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May 12, 2009
Last week we took a look at some pitchers that were excellent buy-low candidates, so today we will study the reverse situation. You are going to want to sell on many of these pitchers as soon as you can, before reality sets in and they remember they are not actually top-quality fantasy options. These are the pitchers who have outperformed their ERA by the largest margins this season, relative to their QuikERA, or QERA for short.
Name IP UBB/9 K/9 HR/9 ERA QERA Diff. Brian Bannister 24.1 3.7 5.2 0.4 1.48 5.31 +3.83 Jair Jurrjens 40.1 3.6 4.5 0.7 2.01 5.79 +3.78 Aaron Laffey 25.0 5.4 4.0 0.4 3.60 6.33 +2.73 Matt Cain 38.0 4.3 6.6 1.2 2.61 5.23 +2.62 Tim Wakefield 40.0 4.1 5.6 0.2 2.93 5.55 +2.62 Trevor Cahill 33.0 4.6 3.3 1.1 3.82 6.43 +2.61 Daniel Cabrera 29.2 6.7 3.0 0.6 4.85 7.43 +2.58 Johnny Cueto 39.2 2.5 7.3 0.5 1.59 3.89 +2.30 Ricky Romero 21.0 1.7 5.6 0.4 1.71 4.00 +2.29 Mark Buehrle 38.0 2.6 5.7 0.7 2.61 4.75 +2.14 Dallas Braden 42.0 2.6 5.8 0.6 2.79 4.89 +2.10 Joe Saunders 47.2 1.9 4.2 0.8 2.66 4.71 +2.05 Wandy Rodriguez 45.0 2.8 7.4 0.0 1.80 3.84 +2.04 Zack Greinke 53.0 1.4 10.0 0.0 0.51 2.38 +1.87 Zach Duke 42.0 2.1 4.9 0.4 2.79 4.64 +1.85 Eric Stults 32.2 3.6 5.5 0.3 3.58 5.29 +1.71 Kevin Millwood 52.1 1.9 4.6 1.2 2.92 4.55 +1.63 Johan Santana 39.2 2.3 12.3 0.5 0.91 2.46 +1.55 Jon Garland 38.0 3.3 3.8 0.7 4.03 5.55 +1.52 Jered Weaver 40.2 2.0 6.9 1.3 2.66 4.15 +1.49
Let's get this out of the way now: Greinke and Johan are different animals than the rest of the pitchers on this list, so their inclusion is not a call to sell high on them. They are two of the pitchers that have outperformed their peripherals though, so keep that in mind if you have them and are wodnering what to expect.
It's funny to include Brian Bannister in a list such as this, since he is well known in sabermetric circles for his attempts to exploit concepts like BABIP and DIPS. That being said, he is over his head in the early going, as he hasn't struck out nearly enough hitters to balance his walk rate-and that's before you add in his well below-average .237 BABIP. I think QERA may be undervaluing Bannister a bit here though, as one of the strengths he has shown early on-one that isn't reflected in QERA-is his low homer rate of 0.4 per nine. Before last season's rate of 1.4 HR/9, he had not given up very many homers in the majors, but 0.4 would be a career low for him. As long as his sub-90s stuff doesn't get knocked into the stands consistently as it did last season, he may be worth a look in deep leagues. You may want to trade him to someone who is going to overvalue him though, given his current ERA.
Then we have the Giants' Matt Cain. If you just look at his ERA, Cain looks like he is turning into the ace many thought he would become when he first came up back in 2005. There are a ton of issues with his season though, starting with his unintentional walk rate, already higher than I was comfortable with, has now shot up to 4.3 per nine. He's striking out one fewer hitter per nine than he did last year, and his velocity appears to be around one mph short of last year's average-which in turn is one mph slower than 2007. He's managed to survive the high number of walks with a bit of luck; Cain has stranded 91 percent of his baserunners (the league average is 71 percent) and he's getting the benefit of a .254 BABIP. That he has stranded so many runners is a mystery as well, given that his homer rate is the highest it has ever been at 1.2 HR/9. QERA doesn't like the look of where this is going, so selling high on Cain before he begins to falter may be a good idea, especially considering the kind of talent he could bring back to you in a trade.
Across the bay, not much is going right for Oakland this year, though their starting pitching has been decent enough. It's a shame then that two members of their rotation have been lucky during the first month plus of the season, and that the other shoe could drop at any time. Dallas Braden was discussed a few weeks back, so now it's Trevor Cahill's turn to go under the microscope. Cahill's ERA is higher than his strikeout rate, which sounds even worse once you realize his ERA is an impressive 3.82. To make matters worse, Cahill's walk rate is higher than his ERA; combine those two things together, and it's obvious that Cahill's success is not long for this world, barring drastic changes in his peripherals. Pitching in Oakland is great for a pitcher's BABIP, as the park's expansive foul ground and the team's solid defense help make pitchers appear better than they are, but in Cahill's case, that saving grace can only extend so far. It's hard to believe he'll continue to strand 80 percent of his baserunners without doing some of the work himself, and it's less likely to occur when you realize he's the direct cause of those baserunners more often than you would like. You can do one of two things with Cahill: stash him on your bench in the hopes he starts to pitch as well as he did in the minors, when he struck out plenty of hitters and didn't hand out too many free passes, or you could bail on him and see if someone more optimistic than you will bite.
California is just full of pitchers that are over their heads in 2009; the Dodgers' Eric Stults is yet another pitcher that isn't as good as his numbers suggest. His walk and strikeout numbers are tolerable enough, given that his home park helps to depress extra-base hits (outside of homers) but he still has some things he needs to work out before we can consider his performance real. Stults has never been that impressive during his time in the majors (127
Jon Garland has posted an ERA of 4.03 to begin the year, but as his QERA can attest, expecting that to continue is a bad strategy. He's been awful against left-handed hitters, and his new home park in Arizona is a great place for lefties to hit. He's not giving you anything for strikeouts, and though it isn't by any means awful, his walk rate isn't low enough to compensate. He's allowed just 0.7 HR/9 this year, a number that will surely rise given his career rate of 1.1-that also matches last season's mark, and that's in a year where his ground-ball rate and G/F ratio rose. Given a bit more time, Garland should at least match last year's ERA, which when combined with his poor punchout totals kills his fantasy value, even in deep leagues.
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .