This week we will take a look at a few surprise starting pitchers on the Support Neutral Lineup-adjusted Value Added above Replacement (SNLVAR) leaderboards to see what we can expect from these players next year. Since SNLVAR adjusts for the difficulty of competition and measures production, it's a wonderful tool for valuing a pitcher's production, but by itself it is not predictive of future performance. For that, we have other tools, such as QuikERA (QERA) that are more accurate for measuring performance than actual ERA; when you combine the two together, analyzing pitchers becomes that much easier.
According to SNLVAR,
This year has seen Wellemeyer drop a bit further from the strikeout rates we saw from him as a reliever, as he's down to 6.1 per nine. That's still above average, and when combined with the drop in his walk rates from 4.3 to 2.8 per nine, is certainly worth the trade-off. If you look deeper into his components, however, he's performing a bit over his head. His QERA, which is based off of strikeout, walk, and ground-ball rates, three things that Wellemeyer handles at or a bit above average, comes in at 4.68. Wellemeyer does get an assist as long as he's in St. Louis from his home park though, which is slanted toward pitchers, and he was not hurt by his
The Washington Nationals haven't been able to hit or pitch worth a damn most of the season, but on an individual level, starter
The only time in Lannan's professional career that his strikeout rates were impressive was when when he struck out 7.4 per nine with Savannah in the Sally League. His next four stops in '07 saw a drop in his punchouts as he progressed through the minors, until the 22-year old was barely whiffing anyone in the majors. Granted, he did jump from High-A to the major leagues over the course of just his second full year in the minors, but it was clear that if he was going to stick he'd need to start missing more bats. In '07 Lannan used a fastball (63 percent), curveball (21 percent), and changeup (15 percent), with the slider as less than one percent of his total offerings. By utilizing his slider much more often this year, Lannan has looked like a different pitcher, and has pitched like one: his distribution is now fastball (60 percent), slider (16 percent), curveball (13.1 percent), and changeup (10 percent), with the lefty also contributing a cutter (1.4 percent) on rare occasions.
Given his lefty-typical high-80s velocity, Lannan needed that slider sliding in order to mix things up and give him an edge. Jumping his G/F ratio up to 2.1 has also helped things out, as the Nationals, in spite of all of their other failings, have been around average defensively. Put all of this together with his 4.69 QERA, remember that he's just 23 years old, and you have yourself a pitcher that you should keep in mind next year, despite the fact that he plays on a team that may very well end up in last place again.
Based on the questions I see regarding him in my inbox,
Maholm has done a better job of keeping his base runners from scoring this year -- last season, he stranded just 65 percent of his baserunners, well below the average. This year, he's stranded 77 percent of his baserunners (and allowed fewer of them to begin with), placing him nearer to the average pitcher. Maholm has given up a .262/.320/.371 line with runners on, with lots of strikeouts from the stretch at a slightly higher rate than his overall punchouts. This is a change from last season, when the Bucs' lefty struggled from the stretch, allowing a .301/.340/.472 line with a lower rate of strikeouts. More than anything, this difference with runners on has allowed Maholm to become a quality pitcher; considering the defensive unit he has behind him, the ability to "turn it on" when pitching with runners on base is a good thing for those who own Maholm in their leagues. Expecting him to post another ERA in the mid-three range may be overly optimistic, but thinking of him as a slightly above-average starter isn't a bad idea, especially if the Pirates improve their defense this offseason, which would give Maholm that much more room to work with.
What Saunders has done is posted a low BABIP, something that's not necessarily his statistic to control. The only positive among the numbers that Saunders does have control over are his walk rates, which were characteristically low; if his strikeout rates dropped as they did this year, you would expect less production, not more, but that's not what has happened thanks to the BABIP dip. The Halos converted 70.4 percent of balls in play into outs this year, and helped Saunders along to a .268 BABIP, well below the league average but not too far off from Saunder's expectations. Here's the thing, though: Saunders' 15 percent liner rate is not something you can expect him to repeat in '09, as it is well below the league average as well as his previous figures. Among pitchers with 125 innings pitched in '08, just two have line-drive rates as low as Saunders:
Last season, there were