xStats Projects Hendricks, Uehara, Arrieta to Lead Cubs Pitchers in 2017

We recently listed the 2017 projections for Cubs hitters according to xStats, a projection model developed by Andrew Perpetua. xStats is unique because it is the only Statcast-centric pipeline that converts exit velocity, launch angle, and batted ball location to nearly every relevant stat (e.g., wOBA, FIP, batting average, homers, etc.). Those same conversions can be made for pitchers, which is why we’re now flipping the coin.

One of the best features of xStats is that it solves a big problem with isolated pitching metrics, which is that they ignore batted-ball data. For example, Kyle Hendricks is known to induce weak contact, but the extent to which we can quantify that ability has been clouded by lagging technology. Steamer and ZiPS — two of the most-used projection systems — peg Hendricks as a 3.50+ FIP and 3.30 ERA starter in 2017 even though he owns respective career marks of 3.29 FIP and 2.92 ERA.

Rather than ignoring batted balls, xStats created scFIP to estimate the probability a fly ball leaves the yard for a homer. The new model is better than FIP because ballpark influences confound a pitcher’s true ability to keep the ball in the field of play. It’s also more precise than xFIP because that stat assumes each fly ball has a 10.5 percent (league average) chance of being a homer. Perhaps most importantly, xStats allows us to complement FIP by using expected weighted on base average stat (xOBA).

xStats estimates 2017 performances using 2015 and 2016 data, but giving the latter 8 percent more weight. How do Cubs pitchers project in 2017 based on all that? Very good.

Name Sample IP scFIP xOBA
Koji Uehara 343 150 2.39 .238
Hector Rondon 500 150 2.71 .260
Wade Davis 463 150 2.52 .262
Pedro Strop 475 150 2.56 .267
Jake Arrieta 1741 150 2.98 .269
Kyle Hendricks 1516 150 3.17 .270
Carl Edwards 157 150 2.86 .272
Jon Lester 1680 150 3.16 .276
Justin Grimm 438 150 3.32 .295
Brett Anderson 828 150 4.20 .297
John Lackey 1676 150 3.62 .300
Mike Montgomery 803 150 4.20 .325
Brian Duensing 264 150 4.55 .328
Williams Perez 746 150 4.62 .333
Eddie Butler 676 150 5.20 .367
Aaron Brooks 250 150 5.04 .369
Alec Mills 19 150 6.84 .407

xStats projects the Cubs rotation to be a strongpoint once again. Jake Arrieta is forecast to be the best of the crew because of his historical 2015 Cy Young campaign. But despite Arrieta’s monstrous 2015, he shares nearly the same xOBA prognosis as Hendricks (.269 and .270, respectively). Hendricks is also projected to have a 3.17 FIP, which is much better than Steamer (3.67) and ZiPS (3.51).

Rounding out the rotation is a robust 3.17 FIP from Jon Lester and 3.62 FIP from John Lackey, with Mike Montgomery and Brett Anderson both at 4.20 FIPs.

The bullpen projects very favorably as well. While we might think of Wade Davis as the clear-cut most valuable reliever, xStats actually pegs Koji Uehara to lead the pack with a 2.39 FIP. Almost every member of the relief corps is estimated to put up numbers below 3.0, although Justin Grimm is projected to have a 3.32 FIP. That’s still encouraging, though.

As always, I advise you to exercise caution when interpreting these forecasts because the model can’t capture potentially significant mechanical adjustments and small changes towards the conclusion of 2016. Nevertheless, I still find this system useful because it incorporates technology that so many fans and researchers used to dream of having.

For what it’s worth, xStats might be the first projection system in line with what we have seen from the convention-defying Hendricks. You can check out these pitching projections and so many more tools on xStats.org.

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