Sell high candidates: starting pitchers

Sell high candidates: starting pitchers

Chris Sale

Owner of a 2.11 ERA and 0.98 WHIP, Chris Sale has been one of the league’s most pleasant surprises this year. Night after night, Sale gives owners quality production, ranking among the top five at his position all season long.

Unfortunately, there’s only so much longer this can continue. The easy money is on his BABIP to regress closer to .300 (I have his BABIP at .3052 going forward, ZIPS has .303) while the bandbox in Chicago pushes his HR/FB back to the 9.0 to 9.5 percent range.

His exceptional peripherals should survive the season intact: going forward I see an 8.144 K/9 and 2.692 BB/9 based on his plate discipline indicators. However, this alone won’t sustain his place among the top five, as he is closer to a top 25 hurler the rest of the way.

If you’re weighing the option of trading Sale, no doubt many potential trade partners will point to the low BABIP (.264) as pretext to decline a trade. Counter by pointing to his xFIP of 3.19 which, though not a stellar 2.11, should ease their nerves on Sale’s downside. However, I think his ERA will be in the mid-3s from here on out.

Projection: 3.664 ERA, 1.296 WHIP, 8.144 K/9, 2.692 BB/9, 12.553 Wins/32 GS. Value: 0.360 points above average (10-team leagues)

Jered Weaver

Another hurler who I think is likely to see a decline in all meaningful fantasy statistics, Jered Weaver should still be able to rake in a considerable haul. Over the last three seasons, Weaver has established himself among the top starters in fantasy, though it can be argued whether he really belongs there. Coming off his stellar 2010 season when he registered in excess of 9.0 K/9, I would say he belonged in such a discussion. Since then, however, his K-rate has dropped to the mid-sevens and below, removing him from consideration of such accolades. Worse, his current K/9 of 6.68 is thoroughly mediocre.

Perhaps more troubling is his fading comprehension of the strike zone, as his Zone percentage has dropped 1.5 percent. Further complicating matters is his falling O-Swing percentage, down 1.8 percent from last season. Altogether, his plate discipline peripherals point to a walk rate of 3.216 BB/9, not his current level of 2.00 BB/9. For other pitchers, this number could suffice, but for a hurler with a lower K-rate this cannot continue without consequence.

Nevertheless, we shouldn’t write off Weaver so fast. He has somewhat of a Matt Cain quality to him (sustained low BABIP and HR/FB) that makes him difficult to project in many respects. However, most owners I’ve talked to prefer to own players who can be projected with greater certainty.

That said, I think he can continue his HR/FB magic—I expect an 8.3 HR/FB percentage going forward. However, his BABIP is anyones guess. I estimate a .2911 going forward while ZIPS has a .288. The problem with BABIP projections is that they tend to come with a good amount of volatility. And, in Weaver’s case, a considerable amount of his value hinges here. As the projection currently stands, a .2911 BABIP would yield a 3.798 ERA and 1.365 WHIP. However, a .273 BABIP (his career mark) yields a 3.469 ERA and 1.284 WHIP. In essence, this one figure represents the line between fringe #6 hurler and rotation stalwart.

Nevertheless, no matter which way you slice it, Jered Weaver is in for a big turnaround in the wrong direction. Do the decent thing and trade him away to an owner who doesn’t see it coming and reap the rewards of a shrewd, timely deal. And don’t be afraid to ask for a lot—he’s a guy with a long history of results and the name to go with it. He should fetch you an excellent player.

Projection: 3.798 ERA, 1.365 WHIP, 6.617 K/9, 3.188 BB/9, 12.2 Wins/32 GS value: -1.802 points below average (10-team leagues)

Jordan Zimmermann

I can’t really understand why, but in the last 12-15 months, the fantasy baseball realm has fallen head over heels in love with this guy. Sure, he showed some flashes in 2009 before being struck down for TJ surgery the next season, but since then, his K/9 rate has fallen off the Earth and taken much of his value with it.

So here Zimmermann stands with a 2.48 ERA, 1.11 WHIP, 6.19 K/9 and 1.78 BB/9. I like the Ks to improve slightly (to 6.414 K/9) and, to my surprise, I like his already stellar BB/9 to improve as well (to 1.569 BB/9). However, the sum of the parts just doesn’t add up to a 2.48 ERA and 1.11 WHIP, and his value will come crashing down as those figures normalize.

Projection: 3.797 ERA, 1.273 WHIP, 6.414 K/9, 1.569 BB/9, and 11.923 Wins/32 GS. value: -1.184 points below average

Johnny Cueto

I have a very hard time looking at Johnny Cueto without seeing a big-time regression. Perhaps more than anyone else on this list, his fantastic ERA (2.28) and WHIP (1.16) is very much a house of cards.

Pitching in the Cincinnati bandbox, his 4.5 HR/FB percentage is very, very unlikely to continue—reflected in his projection of 9.9 percent going forward. His BABIP will probably stay in about the same area (I’ve got him projected at a .2999 BABIP), though a small drop such as 5 points can still have a noticeable affect on his overall line (see: Jered Weaver, but not so drastic).

What really troubles me is what is coming for his K/9 and BB/9 rates. I expect his K/9 to drop by about a full strikeout per nine (6.70 down to 5.709) and his BB/9 to rise over half a walk (2.21 BB/9 to 2.840 BB/9).

Put that all together and Cueto looks practically un-ownable. Deal him as soon as you can, but don’t settle for peanuts. He should still be able to net you a pretty good player.

Projection: 4.065 ERA, 1.411 WHIP, 5.709 K/9, 2.840 BB/9, and 12.7 Wins/32 GS. Value: -3.232 points below average (10-team leagues)

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  1. Ben said...

    So, Johnny Cueto.  Why on earth are you expecting a full K per 9 regression from him?  He’s pitched in the mid 6’s for 3 years now.  As for his homers, just take a look at the ground ball rate.  He’s learned how to keep the ball on the ground and that equals success in his park.  He would start having to have a meltdown of epic proportions to hit the 4 ERA and 1.41 WHIP you’re projecting.  Even if he pitches a 3.50 ERA the rest of the way, his season ERA still doesn’t eclipse 3.00.  Are you looking for him to go out for 12 more starts and give up 5 runs every game?  I don’t see it.  Do you know how many games he plays against the Astros and Cubs?

  2. Mike Silver said...


    Maybe I should have been more clear with this, but the projection is from here on out. I don’t think he finishes the season there, that’s just what he does through the rest of the year.

    As for the Ks, he just hasn’t been missing enough bats to maintain in the mid-6s. His contact rate is up to a career high and the regression model has him below 6 based on all the factors.

    I’d get rid of him now.

  3. Will H. said...

    I am sure you have listed the basis for your projections and I like what you have done all-around, so could you please enlighten me on the JZ projection since I would throw up in my mouth if he posted a 3.80 ERA here on out. We Nats fans hate the extreme shift to pitch to contact but 3.8? No way.

  4. Mike Silver said...


    For Zimmermann, it really comes down to his strand rate and low K-rate. Without an exceptional K-rate (think close to home: Strasburg) its almost impossible to sustain an ERA below 3. His LOB% will drop, causing his ERA to rise. That’s the main part of the equation. 

    I’d love to publish the ERA calculations/forecasts somewhere, but its part of a huge model with about 50 regressors and interconnected formulas, so its not something I can really place in the comments section. Sorry about that.

  5. thalooch said...

    Okay, why is Sale’s babip going to increase to .300?

    he’s at .264 now, his career average, .265.

    I’ll give you the HR/FB ratio will likely rise, especially pitching at the Cell, but other than that I don’t see any pressing need to trade him unless you’re going to get elite value in return, and that’s just unlikely to happen because he was barely drafted going into the season.

    now if you had mentioned a possible innings cap, or simply being limited down the stretch in the unlikely event that the white sox win so many games that they don’t need him, then those are viable reasons to sell high. But again, he’s been nothing but flat out dominant, so you need to be getting a stud in return.

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