In fantasy baseball, a community obsessed with perfecting the concept of “predictive stats”, the best predictor of future production is still past production. We have seen what Clayton Kershaw, Felix Hernandez, and Cliff Lee have done and we can make certain statistical assumptions about their likely 2014 production based on their existing body of work.
Where we run into trouble, though, is sample size. Young pitchers with little Big League experience are hard to project. Rookies are downright impossible but we can still make certain statistical predictions for second-year pitchers.
There’s three that I’m especially high on. (Scroll down to see full projections)
Gerrit Cole: Cole pitched 117 innings in 2013, impressive considering he only pitched 200 innings in the minors before getting the call. His 3.22 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, and 100 K/28 BB over 22 starts (plus a 2.45 ERA, 0.64 WHIP in two postseason starts against the Cards) was a huge get for fantasy owners. In his 38 starts in the minors, Cole posted very similar numbers, going 14-10 with a 2.84 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and 183 K/73 BB.
So what can we reasonably expect from Cole? Thirteen or more wins seems almost a given, assuming he stays healthy and the Pirates don’t fall apart. He’s never had an ERA over 2.91 at any level of the minors. He only had one month (of the four he spent in the Bigs) with an ERA over 3.75. That was his 4.25 ERA over five August starts. Of course, he followed that up with a 1.69 ERA in five September starts and all was well again. There’s no reason to expect an ERA over 3.50 from Cole and I have him projected at 3.35.
Cole owns a 1.15 career WHIP in the minors and posted a 1.06 in 12 Triple-A starts last season. His 1.17 WHIP in the Majors is right in the ballpark. I have him at 1.22 for this season, a conservative estimate that he could certainly exceed if he improves his 8.4 hits per nine innings (he posted a 7.1 over his short minor league career).
His 8.2 strikeouts per nine innings in the minors and 7.7 in the Bigs is right where we’d expect him to be. He should have no problem attaining at least 180 innings which should give him at least 160, though he should have more innings and strikeouts.
Michael Wacha: Wacha only pitched 15 times during the regular season and started just nine games. He did start another five games in the postseason though, so we have a total of 14 starts to look at.
As far as wins go, 13+ seems like a given. The Cards are not as strong as they were last season but are still a good hitting squad and Wacha should have no problem reaching at least 13 wins if he stays healthy.
His 2.78 ERA during the regular season (2.83 as a starter), 2.64 ERA in the postseason, and 2.29 ERA over just 106 minor league innings are all in the same ballpark. Since he only pitched 64 innings, his ERA is significantly brought up by his second ever Major League start in which he gave up six over 4.2 innings to the Diamondbacks. After that, he posted a 2.21 ERA over his remaining 53 innings. My projection of 3.35 is very conservative as Wacha has looked beastly in rapid ascent from Low-A to universal fantasy ownership. A 2.70 ERA is certainly not out of the question.
Wacha’s 0.91 minor league WHIP translated to a 1.10 in the regular season and 0.91 in the postseason. He limits hits as well as anyone and rarely loses his control, although it does happen. I would expect a 1.18 at worst and something in the 1.07-1.10 range.
His 9.0 K/9 during the regular season, 9.7 K/9 during the postseason, and 9.6 K/9 in the minors seem to be the norm for him. A conservative 180 inning season should see him post at least 180 strikeouts.
Tony Cingrani: Like the other two, Cingrani didn’t stick around the minors too long, pitching just 228 innings. His 1.65 minors ERA should tell you exactly why. His 2.77 ERA in 97 innings as a starter in the Bigs last season further tells us what a promising pitcher the 24-year-old can be. A 3.25 ERA or better seems likely, and this guy can certainly do better.
His 1.04 WHIP as a starter wasn’t a whole lot higher than his 0.95 WHIP in the minors. It seems unlikely that he would post anything over a 1.15 and could certainly do better if he improves his 3.7 per nine walk rate.
His strikeout numbers are equally as exciting. He posted an 11.8 strikeout per nine rate in the minors and a 10.1 strikeout rate as a Big League starter. If he can stay on a 9.5 per nine or better pace, that should give him 200+ strikeouts over a conservative 180 inning season.
With all that in mind, let’s take a look at some other conservative estimates for the league’s top 45 starters.
Be sure to check out our starting pitcher rankings No. 1-45 and No. 46-95, outfield rankings and projections, first base rankings and projections, second base rankings and projections, third base rankings and projections, shortstop rankings and projections, and catcher rankings and projections.
Stay tuned for part two of our starting pitcher projections coming up tomorrow.