On Tuesday, we looked at the Tigers’ hitters who have beaten and surpassed their 2018 baseball preseason ZiPS estimates. Today we’re going to focus on Detroit’s pitching staff, specifically pitchers who pitched at least 30 innings last season.
Keep in mind that ZiPS is one of many projection systems that use past baseball performance data to predict a player’s performance during the upcoming season. In particular, ZiPS provides estimates for each of the key core and leading indicators that add up to an overall fWAR.
ZiPS is one of the best ways to predict future baseball performance, and while it’s far from perfect, it’s also very useful in hindsight. These posts look at player performance versus expectations rather than attempting to assess launch system accuracy. Unfortunately, compared to the initial baseline last March, the final results for the Tigers’ pitching in 2018 were not very favorable.
Of the 15 Tigers pitchers, only four had fWAR 2018 above their ZiPS predictions. Joe Jimenez, star deliverer and “Closer of the Future,” was the top earner at the end of the season with 1.4 fWAR.
Jimenez struggled to stop runs as his 4.31 ERA was significantly higher than his FIP. He’s had a respectably efficient baseball season from fWAR, which uses FIP instead of ERA, but the Tigers are hoping for a slight improvement on actual results in 2019.
Although his performances remain low, Matthew Boyd (+0.5) has had his best baseball season yet. His innings pitched (170 1/3), ERA (4.39), FIP (4.45), strikeout rate (22.4%), batting average against (.226) and fWAR, all setting career highs (2.0). Boyd has to decide what kind of role he can play in the future.
Who are the biggest Tigers’ disappointments?
The biggest disappointments, on the other hand, have been all the new business entrants who are still trying to earn their place. Michael Fulmer gained the benefit of the doubt with his stellar 2016 and 2017 seasons, so maybe that’s an overreaction on his part. In 2018 it took a significant step back, falling -1.5 fWAR below expectations.
Over the past baseball season, Fulmer has battled a number of ailments that will hopefully result in a huge increase in his ERA (3.83 vs. 4.69) and FIP (3.67 vs. 4.52). Yet, injuries worried him as a prospect so maybe that’s just a trait of his.
Tigers fans should certainly lower their expectations of Fulmer after last year. He’s still a great pitcher and should be considered in future plans, but is unlikely to be a future ace or No. 1 starter.
Daniel Norris (-1.3), a starter who produced just 0.3 fWAR last year, is perhaps the starter who needs a stronger 2019 the most. Norris looked very promising in 2015 and 2016 but since then he has struggled with his health and has failed to perform on the field.