Pitching by the Numbers: Bargains and busts
I’ve crunched the 2011 numbers and have made related recommendations all spring. But now is time to officially go on record and name the pitchers I think will be bargains and busts relative to Yahoo! average draft position (in parentheses).
Chris Sale, White Sox (203.4): I like so many things about Sale that I don’t know where to start. Let’s begin with demonstrated big-league dominance (111 Ks in 94.3 innings). He’s also left-handed and has even dominated righties. He’s s flame thrower (95.3 mph average fastball last year) and has a plus change-up and one of the game’s most effective sliders. Yes, he’s converting from the bullpen, where he moved immediately after being drafted less than two years out of college, where he was a dominant starter. Projection: 175 innings, 190 Ks, 1.15 WHIP.
Anibal Sanchez, Marlins (149.9): We now begin the bias in favor of NL pitchers. Why swim against the current if you don’t have to? Sanchez is the poster boy for the benefits of the fastball-change-up combination. His swinging strike rate of 10.9% is what we expect from an elite K-artist, even though he lacks top-shelf velocity (91.7 mph) for a righty. Yes, the win total was pitiful last year but I ignore it completely aside from looking at the team generally – the Marlins are at least above average.
Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals (132.4): His rise as a prospect was meteoric until he blew out his elbow. Last year was a season of recovery and note the increased K-rate as his year went on (53 Ks in his last 58.2 innings before being shut down in August due to workload limits). This spring, he’s reportedly perfecting a change-up, and that’s all that’s standing between him and total batter dominance. Either way, he’s primed to pitch about 200 innings this year and should total 175 Ks with excellent control and the related helpful averages.
Brandon Beachy, Braves (122.5): I like extreme pitchers because they have a greater ability to dictate outcomes than most. And Beachy, a very extreme flyballer, had a BABIP way too high given all those cans of corn. So I think the WHIP should be much lower – about 1.00-to-01.15 tops, given similar underlying peripherals (mainly the K rate of 10.7/9, but expect regression here).
Gio Gonzalez, Nationals (116.7): Another power lefty, all of whom have so many natural advantages. Also have to love an AL strikeout ace moving to the National League, where he gets to face pitchers two or three times per game. That’s an extra 20-30 Ks right there. While the rest of his stats will not benefit as much given that he’s moving from Oakland, there will be some tailwind. I stay away from projecting ERA but that’s typically tethered to WHIP anyway. Gonzalez should come in just under the 1.30 or so he’s posted the last couple of years. One season, he’ll likely dramatically improve his control.
Stephen Strasburg, Nationals (55.6): This is too high. Zimmermann is the better bet about seven rounds later. There’s solid evidence that you can throw too hard for your own good. That’s the big risk I see with Strasburg, who needs to be smart enough to dial it back and not max out at triple digits and snap another ligament. Justin Verlander did that. But even if Strasburg isn’t destroyed by his love for the radar gun, he’s definitely capped this year at 160 innings.
James Shields, Rays (81.1): He has the great change that I love and that you should love. But he faces the AL headwinds and is in the toughest division there, too. He could pitch great and have an ERA of 3.50 and WHIP of 1.30. Shields de-emphasized the fastball last year and note that changeup pitchers tend to defy average BABIP, though not all the way down to his .258 of 2011, especially when, like Shields, you are a ground-ball pitcher. Look at those career averages (3.96 ERA, 1.233 WHIP) and tell me there are not options likely to be just as good multiple rounds later.
Michael Pineda, Yankees (112.8): My injury gurus have stuck their finger in the air and calculated that Pineda will be out anywhere from two weeks to all season. Shoulder tendinitis is a “something bad is wrong but we’ll cross our fingers and hope” diagnosis. The velocity is down and he couldn’t get loose all spring. The Yankees also say he’s out of shape. I would cross him off my list completely. If you have him in mixed leagues, there are better bets right now on the waiver wire, I guarantee it.
Michael Salfino (Twitter @MichaelSalfino) is a quantitative sports analyst whose writing regularly appears in the Wall Street Journal.