Pod’s Picks: Starting Pitcher

Finally, we get to the starting pitchers, my favorite position. If you thought there was room for disagreement among the outfielders, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. The many disagreements of value among starters and the multitude of later round sleeper options is precisely why my strategy in every single draft/auction I participate in is to pay the least for my staff or wait many a round to draft my first starter. For this last episode of Pod’s Picks, I will only look at those I ranked in the top 84 as bullish picks, while the bearish group will include those in the consensus top 84. I went with 84 assuming about seven starters per team in a 12-team mixed league would earn positive value.

Note that I will not be publishing a relief pitcher version as it’s just no fun and not very valuable.

Bullish

Andrew Cashner

My Rank: 66 | Consensus: 111

The Justin Ruggiano of the pitching side, Cashner has found his way onto all of my fantasy teams as well and should continue to do so. While it’s not 100% that he’ll be ready for opening day, he should only miss 2 weeks if he isn’t. Why am I such a huge fan? Very simple. Strikeouts and ground balls. All the projection systems think his control should be acceptable enough (mid-3.0 BB/9), so the only concern remains his health and how many innings he could throw this year. Chase Headley‘s injury hampers his potential run support, but he could be excellent in both ERA and strikeouts, at the very least, while on the mound. My ranking may prove to be conservative as it was based on a mere 130 innings pitched projection.

Shelby Miller

My Rank: 60 | Consensus: 89

Certainly an innings pitched discrepancy and we still don’t know who has won the fifth spot in the Cardinals rotation. I’m not sure why the team would go with Joe Kelly over Miller as it seems clear the latter is ready to succeed at the big league level. He’s a fly ball pitcher, but in a good ballpark to hold those in the park.

Jason Hammel

My Rank: 49 | Consensus: 75

A forgotten man after his breakout was cut short by a knee injury that limited him to just 118 innings, I think Hammel’s gains were real. His ground ball rate spiked and fastball velocity jumped, both to career highs. The home park and division aren’t favorable, though the division got a bit easier with the walking wounded in New York. My projection is almost spot on with what the Fans are projection, which does not happen very often.

Shaun Marcum

My Rank: 56 | Consensus: 77

Probably an innings pitched thing as Marcum has battled elbow and shoulder issues and threw just 124 innings last season. When healthy, he’s been solid and I love the move to Citi Field as Miller Park is not kind to fly ball pitchers.

Brett Anderson

My Rank: 46 | Consensus: 66

Once again, the projected innings total is the difference. Anderson simply can’t stay healthy and has never thrown more than 175.1 innings in a season. He was healthy heading into spring training and the right trapezius injury doesn’t seem like anything. My rank is derived from a projection of 160 innings, which may or may not prove to optimistic. We know, however, that when on the mound he’ll be good.

Bearish

Ryan Vogelsong

My Rank: 92 | Consensus: 59

For a guy with a league average batted ball profile, including pop-up rate, I cannot for the life of me understand how he has managed a below average BABIP for two straight seasons. The Giants were about average in UZR/150 last year and just a bit better than average in BABIP allowed. The low HR/FB rate also seems unsustainable, especially since he was actually better in away parks last year than at home. But the biggest mystery is his high LOB%, usually reserved for the best of the best with high strikeout rates. How much longer will the magic continue? I need more than 370 innings of dramatically outperforming his SIERA to believe Vogelsong is in a class with Matt Cain and Jered Weaver. Last, given his low SwStk%, you have to question how long he can maintain an above league average strikeout rate.

Matt Harrison

My Rank: 89 | Consensus: 64

Here is yet another pitcher who has significantly outperformed his SIERA over the last two seasons. A ground ball pitcher with an above average line drive rate has no business posting below league average BABIP marks. The high LOB% last year was a fluke as well. This is a pitcher with no margin for error given his low strikeout rate and so the risk is too high for a 4.00+ ERA to roster him at his likely cost.

Jarrod Parker

My Rank: 73 | Consensus: 49

Sense a theme here? Parker is another SIERA beater due primarily to his low HR/FB rate. While I do think he will improve his peripherals this season, that won’t be enough to maintain last year’s ERA, or anywhere close. While I’m not nearly as pessimistic as Steamer is (4.31 projected ERA), I think the chances of a 4.00 ERA are quite high.

Wade Miley

My Rank: 93 | Consensus: 70

The consensus was skewed by Zach Sanders’ ranking of 36, though I was the most pessimistic of the four rankers. Miley came out of nowhere last year, dispaying sparkling control en route to a 3.33 ERA, but he required a low HR/FB rate to post such a result. Aside from his short stint at Triple-A, Miley’s minor league history is quite uninspiring and makes one question where that pinpoint control came from. His F-Strike% suggests his walk rate is in for a serious jump, perhaps to around 3.0 and he doesn’t appear to have much strikeout rate upside. Though Park above benefits from pitching in a pitcher’s park, Miley’s does not. A 4.00+ ERA is a strong possibility.




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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 “Pod’s Picks: Starting Pitcher”

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  1. MustBunique says:

    Pod- with you on Hammel for sure. Flying under almost all radars.

    Is Cashner only out for two weeks? If so he is very interesting. Make sure they take his knives away though. Hard to account for the idiot factor.

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    • He’s already pitching in ST games and apparently there’s still a chance he’ll be ready for opening day. So I assume if they choose to hold him out, it will be for just the minimum.

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  2. J G says:

    Vogelsong – You lost me at, “I need more than 370 innings . . ” If you can’t make a good evaluation of a pitcher after 370 innings than perhaps you should stick to evaluating hitters. What you essentially said was that you need him to stop pitching at a high level in order to prove that he isn’t pitching at a high level.

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    • Matt Bertelli says:

      Not when he also has over 300 innings of pitching very bad. Cain has over 1500 innings and Weaver over 1300 innings of significantly beating out their SIERA. It takes a long time to say with confidence that it is their true ability to do so. I for one agree with Mike’s assessment. RA Dickey has been doing it for the last 600 plus innings and some people aren’t convinced yet (although the knuckleball is a special case).

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    • Matt Bertelli says:

      Also Vogelsong’s ERA is over a full run higher away from SF the last two years. In 2011 his best year he threw almost 40 more innings at home then on the road.

      I would predict a 3.50 era as best case for him for this year as a 36 year old that lost .9 MPH on his fast ball from 2011 to 2012.

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    • jim says:

      370 innings is nowhere near enough of a sample to prove that kind of talent is real. it’s only become widely accepted that cain can do it after 1500 innings

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      • JoeC says:

        And meanwhile, the guys who have owned Vogelsong for those 370 innings are taking the train to Valuetown while you sit on the sideline bemoaning your fate.

        At some point, you need to overcome your biases and join in the fun!

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      • majnun says:

        Who is bemoaning??

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  3. Pod- Have you written up your LABR mixed draft results? What’d you think?

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  4. Joey D says:

    I’m avoiding Marcum because he supposedly had reduced velocity last year along with time on the dl because of the elbow. Also,in free agency most teams seemed to avoid him like the plague.

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  5. Bbboston says:

    Expecting to see Cobb on your list… Why not?

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    • I ranked him 77 versus the 72 consensus.

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    • bbboston says:

      I guess another way to pose the question is to note that I’ve been under impression you heavily weight your opinion on pitchers based on Sierra. Given that and Cobb’s great Sierra last year, why do you have him at 77? Thanks!

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      • I don’t actually base my ranking on SIERA, I make my own projections and heavily regress the luck metrics (BABIP, LOB%, HR/FB). Ahh, just checked my projection and here’s the answer: I only project Cobb for 160 innings. Looks like I should increase that. No wonder I haven’t drafted him in any leagues so far! I’m actually projecting a 3.69 ERA, so clearly I like him a lot. That annoys me since I didn’t realize it and he was going pretty late in my expert drafts.

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  6. bbboston says:

    Thanks for the response in double check of things. As long as you went to the trouble and seemingly have revised your opinion, a few comments and questions: 1) I think he was held back a little bit last year, due to that rib-surgery thing; 2) His cumulative innings (between minors and majors) suggest he can pitch more than 160 for sure; 3) Reportedly, he spent much of the off-season working out with an eye towards absorbing a significant portion of Shields innings, so I think he would be disappointed if he threw less than 185-190 innings. So…. question:

    If you assumed he threw 190 innings, where does he fall in your rankings?

    THANKS!

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    • I knew that question was coming! I should have preempted it and just checked and included it in my previous response. He moves up to around 64 given 180 innings. What’s hurting his rank is that the Rays offense is projected to be mediocre, hampering his win projection, and his strikeout rate projection is for a league average mark. A small sample of spring training innings isn’t going to get me to change that projection.

      I think he’s an excellent sleeper though and he certainly has the potential for a better strikeout rate than I projected him for.

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  7. bbboston says:

    Mike,

    Thanks so much for the responsiveness! Great stuff!

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  8. bbboston says:

    PS: Check out his k/9 in minors over last 2-3 years in minors over 230 innings => 9.6/9. In majors, grew yoy 0.7/9 to 7/9. Wouldn’t surprise me at all to see him at 7.5+/9 for this year. That would seem to place him in top 20 American League starters?

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    • It could, he’s just posted weak SwStk% marks in his short time in the Majors and has an underwhelming fastball. So he may be one of those whose stuff and minor league strikeout rates just don’t translate. So I’m being cautious. Hellickson so far has been the exact same way and both are fastball/change-up pitchers.

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