Stuckey: Regression Looms for a Few Pitchers I’m Looking To Bet Against in August

Stuckey: Regression Looms for a Few Pitchers I’m Looking To Bet Against in August article feature image
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David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Houston Astros starting pitcher Wade Miley

  • As a follow up to my June 11 article, I recap the performances of the starters I targeted as betting fades and share where I stand on them now.
  • I also will discuss two other pitchers that are high regression candidates moving forward and offer my thoughts on a few other arms.

It has been almost two months since I highlighted six pitchers as potential fade targets in the baseball betting market. Well, the regression certainly hit for this group of arms that benefited from extremely good fortune over the first two-plus months of the season.

From the beginning of the season through June 11, those six starters had a combined 36-17 record with a sparkling 2.55 ERA. Since then, they’ve gone just 13-24 with a 5.52 ERA, which is almost poetic as the exact reverse numbers of their pre-June 11 ERA of 2.55.

Four of the six have had ERA’s at least 3.4 runs higher than they had prior to June 11. Zach Eflin and Trevor Richards were even moved out of their starting roles into the bullpen — where I actually think the latter can have more success until he gains more consistency with his other pitches to complement his elite changeup.

Jake Odorizzi had the highest ERA since my article but I’m now fairly market neutral on the flyball pitcher after a massive correction.

Meanwhile, the summer regression tour of Zach Davies still has a few more tour dates and I don’t think Hyun-jin Ryu can keep up his absurd 2019 pace when he comes off the IL. So, those two remain on my radar for potential fade value in August.

What summer concert are you most looking forward to?

Me: the Zach Davies regression tour

— Stuckey (@Stuckey2) June 19, 2019

Dakota Hudson still tops my fade list at the moment — although lines have been moving against him quickly after open, so you have to act fast. The St. Louis right-hander has the second-worst WHIP (1.58) and the highest ERA-FIP differential among all qualified starters. His 3.99 ERA sits almost 1.5 runs lower than his 5.37 FIP, per FanGraphs.

He’s a promising young arm, but he’s just putting too many people on base right now.

Hudson’s xFIP (4.54) is slightly better but I prefer FIP more as the season progresses. Since xFIP normalizes a pitcher’s HR/FB rate, it’s a better assessment tool over smaller sample sizes, removing wild home run variance. I will also reference SIERA, which I prefer most of all as it also accounts for batted ball data.

So, with three of the six still on my fade list, I wanted to share the other two joining them in my top five short-term potential fades. I’ll also offer some quicker thoughts on a few other possible regression candidates.

Before I continue, I did want to make two caveats:

  1. Everything ultimately depends on price. For example, even if I have a guy circled as a potential fade, I could still bet him if the price is right.
  2. Pitchers can simply have lucky years, so there’s no guarantee the regression ever comes within any specific season.

Wade Miley (Astros)

I’m not sure what’s in the drinking water in Houston, but it seems like any pitcher immediately improves upon arrival. I mean look no further than last night when Aaron Sanchez, who has the highest ERA among all qualified starters, made his debut for the Astros. The ex-Blue Jay threw six innings of no-hit ball as part of a combined no-hitter against the Mariners.

Another one of those pitchers who has seen better results after coming to Houston is Wade Miley, The lefty hurler owns a minuscule 3.05 ERA and the sixth-lowest opponent batting average (.214).

Aside from the magic the Astros can work on newly acquired starters, Miley has benefited from extreme fortune so far this season. Only the aforementioned Dakota Hudson has a higher FIP-ERA differential. Miley’s 3.05 ERA is almost 1.5 runs lower than his 4.40 FIP and 4.41 xFIP. And his SIERA is even higher at 4.60.

One of the primary drivers of his good luck has been how many batters he’s been able to strand on base.

Miley is one of only nine qualified starters with a strand rate north of 80%. While you’d expect to see guys with elite swing-and-miss stuff like Justin Verlander, Luis Castillo and Jacob deGrom, you wouldn’t expect Miley to maintain his spot on this list with such modest strikeout numbers. For reference, he owns a career 73.0% career LOB% (Left On Base Percentage).

The 32-year-old Miley has also benefited from good fortune on balls in play. His .238 BABIP is the second-lowest among all qualified starters in 2019. It’s also significantly lower than his career .302 BABIP — which is right around league average.

Regression looms for the lefty.

Mike Fiers (Athletics)

On the surface, Fiers is having an incredible year in Oakland. He boasts a 10-3 record and a 3.46 ERA over 24 starts on the season. However, if you take a look under the hood, the engine isn’t running so smoothly.

His SIERA of 5.33  is almost two full runs higher than that clean-looking ERA.

A significant chunk of Fiers’ good luck can be attributed to balls put in play. The A’s righty has an unsustainable .243 BABIP — the third-lowest among all qualified starters (He has a .283 career BABIP, even including this year).

Ultimately, this is a pitcher who is striking out 5.8 batters per nine (career low and third-lowest among qualified starters) and getting fewer swinging strikes than ever before.

Batted balls are going to start finding holes and gaps — at least the ones that stay in the park. The long ball can be a problem for Fiers, who’s also run well in that department to date.

A swinging-strike percentage of 7.7% is just not a recipe for long-term success a this level. Fiers is one of only six qualified starters with a sub-eight swinging-strike rate.

I expect plenty of rough outings for Fiers over the final two months of the season. He can only hide from the inevitable correction for so long. The check engine light is definitely flashing on the dashboard.

Other Candidates: Buy or Sell?

You might take a look at some Justin Verlander’s peripherals and argue he’s been lucky. After all, he does have the league’s lowest BABIP and highest LOB%. However, Verlander not only knows how to pitch, he has elite stuff that batters don’t barrel up. I’m in no rush to fade the former Cy Young winner.

The same can be said for Reds starter Luis Castillo, who’s been fairly lucky. However, he has stuff that also misses bats, especially his filthy changeup. In fact, Castillo has the second-highest swinging-strike rate this year among all qualified starters.

That said, unlike Verlander, Castillo does have some walk issues, so he could stumble a little down the stretch.

I already mentioned Fiers as a potential regression candidate and I’m also looking at his teammate Brett Anderson, who has a 4.04 ERA — a full run lower than his 5.25 SIERA.

Anderson is definitely also on my fade radar. I just don’t see how a guy only striking out 4.54 batters per nine can even maintain a relatively average 4.04 ERA. Not only is that the lowest K/9 rate among qualified starters this year, only two starters (Mark Buehrle in 2015 and Ty Blach in 2017) have had lower clips over the past five seasons.

Lastly, I think a pair of Braves starters could present some good fade opportunities in the near future. Both Mike Soroka and especially Julio Teheran have been fairly fortunate this year.

I especially don’t expect Teheran to keep getting solid results with a 2:1 K:B ratio. His velocity is down and he’s getting significantly fewer swinging strikes this year. You saw some of that today against the Reds.

Soroka, while somewhat fortunate, has the repertoire to succeed but I do worry more about fatigue for the youngster down the stretch.

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