Ian Riley gives his take on the pitchers that are set to disappoint fantasy owners in 2013.
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Pitchers get hurt much more often than position players; it’s just the nature of the game. While we can try and argue whether one has been overworked until we are blue in the face, every player holds up different physically. Justin Verlander has surpassed 224 innings in each of his last four seasons and has shown no sign of decline at as he turns 30. Rich Harden is the polar opposite, a guy who has been absolutely ravaged by injuries throughout his career while posting moderate innings totals.
So instead of trying to determine whether a pitcher is overworked, I try to pick away at stats that provide clues about a downturn of fortune. Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP), Left On Base Percentage (LOB%) and Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP) are three of my favorites to target when on the hunt.
A 20-game winner for the first time in his career last season, Weaver had what the casual fan would view as another successful campaign. For the record, I am not what you would call a casual fan. For starters ,we saw a sharp drop in his strikeouts per nine innings (K/9). Two seasons ago he finished with a career-best mark of 9.35. In 2011, he dropped to 7.56 before dropping to 6.77 last year. His average fastball velocity also dipped to a career-low 87.8 mph. If you think that sounds bad, it gets worse. Weaver ranked sixth in the league in LOB% at 79.2 and had the league’s lowest BABIP at .241. Even if Weaver sees a bump back upward in velocity this season, it’s only fair to assume that BABIP and LOB% will creep back up towards league-average levels. There isn’t a guy on this list I am more worried about this season.
Baseball is both cerebral and physical. Heading into the 2013 season, Gonzalez is going to have to deal with questions about both. His name was recently leaked in a PED scandal with the likes of Alex Rodriguez, Nelson Cruz, Melky Cabrera and Yasmani Grandal. MLB is investigating and very well may hand out suspensions. In the meantime, all we can do is speculate. One thing I see is a guy whose fastball has gone up from an average of 89.7 mph in 2008 to 93.1 mph last year. Growing into one’s body and mechanical improvements can boost one’s velocity. But that type of thing typically happens in your early-to-mid 20s. Gonzalez turns 28 this season. The writing is on the wall here that he had some help, and because of that I am staying far away this year.
Hellickson has now hurled 402.1 major league innings. Over that time span he has managed to post a LOB% of 82.1. To put that into perspective, that number has been topped just 10 times in a full season since 2000. It gets better. He has a career BABIP of .244. There have been only 24 instances where that number was lower in a season over that same time span. Something has to give here folks. These are the two biggest ‘luck’ stats out there in my opinion. Hellickson was listed on my bust list last year and he managed to skate by. The probability that he manages to do so again is slim. Do yourself a favor and stay away from him in the mid-rounds this year.
Dickey was lights out last season. He started 33 games, winning 20 of them while posting an ERA of 2.73, a WHIP of 1.05 and punching out 230 batters. All of these marks were career bests. What many fail to acknowledge, though, is the level of competition he faced. A whopping 16 of his 33 starts came against teams ranked 20th or lower in runs scored. The Marlins ranked 29th in runs scored last year, and he faced them six times! His trade to Toronto means he must go back to facing designated hitters. It also means that roughly half of his starts will come against teams in the AL East. There is no way he matches his numbers from last year, or even comes close for that matter.
Peavy seems to be past the shoulder woes that plagued him through 2010 and 2011, after chewing through 219 innings and striking out 194 batters while posting a 3.37 ERA last season. Through his first 17 starts, he posted a 2.85 ERA and opponents batted just .213 against him. Over his last 15 starts, he had an ERA of 4.00 and opponents batted .258. Those second half numbers aren’t awful by any means, but they are more of what you should expect from him this season. AL hitters have a much better handle on what to expect from the soon to be 32-year old. Having a higher LOB% (76.3) and lower BABIP (.272) than most pitchers leaves a nice sized door open to regression.
In January, Harrison was able to cash in, signing a five-year $55 M extension with a club option on the 2018 season that vests based on an innings threshold. Turning 28 this season, if Harrison stays relatively healthy, he won’t hit the free agent market until he is 34. With money now in his pocket, if there was ever an offseason to come in a little unfocused this is it. Harrison locates his pitches well, but doesn’t possess an overpowering pitch. This is evidenced by a career 5.49 K/9 and a very pedestrian 7.4 swinging strike percentage over 624.1 innings. In other words, if he is off, he has the potential to really pay for it. Harrison is the kind of back-end starter you should steer clear of on draft day.
Closers that don’t posses the ability to get a punch out tend to have a limited shelf life. Johnson has adequate velocity to succeed as a stopper, but he tends to pitch to contact. That, my friends, is playing with fire. The key to his success is keeping the ball down in the zone, which he has done well over the last two seasons. I don’t know about you, but putting my chips on a guy that really relies heavily on his control and pitches in nothing but high leverage situations scares me. This selection scares me because he has had fantastic control. He did, however, post a career-low .251 BABIP en route to his 51 saves last year. Pitching in the AL East, that number comes back up, and so will that ERA and WHIP.
The only number you need to be looking at when it comes to Hanrahan is 5.43. That represents the number of walks he issues per nine innings – a cool 14.2 percent of the batters he faced last year. That is a colossal number. He managed to finish the season with a 2.72 ERA, a 10.11 K/9 and 36 saves, though. Credit that to his extremely low .225 BABIP and 89.7 LOB%. Those are simply unsustainable numbers to expect again this season, especially when you take into consideration his career LOB% of 75.0 percent and career .306 BABIP over 397.1 innings. Mark my words here, Andrew Bailey will be back closing for this team by the end of June.
Heading into 2012, Axford looked like a real breakout performer. He notched 70 saves and struck out 162 batters over 131.2 innings. His high-90′s fastball is the perfect late inning weapon. Problem is, 2010 and 2011 were the only two seasons he has been able to harness it. Control problems plagued him through a good portion of his early career and really returned to the forefront last season. Through 239.2 minor league innings, Axford posted a 6.0 BB/9. Last season, he walked 12.6 percent of the batters he faced, helping bring his WHIP up to a career worst 1.44, and he ended up losing the closer job to Francisco Rodriguez for a portion of the season. Had K-Rod not been so bad in his place he may have lost it for the remainder of the year. Mike Gonzalez was brought in over the offseason as a fallback option should he falter again. This alone should be proof enough the team also shares these worries.