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Pitchers with Zeile Projections Worse than ADP (2019 Fantasy Baseball)

by Max Freeze | @FreezeStats | Featured Writer
Mar 7, 2019

Drafters like Jameson Taillon more than the Zeile projections.

Last week I covered five pitchers whom the projection systems are more optimistic about for 2019. This week I want to cover some polarizing pitchers who are getting drafted earlier than they should be based on the projection systems. These pitchers have garnered quite a bit of chatter among Twitter and fantasy experts alike as either sleepers or potential breakout candidates. I’ll break down each pitcher to figure out if the hype is real or if we should trust the Zeile projections.

Note: The statistics listed under each player’s name are their Zeile Projections.

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Jameson Taillon (PIT – SP)

Wins Strikeouts ERA WHIP
12 175 3.69 1.24

 
I’ve been a Taillon fan for a couple of years now. His ADP, however, has gotten out of hand. Before the turn of 2018, he was going off the board around pick 75 overall. Since the start of February, he’s jumped all the way to 57. That makes him the 16th pitcher drafted, and he’ll likely pass Clayton Kershaw after the Dodgers ace’s most recent injury update.

The Zeile projections seem fairly accurate to me but it’s hard to pull the trigger on Taillon with Mike Clevinger, Zack Wheeler, and German Marquez all going after him. All three of the aforementioned pitchers have more swing-and-miss in their game, providing a higher probability of 200+ strikeouts. Is there value here with Taillon? The addition of a slider last May improved his ERA and WHIP, but not his strikeout rate. Let’s turn to the rolling average graph to see what happened.

After game 10, Taillon introduced the slider and his ERA plummeted. While the strikeout rate remained relatively steady, his swinging-strike rate slowly climbed. Finally, at the end of the season, his strikeout rate jumped. In addition, Taillon elevated his 95+ MPH fastball up in the zone more frequently to change the hitters’ eye level. Attacking hitters this way also aided in the increase in swings and misses. He is due for some positive regression in terms of strikeout rate, and it’s not a secret. Taillon’s projection appears to be on the conservative side, and his ADP seems about right.

Jose Berrios (MIN – SP)

Wins Strikeouts ERA WHIP
13 193 3.94 1.24

 
One area where Berrios was unlucky last year was the home runs he gave up off his curveball. The curve is his best pitch, as he allowed just a .186 average and ended 39.2% of plate appearances via the strikeout. That’s great, but when he threw it in 2018, he also gave up 10 long balls compared to just three in 2017. That comes out to a 24.4% HR/FB rate.

Based on the plate discipline metrics, Berrios still progressed overall. I don’t see a repeat in his elevated home run rate given his improved skills. The projections are likely heavily weighing his struggles in August and September. While his stuff remained good in the second half, he just failed to get ahead of hitters as frequently as he did in the first four months. Drafters are right on the money on where Berrios deserves to go with an ADP of 75 overall.

Don’t trust the projections. Berrios could be on the verge of a breakout if he can combine last year’s first-half control with his swing-and-miss increase in the second half. His estimated ERA and WHIP look out of whack when comparing them to the starters around him. Overall, he’s going just six spots after Taillon as the 18th starting pitcher.

The Zeile projections for both ERA and WHIP are higher than Berrios has had in either 2017 and 2018. The projected regression, while slight, does not appear to have any merit. Berrios improved his strikeout rate in 2018, which was backed by an increase in swinging strikes and swings outside the zone. He did not sacrifice his walk rate, as he was able to keep it below league-average and limit the hits per nine innings to just 7.44. I feel confident in Berrios as a solid SP2 in 2019.

Luis Castillo (CIN – SP)

Wins Strikeouts ERA WHIP
10 167 3.99 1.23

 
After last year’s disastrous first half, Castillo reigned us back in with a stellar 2.44 ERA and a 0.96 WHIP. Splitting his season into halves doesn’t tell the whole story. I recently compared his performance from May through September to THE BAT projections. No, you can’t discount an entire month, but let’s look at just how bad his first six starts were compared to the rest of his season.

Dates ERA WHIP K% BB% HR/9
3/31 – 4/27 7.85 1.67 18.3% 9.9% 1.88
5/1 – 9/21 3.57 1.13 24.4% 6.2% 1.40

 
Across the board, Castillo improved after April, but he was still susceptible to home runs. He’s still being drafted as the 27th starting pitcher off the board with a 113 overall ADP. Clearly, the masses have forgiven him for last year’s poor April and are right back in on the Reds starter.

The projection systems, on the other hand, are warning us not to take the plunge. Based on Zeile projections, pitchers like Masahiro Tanaka, Robbie Ray, Charlie Morton, Chris Archer, Kyle Hendricks, and several others are all better values drafted after Castillo. Personally, I’d take Castillo over all of these pitchers, except maybe Morton. Why was Castillo so much better after April and extremely successful in the second half?

Not only did the fastball velocity increase all the way to 97.3 MPH in September, but the slider also saw a massive increase of almost four MPH between April and September. Remember, his best pitch is his changeup. It’s a great pitch, but one elite pitch does not make an elite starter. His slider’s whiff rate jumped up four percent once he increased its pitch speed. The key to his success is velocity, and not just on the fastball. I will be monitoring his velocity throughout spring training prior to making a final determination. If Castillo ramps up to around 96-97 mph, I may be inclined to reach a little bit to garner his services.

Nick Pivetta (PHI – SP)

Wins Strikeouts ERA WHIP
9 170 4.08 1.28

 
While Pivetta’s peripherals look great, there are reasons for concern. We now have 297 innings of big-league innings to analyze, which is a decent sized sample. Throughout his early career, he has struggled to keep balls in the yard with a 1.48 HR/9. He’s also held an elevated BABIP and a low strand rate. It’s interesting because Pivetta’s average exit velocity on batted balls ranked in the bottom 30%, but the number of barrels per batted ball event (BRL/BBE) ranked in the top 25% in 2018. In other words, hitters either completely squared him up or could barely touch him.

One factor in Pivetta’s favor when dealing with batted balls is the improved defense behind him. Per FanGraphs, the Phillies ranked 28th in defensive WAR and last in Defensive Runs Saved last year. Moving Rhys Hoskins from left field to first base and upgrading shortstop (Jean Segura) and left field (Andrew McCutchen) should help curb the elevated BABIP. Given the park and his barrel rates, he should still struggle with home runs.

Positive regression is no doubt coming for Pivetta in 2019, and I’m willing to bet he outperforms the Zeile projections. He seems to be a favorite sleeper among many experts, but Zeile’s forecast mirror much closer to his 2018 numbers than the hype and ADP would lead you to believe. I can see why drafters are more bullish. His 19.7 K-BB % ranked 13th among qualified starters, and his ERA estimators pegged him for a mid-threes ERA. Since the start of February, Pivetta is sandwiched between Shane Bieber and Cole Hamels with a 150 overall NFBC ADP. Bieber is a good comparison who also underperformed his metrics, but Hamels is more of a savvy veteran whom I covered in last week’s article.

The projections appear to split his actual ERA and the ERA estimators by basically averaging the two values. I believe Pivetta takes another step forward in 2019 and we see a sub-4.00 ERA with a WHIP closer to 1.20. Don’t forget, his probability for wins goes way up after the Phillies’ busy offseason.

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Max Freeze is a featured writer at FantasyPros. For more from Max, check out his archive and follow him @FreezeStats.

Draft Prep, Featured, MLB