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Don’t Pay Too Much! Pt 3: Overvalued Starting Pitchers for 2015

Earlier, we discussed two overvalued infielders and two undervalued outfielders soon enough. Now, let’s take a look at a couple of overvalued starting pitchers for 2015.

For my overvalued starting pitchers, I chose a veteran that may have finally peaked and a young arm that has a bright future, but currently has a few issues.

There is no question that pitching is deep in 2015; there are many good starters that can be found in the later rounds.However, since you are competing against others in your league, having an ace or two at the top of your staff can be helpful, especially if the managers in your league are loading up on stud starters early.

If you are going to take an ace early, you need to make sure there is a minimal amount of risk. You cannot afford to bypass a solid hitter for a starter that has a bunch of fleas. Injuries play a larger role with pitchers, so watching for warnings signs is vital.

Pitchers can control things such as strikeouts and walks, but they have a more difficult time controlling ERA given additional factors such as LOB%, HR/FB%, and BABIP.

Overvalued Starting Pitchers for 2015

The following pitchers are being taken higher than they should be in 12-team leagues, so be aware that we’re not saying avoid them altogether. But rather, let others take them at their current value.

Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals

Season Team IP W L K ERA WHIP K/9 BB/9
2012 Cardinals 198.2 14 13 184 3.94 1.25 8.34 2.36
2013 Cardinals 241.2 19 9 219 2.94 1.07 8.16 1.30
2014 Cardinals 227 20 9 179 2.38 1.03 7.10 1.98

Wainwright had another stellar season. His wins, ERA, and WHIP all provided superior figures for managers. He maintained his elite control; however, he saw a decent decline in his strikeout rate. Let’s see if they are any warning signs that should be monitored.

Season Team FB% SL% CT% CB% CH% F-Strike% SwStr%
2012 Cardinals 41.8% (90.1) 13.4% (84.9) 14.2% (88.4) 24.7% (73.7) 6.0% (83.6) 64.10% 8.60%
2013 Cardinals 40.5% (91.1) 28.5% (88.0) 27.3% (75.1) 3.8% (83.9) 64.50% 9.60%
2014 Cardinals 40.7% (90.2) 29.8% (86.4) 27.6% (74.4) 1.9% (82.7) 60.70% 8.80%

In terms of velocity and pitch selection, nothing material has changed over the past few seasons. However, Wainwright threw fewer first strikes and his swinging strike rate regressed from 2013. That combination seems to explain the fall in his K/9 to the lowest level since 2008.

Season Team BABIP AVG LOB% GB/FB LD% GB% FB% HR/FB
2012 Cardinals .315 .254 67.80% 1.93 23.00% 50.80% 26.30% 9.90%
2013 Cardinals .305 .244 74.50% 1.78 23.40% 49.10% 27.50% 8.10%
2014 Cardinals .267 .219 78.00% 1.56 23.90% 46.30% 29.70% 5.30%

Wainwright got very lucky in 2014. Despite giving up an increasing and quite high amount of line drives, he achieved a career low BABIP. Also, his LOB% was his highest since returning from the Tommy John surgery that cancelled his 2011 campaign. Finally, Wainwright’s HR/FB% set a career low, further proving that his strong 2014 season will very likely not be repeated.

His early ADP according to FantasyPros.com is the 11th SP and 38th overall. In addition to the mentioned risks and warnings, Wainwright underwent minor elbow surgery last October and there is talk about a reduced workload in the spring. With all of these signs, his price needs to come down to compensate. I would rather take a pitcher such as Alex Cobb (ADP 19th SP) or Hisashi Iwakuma (ADP 24th SP) who does not have all the baggage that Wainwright is carrying.

I forecast Wainwright to finish out of the top-20 SP with projections of 13 W, 150 K, 3.50 ERA, 1.20 WHIP over 190 IP.

Sonny Gray, Oakland Athletics

Season Team IP W L K ERA WHIP K/9 BB/9
2012 Athletics (AA) 148 6 9 97 4.14 1.39 5.90 3.47
2013 Athletics (AAA) 118.1 10 7 118 3.42 1.32 8.97 2.97
2013 Athletics 64 5 3 67 2.67 1.11 9.42 2.81
2014 Athletics 219 14 10 183 3.08 1.19 7.52 3.04

Gray burst onto the scene in 2013. Based on his cameo that year, expectations were high for 2014. He had a solid season last year; however, he did see a material decline in his strikeout rate. This left his strikeout to walk ratio near the middle of the pack for all qualified starters. Let’s see if the other underlying stats show us anything exceptional.

Season Team FB% SL% CB% CH% F-Strike% SwStr%
2012 Athletics (AA) 9.70%
2013 Athletics (AAA) 9.60%
2013 Athletics 64.6% (93.1) 2.0% (84.5) 26.1% (79.6) 7.2% (86.4) 59.80% 9.50%
2014 Athletics 55.6% (93.0) 8.7% (86.2) 27.1% (81.3) 8.6% (86.2) 58.50% 8.70%

Gray recorded a swinging strike rate near the middle of the pack of all qualified starters. Also, his first strike percentage was in the bottom third of all qualified starters. These factors coupled with no material change in velocity and pitch selection lead me to believe that Gray’s K/9 probably hangs around 2014 levels in the near term-decent, but not elite.

Season Team BABIP AVG LOB% GB/FB LD% GB% FB% HR/FB
2012 Athletics (AA) .302 .261 68.80% 1.88 13.00% 55.20% 29.30% 5.80%
2013 Athletics (AAA) .337 .257 70.50% 1.86 21.10% 50.20% 27.00% 5.49%
2013 Athletics .276 .212 74.90% 1.92 19.50% 52.90% 27.60% 8.30%
2014 Athletics .277 .229 74.50% 2.19 18.50% 55.90% 25.60% 9.40%
Overvalued/Undervalued
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Gray is a groundball pitcher; he finished fifth in the league in terms of groundball rate. Given his batted ball profile, nothing extreme jumps out in terms of his BABIP and batting average allowed. If anything, there is a decent chance that they both rise a bit given his minor league numbers. Also, his LOB% and HR/FB% don’t scream regression in either direction. Gray is a solid starter, but with pitching so deep these days, I don’t understand why he is being drafted so close to the elite starters, especially considering the majority of his stats last year were just average.

His early FantasyPros ADP is the 20th SP and 81st overall. I believe that you can achieve very similar stats from Hyun-Jin Ryu (ADP 32nd SP) at a much cheaper cost.

I forecast Gray to finish out of the top 30 SP with projections of 13 W, 170 K, 3.50 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, over 200 IP.

Wainwright has injury risk and therefore IP risk. Gray has been an average pitcher, but he is young so brighter days probably lie ahead. For 2015, both of these guys are overvalued starting pitchers being drafted with rose-colored glasses on. Take them off and see these guys for what they are — overvalued.

Data contained in the charts courtesy of www.fangraphs.com and www.minorleaguecentral.com. Photo Credit: Terry Dobbins

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