After two days of mostly disappointing ZiPS projections for Cleveland Indians infielders and outfielders, we come to the pitchers. If these projections turn out to be accurate once the season unfolds, Chris Antonetti should be proud that he did not trade anyone in the rotation when other teams came knocking, but they may be left searching for a back-end starter by the trade deadline.
ZiPS is a believer in Corey Kluber. Maybe not the Cy Young-winning Corey Kluber, but better than the Corey Kluber that lead the Indians staff in 2015. In results-based based statistics, ZiPS has Kluber improving upon his 5.5 fWAR season. His earned run average drops by 0.28 and his FIP drops by 0.13. His strikeout rate is projected to barely drop (27.7% in 2015), and his walk rate climbs a mere 0.1%.
Over 27 projected starts, ZiPS sees everything about Carlos Carrasco improving from his breakout 2015 season. That 172.3 innings would be a shade under the 183.2 he threw in 2015, but his ERA drops dramatically (3.63 in 2015), his FIP drops (2.84 in 2015), and his walk rate drops to a career-low.
Hopefully Carrasco starts every game this year and projection systems will finally stop randomly benching him for several starts every year.
Danny Salazar is projected to continue his upward trend by ZiPS. Are you seeing a pattern? Like Carrasco and Kluber, ZiPS has Salazar outperforming his 2015, although his improvement is smaller. ZiPS projects Salazar's ERA to increase from the 3.45 he had in 2015 to 3.49, but his FIP drops from 3.62 to 3.39. The biggest reason for this appears to be BABIP. Last season, Salazar was arguably "lucky" with a .278 BABIP, but ZiPS has that increasing to .286 in 2016.
Salazar's walk rate and strikeout rate are both improvements, as well. A 26.4 strikeout rate would be spot on his career average, and a 6.8 walk rate would be a career-low.
If you want further proof that ZiPS is a huge Indians pitchers fan, it even has Trevor Bauer having one of the better years of his career in 2016. A 22.7 strikeout rate would be a shade under the career-high 22.9 percent of batters he struck out in 2015. Strikeouts are nice, but Bauer's biggest problem remains walking batters, and ZiPS does not project that issue to be fixed in 2016; that 10.3 walk rate would be 0.3 lower than his 2015 total, but still not where it needs to be.
After all that good news, now we get to the bad. Josh Tomlin begins our series of projections from ZiPS that see significant declines in players. Tomlin greatly benefitted from a .199 BABIP in 2015, but ZiPS shoots that right back up to .286 and the rest of Tomlin's stats suffer. Tomlin's 2015 FIP was also 4.43, compared to a 3.02 ERA, which points to some level of luck. ZiPS brings those two numbers closer together, pegging Tomlin with a 4.45 ERA in 2016.
The most worrying projection is the fact that Tomlin's strikeout rate is expected to drop for the first time in three years. He has previously been on an upward trend, striking out 21.1 percent of batters in 2014 and 22.7 in 2015, but ZiPS projects only a 19.9 strikeout rate in 2016.
I do not think anyone expects Cody Anderson to repeat the performance he had in 2015, and ZiPS is no exception. Anderson's first month in the league was phenomenal, but he evened out relatively quick, and in the end finished 2015 with a 3.05 ERA and a 4.27 FIP. ZiPS sees him putting up a similar FIP, but his ERA evens out to where it should realistically be when he does not get so many lucky bounces.
ZiPS actually projects Anderson's strikeout rate to rise, which is in large part due to his minor league numbers, which hovered closer to 20 percent than the 12.1 percent of batters he struck out in his first major league season.
T.J. House looked atrocious in four starts in 2015, allowing 19 earned runs in 13.0 innings. As we learned shortly after the Indians placed him on the disabled list, those numbers were mostly due to lingering shoulder inflammation. ZiPS sees him coming back down to a reasonable number five pitcher, but not much else. I would hope that House can outperform his 5.29 ERA projection, but if he does not, he probably will not last more than the 85.0 innings projected by ZiPS--if that.