Pitching by the Numbers: Model starters, Part 2

Let’s continue our search for pitching bargains and busts that we started a little over a week ago, continuing to use our model to test our general sense of worth. The model, which compiles stats from 2010-12, is a tool to help you make your choices. Diverge from it, sure, but be certain you have a really good reason (small sample size, age- or injury-based recent declines, recent age-based performance spike).

Some last week wanted the actual category stats instead of the mere rankings. The chart was edited for space. I provided the full version to those who requested it when contacting me on Twitter @michaelsalfino and I link it here now.
Rankings here are based only on performance in a handful of categories – K/9, K/BB ratio, ERA adjusted for league and park (especially important for pitchers changing teams and leagues) and the stat that I discovered last year for fantasy projection purposes – isolated slugging allowed. ISO is merely the difference between the slugging average and the batting average allowed. I like it because it isolates the most damaging, run-causing extra-base hits. Pitchers with the lowest ISOs require the opponent to get more hits to score runs. Plus, it’s these singles that are most subjected to Balls in Play (BIP) variance/luck.
To be ranked, pitchers needed to average at least 6.5 Ks/9 with at least 29 starts in the 2010-to-2012 period, but all stats (even in relief) are included. I’ve also noted where some select 2012 starting pitchers who did not meet that threshold of starts would have ranked if they made the requisite starts (and compiled similar stats). The overall ranking is merely the total of the cumulative ranking in each category (lowest is best), though the individual category rank is also noted. I rank these categories instead of the actual fantasy ones because we are trying to find outliers here.
Note: these are not recommended tiers, though tiers are self-evident by the total number ranking (183 in Scherzer’s case). We’re just grouping pitchers 10 at a time to better focus the accompanying analysis.

I’ve always faded Scherzer. The key is whether his strikeout gains from last year are a fluke or whether they are his new normal. Bet on regression to his sample average, which is still very playable. Scherzer is a fly-ball pitcher who is hurt worse than average on the hits he does allow. So even if the BABIP normalizes from .337 to about .300, his ERA will not correct commensurate to that BABIP drop because the improvement is going to come mostly in the least harmful hits - singles. I also wonder if fly-ball pitchers have more stable BABIP due to the nature of the hits they allow, though that’s a topic for another day.
Oswalt is pretty clearly no longer this level of pitcher even if he signs somewhere. Morrow should not be going about 30 spots after Scherzer, as is the case generally and in the Yahoo! Friends and Family League. Marco Estrada, who we rank below, is far more trendy than Phelps but shouldn’t be. He probably shouldn’t be more trendy than Peralta, either, who is much younger. I thought both had a certain spot in the rotation, but now that's up in the air with the acquisition of Kyle Lohse on Monday. Mike Fiers, who this model really likes, is technically the Brewers' fifth starter and if that depth chart listing holds, he'd be out of a starting job despite his sterling K rate and K/BB over a large sample of major league innings in 2012.
Peralta has a big fastball (unlike Fiers, who relies on command and deception). But control will be the key. If he's in the rotation, he should be placed on mixed-league watch lists. Shields gets over-drafted almost everywhere. I don’t trust pitchers when they leave the Rays and that BABIP magic due to defensive positioning. Expect Shields’s ERA in KC to be 4.00ish. As we discovered last year, Cueto’s ERA-overachieving has nothing to do with the variable BABIP and everything to do with his consistently excellent ISO allowed.

Why does everyone love Dan Haren to bounce back? I expect him to land at about this ranking in mixers when 2013 is in the books, especially considering he’s throwing in the mid-80s this spring. Lincecum challenges us to look at his entire sample off the horrid 2012, but even the big numbers are now bargain relative to where he’s often being drafted. Lincecum does have good ISO though, unlike Kennedy. Hudson is on the shelf. I do like Kuroda, but everyone except R.A. Dickey is a risk at age 38. Marcum still is struggling with shoulder issues or I would happily grab him as the poor man’s Haren (much, much later). Collmenter has relief stats mixed into the sample and that’s where he’s pitching to open the season, but he’s not bad.

Look where Moore is versus Harvey (top 20) and note that Moore goes 60 or 70 picks earlier. I do agree that there is a good chance Moore will improve but people are paying like it’s a guarantee. Baker, Hanson and Paulino are hurt. Worley has to pay the AL tax now. That ERA and K/BB knocks Liriano out of consideration for me. I don’t trust Santana’s shoulder one bit. Why does Samardzija also get drafted so much later than Moore? Doesn’t he have similar untapped potential? My model likes Vogelsong almost as much as my buddy @scott_pianowski. Locke was done in by big innings last year, but should be placed on mixed-league watch lists.

I like Niese more than this ranking because I believe more in his recent performance given his age. We could say the same thing about Bailey, too. Beckett gets the NL/Dodger tailwind now and is being faded so much in drafts that even skeptics should be intrigued. And I like Iwakuma, too, though I do not put special weight on last year’s superior splits when starting because having better stats as a starter makes no sense (so it’s likely a fluke).

Cobb is trendy with the smart crowd. My model is neutral. With this last group, it’s not whom you want but rather whom you should avoid. Phil Hughes was off my lists even when he was healthy. Burnett is a tease and I expect a 2013 meltdown in line with this sample despite the benefits of pitching in the NL (which should improve stats 10 percent, tops). I would avoid McDonald, too. The only player in this grouping who I’d feel confident about drafting is Minor, and only as a bottom-level mixed-league starter. Yes, he has upside but every pitcher you draft late should have that.

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