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 2/3 innings spread out over the past four years) or in the high minors either, and he’s had trouble with the long ball each time he’s come to the majors, posting HR/9 of 2.0, 1.2, and 1.4 during his three previous campaigns. This year he is at 0.3 per nine, but that change has come without any significant shifts in his approach or pitch selection. His fastball velocity is about the same-just under 90 mph, on average-and he’s still a fastball/changeup guy with the occasional breaking ball to mix things up. He’s giving up fewer homers, but doing so while giving up more fly balls than is normal for him. He’s causing more hitters to pop up, but not significantly more, so it’s tough to believe that he’s busting everyone inside and causing them to miss or avoid making hard contact. He doesn’t strikeout enough hitters to make him worth the risk of finding out how real his homer rate is; you may be better served seeing if someone will snatch him up in a trade.

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 Insider.

You need to be logged in to comment. Login or Subscribe
Regarding Cain, can his decrease in velocity be attributed to the season still being young and the weather being cold overall? Also, when you run these tables in the future, can you possibly include WHIP?
I think if that were the case we would have that worry about far more pitchers than just Cain. I can add WHIP to the table in the future. Thanks for the suggestion.
Interesting. I do think that there are several others (besides Santana/Greinke) that are worth holding. A qERA around 4.00 is pretty decent - I'd not be quick to trade Cueto, Rodriguez or Romero. At least not yet for the latter.
Agreed. I tried to pick out the guys that you should panic about first, the ones that are most likely to see their fortunes reverse. Not everyone on that list is necessarily someone that needs to go.
Quite right too. Trouble is a guy like Garland is almost untradeable - nobody believes that he's a different SP. Only the truly desperate, e.g. Oliver Perez owners, get interested. Thanks for the heads-up though, I'll look into moving Braden.
Eh, people still drafted Mike Hampton and Russ Ortiz this year. Garland does have some value, and it's not like he's been as erratic as Hampton or Ortiz.
Agreed on Cueto, especially in keeper leagues. This kid has the stuff to be a solid #2 or #3 for years. He has great mound demeanor and seems pretty unflappable. He's young and will struggle at times, sure, but the tools are there and he's what, 23? And Wandy has had a great K/9 for a few years now...
Does this mean that it's possible that Jarrod Washburn can sustain his recent success, or at least something close to it?
Jurjens did this last year, too, right?
In a related development, Garland gave up 7 runs on 10 hits in 3 2/3 IP last night, including two bombs, with a walk and no strikeouts.
Some guys are just able to get by without high strikeout rates, with walking a few guys, and giving up solo shots here and there. I own Cahil, and I am not saying he is a beast or anything, but I bet he stays below 4.00, or just a little over, for most of the year. It might not be impressive, but he'll get it done. I know these guys are rare, but they exist. Jair, Wang, and now Cahil.
Daniel Cabrera's been pitching over his head? He's going to get worse??? Ryan Zimmerman aside, it must suck to be a Nationals fan.