March 22, 2013
Pulling the Pin
As a die-hard fantasy baseball fanatic, I am aware of the pressing decisions to be made over the next two weekends. I have been playing in a trio of leagues with my college buds that extend back over a decade, including keeper leagues in AL- and NL-only as well as mixed-league formats, and our two most critical drafts are this Sunday. At the risk of salting my own game in the event that my league-mates are reading this article, I want to address an issue that can make a big difference on draft day: pitcher blow-ups.
Paul Sporer and I discussed these players during Part Two of the Towers of Power podcast on pitchers last week, referring to them as “grenades” who can blow up a good month's worth of ratios with a single disaster start. The podcast generated a bunch of questions about the grenade concept, and I was inspired to cover it in more detail by reader C.C.:
Locating these IEDs of fantasy destruction requires scouring game logs or crawling through the Play Index at baseball-reference, but C.C.'s suggestion has motivated me to do the leg work for your fantasy-drafting purposes. It’s easy to overlook the intricacies of the baseball season when preparing for draft day, while immersed in spreadsheets of full-season stats and projections. During the season, though, there are days when a pitcher just doesn't have it, and the inability to line up the gears of his delivery results in misplaced pitches and crooked numbers on the scoreboard. For the fantasy manager, these “blow-ups” can have a lasting impact on the league standings.
Consider the effect of a “typical” disaster start. Let's say that it's the end of April, and your team is staying on pace for the league's 1400-inning limit for pitchers, so you have amassed about 235 innings thus far. You team has a respectable 3.49 ERA at the end of the month, until your number-four starter gets knocked around to the tune of six runs over four innings. It's not a crushing blow, but the team ERA jumps to 3.65, and you probably lose a point or two in the standings in the process. The impact is doubly devastating in the event that you play an A.J. Burnett on the day that he coughs up 12 earnies without escaping the third inning.
The ripple effect of an early-season Blow-Up Start (BUS) can linger into the summer, altering the trajectory of your fantasy team and potentially changing the decision-making paradigm during trade season in keeper leagues. One or two of these games are unavoidable each year, but a team that runs into multiple landmines in April and May will face a long climb back to respectability.