Fantasy Baseball: The 20 Pitchers Who Overperformed Most in 2016
When measuring the effectiveness of an MLB starting pitcher, the masses normally get the same batch of stats to digest and compare and contrast with one another: win-loss record, ERA, WHIP, strikeouts and walks allowed.
As much as some would like to solely stick to those basic statistics, we all know there are plenty of other -- and more useful -- ways to truly evaluate how good a pitcher is when they toe the rubber every fifth day. There are a handful of new ERA estimators out there for consumption, but the one we like most is SIERA.
According to FanGraphs, SIERA attempts to measure the underlying skill of a hurler. Unlike FIP and xFIP, SIERA doesn't ignore balls put in play, and it also attempts to give a more accurate picture as to why certain pitchers are better than others. A good SIERA is just like a good ERA -- the lower the better.
So, which of 2016's qualified starting pitchers outperformed their peripherals the most? Here are the top 20, with some other stats to add more context.
Plenty of Studs
As you can see, there are plenty of pitchers on this list who fall in the "stud" category -- both in the reality and fantasy perspective. There are three 2016 Cy Young award finalists (Kyle Hendricks, Jon Lester and Rick Porcello), one 2016 Cy Young award winner (Porcello, although Kate Upton is probably still fuming about that) and two past winners (Bartolo Colon, who is studly in many other ways, and Jake Arrieta).
If we expand the field a little bit, there are four American League pitchers who finished in the top-10 of Cy Young voting (J.A. Happ, Aaron Sanchez, Masahiro Tanaka and Jose Quintana) and two more we haven't mentioned yet on the National League side (Tanner Roark and Johnny Cueto).
So, it's not as if this list is full of pitchers who merely got lucky with their respective performances last season. It's actually quite the opposite -- there are more than a handful of dudes here viewed by many to be some of the best at their position. But hey, even the best get lucky on occasion, and these hurlers received a few fortunate bounces along the way.
However, possibly the most interesting trend is that 6 of the 20 hurlers on this list -- a healthy 30% -- came from two of baseball's best starting rotations from last season: the Toronto Blue Jays and Chicago Cubs.
They Were How Good?
There's nothing wrong with that -- Chicago led baseball with a 38.7 fWAR from position players while Toronto's 23.4 fWAR came in sixth overall (third in the AL). But what took these squads to the next level was the effectiveness of their starting rotations.
With a 17.3 fWAR, the Cubs' starting rotation came in third behind the New York Mets and Washington Nationals, but their rotation ERA of 2.96 was easily the best in baseball -- the Nats came in a distant second with a 3.60 ERA.
Chicago experienced remarkable health throughout the year as all five of their starters appeared in at least 29 games, with only Jason Hammel posting an ERA above 3.35 (it was 3.83). However, we can see above that 60% of that rotation (Hendricks, Lester and Arrieta) were some of the game's biggest SIERA overperformers.
For Toronto, there were major questions about the rotation heading into 2016, especially after letting David Price walk via free agency. They responded by posting the best ERA (3.64) and fWAR (15.3) in the AL. This group also had five pitchers with at least 29 starts, and once again, 60% of the rotation (Happ, Sanchez and Estrada) were some of the biggest SIERA beneficiaries.
What does this mean? After all, these 20 pitchers may have experienced the most luck, but it stood up over the entire 2016 regular season.
Taking a look at the biggest SIERA overperformers is a good exercise to identify hurlers who don't have the "stud" track record just yet, meaning there's a chance their performance isn't sustainable. Once it's time for fantasy baseball drafts to start happening, a lot of people will base decisions on wins, strikeouts and ERA -- potentially overvaluing certain players.
Guys like Estrada, Happ, Dan Straily, Brandon Finnegan and Chris Tillman, to name a few, are good examples. It's also helpful to spot trends and find out which pitchers consistently outperform their peripherals, potentially enabling you to uncover value in unlikely places.
It's not hard to win fantasy championships with the studs like those in the above group of hurlers. They're helpful in achieving that success, but it's uncovering value nobody else sees that'll bring championship glory come September.
Digging into the details and finding those players starts now.