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Which Tigers pitchers outperformed their 2018 ZiPS projections?

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The pitching staff as a whole struggled last season.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Detroit Tigers Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

On Tuesday, we took a look at Tigers batters who overachieved and underachieved according to their 2018 preseason ZiPS projections. Today, we shift our attention to the Detroit pitching staff, specifically the pitchers who logged at least 30 innings last season.

As a reminder, ZiPS is one of many projection systems that takes historical data and aims to estimate a player’s performance in the upcoming season. ZiPS, in particular, provides projections for all of the key basic and advanced metrics, leading into an fWAR total.

Though ZiPS is far from perfect, it is one of the best tools for predicting future performance, and has a lot of value in retroactive analysis as well. These posts are not looking to measure the validity of the projection system, but rather evaluate how players performed in relation to expectations. Unfortunately for Tigers pitchers in 2018, the final results were not too pretty when considering the initial baseline last March.

2018 Tigers Pitchers ZiPS

Name ZiPS fWAR Delta
Name ZiPS fWAR Delta
Joe Jimenez 0.6 1.4 0.8
Victor Alcantara -0.7 0.0 0.7
Matthew Boyd 1.5 2.0 0.5
Blaine Hardy 1.0 1.2 0.2
Daniel Stumpf 0.4 0.3 -0.1
Mike Fiers 1.4 1.2 -0.2
Buck Farmer 0.2 0.0 -0.2
Drew VerHagen 0.8 0.6 -0.2
Jordan Zimmermann 1.2 0.9 -0.3
Alex Wilson 0.8 0.2 -0.6
Warwick Saupold 0.2 -0.6 -0.8
Artie Lewicki 1.4 0.3 -1.1
Shane Greene 1.0 -0.1 -1.1
Daniel Norris 1.6 0.3 -1.3
Michael Fulmer 2.9 1.4 -1.5

Modest gains

Only four of 15 Tigers pitchers ended with a 2018 fWAR higher than their ZiPS projection. This is...not good. The biggest gainer with 1.4 fWAR at season’s end was Joe Jimenez, the electric reliever and Closer of the Future. Jimenez thrived in his first real season in the majors, recording a 29.2 percent strikeout rate, which translated to a 2.91 FIP.

Run prevention was a bit of an issue for Jimenez, and his 4.31 ERA was quite a bit higher than his FIP. Since fWAR is based on FIP instead of ERA, he had a decently productive season by that metric, but the Tigers will want to see a little improvement in actual results in 2019. Jimenez is still just 23 years old so there is plenty of room for growth.

The second biggest gain came from reliever Victor Alcantara (+0.7), who appeared in 26 games last season, mostly in the second half. The right-hander had a 2.40 ERA and 1.03 WHIP, but recorded only 6.30 strikeouts per inning which led to a 4.53 FIP and a flat 0.0 fWAR. Alcantara should fight for a spot this season, but he is unlikely to be a key cog in the Tigers’ bullpen.

Matthew Boyd (+0.5) experienced the best season of his young career, although the results were still limited. He posted career bests in innings (170 1/3), ERA (4.39), FIP (4.45), strikeout rate (22.4 percent), batting average against (.226), and fWAR (2.0).

For Boyd, the question becomes what his role can be going forward. The Tigers have a lot of young arms in the system, but there are not a ton of stable veterans currently in Detroit. If he continues to progress forward in both innings and productivity, he may be able to solidify a back-end spot in the rotation before some of the younger arms reach the big club.

Trade woes

On the flip side, the biggest disappointments were all recent trade acquisitions who are still working to earn their place. Perhaps this is an overreaction for Michael Fulmer, who has earned the benefit of the doubt after stellar 2016 and 2017 seasons. Still, his 2018 was a sharp step back, and he fell -1.5 fWAR under expectation.

Fulmer dealt with some injuries last season, which hopefully was the cause for his steep jump in both ERA (3.83 vs. 4.69) and FIP (3.67 vs. 4.52). Injuries were a concern for him as a prospect, however, so maybe this is just part of who he is. 2018 probably showed Tigers fans to temper expectations for Fulmer. He is still an excellent pitcher and someone to plan around in the future, but he is not likely to be a No. 1 starter or ace going forward.

Maybe no starter needs a better 2019 than Daniel Norris (-1.3), who posted just 0.3 fWAR last season. Norris looked very promising in 2015 and 2016, but since then has dealt with health issues and minimal on-field production.

The lefty did show glimpses of promise last year, featuring a career-best 10.4 strikeouts per nine innings, but he surrendered too many home runs (1.62 per nine innings) and hard contact (40.6 percent). Norris is extremely likable, but he is running out of time to prove his value.

Shane Greene (-1.1) has been on quite a journey, transitioning from starter to reliever to closer. While he notched 32 saves in 2018, he did so with a 5.12 ERA and 4.61 FIP. The issues for Greene stemmed from a home run rate of 1.71 per nine innings, which overtook an improved K-BB% of 16.5 percent.

Despite these issues, Greene still has enough potential as a back-end reliever to find his way into trade conversations. A first half of 2019 that mirrors his 2017 campaign should do enough to erase the memories of last season and make him an enticing option for a contender.