2014 Fantasy BaseballBrett TalleyFantasy Baseball

2014 Fantasy Baseball: The Rubber Week Five – Examining Changes in Steamer Values

hutch land

Yesterday over at Rotographs I compared preseason Steamer projections to the rest-of-season Steamer projections (RoS) to identify hitters whose value has changed since the beginning of the season. To calculate fantasy value from Steamer projections I use the Zach Sanders method of turning roto category statistics into a single fantasy value number. The system essentially compares each player’s production in each category and assigns standardized values for each player in each category. When you add those numbers up, you get a player’s fantasy value above average. After a quick adjustment for positional scarcity, you’ve got fantasy value above replacement (FVARz).

The first thing I want to do is look at the pitchers ranked the highest in the RoS ranks who failed to crack the preseason rankings I compiled which included 115 starters.

Name RoS FVARz RoS Rank Pre FVARz Pre Rank Rank Diff.
Drew Hutchison -0.55 47 N/A NR N/A
Tommy Milone -0.68 51 N/A NR N/A
Michael Pineda -1.59 65 N/A NR N/A
Jesse Chavez -1.66 67 N/A NR N/A

Of these guys, Hutchison is the only one who I think might be more than a spot starter. We knew from his days as a prospect that Hutch could generate strikeouts, and he’s done that in his five starts this year with a 29.5% K% and a swinging strike rate of 11.6%. That’s the sixth best strikeout rate in the league and 13th best swinging strike rate. That ability to miss bats is how he has managed to keep his ERA in the mid-threes so far despite having the seventh highest BABIP in the league. What I’m getting at is that his strikeout ability allows him to prevent runs even when batters are having some luck getting on base against him. If the K% stays up in the mid-to-high twenties, he’s going to look like an absolute beast when his BABIP regresses. He does have a problem with command as he’s got the third worst first pitch strike percentage among qualified starters. But if the strikeouts hold, he’ll be able to overcome the walks. His ESPN ownership percentage is in single digits; grab him while you still can.

There has been a lot of love for Chavez in the blogosphere recently, and his ESPN ownership percentage is up to 85%. But Steamer isn’t quite on board with the Chavez love train. His diverse repertoire of pitches is nice, but all Steamer knows is that this is a 30-year old pitcher who has a 5.12 career major league ERA even including his good work so far this year. He’s definitely a viable spot starter, but Steamer thinks that’s the extent of it.

Now here are the guys whose FVARz has increased the most in the first month of the season.

Name RoS FVARz RoS Rank Pre FVARz Pre Rank FVARz Diff. Rank Diff.
Tony Cingrani 3.11 14 -1.51 51 4.62 37
Brandon McCarthy -1.46 62 -5.49 97 4.03 35
Scott Kazmir 0.87 31 -2.97 69 3.84 38

Cingrani and Kazmir are owned in all leagues, so let’s talk about the less-than-one-percent owned McCarthy. McCarthy has long been a favorite of the sabermetric community because he speaks openly about his pursuit of improving and his consideration of sabermetric ideas in that pursuit. Eno Sarris had a great piece on McCarthy a couple of weeks ago, complete with some new quotes from the starter. In the piece, Sarris notes that McCarthy was trying to find a change-up to improve his game but failed. He’s now using a curve as his change-of-pace pitch to help against left-handers, and he’s having some success with that.

But the biggest change he made this offseason was bulking up. He said he did it to improve his stamina throughout the year, but the extra bulk seems to have led to a positive unintended consequence, velocity. His sinker, which is the pitch he’s thrown the most since the start of 2013, is averaging about two extra mph so far this year. As Eno points out, that much extra velocity could be worth half a run to two-thirds of a run per game. Here’s a velocity chart on his sinker so you can see just how much the velocity has improved.

credit: Fangraphs
credit: Fangraphs

The curve ball and extra velocity have helped McCarthy post a 3.10 SIERA and 2.92 xFIP. Yet he’s almost virtually un-owned because his ERA sits at 5.54. The reason is that his HR/FB rate is an absurdly high 26.9%, which is the second highest rate in the league. That has led to a strand rate of just 60.2% (third worst in the league). Lots of home runs driving in all the base runners you allow is a surefire way to amass an ugly ERA. But that HR/FB rate is coming down, presumably down to around the league average of 10.3%, which is a rate McCarthy has been at or below for each of the last six years. I’m quite positive that McCarthy will be owned in a whole lot more leagues, and it could happen at any time. Go ahead and pick him up now.

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