# 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:

Another month without any published material has come and gone. Meanwhile, Matt Shoemaker earned himself American League Pitcher of the Month and Rookie of the Month honors for August. Good thing I wrote my glowing endorsement for him on July 25. It will be interest to see how he’s ranked next year. Julio TeheranMichael Wacha, Sonny Gray and Tony Cingrani were touted prospects and drafted Nos. 29, 32, 41 and 44 on average in ESPN live drafts this year after pretty amazing 2013s. So, what now for Shoemaker? He was never a touted prospect; most fans still probably don’t know who he is, similar to how I anticipate Corey Kluber will get robbed of Cy Young votes this year simply because he isn’t a name-brand ace.

Alas, there will be doubts about Shoemaker’s ability to repeat his performance — his swinging strike and contact rates have tailed off a bit since I wrote about him a month ago, and he doesn’t occupy the strike zone enough for me to think the walk rate is sustainable — which could make him a 2015 draft day bargain. Starting pitching is deeper than ever, so it would not surprise me whatsoever to see Shoemaker make a variety of “just missed” lists, right outside the Top 60 pitchers or so, with an average draft positions of maybe 45th for starting pitchers.

If I had to run a quick-‘n’-dirty projection for next year right now, it would look something like:

Bearish: 180 IP, 11 W, 3.15 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 160 K
Bullish: 200 IP, 13 W, 2.94 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 189 K

FYI, those are both pretty darn good projections, good for what will probably be Top-30 in my 2015 rankings.

Anyway. ANYWAY.

Let’s get to what I really wanted to discuss: 2015 fantasy prospect sleepers. Many notable prospect lists are published prior to the start of each season, and a handful are updated as the season unfolds. Case in point, ESPN’s Keith Law published his updated Top 50 list about a month ago. Obviously, the list accounts for the triumphs — and tribulations — of current and now-former top prospects in whichever league(s) the player performed this season as of July 17.

Today’s scouting report has two faces: the qualitative, through which we award players a grade of 20 through 80 for their five tools; and the quantitative, through which we assess the progress of a player based on what he has actually accomplished.

It’s all good and well that prospect lists exist — especially updated ones. But, frankly, there isn’t room on the list for everyone, and the lists often span more than just players who are Major League-ready.

Thus, I occasionally look at Minor League leaderboards and try to find less-trendy fantasy prospects to scoop in the late rounds of a draft or spend a dollar on in the twilight of an auction. I create a list and periodically update it, tracking the player’s progress or lack thereof.

In alphabetical order, here are some players who, given playing time, could be impact players in 2015:

Steven Moya, DET OF | 40 Hit, 60 Power, 50 Run (MLB.com)
It wouldn’t surprise me if 99 percent of baseball fans outside of Michigan knew Moya was called up when the Tigers’ roster expanded. Absent from all major prospect lists, Moya belted 35 home run, swiped 16 bases and batted .276 in 133 games at Double-A Erie. Those are numbers that could get anyone all hot and bothered. It’s not a huge surprise to me why he wasn’t so highly touted: he combined for only 42 home runs and 16 stolen bases combined in his first four years in the minors. What’s overlooked, though, is he debuted when he was 17, and he has obviously made great strides as he fills out at the ripe age of 22. All that glimmers is not gold, however; Moya struck out in almost 30 percent of plate appearances while walking only 4 percent of the time. There’s a lot of potential for bust simply because he may never catch up to Major League pitching.

Looking forward: Moya is currently buried on the depth chart, as he was called up more for depth and reps than impact contributions. Still, right fielder Torii Hunter‘s contract expires this year, leaving Moya to compete with Rajai Davis, J.D. Martinez and Ezequiel Carrera (whom I actually like as a speedy, Leonys Martin-type of outfielder). Davis is underrated and Martinez has reestablished himself as a credible starter, although it remains to be seen if he sustains it, but I would not be the least bit surprised to see Moya win a starting role over Carrera — or all of them, really. His plate discipline is problematic, though; even notorious free-swinger Pedro Alvarez had better discipline before his call-up. Still, not all prospects with poor hit tools are doomed to bust, but given his relatively unknown prospect status — he’s buried at No. 7 in the Tigers’ organizational depth, according to MLB.com — he could be a low-risk, high-reward (and also high-volatility) player in 2015.

Steven Souza, WAS OF | 40 Hit, 50 Power, 50 Run (MLB.com)
Souza is perhaps the most talented and enigmatic of the three players listed here, based strictly on 2014 performance and MLB.com’s scouting grades. Like Moya, Souza didn’t make any preseason or midseason top-prospect lists, despite hitting 18 home runs, stealing 26 bases and batting a whopping .350 across 407 Triple-A plate appearances. (In there defense, Souza was really, really bad prior to 2012, and was busted for PEDs in 2010.)

Again, if you live outside of New England and knew Souza was recently called up when rosters expanded: congratulations! All of Souza’s numbers — his speed, his power and especially his hit tool — correlate very poorly with how MLB.com evaluated him above. Even if the power and speed do somehow project to be average, his plate discipline is very evidently better than below-average: he struck out in 18.4 percent of plate appearances and walked in 12.8 percent of them. And he achieved this in Triple-A, not Double-A, where Moya flailed away. Future Cleveland Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor allegedly has a 70-hit tool, yet posted strikeout and walk rates of 19.5 and 5.2 percent — not at all elite. Trust the statistics.

Looking forward: The only things standing between Souza and a starting role in 2015 is Denard Span‘s 2015 team option (who has performed well enough to earn it and then some) and the next guy on this list. Thus, Souza may be doomed to a fourth-outfielder role next year until Bryce Harper inevitably injures himself, so Souza’s heyday may not truly come until 2016. If he somehow assumes the first baseman role, it would be hard to rely on a guy who hits 15 home runs, steals 10 bases, bats .275. But if he eventually moves to the outfield where he belongs, or gets traded, his potential /.280/.340/.380 would be serviceable in fantasy leagues.

Michael Taylor, WAS OF | 40 Hit, 50 Power, 60 Run (MLB.com)
Shoot. I kind of forgot that Taylor and Souza are on the same Triple-A team battling for the same potential center-field opening that will, realistically speaking, not be vacated by Span next year. Taylor got a brief look earlier in the year and promptly hit a home run — but also struck out eight times in 22 trips to the plate. It’s difficult to ignore his 22 home runs, 34 stolen bases and .313 average at Double-A Harrisburg, and the 51 steals at Single-A Potomac last year add a nice touch. Like Moya, the hit tool as graded by MLB.com is probably accurate: Taylor struck out 130 times in 441 plate appearances (25 percent), but at least he walked more than the league average.

Looking forward: Taylor and Souza are theoretically competing with each other, which could make either of them offseason trade bait. Taylor, however, spent the majority of this year in Double-A, only recently getting promoted, so he may have a year of development ahead of him, despite being ahead of Souza on MLB.com’s organizational depth for the Nationals (Nos. 5 and 7). It’s also worth noting  that Souza is listed as third on the depth chart at first base, and Adam LaRoche is in the final year of his contract, so it’s possible that Taylor earns the fourth-outfielder role and Souza earns first base outright (or becomes the backup to Kevin Frandsen… yuck). Ultimately, it’s hard to ignore any potential 20/20 players, and he looks like another guy who could get there, albeit with a low batting average.

If I had to guess which of these three players will make the biggest impact in 2015, I would say Moya, who I think has the highest bust potential but also the highest ceiling. Souza is the safest and will make for an adequate, and perhaps enticing, replacement given the event of an injury in the Nationals’ outfield. Taylor has the same kind of boom-or-bust potential as Moya, albeit with a little less power and a little more speed.

# 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

# Hot Stove: Wow, I have a lot of catching up to do

Sorry. SORRY. I apologized last time. (Or maybe I didn’t. I don’t know.) School has hoarded my time… Until now. I took my two incredibly difficult finals and turned in my final paper (“Risk assessment by Major League Teams when signing international professional agents” — I’ll go out on a limb and say it’s in the Nobel Prize running this year) and now I am ready to devote approximate 18 percent of my waking moments to Need a Streamer.

So, let’s see. What has happened since I last posted? I don’t know, EVERYTHING?

I’ll write about signings and trades that occurred recently over several installment so I don’t overwhelm anyone. (“Anyone” = “myself”. Because reading this will take about two minutes but writing it will take 30.)

OK! Let’s get down to bidness.

Phillies sign OF Marlon Byrd
I don’t know, man. Byrd’s 2013 stats are wacky. Like, don’t-put-any–stock-in-his-2013-performance wacky. Outrageous HR/FB? Check. Career-high strikeout rate? Check. Career low percentage of balls put into play? Check. He’s good for a .280 average but I would be elated if he chalked up 15 homers next year. In his defense, he did hit a lot of line drives, so he obviously had some kind of power stroke going on last year. For the annual price, it’s pretty low-risk for Philadelphia, but two years is pushing it.

Winner: Byrd
Preseason rank: Not a top-50 OF

Dodgers sign SP Dan Haren
As much as I hate Haren for the putrid outings I endured in April, his seasons stats weren’t that bad. I mean, he had a 1.23 WHIP. That’s Zack Greinke‘s career WHIP. So it was mostly the long ball that plagued him, and guess what? He gets to pitch in the friendly confines of Dodger Stadium. It’s pretty much a best-case scenario for both sides, especially considering Haren will likely pitch in lower-leverage situations as the No.-4 or 5 starter for a great team. I’ll go on the record now and say he bounces back! Contingent on if he gives up a home run in his first start. Because if he does, I swear …

Winner: Both
Preseason rank: 64th, with upside

DET SP Doug Fister traded for WSN OF Steve Lombardozzi, others
You know it’s a bad trade when the marquee name you get in return is Lombardozzi. The Nationals worked their magic and replaced Dan Haren with an above-average pitcher while letting go of a backup outfielder and lackluster prospects. Lombardozzi will back Jose Iglesias at shortstop, but even when arguing for bench depth, I’m still not a big fan. Also, I’m guessing the Tigers were looking for some salary relief in order to make more moves and/or sign starting pitcher Max Scherzer to a long-term contract.

Winner: Washington Nationals
Fister’s preseason rank:
35th

Athletics sign SP Scott Kazmir
Honest question: Was Kazmir ever that good? He struck out a buttload of batters from 2004 to 2008, yeah. But he has pitched more than 200 innings only once in his entire career — which spans 10 years, by the way — and topped out at single-season bests of 13 wins, a 3.24 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP. He’s a back-end rotation guy at the very best, and while his strikeout potential is enticing in I don’t know what kind of league in which the only category is strikeouts, he’s not worth your time. What’s the A’s rotation now… Jarrod Parker, A.J. Griffin, Dan Straily, Sonny Gray, Kazmir? I would say his spot in the rotation is fair game, but with two years and \$22 million spent on the guy, I would say the A’s will be too proud to bench him in June, kind of like the Dodgers wouldn’t let Kenley Jansen usurp Brandon League‘s right to the closer throne.

Winner: Kazmir
Preseason rank: 79th

Alright, fools. Tune in tomorrow for more hot stove action! (Disclaimer: I may not actually write something tomorrow. I accept your apologies in advance.)

# 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.