The Sub-2.50 ERA Curse: Why Five Elite Starting Pitchers May Regress in 2011

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The Sub-2.50 ERA Curse: Why Five Elite Starting Pitchers May Regress in 2011
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Last March, I conducted a study on pitchers who’ve posted a single-season ERA of 2.50 or less since 2000. (You can read that article here.)

In my research, I made several interesting discoveries. First, there were 11 different sub-2.50 ERA seasons between 2000 and 2005. Between 2006 and 2008, however, there were none.

Then 2009 saw four such pitching performances, as Zack Greinke (2.16), Chris Carpenter (2.24), Tim Lincecum (2.48) and Felix Hernandez (2.49) all posted ERAs below 2.50.

This recent trend supports the notion that hitters are no longer juicing, and thus pitchers are becoming more dominant. (Keep this in mind as you prepare for your 2011 fantasy drafts.)

Secondly, I found that of the 11 instances of a sub-2.50 ERA season, nine of them were followed up with a significantly higher ERA in the following season. In fact, on average, each pitcher’s ERA increased by 1.01 runs per nine innings in the season following their sub-2.50 campaign.

Here’s the list. The second column shows the year in which the pitcher’s sub-2.50 ERA was posted. Column four reveals the difference in ERA for the following season.

PLAYER YEAR ERA ERA DIFF.
Roger Clemens 2005 1.87 (+0.43)
Andy Pettitte 2005 2.39 (+1.81)
Jake Peavy 2004 2.27 (+0.61)
Pedro Martinez 2003 2.22 (+1.68)
Jason Schmidt 2003 2.34 (+0.86)
Kevin Brown 2003 2.39 (+1.70)
Mark Prior 2003 2.43 (+1.59)
Pedro Martinez 2002 2.26 (-.04)
Randy Johnson 2002 2.32 (+1.94)
Randy Johnson 2001 2.49 (-0.17)
Pedro Martinez 2000 1.74 (+0.65)

 

Based on these numbers, I predicted the 2010 ERA totals for the four pitchers who posted a sub-2.50 ERA in 2009:

PLAYER 2009 ERA 2010 ERA PREDICTION 2010 ACTUAL ERA
Zack Greinke 2.16 3.17 4.17
Chris Carpenter 2.24 3.25 3.22
Tim Lincecum 2.48 3.49 3.43
Felix Hernandez 2.49 3.5 2.27

 

Greinke’s ERA ballooned by more than two runs per nine. Carpenter’s and Lincecum’s ERA rose by approximately a full run per nine, just as the previous data suggested.

Hernandez completely blew up the system, becoming just the third pitcher since 2000 to lower his ERA following a sub-2.50 ERA season.  The other two to do this were Randy Johnson and Pedro Martinez, who lowered their ERAs by .17 and .04, respectively. King Felix managed to lower his ERA by .22.

If we include the data from 2009-2010 with our previous findings, we should apply an increase of 0.99 runs per nine innings to any sub-2.50 ERA seasons from 2010.

Five pitchers posted a sub-2.50 ERA in 2010: Felix Hernandez (2.27), Josh Johnson (2.30), Clay Buchholz (2.33), Adam Wainwright (2.42) and Roy Halladay (2.44).

Plug in our plus-0.99 runs per nine to those totals, and we get the following 2011 ERA totals: Felix Hernandez (3.26), Josh Johnson (3.29), Clay Buchholz (3.32), Adam Wainwright (3.41) and Roy Halladay (3.43).

Although these ERAs remain respectable, they are a far cry from what most owners are expecting in 2011. 

You’ve been warned…again.  

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