Daily Notes: Most Improved Pitchers So Far, Per ZiPS

Table of Contents
Here’s the table of contents for today’s edition of the Daily Notes.

1. Most Improved Pitchers So Far, Per ZiPS
2. Today’s Notable Games (Including MLB.TV Free Game)
3. Today’s Complete Schedule

Most Improved Pitchers So Far, Per ZiPS
As the reader will know, we carry a tidy collection of projection systems here at the site — of which two now, Steamer and ZiPS, are updated daily with constantly changing rest-of-season and overall total projections. Together, the two systems provide important data for our new Standings tool. Another use is to see which players’ season performances to date have most altered their rest-of-season projections.

This week, in the Notes, we’re considering those hitters and pitchers whose projections have most improved. On Monday and Tuesday, we looked at the most improved hitters according to Steamer and ZiPS, respectively. Yesterday, we considered here the most improved pitchers according to Steamer.

Below are the most improved pitchers, except now according to ZiPS — where “most improved” is defined as “greatest decrease in projected ERA.”

Note: pitchers who (a) are projected to make starts in fewer than 50% of their remaining appearances or (b) are absent currently from a major-league roster have been omitted from consideration.

5. A.J. Burnett, RHP, Pittsburgh
ZiPS (Pre): 172.1 IP, 7.31 K/9, 3.24 BB/9, 0.89 HR/9, 4.07 ERA
ZiPS (RoS): 135.0 IP, 8.18 K/9, 3.22 BB/9, 0.82 HR/9, 3.85 ERA
Notes: Through nine starts now, Burnett has struck out 31.6% of opposing batters — a rate exceeded by only Yu Darvish (39.0%) and Max Scherzer (32.5%) among qualified starts. It’s true to say that the right-hander was better last season following his departure from New York. He was better, though, not because of an increased strikeout rate, but rather improved walk and ground-ball rates. What Burnett has done so far is unprecedented in his career: his previous high strikeout rate is a 25.5% mark he posted in 2007. The difference between his preseason and rest-of-season projected strikeout rates is a testament to what appears to be some kind of real improvement.

4. Shelby Miller, RHP, St. Louis
ZiPS (Pre): 132.2 IP, 8.68 K/9, 4.82 BB/9, 0.68 HR/9, 4.14 ERA
ZiPS (RoS): 108.0 IP, 9.12 K/9, 4.29 BB/9, 0.66 HR/9, 3.91 ERA
Notes: Apart from the 13.2 innings on Miller’s resume from last season, all of the other data which would have informed his preseason ZiPS projection would have been from the minor leagues. While major-league translations of minor-league stats clearly have value — and are integral to projections of young players, in particular — there are also limits on the quality and breadth of that information. Accordingly, it’s not strange to see at least one rookie on a list such as this one — especially for a rookie who’s performed so ably. Of particular note: Miller is walking over two batters fewer every nine innings than his original projection estimated he would (4.82 projected, 2.10 actual so far).

3. Derek Holland, LHP, Texas
ZiPS (Pre): 175.1 IP, 7.44 K/9, 2.67 BB/9, 1.64 HR/9, 4.67 ERA
ZiPS (RoS): 134.0 IP, 7.54 K/9, 2.70 BB/9, 1.22 HR/9, 4.22 ERA
Notes: Holland entered the season having conceded 86 home runs in 569.0 career innings, for a 1.36 HR/9. This season, he’s allowed only two of them in 55.1 innings, for just a 0.33 HR/9. It appears as though this improvement in home-run prevention is what most informs the difference between his original and rest-of-season projected ERAs. Strikeout rate, walk rate, BABIP (.296 originally, .300 now): they’re all roughly the same. ZiPS reator Dan Szymborski’s baseball computer regards the difference as indicative of some change in true talent.

2. Anibal Sanchez, RHP, Detroit
ZiPS (Pre): 185.0 IP, 6.96 K/9, 2.43 BB/9, 1.02 HR/9, 4.23 ERA
ZiPS (RoS): 146.0 IP, 7.70 K/9, 2.37 BB/9, 0.88 HR/9, 3.90 ERA
Notes: Sanchez is the only pitcher to appear both on this list and also among the five-most improved pitchers according to Steamer (published yesterday). The two systems are generally in agreement with regard to Sanchez’s new levels: nearly one additional strikeout every nine innings, little change in walk rate, and slightly fewer home runs conceded (perhaps as a function of the increase in strikeouts). As noted yesterday, it’s not immediately clear what Sanchez is doing differently — except that, while throwing his three main pitches at roughly the same frequency as in the past, he’s somehow inducing more whiffs on them.

1. Clay Buchholz, RHP, Boston
ZiPS (Pre): 147.0 IP, 6.24 K/9, 3.31 BB/9, 0.98 HR/9, 4.16 ERA
ZiPS (RoS): 120.0 IP, 6.98 K/9, 3.32 BB/9, 0.80 HR/9, 3.82 ERA
Notes: Buchholz has long been regarded as a pitcher who’s underperformed what is generally considered above-average raw stuff. His 2010 season, during which he posted a 2.33 ERA and 3.5 WAR, was built almost entirely on home-run prevention — and his rate of home runs per fly ball doubled the next season, returning to something like a league-average figure. This season, though, real changes seem to have occurred in Buchholz’s ability to strike batters out. Entering 2013 with a 17.4% strikeout rate in 636.1 innings, Buchholz has posted a 26.4% mark this season in 58.2 innings — while, it should be noted, continuing to preserve his previously established walk and ground-ball levels.

Today’s Notable Games (Including MLB.TV Free Game)
Milwaukee at Pittsburgh | 19:05 ET ***MLB.TV Free Game***
Francisco Liriano starts for the Pirates. Here’s what the mercurial left-hander did in his season debut last Saturday (box): 5.1 IP, 24 TBF, 9 K, 2 BB, 4 GB on 12 batted-balls (33.3%), .462 BABIP, 1.58 xFIP.

Furthermore, and apropos of little, here’s footage of Liriano striking out Ruben Tejada on a slider in the first inning of the aforementioned start:

Liriano Slider Tejada

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Milwaukee Radio.

Detroit at Texas | 20:05 ET
Justin Verlander (51.1 IP, 76 xFIP-, 2.1 WAR) faces Yu Darvish (52.2 IP, 55 xFIP-, 1.9 WAR), a thing which is manifestly Good. Like the joy of a child is Good, for example. Or like the author’s impressive pectoral muscles are Good.

Readers’ Preferred Broadcast: Texas Radio.

Today’s Complete Schedule
Here’s the complete schedule for all of today’s games, with our very proprietary watchability (NERD) scores for each one. Pitching probables and game times aggregated from MLB.com and RotoWire. The average NERD Game Score for today is 6.0.

Note: the following table is entirely sortable.

Away SP Tm. Gm. Tm. SP   Home Time
Jon Niese NYN 1 7 5 2 9 STL Adam Wainwright 13:45
Hiram Burgos MIL 1 6 7 7 12 PIT Francisco Liriano* 19:05
Aaron Harang SEA 5 5 5 5 5 NYA Andy Pettitte 19:05
Felix Doubront BOS 6 9 7 7 8 TB Alex Cobb 19:10
Mat Latos CIN 7 4 7 0 10 MIA Jose Fernandez 19:10
Justin Verlander DET 9 8 9 4 10 TEX Yu Darvish 20:05
Matt Cain SF 4 6 5 7 4 COL Jhoulys Chacin 20:40
Jose Quintana CHA 5 1 4 5 4 LAA Jerome Williams* 22:05
Stephen Strasburg WAS 10 2 5 5 0 SD Edinson Volquez 22:10

To learn how Pitcher and Team NERD Scores are calculated, click here.
To learn how Game NERD Scores are calculated, click here.
* = Fewer than 20 IP, NERD at discretion of very handsome author.

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