Twisting Oliver: stretching out the arms

Think of beginning your fantasy baseball prep as starting a workout program after you’ve been totally inactive for a few months (or longer). Before you get into the heavy lifting, you first have to warm-up, stretch a bit. That’s what we did last week with a few hitters, and now we’ll loosen up with a few pitchers.

As we inch closer to April, we’ll start focusing in on specific types of player, and adding more weight as we go, but for now, here’s a brief, and admittedly random, look at a few hurlers whose Oliver projection caught my eye upon first glance.

As will be the case throughout, I’ve used Tom Tango’s formula of 2*W + SV + K/5 + IP – (H + BB + ER)/2 to assign a position rank based on what Oliver projects for the upcoming season.

For an in-depth explanation of the Oliver Projections, make sure to read creator Brian Cartwright’s write-up. And if you haven’t already, don’t forget to purchase the THT Forecasts to gain access to all the projections, along with many other useful tools to help you dominate your league in 2011.

Colby Lewis

2009: 2.96 ERA/0.99 WHIP/9.4 K/9
2010: 3.72 ERA/1.18WHIP/8.8 K/9
2011 Oliver: 3.20 ERA/1.12 WHIP/8.5 K/9

After altering his delivery, refining his slider, and learning how to pound the strike zone in Japan, Lewis came back to the U.S. a completely different pitcher than when he left in ’07. The result: a World Series appearance, and a plaque on his mantle proclaiming him the “2010 Fantasy Baseball Sleeper of the Year.” Or there should be anyway.

Oliver Thinks…he can be even better this season. Lewis’ end totals last season were predictably higher than what he posted abroad, but the skill-set translated nicely. Lewis was among the elite in terms of his K/9 (8.8) and finished with a K/BB ratio (3.0) that ranked in the top 25 of starting pitchers.

I Think…Oliver’s infatuation with Lewis, which began prior to last year and proved spot-on, is well founded. Nothing was out of line with his BABIP in 2010, and his FIP (3.55) and xFIP (3.93) were both under four. His strand rate was on par with the league average, and his brilliant postseason (1.72 ERA in four starts), proved his arm is capable of handling 200 innings, and then some. He was also remarkably consistent, completing six innings in 24 of his 32 starts, and only giving up more than four runs on three occasions.

His posted FB% of 44.9 is a bit worrisome considering the homer-friendly environs of Arlington, but his HR/FB rate was a pretty normal 8.2 last year, and it was even lower at home (6.6) than it was on the road (9.3). According to the Tango ranks, Lewis comes in as the 11th-best starting pitcher on the board, and while I think that may be a tad high, a second consecutive top-20 finish seems entirely possible.

Ricky Romero

2009: 4.30 ERA/1.52 WHIP/7.1 K/9
2010: 3.73 ERA/1.29 WHIP/7.5 K/9
2011 Oliver: 4.45 ERA/1.45 WHIP/6.8 K/9

Romero was brilliant over the first month of 2010, posting a 2.25 ERA, 0.94 WHIP, and 7.7 K/9 in his first five starts, but his numbers returned to the realm of the reasonable, and he posted a 4.03 ERA/1.36 WHIP from May on. Still, for a 25-year-old pitcher in the toughest division in baseball, his second season can only be considered a success.

Oliver Thinks…we’re more likely to get the 2009 version of Romero than the 2010 model. Despite his lofty draft status (sixth pick in the 2005 draft), Romero’s minor league numbers were so unimpressive (4.42 ERA/1.47 WHIP/7.0 K/9 in 430 minor league innings) that many fantasy owners remain skeptical about his big league ceiling. Apparently, so does Oliver.

I Think…I believe in Romero more than most. His xFIP was nearly identical to his ERA last year (3.75 ERA to 3.73 xFIP), and, by almost all measures, he made positive strides as a sophomore, despite a BABIP that registered 31 points lower. Already an extreme groundball inducer, Romero ever-so-slightly improved in that department, drawing grounders 55.2% of the time, one of only nine players with a number above 55%. His K/BB saw a healthy bump, from 1.78 to 2.12, and his HR/FB ratio declined from an inflated 12.8% in ’09 to a more tolerable 9.4% in 2010.

Pitching in the AL East does him no favors, but if he can take another small step in his development. and limit the major blowups – he allowed 35% of his total earned runs in just five starts – Romero looks destined to far outperform his Oliver projection.

Josh Johnson

2009: 3.23 ERA/3.40 WHIP/8.2 K/9
2010: 2.30 ERA/1.11 WHIP/9.1 K/9
2011 Oliver: 3.29 ERA/1.19 WHIP/8.1 K/9

Johnson finished 2010 with an NL-leading 2.30 ERA, and from the start of May to the end of July, there wasn’t a pitcher in the fantasy universe as dominant as the hulking righty. He posted a 1.31 ERA, 0.94 WHIP and 9.1 K/9 during that stretch, and at one point reeled off 13 straight starts without surrendering more than two runs, though with the Marlins sputtering at the plate, he only managed to record seven wins. August got a little bumpy, and he was shut down in early September with a balky back, but in the end, nobody was complaining.

Oliver Thinks…
J.J. isn’t an SP1 in 12-team leagues. Even if you take the THT Forecast for innings pitched (195 instead of the 175 Oliver projects), Johnson only comes in as the 16th-best starting pitcher, sandwiched between Tommy Hanson and Roy Oswalt.

I Think…Johnson has better chance to finish as the top pitcher in the game than outside the top 20. His xFIP (3.15) was 85 points higher than his ERA last year, which was an expected discrepancy considering he posted a league-low 4.2% HR/FB. That ratio will definitely rise in 2011, but with a career number of 7.1%, don’t look for it inflate too much, giving him room for regression while still being able to maintain a sub-3.00 ERA.

As for the rest of his numbers, his K/9 increased from 8.2 to 9.1, thanks in large part to a 2.5 point jump in his Swinging Strike percentage (SwStr%), which at 11.8% was good for the third-highest mark in the league. Also positively, his BB/9 decreased from 2.50 to 2.35, marking the second straight season he’s seen his strikeouts head north, while his walks went south. Entering his physical prime, the only thing holding Johnson back is a potentially hindered win total, but even that won’t be enough to stop him from being an SP1 in all formats.

Mike Leake

2009: 1.71 ERA/0.84 WHIP/10.2 K/9 (at Arizona State)
2010: 4.23 ERA/1.49 WHIP/5.9 K/9
2011 Oliver: 3.52 ERA/1.21 WHIP/7.5 K/9

Bypassing the minors completely, Leake proved worthy by posting a 2.22 ERA and 1.23 WHIP through his first 11 starts. Then he ran smack into the wall in June, and watched his ERA inflate until he was sent to the bullpen in August.

Oliver Thinks…he’ll take a significant step forward in his second year, lowering his ERA 71 points, his WHIP 28 points, and increasing his K/9 from 5.9 to 7.5, which, if you extrapolate those projection out to the THT Forecast for IP (190), places him firmly in the top 30 of SP.

I Think…the optimism is understandable – Leake induced ground balls at a 50% clip, and after issuing 12 free passes in his first two starts, only allowed 35 in his final 20 outings, good for a 2.5 BB/9 that would have ranked in the top third among qualified pitchers. BUT, his BABIP of .317 was above the league norm, and his HR/FB ratio was quite high at 13.2%. That can be explained away partly by his groundball tendency and home ballpark, but it was still three points higher than any other Reds pitcher with at least 100 innings pitched. He also failed to strike out more than six hitters in any outing, and only surpassed five Ks three times.

One could argue his expansive repertoire, good control, and knowledge of his craft are sure to lead to better numbers, and that after the league adjusted to him last year, it’s his turn to make the adjustments. I wouldn’t necessarily argue against those points, but considering the plethora of quality starting options in Cincinnati right now, there’s a decent shot Leake isn’t even in the rotation at the beginning of the season. Obviously, the situation will remain fluid right up until the end of spring training, but I have a hard time envisioning he’s anything more than a matchup play in 12-teamers in 2011.

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Comments

  1. Jacob Rothberg said...

    I think the model doesn’t understand Romero. He had all the making of a bust until spring training a few years ago, when the light just suddenly seemed to go on for him. Credit the pitching coaches and pitchers on the staff for helping him learn a cutter (i think) and the proper mentality to take to the mound (from Roy Halladay) and he has never been the same.

  2. John K said...

    oh, i loved reading this piece – thanks a lot.  it was something like this that made me draft lewis last year… going to be interesting to see what people pay for him this year.

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