Some analyses strike gold. Some analyses are an immediate bust. It’s the third type – the ‘fool’s gold’ type – that are the most frustrating. After three years of middling predictions, I think my ‘risky pitcher’ analysis from a couple years ago is falling into that 3rd category.
Over the past 7 years, about 24% of pitchers coming off seasons with 2,700+ pitches fit one of the two dropoff criteria (< 2,000 pitchers or, roughly, missing 1/3 of the season or more) or have a significant drop in their skills (measured as xFIP increased by .75+).
I figured that if I could identify some commonalities among the injured pitchers in past years that it would help me predict which pitchers were more risky in upcoming years. After 3 years of hitting the yearly average in my predictions, I’m resigned to the fact that the findings in my initial analysis were either fluky or I’m really bad at applying the findings. (Or I need Tom Verducci’s assistance at being less self-critical.)
Below are my results from last year. About 20% of pitchers had a dropoff season – my most notable misses are Josh Johnson (had predicted him the previous year), Jonathan Sanchez, Dallas Braden, Clayton Richard, Brian Matusz, and Brett Cecil. (Wow, that list falls off fast, doesn’t it?). My most impressive accomplishment was predicting Gio Gonzalez gets traded to the Nationals and being the first on record to nickname him Nat Gio. Hopefully he keeps getting as much drop on his curveball as the breasts typically found in Nat Geo.
|Dropoff||3 (15%)||#3 Francisco Liriano (+1.46 xFIP)
#9 Philip Hughes (1,292 pitches, +0.57 xFIP)
#20 Clay Buchholz (1,355 pitches, +0.08 xFIP
|Dropoff but didn’t technically qualify||1 (5%)||#19 Brian Anderson (1,351 pitches, +0.04 xFIP)|
|Incorrect But Saw Some Legit Dropoff||2 (10%)||#8 Chris Carpenter (+0.40 xFIP increase)
#18 Jonathan Niese (2,493 pitches..but -0.66 xFIP)
|Close to 2010 Performance||9 (45%)||#1 Brett Myers (-0.07 xFIP, 3,348 pitches)
#2 Bud Norris (-0.39 xFIP, 3,149 pitches)
#10 Brian Duensing (+.10 xFIP, 2,669 pitches)
#11 Brandon Morrow (+0.05 xFIP, 3,112 pitches)
#12 Mat Latos (+0.16, 3,149 pitches)
#13 Jhoulys Chacin (+0.33 xFIP, 3,139 pitches)
#14 Jason Vargas (-0.37 xFIP, 3,250 pitches)
#16 Jered Weaver (+0.29 xFIP, 3,746 pitches)
#17 Ricky Nolasco (+0.18 xFIP, 3,196 pitches)
|Made Me Look Bad||5 (25%)||#4 Anibal Sanchez (-0.54 xFIP, 3,225 pitches)
#5 Ervin Santana (-0.57 xFIP, 3,453 pitches)
#6 C.J. Wilson (-0.78 xFIP, 3,592 pitches)
#7 Ian Kennedy (-0.78 xFIP, 3,424 pitches)
#15 Gio Gonzalez (-0.45 xFIP, 3,407 pitches)
Despite my lack of success, I still shy away from drafting more than one pitcher with two of the following three criteria: 1) Throws a lot of sliders, 2) 700+ MLB pitch differential from previous year, and 3) Coming off first season with a full workload (2,500+ pitches). See below for the dropoff statistics of pitchers that fall under these categories.
|Previous Year (2005-2011)||Chance of Dropoff|
|None of Three||17% (27/155)|
|Sliders > 15%||26% (60/234)|
|Sliders > 20%||25% (28/111)|
|Sliders > 25%||27% (13/48)|
|Pitch Diff > 700||31% (50/163)|
|Previous Year First 2500+ Pitches||31% (28/91)|
|Slider 15+% and Previous Year First 2500+ Pitches||34% (15/44)|
|All Three||35% (14/40)|
Here are ten otherwise solid pitchers that I’d prefer to have no more than 1 on my team if I could avoid it. Consider my tepid performance to date before taking it too much to heart
(notes: pitch increase totals only include MLB, only includes pitchers who had close to a full season last year – obviously players who were injured most/all of last year like Santana and Peavy are risky. Also shied away from known injury concerns like Marcum and Carpenter)
Michael Pineda (31.5% sliders, 2,688 pitches) – I’ve liked this guy the moment I first heard his name – probably because it made me think of empanadas which are delicious. It seems like his poor 2nd half + velocity drop is scaring off a lot of drafters. He went 136th in my 12-team ‘expert’ Razzball Commenter League. Can’t argue with selecting him there but I had the 135th pick, planned to take Cory Luebke, and when he was gone, took a closer instead.
Madison Bumgarner (32.4% sliders, 1,500 pitch increase) – I love the Mad-Bum. We drafted him in the 6th round of our 15 Team LABR mixed league. Might’ve had him in a couple more leagues but the bidding got too high. But last year was his first full year in the bigs and he throws a whopping 32% sliders – 4th highest among SPs – and it’s his most effective pitch (3rd best slider among starting pitchers with a wSL of 17.7 – i.e., his slider saved 17 runs above the average pitch). His fastball came in about league average for effectiveness. There are pitchers who can manage this type of pitch mix (Clayton Kershaw, CC Sabathia) but it’s a little more risky until they’ve proven they can do it in back-to-back seasons. (NOTE: Commenters have noted that there is disagreement about Pitch F/X’s classification of Bumgarner’s cutter as a slider and that his true slider rate might be closer to 20%. That doesn’t remove his risk but definitely a more sustainable usage rate. I can’t think of another recent lefty who managed a 30+% slider rate and had a productive career except for Randy Johnson – I imagine Carlton had similar usage rates too.).
Jhoulys Chacin (18.9% sliders, +834 pitch increase) – Chacin was on my 2011 list but lived up to his draft value – delivering 11 wins and a 3.64 ERA. But his K/rate dropped from 9.1 K/9 in 2010 to 6.96 in 2011. The part that scares me most (and I mentioned this in 2010) is that he is highly dependent on breaking pitches for success and he’s in the worst home stadium for breaking pitches. His fastball was the 7th worst in baseball amongst starters last year on a per-pitch basis (wFB/C) while his slider, curveball, and changeup were all above average. His changeup might be his saving grace in 2012 as it was the only pitch of the four that improved in effectiveness between 2010 and 2011. (Note: We have him on our LABR team too….getting a little concerned.)
Brandon McCarthy (2% sliders, 2,499 pitch increase) – The formula for getting onto the cover of ESPN Magazine seems to be this: one marginally successful season + good sense of humor + hot wife. McCarthy was a prized prospect that White Sox GM Kenny Williams was able to swap for the Rangers’ John Danks (one of the few marks against otherwise awesome GM Jon Daniels). He couldn’t manage more than 120 IP in a year (majors + minors) between 2005-2010. When he did pitch, he had bad K and BB rates. Then, after maybe spending a week at Dave Duncan sleepaway camp, he emerges in 2011 as a ground ball pitcher with great control (1.32 BB/9) to balance against a mediocre 6.5 K/9. He’s a fine late round pick but I see little upside with a higher than average chance of missing significant time. (Note: For AL-only drafters, stock up on A’s SPs. McCarthy and Colon will both likely miss time. I like Tom Milone and Tyson Ross at the right price).
Tim Stauffer (0% sliders, 1,774 pitch increase) – Similar to McCarthy. Prized prospect derailed by injuries. Throws a lot of pitches that turn into ground balls once hit (I wanted to write ‘throws a lot of ground balls’ but that could be confusing and our blog is incomprehensible enough.). His wife’s not bad to look at. Maybe it’s his previous ‘prospect’ status that hides the fact he’s not particularly good. He’s had a lot of success with his fastball the past two years but it’s hard to put much faith in a 90 MPH fastball that clearly doesn’t lead to a lot of swing-and-misses (6.2 K/9) or comes with pinpoint control (2.6 BB/9). He’s a Hodgepadre so he’s got some value for home starts but I wouldn’t consider him any better than, say, Clayton Richard.
Jordan Zimmermann (24% sliders, 2,464 pitch increase) – The other Jay-Z came back from Tommy John surgery to post solid if not spectacular numbers in 2011. His ERA and WHIP (1.15) were helped by low HR and BABIP rates. His control was very good (1.73 BB/9) so he still projects to be solid at WHIP. I’m wary of the fact he threw 24% sliders (his most effective pitch) and still had a mediocre K-rate (6.9 K/9). He’s probably going to go higher in drafts than I like.
Ervin Santana (38.4% sliders, 108 pitch decrease) – I think I put Ervin Santana on the list every other year. From 2006-2010, Ervin Santana was the bizarro-Saberhagen – good in the even years, bad in the odd years. He broke the streak in 2011. I just can’t sign up for a pitcher that is so dependent on the slider.
Dan Haren (0% sliders, 25 pitch increase) – Might as well go out on a limb for my 10th choice. There aren’t many pitchers as consistently great as Dan Haren – 7 years straight of 215+ IP, 4 straight years of a sub-3.50 xFIP, a sub 2 BB/9 rate in 4 of the past 6 years. So why the concern? Much like Roy Halladay, Dan Haren has morphed from throwing a standard pitch mix (Fastball/Slider/Curve/Split-Finger) to relying heavily on a cut fastball. After ditching the slider for a cutter in 2009, his cutter rate has gone from 23% to 27% to 48%. In 2011, his cutter was the 3rd most effective on a per-pitch basis and by far the most valuable in aggregate (wCT of 30.5 runs above average was double everyone except for Halladay’s 19.5 and Gavin Floyd’s 15.5). In fact, Haren’s cutter was the most valuable pitch in aggregate of ANY pitch in 2011. Unlike Roy Halladay, though, Haren doesn’t have velocity to spare. His fastball velocity has slowly decreased from 91.9 MPH in 2005 to 90.0 MPH in 2011. His cutter was at 85 MPH (Halladay’s at 90 MPH), making it one of the slowest amongst starting pitchers. He had great success with it in 2011 at this velocity – but the pitch really has nowhere to go but down in 2012 and the rest of his stuff isn’t good enough to warrant his ADP if the cutter fails him.