Smart fantasy baseballers shy away from putting too much stock into spring training stats. It's for good reason - the stats don't mean much, as guys play against varying levels of competition, work on specific hitting/pitching approaches, and generally focus more on skills than actual performance. However, when it comes to pitchers, there are battles for rotation spots, velocity gainers and losers, injuries and returns to full health, and even strikeout vs. walk rates to watch. There are a ton of reasons to take a closer look at projected pitcher performances for 2015 as draft day approaches.
The best thing about ranking players directly off of their projections is it allows you to tweak the projections based on these sorts of things right up until draft day and keep all the ranks straight. If you've got the Big Board already, I'm preaching to the choir. If not, check it out! Here's 10 guys that I've personally bumped up or down in the Big Board's custom projections here during spring training:
5 Pitchers Moving Up
Spring: 18 IP, 0.00 ERA, 0.56 WHIP, 9.5 K/9, 2.0 BB/9 Projection: 160 IP, 150 K, 3.70 ERA, 1.26 WHIP
Walker came in to spring training with health concerns, control problems, and without a sure rotation spot. And while we can’t say he’s for sure kicked his love for BBs after just 18 innings, he’s silenced a lot of critics by holding his opponents to a miniscule .278 OPS and striking out over a batter per inning this spring. Meanwhile, one of his main competitors (Roenis Elias) tops our list of pitchers having a rough spring, and the other (Erasmo Ramirez) has been cropping up in trade rumors. We’re confident in keeping the innings projection conservative for now, but Taijuan is an elite pitching prospect and could easily outdo his projected rate stats this year.
Spring: 14.1 IP, 1.26 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, 7.5 K/9, 0.6 BB/9 Projection: 185 IP, 203 K, 3.30 ERA, 1.18 WHIP
He probably could have done an Edwin Jackson impression this spring and we’d still all be excited to see Matt Harvey is back in action. Three things that have him moving up: 1) If we take the Mets at their word, he’s going to make it to 200 innings this year if they make the playoffs, 2) No control problems (1 walk vs. 12 strikeouts), 3) He’s spitting hot fire at 99mph. I’m still knocking his rate stats down a peg from Steamer/ZiPS given the tendency for TJ guys to experience some loss of command in their first season back, but buying in to the Harvey return to ace-dom is looking smarter every day.
Spring: 18.2 IP, 2.41 ERA, 1.07 WHIP, 10.1 K/9, 1.9 BB/9 Projection: 160 IP, 153 K, 3.90 ERA, 1.27 WHIP
I was fully ready to leave him down at the bottom of the board after the 50th time I heard the tiresome “lives in a van down by the river” storyline about Norris, but between the Stroman injury and his lights out spring, I’m coming around quickly. Any time a rookie is pitching in a bandbox like Toronto I’ll worry for the possibility of blowup outings, but the K upside is undeniable. We still have basically no sample-size for this guy above Double-A (23 IP at Triple-A last year, 7 IP in majors), so I’ll basically continue to watch his spring starts and see where his K- and BB-rates go. There is real breakout potential here, but keep in mind the likelihood of a late-season shutdown in H2H leagues.
Spring: 14 IP, 3.86 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 9.6 K/9, 1.9 BB/9 Projection: 180 IP, 159 K, 3.70 ERA, 1.23 WHIP
2015 Spring Training StudsLots of people are talking about the up-and-down season Hammel had between the Cubs and A’s last year, where he pretty much tanked following the trade that shipped him west. Now he’s back with the Cubs, and the easy story to write is that he’ll be back to something like his sparkly first-half 3.01 ERA/1.06 WHIP of 2014 which were powered by an 8.5 K/9 and 2.0 BB/9. Based on the spring numbers so far, I’m starting to buy it. Longer-term, he’s got a weird history that could conceivably be hiding a guy that has gradually gotten better and better through his time in the majors, after spending three full seasons in Colorado and two injury-marred ones in Baltimore before last year.
Spring: 17.2 IP, 5.60 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 7.6 K/9, 1.5 BB/9 Projection: 170 IP, 130 K, 3.80 ERA, 1.25 WHIP
There isn’t a lot that’s super exciting about House, and less-calm minds would see his ERA/WHIP and say he’s having a rough spring. But I love him given his great K/BB differential (look no further than the 1.5 BB/9 this spring) and elite groundball rate (over 60% last year). While the ceiling is not super high, his floor is high, and after Gavin Floyd’s injury it’s looking like he has secured a rotation spot this year.
5 Pitchers Moving Down
Spring: 14.2 IP, 6.75 ERA, 2.25 WHIP, 4.9 K/9, 4.3 BB/9 Projection: 64 IP, 53 K, 4.03 ERA, 1.32 WHIP
Well, he *had* a shot at the rotation, but it's back to the 'pen after allowing a near 1.200 OPS, not striking anybody out, and walking the farm (while Taijuan Walker did the opposite).
Spring: 15.1 IP, 5.87 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, 6.5 K/9, 0.00 BB/9 Projection: 176 IP, 162 K, 4.00 ERA, 1.32 WHIP
Asterisk. He seems to be working on something this spring. He hasn't walked a batter yet. And Bauer is well-known as one of the most cerebral pitchers in baseball. But he's also the man that brought you the back-to-back-to-back HRs for the Cubbies, and four triples in one inning for the Angels. Bad. Baaaad.
Spring: 12.1 IP, 5.11 ERA, 1.38 WHIP, 3.7 K/9, 3.7 BB/9 Projection: 166 IP, 124 K, 4.23 ERA, 1.42 WHIP
I wanted to be optimistic for Masterson as a bounceback guy after his 2014 implosion. Maybe Boston will have found some magic, you know? I'm willing to believe I was wrong about that based on the results so far.
Spring: 4 IP, so the stats don't mean much... Projection: 140 IP, 116 K, 3.70 ERA, 1.27 WHIP
He still doesn't have his slider working, and it seems that Ubaldo Jimenez has some dirt on someone high-up in Baltimore as they're talking about letting him start over Gausman yet again. Sigh. I still like Gausman's upside, and he'll start sooner or later this year, but for now I'm fading what was once a more optimistic innings total.
Spring: 18 IP, 3.93 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 4.4 K/9, 2.0 BB/9 Projection: 150 IP, 126 K, 3.90 ERA, 1.24 WHIP
The opposite of the Gausman story here -- I was a lot more excited for Aaron Sanchez the closer than I am for Aaron Sanchez the unproven starter. He was able to get away with being just a two-pitch pitcher in relief last year, and there are still some real questions here with respect to his control issues. I'm projecting more innings but worse rate stats.