Top Rookie Starting Pitchers
There is a certain amount of bias in the prospecting world where people tend to get very drawn in by high upside, hard throwers who can one day possibly fill the top of a rotation spot. In fantasy the same thing tends to happen: everyone is looking for the next Verlander, Price, or Kershaw, but championships are won in the trenches (or to use a more baseball related analogy “at the back end of the rotation”). When I looked into the cross-section of these two worlds (the top rookie starting pitchers by FanGraph’s WAR), there was only one pitcher among the top four (I chose not to include Yu Darvish in this) who could be classified as that potential top of the rotation guy. The rest really fell more into the “back-of-the-rotation innings-eater” archetype. These pitchers are probably already owned in most leagues, but they do maintain some value heading into next year.
Wade Miley: (4.2 fWAR) The top rookie starting pitcher by FanGraphs WAR, Miley has also put up an impressive fantasy season with 15 wins, an ERA right around 3.00 and a WHIP in the mid 1.1 range. While his success this year might make him the current frontrunner for the NL Rookie of the Year award, don’t expect this much success to carry over into next year. Miley’s ERA is currently outperforming his 3.82 xFIP by almost a full run. The difference is largely driven by his 1.75 BB/9 and 6.7% home run to fly ball rate, neither of which should be reasonably expected to continue. Including his minor league numbers, Miley’s previous best walk rate was 2.3 per nine innings way back in A-ball in the 2009 season. Looking at only the upper levels, his 2.7 BB/9 in Triple-A last year was his low water mark. Unless Miley has found a way to simultaneously and dramatically improve his command while facing much better and more disciplined hitters, we can expect his walk rate to regress closer to his career minor league average of about three — or more — walks every nine innings. With respect to his HR/FB rate, Miley is currently significantly below the league average rate of 11.5%, while also pitching his home games in a stadium that inflates home run numbers (5th highest HR park factor per ESPN and 11th highest per FanGraphs). The combination of increased baserunners via walks and a higher percentage of his flyballs leaving the yard will weaken both Miley’s WHIP and ERA going into 2013 and thus making him a much less valuable commodity. Considering this, I am one to be comfortable taking a late round flyer on him. (Note: When updating the numbers to reflect Miley’s most recent start this past weekend, the numbers mentioned as likely to regress had, conveniently, already started to regress.)
Michael Fiers: (3.1 fWAR) Fiers started the year as a solid but unexciting prospect and looks to end to end the year as a solid but unexciting major league pitcher. The Brewers starter posted similar stats all the way up the minor league ladder, showing a K/9 that hovered around 9 and a BB/9 in the 2.5-3 range. That preceded nearly the same exact thing in his first extended major league look this year, posting a 9.1 K/9 and 2.5 BB/9 in his 100+ innings pitched so far this year. His stuff may never electrify (per FanGraphs his fastball has averaged 88 MPH this year), but he has provided consistent results throughout his career and at some point results become hard to argue with. Looking ahead to 2013, there might even be some room for improvement as Fiers’ 2.66 FIP suggests. Even if pitching a whole season at Miller Park causes his HR/FB rate to regress to league norms, Fiers’ xFIP is only 0.51 over his 3.05 ERA and finding a pitcher who strikes out a batter per inning, doesn’t walk many batters and can post an ERA around 3.50 could result in a solid sleeper heading into next year.
Jarrod Parker: (2.9 fWAR) The only one of the four named here who was considered a top prospect heading into the year (#20 on the Bullpen Banter Top 100), Parker has put up a solid rookie campaign. The best part is that he has a chance to improve upon it next season. The most important numbers for Parker are his strikeout rate and, like Miley, his HR/FB rate. Parker has similarly outperformed the league by only having 6.0% of his flyballs turning into homeruns, but unlike Miley, Parker has a significant chance at repeating that again next year. Playing in Oakland is almost the exact opposite of playing in Arizona, as O.co Coliseum suppresses dingers at either the 9th or 5th best rate in the majors depending on who you believe (ESPN or FanGraphs), so while the 6.0% may go up next year, there is reason to believe that Parker can continue to post below league average HR/FB rates. With regards to his K/9, in the majors this year Parker has posted his lowest rate so far in his professional career. This would make sense, as MLB caliber hitters are less prone to the strike out, but at 6.8 K/9 Parker has struck out a batter and a half less per inning than his minor league rate. It would not be unreasonable to expect to see Parker’s strikeouts increase next year, while being able to keep his other peripherals fairly consistent. Like Fiers, Parker could be a solid late round buy especially if the Athletics can replicate this year’s success and provide him with the opportunity to accumulate wins. (I might be baiting you here, Dave, I’m not sure yet)
Editor’s note: I shan’t be baited. I’m too busy sizing my finger for my replica World Series ring. I don’t believe in jinx’s of course, but if the my beloved A’s fail to make the postseason, all blame may fall at my feet for my previous sentence.
Lucas Harrell: (2.7 fWAR) The Astros should be very happy by seeing one of their younger arms coming up on this list and his performance looks like it may even be relatively sustainable going into next year. His ERA of 3.83 almost exactly matches his FIP and xFIP of 3.68 and 3.86, respectively. His K/9 and BB/9 also come relatively close to matching his career minor league numbers (6.4 vs 6.1 and 3.4 vs 4.1; majors and minors respectively). However, that’s where the good news from a fantasy perspective comes to an end. Owners should view his 10 wins, of a total 44 wins for the Astros as a franchise, as something he cannot repeat next year. While it will be difficult for the Astros to be worse, the possibility is clearly there as they will be moving to the AL West for 2013. Needing to deal with the Rangers, Angels, and A’s instead of the Reds, Cards, and Pirates and pitchers needing to deal with the addition of the DH; I’d stay away from Astros pitchers as a general rule.