Saturday, February 15, 2014

Jose Fernandez's conservative projections

Jose Fernandez's rookie season, as a 20 year old starting pitcher, started out as an interesting conversation piece. He had a couple of spectacular starts offset by some so-so starts, generally depending on whether he was home or away at the time. By the end of 2013, he was the talk of baseball writers and won the Rookie of the Year honors. Despite how he finished 2013, projection systems are taking a conservative approach to how Fernandez will perform in 2014.
First, let's look at the projection systems' numbers and then a discussion of them will follow:
System, IP, K/9, B/9, ERA, FIP, WAR
  • ZiPS: 154, 9.53, 3.16, 2.57, 2.87, 4.5
  • Oliver: 118, 9.67, 3.27, 2.74, 2.86, 2.6
  • Steamer: 192, 10.01, 3.35, 3.35, 3.05, 3.8
  • Fans: 201, 9.72, 2.87, 2.83, 2.97, 4.2
  • PECOTA: 186, 9.77, N/A, 2.44, N/A, 4.6
If we average them all out, here is a list of how the projected numbers stack up to his 2013 numbers:
  • IP - 170, less than 2013
  • K/9 - 9.75, higher than 2013
  • B/9 - 3.16, higher than 2013
  • ERA - 2.79, higher than 2013
  • FIP - 2.94, higher than 2013
  • WAR - 3.94, lower than 2013.
As you can see, the average of the five projection systems paint a picture of a pitcher not as successful as last season. Two of the five systems projected his WAR at equal to 2013 or higher. They all projected more strikeouts per nine but higher ERA and FIP numbers.
The projections are, in fact, conservative. Is there a good reason to be? Well, sure. So many things can happen to a pitcher. There are pulled muscles, blisters, line drives hitting them like tiny dodge balls, sore shoulders and elbows and just plain bad luck. And consider that of the 79 pitchers who qualified for the ERA title last season, only 46% of them, or 36 of them pitched 200 innings or more. Pitching is a tough gig.
But what if Jose Fernandez stays healthy and pitches 200 innings or more? What can we tell from last year? What we did see was a pitcher who gained mastery and unbelievable numbers as the season progressed.
In his first ten starts covering April and May, Fernandez went 2-3 with a 3.78 ERA with a 1.204 WHIP. Here is how he did each month after that:
  • Jun: 2-1, 1.67, 0.928
  • Jul: 3-1, 2.08, 0.857
  • Aug: 3-1, 1.15, 0.846
  • Sep: 2-0, 0.64, 0.786
Unbelievable, eh? He was getting better as the season went along. As you may or may not know, during the season, I pick the games every day to predict which team will win or won't win. In the first half, if Jose Fernandez was at home, I would pick the Marlins to win. If the Marlins were on the road, I would pick them to lose if Fernandez was pitching. After the first half, I always picked him to win. It did not matter if he was home or on the road.
This is a special pitcher who just happens to be heading into his Year 21 pitching. There is something exciting about him and when he pitches, he is the kind of pitcher that everyone wants to watch. The only thing that can derail him is some sort of injury and you really have to root against that happening with all of the fibers in your body if you are a baseball fan.
It is easy to understand the computer models being conservative. Things happen to pitchers. So much that actually occurs in the game are out of their control. His fielders have to field, his batters have to get ahead in the game to keep him on the mound and his catcher has to frame and block pitches well.
But there is a lot in his control. Even as a freshman pitcher, he got batters to swing at 31% of his pitches out of the strike zone. I think his walks will come down significantly. I think he has adapted to pitching on the road and getting batters to hit less fly balls on the road (which the records show he did). For gosh sakes, he led the league with only 5.3 hits per nine innings! That is remarkable.
If he stays healthy--and man, I hope he does--I see no reason why his ERA cannot again finish under 2.50, his winning percentage stay above 60% and his strikeout to walk ratio to improve. I see no reason why he cannot go 200 innings at least and yet keep his WHIP under 1.00.
I cannot wait to see what he does because pitchers like him do not come around very often. If Jose Fernandez does not finish with 6 WAR or higher, I will be totally shocked and disappointed.

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