SP Analysis

Baseball Viagra: Can they Keep it Up? (Pitcher Edition)

Four 2016 top 20 ESPN Player Rater SPs and their prospects moving forward.

Stats and player rater ranks as of 5/2 at 5 PM.

Kenta Maeda (10th)

Kenta Maeda has been fantastic so far with a 1.41 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, 22.6% K rate and 4.8% BB rate. Our sample size on Maeda is only 32 innings so it’s hard to draw any stark conclusions but there is a lot to like about his profile going forward even if some regression is in store. Maeda’s xFIP (3.48) and SIERA (3.45) forecast some negative regression on the horizon as do his .253 BABIP and 92.2% LOB rate. However, Maeda will still be a valuable pitcher. Maybe not top 10 valuable, but potentially top 20. As long as Maeda continues to display good control and a solid K rate, he should be able to avoid any major collapses.

Maeda has done a good job at throwing first pitch strikes (63.7%) and generating swings on balls (35.9%). Both of these numbers are above average and his career BB/9 in Japan (1.9) lead me to believe that he can maintain a low BB rate.

Maeda’s five pitch mix (Four seam, Sinker, Change, Slider and Curve) is pretty impressive and he mixes them well. He is mainly Fourseam (26.74%) and Slider (31.01%) but he mixes in the other three as well. Maeda’s velocity isn’t elite (90ish so far) but like most of the Asian import pitchers, he generates a lot of movement with his pitches and keeps hitters off guard with a multi-pitch mix. So far Madea’s slider has been an elite offering generating whiffs on 39.8% of swings. He’s been able to generate big swings outside the zone (59.3%) and has been able to limit contact rates (60.6%). His changeup has also been quite good with a 28.13% whiif/swing rate. His other three pitches don’t quite rate as highly, but they are other ways to keep batters off guard at the very least. His sinker has generated ground balls on nearly 90% of balls in play which is great for a secondary offering. Overall Maeda possess a good blend of pitches that he can get over the plate and generate swings with.

The one big worry with Maeda will be health. He’s already logged over 1,500 innings in his professional career. The injury concerns when he initially signed with the Dodgers have faded but something was amiss with his medicals or the Dodgers wouldn’t have gotten such a steep discount. We obviously have no idea on the exact details but I would be hesitant to overpay to acquire Maeda in particular in a keeper or dynasty.

Verdict: Maeda appears to be the next Japanese pitcher to make an immediate impact. Injury concerns are present and should not be ignored, but Maeda looks like the real deal. I would expect a low 3s ERA, a sub 1.15 WHIP and a fair amount of Ks and Ws moving forward.

 

Drew Smyly (11th)

Drew Smyly has basically been Clayton Kershaw in terms of K and BB rates so far this year with 32% and 4.7% marks respectively. Smyly is one of my favorite pitchers so I’ll try to calm my excitement, but I am thrilled with what I’ve seen so far and the better news is that nothing jumps out as fluky.

Smyly is going to regress some in ERA but it might not be very much. His 2.6 ERA is backed up with a 3.19 FIP, 3.18 xFIP and 2.61 SIERA. Essentially, Smyly has been excellent at two thirds of the parts of pitching he can control (walks and strike outs). However, he has struggled with homeruns. His HR/FB rate is a career high 13.4% which is not great. This is likely a result of an increased fly ball rate (up to a career high 53.2%) and working up in the zone a bit more this year. Smyly has always struggled with HRs in his career so this is nothing new, but it’s what will prevent him from being a truly elite SP moving forward. The other bad news is that Smyly’s .173 BABIP isn’t going to last. However with a WHIP as low as 0.69, the impact of a rising BABIP might not be too bad.

Onto the good news, Drew Smyly is a great pitcher who seems to have fully harnessed his elite stuff. His overall swinging strike rate is up to 13.4% which tells me that his 32% K rate is legitimate. Smyly’s velocity is mostly unchanged but his movement (both vertical and horizontal) is up virtually across the board. He currently sits with three pitches generating whiffs on over 30% of swings.

Year Fourseam Change Curve Cutter
2012 16.59 11.11 37.39 20.72
2014 16.64 30 31.03 28.64
2015 22.4 30 30 28.7
2016 35.19 16.67 34.78 32.08

(Note that Smyly has thrown his Sinker once this year so I removed the column)

Plain and simple Smyly has been filthy this year. If he can stay healthy (a big if) he could challenge 220+ Ks with good rate stats. Wins might be a concern pitching for an offensively challenged Rays team, but Smyly is coming into own.

Verdict: If you can’t tell I am in on Smyly. He is generating elite Ks and has shown great control so far. If he can fix his HR issues even a little bit, he could finish inside the top 15 for SPs. If he’s healthy all year, he could challenge top 10.

 

Mat Latos (20th)

Sell, sell, sell. Get whatever you can for Latos because the day of reckoning is coming. Latos is a shell of his former self and is getting by on pure luck.

A quick look at the stats Latos can control:

K% BB% HR/FB
12.6 6.7 7.9

The BB rate and HR/FB rates are both good but the K rate is downright awful. I would be more open to buying in to Latos if his BB rate was 4% and his HR/FB was under 5 but he’s merely above average in both, not elite. Today’s game just isn’t kind to these sorts of pitchers. In 2015, out of all qualified SPs with a K rate under 18%, only one had an ERA under 3.5 (Yovani Gallardo) and only one had an xFIP or SIERA under 3.5 (Brett Anderson). Arbitrary endpoints and all but the outlook is bleak for someone of Latos’s current skillset. His 5.3% swinging strike rate doesn’t point to any upside in the K department either so there isn’t much hope for outlook improving.

The two biggest nails in Latos’s coffin are below.

BABIP LOB%
0.228 93.8

BABIP and LOB% are two of the biggest luck indicators and Latos has been nothing short of a leprechaun in that regard. Both of these numbers are going to come crashing back to earth. It’s not a matter of if at this point, only a matter of when.

I fully expect his ERA to climb well above 4 as do our best ERA predictors.

ERA FIP xFIP SIERA
1.84 4.3 4.94 4.93

There just isn’t much to grasp on to with Latos. His fastball velocity is down (90.1 the lowest of his career), his GB% is still just an average 44.7% and his contact rate is up (88.5%). Only Mark Buehrle had a higher contact rate in 2015. Latos is giving up a lot of soft contact (27.4%) but there isn’t a defense in baseball that can keep Latos’s luck stats so low with so many balls being put into play.

Verdict: Sell for whatever you can get. The joy ride is going to end at some point soon. Latos won’t be ownable in all but the deepest of leagues by mid-summer in all likelihood.

 

Jordan Zimmermann (6th)

Jordan Zimmermann is similar to Latos in that he is pitching with a horseshoe up his ass, but the difference is that Zimmermann’s drop-off shouldn’t be as severe. There are actually a few things to like about Zimmermann’s skills right now which is the opposite of Latos.

K% BB% HR/FB
17.4 5.3 2.7

HR/FB is a slow stabilizing number so it’s not smart to call 2.7% any sort of baseline, but Zimmermann has done a great job of limiting HRs. It’s likely that this will rise considerably, but Zimmermann has had some seasons with great HR rates. It wouldn’t be out of the blue to see him have another. His K rate isn’t great, but paired with a great BB rate, it’s a little easier to tolerate. One big worry for Zim is a decrease in velocity from 93 mph in 2015 to 91.7 mph in 2016. He’s also generating chases at rate much lower than his peak Nationals years (29.9% versus ~33%). This has culminated in a 7.5% swinging strike rate.

BABIP LOB%
0.267 92.3

Unfortunately for Zim, these numbers are likely unsustainable. He’s increased his GB rate (up to 47.5%) and has done a good job at limiting hard contact but these numbers will fall back to earth. He’s had a career .292 BABIP and 75.3% LOB rate and I would expect to see something similar moving forward.

Back to our ERA indicators.

ERA FIP xFIP SIERA
0.55 2.7 4.02 4.07

FIP loves Zim due to the low HR rate, but xFIP (normalized HR rate) and SIERA don’t agree. Part of the analysis here is which stat (FIP or xFIP) you trust more. I’m an xFIP guy as HR rates are a slow stabilizing stat with a lot of yearly noise. xFIPs #hate of Zimmermann further backs up my earlier analysis: Zimmermann is not as good as his ERA indicates.

Verdict: I own zero shares of Zimmermann but I’d be trying to move him immediately. He’s been fantastic throwing in 5 wins on top of the crazy good rate stats. Unlike Latos, if you can’t trade Zimmermann, it’s not the end of the world. He will still be a semi-valuable pitcher but this will be his peak value for the year.

 

 

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