Some MLB pitchers off to bad starts looking at common stats, but many of them have value. Backing these starters in the immediate future should be profitable until the books adjust.
We are now nearly one full month into the 2015 Major League Baseball season, meaning most regular starting pitchers have made at least four starts and we are at the point where we can make some reasonable assessments on what their immediate future brings. We looked at pitchers that may be overvalued and worth fading last week, and we now turn our attention to what we believe to be undervalued pitchers worth following for the time being.
Remember to never judge a book by its cover and we are attempting to focus this week on pitchers that look bad statistically early on but that are pitching better than their mainstream stats and are thus undervalued for at least the immediate future until those stats get in line with their better peripheral sabremetric numbers, and this approach often leads to hidden gems that are not necessarily big “name” pitchers, although some may be, adding even more value.
That approach is right in line with everything else that we do, 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 finding undervalued pitchers at underdog prices should be right up our alley so to speak.
For those of you not familiar with common sabremetric stats, here are some quick reference notes: 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 around .300.
And now with no further ado, here are some pitchers that we expect to improve in the near future as their mainstream stats converge to their sabre stats, thus giving them good current betting value.
Michael Pineda (New York Yankees)
It is not as if Pineda has terrible numbers this young season as he is 3-0 with a 3.73 ERA in five starts, but many may look at that 3.73 ERA and believe that he has been pitching in good luck. However, the fact of the matter is that he has pitched as well as any pitcher in the Major Leagues through the first month of the season as he has a fantastic ratio of 9.19 strikeouts per nine innings vs. 0.57 walks, with that walk rate ranking third in the majors right now behind only Bartolo Colon and Jason Hammel, neither of whom having anything close to Pineda’s strikeout rate. His ERA has been hurt by an abnormal .344 BABIP, as his 2.27 FIP and 2.50 xFIP are better indicators of how good he has been.
Corey Kluber (Cleveland Indians)
So how could the reigning American League Cy Young Award winner be undervalued? Well, Kluber did come out of nowhere as far as casual fans were concerned last season so those same fans may now think he was just a flash in the pan given his 0-3 start this season and current 4.24 ERA after five outings. We are not that concerned though, as Kluber’s stuff has been just as filthy as last year with 9.53 strikeouts per nine innings and he has kept the ball in the yard despite his great velocity allowing just two home runs so far, leading to a more representative 2.63 FIP and 2.81 xFIP. In other words, Kluber will be fine once his .362 BABIP allowed stabilizes.
Jon Lester (Chicago Cubs)
Lester was the most highly coveted free agent pitcher during the off season, and he was expected to be even better in his first season in the National League after spending his entire career until now facing designated hitters in the American League. And yet some are calling Lester a flop already with his 0-2 record and lofty 6.23 ERA after four starts. However we do not expect those poor numbers to continue when looking at Lester’s peripherals, which show the veteran southpaw with an impressive 9.97 strikeouts per nine innings while yielding an unworldly .424 BABIP that is certain not to continue. Add in just one home run allowed and Lester nets out to a 2.27 FIP and 2.41 xFIP, which is closer to what everyone expected.
Jordan Zimmermann (Washington Nationals)
What is wrong with Zimmermann, who was supposed to be the next big thing and yet is 2-2 with a 4.88 ERA and even a nondescript 3.23 FIP and 4.44 xFIP after five starts? Well, our one-word answer to that would be “Nothing!” Zimmermann actually has four Quality Starts in those five starts, but all of his stats are being driven down by the one bad outing, as it was an atrocious one when he was roughed up for eight runs (seven earned) on nine hits in just 2.1 innings by the Boston Red Sox in his second start of the year. Take that start away and his numbers are close to his career norms, and like just about every pitcher on this list his early numbers are skewed by allowing an unlucky BABIP, which in Zimmermann’s case stands at .344.
Clay Buchholz (Boston Red Sox)
With the Red Sox trading away most of their starting rotation of recent years, Buchholz is the only holdover from a few seasons ago and is now considered the Boston ace, even if it is by default. Buchholz appears to have gone downhill since his breakthrough 2013 season when he was 12-1 with a 1.74 ERA and 1.02 WHIP. He slumped to a 5.34 ERA and 1.39 WHIP last season and this year he is 1-3 with a 5.76 ERA and 1.56 WHIP in five starts. But guess what! Buchholz has a whopping 11.88 strikeouts per nine innings so far and he has allowed only two home runs, helping yield a 2.67 FIP that gives him one of the biggest FIP vs. ERA discrepancies in baseball. And that is not to mention an obscene .403 BABIP allowed.
Kyle Hendricks (Chicago Cubs)
Major League scouts are almost unanimous in their praise of Hendricks and he showed why as a rookie last season when he went 7-2 in 13 starts for a Cubs’ team that did not give him much run support with a spiffy 2.46 ERA and 1.08 WHIP. However his numbers are more erratic this season as he is winless at 0-1 after four starts with a bloated 5.23 ERA. We see no cause for alarm though as his strikeout rate of 8.27 per nine innings and walk rate of 1.74 are both good and he has actually allowed three runs or less his last three starts following a rough 2015 debut where he was nicked up for five earned runs on eight hits in 4.1 innings in the altitude of Colorado, which can happen to anyone.
Lance Lynn (St. Louis Cardinals)
We have felt for quite a while the Lynn is one of the more underappreciated pitchers in the league as he will probably never match his 18-7 rookie season of 2012, and yet he did win 15 games in each if his two seasons since then with decent peripherals. Now he is 1-2 with a 3.63 ERA and 1.34 WHIP this year, which does not sound too disgusting, so why is he on this list? Well, for starters Lynn was superb while allowing exactly one run in each of his first three starts before being roughed up in his fourth start for six earned runs on 10 hits in just five innings by the Milwaukee Brewers, and he has 10.48 strikeouts per nine innings and just one home run allowed, leaving him 11th in the majors in FIP at the moment at 2.52. He has also surrendered a .361 BABIP that will not continue.
Chase Anderson (Arizona Diamondbacks)
Similar to Hendricks, Anderson made an immediate splash as a rookie last season and has began his sophomore year with less than stellar numbers at 0-1 with a 4.24 ERA and .282 batting average allowed after four starts. Again though, we see no reason for alarm in this young talent with a bright future. As you would have guessed, that high batting average allowed has been hurt by a BABIP allowed of .333 and Anderson’s ratio of 20 strikeouts vs. six walks in 23.1 innings is fine. Anderson is also getting more sink on his pitches this year with a good 48.5 percent groundball rate, and as long as he keeps that up those grounders will stop finding holes as often as they have in the early going.
Gio Gonzalez (Washington Nationals)
Gio was one of the best pitchers in the National League in his first season with Washington when he finished third in the Cy Young Award voting while going 21-8 with a 2.89 ERA in 2012. He has not had a year that good since then and he is 1-2 with a 5.01 ERA and 1.71 WHIP after four starts this year. So is Gio already finished shy of his 30th birthday coming this September? Well, not when you take a closer look as Gonzalez has 8.49 strikeouts per nine innings and one home run allowed leading to a more respectable 3.41 FIP and 3.59 xFIP, and while he may never return to the Gio of 2012, he is much better than his common stats so far, especially considering the .394 BABIP.