Pitching by the Numbers: An eye on '14

We’re winding down our Pitching by the Numbers coverage over the next couple of weeks, so let’s start the wrap up by going over the pitchers most likely to significantly outperform their 2013 ERA in 2014 and those who are most likely to underperform it.

We’re striving for the most simple model. I don’t want to get into another on-base plus slugging percentage allowed debate with my colleagues or you readers. I also don’t quite know how much added value that analysis provides since it tends to track pretty closely to ground ball/fly ball tendencies.
So most simply, we’re merely looking at a pitcher’s rank in strikeouts per nine innings and their ERA rank. It’s better to do this with strikeout percentage but SO/9 is good enough. I don’t use K percentage because it’s not a common enough statistic for you readers to easily use when you want to learn how to fish for bargains and busts yourself.
Beyond that, it’s pretty inarguable, I believe, that the more a pitcher exhibits dominance measured by SO/9, the lower his ERA should be. Pitchers with a much higher SO/9 rank than ERA rank should be much better in ERA (and thus overall) next year. Those with lower SO/9 vs. ERA rank should be much worse.
Exceptions are when a pitcher has faced significantly more batters due to a very high walk rate. There’s not enough room here to chart that neatly, but I’ve noted it where relevant. With one exception, the “should outperform 2013 ERA” pitchers all exhibited average or better control, too.
So let’s get right to the list of pitchers who had an ERA rank much higher than their SO/9 rank among the 148 pitchers who have mostly started and pitched at least 60 innings through Thursday.

Again, these rankings should track pretty closely. All of these pitchers had an ERA at least 30 ranking places below their SO/9.
I understand we all hate Johnson now. But we have to be agnostic here. Perhaps he’s in irreversible decline. But if so, why is his SO/9 still so good? At 134 ranking points differential, I don’t have to look any further. He will be available as a last round pocket pick in every mixed league next year if you want him and how many of those guys are better than this in K per inning? Put him as a reserve if you worry next April about a continued ERA meltdown.
Lincecum has been very good lately but was written off for so long before it that maybe he still has fleas in the eyes of general public. His BB/9 is down to 3.34 for the year.
As I’ve said here before, Samardzija has Cy Young stuff and could easily be a top five pitcher next year, as his elite K rate makes clear. The key is further reduction in his walk rate – down about another half a walk per nine innings, which is possible if not probable.
Now we get into more marginal values that probably are going to be only mildly discounted next year but who all have the upside to be top 20 starters given those K rates.
Verlander shouldn’t be listed because he really won’t be discounted much at all, nor should he be.
As for all of the others except Santiago, put them in a very aggressive tier and you’ll get a bargain by a round or two next March for sure if you wait until most others in that tier are gone.
Santiago has long been a favorite of mine so I’m breaking my rule of ignoring guys who have walk rates of four-plus per nine innings. I’m not saying improvement is likely, but I can’t imagine Santiago will cost you more than a late round pick next year in standard mixers.

Saying guys are going to be better is always the easy part because no one is going to fight you. But the owners of the pitchers above are going to be seeing blood red even if only out of pure loyalty to their outstanding 2013 fantasy performances.
I am not saying that any of these pitchers are bad. But if you’re not top 25 percent in K rate, I can’t put you in the No.1 fantasy baseball ace category. Wainwright of course has outstanding control, almost unreal control. But you have to expect some regression there. And even with it, his ERA is still closer to 3.00 than 2.00. Expect about a 3.30 ERA in 2014. He’s a great No. 2 starter who will carry a No. 1 price in 2014.
That is even more true of Corbin and Locke. Locke’s K-rate is below the 50th percentile. And Zimmermann’s is even worse. Again, to be clear, I am not predicting some sort of disaster for these pitchers. They are all probably more than capable (i.e., winning) mixed league starters. But I believe all will go at least a tier higher than they should in 2014 drafts given ERAs that just are not supported by their strikeout dominance.
I love Kuroda in reality. This has nothing to do with his age. And again, give me Kuroda as my No. 3 fantasy starter in mixers and I’m happy. I own the guy in an industry dynasty league, for cryin’ out loud. But he should not be close to a 2.33 ERA. I hate xFIP as a stat because I loathe normalizing HR/FB rates. Kuroda is probably good in that regard, meaning he’s controlling his rate somewhat. But five homers for a pitcher in Yankee Stadium? That will not come close to happening again in 2014.
Eovaldi, Leake and Colon are just absurdly incongruous. Their ERAs should be at least 4.50 with those K rates and how much guile do you think they have versus how much unsustainable luck?

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