November 22, 2016
Fantasy Categorical Breakdowns
The ERA Over/Underperformers
Yesterday, George Bissell gave a rousing introduction to our bloated American landscape of low innings totals, high earned run averages, and higher ace valuations in turn. With managers increasingly inclined to limit third-time looks, workhorse starters are becoming as rare as split-ticket voters, and an old-world strategic play of bulking up rotation back-ends with average innings-eaters may just be gone forever by the wayside. Before we get too lost in nostalgia, let’s take a look at a few guys who either over- or under-performed in the category of ERA.
Roark may be my favorite non-“elite” pitcher in the National League, if only because watching him work is like reading a textbook about how to get hitters out with underwhelming stuff. His DRA over-performance of 1.62 runs marked the fourth-widest margin of any starting pitcher last year. That’s not the first time it’s happened, either: his career marks deviate by almost a run and a half, and unlike with most guys where you see that kind of gap and reflexively assume over-performance and oncoming regression, Roark actually boasts a profile that pretty-well backs it up. He generated the fifth-most called strikes of any big-league pitcher last year, and he’s shown a consistent ability to generate weak contact – his exit velocity last year rated in the 85th percentile – that depresses his BABIP to well better-than-average levels. He even managed to bump up his whiff rate across the board last year, and I love him as one of the sneakier value plays for pretty much all formats going forward.
I mean, of course Kyle Hendricks is on this list. The NL’s ERA leader had himself a fine season to be sure, and one that was reasonably well-supported (at least in general shape) by his peripherals and underlying metrics. But a 2.13 ERA from a guy coming off a near-four effort in his first full season of starting is likely to drive some out-performance of projections, and that indeed occurred here. Hendricks isn’t actually all that different in his methodology from Roark, insofar as he steals a ton of called strikes and controls contact to generate the heart of his value. He’s just that much better at it. Batters swung less frequently at his strikes than any other pitcher’s, and his exit velocity allowed scraped elite territory in the 94th percentile. He’s also got a borderline-elite secondary pitch in his changeup driving a solid-average strikeout rate, where Roark doesn’t. Basically, if you like Roark’s profile going forward, you should freaking love Hendricks’. Neither posted fluke seasons this year despite peripheral over-performance.