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May 28, 2010

Fantasy Beat

Hot Spots: Starting Pitchers

by Bill Baer

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Value Picks 2010 PECOTA Games '10
Starting Pitchers Throws W IP H HR ERA WHIP K/9 BB/9 HR/9 K/9 BB/9 HR/9 Starts SIERA
Hisanori Takahashi LH 4 38.0 32 1 2.13 1.24 10.4 3.6 0.2 7.3 4.0 1.0 2 3.09
Justin Masterson RH 0 47.0 63 4 6.13 1.89 8.8 5.0 0.8 9.5 4.2 1.0 9 3.67
Jake Westbrook RH 2 58.1 63 8 4.78 1.49 5.6 3.7 1.2 5.0 3.6 1.1 10 4.28
Brett Myers RH 3 67.0 73 6 3.22 1.43 6.6 3.1 0.8 9.4 3.6 1.3 10 3.96
Brandon Morrow RH 3 50.0 53 5 6.66 1.70 11.7 5.8 0.9 8.3 4.8 1.2 10 3.54
Tom Gorzelanny LH 2 51.2 50 2 3.66 1.36 9.2 3.5 0.3 9.0 4.6 1.2 9 3.54
Kris Medlen RH 1 35.0 36 3 2.57 1.23 7.2 1.8 0.8 9.1 3.1 0.8 3 3.66
Subscribe to Heater 2007-09 in Rotation 1.39 6.6 3.1 1.1  
Heater Magazine 2007-09 in Relief 1.36 7.7 3.8 0.9  

Players added to the list

Hisanori Takahashi: Takahashi has faced two high-octane offenses -- the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Yankees -- in his first two starts as a fill-in for the New York Mets and has yet to allow a run in 12 innings of work. In those 12 innings, he has struck out 11 and walked merely one batter. As a reliever, he missed a lot of bats but also missed the strike zone frequently. As you can see by the averages in the Value Picks table, that is simply par for the course. Also something to note is that the southpaw, in 38 innings, has a distinct platoon split which may be why he has held the Phillies and Yankees in check. His next start will come on May 31 against a weak Padres offense in their very pitcher-friendly ballpark. Get Takahashi while you can. Despite being available in 95 percent of ESPN leagues, he is being snapped up quickly after dominating the Phillies on Wednesday.

Kris Medlen: Medlen, like Takahashi, is a substitution while ailing pitchers ride the pine. However, with continued success, the Atlanta Braves may have to reconsider moving Medlen back to the bullpen once Jair Jurrjens is fully recovered. In three starts against the Phillies, Mets, and Pittsburgh Pirates, Medlen has compiled a 2.76 ERA with an average strikeout rate and well below-average walk rate. At the very least, he is a reliable short-term option to stabilize ERA and WHIP and he may even pick up a few wins now that the Braves' offense has been nudged awake. Medlen is available in over 96 percent of ESPN leagues.

Players removed from the list

Justin Masterson: That .405 BABIP of his has got to start plummeting one of these days, right? The right-hander has a 6.13 ERA but a very impressive 3.67 SIERA built on 8.8 strikeouts per nine innings and inducing ground balls at nearly a 61% clip. However, he has struck out only seven and walked 11 in his last three starts, a span of 14 and one-third innings. This is after starting the month with two starts in which he struck out 15 and walked four in 13 and two-thirds innings. In last week's "Hot Spots", I described Masterson as having "perceived inconsistency", but in fact that inconsistency may be very real. Masterson has been on the Value Picks list twice and has swung and missed both times. With an 0-2 count, toss him some breaking stuff away by avoiding him until he actually shows better K/BB stuff. (Oh, what a tangled metaphor we weave.)

Tom Gorzelanny: Despite how well he has pitched in 2010, Gorzelanny is in danger of losing his spot in the Chicago Cubs starting rotation when they decide to re-insert erstwhile starter Carlos Zambrano. Gorzelanny also took a line drive off of his pitching hand in a recent start against the Philadelphia Phillies, which may have had a leading role in his poor performance in his most recent start against the Los Angeles Dodgers. He allowed five runs in five innings of work. Otherwise, he has pitched brilliantly in 2010 and his success is very real. He is an absolute buy if those two question marks result in his keeping a spot in the rotation and a clean bill of health.

Players still on the list

Jake Westbrook: Westbrook has been a bit unlucky with home runs with a HR/FB% of 17% but his ERA and SIERA are not too disparate. As mentioned last week, Westbrook should help your ERA and WHIP but cannot be relied on for strikeouts with a K/9 a full strikeout below-average. He has also had some problems with control as his 3.7 BB/9 is the highest it has been for Westbrook since 2003. This could be due to his Tommy John surgery, so as the season progresses, his walk rate should crawl down to his career average 2.8 per nine innings. Westbrook is still available in over 99 percent of ESPN leagues.

Brett Myers: Myers remains a model of consistency. (That sentence should startle most Phillies fans.) He has allowed three or fewer runs in seven out of his ten starts this season. As his SIERA indicates, he is about a mid-3 to low-4's ERA pitcher and he has a lot in common with Kris Medlen. Myers is still available in 95 percent of ESPN leagues but that number will likely change given his start against the Milwaukee Brewers yesterday in which his ERA dropped into the low-3's.

Brandon Morrow: Morrow has only pitched a total of nine innings in his last two starts. Like Masterson, he has been very unlucky on balls in play with a .387 BABIP. His walk rate is also worrisome at about 5.8 per nine innings, but with his ability to miss bats and his location behind a very potent Toronto offense, he is a decent option for deep and AL-only fantasy baseball leagues. He is still available in about 94 percent of ESPN leagues and his ownership rate has actually decreased by two percent over the past week. While you will have to put up some of his five-inning, five-walk starts, you will also get starts like May 16 where he struck out eight and walked one in six innings. With BABIP regression, he should enjoy more of the latter.

Bill Baer is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Bill's other articles. You can contact Bill by clicking here

18 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links


Am I the only one who grows more suspicious of BABIP the more he sees it applied? Cases in point, Masterson and Ichiro. Masterson is just flat easy to hit, especially for lefties. Okay, his BABIP may flatten some but it's not all bad luck.
Don't we have to say, at some point, the league is hitting the ball hard against this guy and hard-hit balls become base hits? Similarly, don't we have to conclude that Ichiro's always high BABIP is a function of bat-control?
BP has taught us all that performance numbers tend to return to the mean. Got it. But that's simply not the same thing as "all variances from average BABIP are luck". I haven't put my finger on it here, but something's smelly in the land BABIP-assumptions.

May 28, 2010 09:15 AM
rating: 1

I believe the problems lies in BABIP taking a very long time to stabilize as a statistic. Players can go a full year with an abnormally high or low BABIP, only to have it crater or rise in the following year - look at Jay Bruce or Chris Coghlan. With enough plate appearances, we can see that players like Ichiro and Derek Jeter just have a high BABIP as a result of their approach, while some players may stabilize around .280, when the league average is around .300. However, very high or low BABIP is an outlier- Ichiro and Jeter are exceptions to the rule, and most players with very high or low BABIP do return to a more "normal" range, but not necessarily the league average.

May 28, 2010 09:30 AM
rating: 0

I have a hard time believing that BABIP is totally divorced from individual skill. I would probably submit that each individual player, based on his own unique set of talents and abilities, has his own "normal" range of BABIP, and throughout his career you will see variations in that range. Some years it could be wild, but you will have regression to the mean and in most years it would be near the mean.

Here's my thought... a pitcher with a high BABIP for any extended period of time is not likely to be unlucky, he's likely to be a pitcher getting shelled with a ton of hard hit balls, and hard hit balls are more likely to be hits. Same for hitters. Not all contact is created equal. Guys who usually crush the baseball (and / or have good speed on the basepaths) are likely to have high BABIPS. Guys who are slow and / or routinely hit Roger Dorn-style grounders to second are likely to have low BABIPS. And all of that is independent of any notions of luck and random chance.

May 28, 2010 09:56 AM
rating: 0
BP staff member Bill Baer
BP staff

Well, for instance, I've been pushing the "Cole Hamels has been super unlucky" mantra on my Phillies blog. He has actually pitched better while his line drive rate has decreased but the results don't bear that out, particularly because of BABIP.

2008: .270 BABIP, 3.52 SIERA, 3.09 ERA, 21.8 LD%
2009: .325 BABIP, 3.55 SIERA, 4.32 ERA, 20.8 LD%
2010: .336 BABIP, 3.47 SIERA, 3.82 ERA, 18.7 LD%

Everything else with Cole -- strikeouts, walks, batted ball rates -- stayed constant between 2008-09 and in some cases he improved noticeably. He is arguably even better this year.

May 28, 2010 10:34 AM

Can anyone point to a correlation between a high line drive rate and a high BABIP? I would have to believe based on the hit %'s of the type of contact made a BABIP would be influenced accordingly. I have to believe this has been done before but I don't recall seeing it.

I believe something like 70% of line drives go for hits, so if you are prone to hitting them your BABIP should be pretty high.

May 28, 2010 10:13 AM
rating: 0
BP staff member Bill Baer
BP staff

The league average BABIP on line drives is over 70 percent but pitchers don't have year-to-year persistence. Bendix-Dutton performed a study a couple years ago: Link.

"By contrast, commonly used models based on line drive percentage alone explain only about 3 percent of the variance in BABIP when applied to the same dataset, and yield a mere 18 percent correlation between predicted and actual values."

Our own Matt Swartz has also done some outstanding research, a three-part series on hitter BABIP.

- Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

And, of course, his and Eric Seidman's five-part series on SIERA (and why line drives aren't in the SIERA calculation): link.

May 28, 2010 10:29 AM

There is a very low correlation year to year on line drive rates, though, as far as I know, so while we may like to classify hitters as "line drive hitters" it's not as much of a repeatable skill as you might think.

Also, one other pitcher who has always intrigued me is Aaron Harang. His K rates and BB rates are always good, but his career BABIP is .317 over 1398 IP! I've never heard a reason why that is, but there must be a reason, right?

May 28, 2010 12:21 PM
rating: 0
BP staff member Michael Jong
BP staff


The first thing we should all recognize is that pitcher and hitter BABIP are different. There is not a large spread in BABIP among major league pitchers year to year. It makes sense, as pitchers would not be promoted to the majors if they allowed too many hits on balls in play.

Hitters are different. As a group, hitters show a larger spread in BABIP, and it is reasonable to believe that a guy like Ichiro or Jeter have "good BABIP skills."

Remember, it isn't that pitchers can't control BABIP. I can't get a .300 BABIP if I pitched in the majors. What it means is that, at the major league level, pitchers do not have a significantly different talent for preventing or not preventing hits on BIP; the bad pitchers are weeded out and don't play at that level, so the remaining talent pool only consists of guys that are around the same level. This means that a guy like Masterson COULD have a true BABIP talent of greater than .300, but there would be little to no way of us knowing after looking at this small sample. These things take time for us to know.

May 28, 2010 10:33 AM
BP staff member Bill Baer
BP staff

Right, and as an example:

Adam Eaton, career BABIP: .305
Tim Lincecum, career BABIP: .302

Obviously, Eaton is a much worse pitcher but over one thousand at-bats, Lincecum will only prevent three more hits than Eaton.

May 28, 2010 10:39 AM

You mean over one thousand balls in play, Lincecum will only prevent three more hits than Eaton. Over one thousand at-bats, Lincecum (with a higher K rate and lower HR rate) will prevent many more hits than Eaton.

May 29, 2010 06:52 AM
rating: 2

Good post, but I'm afraid to say that all of these guys are taken in my league, so no immediate help for myself. Definitely keep up the good work, though.

I actually owned Masterson for about the past three weeks or so, but I finally decided to cut bait. His strikeout rate is impressive and it does seem like he is suffering from a bit of bad luck, but there is only so long you can watch a guy who hasn't won a game in a year, playing on arguably the worst team in baseball, get lit up every time he goes out to the mound before you just have to move on.

I honestly think he's better suited for the bullpen. From my amateur hour observations, he seems solid on the first trip through the line up, but after that it's batting practice.

May 28, 2010 09:24 AM
rating: 0
BP staff member Bill Baer
BP staff

What are the 'specs' of your league? Perhaps I can use this information to further refine my "tips" for the BP readership. I use the ESPN ownership rates as a Litmus test but perhaps that is not truly representative.

May 28, 2010 10:37 AM

What about Bonderman? He's still at a low own rate of 4.7%, yet he has been awesome in his return back to the rotation (4 QS, 2 of which went 7 & a K:BB of 26:7 in them).

May 28, 2010 13:12 PM
rating: 0
BP staff member Bill Baer
BP staff

That's a good one. There have been some good suggestions by the readers over the past couple weeks. Anibal Sanchez last week (but his popularity shot up and no longer qualified as a 'Value Pick' in my estimation) and Bonderman this week. If he stays under the radar, he's a good shot to be included in next week's picks. Good catch, mental4sox.

Bonderman has a 3.76 SIERA and he has his best strikeout stuff since 2006. Good walk rate, hasn't benefited from BABIP luck. HR/FB% a little too low and he doesn't induce too many ground balls, but otherwise he is looking fine. Still available in 95 percent of ESPN leagues. He has my seal of approval.

May 28, 2010 14:27 PM

Jaime Garcia, Been on his bandwagon since day 1, but is it time to sell high on him and get a struggling stud?

May 28, 2010 15:45 PM
rating: 0
BP staff member Bill Baer
BP staff

If you can get a good return on him, you may as well take the opportunity. I have found that it is easier to find cheap pitching in the free agent pool (depends on the league specs though), so if you can patch up a hole in your offense, you'll be moving in the right direction.

With Garcia, I like the strikeouts and the ground balls -- as well as being under the tutelage of Dave Duncan -- but he is a prime candidate to regress. He's a high-3's, low-4's pitcher with a 1.14 ERA and 3.71 SIERA. He is no Roger Clemens, for sure.

May 28, 2010 18:29 PM

Also worried when it comes September he may be shut down, He only threw 37.2 innings last year in the minors I believe too. Thats a little worrisome too right?

May 28, 2010 15:50 PM
rating: 0

Bill Baer,

My apologies for not replying directly to your earlier thread, but my browser is having issues.

In any event, don't worry about changing your way of doing business. My league is really odd... bunch of first-time fantasy players and a league that places a huge value on starting pitchers (which are much more valuable than hitters, with relievers having almost no value), so at this point basically every even remotely respectable starter is taken, and I highly doubt that is the case with 95% of the other leagues out there.

May 29, 2010 20:05 PM
rating: 0
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