2022 Pod vs Steamer — ERA Upside

After comparing my Pod Projections to Steamer for bother home runs and stolen bases, let’s now flip over to starting pitchers. This comparison is far easier, as it’s a ratio stat and therefore won’t need to be converted to the same PA scale. So let’s find out which starting pitchers I am forecasting for an ERA that is most below what Steamer is forecasting.

Before doing so, just a quick reminder that my projection methodology is similar to Steamer’s (despite me being a human and Steamer being a computer), except for one major difference. Like most equations (not just computer baseball projections), the extreme cases are a challenge, so Steamer has trouble with the pitchers who consistently and deservedly post low or high BABIP marks, for example, as it regresses to the mean too aggressively. For like 98% of players, that level of regression is correct. But there are always exceptions, so historically, we’ve differed on the Kyle Hendricks types.

In addition, every year my aggregate ERA is lower than Steamer’s. I’m not sure why, as I haven’t done a deep dive to compare all the metrics that drive ERA. From a fantasy perspective, it doesn’t matter, as everything is relative. But it’s worth remembering since my ERA upside gaps are much larger than the ERA downside gaps.

Now let’s get to the names.

LOL at Noah Syndergaard appearing atop this list, given that I drafted him as one of my many injury returnees in LABR mixed. So his appearance here is super easy to explain. First, Steamer’s ERA forecast is the highest of any system (of course, mine is below every other system too!). One of the reasons is because Steamer is only projecting an 18.9% strikeout rate, which is a dramatic drop from his career mark and any individual season. If you had forgotten, Syndergaard missed the 2020 season and nearly the entire 2021 season recovering from TJ surgery. So he hasn’t pitched a full season since 2019. Any projection right now is a complete crapshoot, to be honest, because everyone recovers differently from the surgery. At a 21.8% strikeout rate projection, I thought I was being super conservative, but that’s actually higher than the other systems! The fact is, we have no idea. But if expectations are this low, I’m buying cheaply everywhere I can given the big upside from a healthy arm.

No, that’s not a misprint, Steamer’s ERA forecast for Walker Buehler is actually 4.07, higher than all other systems, and significantly higher than his current career worst ERA. Yes, Buehler has significantly outperformed his underlying skills (check the ERA-SIERA gap), and a computer projection system is going to question how sustainable that is. But without even getting to the skills outperformance yet, every system is projecting a career low strikeout rate. On the other hand, I’m forecasting a slight rebound to 26.7%. That accounts for a lot of the difference. It’s likely that the drop of over one mile per hour of fastball velocity is behind the projected decline in strikeout rate by the systems. It’s a valid concern, but since he underperformed his xK% by a bit last year, I’m not using his actual mark as a base to reduce from, while the systems might be taking his actual mark at face value.

Aside from the deterioration in skills, Steamer is projecting the highest BABIP of the systems at .296, versus a .261 career mark. His Statcast career xBABIP sits at .289, which is far above his actual mark. I’m projecting a .286 BABIP, which is just below his career xBABIP, but still well above his actual career mark, as I acknowledge there’s a possibility he’s doing something not captured by the xBABIP equation. While I think he’s being undervalued by the projection systems, especially Steamer of course, it’s possible he’s quite overvalued in your league coming off a luck-fueled 2.47 ERA.

And there’s Kyle Hendricks! He finally imploded, but it wasn’t just BABIP regression. His strikeout rate also plummeted. Incredibly, Steamer is projecting a further decline in strikeout rate, and THE BAT is even lower. That’s odd considering his fastball velocity has been consistent, and actually his sinker matched the highest mark he has posted since 2016. So it doesn’t seem like his stuff has changed, so maybe it’s a matter of believing that maybe it just took this long for hitters to adjust to his stuff, despite never having even average velocity. As usual with these pitchers coming off horrible disappointing seasons, it’s anyone’s guess how much, if any, of a rebound will occur.

Now for another solid sleeper name, Elieser Hernandez came into last year labeled as such, but injury limited him to just 51.2 innings. Once again, I’m projecting a higher strikeout rate, because I’m using my trust xK% equation, which tells me he underperformed last year and in 2019. So he’s got more strikeout rate potential than you might think if just looking at his actual career average. With an excellent slider and solid changeup last year, he has the stuff to generate strikeouts, and he has posted some elite marks in the minors as well. He should easily outperform most, if not all, the computer ERA projections.

Funny, I just projected Rich Hill a couple of hours before typing this after making sure my eyes weren’t playing tricks on me and that he’s really 42 years old. Who would have ever guessed after the 2009 season that Hill would be pitching for the Red Sox at the age of 42?! Anyway, as usual, strikeout rate differences play a big role here. Steamer is projecting his lowest mark since 2009 and his fastball velocity likely has a lot to do with it. But Hill has always been about his curveball and generating called strikes. He also posted an xK% of 25.8% last year, versus a 22.7% actual mark. That’s a big difference, meaning his actual mark makes him look much worse, and on the verge of collapse, than he actually was. Realize too that since becoming good again and returning in 2015, he has outperformed his SIERA in six of seven seasons. So he’s another exception the projection systems struggle with.

Yassss, say hello to another sleeper in Josiah Gray. After a strong minor league career and ranking 17th overall among prospects, Gray disappointed in his MLB debut, posting an ERA well over 5.00. The good news? He still managed to strike out nearly 25% of batters faced, and he did that while generating a fantastic 14.1% SwStk%. I sound like a broken record, but again, my projected strikeout rate is well above Steamer’s. Guess what? While Gray’s actual strikeout rate was perfectly solid, his xK% was even higher at 26.5%. Knowing that, which was driven by 20%+ SwStk% marks on both his curveball and slider, and combined with his minor league record, I cannot imagine his strikeout rate finishing anywhere near Steamer’s, or heck, THE BAT’s, forecast. Finally, as an extreme fly ball pitcher, he’s going to post a lower than average BABIP, but only THE BAT and Steamer recognize that. My BABIP projection is the lowest of the bunch, juuuust below THE BAT.

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