by Eno Sarris //
We can get a little smart for our britches sometimes. We’ll take a pitcher, look at his peripherals and declare him over-rated. Then that pitcher goes and improves his peripherals and retains his ERA and WHIP and we look silly. This explains much of Trevor Cahill‘s last two years. Are we seeing it again this year in Tampa?
Take a look at Jeremy Hellickson‘s underlying statistics and he seems like a perfect sell-high. Despite a sweet ERA (3.17 ERA), he’s not striking out a ton of batters (6.1 K/9), is walking batters at about an average rate (3.25 BB/9, average is 3.14 BB/9), and is getting ground balls at a below-average rate (33.9% GB, 44% is average). To recap: that’s below average, average and below average. He’s managing the ERA mostly on the back of a lucky batting average on balls in play (.224 BABIP) and a lucky strand rate (79% left on base, 70% is league average).
Put it all together and you get a 4.27 FIP, or fielding independent pitching, a number on the ERA scale that strips out batted ball luck. An average FIP this year is 3.84. He’s been below average, which is a strange thing to say about a guy with a low-threes ERA and nine wins.
But here’s something even stranger to say: He could be just as good going forward, and maybe even fundamentally better. Well, that’s not really that strange, but given his rate stats, you might frown for a moment.
The reasoning behind the statement is simple. Like Trevor Cahill before him, Hellickson is a young pitcher. He has fewer than 150 innings pitched at the major league level. We can’t really assume that the strikeout and walk rates that we currently see are his true talent rates. In 2010, Cahill showed a 5.4 K/9 and the book was that he couldn’t sustain his results with that level of strikeouts. But Cahill had also had a 9.9 K/9 in the minor leagues. He just needed to figure it out on the major league level, and lo and behold, he now has a 6.65 K/9 and has bettered his FIP a quarter of a run.
Hellickson? He had a 9.8 K/9 in the minor leagues. He was a control artist, with a 2.1 BB/9 on the farm and no season where he walked more than three per nine. He never got a ton of ground balls, but he did get much closer to 40%. These numbers were accrued against inferior talent, but they are also relevant. We can’t just assume that Hellickson will continue to strike out six per nine and say he’s over-rated. Small sample sizes are the bane of the saber-friendly analyst, but in his last three starts, Hellickson has 18 strikeouts against three walks in 20 1/3 innings. That’s the sort of work he did in the minor leagues.
Particularly when we evaluate young pitchers, we cannot forget their minor league work. Baseball is a game of adjustments, and a young pitcher is an adjustment away from improving his underlying rates and ‘deserving’ his good fortune. Even in baseball’s toughest division, Hell Boy has great stuff, dominant control, and the ability to continue putting up an ERA in the low threes.
For the best fantasy baseball analysis and insight please visit BloombergSports.com
By Tommy Rancel //
Biggest Surprise: Trevor Cahill
After going 10-13 with a 4.63 ERA in 32 starts as a rookie, Cahill has enjoyed an All-Star season in 2010. The 22-year-old is 17-8 with a 3.08 ERA in 27 starts. On the surface, Cahill seems like an emerging ace, but we’ll see if he can repeat his performance. More on that later…
Biggest Bust: Ben Sheets
The A’s made an unusual splash on the open market this season when they signed Ben Sheets to a one-year, $10 million deal. Sheets missed all of 2009, but when healthy is a legitimate ace. The gamble for Oakland was him staying healthy. Unfortunately for both sides, Sheets would last just 20 starts before needing major arm surgery. Not only did the surgery wipe out the rest of 2010, but most likely all of 2011 as well. Even before the surgery, the righty was just 4-9 with a 4.53 ERA.
2011 Keeper Alert: Gio Gonzalez
While Cahill has grabbed most of the attention, Gio Gonzalez might be the most talented young arm in the A’s rotation. At 14-9 with a 3.35 ERA, Gonzalez is finally living up to the hype of a top prospect. He has an above-average strikeout rate (7.57 K/9 IP), but walks are still an issue (4.04 BB/9 IP). He’s young, he’s talented, his numbers don’t suggest much of a fluke, and he’s left-handed; a keeper.
2011 Regression Alert: Trevor Cahill
As mentioned, Cahill has really good traditional stats, but a quick check of his peripherals show he has not been as impressive as those numbers suggest. His 5.31 K/9 IP is poor and his 2.89 BB/9 is acceptable, but only with a higher strikeout rate. In addition to the mediocre control rates, his .237 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is not likely to be repeated again (league average is typically around .300). Cahill is a fine young pitcher with a terrific groundball rate (55.7% ranks among the league leaders) and plenty of room to improve. But buyers beware next season – his ERA’s likely to rise, and 17 or more wins might be a reach.
For more on Trevor Cahill, Gio Gonzalez and the rest of the Oakland A’s pitching staff, check out Bloomberg Sports’ Fantasy Kits.