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Pitching by the Numbers: Model rookies

Before we look at rookie pitchers, let’s revisit last week’s column on the relationship between K-rate and ERA.

It should go without saying that these models are, by definition, general guidelines. There will always be exceptions. Predicting exceptions is very difficult and I tend not to do it. But reader Jake cleverly discounted a model projection last week by using another model with Adam Wainwright, who he said would continue to have an ERA lower than is typical of a pitcher with his relatively modest (but by no means low) K rate.

Jake charted the ERAs of pitchers with similar WHIPs to Wainwright and demonstrated that WHIP would be the better predictor of Wainwright’s ERA going forward. While I addressed this by saying that Wainwright’s elite walk rate would likely regress/increase, I stipulate that it will still be top shelf.

While our stat models here are designed to capture pitchers in overachieving or underachieving buckets, I encourage readers to think of reasons why certain pitchers don’t belong in these buckets. Not arbitrarily, but objectively like Jake did. I have never thought that any number or related projection in this space is the final word. It’s more a lean, sometimes a very strong one.

Finally, understand that the recommendations are always tethered to expected cost. It’s disappointing when readers assume that I like every pitcher in the “likely to do better” group than all the pitchers in the “likely to do worse” group. That’s untrue in most cases. I’m simply saying that the model likes each group of pitchers better or worse than how they are actually performing and/or how they are presently valued generally by the fantasy market.

I typically leave rookie pitchers to my colleague Rob Steingall and his excellent “Minor Developments” column. Rob will be back with that column next week after the September promotions. But let’s put rookie pitchers with at least five starts under the stat microscope.

Here’s is how a model ranks them based on performance in strikeouts, WHIP and Isolated Slugging allowed (slugging average minus batting average). In deference to our fantasy categories, I’ve removed all pitchers with a K-rate this year under 6.00, as that is unplayable in mixers. (Stats through Sunday.)

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No surprises really at the top. But I do believe that Cole’s age (22) cements his ranking over Ryu (26), even with Cole’s struggles at times with control.

Redmond is very interesting at age 28, having toiled in the minors forever. He seems to have turned a corner in 2011 and really is just getting a chance now. I am not saying that Redmond is better than Teheran and Wheeler. The model doesn’t know Redmond is 28 and we do. But I’d definitely pick up Redmond now given his 2013 MLB numbers and minor league stats since 2011. And if he is given a shot next year, I’ll make the very small wager that will be required to get him. Redmond also barely makes our five-start requirement, so small sample caveats also apply.

The Dodgers don’t believe in Stephen Fife. I hate that he’s on this list with his 89 mph fastball. He’s also 26. And he’s no longer in the majors.

Let’s do the model a break and mentally cross off all the older guys: Ryu, Redmond, Fife. Now you can’t yell in the comments that I’m saying that these guys are better than Wheeler.

Readers last week know that I personally value K rate the most so Wheeler is very intriguing. However, he has the highest WHIP on our list. So his walk rate has to come down below 4.00 and it has to come down significantly. Short term, I can’t bet that Wheeler will chop 0.5 to 1.00 walks per nine innings off his average. It’s possible, but not probable. Of course, a higher walk rate increases his batters faced and thus inflates that K/9, too. I like Wheeler next year only as a fourth or fifth fantasy starter in mixed leagues. He hasn’t shown the repertoire that Matt Harvey exhibited at a similar stage in 2012.
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