Pioneer sabermetrician, Bill James, has come out with his 2012 projections for the Major League season, and some interesting conclusions can be drawn from them. Based on the FIP pitching metric, a defense independent measure of pitcher’s effectiveness, 2011 NL Cy Young award winner, Clayton Kershaw (2.72 projected FIP) projects as the number one pitcher in baseball in 2012. Among the pitchers who James projects to throw 150+ innings in 2012, the pitcher who is second to Kershaw in FIP, would surprise most baseball fans, and even most experts. The number 2 pitcher is not Roy Halladay (2.96), Justin Verlander (3.20), Tim Lincecum (2.95), Zack Grienke (3.23), or Cliff Lee (2.99), but instead it is Atlanta Braves right hander Brandon Beachy. James projects Beachy to have a FIP of 2.83, in 27 starts in 2012. This projection makes me wonder, is it possible that Brandon Beachy, a 25 year old pitcher with only 28 career major league starts, will be the second best pitcher in all of baseball in 2012?
2011 was Beachy’s first full season as a major league starter (3 career starts prior and one minor league start in 2011), and he performed admirably. In 25 starts (141.2 IP), Beachy put up solid numbers based on standard metrics; his record was 7-3 with 169 strikeouts and an ERA of 3.68. His sabermetric numbers were even more impressive posting a 2.8 WAR (2nd among Braves’ starters) and a FIP of 3.19, which ranked 19th among 2011 pitchers with at least 140 innings pitched, ahead of 20-game winner Ian Kennedy and Angels’ ace Jered Weaver. FIP is a statistic based critically on outcomes decided solely based on pitching performance (home runs, walks/hbp, and strikeouts), and Beachy excels in these categories. Beachy has struck out 28% of all batters he’s faced in his major league career, his career K/9 rate of 10.57 and BB/9 of 3.04 (James projects these numbers to be consistent in 2012; 10.63 and 2.79, respectively). James also projects Beachy’s HR/9 rate to fall to 0.75 in 2012, which results in the incredible FIP number of 2.83 that has been projected for Beachy.
Based on his career numbers Beachy will not need to improve in any aspect of his game to reach his projection, other than in limiting in home runs (16 home runs given up in 2011, will need to fall to the projected number of 13). But would a number 2 ranking in FIP, next season, make Beachy a Cy Young contender? My answer is probably not. To be a top major league pitcher you need to be not only effective (which Beachy is), but also an innings eater. Wins seem to have been thrown out in deciding the Cy Young award winner (see Felix Hernandez in 2010), but making less than 30 starts and throwing under 200 innings is not enough to be a star. Last season’s Cy Young winners, Kershaw and Verlander, had 33 starts/233 IP and 34 starts/251 IP, respectively. Thus, for Beachy to have any opportunity to be considered a top MLB starter the Braves will have to let him start more games and throw more innings than he did last season, or than he has been projected to throw this season. But even if Beachy was allowed to throw 50+ more innings, his FIP seems too low to be sustainable for an arm as young as his. However, one thing is for sure, the Braves should consider Brandon Beachy their number 1 starter going into 2012.
The Atlanta Braves website currently lists Beachy as their 4th starter, behind Tim Hudson (2012 projected FIP 3.80), Jair Jurrjens (3.88) and Tommy Hanson (3.39). In wins and ERA Beachy (11-6, 3.14) is also projected to perform better than Jurrjens and Hanson. Hudson is projected to have more wins than Beachy but finish with a higher ERA. Thus, by projections, Beachy will be the best pitcher on the Braves staff (a very good staff at that), in 2012. This should not be surprising, though, because Beachy led their staff in FIP last season and was second in WAR. Brandon Beachy may not be the number 2 pitcher in baseball, or a Cy Young award winner in 2012, but if the righty continues to post high strikeout numbers and low walk rates, it wouldn’t be bold to consider him a top starter in the future.