point. The real question is, how is a player trending? Downward, upward, or is he just spinning his wheels?

        If you look at the minor league track records of Slowey and Milone, you’ll see that Milone was much more impressive than Slowey at the AAA level. Again, I don’t even know why we’re comparing the two.

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