2013 Fantasy Baseball, The Rubber – Week 11: Getting Back to xFIP
Let’s start with a list. Here are the guys with the biggest positive differences between their ERA and xFIP. After the list we’ll examine who has the best chance to take their ERA from (about) 5.00 or more to under 4.00.
We can go ahead and throw Peralta and Volquez out in this pursuit to have an ERA under 4.00 because their xFIP doesn’t indicate they have the skills to do so. While we’re at it, we can throw out Blanton because we’re going on several consecutive seasons in which his ERA has been well above his xFIP. And let’s go ahead and throw out Davis and Gallardo because they lacking even average strikeout and walk skills. The league average K%-BB% for starters is 11.6, but Davis is at 10.4 while Gallardo is at 10.3. Let’s also toss out Estrada. He now has 300+ MLB innings with a HR/9 of 1.38 (league average is 1.06). And finally, let’s toss out Haren and Lincecum. It’s been well documented that they’ve lost velocity and their fantasy worthiness along with it.
That leaves six bounce back or buy low pitchers in our sample.
The most obvious candidate for a bounce back is Cain. He’s still showing the ability he’s always had to post a lower-than-normal BABIP. And his strikeout and walk skills haven’t really changed.
What has changed is his HR/FB rate. Cain’s career HR/FB of 7.1% is well below average, but this year it is 14.1%. Eno Sarris smartly points out that Cain is hitting the edge of the strike zone less and the heart of the zone more this year. His Edge% is 2.2% lower than his career mark, and his Heart% is up 1.3%. That’s led to his LD% increasing as well. It makes sense. Throw more balls in the middle of the plate, and more will get hit hard.
But it doesn’t seem right that those changes in Edge% and Heart% would lead to a doubling of his HR/FB rate. What we have is a combination of stretch of decreased skill and a stretch of bad luck. You can never expect bad luck to continue for too long, and given Cain’s track record, it seems more reasonable to assume he’ll be able to get back to the level of skill he displayed in the last six seasons as opposed to assuming he’ll continue to display the level of skill he’s shown in the last two months. And things already seem to be correcting. He gave up 13 homers to the first 238 batters he faced. But he hasn’t allowed a homer to the last 102 batters he has faced.
As far as all around bad luck goes, Jackson has been bit the worst by the bad luck bug. His .350 BABIP and 57% strand rate are so far away from the norm that there’s no way that he doesn’t have a fair bit of positive regression coming. His strand rate is particularly strange because his HR/9 and HR/FB are below league average and his career averages.
You might look at Jackson’s BB% of 8.6% and be concerned that it’s higher than it was in the last two seasons. But Jackson really only struggled with command in April when he had a 10.8% BB%. In his last six starts, his BB% is 6.8%, which is better than league average. He’s available in about 80% of ESPN.com leagues and has starts against the Mets, Mariners, and Pirates coming up before the All-Star break.
Our sample also happens to have two of my boyfriends in it. I love, love, love me some Gee and McCarthy. Gee is my wife; McCarthy is my mistress. Last year, Gee had a K% (21%) and BB% (6.3%) that were both safely better than league average as was his swinging strike rate (10.6%). He really struggled early this year, but his fastball velocity was well below the 91 mph mark he averaged last year. Thankfully, his velocity was back up around 91 in his two starts prior to last night’s solid outing. As for McCarthy, I couldn’t blame you if you just passed on him. He’s had too many injury issues, and he hurts you in strikeouts. But if you need WHIP help, add him when he’s healthy.
The only players from the list we have yet to discuss are Hellickson and Hernandez.
Hellickson has made some changes to his pitch mix this season as he has has gone a little more to the four-seamer and curve and away somewhat from the sinker and cutter. This is probably why his GB% has dropped a bit and his K% has risen. It’s possible that he may be actively trading some weak contact to get more swings and misses. That wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world for fantasy owners. More Ks are always good, but it would be nice to see Hellickson take more control over his outcomes as opposed to relying on his defense to turn balls in play into outs.
Hernandez, if you’ll recall, used to be Fausto Carmona. The name change is confusing enough, but his stats in 2013 seem just as different as his name. When he was Fausto, Hernandez had a well below average K%, and his walk rate ranged from average to bad. But this year his K% and BB% are much better than his career averages and actually better than league average at 20.7% and 6.2%, respectively. His swinging strike rate is also up a little at 8.8%, but that’s about league average, so his K% may regress a smidge. One thing Hernandez is still doing that Fausto did is get groundballs. He’s not inducing them quite at the ridiculous rate that Fausto did, but his GB% is still a healthy 51.2%.
Hernandez is hardly owned in any leagues. His ownership percentage in ESPN standard 10-team leagues is just 0.5%. And his upcoming schedule really couldn’t be any sweeter. Below are his next six starts before the break (assuming his schedule holds) along with the wRC+ for each of his opponents versus right-handed pitchers like Carmona……I mean Hernandez. 100 is considered average for wRC+. The higher you get above 100, the better the team is. The lower you get below 100, the worse the team is.