Predicting pitchers’ walks using xBB%

The other day, I discussed predicting pitchers’ strikeout rates using xK%. I will conduct the same exercise today in regard to predicting walks. Using my best intuition, I want to see how well a pitcher’s walk rate (BB%) actually correlates with what his walk rate should be (expected BB%, henceforth “xBB%”). Similarly to xK%, I used my intuition to best identify reliable indicators of a pitcher’s true walk rate using readily available data.

An xBB% metric, like xK%, would not only if a pitcher perennially over-performs (or under-performs) his walk rate but also if he happened to do so on a given year. This article will conclude by looking at how the difference in actual and expected walk rates (BB – xBB%) varied between 2014 and career numbers, lending some insight into the (un)luckiness of each pitcher.

Courtesy of FanGraphs, I constructed another set of pitching data spanning 2010 through 2014. This time, I focused primarily on what I thought would correlate with walk rate: inability to pitch in the zone and inability to incur swings on pitches out of the zone. I also throw in first-pitch strike rate: I predict that counts that start with a ball are more likely to end in a walk than those that start with a strike. Because FanGraphs’ data measures ability rather than inability — “Zone%” measures how often a pitcher hits the zone; “O-Swing%” measures how often batters swing at pitches out of the zone; “F-Strike%” measures the rate of first-pitch strikes — each variable should have a negative coefficient attached to it.

I specify a handful of variations before deciding on a final version. Instead of using split-season data (that is, each pitcher’s individual seasons from 2010 to 2014) for qualified pitchers, I use aggregated statistics because the results better fit the data by a sizable margin. This surprised me because there were about half as many observations, but it’s also not surprising because each observation is, itself, a larger sample size than before.

At one point, I tried creating my own variable: looks (non-swings) at pitches out of the zone. I created a variable by finding the percentage of pitches out of the zone (1 – Zone%) and multiplied it by how often a batter refused to swing at them (1 – O-Swing%). This version of the model predicted a nice fit, but it was slightly worse than leaving the variables separated. Also, I ran separate-but-equal regressions for PITCHf/x data and FanGraphs’ own data. The PITCHf/x data appeared to be slightly more accurate, so I proceeded using them.

The graph plots actual walk rates versus expected walk rates. The regression yielded the following equation:

xBB% = .3766176 – .2103522*O-Swing%(pfx) – .1105723*Zone%(pfx) – .3062822*F-Strike%
R-squared = .6433

Again, R-squared indicates how well the model fits the data. An R-squared of .64 is not as exciting as the R-squared I got for xK%; it means the model predicts about 64 percent of the fit, and 36 percent is explained by things I haven’t included in the model. Certainly, more variables could help explain xBB%. I am already considering combining FanGraphs’ PITCHf/x data with some of Baseball Reference‘s data, which does a great job of keeping track of the number of 3-0 counts, four-pitch walks and so on.

And again, for the reader to use the equation above to his or her benefit, one would plug in the appropriate values for a player in a given season or time frame and determine his xBB%. Then one could compare the xBB% to single-season or career BB% to derive some kind of meaningful results. And (one more) again, I have already taken the liberty of doing this for you.

Instead of including every pitcher from the sample, I narrowed it down to only pitchers with at least three years’ worth of data in order to yield some kind of statistically significant results. (Note: a three-year sample is a small sample, but three individual samples of 160+ innings is large enough to produce some arguably robust results.) “Avg BB% – xBB%” (or “diff%”) takes the average of a pitcher’s difference between actual and expected walk rates from 2010 to 2014. It indicates how well (or poorly) he performs compared to his xBB%: the lower a number, the better. This time, I included “t-score”, which measures how reliable diff% is. The key value here is 1.96; anything greater than that means his diff% is reliable. (1.00 to 1.96 is somewhat reliable; anything less than 1.00 is very unreliable.) Again, this is slightly problematic because there are five observations (years) at most, but it’s the best and simplest usable indicator of simplicity.

Thus, Mark Buehrle, Mike Leake, Hiroki Kuroda, Doug Fister, Tim Hudson, Zack Greinke, Dan Haren and Bartolo Colon can all reasonably be expected to consistently out-perform their xBB% in any given year. Likewise, Aaron Harang, Colby Lewis, Ervin Santana and Mat Latos can all reasonably be expected to under-perform their xBB%. For everyone else, their diff% values don’t mean a whole lot. For example, R.A. Dickey‘s diff% of +0.03% doesn’t mean he’s more likely than someone else to pitch exactly as good as his xBB% predicts him to; in fact, his standard deviation (StdDev) of 0.93% indicates he’s less likely than just about anyone to do so. (What it really means is there is only a two-thirds chance his diff% will be between -0.90% and +0.96%.)

As with xK%, I compiled a list of fantasy-relevant starters with only two years’ worth of data that see sizable fluctuations between 2013 and 2014. Their data, at this point, is impossible (nay, ill-advised) to interpret now, but it is worth monitoring.

Name: [2013 diff%, 2014 diff%]

Miller is an interesting case: he was atrociously bad about gifting free passes in 2014, but his diff% was only marginally worse than it was in 2013. It’s possible that he was a smart buy-low for the braves — but it’s also possible that Miller not only perennially under-performs his xBB% but is also trending in the wrong direction.

Here are fantasy-relevant players with a) only 2014 data, and b) outlier diff% values:

I’m not gonna lie, I have no idea why Cobb, Corey Kluber and others show up as only having one year of data when they have two in the xK% dataset. This is something I noticed now. Their exclusion doesn’t fundamentally change the model’s fit whatsoever because it did not rely on split-season data; I’m just curious why it didn’t show up in FanGraphs’ leaderboards. Oh well.

Implications: Richards and Roark perhaps over-performed. Meanwhile, it’s possible that Odorizzi, Ross  and Ventura will improve (or regress) compared to last year. I’m excited about all of that. Richards will probably be pretty over-valued on draft day.

Predicting pitchers’ strikeouts using xK%

Expected strikeout rate, or what I will henceforth refer to as “xK%,” is exactly what it sounds like. I want to see if a pitcher’s strikeout rate actually reflects how he has pitched in terms of how often he’s in the zone, how often he causes batters to swing and miss, and so on. Ideally, it will help explain random fluctuations in a pitcher’s strikeout rate, because even strikeouts have some luck built into them, too.

An xK% metric is not a revolutionary idea. Mike Podhorzer over at FanGraphs created one last year, but he catered it to hitters. Still, it’s nothing too wild and crazy like WAR or SIERA or any other wacky acronym. (A wackronym, if you will.)

Courtesy of Baseball Reference, I constructed a set of pitching data spanning 2010 through 2014. I focused primarily on what I thought would correlate highly with strikeout rates: looking strikes, swinging strikes and foul-ball strikes, all as a percentage of total strikes thrown. I didn’t want the model specification to be too close to a definition, so it’s beneficial that these rates are on a per-strike, rather than per-pitch, basis.

The graph plots actual strikeout rates versus expected strikeout rates with the line of best fit running through it. I ran my regression using the specification above and produced the following equation:

xK% = -.6284293 + 1.195018*lookstr + 1.517088*swingstr + .9505775*foulstr
R-squared = .9026

The R-squared term can, for easy of understanding, be interpreted as how well the model fits the data, from 0 to 1. An R-squared, then, of .9026 represents approximately a 90-percent fit. In other words, these three variables are able to explain 90 percent of a strikeout rate. (The remaining 10 percent is, for now, a mystery!)

In order for the reader to use this equation to his or her own benefit, one would insert a pitcher’s looking strike, swinging strike and foul-ball strike percentages into the appropriate variables. Fortunately, I already took the initiative. I applied the results to the same data I used: all individual qualified seasons by starting pitchers from 2010 through 2014.

The results have interesting implications. Firstly, one can see how lucky or unlucky a pitcher was in a particular season. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, one can easily identify which pitchers habitually over- and under-perform relative to their xK%. Lastly, you can see how each pitcher is trending over time. Every pitcher is different; although the formula will fit most ordinary pitchers, it goes without saying that the aces of your fantasy squad are far from ordinary, and they should be treated on an individual basis.

(Keep in mind that a lot of these players only have one or two years’ worth of data (as indicated by “# Years”), so the average difference between their xK% and K% as a representation of a pitcher’s true skill will be largely unreliable.)

It is immediately evident: the game’s best pitchers outperform their xK% by the largest margins. Cliff Lee, Stephen Strasburg, Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez and Adam Wainwright are all top-10 (or at least top-15) fantasy starters. But let’s look at their numbers over the years, along with a few others at the top of the list.

Kershaw and King Felix have not only been consistent but also look like like they’re getting better with age. Wainwright’s difference between 2013 and 2014 is a bit of a concern; he’s getting older, and this could be a concrete indicator that perhaps the decline has officially begun. Darvish’s line is interesting, too: you may or may not remember that he had a massive spike in strikeouts in 2013 compared to his already-elite strikeout rate the prior year. As you can see, it was totally legit, at least according to xK%. But for some reason, even xK% can fluctuate wildly from year to year. I see it in the data, anecdotally: Anibal Sanchez‘s huge 6.7-percent spike in xK% from 2012 to 2013 was followed by a 5.5-percent drop from 2013 to 2014. Conversely, David Price‘s 5-percent decrease in xK% from 2012 to 2013 was followed by an almost perfectly-equal 5-percent increase from 2013 to 2014. So the phenomenon seems to work both ways. Thus, perhaps it shouldn’t have come as a surprise when Darvish couldn’t repeat his 2013 success. To the baseball world’s collective dismay, we simply didn’t have enough data yet to determine which Yu was the true Yu. I plan to do some research to see how often these severe spikes in xK% are mere aberrations versus how often they are sustained over time, indicating a legitimate skills improvement.

I have also done my best to compile a list of players with only one or two years’ worth of data who saw sizable spikes and drops in their K% minus xK% (“diff%”). The idea is to find players for whom we can’t really tell how much better (or worse) their actual K% is compared to their xK% because of conflicting data points. For example, will Corey Kluber be a guy who massively outperforms his xK% as he did in 2014, or does he only slightly outperform as he did in 2013? I present the list not to provide an answer but to posit: Which version of each of these players is more truthful? I guess we will know sometime in October.

Name: [2013 diff%, 2014 diff%]

And here some fantasy-relevant guys with only data from 2014:

The role of luck in fantasy baseball

I apologize for being that guy that ruins that ooey gooey feeling you get when think about the fantasy league you won last year. As much as you want to think you are a fantasy master — perhaps even a fantasy god — you should acknowledge that you probably benefited from a good deal of luck. Sure, for your sake, I will admit you made a great pick with Max Scherzer in the fifth round. But did you, in all your mastery, predict he would win 21 games?

Don’t say yes. You didn’t. And frankly, you would be crazy to say he’ll do it again.

I focus primarily on pitching in this blog, and let it be known that pitchers are not exempt from luck in the realm of fantasy baseball. If you’re playing in a standard rotisserie league, you probably have a wins category. In a points league, you likely award points for wins.

Wins. Arguably the most arbitrary statistic in baseball. Let’s not have that discussion, though, and instead simply accept the win as it is. The win has the most drastic uncontrollable effect on a fantasy pitcher’s value. (ERA and WHIP experiences similar statistical fluctuations, but at least they aren’t arbitrary.)

I had an idea, but before I proceed, let me interject: if you’re drafting for wins, you’re doing it wrong. But, as I said, you can’t ignore wins.

But let’s say you did, and drafted strictly on talent, or “stuff” (which, here, factors in a pitcher’s durability). How would the top 30 pitchers change? Here’s my “stuff” list, which you can compare with the base projections:

Here are the five players with the biggest positive change and a breakdown of each:

1. Brandon Beachy, up 23 spots
His injury history has weakened his wins column projection. Consequently, the number of innings Beachy is expected to throw is significantly less than a full season. But if he managed to stay healthy for the full year (say, 200 innings)? He’s a top-1o pick based on pure stuff. If you draft with the philosophy that you can always find a viable replacement on waivers, Beachy could be your big sleeper.
2. Marco Estrada, up 22 spots
Estrada’s diminished expected wins is more a function of his terrible team than ability. Estrada has underperformed the past two years, Ricky Nolasco style, but if he can pull it together, he’s a top-30 pitcher based on “stuff.” And hey, maybe he can luck into some extra wins. However, if he can’t pull it together — Ricky Nolasco style — he’ll be relegated to fringe starter.
3. Danny Salazar, up 9 spots
Salazar has immense potential. His injury history led the Indians to cap his per-game pitch count last year, and that has been factored into his projection. But if he’s a full-time, 200-inning starter? He’s a top-25 starter with top-15 upside. Again, this is in terms of “stuff”. But is Ivan Nova better than Felix Hernandez because he can magically win more games? Of course not. Among a slew of young studs, including Jose Fernandez, Shelby Miller, Michael Wacha and so on, Salazar is a diamond in the rough.
4. A.J. Burnett, up 8 spots
His projection is already plenty good. But you saw how many games he won in 2013. Anything can happen.
5. Corey Kluber, up 8 spots
Most people were probably scratching their heads when they saw Kluber’s name listed above. Frankly, I’m in love with him, and it’s because he’s a stud with a great K/BB ratio. I understand why someone may be inclined to dismiss it as an aberration, but his swinging strike and contact rates are truly excellent. Even if they regress, he should be a draft-day target.

Here are the three starting pitchers with the biggest negative change.

1. Anibal Sanchez, down 10 spots
He’s great, but he also plays for a great team. Call it Max Scherzer syndrome. He carries as big a risk as any other player to pitch great but only win five or six games, as do the next two players.
2. Hisashi Iwakuma, down 6 spots
3. Zack Greinke, down 4 spots

Let me be clear that although I created a hypothetical scenario where wins didn’t exist, I don’t advocate for blindly drafting based on “stuff.” It’s important to acknowledge that certain players have a much better chance to win than others. Chris Sale of the Chicago White Sox could win 17 games just as easily as he could win seven. It’s about playing the odds — and unless a pitcher truly pitches terribly, don’t blame the so-called experts for your bad luck. He probably put his money where his mouth is, too, and is suffering along with you.

Here is a more comprehensive list of pitchers ranked by “stuff,” if that’s the way you sculpt your strategy:

1. Clayton Kershaw
3. Felix Hernandez
4. Max Scherzer
5. Cliff Lee
6. Yu Darvish
7. Chris Sale
8. Cole Hamels
9. Jose Fernandez
11. Stephen Strasburg
12. David Price
13. Justin Verlander
14. Alex Cobb
15. Homer Bailey
16. Mat Latos
17. Gerrit Cole
18. Michael Wacha
19. Anibal Sanchez
20. James Shields
21. Danny Salazar
23. A.J. Burnett
24. Corey Kluber
25. Brandon Beachy
26. Zack Greinke
27. Matt Cain
28. Sonny Gray
29. Hisashi Iwakuma
30. Gio Gonzalez
31. Doug Fister
32. Jordan Zimmermann
33. Alex Wood
34. Kris Medlen
35. Jeff Samardzija
36. Mike Minor
37. Jake Peavy
38. Kevin Gausman
39. Tyson Ross
40. Patrick Corbin
41. Lance Lynn
42. Francisco Liriano
43. Andrew Cashner
44. Ricky Nolasco
45. CC Sabathia
46. Hiroki Kuroda
47. Tim Lincecum
48. Tim Hudson
49. Jered Weaver
50. Shelby Miller
51. Clay Buchholz
52. Tony Cingrani
53. Matt Garza
54. John Lackey
55. Ubaldo Jimenez
56. Justin Masterson
57. Julio Teheran
58. R.A. Dickey
59. A.J. Griffin
60. Hyun-Jin Ryu
61. Dan Haren
62. Johnny Cueto
63. C.J. Wilson
64. Ian Kennedy
65. Chris Archer
66. Kyle Lohse
67. Scott Kazmir
68. Carlos Martinez
69. Jon Lester
70. Ervin Santana
71. Jose Quintana
72. Derek Holland
73. Garrett Richards
74. Dan Straily
75. Tyler Skaggs

Early SP rankings for 2014

I wouldn’t say pitching is deep, but I’m surprised by the pitchers who didn’t make my top 60.

Note: I have deemed players highlighted in pink undervalued and worthy of re-rank. Do not be alarmed just yet by what you may perceive to be a low ranking.

Early 2014 rookie/sophomore pitcher rankings — UPDATED 12/30/13

As my father said, more and more young players are making a greater impact on fantasy baseball than he could remember. Here is a compilation of young, fantasy-relevant pitchers, including sophomores, freshmen and young pitchers you may have forgotten or not heard of. You won’t see breakout pitchers like Patrick Corbin or Hisashi Iwakuma on this list because they have closer to two years than one under their belts.

The pitchers are ranked best to worst and divided into separate categories: Top 60, Top 90 Consideration, and Not Worth Drafting. For example, I would draft Jose Fernandez and Gerrit Cole before anyone else on this list.

Rookies are denoted by orange text.

OK, enough chatter. Let’s go.

TOP 60:

Jose Fernandez, MIA | 2013: 12-6, 172-1/3 IP (28 GS), 2.19 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 9.7 K/9, 3.0 BB/9
There’s nothing I can say about Fernandez’s dominance that hasn’t been said. What I will say is Fernandez benefited from some good luck, as indicated by his .244 BAbip. It could be legit, but even Pedro Martinez‘s career BAbip is .282 with a season-best .237, and Clayton Kershaw‘s career mark is .275. Even with a depleted win-column, he’s a top-15 pick at worst with upside.

Gerrit Cole, PIT | 2013: 10-7, 117-1/3 IP (19 GS), 3.22 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 7.7 K/9, 2.1 BB/9
Cole has reverted to becoming more of a control guy, cutting down on walks at the expense of the kind of strikeouts you expect from a power pitcher. Still, he’s a must-draft with top-15 upside out of the gate.

Michael Wacha, STL | 2013: 4-1, 64-2/3 IP (9 GS), 2.78 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 9.0 K/9, 2.6 BB/9
Wacha has gone at least seven innings allowing two hits or fewer in more than a quarter of his career starts. I know nothing about inning limits or manager Mike Matheny’s plans with them, but honestly, not drafting a potential ace because of an innings cap is a stupid strategy anyway.

Danny Salazar, CLE | 2013: 2-3, 52 IP (10 GS), 3.12 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 11.3 K/9, 2.6 BB/9
All Salazar has done since he debuted is humiliate batters. The only starting pitcher with at least 10 starts that has more K’s-per-nine than Salazar is Yu Darvish. The Indians have been very careful with his innings and pitch counts, though, and it wouldn’t surprise me if it carried over into 2014 given his Tommy John history.

Sonny Gray, OAK | 2013: 5-3, 64 IP (10 GS), 2.67 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 9.4 K/9, 2.8 BB/9
The strikeout rate is (probably) unsustainable. Regardless, don’t be surprised if he is Oakland’s Opening Day starter for 2015.

Julio Teheran, ATL | 2013: 14-8, 185-2/3 IP (30 GS), 3.20 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 8.2 K/9, 2.2 BB/9
Teheran was the same pitcher all year, despite how badly he started and how solidly he finished. He’s a good pitcher, but he over-performed: the number of runners he stranded (and, thus, his ERA) was not sustainable given his peripherals. His control and strikeout ability makes him a solid bet regardless, but he may be a bit overvalued come draft day.

Hyun-jin Ryu, LAD | 2013: 14-8, 192 IP (30 GS), 3.00 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 7.2 K/9, 2.3 BB/9
Solid first year from the Korean import, but expect the ERA to rise. He’s entering his age-27 season — if you have expectations of improvement, keep them in check.

Tony Cingrani, CIN | 2013: 7-4, 104-2/3 IP (18 GS), 2.92 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 10.3 K/9, 3.7 BB/9
It’s hard not to be totally enamored with Cingrani, but beware his .241 BAbip and astronomical 82.1-percent strand rate. Still, the strikeout rate is what dreams are made of, and it will help temper some of the regression headed Cingrani’s way.

Shelby Miller, STL | 2013: 15-9, 173-1/3 IP (31 GS), 3.06 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 8.8 K/9, 3.0 BB/9
Miller will should improve upon his 2013 performance, but don’t be upset when the ERA backpedals. He’s due for regression, much like Julio Teheran, because of an abnormally high left-on-base percentage.

Kevin Gausman, BAL | 2013: 3-5, 47-2/3 IP (5 GS), 5.66 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 9.3 K/9, 2.5 BB/9
Not all prospects dazzle upon first glimpse. Gausman, Baseball America’s No.-26 prospect for 2013, struggled out of the gate, posting a 7.66 ERA and 1.62 WHIP across five starts before being shipped to the bullpen, where he cleaned up his act. His devalued stock makes him a potentially very cheap, and very valuable, post-hype sleeper worth a late-round flier or cheap bid at auction.

Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, PHI | 2013: did not play in U.S.
Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez is the latest of many highly talented Cuban players to defect in the past couple of years, following Yasiel Puig, Jose Fernandez, Aroldis Chapman and Yoenis Cespedes. Gonzalez was on the verge of signing the most lucrative contract of all the aforementioned names — his \$10 million per year would have exceeded Cespedes (\$9 million), Puig (\$6 million), Chapman (\$5.05 million) and Fernandez (\$490,000) — before concerns arose about his shoulder health. Salary (typically) indicates ability, and considering the contract Gonzalez almost signed, I’ll venture to say he has a whole lot of ability. Because he won’t start throwing for the Phillies until spring, he could be 2014’s best-kept pitching secret.

TOP 90:

Michael Pineda, NYY | 2013: did not play … 2011: 9-10, 171 IP (28 GS), 3.74 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 9.1 K/9, 2.9 BB/9
Tendinitis turned into an anterior labral tear in Michael Pineda’s throwing shoulder, sidelining him for all of 2012 through July 2013 when he was optioned to Triple-A. He was fantastic in the minors before his debut, and he was equally fantastic in 2011. Pineda could be the definitive post-hype sleeper. He was Baseball America’s No. 16 prospect heading into 2011, and he could very well pitch like it again — assuming he’s fully healthy.

Taijuan Walker, SEA | 2013: 1-0, 18 IP (3 GS), 3.60 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 7.2 K/9, 2.4 BB/9
Walker will likely enter 2014 as a sleeper on many lists because of his strong 2013 performance, albeit across a small sample size. Keep an eye on Walker’s walk rate during spring training — free passes were his only major struggle in the minors, and they could be what hold him back in the bigs if his strikeout rate doesn’t fully rebound.

Chris Archer, TB | 2013: 9-7, 128-2/3 IP (23 GS), 3.22 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 7.1 K/9, 2.7 BB/9
Archer has, for the time being, become a control guy, which means fewer strikeouts but also fewer walks. He’s pitching more to contact, though, so his .253 BAbip will be hard to sustain. Owners will miss the upside strikeout potential — and it may reemerge as Archer develops — but the lack of K’s makes him less desirable than his sophomore counterparts.

Alex Wood, ATL | 2013: 3-3, 77-2/3 IP (11 GS, 9 GF), 3.13 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 8.9 K/9, 3.1 BB/9
Wood’s ERA is not reflective of his WHIP — it should be much higher — but, fortunately, his WHIP is not reflective of his actual performance, with a .333 BAbip inflating his ratio. Also, his low ERA is a testament to his ability to strand runners as a reliever. It may not translate as well as a starter, but I would never doubt an Atlanta Braves pitching prospect.

Tyler Skaggs, LAA | 2013: 2-3, 38-2/3 IP (7 GS), 5.12 ERA, 1.37 WHIP, 8.4 K/9, 3.5 BB/9
The strikeouts are there, but Skaggs has continued his trend from Triple-A of being very hittable and walking too many batters. He was the No. 10 and 12 prospect by MLB.com and Baseball America (respectively) for 2013, so he has potential, but with all the young pitching talent, I’d rather take a late-round flier on someone else.

Zack Wheeler, NYM | 2013: 7-5, 100 IP (17 GS), 3.42 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 7.6 K/9, 4.1 BB/9
Wheeler gets a lot of hype, but I’ll buy when I see results. Wheeler continued his disconcerting trend of walking batters; it has been almost 500 professional innings and it seems he still has yet to make a serious adjustment. Don’t let his ERA fool you. I’m sure he has elite potential, but the walks simply will not cut it for me, especially on a Mets team that will flirt with mediocrity sooner than it will playoff contention.

LATE-ROUND FLIER? (in no particular order):

Carlos Martinez, STL | 2013: 2-1, 28-1/3 IP (1 GS, 5 GF), 5.08 ERA, 1.41 WHIP, 7.6 K/9, 2.9 BB/9
Massive upside, but he hasn’t shown us much yet. He has a chance to crowd Lance Lynn (or Jaime Garcia) out of a spot in the rotation, but I wouldn’t put my money on it.

James Paxton, SEA | 2013: 3-0, 24 IP (4 GS), 1.50 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 7.9 K/9, 2.6 BB/9
Another blossoming Mariner young gun. Small sample size, great results. He never exhibited great control in the minors, but there’s strikeout potential, and he will fight for a spot in the rotation this spring.

Brandon Workman, BOS | 2013: 6-3, 41-2/3 IP (3 GS, 5 GF), 4.97 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, 10.2 K/9, 3.2 BB/9
Workman’s ERA and WHIP are largely the doings of an inflated BAbip in a small sample size. In the meantime, try not to drool over the strikeout potential. Unfortunately, there’s no knowing now whether he’ll be in the rotation or the bullpen.

Rafael Montero, NYM | 2013 (AAA-AA): 12-7, 155 1/3 IP (27 GS), 2.78 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 8.7 K/9, 2.0 BB/9
Montero is all but guaranteed a rotation spot in 2014, especially in light of Matt Harvey‘s elbow surgery. His minor league numbers are incredibly impressive for someone who hasn’t cracked any top-prospect lists, although his performance dipped after his promotion to Triple-A. He’ll likely go undrafted, but I will watch him closely from his first pitch onward.

NOT WORTH DRAFTING in standard leagues:

Dylan Bundy, BAL | 2013: season shortened by Tommy John surgery
Don’t expect him until mid-2014, and even then he’ll start work in the minors.

Jarred Cosart, HOU | 2013: 1-1, 60 IP (10 GS), 1.95 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 5.0 K/9, 5.3 BB/9
A 1.95 ERA with a 1.35 WHIP… I didn’t even know that was possible. He one-upped Joe Kelly! Walks and lack of strikeouts are huge problems. Ignore.

Erik Johnson, CHW | 2013: 3-2, 27-2/3 IP (5 GS), 3.25 ERA, 1.55 WHIP, 5.9 K/9, 3.6 BB/9
I wouldn’t be surprised if he outperforms Sonny Gray in 2014, but a small sample size with poor results hasn’t left a very good impression. He also plays for the White Sox. Pass for now.

Martin Perez, TEX | 2013: 10-5, 119 IP (19 GS), 3.55 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 6.0 K/9, 2.6 BB/9
Am I the only one who is underwhelmed by Perez? What about him points to him turning into a viable fantasy option? I’d rather gamble on a slew of young arms other than his.

Burch Smith, SD | 2013: 1-3, 36-1/3 IP (7 GS), 6.44 ERA, 1.651 WHIP, 11.4 K/9, 5.2 BB/9
Ignore the stats you just read. Now focus on the fact that he struck out 46 batters in just more than 36 innings. The walks are a huge problem and could ultimately relegate him to a relief role. But he exhibited great control in the minors (along with the strikeouts, so they’re not a fluke), so I wouldn’t discount him yet. But until he recovers his control, he’s not worth the speculative draft pick. Remember the name, though.

Danny Hultzen, SEA | 2013 (AAA-AA): 5-1, 35 2/3 IP (7 GS), 2.02 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, 10.6 K/9, 1.8 BB/9
Annnnd the third of three Mariners prospects… They could be decent in 2014, you know? MLB.com’s No. 18 prospect will likely battle for a rotation spot in the spring. Control issues plagued him throughout the minors this year, when he made one start in Double-A and took the step up to hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, where he posted a 2.05 ERA and 10.0 K/9 across six starts. It’s a small sample, but if he continues to exhibit control during the spring, he’s definitely worth a speculative draft pick. 12/30/13 update: Signs point to Hultzen being left out of the rotation, or at least battling for the No. 5 spot during spring training with Erasmo Ramirez and James Paxton.

Early look at 2014 rookie/sophomore pitchers

As my father said, more and more young players are making a greater impact on fantasy baseball than he could remember. Here is a compilation of young, fantasy-relevant pitchers, including sophomores, freshmen and young pitchers you may have forgotten or not heard of. You won’t see breakout pitchers like Matt Harvey or Hisashi Iwakuma on this list because they already have two years, more or less, under their belts.

The players below will be ranked in a permanent page to be added later. Until then, players are listed in alphabetical order, and it’s up to you to rank them as you please.

SOPHOMORES

Chris Archer, TB | 2013: 9-7, 128-2/3 IP (23 GS), 3.22 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 7.1 K/9, 2.7 BB/9
Archer has, for the time being, become a control guy, which means fewer strikeouts but also fewer walks. He’s pitching more to contact, though, so his .253 BAbip will be hard to sustain. Owners will miss the upside strikeout potential — and it may reemerge as Archer develops — but the lack of K’s makes him less desirable than his sophomore counterparts.

Trevor Bauer, CLE | 2013: 1-2, 17 IP (4 GS), 5.29 ERA, 1.82 WHIP, 5.8 K/9, 8.5 BB/9
Don’t try to draft him as a sneaky sleeper unless you want to be the laughing stock of your league. Ignore Bauer — if he makes the 2014 rotation, that is.

Tony Cingrani, CIN | 2013: 7-4, 104-2/3 IP (18 GS), 2.92 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 10.3 K/9, 3.7 BB/9
It’s hard not to be totally enamored with Cingrani, but beware his .241 BAbip and astronomical 82.1-percent LOB% (left-on-base percentage). Still, the strikeout rate is what dreams are made of, and it will help temper some of the regression headed Cingrani’s way. The only thing left in his way is the question of a guaranteed spot in the Reds’ rotation, of which there isn’t a clear one.

Gerrit Cole, PIT | 2013: 10-7, 117-1/3 IP (19 GS), 3.22 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 7.7 K/9, 2.1 BB/9
Cole has also reverted to becoming more of a control guy, cutting down on walks big-time at the expense of strikeouts. Even then, he’s a must-draft with top-15 upside out of the gate.

Jose Fernandez, MIA | 2013: 12-6, 172-1/3 IP (28 GS), 2.19 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 9.7 K/9, 3.0 BB/9
There’s nothing I can say about Fernandez’s dominance that hasn’t been said, so I won’t bother. What I will say is Fernandez benefited from some good luck, as indicated by his .244 BAbip. It could be legit, but even Pedro Martinez’s career BAbip is .282 with a season-best .237, and Clayton Kershaw’s career mark is .275. Still, he’ll end up being a top-50 pick with upside. The only thing that will hold him back is the wins column.

Kevin Gausman, BAL | 2013: 3-5, 47-2/3 IP (5 GS), 5.66 ERA, 1.34 WHIP, 9.3 K/9, 2.5 BB/9
Not all prospects dazzle upon first glimpse. Gausman, Baseball America’s No.-26 prospect for 2013, struggled out of the gate, posting a 7.66 ERA and 1.62 WHIP across five starts before being shipped to the bullpen. He then cleaned up his act and posted a 3.52 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 11.3 K/9 and 2.7 BB/9 in 23 relief innings. Ignore the ERA — his WHIP and solid strikeout-to-walk (K/BB) ratio is a sign of good things to come. His devalued stock makes him a potentially very cheap, and very valuable, post-hype sleeper worth a late-round flier or cheap bid at auction.

Sonny Gray, OAK | 2013: 5-3, 64 IP (10 GS), 2.67 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 9.4 K/9, 2.8 BB/9
The strikeout rate is (probably) unsustainable, but aside from that, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s the A’s Opening Day starter for 2015.

Shelby Miller, STL | 2013: 15-9, 173-1/3 IP (31 GS), 3.06 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 8.8 K/9, 3.0 BB/9
As a youngster with a lot of talent, Miller will likely improve upon his 2013 performance. So don’t be upset when the ERA backpedals. He’s due for regression, much like Teheran is, because of an abnormally high LOB%.

Martin Perez, TEX | 2013: 10-5, 119 IP (19 GS), 3.55 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 6.0 K/9, 2.6 BB/9
Am I the only one who is underwhelmed by Perez? What about him points to him turning into a viable fantasy option? I’d rather gamble on a slew of young arms other than his.

Michael Pineda, NYY | 2013: did not play … 2011: 9-10, 171 IP (28 GS), 3.74 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 9.1 K/9, 2.9 BB/9
Tendinitis turned into an anterior labral tear in Michael Pineda’s throwing shoulder, sidelining him for all of 2012 through July 2013 when he was optioned to Triple-A. He was fantastic in the minors before his debut, and he was equally fantastic in 2011. Pineda could be the definitive post-hype sleeper. He was Baseball America’s No. 16 prospect heading into 2011, and he could very well pitch like it again — assuming he’s fully healthy.

Tyson Ross, SD | 2013: 3-8, 125 IP (16 GS), 3.17 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 8.6 K/9, 3.2 BB/9
Ross got hardly any attention last year, but he induced the 7th-lowest contact rate and 9th-highest swinging strike rate of all pitchers who threw at least 100 innings. You know who that trails? Yu Darvish, Francisco Liriano, Anibal Sanchez, Max Scherzer, Tim Lincecum, Matt Harvey, Cole Hamels, Clayton Kershaw. That’s it. He’s entering his age-27 year and had zero fantasy relevance until halfway through 2013, but that’s no reason to ignore him on draft day. (The fact that he plays for the lowly Padres, though, could be a reason. Not a good enough reason, though!)

Hyun-jin Ryu, LAD | 2013: 14-8, 192 IP (30 GS), 3.00 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 7.2 K/9, 2.3 BB/9
Solid first year from the Korean implant, but expect the ERA to rise.

Danny Salazar, CLE | 2013: 2-3, 52 IP (10 GS), 3.12 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 11.3 K/9, 2.6 BB/9
All Salazar has done since he debuted is humiliate batters. I have no idea how long that will last — everyone expected batters to make adjustments against Tony Cingrani, and 100 innings later, they still hadn’t — but the strikeout potential is way too good to pass up. The Indians have been very careful with his innings and pitch counts, though, and it wouldn’t surprise me if it carried over into 2014, thus devaluing him a bit.

Burch Smith, SD | 2013: 1-3, 36-1/3 IP (7 GS), 6.44 ERA, 1.651 WHIP, 11.4 K/9, 5.2 BB/9
Ignore the stats you just read. Now focus on the fact that he struck out 46 batters in just more than 36 innings. The walks are a huge problem and could ultimately relegate him to a relief role. But he exhibited great control in the minors (along with the strikeouts, so they’re not a fluke), so I wouldn’t discount him yet. But until he recovers his control, he’s not worth the speculative draft pick. Remember the name, though.

Julio Teheran, ATL | 2013: 14-8, 185-2/3 IP (30 GS), 3.20 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, 8.2 K/9, 2.2 BB/9
Teheran was the same pitcher all year, despite how badly he started and how solidly he finished. He’s a good pitcher, but Matthew Berry is right in saying he over-performed: the number of runners he stranded (and, thus, his ERA) was not sustainable given his peripherals. His control and strikeout ability makes him a solid bet regardless, and if his strikeout rate improves, he will be a valuable commodity.

Michael Wacha, STL | 2013: 4-1, 64-2/3 IP (9 GS), 2.78 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 9.0 K/9, 2.6 BB/9
Between a seven-inning, two-hit debut start and a no-hitter taken into the final out of his last start, Wacha has shown why some people call him “Adam Wainwright’s clone.” He will likely fall to the late rounds of the draft with an innings cap contributing to his devaluation. Take advantage.

Taijuan Walker, SEA | 2013: 1-0, 18 IP (3 GS), 3.60 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, 7.2 K/9, 2.4 BB/9
Walker will likely enter 2014 as a sleeper on many lists because of his strong 2013 performance, albeit across a small sample size. Keep an eye on Walker’s walk rate during spring training — free passes were his only major struggle in the minors, and they could be what hold him back in the bigs if his strikeout rate doesn’t fully rebound.

Zach Wheeler, NYM | 2013: 7-5, 100 IP (17 GS), 3.42 ERA, 1.36 WHIP, 7.6 K/9, 4.1 BB/9
Wheeler gets a lot of hype, but I’ll buy when I see results. Wheeler continued his disconcerting trend of walking batters; it has been almost 500 professional innings and it seems he still has yet to make a serious adjustment. Don’t let his ERA fool you. I’m sure he has elite potential, but the walks simply will not cut it for me, especially on a Mets team that will flirt with mediocrity sooner than it will playoff contention.

Alex Wood, ATL | 2013: 3-3, 77-2/3 IP (11 GS, 9 GF), 3.13 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 8.9 K/9, 3.1 BB/9
Wood’s ERA is not reflective of his WHIP — it should be much higher — but, fortunately, his WHIP is not reflective of his actual performance, with a .333 BAbip inflating his ratio. Also, his low ERA is a testament to his ability to strand runners as a reliever. It may not translate as well as a starter, but I would never doubt an Atlanta Braves pitching prospect.

FRESHMEN

Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez, PHI | 2013: did not play in U.S.
Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez is the latest of many highly talented Cuban players to defect in the past couple of years, following Yasiel Puig, Jose Fernandez, Aroldis Chapman and Yoenis Cespedes. Gonzalez was on the verge of signing the most lucrative contract of all the aforementioned names — his \$10 million per year would have exceeded Cespedes (\$9 million), Puig (\$6 million), Chapman (\$5.05 million) and Fernandez (\$490,000) — before concerns arose about his shoulder health. Salary (typically) indicates ability, and considering the contract Gonzalez almost signed, I’ll venture to say he has a whole lot of ability. Because he won’t start throwing for the Phillies until spring, he could be 2014’s best-kept pitching secret.

Danny Hultzen, SEA | 2013 (AAA-AA): 5-1, 35 2/3 IP (7 GS), 2.02 ERA, 0.81 WHIP, 10.6 K/9, 1.8 BB/9
SEPT. 25: VISITING DR. ANDREWS. MIGHT MISS 2014 ROTATION SPOT. MLB.com’s No. 18 prospect will likely battle for a rotation spot in the spring. Control issues plagued him throughout the minors this year, when he made one start in Double-A and took the step up to hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, where he posted a 2.05 ERA and 10.0 K/9 across six starts. It’s a small sample, but if he continues to exhibit control during the spring, he’s definitely worth a speculative draft pick.

Rafael Montero, NYM | 2013 (AAA-AA): 12-7, 155 1/3 IP (27 GS), 2.78 ERA, 1.10 WHIP, 8.7 K/9, 2.0 BB/9
Montero is all but guaranteed a rotation spot in 2014, especially in light of Matt Harvey’s elbow surgery. His minor league numbers are incredibly impressive for someone who hasn’t cracked any top-prospect lists, although his performance dipped after his promotion to Triple-A. He’ll go undrafted, but I will watch him closely from his first pitch onward.

To Be Ranked: Dylan Bundy, Jarred Cosart, Erik Johnson, Carlos Martinez, James Paxton, Trevor Rosenthal, Tyler Skaggs, Brandon Workman