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The Proof Is In The Peripherals: September 26-28

It's becoming somewhat of a TPIITP tradition to devote the final regular season column of the year to revisiting my first regular season column of the year, which was devoted to a single player or topic rather than delving into the usual peripheral-related fantasy recommendations.  Two years in a row...that counts as a tradition!  Last April, I looked at a few pitchers vying for the title of "the Bizarro Jeremy Hellickson" --- namely, the pitchers who weren't performing well due to some bad peripheral luck from 2011-13.  With the 2014 season now virtually in the books, two of the six pitchers I cited saw their fortunes turn around, while the other four continued to have Lady Luck toss her drink in their faces.

First, the non-factors.  Mike Pelfrey only made five starts due to injuries, Joe Blanton all but officially retired after being released by the A's in April*, and Jeff Francis was a fantasy non-factor in pitching 20 innings for the Reds, A's and Yankees.  Francis' small innings total makes it an unreliable sample size, yet even still, you could say he was unfortunate to post his 5.85 ERA given that his predictors (4.18 FIP, 3.59 xFIP, 3.37 SIERA) were all much more respectable and he was simply done in by a stunningly low 50.6% strand rate.

* = Blanton's release came roughly a week after I wrote "If Blanton gets called up for a spot start or two at the Coliseum sometime this year, there are worse streaming choices" with the logic that his advanced metrics were due for some kind of a correction.  Uh, um, ah, er....

That leaves three pitchers who threw legitimate innings in 2014.  Let's start with the best of the bunch, Rick Porcello.  The Porce was a force for the Tigers, posting a 3.31 ERA over 201 innings, and he still has one more start to go tonight.  Porcello posted a .296 BABIP and a 73% strand rate, both of which were rather modestly better than the league average yet streets ahead of what Porcello had averaged in those categories over the previous three seasons.  As a result, Porcello actually outperformed his ERA predictors (3.57 FIP, 3.68 xFIP, 3.89 SIERA) and ridding himself of the Bizarro Hellickson label once and for all.

Porcello seems like he's always going to be the type of pitcher who is a bit more valuable in real life than he is in fantasy ball due to his low strikeout totals (career 5.46 K/9) yet still, what fantasy rotation couldn't use a durable guy with a 3.31 ERA?  Perhaps the most promising sign for Porcello is that his 8.6% homer rate was well below his 11.1% career average, so if he's learned how to keep the ball in the park, that'll definitely help keep his ERA at the levels necessary to be of interest to roto owners.  I think we can officially pencil Porcello in as a mid-to-late-round option for your 2015 drafts.

Jordan Lyles, meanwhile, seems cut from the same cloth as Porcello -- not many strikeouts, heavy on the grounders, has to avoid the long ball to stay successful.  That last point is a particular hurdle for Lyles given that he pitches for the Rockies, and yet he was in large part able to deliver in 2014.  Limited to 21 starts due to a broken hand, Lyles delivered a 4.15 ERA, 6.38 K/9 and 51.6% grounder rate over 121 1/3 innings, and essentially pitched just as his advanced metrics (4.33 FIP, 4.04 xFIP, 4.15 SIERA) indicated.

It's always risky to bank on any Colorado starter for fantasy purposes, and it's not like Lyles is generating the big K numbers to give him some value if his ERA did blow up.  The best I can say about Lyles is that he did well to keep himself in the fantasy conversation despite wearing the purple pinstripes, and you could keep an eye on him as a very deep pick next season.  Not to put the Blanton jinx on Lyles here, but really, "there are worse streaming choices" than Lyles in a road start in 2015.

 So five pitchers in, and we've still yet to hit on someone who truly continued his bad luck...until we reach Ricky Nolasco.  The righty signed a four-year, $49MM free agent deal with the Twins last winter and then proceeded to have just about the worst full season of his big league career.  Nolasco's 5.47 ERA was belied by a .355 BABIP (the highest of any pitcher in baseball with at least 150 IP) and a downright decent 4.29 FIP, 3.99 xFIP and 4.07 SIERA.  Homers played a factor, as 11.5% home run rate was his highest in four seasons, yet since the best of his metrics didn't show anything too untoward, it all just comes down to that ungainly BABIP. 

In a just world, we'd be mentioning Nolasco as a good borderline draft option like Lyles or, since he's always been able to eat innings, maybe even on Porcello's level.  As it is, you'll have to wait and see if 2014 was just simply bad luck for Nolasco or if his fantasy relevance is indeed coming to an end.  The bright side of his poor season (well, despite that big contract) is that Nolasco gets to wear the Bizarro Hellickson crown, and I'm sure he's super-proud of that distinction.  Who needs a Cy Young when you can achieve a metaphorical honor in a fantasy baseball column?  Should I actually have a crown designed and then mail it to Nolasco so he can wear it around like the Wiz?

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