Quite a few MLB pitchers off to unrealistic starts do not figure to maintain their early success. Fading these starters in the immediate future should be profitable until the books adjust.
We are now nearly three weeks into the 2015 Major League Baseball season, meaning most regular starting pitchers have made at least three starts and we are at the point where we can make some reasonable assessments to help make informed MLB picks in the future.
Now remember to never judge a book by its cover and we are focusing this week on pitchers that look good statistically early on but that we feel will be overvalued for at least the immediate future due to their peripheral sabremetric numbers not supporting their mainstream stats, and a few of these are big name pitchers, which could add even more value with sportsbooks often leery about adjusting the odds negatively on known commodities.
That is just fine with us though as those of you that have followed us in the past know that we are contrarian in nature when it comes to betting in all major sports, so fading overvalued pitchers should be right up our alley!
Some quick reference notes for those of you not familiar with common sabremetric stats: FIP stands for Fielding Independent Pitching and it includes only strikeouts, walks and home runs allowed, i.e., factors the pitcher can generally control; xFIP is merely park adjusted and league adjusted FIP: BABIP stands for batting average on balls in play, with the league average on this rather uncontrollable component being right around .300.
So without any further ado, here are some pitchers that we expect to negatively regress in the near future as their mainstream stats converge to their sabre stats.
Jon Niese (New York Mets): The rejuvenated Mets are a great story this young season with the best record in baseball and Niese has been a part of it with his 2-0 record and 1.50 ERA through three starts. However, after being somewhat undervalued last season, the pendulum may have swung for Niese who has pitched around a 1 56 WHIP and poor command numbers with 11 strikeouts vs. eight walks in 18 innings. Niese is also surrendering one home run per nine innings, leading to just a 4.77 FIP and 4.07 xFIP, and the fact that the Mets brought the fences in at Citi Field does not help his cause.
Cole Hamels (Philadelphia Phillies): Hamels has always been one of the best pitchers in baseball, but has been held back by a terrible Philadelphia team the last couple of seasons. So many people are not all that concerned by his 0-2 record after four starts, especially since he has already had two unlucky no-decisions where he allowed one and no earned runs respectively. However, we see some danger signs on Hamels for the first time in his career. For starters, his walk rate is way up at 4.50 per nine innings and he is serving up the long ball with regularity allowing a distressing 2.63 home runs per nine innings, which is not a good sign when you pitch half your games at hitter-friendly Citizens Bank Park. And then there is the puny .172 BABIP allowed thus far that is certain to regress upward.
R.A. Dickey (Toronto Blue Jays): Granted Dickey is winless at 0-1 after three starts, but the casual observer would write that off to bad luck with Dickey having a 3.26 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and .169 batting average allowed. However, while Dickey was never expected to match his Cy Young Award season with the New York Mets in 2012, we see evidence that he is on the downside of his career and that his good early mainstream stats are Fool’s Gold. Dickey’s strikeouts are down these days to 7.45 per nine innings while he is now walking batters at a horrific pace of 5.59 per nine, and his common numbers have also gotten probably a short-lived boost from yielding a .184 BABIP so far.
Dan Haren (Miami Marlins): The Marlins took a chance trading for the 34-year-old Haren during the off-season, and on the surface he would seem to look solid so far with his 1-1 record in three starts supported by a 3 32 ERA, 0.84 WHIP and .167 batting average allowed. So what is the problem? Well, for starters, Haren is only striking out 6.63 batters per nine innings while walking 2.37, and he has already allowed five home runs in 19 innings, which averages out to 2.37 dingers allowed per game. Add that all up and Haren has an atrocious 5.79 FIP and 4.27 xFIP, and he too has benefitted through the early going by allowing an exceptionally low .128 BABIP.
Doug Fister (Washington Nationals): Now, Fister has had the reputation for being one of the best back-of-the-rotation pitchers in all of baseball in recent season and deservedly so, and he is off to a nice start on his second season with the Nationals at 1-0 with a 2.37 ERA through three starts. And while he still may be among the best fifth starters in the league, we see a decline in his numbers this year as he is striking out just barely more batters than he is walking (3.79 vs. 3.32 per nine innings) and his groundball percentage of 45.2 percent, while still decent, is the lowest that it has been since he was a rookie with the Seattle Mariners. And Fister is not a pitcher that will survive by getting his pitches higher then he would like, as evidenced by his 4.68 FIP and 4.86 xFIP.
Tommy Milone (Minnesota Twins): Tommy Milone was acquired by the Twins after showing some very nice promise with the Oakland Athletics, and he is 2-0 through three starts with a 3.38 ERA, 1.23 WHIP and .206 batting average allowed. Still, he is currently Minnesota’s second starter, and he had not done nearly enough yet to be considered a number two starter for any team, and his sabres point out his shortcomings as he has just 5.30 strikeouts vs. a very high 4.34 walks per nine innings contributing to a very poor 5.41 FIP and 5.18 xFIP, and he should only get worse when his current BABIP allowed of .196 stabilizes.
Hector Santiago (Los Angeles Angels): The Angels were not sure what to expect from Santiago after his up-and-down 2014 where he actually pitched better than his 6-9 record but received little help from his defense while allowing a plethora of unearned runs. So needless to say, they are tickled pink that he is 2-1 with a spiffy 2.45 ERA, 1.04 WHIP and a .191 batting average allowed while allowing three, one and one run respectively in his three starts. So the 27-year-old is ready to blossom and become a big Major League winner right? Well, not so fast! Santiago is averaging a mere 89 MPH right now and batters have squared up his pitches to the tune of 1.47 home runs per game. He is also issuing 2.95 walks per nine frames and one reason he has been able to escape harm has been a .208 BABIP allowed. His 4.47 FIP and 4.17 xFIP also point to the regression to come.
Mike Pelfrey (Minnesota Twins): There is a reason why the Twins are expected to compete for the worst record in baseball this season as Pelfrey is the second Minnesotan to make our list. On the surface, Pelfrey is 1-0 with a 2.65 ERA, allowing a grand total of one run in his last two outings after surrendering four runs in his 2015 debut. Beneath the surface though, we have a pitcher with just 4.24 strikeouts vs. 3.71 strikeouts per nine innings that is also issuing 1.06 home runs per game. Pelfrey was overhyped when he first came up for the New York Mets and do not buy into his excellent last couple of starts as he still has an ugly 5.41 FIP and 4.98 xFIP.
Edinson Volquez (Kansas City Royals): We feel that Volquez is worth mentioning despite him actually having a very good 2.66 FIP to go along with his common stats that have him at 2-1 with a miniscule 1.99 ERA, 0.75 WHIP and a .177 batting average allowed. So pending regression may not look obvious with Volquez, even after looking at his still decent 3.50 xFIP. So what exactly is the problem? Well, we thought that Volquez was rather fluky last year when he went 13-7 with a 3.04 ERA, as he had just a 4.15 FIP and 4.20 xFIP while being aided by a .263 BABIP. The problem we see now is that BABIP currently stands at .210 through the early going, and while we admit his 1.19 walks per nine innings is impressive, that would be a career best if he maintains it and this is after walking 3.32 per nine last season and 4.07 per nine two years ago. Volquez is 31 years old, so we find it doubtful that he suddenly discovered such great command and we expect even his sabre stats to crumble once the walks inevitably rise.