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Next Year’s Top Starters: The 90% Rule.

Searching for the next starting pitcher to break out, I went looking at pitchers who performed exceptionally well in the second half of 2015, paying particular attention to groundball, strikeout and walk rates. Obviously if a pitcher can keep balls hit on the ground, they will limit damage caused by the long ball. Strikeouts meanwhile are huge for fantasy purposes, but they also help a pitcher’s ERA, WHIP and win totals. Finally, less free passes allowed will also have that effect on a pitcher’s line.

I came up with the simplest formula possible and ran through every starting pitcher over the past three years. I added GB%, K%, and K%-BB% and looked for patterns based on next seasons performance. What I came up with was a total of 90% that would be a decent indicator for future success. There were many pitchers in the 80% range each year that certainly provided a lot of value the following year, but at 90% I would have the highest likelihood of finding a top 30 starting pitcher the next season.

Here’s a look at the top pitchers that broke 90% using this method from the second half of 2013.

2013 (2nd half)
Pitcher GB% K% K%-BB% Total
A.J.Burnett 56.5 26.1 17.7 100.3
M.Harvey 47.7 27.7 23.2 98.6
F.Hernandez 51.4 26.3 20.7 98.4
T.Ross 55.6 25.7 17.0 98.3
Y.Darvish 41.0 32.9 23.4 97.3
J.Masterson 58.0 23.8 14.3 96.1
S.Strasburg 51.5 26.1 18.5 96.1
S.Gray 53.6 24.8 17.1 95.5
A.Cobb 55.8 23.2 15.4 94.4
C.Sale 46.6 26.1 20.8 93.5
J.Garcia 63.0 18.4 12.0 93.4
A.Sanchez 45.4 27.1 19.8 92.3
J.Fernandez 45.1 27.5 18.9 91.5
C.Kershaw 46.0 25.6 19.8 91.4
A.Wainwright 49.1 22.9 19.3 91.3
C.Lee 44.3 25.3 21.7 91.3
F.Liriano 50.5 24.5 15.0 90.0

Of these 17 pitchers, only 2 were unable to perform at a top 30 SP level in 2014. Another 6 were injured, though 5 of those were able to succeed at that level prior to their season-ending injury. One, Matt Harvey, never pitched at all. I’m calling that an 87.5% success rate.

In the second half of 2014 there were even more stand out performances:

2014 (2nd half)
Pitcher GB% K% K%-BB% Total
F.Hernandez 59.1 26.4 20.5 106.0
C.Kluber 47.3 31.2 26.5 105.0
C.Carrasco 51.2 28.3 23.7 103.2
C.Kershaw 47.8 29.5 24.8 102.1
J.deGrom 50.0 27.9 22.1 100.0
F.Liriano 56.8 27.0 15.8 99.6
T.J. House 60.1 21.8 17.0 98.9
A.Sanchez 52.8 24.6 20.8 98.2
H.Ryu 53.8 24.0 19.8 97.6
G.Cole 43.7 29.1 23.8 96.6
J.Arrieta 48.0 26.9 20.7 95.6
C.Sale 36.9 32.7 25.6 95.2
T.Ross 55.0 24.9 14.4 94.3
M.Stroman 57.5 20.7 15.9 94.1
S.Strasburg 44.9 26.9 22.0 93.8
A.Cobb 54.7 22.6 16.2 93.5
D.Keuchel 64.7 17.2 11.4 93.3
A.Wood 48.5 25.6 19.2 93.3
Z.Wheeler 53.8 24.4 14.6 92.8
J.Samardzija 47.4 23.6 20.7 91.7
Z.Greinke 49.8 23.7 17.5 91.0
D.Price 42.9 26.1 22.0 91.0
B.McCarthy 48.0 23.2 19.7 90.9
S.Gray 59.2 19.8 11.6 90.6

Admittedly, this was a little less predictive for 2015, with 14 SP performing at top 30 SP levels while healthy, 4 under-performing, with 6 of the 24 pitchers being injured for the season. That’s a respectable 78% success rate, but even better is the fact that this formula was able to name breakout performances from Jake Arrieta, Dallas Keuchel, and Jacob deGrom.

Now the fun part! Let’s look at last year’s second half performers, hoping to identify the next Jake Arrieta:

2015 (2nd half)
Pitcher GB% K% K%-BB% Total
C.Kershaw 50.0 33.8 29.1 112.9
C.Carrasco 51.2 29.6 23.7 104.5
J.Arrieta 56.2 27.1 21.6 104.9
D.Keuchel 61.7 23.7 18.1 103.5
T.Ross 61.5 25.8 15.6 102.9
C.Sale 42.6 32.1 27.2 101.9
S.Strasburg 42.2 26.9 24.7 96.5
C.Archer 46.1 29.0 21.4 96.5
N.Syndergaard 46.5 27.5 22.4 96.4
C.Martinez 54.5 24.8 16.9 96.2
F.Hernandez 56.2 23.1 16.1 95.4
F.Liriano 51.2 26.5 17.5 95.2
J.Fernandez 40.1 29.8 24.5 94.4
J.deGrom 44.4 27.3 22.2 93.9
R.Iglesias 47.0 27.0 19.8 93.8
M.Scherzer 36.0 30.7 26.9 93.6
J.Garcia 61.2 19.0 13.1 93.3
J.Lester 48.9 25.0 19.3 93.2
C.Kluber 42.4 27.7 22.6 92.7
M.Pineda 48.2 23.4 20.2 91.8
G.Cole 48.0 24.3 19.0 91.3
M.Bumgarner 41.7 26.9 22.4 91.0
M.Harvey 46.0 24.9 20.0 90.9
Z.Greinke 48.0 23.7 19.0 90.7
K.Hendricks 51.3 22.6 16.8 90.7

In all there are 26 names, and if history tells us anything, we can count on 21-22 of them (80-85%) being top 30 SPs for next year. We already know that Kershaw, Arrieta, and Keuchel will be among that group, but with only about 5 destined to under-perform, the following are the players worth targeting in your drafts for next year.

Tyson Ross: I grossly under-valued Ross when I ranked the best pitchers for dynasty leagues! Ross had the 3rd highest GB% in baseball last year, and the first pitcher with a higher K% in that list had a GB rate 10% lower than his. He suffered at home (of all places) last year, but his 3.08 xFIP there was much better than his 3.70 ERA. If Ross could just cut down on his walks, he’s Dallas Keuchel II. I don’t see any reason to assume that he will, but with a little good fortune next year, instead of the bad luck in 2015, Ross could be a top 15 SP in 2016.

Raisel Iglesias: Kevin Jebens wrote up Iglesias last month, and he summarized things exceptionally well. The only thing I would add is that Iglesias really turned things on in the second half, when he had the 9th best K rate in the majors along with a 53% GB rate. I’m targeting Iglesias everywhere next year; in fact I’ve already acquired him in one league and will have him as a keeper in two leagues so far. Like Kevin noted, 2016 may not be his time to be a top 20 SP, but I believe it’s coming.

Kyle Hendricks: Hendricks is going to be a huge bargain on draft day with his 8-7 record and 3.95 ERA. Don’t be fooled though! His second half ERA of 4.44 hides the gains he made throughout the season. His K rate was 19.8% in the first half, 25.9% in the second, and his xFIP went from 3.59 to 2.84. He doesn’t really have the stuff to be a top of the rotation arm, yet he seems to find a way to get the job done. He has excellent control and can keep the ball on the ground. The new-found ability to miss bats means there’s more to Hendricks than meets the eye.

Michael Pineda: I had to double check my numbers when Pineda showed up on this list for second half performance. His strikeout rate plummeted, he allowed more hits than innings pitched, and his ERA was 5.80. Hidden in those numbers though is a nearly 1:6 BB:K ratio and a respectable 3.36 xFIP. That came on the heels of a first half where his xFIP was 2.75 and he struck out nearly 9 times as many as he walked. Pineda is the complete package minus health; the poor showing at the end of 2015 will just serve to drive his price down in 2016.

Jaime Garcia: Like Pineda, Garcia was actually better in the first half so his appearance on this list really just solidifies him as a solid pick for 2016. Unlike the others on this list, Garcia actually outperformed his peripherals and shouldn’t be expected to repeat his 2.43 season ERA. What you’ve got though is a pitcher who keeps the ball on the ground and one who saw his K rate move up to a solid 19.5% in the second half. It will take a lot to break right for Garcia to be a top 30 SP next year, but fortunately it won’t cost you a lot to take the gamble.

Some interesting names that just missed the cut-off were: Cole Hamels (89.5%), Hisashi Iwakuma (89.3%), Clay Buchholz (89.0%), Yordano Ventura (88.8%), Danny Salazar (88.5%), Masahiro Tanaka (88.2%), Joe Ross (87.9%), Lance McCullers (87.8%), Garrett Richards (86.9%), and Luis Severino (86.2%).

 

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Paul Hartman
Fantasy Baseball player since 1987. Creator of Fantasy Assembly, yet just fortunate enough to be a part of it.
Paul Hartman

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6 comments on “Next Year’s Top Starters: The 90% Rule.

  1. What do you use as the innings qualifier for this, ERA title qualified?

  2. What younger (under 28) pitchers are you weary won’t meet expectations in 2016.

  3. That’s a great question , but one that would take some more research and likely a full column.
    I wish I had time to attack this, but I’m now completely in prospect mode as we start releasing lists next week.
    Off the top of my head, I’d pick a couple of Twins arms with low Ks: Gibson and Duffey

  4. This is a great article. Something I’ll surely use in my keeper leagues this year.

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