These three pitchers aren’t exactly sleepers but they are three guys I expect to own in a lot of leagues next year. All three have an elite K rate, an average to poor BB rate and an HR problem. Sounds like three guys to really get on board with right? However, if we look at year to year correlations for these stats it might start to make sense.
What this chart shows is that in terms of year to year correlation, K rate is strong, BB rate and HR rate are moderate and HR/FB has no correlation. Based on that we can reasonably assume that these players will maintain their elite K rates and will potentially see fluctuations in their BB and HR rates (with HR rate having the highest chance at fluctuation). FIP and xFIP are the best metrics we have that combine these three stats. Given that these are the three stats that the pitcher controls the most, FIP and xFIP should always take precedence over ERA. The main difference between FIP and xFIP is that xFIP takes the league average for HR rate because it assumes (as mentioned above) that HR rate tends to fluctuate and typically regresses back to the mean. What we have are three pitchers who should continue to strike out batters, and might see some positive regression in the HR and BB department. The three pitchers I’m talking about are Jon Gray, Robbie Ray and the SP I can’t quit Michael Pineda.
I’ve been expecting Pineda to make the leap for a few years now. For his career, he has a 3.42 FIP, 3.28 xFIP and a 3.31 SIERA but a 3.99 ERA. Pineda has been an elite K guy who has struggled mightily with the HR in New York. He’s still in New York and I’m still betting on him making the leap.
|2016||% Usage||Swing %||Whiff/Swing||Avg MPH|
Pineda has been a cutter-slider guy for a few years now but he also throws a changeup. His slider is elite in every sense. His cutter was about average last year and his changeup was below average. Historically his changeup has been an above average pitch with whiff rates of 35.71% and 34.44% the last two years. He threw fewer changeups last year (down to 7.3% from double digits) and it was a worse pitch when he did use it. Not a great combo. An ineffective changeup can hurt the overall effectiveness of a fastball or in Pineda’s case a cutter. It’s no wonder that last year his cutter and changeup both had career highs in OPS against with 1.001 and 0.903 respectively. There is one aspect of Pineda’s changeup that changed in 2016 and could be one of the main reasons why it was a more hittable pitch: he located it higher in the zone.
|Year||Vert Pitch Loc||Whiff/Swing|
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that once Pineda started locating the changeup higher (closer to 0) the percentage of swings and misses took a nose dive. If Pineda can regain some of the 14-15 changeup, he could be looking at more effectiveness overall. It was clear last year that batters could time his cutter and tee off (14 HRs off the cutter). The only worry they had to have was with the slider. Getting back an effective changeup can keep the hitters off guard and have them swinging through what they think is a hittable cutter. I think it’s a reasonable adjustment for Pineda to make and something that can push him over the edge. Pineda is not a 4.5 ERA pitcher as his last two years suggest. I’d even argue that Pineda is a sub 3.5 ERA pitcher who has had some bad luck with the long ball in NYY. HRs are a controllable aspect of pitching but Pineda had a 17% HR/FB rate last year which was 5 points higher than the league average. It is very likely that Pineda sees some positive regression in this regard which could lower his ERA significantly. Steamer is projecting a 3.44 ERA which is 1.4 runs less than his 2016 total. This could be the year that Pineda dominates and I’m definitely going to own him in a lot of leagues.
Robbie Ray parlayed a pretty good 2015 (3.52 ERA/4.03 xFIP) into a great 2016 (4.9 ERA/3.45 xFIP). His ERA might have been horrible but his peripherals were significantly better particularly his 28.1% K rate. If he can keep that up and improve his BB and HR rates, Ray could be a steal in drafts this year.
|% Usage||Swing %||Whiff/Swing||Avg MPH|
Robbie Ray was able to produce such a high K rate because he generates average to above average whiffs/swing on every pitch besides the sinker. In particular, the fourseam and slider and well above league average and that’s a deadly combination. Having a fastball that generates swings and misses improves every other pitch. Ray might not repeat a near 30% K rate but he should stick in the mid-20s and be a great source of Ks.
Ray was really hurt last year by BABIP (.352) and HRs (HR/FB of 15.5%). Both of these were career highs and both are incredibly unlucky. Even being in Arizona, I would expect his HR/FB to fall at least a few points. The Diamondbacks were a below average defensive team last year in particular in the OF where they were the 6th worst team by DRS. Getting a (hopefully) full year out of A.J. Pollock in CF should help that greatly and also help limit some of the downside to having Yasmany Tomas man LF with his lead feet. The IF might still be rough with Brandon Drury taking over for Segura. They really need Jake Lamb to improve his defense. Either way, these two numbers, in particular, should fall a reasonable amount. Steamer has Ray down for a 26.7% K rate and a 3.44 ERA both of which would be awesome. The hype on Ray is already pretty high but I think he’s worth an overdraft in some situations.
Jon Gray is the most exciting Rockies pitcher since peak Ubaldo Jimenez. Unlike Ubaldo Jimenez, Gray might have a chance to sustain his skills. For quite a while, I have stayed away from Rockies pitchers. Generally, you’re looking at an inflated ERA with a mediocre at best K total. Gray should be the one to break that mold. He’s still developing but 2016 was a very good start to his career. Gray’s ERA (4.61) wasn’t good but his K rate of 26% and xFIP of 3.61 were both very good. The future is bright.
|% Usage||Swing %||Whiff/Swing||Avg MPH|
Jon Gray shoves. Only his slider and fourseam are above average in whiffs/swing (with the slider being significantly above average), but that accounts for over 75% of what he offers. His changeup is about average in whiffs and his sinker and curve are both below average. He does generate a good number of swings with each so it might be a case of finding better command within the zone which is something we’d expect a younger player to struggle with. Overall, Gray has a solid arsenal and has already proven that he can shove in the worst environment for pitchers in baseball.
Gray was actually better at home last year (3.16 FIP/3.07 xFIP) than on the road (4.05 FIP/4.14 xFIP) which should make people even more likely to jump on board. If Gray can pitch to a 3 ERA at home according to peripherals, there should be room for him to improve on the road. We are only talking about one season worth of splits, but it’s not the split most would expect.
Steamer is projecting a 24% K rate and a 4.08 ERA. The 4.08 would be a big improvement but I think Gray can do even better. I think a 3.75 ERA is attainable with a decent WHIP and a ton of Ks. In dynasty leagues, Gray would be someone I’d be inquiring about, especially if the owner is worried about Coors and the 4.61 ERA last year.