Apr 26, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Astros second baseman Jose Altuve (27) and starting pitcher Dallas Keuchel (60) react after a play during the second inning against the Oakland Athletics at Minute Maid Park. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Expecting regression: Three pitchers who have been outperforming their skill sets

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We often hear about luck when it comes to hot streaks and breakouts. Terms get thrown around, such as BABIP, LOB% and line drive rate, all of which are supposed to act as proxies for luck. These are interesting stats to mine, but there’s a lot of noise when looking at them so early in the season. It’s arguably more valuable to look at a player’s rest of season (or ROS) projections.

Using the exceptional ZiPS and Steamer projections, we have a much better look at what pitchers (and hitters) are overperforming, and which ones are in line for a late season surge. In addition to the raw stats, we can compare players to other similar players throughout history, and see how similar skill sets age and progress throughout a season and career.

Using all the tools we have available, we can create a strong list of pitchers who have had all-star caliber starts to the season, but project to crash back down to league average and below. Without further ado, let’s get started:

ERA FIP xFIP K-BB% BABIP LOB% Projected ROS ERA Projected ROS FIP
3.25 3.52 4.07 6.1% .255 73.3% 4.94 4.44

Sorry, Twins fans. It’s been a long rebuild, and Gibson represents a young star to build around. He’s been among the league leaders in Swinging Strike% and ground ball rate over the past month, and all of his pitches have good peripherals. He’s even stopped throwing the four-seamer as much in an effort to maximize his results, opting for a sinker to generate more grounders. But the numbers are hollow as shown by a projected ERA nearing 5.

Kyle Gibson has never shown elite strikeout rates in the minors, and has been merely average when compared to other top prospects. The best thing a pitcher can do in an at-bat is strikeout the hitter because it doesn’t bring any chance for the defense to mess up the outcome.

Gibson’s lack of strikeouts is concerning, but many will point to a strong grounder rate, which can offset a lack of whiffs. Except that grounders tend to create a higher BABIP, and Gibson has one of the lowest in the majors right now, and we can expect that to rise as the season wears on.

His extremely low 5.5 home run to fly ball ratio will gravitate towards 10%, as every pitcher’s does, which will in turn balloon his ERA.

ERA FIP xFIP K-BB% BABIP LOB% Projected ROS ERA Projected ROS FIP
2.32 3.46 4.22 7.5% .284 80.7% 4.44 4.51

The Blue Jays, currently the division leader in the AL East, are working on one of the best stories in baseball right now. They practiced patience in the offseason, trusting their team would rebound, and the plan has worked out marvelously. One of the biggest contributors has been veteran Mark Buehrle, who seemingly popped up out of nowhere after a couple down years. His ERA may look shiny, but there’s little reason to believe it’s much more than luck at this point, as even his ERA predictors, such as FIP and xFIP, don’t believe in it either.

Buehrle has enjoyed an absurdly low HR/FB rate at 4.6%, the sixth lowest in baseball. That’s bad enough, but to do that in the hitter’s haven that is Rogers Centre is nothing short of a miracle. Expect some more bombs to be hit off his 83 MPH fastball.

His BABIP is sustainable and he’s always been a low strikeout pitcher, but the left on base numbers are well off of his career 72.8% rate. He’s allowed the 11th most baserunners in the league this year, and that’s bound to catch up with him. Buehrle is a ticking time bomb, and he’s about ready to explode.

ERA FIP xFIP K-BB% BABIP LOB% Projected ROS ERA Projected ROS FIP
2.63 2.88 2.97 15.2% .272 76.8% 4.63 4.00

There is excitement in Houston this season, with breakout pitchers, like Keuchel and Collin McHugh, plus top prospect call-ups in the form of George Springer and Jon Singleton. Keuchel has been one of the most exciting, thrusting himself into national headlines with great run suppression, outstanding control and the best ground ball rate in the majors. Keuchel has even had a decent strikeout rate, a few ticks above league average. His BABIP and LOB% are both sustainable for an entire season. So what could possibly be wrong with Keuchel?

One reason for the big drop in projected ERA and FIP is that he’s just been so good. Keuchel has put up some of the best rates in baseball, and barely any pitchers keep those numbers up for a whole season no matter how good the backing peripherals are.

But the real issue is digging into his 21% strikeout rate. Keuchel has never been a strikeout pitcher, maxing out at 16.1% at Double A and 13.3% at Triple A.

Keuchel believers will point out that he’s changed his pitch repertoire, ditching his four-seamer in lieu of a two-seamer. The problem with the two-seamer is it’s used to increase ground balls, and gets even less swinging strikes than the four-seamer. His contact numbers are right around league average (75.7%) and he’s below league average in strike zone percentage, only 42.3%. His slider is still one of the best in the league, getting an insane 23.9% swinging strikes. Game theory dictates however, that he can’t just keep throwing his slider and expect to get the same results.

Dallas Keuchel is a fascinating pitcher, and should be part of the Astros’ core as their prospects develop, but for now, he still has work to do.

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Tags: Dallas Keuchel Houston Astros Kyle Gibson Mark Buehrle Minnesota Twins Toronto Blue Jays

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