Projecting Indians Game 5 Starter Ryan Merritt

In a few hours, Ryan Merritt will take the mound for the Indians in Game 5 of the ALCS. Statistically, Merritt doesn’t look like much. He’s posted exceptionally low strikeout numbers at every stop, and although he’s coupled them with minuscule walk rates, KATOH isn’t sold. KATOH likes tall pitchers who strike guys out. As a 6-foot hurler who pitches to contact, Merritt is the exact opposite of that.

KATOH pegs Merritt for just 1.4 WAR over his first six seasons by the traditional method and 1.5 WAR by KATOH+, which integrates Baseball America’s rankings. To help you visualize what his KATOH projection entails, here is a probability density function showing KATOH+’s projected distribution of outcomes for Merritt’s first six seasons in the major leagues.


To put some faces to Merritt’s statistical profile, let’s generate some statistical comps for the command-oriented lefty. I calculated a weighted Mahalanobis distance between Merritt’s performance this year and every Triple-A season since 1991 in which a pitcher faced at least 350 batters. In the table below, you’ll find the 10 most similar seasons, ranked from most to least similar. The WAR totals refer to each player’s first six seasons in the major leagues. A lower “Mah Dist” reading indicates a closer comp.

Please note that the Mahalanobis analysis is separate from KATOH. KATOH relies on macro-level trends, rather than comps. The fates of a few statistically similar players shouldn’t be used to draw sweeping conclusions about a prospect’s future. For this reason, I recommend using a player’s KATOH forecast to assess his future potential. The comps give us some interesting names that sometimes feel spot-on, but they’re mostly just for fun.

Ryan Merritt’s Mahalanobis Comps
Rank Name Mah Dist KATOH+ Proj. WAR Actual WAR
1 Rheal Cormier 0.23 2.0 8.3
2 Darin Blood 0.56 2.0 0.0
3 Tim Drew 0.56 1.3 0.0
4 Horacio Estrada 0.58 1.3 0.0
5 Jose Paniagua 0.59 2.0 1.7
6 Shane Loux 0.66 1.7 0.5
7 Kirk Rueter 0.68 2.3 8.2
8 Jeriome Robertson 0.68 2.1 1.0
9 Tobi Stoner 0.73 1.1 0.0
10 Denis Boucher 0.75 0.9 0.8

Merritt’s long-term track record isn’t one of a particularly noteworthy prospect. Nor is it one of a guy who should be starting a playoff game. But here we are. The Indians are hoping Merritt can channel whatever it was that enabled him to spin a 1.64 ERA in 11 innings as a September call-up. The data don’t suggest that’s particularly likely, but stranger things have happened.

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Chris works in economic development by day, but spends most of his nights thinking about baseball. He writes for Pinstripe Pundits, FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. He's also on the twitter machine: @_chris_mitchell None of the views expressed in his articles reflect those of his daytime employer.

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jonathan w
jonathan w

When reading the surnames from the bottom of the Mahalanobis Comp list to the top, it doesn’t bode particularly well for the Indians today for names 4, 3, and 2: Estrada Drew Blood.