2014 Fantasy Baseball: The Fielding Factor AL

rays infield

The most exciting advancement in analytics over the past ten years in baseball has been the relationship between fielding and pitching. Ten years ago, even a majority of analysts were discounting the effects of fielding as Voros McCracken’s theories on defense independent pitching statistics were taking hold. It isn’t so much that McCracken was wrong, but that even he did not have access to the kind of information we have today. It will be exciting to see what the next ten years will hold.

The smarter teams are considering the strengths of their teams in terms of fielding and acquiring pitchers to match those fielders. The transactions must coincide for everything to work properly. Similarly, smart fantasy owners consider the fielding prowess of the teams before they select the pitchers. As we saw with the National League fielding article, when we split the fielding between the infield and the outfield, we will begin to see which pitchers will benefit from their fielding and which pitchers will be hurt by it.

We will be using the Fielding Bible’s defensive runs saved (DRS) to gauge the fielding  prowess for each team. We will look only at the projected starters at each spot and what they did in 2013. So, when you look at the following table, it pays to pay attention to the breakdown of the units in addition to the grand total.

Infield

Outfield

Total

Royals

10

46

56

Red Sox

16

17

33

Orioles

25

-4

21

Rays

26

-8

18

Blue Jays

5

9

14

Indians

0

11

11

Twins

20

-12

8

Yankees

-6

13

7

Tigers

8

-5

3

Rangers

-9

9

0

Astros

5

-9

-4

White Sox

-1

-6

-7

Athletics

-32

23

-9

Mariners

-17

1

-16

Angels

-30

-7

-37

[Read more...]

2014 Fantasy Baseball: Third Tier AL Starting Pitchers

cc land

The final tier of starting pitchers is usually reserved for the scrubs of the world, but when you look at the table for the aggregate tier one, tier two, and tier three guys you will see that the tier three guys actually had more starts and more innings than the tier two guys. This would seem be to counterintuitive because pitchers that perform worse (as seen by their FRA) would likely pitch less than their tier two counterparts.

Five of the 16 tier three starters cleared 200 innings a year ago. The indication here is that several of these guys were tier one and two pitchers earlier in their careers. Either they had a down season or they have been steadily declining over a number of years. Therefore, a number of these pitchers were owned in a majority of leagues and some of them were probably directly responsible for their owners going in the tank fairly early on.

So, the question for those pitchers is whether 2013 was an aberration or simply a predictor of things to come. Pitchers, more than any other position, are hard to predict. Each one seems to have a hidden number of innings that marks their maximum efficiency and once they surpass those innings, everything goes downhill fast. [Read more...]

2014 Fantasy Baseball Daily Fix: April 16th

Welcome to another addition of the daily fix. We have new partners this season with Draftstreet and so far it has been fun getting acclimated to the site. One of the things they offer you is the ability to go with a salary cap system (as most daily games allow) or the ability to go back and try a snake draft. I haven’t tried the snake draft yet, but it I suppose I will at some point. It gives you the rush of draft day without the hangover. [Read more...]

2014 Fantasy Baseball: Second Tier AL Starting Pitchers

Ubaldo-Jimenez_600_320

The second tier list in the National League was a mixed bag. We saw a cross between pitchers that some people would think would be tier one guys and guys that some people thought would be tier three guys. So, going through both lists was fun just to see what big names might fall out either way. Tier two pitchers are pitchers that finished with a fair run average (FRA) between 4.00 and 4.50. FRA is a Baseball Prospectus metric that attempts to pinpoint what a pitcher’s ERA would be with a neutral home ballpark and neutral fielding behind him.

As we have noted throughout the series, the goal was to see what characteristics that tier one, tier two, and tier three pitchers had in common. Therefore, instead of combing through big names, one could look at the characteristics and identify sleepers that way. What we have found so far is that strikeouts and walks are the two primary statistics that seem to drive the separation between the three tiers. Surprisingly, batted ball numbers have not entered into the equation yet.

For those just joining us, we looked at starters currently slated to be starters in the American League that pitched 100 or more innings last year. Of the 75 projected starters, 53 such starters met the criteria last season. The rest include pitchers that were either injured last season, came up later in the year and pitched fewer than 100 innings, or are making their debuts this season.

Pitchers

GS

INN

FRA

GB%

SO/9

BB/9

Tier One

14

28.8

187.9

3.61

45.1

8.8

2.6

Tier Two

23

26.5

165.5

4.21

45.2

7.4

3.0

Tier Three

16

28.0

177.1

4.94

45.3

6.2

2.7

 

As we noted last time, the differences in groundball rates is negligible. This is significant because a number of teams are searching for pitchers with high groundball rates. This isn’t to say those teams are wrong, but groundball pitchers are not inherently more successful than fly ball pitchers. They will be if the team they are going to has a strong defensive infield. Obviously, there are also some home ballparks where it is more advantageous to have a groundball pitcher. Yet, those pitchers have to be dealt with on a case by case basis. The predominant factor to consider is the strikeout rate of the pitcher.

Hishasi Iwakuma—Seattle Mariners

ERA: 2.66                                                                             SO/9: 7.6

FRA: 4.03                                                                             BB/9: 1.7

INN: 219.7                                                                           BABIP: .252

GB: 50%                                                                               LOB%: 81.9

This is one of the more extreme cases you will find between ERA and FRA. Iwakuma is on the shelf, but you could see the wheels spinning in Seattle when they signed Robinson Cano. They were thinking they already had two staff aces in Iwakuma and King Felix. They had two good young arms coming up in James Paxton and Taijuan Walker and all they needed to do was add that big bat to be a contender. Well, Iwakuma is hurt, but even if he were healthy he likely would not be turning in the kind of season he did last year.

Justin Masterson—Cleveland Indians

ERA: 3.45                                                                             SO/9: 9.1

FRA: 4.27                                                                             BB/9: 3.5

INN: 193.0                                                                           BABIP: .285

GB%: 60%                                                                            LOB%: 75.4

Pitchers like Masterson make me nervous. I don’t know how much has to do with him per se, but when a pitcher has extreme rates like his 60 percent ground ball rate, it does make you stand up and take notice. Those extreme rates have remained fairly consistent in his career, but everything else seems to be in chaos. His ERAs fluctuate between the low threes and high fours. The BABIPs and LOBs are fluctuating as well. I think what is more alarming is the fact that his K rate had surpassed seven per nine innings only once before last season. Add it all up and who knows what direction Masterson goes this season.

James Shields—Kansas City Royals

ERA: 3.15                                                                             SO/9: 7.7

FRA: 4.02                                                                             BB/9: 2.7

INN: 228.7                                                                           BABIP: .298

GB$: 43%                                                                             LOB%: 79.5%

Everyone gave Dayton Moore the business last season, but all three of his gambles (James Shields, Ervin Sanatana, and Jeremy Guthrie) worked out last season. Moore even gets an extra first rounder for Santana. The problem is that gambles rarely ever work out the second year and Shields, as good as he is, is still a gamble. The left on base percentage points towards regression. In this case, Shields will likely turn back into a number two or three starter this year. That’s not bad, but the Royals are counting on him to be more.

Ubaldo Jimenez—Baltimore Orioles

ERA: 3.30                                                                             SO/9: 9.6

FRA: 4.01                                                                             BB/9: 3.9

INN: 182.7                                                                           BABIP: .304

GB%: 45%                                                                            LOB%: 76.5%

Oh temptress, thy name is Ubaldo. Like many of you, I fell for this one this year. No, I didn’t pick him as if he was a fantasy stud, but when I saw him slipping in my drafts, I picked him up because the rewards seemed so great. It’s early, but those control problems seem to be rearing their ugly heads. Funny, but the Indians figured this out and let him go in exchange for the first round pick. The Orioles thought the same thing as many of us when they picked him up. The money is relatively reasonable given the possibility of greatness, but the lack of command can be scary at times.

Jon Lester—Boston Red Sox

ERA: 3.75                                                                             SO/9: 7.5

FRA: 4.03                                                                             BB/9: 2.8

INN: 213.3                                                                           BABIP: .300

GB: 46%                                                                               LOB%: 73.7%

The circle of life applies to baseball as well. The Red Sox struggled because they made some bad decisions. They won the World Series last season because of some luck, but mainly because they started making good decisions. Now, they have to face tough questions like whether they should give Jon Lester a big extension. Count me out on that one. Also count me out on treating Jon Lester as anything more than an average fantasy starter. Yes, he enjoyed success last season, but signs point to regression and regression in his case makes him mediocre.

2014 Fantasy Baseball: First Tier AL Starting Pitchers

Scott Kazmir Fantasy Baseball

Last week, we took a look at three tiers of starting pitchers in the National League. The primary thrust of the week was to see how the three groups were separated in terms of secondary numbers. This week, we are doing the same thing in the American League. For those that did not look in last week, the general idea was to take the pitchers that hurled more than 100 innings in 2013 and compare them based on their fair run average (FRA). FRA is a Baseball Prospectus statistic that attempts to gauge what a pitcher would have done with an average home ballpark and average fielding behind them.

Pitchers were split into three groups (called tiers) based on their FRA. Pitchers with a FRA below 4.00 were placed into the first group. Pitchers with a FRA between 4.00 and 4.50 were placed into the second tier. Finally, pitchers with a FRA above 4.50 fell in the last tier. First, we want to see if there is anything that would explain the differences between the three groups. Last time, we found that the strikeout rate was the primary point of division. Walk rate would have been the second most important factor followed by groundball rate. Actually, groundball rate had virtually no effect.

We want to see if the same is true with the American League hurlers. Beyond that, there will be surprises in each group. We want to highlight those because those are the cases that are particularly relevant for fantasy players. In this edition, we want to look solely at the top tier of American League pitchers. Before we look at the surprises, let’s take a look at how the three tiers fared when compared with each other.

Pitchers

GS

INN

FRA

GB%

SO/9

BB/9

Tier One

14

28.8

187.9

3.61

45.1

8.8

2.6

Tier Two

23

26.5

165.5

4.21

45.2

7.4

3.0

Tier Three

16

28.0

177.1

4.94

45.3

6.2

2.7

 

It should be noted that these numbers are even more pronounced than the National League version. There is virtually no difference in the groundball rates where in the National League we saw some difference but no correlative difference. Furthermore, the differences in the strikeout rates are much more pronounced. So, when you are searching for someone and you want them to fit the first tier profile, you are better off looking at the strikeout and walk rates than you are the batted ball statistics.

Be that as it may, there were several names that appeared on the tier one list that were a bit of a surprise. We always want to look deeper in those cases, because those pitchers are sometimes there by mistake or random luck. As we did before, we will identify five such pitchers to see if they are guys you should keep an eye on during the season.

Bud Norris—Baltimore Orioles

ERA: 4.18                                                                             SO/9: 7.5

FRA: 3.78                                                                             BB/9: 3.4

INN: 176.7                                                                           BABIP: .333                                                                                        

GB%: 40%                                                                            LOB%: 73.3%

We must remember that all of the tier data is in the aggregate, but Bud Norris’ numbers look like those of a tier two pitcher. Even still, you would think that he would have been drafted more often than what he was. His strikeout rate is still above the league average and he has four straight seasons of 150 or more innings. Still, pitching a majority of your games in the AL East is not exactly the best way to make a living. Add to that the fact that the Orioles’ defensive strength lies in their infield, but Norris has a groundball rate below the league average. That can help explain the .333 BABIP he “enjoyed” last season.

Jose Quintana—Chicago White Sox

ERA: 3.51                                                                             SO/9: 7.4

FRA: 3.93                                                                             BB/9: 2.5

INN: 200.0                                                                          BABIP: .283

GB%: 43%                                                                            LOB%: 76.6%

Sometimes it’s easy to see why people avoid certain guys on draft day. Quintana was drafted, but he was drafted a lot later than most people would have thought. Sometimes, fantasy players do show a bit of sophistication and that can be seen in his BABIP and left on base percentage (LOB%). Both point to a regression that will make him look rather ordinary. Still, we are talking a pitcher with a three to one strikeout to walk ratio and someone that is at least average at keeping fly balls in the ballpark. So, if he happens to be available in your league (on waivers or via trade) I would take a good look.

Corey Kluber—Cleveland Indians

ERA: 3.85                                                                             SO/9: 8.3

FRA: 3.97                                                                             BB/9: 2.0

INN: 147.3                                                                           BABIP: .329

GB%: 46%                                                                            LOB: 72.9%

We discussed this last week, but it bears repeating. The league average rates for BABIP and LOB% are .300 and 70 percent respectively. So, we have a mixed bag with Kluber. His BABIP is a little high, but he did a good job of not allowing runners to score. We usually see a regression in both of those areas. Therefore, we would expect the luck factors to cancel each other out. Kluber had his first taste as a full-time starter and it seemed to agree with him. I wouldn’t put him in the upper echelon of starters, but he seems to be a good middle of the pack guy.

Ricky Nolasco—Minnesota Twins

ERA: 3.70                                                                             SO/9: 7.4

FRA: 3.92                                                                             BB/9: 2.1

INN: 198.3                                                                           BABIP: .299

GB%: 43%                                                                            LOB%: 70.9

Sometimes, it pays to look at things from another angle. We can look at averages, but averages get skewed. Of the 14 pitchers in the first tier, ten had strikeout rates of eight per nine innings are higher. So, Nolasco definitely falls into the bottom of the grouping. He has the look of a tier two pitcher and he certainly has had a rough go in the early going of 2014. If someone owns him, they may end up releasing him and you can grab him for free. I certainly wouldn’t have pegged him as a tier one guy, but he definitely is a lot better than people give him credit for.

Scott Kazmir—Oakland Athletics

ERA: 4.04                                                                             SO/9: 9.2

FRA: 3.83                                                                             BB/9: 2.7

INN: 158.0                                                                           BABIP: .324

GB%: 41%                                                                            LOB%: 73.4

Kazmir certainly is a remarkable story. He has always been talented, but something (lack of command) has always held him back. His career walk rate (3.9 per nine innings) has always been scary enough, but he always seemed like one of those guys that needed 20-25 pitches to even get through a clean inning. Sure enough, he averaged only 5.4 innings per start a year ago. The Athletics rolled the dice and signed him to big money. If his walk rate stays low then he is a very intriguing fantasy prospect, but I’m just not sold.

2014 Fantasy Baseball: The Fielding Factor NL

mccarthy land

After looking at all three tiers of the NL only starters, we have discovered that pitchers themselves have very little control over what happens once the hitter makes contact with the ball. Strikeout rates were far and away the best predictor of pitcher success between the three tiers. Of course, that doesn’t mean that strikeouts are the only predictors for pitching success. What it does mean is that how pitchers interact with the fielders on their team plays a huge role in determining their success.

You cannot evaluate any starting pitcher in a vacuum. It pays to look at the fielding numbers for each team to find out which starting pitchers are potential sleepers and which ones it pays to avoid. Looking at the overall fielding numbers for each team helps some, but it is more helpful to break down the fielding numbers by the infields and outfields respectfully.

For our purposes, we are using defensive runs saved (DRS) from The Fielding Bible. No fielding system is perfect and the great minds in sabermetrics are always searching for a better model, but DRS represents the best of what we currently have. So, what we will see are the projected regulars’ totals for DRS from last season. We don’t have the room to look at all of the fielders, so for each team you will see the infield total, outfield total, and overall total.

From there, we can look at individual pitchers and how their batted ball statistics match up with what their teams do well. This only makes sense from the results we have already seen. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to the ground ball rates we have seen and the success or lack of success of the pitcher. So, it only makes sense that the deciding factor is not the pitcher himself but the team he pitches for.

Infield

Outfield

Total

Diamondbacks

-3

51

48

Pirates

23

22

45

Rockies

49

-5

44

Cubs

38

-3

35

Dodgers

29

5

34

Reds

15

16

31

Brewers

-14

36

22

Braves

-14

36

22

Nationals

-3

8

5

Cardinals

11

-15

-4

Padres

5

-14

-9

Mets

-15

-1

-16

Giants

-2

-17

-19

Marlins

-10

-9

-19

Phillies

-24

0

-24

 

Keep in mind that the numbers we are looking at are last year’s numbers. Mark Trumbo did not play a whole lot of left field last year, so the numbers are probably a bit skewed. However, looking at the Diamondbacks as simply the best fielding team in the National League is an overly simplistic way to look at it. They are the best outfield defense in baseball largely because of Gerardo Parra. So, when we look at the projected five man rotation for the Diamondbacks, we should look at their ground ball, fly ball, and line drive rates. When we look at the pitchers with this data then we will know which pitchers are more than likely to perform better this year. This kind of study is particularly important for pitchers that are changing teams like Bronson Arroyo. For our purposes here, we will look at the career batted ball rates for the projected five starters.

GB%

FB%

LD%

Brandon McCarthy

41.6

37.3

21.1

Wade Miley

47.8

30.3

21.9

Trevor Cahill

55.2

27.3

17.5

Bronson Arroyo

40.6

39.6

19.8

Randall Delgado

45.0

34.9

20.1

 

In their annual preseason publication, Baseball Prospectus blistered the Diamondbacks front office because of what seemed like a lack of planning. They accused John Towers of making decisions by the seat of his pants. The numbers above reflect that fact. All of the pitchers are more ground ball than fly ball in reality even though the clear strength of the Dbacks fielding would come in the outfield. In particular, on a different team and a different set of circumstances, Trevor Cahill would be a really good pitcher. Make him a Tampa Bay Devil Ray or a Chicago Cub and he might be one of the best pitchers in the league.

Unlike the good folks at Baseball Prospectus, I’m going to cut the D-backs some slack on this issue. Wade Miley and Trevor Cahill are the most lopsided ground ball pitchers on the staff and they are home grown. The most balanced arm on the staff (Bronson Arroyo) was acquired this offseason. Since he has the highest fly ball rate on the staff, he is the one that is mostly likely to get the good batted ball luck this season.

We could easily flip the score a little and look at the worst individual unit in the National League. The Phillies -24 ranking on the infield represents the worst individual unit from the National League. We can look at their starting pitchers as well. In particular, we want to see if any of their new starters (namely A.J. Burnett) are a good fit or bad fit for the strengths and weaknesses of their team.

GB%

FB%

LD%

Cliff Lee

40.4

39.6

20.0

Cole Hamels

43.2

37.4

19.3

A.J. Burnett

50.4

31.1

18.5

Kyle Kendrick

46.5

33.1

20.4

Roberto Hernandez

57.7

25.8

16.5

 

Funny, but Baseball Prospectus also gave the Phillies a hard time and it’s not hard to figure out why. Both Roberto Hernandez and A.J. Burnett are new starters for the Phillies and they have the exact wrong numbers for the defensive breakdown of the team. Essentially, the Phillies infielders are either subpar defensively or getting old (or both). Burnett is a good pitcher, but he is in a bad situation here and Burnett owners are probably going to end up being disappointed. It pays to look at this information before you draft.

2014 Fantasy Baseball: Third Tier National League Starting Pitchers

Edwin Jackson Source: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images North America

Edwin Jackson
Source: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images North America

The last group of starters in the National League is the kind you only use in National League only leagues. After all, when we do the math on the first two tiers, we find more than 40 guys in the first two tiers. That includes pitchers with more than 100 innings in 2013. When we include injured guys and newcomers then we see that number balloon to over 50 pitchers in the National League alone. So, in mixed leagues we are dealing with the pitchers that would finish outside of the top 100.

However, you’d be surprised at the number of these guys that were drafted in mixed leagues. Some of them have big names and some of them outperformed their fair run averages by a very large margin. Unfortunately, many of you have already drafted these guys, but you can still take advantage of these pitchers in daily baseball.

For those just joining us, the past two articles took a look at the differences between tier one, tier two, and tier three starting pitchers. Tier three starters had fair run averages above 4.50 in 2013. Interestingly enough, they averaged more starts and more innings than their tier two counterparts. That by itself is interesting, but I’m not sure what it proves. What we do know is that their numbers were worse than the others in terms of strikeouts and walks. It makes perfect sense that the more contact you allow the worse your numbers are going to look.

Pitchers

GS

INN

FRA

GB

SO/9

BB/9

Tier One

24

32.4

191.0

3.76

48.3

8.0

2.5

Tier Two

19

25.6

165.1

4.26

47.2

7.1

2.6

Tier Three

17

26.3

156.6

4.88

48.5

6.6

2.9

While it is not shown here, the key number is the strikeout to walk ratio. Strikeouts kept going down and walks kept going up. A two to one strikeout to walk ratio is still pretty darn good, but this just goes to show the direction the game is going. The pendulum between pitching and hitting is beginning to swing back towards the pitchers. At any rate, we also know that teams are becoming more sophisticated in how they stack their pitching staffs. They consider the home ballpark and the strengths and weaknesses of the fielders behind the pitchers.

Of course, that’s putting the cart before the horse. In this edition, we will take a look at the names of some pitchers that some people did draft. Maybe last season was just an aberration. In most instances those pitchers either outperformed their FRA or they relied on their good names. As many people have said, there is nothing more insidious than the memory of a great player. At least that is true in fantasy baseball.

Trevor Cahill—Arizona Diamondbacks

ERA: 3.99                                                                             SO/9: 6.3

FRA: 5.24                                                                             BB/9: 4.0

INN: 146.2                                                                           BABIP: .289

GB%: 44                                                                               LOB%: 73.5

You rarely ever see this much of a disparity between ERA and any of the estimators like FIP, xFIP, or SIERA. The Diamondbacks did have a tremendous defensive outfield last season and with Gerardo Parra in right field, they are still going to be better than average. However, Mark Trumbo is not going to make anyone forget Lou Brock in left field. So, the odds are good that Cahill’s ERA will approximate the FRA more than last year’s reasonable 3.99.

Ian Kennedy—San Diego Padres

ERA: 4.91                                                                             SO/9: 8.1

FRA: 4.87                                                                             BB/9: 3.6

INN: 181.3                                                                           BABIP: .295

GB%: 38                                                                               LOB%: 69.1%

Kennedy is a decent bounce back candidate. It has little to do with him per se as it does his new home ballpark. I wouldn’t hold my breath for the 2011 Ian Kennedy to return, but something better than the 2013 Kennedy should appear. Petco Park is a lot friendlier to fly ball pitchers than Chase Field was. The strikeout rate makes him a good candidate to bounce back as well. His walk rate was higher last season than in season’s past. So, if his control improves he might be a sleeper.

Edwin Jackson—Chicago Cubs

ERA: 4.98                                                                             SO/9: 6.9

FRA: 4.69                                                                             BB/9: 3.0

INN: 175.1                                                                           BABIP: .322

GB%: 51%                                                                            LOB%: 63.3%

Edwin Jackson had one of those nightmare seasons that makes fantasy players leave him in droves. His left on base percentage was far below the 70 percent league average and his BABIP was well above the league average (.300). The Cubs infield defense is actually pretty good, so there is no real explanation for why this happened. Perhaps it was bad luck. Jackson is another pretty good bounce back candidate. His career left on base percentage rate sits at 70.5 percent and his career BABIP (.308) are closer to the league averages and enough to make you think he will be much better this season.

Marco Estrada—Milwaukee Brewers

ERA: 3.87                                                                             SO/9: 8.3

FRA: 4.51                                                                             BB/9: 2.0

INN: 128.0                                                                           BABIP: .262

GB%: 38%                                                                            LOB%: 74.1

Like many of the others on this list, Estrada’s ERA was much better than his fair run average. We can trace that back to his left on base percentage and his BABIP. Part of that can be attributed to the excellent glove work of Carlos Gomez. Gomez carried the defense by himself in the outfield, but he had some help with Norichika Aoki. Aoki is gone and replaced by Ryan Braun and Khris Davis. That likely isn’t going to turn out well for a pitcher like Estrada.

Ervin Santana—Atlanta Braves

ERA: 3.24                                                                             SO/9: 6.9

FRA: 4.62                                                                             BB/9: 2.2

INN: 211.0                                                                           BABIP: .267

GB%: 46%                                                                            LOB%: 76.9

Score one for the Kansas City Royals. They acquired Santana and rented him for one season. He just happened to pitch way above his head. Now, they have a first rounder from the Braves and the Braves likely get to enjoy the lovely regression to the mean. Santana will likely make his debut in May and some people will consider pulling him off the waiver wire. I would pass on that based on these numbers. His ERA will likely balloon back to 4.50 or thereabouts.

2014 Fantasy Baseball Daily Fix: April 9th, 2014

Draft_Street_Feat_Image_600_320

It’s another day and another daily fix on the docket. One of the great things about daily fantasy baseball is that it allows you to tinker with your strategy from day to day. That’s also the best reason to come here to the Fantasy Fix for your daily fix. With seven different authors you get seven different strategies to choose from. I have to say the strategy worked pretty well last week as my team finished within the top twenty percent of the entrants.

SIGN UP TO GET YOUR 100% DEPOSIT BONUS.

Early in the season, it’s hard to go with the hot hand because sample sizes are so small. So, we go on past track records and try to exploit weak pitchers and weak hitters as much as we possibly can. It should be noted that Draft Street gives you the opportunity to go with a relief pitcher as your third pitcher. While that can help save you some money for position players, pitchers give you the best chance to win because they can score you the most points. So, I flood the roster with starting pitchers and save on the rest.

As usual, I will be playing a two dollar double up today and I will give you a couple of different tables of players. The first table represents the lineup I will actually be using and the second table will give you some reasonable alternatives. The reasonable alternatives are not necessarily all salary cap friendly though, so use those at your own risk. [Read more...]

2014 Fantasy Baseball: Second Tier National League Starting Pitchers

source: ngpuebla.com

source: ngpuebla.com

Yesterday, we began taking a look at National League only starting pitching prospects. The general idea was to split the starters into three tiers based on their Fair Run Averages (FRA) from the previous season. Pitchers with FRAs under 4.00 were in the first tier. Today, we will look at pitchers with FRAs between 4.00 and 4.50. The general idea is that pitchers with those particular FRAs will share many of the same characteristics. So, you can find good bargains if you look for certain characteristics. As we will see today, you can avoid reaching for starters by also paying attention to those same characteristics.

The fielding independent pitching (FIP) revolution has done a pretty good job of predicting future performance. FIP has evolved into various other forms like FIP+, FRA, and SIERA. It all depends what your source is. Our particular source is Baseball Prospectus, but you will see some of these other numbers at Fangraphs and Baseball-reference.com as well. The concept is the same. The idea here is to see if we can predict where a player will wind up in FRA based on the various components of their other statistics.

While the group will always have strong characteristics one way or the other, individual pitchers within the group may actually better match the first tier or the third tier respectively. Even though just about everyone has already had their draft, there are pitchers on the waiver wire, available via trade, and as you see every day on our site, there are daily games that require you to make evaluations throughout the year. Early on, we look at the previous season for answers more than the current season.

If you are just joining us, we will look at pitchers that hurled more than 100 innings in 2013 and group them based on their FRA. From there, we will look at the group averages in games started, innings pitched, FRA, ground ball rate, strikeouts per nine innings, and walks per nine innings. Some believe that the last three numbers are excellent predictors for Fair Run Average. We will test that theory and then also look at players in the second tier that most people thought were first tier guys. Maybe that placement was an aberration or maybe we should steer clear of these pitchers early on in the draft process. If you own them, you may be able to deal them early before others catch on.

Pitchers

GS

INN

FRA

GB%

SO/9

BB/9

Tier One

24

32.4

191.0

3.76

48.3

8.0

2.5

Tier Two

19

25.6

165.1

4.26

47.2

7.1

2.6

Tier Three

17

26.3

156.5

4.88

48.5

6.6

2.9

 

When looking at the above table (the same as yesterday’s), the key is to look where would see a noticeable difference between the three tiers. What we notice is that the only real difference is a difference in strikeout and walk rates. That is no surprise. It also isn’t a surprise to see tier one starters getting more starts and hurling more innings. The surprise is probably that there is little to any difference in the average ground ball rates of any of the NL starters.

This is important when one is looking to identify sleeper candidates. Some organizations seem to favor ground ball pitchers because they would be more likely to avoid giving up a lot of home runs. That’s fair, but their success also largely depends on the fielders behind them. So, rather than hunting down pitchers with low or high ground ball rates, you should look at each individual team and the various strengths and weaknesses of their fielders. If they are a strong outfield fielding team then it might be a good idea to look for a lower ground ball rate for that particular staff. We will be looking at the various teams’ strengths and weaknesses later on during the week. Looking at each team will tell us more than looking at any individual pitcher in a vacuum.

So, today, we are looking at pitchers that some fantasy fans see as top tier starters, but actually are closer to the third tier than they are the first tier. Sometimes there are underlying reasons for that and sometimes they just had a down year in the luck department. We will look at the relevant numbers to see which category each fits into.

Dan Haren—Los Angeles Dodgers

ERA: 4.67                                                             SO/9: 8.0

FRA: 4.47                                                             BB/9: 1.6

INN: 169.7                                                           BABIP: .302

GB%: 39%                                                            LOB%: 70.3

Haren has the strikeout rate and walk rate of a tier one starter, but he fell just a little short of going into their three. The low ground ball rate might have been responsible, but now he is a Dodger. Dodger Stadium is fairly friendly to fly ball pitchers and the defensive outfield has the potential to be good in Los Angeles. So, he might actually be a good regression candidate. If you are playing daily baseball, you might think about starting him while his price is depressed.

Matt Cain—San Francisco Giants

ERA: 4.00                                                             SO/9: 7.7

FRA: 4.47                                                             BB/9: 2.7

INN: 184.3                                                           BABIP: .260

GB%: 39%                                                            LOB%: 71.6

When talking with a Giants fan, I came to realize they actually have a term inspired by Matt Cain. When a pitcher pitches a quality start and gets no run support they are said to be “Cained”. Last year, the term was used when a pitcher was clicking along until they had one disastrous inning. Overall numbers indicate that Cain should slip again, but he does have an impressive strikeout to walk ratio. So, if we average out those factors maybe he deserves to be right where he is at. He is just one of those guys that is hard to pinpoint right now.

Travis Wood—Chicago Cubs

ERA: 3.11                                                                             SO/9: 6.5

FRA: 4.43                                                                             BB/9: 3.0

INN: 200.0                                                                           BABIP: .248

GB%: 35%                                                                            LOB%: 77.4

I thought the Cubs were stupid to trade Sean Marshall for Wood, but 2013 was a much better year for Wood than it was for Marshall. Considering Marshall is already on the shelf, 2014 would seem to be a repeat. That being said, Wood’s BABIP and LOB% would indicate that he is a huge regression candidate. 200 inning starters don’t exactly grow on trees, so Wood has some fantasy value, but if you drafted him based on his 2013 numbers then you need to look to deal him immediately. If you took him late then he still might be a decent value.

Yovani Gallardo—Milwaukee Brewers

ERA: 4.18                                                                             SO/9: 7.2

FRA: 4.49                                                                             BB/9: 3.3

INN: 180.7                                                                           BABIP: .299

GB%: 51%                                                                            LOB%: 70.2

The numbers say he is right around where he should be as a pitcher. A scant two years ago, he was considered a borderline fantasy ace. Now, he is a borderline fantasy starter. The Brewers seem to be employing a group of these guys. I suppose the whole idea is that one or two of them could get hot and pitch above their pedigree. If that happens they suddenly become playoff contenders. Still, without a legitimate ace you wonder how far a team like that could go. As a fifth or sixth fantasy starter, he would be an asset to your team. Otherwise, I would stay clear.

Stephen Strasburg—Washington Nationals

ERA: 3.00                                                                             SO/9: 9.4

FRA: 4.12                                                                             BB/9: 2.8

INN: 183.0                                                                           BABIP: .263

GB%: 52%                                                                            LOB%: 73.2

If Strasburg were a girl, he would be the girl that the entire school wanted to take to the prom. She would look good and everyone would just drool at the thought of going out with her. Yet, when the time finally came they would come away disappointed. Strasburg is a tease. Mind you, I would love to have him on my real team, but everyone keeps waiting for him to bust out and win the Cy Young. I’m right there with everyone. My head tells me to look at the numbers and remember that he is more likely to get worse than better. My heart tells me to look at the stuff and all of that potential. Fantasy championships are rarely won with the heart

2014 Fantasy Baseball: Top Tier NL-Only Starting Pitchers

Lance Lynn

As regular readers know, I have been going through my rotters and sleepers series up until this week. I could go through the same process with pitchers, but pitchers are so plentiful and so often used, that I thought of going through another method. Instead of focusing on individual pitchers, I am conducting a study to see what particular traits will predict pitching success.

This week we will look at pitchers in the National League and next week we will look at the pitchers in the American League. Only current starting pitchers were evaluated. In order to be a part of the study, a pitcher had to throw at least 100 innings in 2013. Pitchers were split into three tiers based on their fair run average (FRA). Fair run average is a Baseball Prospectus statistic that attempts to measure a pitcher’s true ERA after park effects and fielding are neutralized.

There is a considerable amount of discussion within the industry about batted ball statistics. Some say that pitchers can only control strikeouts, walks, and home runs. Others see patterns with ground ball rates, fly ball rates, and line drive rates. Some teams have begun to sign pitchers with high ground ball rates because they think they will perform inherently better than pitchers without a high ground ball rate. The study below will show how pitchers in each of the three tiers performed in regards to games started, innings pitched, ground ball rate, strike outs per nine innings, and walks per nine innings. The general idea is that pitchers in the first tier will perform better in at least one or two categories than the other two tiers. As usual, it will make more sense when we see a visual

  • Tier One: FRA below 4.00
  • Tier Two: FRA between 4.00 and 4.50
  • Tier Three: FRA above 4.50

 

Pitchers

GS

INN

FRA

GB%

SO/9

BB/9

Tier One

24

32.4

191.0

3.76

48.3

8.0

2.5

Tier Two

19

25.6

165.1

4.26

47.2

7.1

2.7

Tier Three

17

26.3

156.5

4.88

48.5

6.6

2.9

 

As you can see, the overall ground ball rate is not significant in terms of improving performance. On an individual basis, it might be beneficial depending on the team a pitcher plays for. We will get to that next week. In terms of sleepers, you want to look for pitchers that approximate the characteristics of a tier one pitcher. That would be looking at the strikeout and walk rates of the starting pitchers. Then, you would look for pitchers that have a considerably lower FRA (FIP and SIERA are also excellent resources) than their actual ERA.

There are two primary statistics that point more towards the luck a pitcher enjoyed than the actual skill of the pitcher. The concept is something called regression to the mean. In other words, pitchers that enjoyed bad luck will likely see a reversal of that luck the next season. Let’s take a look at some of the pitchers in first tier that would surprise you. Some of them may have even gone undrafted in many fantasy drafts.

Jhoulys Chacin—Colorado Rockies

ERA: 3.47                                                                             SO/9: 5.7

FRA: 3.95                                                                             BB/9: 2.8

INN: 197.3                                                                           BABIP: .288

GB: 48%                                                                               LOB%: 71.9%

On one level, it makes perfect sense for Chacin to go undrafted in most leagues. He seemed to actually enjoy some good luck last season with a lower than normal BABIP and a pretty good left on base percentage. So, we should expect some regression and opening up on the disabled list won’t help him get back to 200 innings. Yet, when he gets off he will be a good waiver candidate. His groundball rate is slightly better than the league average. While that might not mean anything in most stadiums, in Coors Field it means something.

Eric Stults—San Diego Padres

ERA: 3.93                                                                             SO/9: 5.8

FRA: 3.50                                                                             BB/9: 1.8

INN: 203.7                                                                           BABIP: .302

GB%: 42%                                                                            LOB%: 69.6

Stults was largely forgotten last season too. Sure, there are some warts on this pitcher. In particular, the strikeout rate is lower than what you would like, but he also pitches half of his games in Petco Park. That helps to explain why the lower than normal ground ball rate actually works in his favor. Normally, you would like to have all of your pitchers with a healthy strikeout rate, but this is a guy that threw more than 200 innings last year in a very good home ballpark. He deserves a good look.

Lance Lynn—St. Louis Cardinals

ERA: 3.97                                                                             SO/9: 8.8

FRA: 3.48                                                                             BB/9: 3.4

INN: 201.7                                                                           BABIP: .314

GB%: 45%                                                                            LOB%: 71.8%

Lance Lynn didn’t go undrafted unlike the other two guys, but he has been under-drafted. This is particularly true when you consider that he has the kind of strikeout rate we like to see in fantasy starters. He also will enjoy more run support than most pitchers. The biggest difference is probably the addition of Peter Bourjos in center field. If he is healthy then more of those fly balls will be caught this year than last year.

Bartolo Colon—New York Mets

ERA: 2.65                                                             SO/9: 5.5

FRA: 3.63                                                             BB/9: 1.4

INN: 190.3                                                           BABIP: .294

GB%: 43%                                                            LOB%: 80%

Fantasy fans are staying away in droves. It is understandable when you consider that Colon had a lot of good luck last season (left on base percentage was extremely high), he is moving to a lesser team, and he would probably be falling off a cliff any day now, but even if he produces the FRA numbers he would still be a very solid end of the rotation fantasy guy. In particular, his walk rate has been very good since his last incarnation.

Jon Niese—New York Mets

ERA: 3.71                                                             SO/9: 6.6

FRA: 3.91                                                             BB/9: 3.0

INN: 143.0                                                           BABIP: .326

GB%: 53%                                                            LOB%: 72.5%

Niese is a good example of how a high ground ball rate is not always what it is cracked up to be. It depends on who you have to field those ground balls. The Mets starting infield had a collective -15 defensive runs saved last season. It stands to reason that this was partially responsible for the .326 BABIP. If the Mets can improve their infield defense this season then we might see a lower BABIP and a lower ERA.