Well, PECOTA got the topline right, and really that’s what matters at the end of the day, right? …Right?! It got there much differently than Arrieta ended up getting there, however, and how Arrieta ended up getting there probably shouldn’t have been a path that got him there. PECOTA foresaw nine and a half whiffs-per-nine, two and a half walks, and a normalized BABIP bouncing back up to .279 from 2015’s elite .246 rate. The thing about Arrieta, though, is that he has thrived throughout his career – especially so during the Really Awesome phase of it – at limiting hard contact and running below-board BABIP numbers. Not only did he match the prior year’s mark in 2016, he improved on it to a .241 clip. He did that in spite of an uptick in hard, pulled contact, and he can thank the Cubs’ most-efficient-in-baseball defense for picking up the tab. The supporting defense proved all the more important, as Arrieta issued nearly 30 more walks in 30 fewer innings pitched, and his whiff rate tumbled by over three percentage points. The overall numbers still suggest a very good starting pitcher, but the contact and control profiles Arrieta pitched to in 2016 didn’t quite justify his top-15 WHIP.
Teheran produced a top-30 mixed-league season among starting pitchers, driven mostly by his strong WHIP and enough strikeouts and ERA to offset his woeful seven Wins. He doesn’t walk very many hitters at all, which is a great starting point for generating ratio value, and the control consistency took a significant step forward. The contact he allows, however, really doesn’t support the well better-than-average BABIP he ran. Now, again, he’s tended to be a lower-BABIP guy throughout his career in spite of indicators to the contrary, so it’s entirely possible this is just a thing he does. But he allowed above-average exit velocities last year, and both the quality and trajectory of contact – specifically to the pull side – suggested that the a marginally above-average defensive unit like that Braves probably shouldn’t have had quite as much luck converting balls into outs. His velocity continued a southern creep last year, and the stuff is really quite average by both movement and result. It’s a more tenuous recipe for continued success than the topline numbers here might suggest.
It’s been said about him in the past during stretches of surprising mixed-league utility, but no, really, Colby Lewis was a really, really lucky pitcher last year. Lewis’ whiff and walk rates crept in the wrong directions, and while he did a nice job inducing marginally more pedestrian fly ball contact, there just wasn’t much at all in his batted ball profile that deviated enough from his efforts the year prior to suggest a 48-point plunge in BABIP. Lewis’ .241 BABIP tied Arrieta for the third-lowest mark of any hurler to log a hundred innings last year, and while the Rangers defense was more efficient than average, banking on anything close to a redux would be a foolish bet by all available evidence. Basically, don’t get too cute with your end-game AL-only rotation pick.
PECOTA liked Straily to put up numbers reasonably well in line with the numbers Straily eventually did put up, though it saw him doing it as a reliever with more strikeouts and less walks in just 40-plus innings. Instead, he coaxed the lowest BABIP of any starter not named Marco Estrada and flirted with 200 innings across 31 starts in 34 appearances. And he made strides to earn the improvement, raising his arm angle to generate more rise and better plane for a fastball with good spin. That led to much weaker contact – and easily catchable fly ball contact at that – to drive across-the-board improvement. Basically, he got back to doing the stuff he did in his “breakout” 2013 campaign, and it worked again. He still gave up his share of hard hits, however, and a walk rate of three-and-a-half every nine innings combined to make his WHIP look a little lighter than it probably should have been. The Reds were the second-best defense in baseball at turning line drives into outs, and Straily was a prime beneficiary in allowing a hundred-plus points of batting average under league-average on liners. He’s not a guy I’d abandon at all in NL-only and deeper mixed leagues, but last year was really probably a best-case scenario from a ratio perspective.
A year after posting a BABIP 20 points better than league average the pendulum swung the other way for Thor in 2016. He gave up a .334 BABIP in spite of controlling contact to the tune of an 80th percentile average exit velocity and upping his groundball rate by nearly five percentage points. And for that he can thank a Mets defense that checked in a putrid 27th in groundball defensive efficiency and contributed to his above-average batting average-against on grounders. With one of the best whiff rates of any big-league starter and an excellent walk rate to boot, it would have been perfectly reasonable to expect a top-ten WHIP out of Syndergaard instead of the borderline-top-thirty mark managers got.
Matt Harvey, New York Mets – PECOTA Projection: 1.03, Actual: 1.47
Harvey will be one of the most utterly fascinating draft day decisions this winter as he recovers from surgery to correct thoracic outlet syndrome. The discomfort and pitch-to-pitch inconsistency that ensued certainly played a central role in the performance slide before the injury, but plum ol’ bad luck also got into the mix. He allowed a huge uptick in squared contact, and surely an exploding line drive rate contributed legitimately to his .353 BABIP. But he also managed to induce more than his fair share of weak contact which, coupled with a better-than-average walk rate, probably should have been enough for him to produce a nominally above-average WHIP in the 1.20’s somewhere, even in spite of a middling whiff rate.
Hey, another injured guy! Cole’s poor BABIP performance when healthy appears more directly attributable to bad luck than Harvey’s. He got killed by groundballs and fly balls alike when he was on the bump, allowing a batting average 20 points higher than league-average on both worm-burners and sky-scrapers. The latter may not appear all that astounding, as the Pirates’ outfield defense was among the least efficient units in the game at catching flies. But fly balls and line drives hit off Cole were hit at the seventh slowest-velocity of any starting pitcher, which should’ve given even a poor outfit a puncher’s chance. The Bucs’ infield defense was actually pretty good on balance, as well. Cole’s whiff and walk rates weren’t quite on par with Harvey’s, but even in the down year he probably didn’t deserve to wear much worse than an average starter’s WHIP.
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