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Forecasting 10 potential SP value changes

Gray could break out; Finnegan may regress
November 23, 2016

Bad habits are hard to break.Although fantasy owners have a wide range of advanced metrics available, many remain reliant on ERA as a tool for predicting future performance. While ERA certainly has some predictive value, owners would be wise to recognize a pitcher's FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) when judging his

Bad habits are hard to break.
Although fantasy owners have a wide range of advanced metrics available, many remain reliant on ERA as a tool for predicting future performance. While ERA certainly has some predictive value, owners would be wise to recognize a pitcher's FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) when judging his likelihood of helping fantasy teams in future starts. FIP seeks to provide a more accurate pitcher-assessment tool by removing variables such as defensive support, batted-ball luck and sequencing of hits.
The following 10 pitchers could experience different fortunes next season if their ERAs move closer to their 2016 FIPs.
Potential value picks
Jon Gray, Rockies: Gray showed flashes of his tremendous potential last season, fanning 185 batters in just 168 innings and minimizing long balls (1.0 HR/9 rate) despite making home starts at hitter-friendly Coors Field. However, he struggled with his start-to-start consistency and recorded a 4.61 ERA on the year -- including a 4.91 mark on the road. The talented righty could break through as a mixed-league asset next year if he can push his ERA closer to last year's 3.65 FIP by improving on his 66.4-percent strand rate.

Robbie Ray, D-backs: Ray turned in mixed results this past season, emerging as a top strikeout arm (11.3 K/9 rate) but struggling to limit walks and well-struck balls. With just 10 quality starts in 32 chances, the left-hander posted a 4.90 ERA and a 1.47 WHIP across 174 1/3 innings. However, his 3.80 FIP from 2016 offers hope that he could soon become a high-end mixed-league starter by maintaining his swing-and-miss skills and improving his 68.7-percent strand rate.
Noah Syndergaard, Mets: Syndergaard was brilliant this past season, ranking third among Major Leaguers in ERA (2.60) and fourth in K/9 rate (10.7). The right-hander also posted the lowest HR/9 rate (0.5) among qualified hurlers, eliminating the homer woes that plagued him as a rookie. A 2.33 FIP from last season suggests that he could be even better next year, though the 24-year-old will likely need to make strides to keep opposing base stealers in check. Syndergaard allowed 48 steals in '16, the highest total yielded by any starter since Hideo Nomo permitted 52 swipes in '01.
Michael Pineda, Yankees: Pineda had an up-and-down 2016 season, ranking sixth in the American League with 207 strikeouts but also logging a career-high 4.82 ERA and 1.35 WHIP. Lacking reliable offerings to go with his brilliant slider, the right-hander recorded a personal-high 1.4 HR/9 rate and a dramatically inflated BB/9 rate (2.7 in '16; 1.1 from '14-15). But with the ability to rack up whiffs, the righty could become a major mixed-league asset if better batted-ball luck (.340 BABIP in '16) leads to a '17 ERA that resembles his 3.76 FIP from last season.

Adam Wainwright, Cardinals: After missing most of 2015 with an injury, Wainwright had trouble finding his top form over 33 starts in '16. With a career-high 1.0 HR/9 rate and his worst BB/9 rate (2.7) since '07, the righty battled inconsistency for much of the campaign en route to a 4.62 ERA. However, fantasy owners who are set to dismiss Wainwright should notice that the veteran posted a respectable 3.98 FIP but was beset by a career-high .334 BABIP last season.
Buyer-beware candidates
Brandon Finnegan, Reds: Finnegan found some success in 2016 -- his first season as a full-time starter -- producing a 3.98 ERA on the strength of a 2.93 mark after the All-Star break. But the left-hander was much less impressive from a fielding-independent standpoint, recording a 5.23 FIP due to troubles with home runs (1.5 HR/9 rate) and free passes (4.4 BB/9 rate). As a result, the 23-year-old is a potential bust candidate for '17 mixed-league owners who expect him to be a dependable asset.
Cole Hamels, Rangers: Hamels had great success this past season, going 15-5 with a 3.32 ERA and 200 strikeouts across 200 2/3 innings. But the southpaw also experienced a decline in the control department (career-worst 3.5 BB/9 rate) that could prove troublesome going forward. Having shown a susceptibility to the long ball across 44 starts with the Rangers (1.1 HR/9 rate), the 32-year-old may need to minimize free passes to keep his 2017 ERA from trending toward his 3.94 FIP from last season.

Kyle Hendricks, Cubs: Hendricks enjoyed a magical 2016 campaign, posting the lowest ERA (2.13) and the second-best WHIP (0.98) in the Majors. The righty outpitched his 3.25 FIP by regularly inducing weak contact in front of a Cubs squad that led the Majors by a wide margin with a .731 defensive efficiency ratio. The 26-year-old has the skills and stellar defensive support to remain eminently successful in '17, but duplicating last year's stats will likely be a tall task.
Tanner Roark, Nationals: Roark delivered a bounceback campaign in 2016, posting an ERA below 3.60 in each month en route to the sixth-lowest mark (2.83) in the Majors. However, the righty also registered a 3.79 FIP on the year thanks to his below-average 2.4 K/BB ratio -- which he recorded in spite of a career-high 7.4 K/9 rate. While the 30-year-old is unlikely to revert to his '15 form (4.38 ERA) next season, he may struggle to reproduce his sterling '16 campaign if he experiences a normalization of a 79.5 percent strand rate that ranked fifth among qualified National League hurlers.
Marco Estrada, Blue Jays: Estrada followed up his breakout 2015 year with another solid effort this past season, producing a 3.48 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP across 176 innings. But the righty also allowed 23 round-trippers, posting a HR/9 rate above 1.0 for the ninth straight season. Though the fly-ball-prone righty has seemingly found the right approach to consistently keep the bases clean and outpitch his FIP (4.11 in '16), his longstanding homer problems make him a risky addition to mixed-league staffs nonetheless.

Fred Zinkie is the lead fantasy baseball writer for Follow him on Twitter at @FredZinkieMLB.