Maybe this is absurd, but I’ve never honestly checked the accuracy of my projections. It’s partly because I have placed a lot of trust in a computer that runs regressions with reliable data I have supplied, but it’s mostly because I originally started doing this for my own sake. I used to rely on ESPN’s projections, but the former journalist in me started to realize: it has a customer to please, and the customer may not be pleased, for example, if he sees Corey Kluber ranked in the Top 60 starting pitchers for 2014. (At this point, I am giving ESPN an out, given that everyone at FanGraphs and elsewhere knew the kind of upside he possessed.) Kluber is not the issue, however; the issue is that although ESPN (probably) wants to do its best, it also does not want to alienate its readers who, given its enormous audience, are more likely to be less statistically-inclined than FanGraphs’ faction of die-hards.
In sum: I started doing this because I no longer trusted projections put forth by popular media outlets.
So I didn’t really care how every single projection turned out. I wanted to find the players I thought were undervalued. For three years, it has largely worked in my rotisserie league. (Honestly, I am a complete mess when I enter a snake draft.)
Anyway. All of that is no longer. I quickly sampled 2014’s qualified pitchers — 88 in all — to investigate who panned out and who didn’t. I will ignore wins because they are pretty difficult to project with accuracy; I’m more concerned about ERA, WHIP and K’s.
Here is a nifty table that quickly summarizes what would have been tedious to transcribe. You will see a lot of repeat offenders, which should come as no surprise. At least there is some semblance of a pattern for the misses: I underestimated unknown quantities (and aces, who all decided to set the world ablaze in 2014) and overestimated guys in their decline. There isn’t much of a pattern to the guys I got right. Just thank mathematics and intuition for that.
Here would be a shortlist of my most accurate projections from last year, measured by me using the eye test:
Name: 2014 projected stats (actual stats)
Nathan Eovaldi: 5 W, 3.82 ERA, 1.32 WHIP, 6.4 K/9 (6 W, 4.37 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 6/4 K/9)
R.A. Dickey: 11 W, 3.84 ERA, 1.24 WHIP, 7.2 K/9 (14 W, 3.71 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, 7.2 K/9)
Alex Cobb: 12 W, 3.49 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 8.1 K/9 (10 W, 2.87 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 8.1 K/9)
Hiroki Kuroda: 11 W, 3.60 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 6.7 K/9 (11 W, 3.71 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 6.6 K/9)
John Lackey: 10 W, 3.67 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 7.5 K/9 (14 W, 3.82 ERA, 1.28 WHIP, 7.5 K/9)
Kyle Lohse: 9 W, 3.60 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 6.1 K/9 (13 W, 3.54 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 6.4 K/9)
If it brings consolation to the reader, I have since tightened the part of the projection system that predicts win totals. I’m not gonna lie, it was pretty primitive last year because I thought it’s already a crapshoot to begin with. Obviously, it shows, even in the small sample above. It’s still difficult given the volatility inherent in the category, but the formulas are now precise.
Update, 3/18/14: Word on the street is Tyson Ross’ innings will be capped this year. I have amended my prediction accordingly.
Here’s the deal. I know most people outside of San Diego don’t know who Padres pitcher Tyson Ross is. Thus, it would be a bold enough prediction for me to say he’ll be a top-60 starter. Truthfully, I think he’ll be a top-30 starter. So, for the sake of splitting the difference, I did exactly that.
BOLD PREDICTIONS FOR 2014, #1: Tyson Ross will be a top-45 starting pitcher.*
*At the moment he is shut down for the season.
Ross, 27, debuted with the Athletics four years ago and has never once been fantasy relevant. Ross got stiffed in the wins category in 2013, going 3-8 through 16 starts for the mediocre-but-not-terrible San Diego Padres despite posting a 3.17 ERA and 1.15 WHIP. Many failed to notice so, again, he was hardly fantasy relevant. But that’s only according to the masses. In the case of Ross, the masses were wrong.
For starters, his 2013 ERA and WHIP would be 100-percent helpful in the context of any league, and his peripherals indicate his performance was legitimate. The BAbip may regress a bit, but the home runs allowed and runners stranded are about league average.
For Ross, though, his most important statistic is his strikeout rate: 119 K’s in 125 innings (8.6 K/9). Admittedly, it’s nothing to phone home about. Of pitchers with at least 100 innings, Ross ranks 25th on a strikeout-per-inning basis. However, Ross allowed the seventh-lowest contact rate and recorded the ninth-best percentage of swinging strikes of the lot. Contact rates and swinging strikes are (very) highly correlated with total strikeouts, and understandably so.
Thus, Ross’ strikeouts were not a fluke — at least, they weren’t in 2013 — despite recording a meager 5.7 K/9 through 70-plus innings in 2012. What gives?
The slider gives. Ross’ was the third-most valuable of all sliders thrown as measured by FanGraphs’ pitch value metric “wSL,” or “slider runs above average.” Only Yu Darvish and Francisco Liriano extracted more value from their sliders throughout the year than Ross. (I wrote about Justin Masterson’s slider a while back — it was fourth-most effective.) Even on a weighted basis, Ross threw the third-best slider per 100 pitches, behind only Randall Delgado‘s (which benefits from a small sample size) and Jose Fernandez‘s famous wipeout pitch. Moreover, Ross’ relied more heavily on his slider this year than in any other, throwing it in one-third of all pitches, up about five percent from his career frequency.
Something must have clicked for Ross, because his slider humiliated batters in 2013. Although it does happen occasionally, I have no reason to expect Ross will suddenly lose his touch. If he can come close to repeating his 2013 performance, his 2014 will look a lot like Patrick Corbin‘s 2013, but with a better strikeout rate. Corbin finished 2013 as the No. 23 starting pitcher. That’s upside on which I’m willing to gamble.
So there you have it, folks. This segment will recur throughout the offseason and will culminate before Opening Day, so stay tuned for more bold predictions!