2015 Fantasy BaseballFantasy Baseball

2015 Fantasy Baseball: Five Starting Pitchers to Avoid

While sabermetrics are not yet standard pieces of fantasy baseball play, they can be an incredibly useful tool when making the decisions for who to draft and who to stay away from. Mainstream stats like ERA and WHIP are likely to be big factors in how well your team does on a weekly basis, but the fact of the matter is that they don’t tell the whole story. Thankfully we have more tools at our disposal than ever before, and statistics like FIP and SIERA can help fantasy players everywhere. They’ve proven to be much more indicative of how a pitcher actually performs, and coupled with other statistics, they can help shine some light on which pitchers are legitimate and which are flukes.

With the season starting yesterday (FINALLY), your team is likely set, and it’s probably too late to avoid some of the pitchers listed below. What you can do is part ways with them before it hurts your team. The following are five key pitchers who you should avoid for the 2015 season.

Alfredo Simon

The first member of this list is the newest addition to the Tigers rotation. After going largely unnoticed for the first six years of his career, Simon won 15 games in 2014 and made his first All-Star team. Unfortunately for Detroit and his fantasy owners, it’s highly unlikely that he’ll be able to repeat that performance. His overall numbers were largely bolstered by a great 1st half campaign when he posted a 2.70 ERA compared to his 4.52 value in the second half.

IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA FIP SIERA
2014 196.1 5.82 2.57 1.01 .265 3.44 4.33 4.17
ZiPS 152 5.54 2.77 1.00 .310 4.60 4.43 NA
Steamer 143 5.29 2.92 1.16 .294 4.84 4.76 NA
Career 529.1 6.34 2.89 1.12 .282 3.86 4.45 4.04

For the past two seasons, Simon has benefited from low BABIP values of .236 and .265, respectively. His career mark of .282 is much closer to MLB average, and the projection systems are forecasting his BABIP to return to normal levels. His FIP was 89 points higher than his ERA, and while his SIERA indicated a slightly better performance, it was still noticeably higher. The low walk values are fantastic and are projected to remain better than MLB average in 2015, but his K/9 is unacceptable. ZiPS and Steamer aren’t optimistic that Simon will be able to keep his ERA low or that he’ll pitch as many innings that he did in 2014.

Chris Tillman

Chris Tillman is the opening day starter for the Orioles this year after posting two consecutive years of double digit wins (16 and 13, respectively), however some of his peripherals point to a lot of luck being involved. While his ERA’s in those seasons were above average (3.71 and 3.34, respectively), his FIP and SIERA values told a different story.

IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA FIP SIERA
2014 207.1 6.51 2.86 .91 .267 3.34 4.01 4.26
ZiPS 184 7.08 3.03 1.17 .286 4.00 4.33 NA
Steamer 198 6.88 2.89 1.27 .284 4.22 4.48 NA
Career 680.1 6.76 3.15 1.26 .273 4.00 4.51 4.32

There are a couple factors here that point towards some regression for Tillman in 2015. The first is that his FIP was 67 points higher than his ERA, while his SIERA was 92 points higher. His FIP is likely a better indicator for his future results than his SIERA because of the way the latter is constructed. Both value strikeouts, however SIERA places much more importance on them, so for a pitcher with a career strikeout rate of 6.76, the natural result would be an elevated SIERA.

Having said that, Tillman is still a safe bet to experience a decline in some of his statistical categories. His HR/9 in 2014 was 0.91, his lowest value since 2011, and a far cry from his 2012 and 2013 values of 1.26 and 1.44. ZiPS and Steamer are projecting a marked increase in his ERA, as well as his BABIP. Tillman may still wind up helping in the wins category, but it will likely come at a cost of hurting your WHIP and ERA.

Chris Young

While he’s not currently slotted into the starting rotation, it’s likely that Young would step into that role if one of Kansas City’s starters were to get injured. Regardless of what innings Young is going to be given, fantasy owners should avoid him like the plague. After not pitching at the major league level since 2012, Young was able to stay healthy and throw 165 innings while finishing with a respectable ERA of 3.65. His other statistics however were not so nice.

IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA FIP SIERA
2014 165 5.89 3.27 1.42 .238 3.65 5.02 5.24
ZiPS 122 5.94 3.30 1.25 .286 4.47 4.79 NA
Steamer 104 6.16 2.98 1.49 .269 4.55 4.98 NA
Career 1055.2 7.36 3.43 1.15 .251 3.77 4.38 4.63

Both his FIP and SIERA were over a full run higher than his ERA, which tells us that his 2014 resurgence was likely a fluke. His BABIP was much lower than his career line of .251, which in and of itself is extraordinarily low. Young also finished with his best LOB% since 2006, and is likely to see regression in that category.

Both projection systems are forecasting an ERA of at least 4.47 and a jump in BABIP. While he’s likely to see an increase in BABIP, it’s not impossible that he’ll keep it lower than MLB average, as his career line suggests. As he currently occupies the long-man role with KC, he’s not going to help in the wins category, and with projected increases in his BABIP and ERA (coupled with his 2014 FIP and SIERA values), Young should not be a part of anyone’s fantasy team.

Danny Duffy

Duffy is another Royals pitcher that should be avoided. He put up great numbers last year in several categories, but once again the peripherals tell another story. Combined with his dubious injury history, Duffy seems primed for regression heading into 2015. In 2012 he succumbed to Tommy John surgery, and even after he’d fully recovered from it, he missed time in 2013 due to a flexor strain in his elbow. In 2014, while he didn’t spend any time on the disabled list, Duffy did experience inflammation in his rotator cuff, and that is something to keep an eye on in 2015.

IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA FIP SIERA
2014 149.1 6.81 3.19 0.72 .239 2.53 3.83 4.31
ZiPS 109 7.43 3.88 0.83 .286 3.55 4.08 NA
Steamer 137 7.39 3.48 1.07 .278 3.87 4.30 NA
Career 306.2 7.34 3.99 0.85 .282 3.67 4.12 4.41

There are a few red flags with Duffy’s 2014 numbers that suggest he’s not going to put up an ERA near 2.53 in 2015. His BABIP of .239 is far below his career line of .282, and both projection systems are in agreement that it will rise next season. As for his peripherals, both his FIP and SIERA were much higher than his ERA. A 3.83 value is still above average, but with his low K/9 and shaky track record with his health, Duffy is hard to count on as a fantasy starter. A 3.55 or a 3.87 ERA are both figures that anyone could live with, however there are other options out there that are more reliable and can help your team more than Duffy can.

Edinson Volquez

Unfortunately for the Royals, this marks their third appearance on this list. It was all but assured that James Shields was going to leave KC for more lucrative waters, and as such they had to find a replacement in their rotation. They found that replacement in Volquez, but they shouldn’t expect him to be Shields 2.0 or anything close for that matter. Despite a pristine 3.04 ERA in 2014, like the rest of the pitchers on this list, he benefited from some incredible luck.

IP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 BABIP ERA FIP SIERA
2014 192.2 6.54 3.32 0.79 .263 3.04 4.15 4.20
ZiPS 163 7.04 3.90 1.10 .301 4.56 4.62 NA
Steamer 159 6.57 3.60 0.99 .291 4.47 4.44 NA
Career 1042.2 8.07 4.49 0.94 .298 4.44 4.32 4.27

Volquez posted a BABIP 35 points lower than his career average, and 62 points below his 2013 season. His FIP and SIERA were almost identical and a full run higher than his ERA. He also posted a .79 HR/9, much lower than his career rate of .94. ZiPS and Steamer are projecting marked increases in his HR/9, BABIP, ERA, and FIP. Put simply, the numbers don’t like Volquez, and he shouldn’t be counted on to provide any meaningful fantasy value heading into 2015. His strikeout days are long behind him, and with the projected increases, Volquez is likely going to be a fantasy and real life disaster in 2015.

While it’s not impossible for pitchers to outperform their peripherals, as all of them did in 2014, it’s very difficult to sustain. Eventually their luck will run out, and it’s just a matter of time before it happens. For the sake of your pitching staff, stay away from these five pitchers and aim for safer waters. The best targets are those who have similar FIP and SIERA values when compared to their ERAs. That indicates that their ERA can be trusted as true indication of how they’re pitching, rather than as a red flag.

Sources: Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs.

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