In Part One of this series, I looked at a handful of pitchers whose 2013 second half had positive indications for 2014. Here I’m going to look at a few pitchers who had red flags in the second half. In Part Three of the series, I will analyze any pitchers that readers request; even if the splits aren’t huge indicators, I’ll provide my thoughts on the overall skills of that player.
Big Game James was traded to the Royals prior to 2013, which likely scared away some fantasy managers despite his great 2012 season. On the surface, Shields did a remarkable job in 2013, netting 27 quality starts and posting the second-best ERA of his career. However, in terms of his skills and his splits, there is cause for caution in 2014, if not concern. On one hand, 2011-2012 may end up being his career years, if not his career peak, so it’s not unreasonable to see some decline in the numbers for 2013. But he posted the worst BB/9 of any full season, and what’s more, it went from 2.5 in the first half to 2.8 in the second half. I admit it’s a nitpick because most SP would love to have a BB/9 under 3.0 (see Matt Moore, later in this article), but based on Shields’ own career trends, it’s not a good sign — especially when it’s combined with his worst K/9 in four seasons, at 7.7. The strikeout rate also dropped in the second half, from 8.0 to 7.4. The only reason he maintained a strikeout total near 200 was due to the number of innings he threw, his third year over 220 IP.
What’s more, he’s lost his two-season trend of being a groundball pitcher. He saw GB% growth from 2010-2012, reaching a career peak of 52%. In 2013 his first-half groundball rate was 44%, and in the second half it dropped to 39%. Given these changes, the primary reasons he posted such a great ERA were due to his second-best LOB% of his career and his best HR/FB and HR/9. If these aspects regress much, his ERA will spike to something much closer to his 2013 xFIP of 3.72. I don’t believe he’ll retain his career best in HR/FB — especially given that his home park in TB was more friendly toward that stat than his first season at Kauffman. He needs to regain his strong K/9 and BB/9 from previous seasons if he’s going to repeat 2013. It seems possible that a 3.60 ERA and 1.25 WHIP could be his new norm going forward.
Unlike Shields, I can’t complain about Lester’s K/9 or BB/9 in the second half. His walk rate actually improved by 0.9, and the strikeouts increased slightly as well. Boston certainly benefited from Lester’s strong second-half ERA, though, and that’s the biggest point of putting him here: his second half and the fact that Boston won the World Series could lead to owners buying high on him for 2014. Be cautious about that second-half ERA for 2014. He was a bit unlucky in the first half, but good luck was the major cause of his big finish, with a tiny HR/FB (5%) and a strand rate (78%) above his career line and the MLB average. Further confirmation that luck swung from bad to good during 2013 are his split-half xFIP, which are close to each other (3.97 and 3.79). In fact, his xFIP has been trending upward for the last five years, which is never a good sign. Lester is a solid option on a contender, but if the managers in your league are valuing him at his 2009-10 levels because of his second-half success in 2013, then pass on him.
In 2012 Moore didn’t hit the road running quite like some elite SP prospects, but many fantasy managers think he found a new level in 2013. His 3.29 ERA sure looks pretty, but underneath that surface stat is a slew of problems. The first negatives I notice are the miniscule BABIP and LOB% in the second half, which are unsustainable for a full season, and that’s why his ERA and WHIP were so good. Note the lack of change in his FIP (3.93, 3.95) and xFIP (4.35, 4.32) from 2012 to 2013 — that’s where you should expect him to be based on his skills.
The one positive is that he reduced his BB/9 from 5.0 in the first half to 4.0 in the second half — but that’s simply getting it back to 2012 levels (4.1), and to become an ace he’ll need to get it even lower. He also maintained his K/9 all season and wasn’t particularly lucky in HR/FB, so there’s still hope for a breakout, but he’s not yet ready to post another ERA below 3.50 or a WHIP below 1.30, and therefore he may be overvalued in redraft leagues.