5 Unlucky Pitchers Poised to Bounce Back (Fantasy Baseball)

by Brian Reiff | @briansreiff | Featured Writer
Feb 13, 2018

Last week, I wrote about five pitchers who had inflated ERAs in 2017. This was determined by comparing their ERAs to their Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), which has been shown to be a better predictor of future performance than ERA alone. This time around, we’re looking at the opposite: Pitchers whose 2017 ERA was significantly higher than their FIP, indicating they may have gotten unlucky last year.

The following are the pitchers who had the largest difference between their ERA and FIP in 2017 among fantasy-relevant starters.

Download our Draft Kit for updated cheat sheets, sleepers & draft tips >>

Lance McCullers (HOU)
2017 ERA: 4.25
2017 FIP: 3.10

Some (definitely not this author) advocated strongly for drafting McCullers last year. Coming off back-to-back seasons in which he put up a 3.22 ERA and struck out a combined 27 percent of batters, the sky seemed to be the limit for him. If you just look at his ERA, you’d think he took a step back. The reality is that McCullers’ 2017 would have been quite similar to his prior two seasons if not for some bad luck and timing. He struck out 25.8 percent of batters and walked a career-low 7.8 percent while maintaining elite swing-and-miss numbers, good for an FIP of 3.10 that was right in line with his career numbers. The bad luck came in the form of a .330 BABIP allowed, which, admittedly, he has struggled with in the past. The unfortunate timing, though, was completely new to him – his strand rate of 67.6 percent is unusually low, especially for someone who strikes out so many batters. If that number returns to normal, and it should, McCullers could be poised for a bounce-back year.

Jameson Taillon (PIT)
2017 ERA: 4.44
2017 FIP: 3.48

Taillon and McCullers have a lot in common. Both are young pitchers who had promising starts to their career before seeing their ERA jump in 2017. They also both have a double L in their name. Like McCullers, Taillon’s ERA last season didn’t represent how well he actually pitched. Despite the ERA jump of 1.06 between 2016 and 2017, his FIP actually dropped from 3.71 to 3.48 thanks to an increase in strikeouts and a newfound ability to limit home runs. Whether he can continue those trends in 2018 remains to be seen, but one area in which he should expect to improve is his BABIP allowed, which was third highest among pitchers who threw at least 100 innings in 2017. And while he’s only thrown 237 innings over his two-year career, Taillon should be expected to take another step forward in that department as well now that he’s recovered from cancer.

Jeff Samardzija (SF)
2017 ERA: 4.42
2017 FIP: 3.61

Samardzija was another guy I was high on last year, and throughout the season he teased owners with what he was capable of. He struck out 24.2 percent of batters, the second-highest rate of his career, and did it while allowing just 3.8 percent of them to reach base with a free pass, the lowest rate of his career and the lowest among qualified starters in 2017. That combination gave him a 6.41 strikeout-to-walk ratio, which was fourth highest in the majors behind only three of the top pitchers in the game: Corey Kluber, Chris Sale, and Clayton Kershaw. Unfortunately for him and his owners, teasing was all he did, as he wasn’t able to put it together and finished with a 4.42 ERA. Part of the reason why was a 67.5 percent strand rate, which should correct itself in 2018. The bigger culprit though was his 13.8 percent home run per fly ball rate, notable because only 8.9 percent of opponents’ fly balls at AT&T park cleared the fence in 2017.

Danny Salazar (CLE)
2017 ERA: 4.28
2017 FIP: 3.48

Unsurprisingly if you know how FIP is calculated, Salazar is another high-strikeout pitcher who underperformed last season. In fact, he had the fourth-highest strikeout percentage (33.0 percent) among pitchers with at least 100 IP last season, behind only perennial Cy Young candidates Kluber, Sale, and Max Scherzer. He did it with a 10.0 percent walk rate, but his strikeout numbers were high enough such that it barely mattered. They weren’t a fluke either – among pitchers with least 100 IP, no pitcher missed bats more than Salazar, who allowed contact on just 67.5 percent of swings and caused swinging strikes on 16.4 percent of pitches. When hitters did make contact, it didn’t go so well for Salazar, but much of that was due to a .343 BABIP allowed. Additionally, more than 16 percent of the fly balls he allowed went for home runs, considerably higher than league average. If not for his bad luck on batted balls, Salazar could have been one of the best pitchers in MLB last season – his xFIP of 3.21 was seventh lowest the majors.

Luke Weaver (STL)
2017 ERA: 3.88
2017 FIP: 3.17

Weaver only made 13 appearances in 2017 for a grand total of 60 innings, but he made the most of them. His ERA of 3.88 was good-not-great, but his 3.17 FIP shows that he had the potential to be even better. While it’s not much of a sample size to work on, the numbers he posted were mightily impressive. Weaver struck out 28.6 percent of batters he faced and walked just 6.8 percent, good for a 4.24 strikeout to walk rate. Like the others, he was undone by a .335 BABIP, the second year in a row now that he’s experienced bad batted ball luck. It was also the second year in a row in which he allowed a home run per fly ball rate of over 16 percent, leaving him with an xFIP of 2.93. What Weaver’s capable of over a full season is still unknown, but he’s shown incredible potential as a 22- and 23-year-old in his first two partial seasons in the majors, even if it hasn’t been as obvious as it has been with other young hurlers.

Complete a mock draft in minutes with our free Draft Simulator >>

Brian Reiff is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Brian, check out his archive and follow him @briansreiff.

What's your take? Leave a comment

Fantasy Games
DRAFT photo
Get a FREE $3 Best Ball entry with your 1st deposit
FanDuel photo
Play for your share of $1m+
for FREE with first deposit
Get our Mobile App!

Enter your phone number below, and we'll text you a link to download the app.

1Le'Veon Bell (PIT)RB
2Todd Gurley (LAR)RB
3Antonio Brown (PIT)WR
4David Johnson (ARI)RB
5Ezekiel Elliott (DAL)RB
6DeAndre Hopkins (HOU)WR
7Odell Beckham Jr. (NYG)WR
8Leonard Fournette (JAC)RB
9Michael Thomas (NO)WR
10Kareem Hunt (KC)RB
 View All Rankings 
11Alvin Kamara (NO)RB
12Julio Jones (ATL)WR
13Melvin Gordon (LAC)RB
14Mike Evans (TB)WR
15A.J. Green (CIN)WR
16Dalvin Cook (MIN)RB
17LeSean McCoy (BUF)RB
18Devonta Freeman (ATL)RB
19Keenan Allen (LAC)WR
20Davante Adams (GB)WR
21Mark Ingram (NO)RB
22Jordan Howard (CHI)RB
23Brandin Cooks (NE)WR
24Tyreek Hill (KC)WR
25Derrick Henry (TEN)RB
26Rob Gronkowski (NE)TE
27Adam Thielen (MIN)WR
28Doug Baldwin (SEA)WR
29Christian McCaffrey (CAR)RB
30Carlos Hyde (SF)RB
1Mike Trout (LAA)CF
2Jose Altuve (HOU)2B
3Nolan Arenado (COL)3B
4Trea Turner (WSH)SS
5Paul Goldschmidt (ARI)1B
6Charlie Blackmon (COL)CF
7Bryce Harper (WSH)RF
8Mookie Betts (BOS)RF
9Clayton Kershaw (LAD)SP
10Giancarlo Stanton (NYY)RF
 View All Rankings 
11Kris Bryant (CHC)3B,RF
12Max Scherzer (WSH)SP
13Carlos Correa (HOU)SS
14Joey Votto (CIN)1B
15Corey Kluber (CLE)SP
16Chris Sale (BOS)SP
17Manny Machado (BAL)3B
18Freddie Freeman (ATL)1B,3B
19Anthony Rizzo (CHC)1B,2B
20Aaron Judge (NYY)RF
21Francisco Lindor (CLE)SS
22Jose Ramirez (CLE)2B,3B
23George Springer (HOU)CF,RF
24Cody Bellinger (LAD)1B,LF
25Josh Donaldson (TOR)3B
26Gary Sanchez (NYY)C
27Stephen Strasburg (WSH)SP
28J.D. Martinez (BOS)RF
29Jose Abreu (CWS)1B
30Madison Bumgarner (SF)SP
1Kevin Durant (GSW)SF,PF
2Giannis Antetokounmpo (MIL)SF,PF
3James Harden (HOU)PG,SG
4Stephen Curry (GSW)PG,SG
5Russell Westbrook (OKC)PG
6Karl-Anthony Towns (MIN)C
7Anthony Davis (NOR)PF,C
8Kawhi Leonard (SAS)SG,SF
9LeBron James (CLE)SF,PF
10Nikola Jokic (DEN)PF,C
 View All Rankings 
11John Wall (WAS)PG
12Chris Paul (HOU)PG
13Damian Lillard (POR)PG
14Jimmy Butler (MIN)SG,SF
15Rudy Gobert (UTH)C
16Kyrie Irving (BOS)PG,SG
17Hassan Whiteside (MIA)C,PF
18Myles Turner (IND)PF,C
19Paul George (OKC)SG,SF
20Kyle Lowry (TOR)PG
21Draymond Green (GSW)SF,PF
22Kemba Walker (CHA)PG
23CJ McCollum (POR)PG,SG
24Bradley Beal (WAS)SG
25Klay Thompson (GSW)SG,SF
26Marc Gasol (MEM)C
27Kevin Love (CLE)PF,C
28Paul Millsap (DEN)PF,C
29Joel Embiid (PHI)PF,C
30Eric Bledsoe (MIL)PG,SG