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The Outlook for 2017's Overachieving & Underachieving Pitchers

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By Mark Simon

We’re a few days into the 2018 season, and one of the questions on your mind is probably “How will my team's starting pitchers perform?”

That’s a question that can be looked at in some interesting ways.

At Sports Info Solutions, our defense-independent pitching statistics (DIPS) are able to provide expected results on every ball in play against a pitcher by comparing the ball's trajectory, direction and velocity to other similar batted balls and assigning value based on those results. We can then compare those to his actual numbers to determine if a pitcher underachieved or overachieved.

In other words, these numbers can tell us if a pitcher may have worked in hard luck, worked in an unfriendly ballpark, or been the victim of some really poor defense. Or perhaps he pitched in good luck, got a few ballpark-friendly outs, or took advantage of some good defense.

Here's a look at six pitchers, three overachievers and three underachievers from 2017, with their projection for the 2018 season.

The overachievers

Justin Verlander

We’re here to get your attention with the name atop our list.

A lot of things went right for Verlander on the way to a 3.36 ERA and an eventual World Series title. Our calculations showed that Verlander should have allowed 26 more hits than he actually did, including nine doubles and four home runs. Had that happened, his opponents’ OPS would have been 96 points higher than it was at season's end. It would have put a major dent in his ERA. Nonetheless, he forecasts for only a modest drop-off in 2018.

Verlander's 2018 projection: 3.55 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, 224 IP


Jake Odorizzi

Another Opening Day starter, Twins pitcher Jake Odorizzi, benefited greatly last season from playing with one of the best defenses in baseball, with outstanding defenders in center field (Kevin Kiermaier) and at third base (Evan Longoria).

Opponents hit .533 (48-for-90) when hitting a line drive against Odorizzi, who likely got help defending those from the Rays’ frequent shifting. The average major leaguer hit .689 on line drives in 2017.

By our numbers, Odorizzi should have allowed 22 more hits than he did, including 10 doubles. It will be interesting to see how he fares for a team whose defense is good, but likely not as good as the Rays was.

Odorizzi's 2018 projection: 4.34 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, 162 IP

Shane Greene and Chad Green

We’ll give you two relievers instead of one because, by coincidence, two of the top overachievers are separated by one letter in their last name: Tigers closer Shane Greene and Yankees pitcher Chad Green. Greene’s OPS was 128 points below what was expected from our DIPS model. Green’s was 114 points below it.

Each pitched at a level he had never experienced in his career, with Greene pitching to a 2.66 ERA despite walking 4.5 batters per 9 innings. He may have taken advantage of Comerica Park’s dimensions, as he allowed only two home runs there in 33 innings (he allowed four in 34 2/3 innings on the road). Green pitched to a 1.83 ERA in deepening an impressive Yankees bullpen. He allowed a .404 batting average on hard-hit balls , the fifth-lowest in the majors.

2018 projections: 

Greene 66 IP, 4.36 ERA, 1.51 WHIP

Green: 71 IP, 3.40 ERA, 1.25 WHIP


The underachievers

Jameson Taillon

Jameson Taillon was happy to be on the mound in 2017 after dealing with testicular cancer. He’ll try to build off a positive ending to his season, and there are positive indicators in his numbers.

Taillon allowed 19 more hits than expected based on our DIPS model. Had he pitched to batted ball expectations, his opponents’ batting average would have been .253 instead of .290, and his ERA would likely have been in the mid 3s instead of the mid 4s. The cause may have been an outfield defense that was both without Starling Marte for half the year and with Andrew McCutchen in center field, who didn't fare well against deep balls.

Opponents hit .200 (20-for-100) on non-homer fly balls against Taillon. The MLB average was .133.

Taillon's 2018 projection: 153 IP, 3.75 ERA, 1.29 WHIP

Marco Estrada

Blue Jays starter Marco Estrada probably deserved a better fate -- about 18 hits and four home runs better per our batted-ball model. But after two years of amazing BABIPs (.217 and .234), more balls found their way for hits. Estrada had by far the worst season of his career. Had he performed to batted-ball expectations, his ERA would have probably hovered around 4 instead of being nearly 5.

Estrada's 2018 projection: 190 IP, 4.08 ERA, 1.24 WHIP

Nick Pivetta

Phillies starter Nick Pivetta closed out a rough 2017 with back-to-back scoreless starts, and perhaps that was a sign of things to come for him. Pivetta was the biggest underachiever among starting pitchers last season.

The difference between his expected and actual OPS was 117 points. Besides allowing eight home runs above expectations (Citizens Bank Park isn’t good for pitchers), Pivetta had only a 68 percent out rate on ground balls and bunts, which ranked among the 25 worst for starters last season.

Pivetta's 2018 projection: 144 IP, 4.13 ERA, 1.40 WHIP


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