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Wainwright, Lester seek atonement
Terms readers will need to be acquainted with in this article:
Batting Average on Balls In Play (BABIP): a pitcher’s average on batted balls, excluding homers, that end a plate appearance. Highlights how much luck and defense factored into a pitcher’s outing. League mean is around .300. Irregular low figures state providence, high figures indicate misfortune.
Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP): measures three outcomes that pitchers are responsible for – walks, home runs, strikeouts. Highlights a pitcher’s performance apart from his team’s defense.
Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP): adjusts FIP to standardize the home-run factor, as homers are a function of fly balls allowed and home park. Helps understand a pitcher’s forecast.
Last week we highlighted pitchers likely to regress during the impending season. Today we are examining the opposite end of the spectrum, searching for arms in line for:
A) Advancement or
B) Bounce-back campaigns after underperforming last year.
Jon Lester, Red Sox
From 2008 to 2011, Lester posted averages of 16 wins, 203 innings, 3.33 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and nearly 200 K’s per season. In 2012? Not so much: a 9-14 record, 4.82 ERA, 1.38 WHIP and 166 punch-outs in over 205 innings of work.
The usual suspects fail to illustrate anything palpable. His average velocity on fastballs took a slight dip (from 92.6 MPH in 2011 to 92.0), though his speed actually increased on the cutter, sinker, curveball and changeup. While his strikeouts were down (8.55 K/9 in 2011 to 7.28), so were his walks (3.52 BB/9 in 2011 to 2.98). Even an elevated concession of long balls (1.10 HR/9 last season versus 0.94 in 2011) wasn’t amplified to the degree needed to explain this fallout.
Yet further analysis shows the smoking gun: left-on-base percentage. The average for most starting pitchers in this category hovers around 73 percent, with Lester, like most solid arms, usually besting this figure with output in the range of 76-78 percent. However, last summer was a different tale, with the Boston ace finishing with a 67.6 rate, fourth-worst in the majors. By failing to strand base runners, some of Lester’s outings resembled that of a revolving door. Add in a .312 BABIP deriving from a major spike in line-drives allowed, and it’s easy to see why the variance in Lester’s FIP (4.11) and xFIP (3.82) compared to his ERA is extensive.
A revisit to the mean in these areas, along with an improved defense in Fenway and revamped clubhouse atmosphere, point to signs of amendment in 2013 for Lester. Falling outside the top 40 at his position, the 29-year-old has top-15 potential.
Adam Wainwright, Cardinals
The first patrol after Tommy John surgery is never a painless endeavor, evidenced by Wainwright’s labors last season (14-13 record, 3.94 ERA, 1.25 WHIP) after missing all of 2011. The former All-Star’s .315 BABIP, 3.10 FIP and 3.23 xFIP affirm 2013 should be a return to riches; alas, doubt remains amongst the fantasy community if Wainwright can rediscover his potent form.
In truth, he already has. A breakdown of Wainwright’s first-half/second-half splits:
Wainwright 1st Half vs. 2nd Half
After the All-Star break, Wainwright resembled the man who finished third and second, respectively, in the 2009 and 2010 Cy Young voting. Subtract a forgettable venture in Washington on August 31 (2 2/3 innings, nine hits, three walks, six runs), and Wainwright’s ERA in his other 15 starts from Independence Day on sits at a stunning 2.72 mark.
A precipitous drop in fastball velocity (93.5 MPH in 2010 to 89.9) is disconcerting, yet the fact that Wainwright’s whiff rate actually improved (8.34 K/9 last season versus 8.32 in 2010) puts that apprehension to bed. Betting on Wainwright to rejoin the upper echelon of hurlers is a safe proposition.
Josh Beckett, Dodgers
There’s a belief that switching from the American League to the Senior Circuit automatically improves a pitcher’s attainment, with a passage in the other route producing an inverse outcome. While there’s veracity to this claim, I don’t think the interchanging leagues will be the primary promoter for Beckett’s success. Rather, it will be the shift in venue, as Dodger Stadium’s 0.867 run factor was sixth-lowest in all of baseball. This is especially welcome news to Beckett, who owned a 4.39 ERA in 96 starts in Fenway Park (whose 1.206 run factor was third-highest in the majors in 2012).
The new scenery paid dividends in Beckett’s abbreviated L.A. appearances last season, with a 2.93 ERA in 43 innings in Dodger blue after submitting a 5.23 ERA in over 127 innings in Beantown. Throw in a return to the mean in left-on-base percentage (69.4 percent in 2012) and Beckett should hover around a 3.30 mark this season.
Max Scherzer, Tigers
On one hand, you can make the case that Scherzer enjoyed the best showing of his career, leading all starters with an 11.08 K/9 average beside 16 victories in over 187 innings. More importantly, Scherzer was one of baseball’s best arms after the All-Star break, going 8-2 with a 2.69 ERA and 1.15 WHIP in the second half.
However, sabermetrics express there’s plenty of room for enhancement, as Scherzer gave up a career-high 22.1 line-drive percentage that correlated to a .333 BABIP. The Detroit pitcher’s 3.27 FIP and 3.23 xFIP verify this assertion. Better yet, Scherzer saw a bump in velocity, with his average fastball going from 93.1 MPH in 2011 to 94.2. Though he’ll already be 29 in July, Scherzer could still be blooming as a ballplayer, making investment in the Tigers pitcher a sound undertaking.
Yu Darvish, Rangers
Not the easiest of enterprises to forecast Darvish’s 2013 with only one year under his belt, but there’s a few gauges that indicate Darvish outshined his actual numbers. For example, for a guy that had the second-best strikeout rate in the Show (10.40 K/9), that .295 BABIP is awfully questionable, no? Furthermore, the two-time Pacific League MVP’s 3.29 FIP and 3.59 xFIP are considerably lower than his 3.90 ERA. Concededly, his 4.19 BB/9 will need to significantly decrease, but at age 26, not the furthest of leaps to imagine that walk rate will improve. A weakened Texas lineup might lessen his win total, yet for the production under his control, Darvish should make a noticeable jump this summer.