Like in my previous post where I found hitters to watch and hitters to avoid, I will here find some pitchers that fit in each category. I will mainly be using FIP (Fielders Independent ERA), but I will use several other metrics to attempt to predict future success or failure.
Pitcher to Watch: Felipe Paulino
What if I told you there was a starting pitcher that threw 95 miles an hour, strikes out over 8 batters per 9 innings, and gets more ground-balls than fly-balls? You would mark him down as a Cy-Young candidate, draft him high in your fantasy draft (or trade for him depending on what kind of league you are in), and call him an “ace” (whatever that means). Felipe Paulino is that kind of pitcher. Paulino has had horrible ERAs (5.28 for his career) thanks to bad ballparks and bad defenses behind him, but will begin 2012 in Kansas City, where he had success in the second half of the 2011 season (2.6 Fangraphs WAR, 3.51 FIP, and 3.66 SIERA with the Royals in 2011). His career SIERA is 3.97, and yet it is almost like no one has ever heard of him. Assuming he is able to stay healthy, which has been somewhat of a problem in Paulino’s career, I look for him to have a big 2012.
Honorable Mentions: Koji Uehara, especially if he gets traded from Texas. Uehara posted a 2 WAR with the Orioles in 2011 before being traded to the Rangers. The perception is that he did horrible in Texas, but he struck out 11 batters per 9 innings in both stops, he just struggled with the hitter friendly Ballpark in Arlington.
Derek Lowe had FIPs below his ERAs all 3 years in Atlanta. He was traded to Cleveland after the 2011 season, and he gets a better defense, one that saved 11 runs above average in 2011 (the Braves played average defense in 2011). There are some concerns with his velocity, as it dipped all the way below 87 on average in 2011.
Chris Resop has 10.4 K/9IP and .9 HR/9IP in the the past 2 years (99 appearances and 90.2 innings). Despite a below average ERA in that time, his FIPs and SIERAs have been excellent.
Ryan Dempster threw at the same velocity in 2011 as he had in 2009-2010 (and had an eerily similar FIP) yet saw a jump in his ERA. It would seem that Dempster is due for a return to himself in 2012.
To Avoid: Clay Buchholtz
Buchholtz won 17 games and had an ERA of 2.33 in 2010, propelling him into stardom. However, his FIP (3.61) and SIERA (4.39) were far less impressive. In 2011, he couldn’t stay healthy but put up another good ERA and bad SIERAs and FIPs. He also saw a big time velocity decline, going from 94 MPH in 2010 to 92 MPH in 2011. The velocity could bounce back with more health, but I wouldn’t count on it, as we recently saw Scott Kazmir absolutely implode when he starting losing velocity. I am not saying that is going to happen with Buchholtz, but losing velocity is always a bad sign, especially at such a tender age. He has a good ground-ball rate, but his strikeout rate isn’t all that impressive. Add the major health concerns and Buchholtz is a pitcher that I would stay far away from.
Honorable Mentions: Jeremy Hellickson had a huge difference between FIP and ERA, but the Rays had the best defense in baseball in 2011 and 2012 will probably bring more of this. So you can go either way on him (his K-Rate was unimpressive) and probably overvalue Tampa pitchers (the Cubs had the worst rated defense in 2011).
Bruce Chen was a great 2011 story, and it earned him a nice contract for the 2012 season. However, like many sequels, Chen’s 2012 may be unwatchable. Despite his shiny ERA of 3.77 in 2011, his SIERA was 4.63 and his FIP was 4.39. He gives up more fly-balls than grounders and over 1 homer per 9 innings. This doesn’t even include his pedestrian strikeout rate.
Tony Sipp has been pretty successful in 3 years for the Indians according to ERA, but his FIPs have been much higher. It would seem that he is due for a correction.
Pitcher to Watch: Chris Balcolm-Miller led all of Class AA Eastern League in BABIP, giving up .387 and stranding just 65.8 percent of runners. This wrecked his ERA at a 4.81, even though his FIP was 3.50. He kept the ball in the park, only giving up .44 HR/9IP and he struck out 8.2 K/9IP. He reportedly throws 89-90 MPH and has this deceptive delivery to make his velocity seem even better:
Michael Kirkman has 43.2 MLB innings for the Rangers, and has shown a fastball of 92+ MPH. On the surface, it looks like he struggled in 2011 in AAA with a 5.05 ERA, but his FIP was a solid 3.61 in the extremely hitter friendly Pacific Coast League. He also struck out 10 batters per 9 innings (Baseball Cube has his K-Rating as 76, which I think is very conservative) and did a decent job keeping the ball in the ballpark while suffering through a .388 BABIP.
Jeremy Berg is a pitcher in the Angels organization that had an ERA of 4.70 in 2011 at the AAA level. What is hidden in that is that he was the best in his league at keeping the ball in the park, at a .15 HR/9IP, and had a reasonable FIP of 3.25. His FIPs at lower levels before 2011 were 2.11, 2.24, 1.49, and 1.91. Baseball Cube gives his K-rating a barely passing grade (he had a 6.9 K/9IP in 2011), but gives him an 82 against power. The only thing that really concerns me is that he throws about 87-89 MPH.
Pitchers to Avoid: Johan Yan was originally a 3rd basemen, but has been converted to a pitcher (something the Rangers have had a ton of success with, with Alexi Ogando and Matt West especially). Yan threw 26.2 seemingly dominant innings in AA in 2011, with an ERA of just .34! However, his FIP 3.09 (5th on the team), suggesting he had a lot of help from defense and luck (his .231 BABIP and 83.4 LOB % reinforces this). His SO/BB ratio was also unimpressive, as he had the 13th best on the team (Robert Erlin, who began the year with Frisco and was traded to the Padres as part of the Mike Adams deal, had an amazing 8.71 SO/BB ratio). He didn’t give up a homer, so there is that, but overall it seems that he is a guy that is due for a correction, especially since he throws in the mid-eighties (thanks to Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus for that nugget).
Dale Dickerson has advanced through the minors pretty quick for the Indians, reaching AA in 2011 in his second year of professional ball. His ERAs have been spotty, but he put up a 2.45 ERA in 69.2 of A-ball. His FIP was almost 2 full runs higher, and he had a mediocre K-rate of 6.20 K/9IP. He left a silly amount of base runners at 81.5 %, and one would expect regression there.