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August 27, 2013

Five to Watch

Positive Regression Candidates

by Craig Goldstein


When it comes to starting pitching, my philosophy has long been “it’s always available.” Even when it comes to deep/dynasty leagues where the talent is scarce, finding pitching depth isn’t as difficult as it might seem. With that in mind, we turn our spotlight to five pitchers who have struggled—to varying extents—in 2013, but who have the ability, history, and peripheral statistics to pique our interest. Note that, unsurprisingly, two of these pitchers appeared in the Starting Pitchers section of BP’s Mid-Season Outliers, which should be a good source if you’re looking for anyone beyond the five mentioned in this article.

Jeremy Hellickson, Rays
It’s been a rough season for pitchers who have made a habit of outperforming their FIP, and Hellickson has been chief among those types. He’s also been chief among those having a rough season, including last night’s putrid performance (2 2/3 IP, 7 H, 5 ER, 2 BB, 1 K). The interesting part though, is that unlike some of the others listed, Hellickson is actually producing better peripherals than he ever has, so instead of just relying on past performance, we can say that he’s actively getting better.

Despite the 5.00+ ERA, Hellickson’s FIP sit sat a career best 4.11. He’s seen an uptick in strikeout rate (18.2 percent in ‘13 from 16.7 percent in ‘12) and a downturn in walk rate (6.3 percent in ‘13 from 8 percent in ‘12), and improving in those two areas generally foreshadows better numbers overall. We could look to his batted ball data, but even there, we see improvement in his numbers. His line-drive rate is down, and while his fly-ball rate has increased marginally, his HR/FB is down. His infield-fly percentage is up as well, which would normally manifest itself in a lower BABIP, and therein lies the true culprit. Or one of them, anyway. His BABIP has seen a 45-point spike, and while his previous profiles wouldn’t necessarily beget the low BABIP he had been receiving, this might be a bit of an overcorrection for Hellickson.

The other area where he’s been hurt badly is his LOB percentage. His 68 percent clip is a bit below the league average but well below his career average of 78 percent. While that career average might be seen as unsustainable, a drop to five percentage points below the league average probably isn’t something we should anticipate going forward either. Another reason to buy a bounce back? While we generally try to separate pitchers from their defense, it’s worth noting that the Rays are generally one of the best defensive teams in the league, so some of Hellickson’s “luck” might be by design.

When it comes to valuation, it’s hard to gauge where Hellickson checks in. He’s someone we had begun to trust to just be...different. While the numbers may not have made sense, they made sense for him. Just when we begin to trust, our world gets turned on it’s head, but that’s baseball for you. Perhaps proving my own naivete, I would rank Hellickson similarly to where he was ranked entering 2013, relying on his progression as a pitcher and a return to the luck he had experienced thus far in his career.

Edwin Jackson, Cubs
Last week, a friend and Cubs fan asked what was wrong with Jackson. Admittedly, I hadn’t been paying a ton of attention to Jackson’s season, but a cursory look at everything but his win-loss record and his ERA said everything was fine. While many have learned to look past one bad year or even just ugly surface stats, there are plenty of owners who still cling to the basics, as I found out when discussing Matt Cain in an NL-Only league recently.

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Premium Article Daily Roundup: Around ... (08/27)
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Premium Article The Prospectus Hit Lis... (08/27)

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