Whether it’s fantasy baseball or just general fanhood, it’s never too early to start looking forward to next season. Let’s take a look at five pitchers which I don’t trust for 2014 despite their strong 2013 seasons. All of these pitchers had good years by traditional pitching measures, but for a variety of reasons, I think they are unlikely to repeat their 2013 seasons.
I could add Pittsburgh Pirates All-Star hurler Jeff Locke to the list, but I wrote about him back in August, and he has a 7.46 ERA since then. After a demotion to Double-A, I don’t think many people believe in him right now.
5. Jarred Cosart. The Houston Astros young righthander posted a 1.95 ERA in 60 innings for the big league club. However, it’s hard to put much faith in the ERA when he walked hitters at a 14.2% rate, a higher rate than any other starter who had thrown at least 60 innings. He didn’t show much in the way of strikeout stuff either, managing just a 13.4% strikeout rate, and a lowly 5.7% swinging strike rate. A very low HR/FB ratio and BABIP and an unreasonably high strand rate helped suppress his ERA. These numbers are less indicative of his true talent than his strikeout and walk rates. Of course, Cosart is just 23, and with a fastball that gets up to 98, the potential is intriguing. For now, he’s much less polished than his ERA might indicate.
4. Jeremy Guthrie. The Kansas City Royals signed Guthrie to a three-year deal last offseason, and he turned in a 4.04 ERA this year, his best since 2008. His 15-12 record was a career-best. He also put up a 12.8% strikeout rate, the lowest of his career, and the lowest among all qualified starters. With the lack of strikeouts, lots of balls are being put into play, and because Guthrie has a below average groundball rate, he surrenders lots of homeruns. Despite calling cavernous Kauffman Stadium home, Guthrie gave up the 5th most homeruns of any pitcher. The highest strand rate of his career helped keep the ERA down. Don’t look at this as an improvement though. Guthrie is 34, and he had worse peripherals and lost a mile on his fastball. He might have an excellent defense behind him, and a favorable park, but he’s a flyball pitcher that doesn’t miss bats.
3. Jorge De La Rosa. At 16-6, the Colorado Rockies pitcher had the second best winning percentage in the NL, and the 32 year-old’s 3.49 ERA was over a run better than his career average. By embracing contact, De La Rosa cut his walk rate, but his strikeout rate fell by a more significant margin. Unlike Guthrie, De La Rosa gets a lot of groundballs. He also benefited from a very low 7.7% HR/FB ratio. Expect De La Rosa’s walk rate to bounce back up to his career rate, as he actually threw fewer pitches in the zone than in his high-walk years. In addition, De La Rosa has been injury prone, and at his age, there might not be too many bullets left.
2. Jhoulys Chacin. Another Rockies pitcher. By RA-9 WAR, Chacin was a top 20 pitcher. He had a 3.47 ERA at notoriously hitter-friendly Coors Field. However, there are strong reasons to believe this was a fluke season. First of all, Chacin had an extremely low 6.2% HR/FB ratio, a number that can’t be maintained at Coors. While it did regress in the second half, I would expect it to jump to 11-13% next year. Furthermore, while he cut his walk rate from its 2010-12 level, the strikeouts also dropped. He also got far fewer groundballs than he did in 2011. Combine that with fastball velocity that has continued to decline after coming back from pectoral surgery in 2012, and Chacin looks much more like an average pitcher.
1. Travis Wood. The Chicago Cubs pitcher had a stingy 3.11 ERA in 2013, more than a full run lower than his 2012 mark. His strikeout and walk rates were unimpressive, as they were in 2012. Add in a very low groundball rate, and Wood had a higher xFIP- than any other qualified starter. His HR/FB ratio of 6.9% was almost a full six points lower than in 2012. Pitching in the Windy City, he is unlikely to sustain such a low rate. Perhaps he can do the Matt Cain thing, and consistently outperform the league average HR/FB ratio, but even Matt Cain couldn’t do that this year, and he doesn’t pitch at Wrigley. Wood might be the rare pitcher that can consistently generate weaker contact, but if the BABIP jumps from the .240-.250 range it has been in the last couple of years, the soft-tosser could have an ugly 2014.
Regression is a powerful thing. HR/FB ratio, LOB%, and BABIP tend to regress to league or team average for the vast majority of pitchers. Most fans, players, and announcers naturally want to attribute changes in ERA or “actual run prevention” to something a pitcher has done, but the reality is that there is a lot of randomness in baseball. Cynicism? Sure, but it’s a lot more reasonable to say that Travis Wood is a below-average pitcher than to attribute him with Clayton Kershaw-like skills at suppressing homeruns and preventing hits on balls in play.
Advanced stats courtesy of Fangraphs
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