April 30, 2010
Don't Believe The Hype
As April nears close, it's time to look at what starting pitchers have the largest disconnect between their earned run average and their actual performance. In the past, we used QuikERA, or QERA, to do this, since it stabilizes quickly and is therefore useful even for smaller samples. Thanks to Matt Swartz and Eric Seidman though, we now have SIERA, an enhanced adjusted ERA that uses some of the same ideas as QERA but in a more effective way.
Here are the top five pitchers who have, according to SIERA, logged ERAs worse than they should have:
Harang's struggles are a bit odd—his velocity is right around where it should be, but he's lost some whiffs and is giving up far more homers. That's a problem for Harang, as he was already susceptible to the long ball and pitches his home games in a park known for its friendly stance on dingers. The Reds and their .679 Defensive Efficiency haven't done Harang any favors either (ranked #22 in the majors), as his BABIP stands at .352. This isn't to say Harang is being cheated of acedom—that homer rate is atrocious, blip or not, and his SIERA reflects that.
Harang's start against Houston on Tuesday did help his stock a bit, as people were starting to panic (six innings, six strikeouts, two runs, zero homers and just one walk allowed). He may not be as valuable as he used to be, but giving up on Harang based on his iffy start to the season would not be wise. Stash him on the bench if you have to until his homer issues subside if necessary, but as SIERA tells us, his ERA does not reflect reality at present.
It's nice to see Jake Peavy up here as one of the unluckiest pitchers in baseball thus far, but it's also disheartening when you see his SIERA is still well ahead of where anyone else around him is. His velocity is a little lower than last years, which in turn is a little lower than the year prior, and the shift out of the National League and Petco Park into the AL and U.S. Cellular hasn't been a kind one.* Peavy has given up 1.3 homers per nine through April, which would be his highest rate since 2003. Peavy's career home run numbers are low, but you can thank favorable conditions for at least part of that: he allowed 1.0 HR/9 on the road from 2007-2009, and just 0.4 per nine at Petco over the same span.
You can expect his ERA to come down, but SIERA isn't too optimistic right now given his numbers. His strikeout rate has dropped appreciably (but remember, this is just one month) so unless he picks that back up, don't expect SIERA to change its tune. I would either stash him or trade him to someone optimistic at this point, because I wouldn't feel comfortable using him (in home games, any ways) until he starts to pitch more effectively.
*On a side note, why did anyone make trades with Kevin Towers that involved pitchers leaving or coming back, ever? He picked up Heath Bell and Royce Ring for Jon Adkins and Ben Johnson, Chris Young and Adrian Gonzalez for Adam Eaton and Akinori Otsuka, and picked up a potential power reliever in Aaron Poreda, a league-average starter in Clayton Richard, and another minor leaguer in Dexter Carter (Poreda and Carter were Kevin Goldstein's #9 and #10 prospects in the Padres system this year) for Peavy, his falling velocity, and his contract. At this point I feel like the Woody Williams/Ray Lankford swap was a misdirection to lull others into a false sense of security.
Josh Beckett's SIERA isn't where you want it to be, given his reputation and his shiny new extension, but at least it shows that his slow start to the year isn't all real. Boston's defense, which is supposed to be among the league's best, hasn't helped yet thanks to its own issues with injuries and ineffectiveness (Boston ranks #19 in Defensive Efficiency--Beckett's .352 BABIP makes a lot of sense in that context). That doesn't mean it's all on the players behind him though—even if Mike Cameron and Jacoby Ellsbury were patrolling the outfield, they wouldn't be able to pull back every ball that hits the seats. Beckett's allowing 1.3 homers per nine. It's noticeable because it's April, but Beckett has stretches like this. Sometimes they last the whole season (see: 2006), but there were some extenuating circumstances involving curveball usage and blisters that won't be repeated in 2010 that season.
Of much more concern is his K/BB rate. Beckett's punching out just 6.3 per nine and allowing walks at his highest rate since 2001 with the Marlins, when he was a rookie and tossed just 24 innings. His velocity is down about half-a-mile per hour from last year, though (just like with Peavy) it's tough to put too much stock into that just yet given the sample we're talking about. Based on the information we have to work with, Beckett has had a lot more hitters make contact with pitches he is throwing outside of the zone (62.9 percent last year, 75.4 this year, and with more swings at pitches outside to boot).
His fastball hasn't been getting results either--in 2009 it was worth +2 runs, which in itself was a huge drop from the previous two seasons (though you can blame the Boston defense for some of that, as these run values are derived from results) but right now it's already at -6.6. With fewer strikeouts and hitters more successful (whether through luck or ability) on the balls they make contact with, it's no wonder his ERA is a mess. Beckett is much too good to give up on over such a small sample, but he'll need the defense at full strength behind him yet again if he wants to outproduce what SIERA has in mind for him as of today.