Brett Oberholtzer went 5-13 in 2014 with a 4.39 ERA. Not exactly stats that breed much confidence in a team that is trying to find out what works as they build the foundation for their future reign of dominance. Yet, according to Baseball Prospectus, Oberholtzer was second on the team in PWARP. PWARP is BP’s version of WAR (wins above replacement), but for pitchers. The way they calculate this value is by assessing a pitcher’s role, innings pitched, and quality of performance. Oberholtzer came in with a 1.7 PWARP in 2014, bested only by Collin McHugh‘s 2.6.
It’s not just the view of Baseball Prospectus that shines a light on the 25-year old lefty either. His FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching, which measures a pitcher’s effectiveness at preventing HR, walks, hit batters, and causing strikeouts) was a 3.56. Essentially, his ERA should have been much lower than the 4.39 that the stat sheet shows.
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Oberholtzer is not a hard thrower, so he tends to give up a large amount of hits. He averages 1.75 walks per nine innings, yet his WHIP (measurement of walks+hits per inning pitched) was a 1.38 in 2014. It was the 170 hits he allowed in 143 2/3 innings that inflated his numbers. That averages out to about seven hits allowed per start, and given that his average outing lasted roughly six innings, he wasn’t as efficient as he could have been.
For this problem to be rectified, it could be as simple as not being so predictable for the young lefty. He doesn’t have the velocity to overpower hitters (89.5 mph fastball), but working on his cutter, which he only used 0.3% of the time in 2014, could be a way for Oberholtzer to create weak contact, and keep his pitch count low.
With Brett Oberholtzer pitching deeper into games, that would both help out his ERA, and help to keep the bullpen fresh.
Again, Baseball Prospectus values Oberholtzer more than Dallas Keuchel, who won 12 games last season, and could be the Astros opening day starter. Brett Oberholtzer has shown promise in his young career, and 2015 could be the season that he puts it all together. When a pitcher lacks velocity, pitching to contact, and weak contact at that, is what makes them more effective. Look for Oberholtzer to do just that as he continues to mature.
The value is there, we just haven’t realized it yet.