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July 2, 2010

Fantasy Beat

Those Who Dare To Outperform SIERA

by Marc Normandin

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Earlier this week we took a look at some of the pitchers who were underperforming their SIERA rates, so this time around we'll head in the other direction and analyze those who are well over expectations. You won't want to sell high on all of these pitchers—for instance, Jon Garland and Wade LeBlanc, who are in the "Other Notables" section, benefit from one of the best defenses in the league as well as their home park, so it's expected they will outperform their SIERA to a degree. But there are pitchers who have leaned more on luck than context, and those are the ones you are going to want to deal before regression kicks in.

Livan Hernandez 2.98 4.97 -1.99
Clay Buchholz 2.45 4.37 -1.92
Ubaldo Jimenez 1.83 3.49 -1.66
Jason Vargas 2.80 4.45 -1.65
Tim Hudson 2.37 3.94 -1.57
Matt Cain 2.93 4.49 -1.56
David Price 2.44 3.97 -1.53
Jaime Garcia 2.27 3.77 -1.50
Jeff Niemann 2.80 4.17 -1.37
Andy Pettitte 2.72 4.05 -1.33

It shouldn't be a surprise that Livan Hernandez is the leader of this unruly pack. He's not a groundball pitcher (1.2 G/F is very average) and he's whiffing just 4.3 batters per nine in a season in which the average K/9 is a hair over 7.0 per nine. While his control has been solid, it's not along the lines you would expect for a pitcher with an ERA still in the 2's this late into the year.

There's a better chance that someone brings democracy to Livan's homeland of Cuba than there is of him finishing the year with an ERA anywhere near his current one. Hernandez's BABIP is .276, below-average and, given Washington ranks #24 in the majors in Defensive Efficiency, not the kind of thing we can expect to be sustained. This is your classic overachiever in a small sample—the first 100 innings of his season—and when the hammer comes down on Livan, it's going to feel like it came straight from the hand of Thor. Don't be stuck with him on your roster when that moment comes—package him as part of a deal if you have to.

It's easier to believe Clay Buchholz will beat out his SIERA, given he's a young pitcher showing flashes of dominance. He also has an infield defense behind him that sucks up groundballs with an insatiable appetite normally reserved for games starring a pink puffball, though the loss of Dustin Pedroia for a few weeks may injure those numbers somewhat. Will Buchholz finish the year with an ERA in the two's? It's unlikely, and also would not be a viable indicator for future successes, so don't get too attached to it either way.

The main difference between Buchholz this year and last is his homer rate—whereas in 2009 the long ball was a bit of a problem for him, he's managed to keep it in the yard in 2010. This somewhat mirrors his time in Triple-A—in his initial stint, he allowed 1.2 per nine, but was down at 0.6 in his second trip there. He'll most likely give up more than 0.3 per nine when all is said and done, but that explains some of the reason his ERA is where it is. He's thrown exactly as many innings as 2009 (when his SIERA was 4.16) and has roughly the same strikeout and walk rates—the homer rate is the lone noticeable difference. If you can sell high on Buchholz with the person receiving him believing he's already an ace-type pitcher, then do so, but if you're fine with him as he is then stay the course.

Tim Hudson has had an excellent career, and has recovered well from injuries to help propel the Braves to first place in the National League East, but there are some worries about his performance staying where it is. His strikeout totals are low, but that's no surprise—if you drafted Hudson for strikeouts then you were looking in the wrong place. He does his work via the groundball, with 68 percent of his balls in play coming that way and a 3.2 G/F ratio. He's relies on these balls in play being converted into outs in order to succeed, and the Braves have done that for him this season: he has a .234 BABIP, two points off of the lowest rate in the majors amongst qualifiers and the lowest in the National League.

The worry is that the Braves aren't known for their infield defense—Chipper Jones at third and Troy Glaus at first don't make for the best pair of gloves on the corner—which is reflected in their Defensive Efficiency ranking (#11, 69.7 percent of balls in play converted into outs). Yunel Escobar and Martin Prado make up a solid double play combo though, which makes it easier to believe that Hudson will maintain at least some of his average BABIP busting ways. The current .234 showing is a bit extreme though—the good news is that, even with full regression that doesn’t take into account the defense behind him, his SIERA still ends up in the three's, albeit almost four.

Hudson's a good pitcher to have around on your fantasy team, but if he starts giving up more base hits (and he will—he currently ranks #91 in quality of opponent OPS, so he's had luck in his schedule as well) his WHIP will climb, as will his ERA, and he isn't providing you much in the way of strikeouts. It's worth at least gauging your league mates' interest in him to see if you can pull in more than he could produce in the second half.

David Price's inclusion here may seem odd, given how much praise has been heaped onto his progress in 2010, but just about anyone with an ERA in the two's whose name isn't Pedro Martinez has probably had some luck on his side (True story—Pedro Martinez's ERA in 2000 was 1.74, which was higher than his SIERA of 1.66. In 1999, his SIERA was 1.42 with an ERA of 2.07). Price is no different, as he should be closer to 4.0, but there are reasons to expect him to beat that out. Namely, Tampa Bay's defense, which as it has since 2008, sits near the league's best in Defensive Efficiency.

Price ranks #53 in quality of opponent OPS, so he's managed to avoid the wrath of the American League East to a degree—at least more so than teammates Wade Davis (#15) and James Shields (#21). He is an ace in the making and had himself an excellent June with 34 strikeouts in 33 innings, just 11 walks (better than his seasonal rate heading into the month) and just a pair of homers, so the suggestion is not that you should be getting rid of Price—his mention here is just to remind you of his proper value. He's closer to his SIERA than his actual ERA, though the answer given his development and the defense behind him lies somewhere in between the two. Keep Price and remain giddy heading into and following his starts, but remember that regression by him to the mid three's means you may want to work on improving your pitching elsewhere to make up for it.

Other notables: Wade LeBlanc (4.57 SIERA; -1.32 Dif.), Mike Pelfrey (4.23 SIERA; -1.30 Dif.), Jon Garland (4.53 SIERA; -1.29 Dif.), Anibal Sanchez (4.46 SIERA; -1.28 Dif.), Mitch Talbot (5.14 SIERA; -1.26 Dif.).

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