Burning Questions: Which Pitchers Will Bust in 2014?

We know Zack Greinke can handle himself in a brawl - but can he sustain his sub-3.00 ERA from last year?

We have covered a lot of difficult topics in our "Burning Questions" series here at numberFire. We've discussed which pitchers will breakout, which hitters will be busts, and even a topic which has had the UN's Security Council occupied for years - "What is your favorite baseball statistic?" Putin insists upon pitcher's wins. Ugh.

But this week's topic is one of the more difficult to forecast: Which pitcher is likely to bust? I mean, who would have predicted that Vance Worley would have stunk it up with the Minnesota Twins last year? Oh, all of you? Well. Maybe it's not as hard as it seems.

Regardless, here are our selections for which pitchers might be driving the struggle bus this year. If you have your own thoughts, feel free to tweet them to @numberFire.

Zack Greinke, Los Angeles Dodgers

Chris Kay's Thoughts:

Zack Greinke is my candidate for bust pitcher this season. He cruised to a 2.63 ERA last year due to a phenomenal second half in 2013. The 1.85 ERA in the second half is much better than his 3.49 ERA in about the same amount of innings.

The progress he made in that second half of the season is probably why he posted his best BABIP since his rookie year in 2004. His 2013 BABIP was .276, 29 points better than his career average. To go along with this, Greinke posted an 80.8 percent LOB percentage, 7.4 percent better than his career average. These are two obvious stats that will dictate which way Greinke’s ERA will go in 2014.

One of my favorite things to do with pitcher stats is to just see how great seasons compare to others in terms of what SIERA shows us. Greinke posted his best ERA since 2009, but posted his second-worst SIERA in the last five seasons. The 3.60 SIERA that he posted in 2013 is actually his career average, yet he posted an ERA 1.02 higher.

Our projections currently have him pegged to produce a 3.35 ERA this year.

David Price, Tampa Bay Rays

Daniel Lindsey's Thoughts:

My candidate for bust pitcher of the year happens to be a recent Cy Young Winner in David Price.

You say it’s not right to put one of the biggest workhorses and most consistent pitchers in the game today as a bust candidate, but I'll let the numbers speak for themselves. I think Price's body is starting to show some wear and tear after he missed some time at the beginning of last season, putting his career at a crossroads.

Could last year’s rough start to his season have been a fluke? Possibly, but despite a 1.68 ERA during the month of July, his ERA climbed to 2.64 in August and 3.40 in September/October. Price is known for accumulating strikeouts on a consistent basis, but he saw his strikeouts per nine rate drop from 8.74 and 8.75 in 2012 and 2011, respectively, to 7.28 in 2013.

What’s more troubling is the velocity on his pitches. In 2012, we saw the velocity on his fastballs average out to 95.5, while in 2013 we saw it drop to 93.4. His cutter and sliders have lost a little edge as well - his cutter dropped from 90 to 88.5 and his slider dipped from 87.8 to 86.

Price is allowing a higher BABIP on a year-to-year basis as well. While his BABIP is still a good number, we have seen it rise from .281 in 2011 and .285 in 2012 to .298 in 2013. With a declining strikeout rate and increasing BABIP, Price is not overpowering batters as he once did.

On top of declining numbers, Price gets the luxury of facing an AL East that is getting better every year. The Red Sox are the defending champions, the Yankees reloaded, and the Orioles and Blue Jays are poised to make even more noise this year. David Price is a great pitcher, but I caution against expecting his 2012 Cy Young numbers. His armor is starting to show chinks in it, and the above numbers tell me he could be a potential bust in 2014.

Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Bradley Wilson's Thoughts:

Jered Weaver has been wonderful, but he has basically the most terrifying peripheral profile I've ever seen. It's astonishing to me that he's been able to stay healthy (aside from a freak broken elbow last year) pitching through mechanical inefficiencies as extreme as his, and if anything they've become even more pronounced; he throws across his body to a completely absurd degree. His fastball dropped to an alarming 86.8 mph last season – and that was his four-seamer. It's true that Weaver has never been a fire-baller, but he started his career up above 90 and has always at least been closer to that than 85.

In case you haven't had a heart attack yet, Weaver is also an extreme fly ball pitcher, placing second in the majors in fly ball percentage – higher than Phil Hughes, Aaron Harang, Dan Haren, and every other extreme fly-baller with severe home run problems. Weaver has been a low-BABIP guy for a long time, likely due to good command, a deceptive motion (thanks in large part to his screwy mechanics) and good sequencing. But last year he wasn't giving up soft contact, allowing a 22.4 percent line drives. I'm not a betting man, but doesn't it seem like a righty with weird mechanics with a below average K-rate who throws an 86-mph fastball over 60 percent of the time and yields 70 percent elevated contact is kind of due to turn into Jose Lima at some point?

Michael Wacha, St. Louis Cardinals

Dan Weigel's Thoughts:

The term bust implies that the player I choose will have a bad season. Rest assured, that's not what I am suggesting with Michael Wacha in 2014. Instead, by citing Wacha as my choice for a bust pitcher, I'm merely saying that his expectation is currently far ahead of his projections. Yes, he was the man for the Cardinals in the 2013 postseason, but can he remain that level of dominance for a full season in 2014?

The short answer is no. Heading into 2013, Baseball America ranked Wacha as the sixth-best prospect in a loaded Cardinals' system. Their report stated that Wacha featured a good fastball and a great changeup, arguably the best in the 2012 draft class, but a poor breaking ball. Baseball America also projected Wacha as a mid-rotation arm, with a chance for more if he could develop a quality breaking pitch.

Wacha was certainly more than a mid-rotation arm during the 2013 postseason, but was it because of an improved breaking ball? The short answer is no, and we have a handy statistic to support this assertion. For those who are unfamiliar, I introduce to you pitch value statistics, which are found on any pitcher's FanGraph's page. These statistics measure the results of each pitch type for each pitcher, then divide per 100 pitches thrown, which shows us the effectiveness of each pitch. This stat is not perfect, since it does not consider such things as set up pitches, but generally speaking it is useful.

For these stats, zero is average and higher is better. Wacha's fastball and changeup were both as good as advertised, grading out as 1.39 and 1.26 respectively, while his breaking ball was a poor -0.78. Perhaps Wacha's fastball/changeup combo are so good that he was underrated in his prospect days, but it is more likely that Wacha was simply pitching over his head in October. Unless Wacha can develop a quality third pitch, he will regress in 2014 with an ERA likely in the mid-3s, which is where our projections have him (3.59). That means he will still be a very good pitcher, but he is not and will not be an ace unless is develops a quality breaking pitch.

Ervin Santana, Atlanta Braves

Jim Sannes' Thoughts:

When the Atlanta Braves made it rain $14.1 million on Ervin Santana last week (I'm assuming they paid him in one dollar bills - straight cash, homie), they were paying for a number one starter. I mean, you don't give that kind of dough to a guy in the middle of your rotation.

That would worry me a bit if I were a Braves fan.

Santana's 2013 was certainly a rejuvenation of a career that has always seemed so filled with potential. He finished with a 3.24 ERA and had his lowest BB/9 (2.18) since 2008. How did this happen for a guy in his age-30 season? Well, there were several reasons. And none of them should be encouraging for Atlanta.

For starters, Santana finished with the highest strand rate (76.9 percent) of his career. This was the 22nd-highest total of all qualified pitchers last year, meaning he should expect some regression there this season.

Second of all, he reaped the benefits of essentially having Salvador Perez as his personal catcher. According to FanGraphs' defensive rating stat, Perez was the third best defensive catcher in all of baseball last year.

Perez caught Santana in 28 of his 32 starts last year. In those 28 starts, Santana recorded a 3.13 ERA. Over the other 268 appearances of his career, Santana has an ERA of 4.31. Six catchers have caught Santana for at least 100 innings in his career. Of the five that aren't Perez, Santana has an ERA below 3.80 with exactly zero of them.

ZiPS has him projected at a 4.26 ERA for this year, though our projections see that number a tad better. And that seems about right for me. If that's worth $14.1 million, then so is Kevin Correia, who had a 4.18 ERA last year.