Pitchers with ZEILE Projections Better Than Their ADP

by Brian Reiff | @briansreiff | Featured Writer
Mar 12, 2018

No matter what set of rankings you’re using for your draft, they’re only as good as the projections that drive them. Of course, there’s no way to know before the season whose projections are the most accurate, but fortunately, FantasyPros combines the projections from (currently) eight different sources to produce its ZEILE Consensus Projections, so you know that personal bias isn’t getting in the way of accuracy.

Not everyone is drafting using the ZEILE Projections, though, which can cause some discrepancies between where players are being taken and where they’re valued. To find those players, I took the sum of the z-scores for each of the five standard roto categories for pitchers to produce a set of rankings for starters. Then, comparing those ranks to the starters’ average ADP at the position, we can see which players are seemingly being undervalued and look deeper to see whether they deserve to be drafted earlier than where they are currently going.

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Kenta Maeda (SP – LAD)
Although Maeda regressed somewhat from his rookie season, his numbers in 2017 weren’t all that bad. He had a 4.22 ERA, yes, but also a 4.07 FIP and 3.89 xFIP to go with it. He increased his strikeout rate (slightly, but still), decreased his walk rate, and generated swinging strikes on a more consistent basis (his swinging strike rate of 12.5 percent was 13th among pitchers with at least 120 innings in 2017). Why, then, did his ERA suffer? His strand rate dropped four percentage points, although he was relatively lucky in that regard in 2016, so that isn’t anything to be concerned about. The bigger factor was his home run per fly ball rate, which sat at 15 percent. As you can tell from his xFIP, that alone caused him some serious problems. Assuming he keeps the starting job for the entire year, Maeda could prove to be a bargain on draft day, where he’s currently being taken 50th among starting pitchers.

J.A. Happ (SP – TOR)
That’s three straight seasons now in which Happ’s posted an ERA below 4, and he’s projected to do so again in 2018. His fielding independent numbers over those seasons have largely supported the actual results he allowed, so it’s not as though he’s just gotten lucky. He struck out over 20 percent of batters in each of those seasons and had a strikeout to walk ratio over 2.7 in each of them as well. Of course, he is 35 now and only threw 145 innings last season, so who knows how much volume he can provide. He’s projected to reach 167 innings and to strike out 150 batters in the process, and as the 72nd pitcher off the board, you could certainly do worse filing out the back end of your roster.

Jeff Samardzija (SP – SFG)
I already wrote about my thoughts on Samardzija earlier this season, so it’s nice to see that the projections agree with me. He’s projected to throw 196 innings for the Giants, which is even a bit conservative after he’s thrown over 200 innings each of the last five seasons. In those innings, he’s projected for a 3.93 ERA and 1.20 WHIP, both of which are slightly better than his career rates but are numbers he’s produced before. In fact, he had a 1.14 WHIP last season, so that would actually represent a decline in the category for him. The ERA, meanwhile, strikes a nice balance between his 2017 ERA of 4.42 and FIP of 3.61. Anyone could tell you that Samardzija was brutally unlucky last year, with a .303 BABIP and 67.5 percent strand rate the primary culprits. His home run per fly ball rate was also ever-so-slightly above league average, although pitching in San Francisco, that number should have been significantly lower. He’s projected to surrender 25 home runs this season, five fewer than 2017 and one more than 2016, when he finished with a 3.81 ERA.

Rick Porcello (SP – BOS)
Porcello’s stuff has never truly excited me, with a strikeout percentage just over 20 percent in recent seasons and a contact rate allowed of over 80 percent. He limits walks, which is never a bad thing, but he just doesn’t have that kind of swing-and-miss stuff that other Cy Young winners generally have. That being said, while the projections don’t have him returning to his award-winning form, they do have him dropping 40 points of ERA to get back in the realm of usable pitchers. He’s projected for a 4.28 ERA and 1.28 WHIP, respectable numbers for who’s currently the 60th starting pitcher off the board. I don’t love him as much as some other guys, although that’s almost certainly a personal bias. His career numbers are very similar to what he’s projected for, so there’s nothing too surprising about them. It is worth noting that he’s projected to get much of his value from wins, as he’s projected for 13 of them. With wins being notoriously fluky, I’d probably exercise caution in reaching for him.

Jon Lester (SP – CHC)
The projections expect a return to form for Lester after a lackluster 2017, and it’s not surprising as to why. Despite a 4.33 ERA, Lester’s FIP last season was 4.10 and his xFIP was 3.85. He allowed a BABIP of .310 and had a strand rate of 68.7 percent, so there’s no doubt that he experienced some bad luck during the 2017 season. He still managed to strike out nearly 24 percent of batters, which kept his strikeout to walk ratio at 3 or higher for the fourth straight year despite a 7.9 percent walk rate that was his highest since 2011. Like Porcello, Lester is also projected for 13 wins, which buoys his projections somewhat. However, the projections also have him posting a 3.69 ERA and 1.23 WHIP with 178 strikeouts, numbers that would help any fantasy team. On average, Lester is going 28th among starting pitchers at the moment, but the projections suggest that number should be closer to 20th. It’s more likely than not that 2017 was a blip in what is otherwise a tremendous career, so don’t hesitate to reach a round or two for him.

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

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