AL Regression Pitchers

A strange thing has happened so far this offseason. It seems like an inordinate percentage of the big moves have resulted in players signing with National League teams. Part of this is just perception, but that perception definitely carries over to this installment of Regression Alert.

As I discussed in last week's article, there are some specific things I look for when looking for regression, and it just so happens that a lot of the pitchers who stood out from the National League are new to their team. As you'll see below that's not always a good thing.

Zack Greinke
HOU • SP • 21
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Greinke had a historic season in more ways than one. His .229 BABIP against was the lowest by an NL pitcher since Chris Young in 2006. More impressively, his 86.5 percent strand rate was the lowest since Pedro Martinez in 2000. Of course, if you've read anything I've written before, you know that I don't believe pitchers have a ton of control over those two metrics.

You want to know the last time pitcher posted a strand rate above 85 percent and a BABIP under .230? It was 1968 when Bob Gibson and Luis Tiant did it. The game was just a little bit different back then; Gibson posted a 1.12 ERA in 304 innings.

It's true that a high strikeout rate can correlate with a higher strand rate, which makes it even more odd that Greinke had this type of season with a rather pedestrian 8.1 K/9. J.A. Happ was the only pitcher in the last 25 years to post a strand rate that low with a strikeout rate that low. Greinke was aided by keeping the ball in in the park, with his home run rate being his best since his 2009 Cy Young season.

I could write an entire piece on Greinke (and I may later this spring), but we'll keep it simple to save space for more pitchers in this piece. I expect Greinke to throw 200+ innings in Arizona with an ERA around 3.2 and a WHIP around 1.2. His strikeout rate and wins will determine whether he's a top 15 pitcher or someone who falls into the 20s.

The wins will be at least partially dependent on how successful his new team is, and the strikeout rate plummeted in 2015. It's not hard to see Greinke as a top 10 pitcher in 2016, but it's just as easy to see him as a disappointment. One guy I mentioned in the AL regression piece is Felix Hernandez, and I think where you fall on the Greinke vs. Felix debate tells how much weight you put into 2015 in your 2016 rankings.

Andrew Cashner
BOS • SP • 48
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You could make an argument for three of the Padres starters in this article, but Cashner is the most obvious. The 29 year-old right hander had built quite a bit of momentum with a sub-3.00 ERA over his past two seasons, but there were warning signs that included a BABIP below .275 and a crazy low HR/FB rate. I wouldn't blame anyone for saying Cashner took on two years worth of regression in 2015. Even so, what should we expect from him in the future?

Despite the fluctuation in his ERA Cashner's xFIP has been fairly consistent over the last three seasons, with each of the past three seasons between 3.53 and 3.84. The one major positive for him last season was that he struck out more than eight batters per nine innings for the first time in his career. Unfortunately, that coincided with a career worst walk rate.

I'd expect a mid-3 ERA from Cashner with a near-doubling of his 2015 win total. Cashner is likely to finish among the top 40 pitchers again in 2016, but you can draft him well after you've selected your starters.

John Lackey
SP •

John Lackey isn't your typical regression candidate. His BABIP against was relatively normal and his HR/FB rate wasn't really out of whack. His strand rate was absurd, but I'm not sure that's enough to discount his 2015 performance.

My bigger issue is he's going to a much worse park in Wrigley, he just threw 218 innings, and he's 37 years old. Lackey has struck out around 7.4 batters per nine innings for the past three years, and that was a jump from the 6.5 rate he'd set the three previous seasons. You need a ton of innings, a little bit of luck and a winning team to succeed with a strikeout rate that low. Lackey has one of those three for sure.

I don't think a lot of people are going to reach for Lackey, but drafting him ahead of guys like Cashner or Rick Porcello would be a mistake. Lackey will likely see his ERA skyrocket along with his home run rate. Expecting anything less than a 1.25 WHIP or a 3.75 ERA seems foolish. Expecting 200+ innings again may be as well.

There have been just four pitchers age 37 or over to throw more than 200 innings in a season since 2008. R.A. Dickey has done it four times. Hiroki Kuroda did it twice. A.J. Burnett and Bartolo Colon each did it once. I'd expect something more like 180-190 from Lackey, which will all but kill his value with no strikeouts.

Jeff Samardzija
SF • SP • 29
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I don't want to be totally negative on players changing teams in the NL. There are clearly a lot of advantages, especially if you're coming from an American League squad. Jeff Samardzija is leaving a bad team in a terrible park in the American League for a good team in an outstanding park in the National League. Almost everything should get better for him.

Samardzija struggled mightily in 2015, and it wasn't all bad luck. His K rate took a nosedive to a career-worst 6.86 K/9 after being a a pretty solid strikeout per inning guy with the Cubs. He also gave up a lot more fly balls, which is a much bigger problem in Chicago than it will be in San Francisco.

Samardzija will have to pitch better to reach the numbers he posted in the National League the last time he was there, but he's going to get a great head start on a major bounceback just because of his location and the competition he'll be facing. I'd expect a mid-3s ERA with a K rate bouncing back above eight. If he continues his three-year streak of topping 210 innings that's going to make him a very valuable starter.

Honorable Mention

The other Padres: James Shields' 17.6 percent HR/FB rate will fall dramatically. Tyson Ross' .320 BABIP should as well. If Ian Kennedy ends up in Kansas City, he may have his best year yet.

Jake Arrieta:I wouldn't be all that surprised if Arrieta fell back to fifth or sixth amongst pitchers. He was spectacular, but had a lot of the same good fortune that Greinke did.

Shelby Miller: Sorry, Diamonbacks. Miller's home run total may double next year with the change in park and a little bit of regression. He has exactly one full season with an xFIP below four.