Greetings all, and welcome to the first installment of The Numbers Game. “Boy, that title sounds about as exciting as it would be to draft Omar Infante in 2015.” Hey, quiet in the peanut gallery! Fantasy baseball is, as the title of this series makes blatantly obvious, all about the numbers. The idea behind these posts is to identify players who fit a specific set of search criteria using statistics accumulated over the past three seasons. The various criteria that I’ll be using will be established based on player comps and/or the MLB averages in key statistical categories. Some results will include data from 2014 only, while others will include some combination of the previous two seasons as well. The ultimate goal of these exercises is to provide a different perspective that will help to confirm your evaluations of certain players and perhaps reconsider your opinions of others. While I’ll be providing my two cents from time to time, it’ll be up to you to decide how valid the results truly are.
Phew, that was a Bartolo Colon-sized mouthful right there, but we got through it. And now, with Spring Training (and fantasy baseball draft season) just around the corner, I thought it might be a good idea to try to identify the next breakout pitcher for this upcoming season. That player in 2014 was Corey Kluber, but who are the most likely candidates to make a Kluber-like jump into ace territory in 2015? Let’s see if we can figure that out.
While I won’t be revealing the specific criteria that’s being used in this exercise until part two of this article (to hopefully maintain some sliver of suspense), here are a few things that I believe are important to consider when looking for the next breakthrough starting pitcher in the Kluber mold: the ability to consistently miss bats, the ability to limit free passes, and the ability to force hitters to keep batted balls on the ground. All of that is just a fancy way of saying high K-rate, low BB-rate, and high GB%.
First, let’s take a look at the MLB averages in some key statistical categories for starting pitchers during the 2012 and 2013 seasons:
Now that we have a reference point to provide some context, here’s the list of starting pitchers who fit the “Kluber criteria” in 2012 (filtered by innings pitched as a starter only):
|Anibal Sanchez||– – –||195.2||7.68||2.21||3.48||9.80%||46.40%||0.31||1.27||3.86||3.6|
As you can see from the names that appear on this list, some of the top talents in the game meet these requirements. Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez, Stephen Strasburg, Chris Sale, and Madison Bumgarner might be the five best pitchers in all of baseball. James Shields probably isn’t that far behind. Remember how incredible Kris Medlen was in the 2nd half of ’12? If you happened to forget, here are the numbers to remind you. Unbelievable run.
Beyond these players, several interesting names appear. Jeff Samardzija is considered to be an above-average SP now, but at the time, he was making the transition back to being a starter after working exclusively as a reliever in 2011. Anibal Sanchez was already an established pitcher at this time, but was known for having issues with control. Matt Garza and Dillon Gee seem to be the outliers here, perhaps due at least in part to a limited sample size. Kluber himself struggled in his first go-round as an MLB starting pitcher, but his underlying stats showed the potential for improvement down the line (spoiler alert – he’ll be appearing on each of these lists. Shocking, I know.).
Let’s move on to the 2013 qualifiers. Here’s that list in it’s entirety:
Out of these 14 qualifiers, 7 make a second consecutive appearance: Hernandez, Kershaw, Sanchez, Sale, Kluber, Strasburg, and Bumgarner. Medlen, Shields, Samardzija, Gee, and Garza all failed to meet the criteria in ’13 for various reasons and fell off of the list.
Here are the seven players who didn’t appear on the ’12 list but qualified in ’13: Matt Harvey, Sonny Gray, Jose Fernandez, Gerrit Cole, Homer Bailey, Patrick Corbin, and Mat Latos. Both Harvey and Corbin missed the entire 2014 season after undergoing Tommy John Surgery. Fernandez proved to be one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball since his debut in ’13, but he also succumbed to TJS midway through the ’14 campaign. Gray had by far the smallest sample size out of this group, as well as the lowest swinging strike rate and the worst K/BB ratio. His GB% was the highest of the lot though. That leaves Cole and a couple of Reds in Bailey and Latos. Bailey suffered through a disappointing ’14 season due in large part to a drop in K-rate and an increased BB-rate. Latos missed half of the ’14 season due to injury, and experienced a significant drop in velocity and K-rate upon his return. Cole put up solid yet unspectacular numbers during his rookie season while logging the second lowest IP total on this list.
What does all of this mean and which SPs qualified for this list in ’14? Check out part two of this article which should be coming soon to a razzball near you. Until then, thanks for reading, and don’t forget to post any thoughts, questions, or concerns in the comments.