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December 12, 2013

Fantasy Freestyle

Mixed-League Pitcher Valuation

by Mike Gianella

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This article is the final part of my six part series on retrospective valuation, and concludes with a look back at pitching values from 2013 in mixed leagues. Since I already delved into much of my thought process in my last piece on mixed league hitters, I can save some time and simply point you toward that article for a more detailed, drawn out description of the process that led me to the valuations as well as the methodology.

Using the same process I used for mixed league hitters, here is the raw, mixed league formula I derived for mixed league pitchers:

Table 1: AL, NL, and 12-Team Mixed Pitcher Values By Counting Stat

Type

IP

H or BB

ER

W

SV

K

Mixed Raw

$0.27

($0.14)

($0.21)

$0.45

$0.15

$0.04

AL

$0.30

($0.16)

($0.25)

$0.53

$0.27

$0.05

NL

$0.30

($0.16)

($0.25)

$0.53

$0.27

$0.05

At a glance, it looks like pitcher innings are worth way too much money. However, this is because pitcher innings contribute positively to two categories: ERA and WHIP. A pitcher who threw a perfect game in a mono league (AL only or NL only) would have been worth $2.70 (rounded) even without any strikeouts. Realistically, it all evens out, because these values are derived based on the average pitcher, as represented in Table 2.

Table 2: NL-Only, AL-Only, and Mixed Pitcher Baselines by Player

Type

W

SV

IP

H

BB

ER

SO

ERA

WHIP

$

Mixed

8

8

127

116

38

50

115

3.53

1.207

$9.44

AL

7

5

111

106

36

47

97

3.78

1.273

$9.44

NL

7

4

109

103

33

44

93

3.63

1.243

$9.44

Mixed Best 108

9

9

142

122

39

48

129

3.06

1.137

$13.53

This is the average of what the 108 most expensive pitchers do in AL, NL, and mixed leagues. If there is a surprise here, it is that the average mixed league pitcher doesn’t have a higher number of innings, strikeouts and wins under his belt. This is because this is the average pitcher purchased at auction, not the average of the best 108 pitchers at the end of the regular season. Using the 108 best pitchers paints quite a different picture, as shown in the final row of the chart.

If you only look at the best 108 pitchers, the most significant change comes not in the quantitative categories but in the qualitative ones. Regardless of format, some the pitchers identified as the 108 best are going to blow up and are not worth owning. The lower ERA/WHIP in mixed indicates that whittling down the pitcher pool increases your odds of avoiding a bust, but the relatively narrow gap in Auction Day ERA/WHIP shows that mixed league pitchers are still fairly risky. The four-dollar gap between the best mixed league pitchers and the most expensive ones is much larger than the mixed hitter valuation gaps. This illustrates a great deal of unpredictability. Of the 108 most highly coveted pitchers in mixed leagues, 46 were not on a team’s (hypothetical) roster on Opening Day (or nearly 43 percent). This makes raw mixed prices for pitchers far closer to mono league values than you might expect.

Table 3: Mixed League Versus Only League Values, Top 10 Pitchers

#

Player

$

Only $

1

Clayton Kershaw

$33

$41

2

Max Scherzer

$28

$35

3

Adam Wainwright

$24

$31

4

Cliff Lee

$24

$30

5

Yu Darvish

$24

$30

6

Hisashi Iwakuma

$23

$30

7

Jose Fernandez

$23

$29

8

Matt Harvey

$23

$28

9

Madison Bumgarner

$21

$27

10

Craig Kimbrel

$20

$29

Average

$24

$31

In some seasons, the differences between the AL and NL formulas matter a lot, but his wasn’t the case in 2013. Kershaw would have earned $41 using either the AL or NL formula, while Scherzer’s value also would have remained unchanged. As a result, this chart simply reassigns lower dollar values without changing the order of any of the top pitchers.

The exception is Kimbrel. Closers in mixed leagues take a beating. In an only format, most teams have one closer with only three teams owning two (assuming, of course, that no one dumps saves). In a 12-team mixed league if no one dumps saves every team has at least two closers and six teams have three. In reality, some closers will fail, but with 30 closers to choose from there are still far more saves purchased in a mixed league.

Just like I did for the mixed league hitters, the same modification has to be made for the pitchers because there is too much money at the bottom of the heap:

Table 4: Mixed League Versus Only League Values, 101-110 Pitchers

#

Player

$

Only $

101

Dillon Gee

$9

$13

102

Rex Brothers

$9

$13

103

Luke Gregerson

$9

$12

104

Tony Watson

$9

$11

105

Ivan Nova

$9

$12

106

Darren O'Day

$9

$11

107

Jarrod Parker

$9

$13

108

Miguel Gonzalez

$8

$12

109

Corey Kluber

$8

$12

110

Trevor Rosenthal

$8

$11

Average

$9

$12

$9 is too high for Miguel Gonzalez, the man who would be the 108th pitcher in a perfect world where you had inside information on who the best pitchers were going to be before the season even started. Since I’m using draft data and not end of the season data, the 108th player shouldn’t be worth $1, but he shouldn’t be worth $9 either. $5-6 would be a suitable baseline for the borderline pitchers in a mixed league. Because there are more viable free agent pitchers than there are free agent hitters, it makes some sense that the baseline value for the 108th pitcher would not need to be adjusted quite as much as it was for hitters (down to $4).

Since there isn’t as much money allocated to pitchers as there is for hitters, the bump at the top isn’t quite as radical.

Chart 1: Valuation Adjustment by Category (Pitchers), Mixed Leagues

Pitchers at the top in each category still get a bump up, but the highest percentage bump in any category for the top pitchers is 17 percent, not the 21 percent bump that the best hitters received. A four percent difference in value is arguably minor, but when combined with the fact that the best pitchers generally don’t earn as much as the best hitters, it creates a hierarchy at the top where the best pitchers don’t earn as much money as the best hitters.

Table 5: Top 10 Mixed League Pitchers 2013, Adjusted for Category

#

Player

W

SV

ERA

WHIP

K

$

$ Raw

1

Clayton Kershaw

$8.47

-$1.76

$9.81

$9.64

$10.96

$37

$33

2

Max Scherzer

$11.11

-$1.76

$3.20

$7.20

$11.34

$31

$28

3

Adam Wainwright

$10.05

-$1.76

$3.30

$4.70

$10.35

$27

$24

4

Cliff Lee

$7.07

-$1.76

$3.45

$6.18

$10.49

$25

$24

5

Yu Darvish

$6.44

-$1.76

$3.46

$3.81

$13.09

$25

$24

6

Hisashi Iwakuma

$7.07

-$1.76

$4.70

$6.24

$8.34

$25

$23

7

Jose Fernandez

$5.70

-$1.76

$5.90

$5.75

$8.43

$24

$23

8

Matt Harvey

$3.34

-$1.76

$5.70

$7.15

$8.85

$23

$23

9

Madison Bumgarner

$6.44

-$1.76

$3.64

$5.01

$9.22

$23

$21

10

Anibal Sanchez

$7.07

-$1.76

$4.42

$1.01

$9.54

$20

$19

With the exception of Kimbrel, the list remains the same entirely. However, the changes on the whole barely make much of a difference. Kershaw gets a $4 raise, Scherzer and Wainwright get $3 raises, and no one else on this list sees more than a $2 raise.

As mentioned above, the valuation changes for pitchers are far less radical on a player-by-player basis than they are for hitters. Table 6 is another way of looking at how the values change when adjusted on a curve.

Table 6: Mixed League Versus Only League Values, Top 10 Pitchers

Tier #

Rank

Mixed $ Raw

Mixed $ Adj

Diff

1

1-12

$283

$299

+16

2

13-24

$213

$206

-7

3

25-36

$179

$168

-11

4

37-48

$160

$134

-26

5

49-60

$146

$118

-28

6

61-72

$135

$99

-26

7

73-84

$124

$87

-37

8

85-96

$116

$74

-43

9

97-108

$107

$60

-47

This is how the Top 108 pitchers in both mixed valuation models stack up. These aren’t the same pitchers in each group. For example, Kimbrel ranks 10th in the raw valuation model and 13th in the adjusted valuation model so he is a Tier 1 pitcher using raw and Tier 2 pitcher using adjusted. The idea isn’t to compare pitchers but rather to see how both groups stack up in each pricing scheme.

At the top of the heap, the overall prices barely change. The top pitchers get a slight reward, while the pitchers in the second and third tiers get dinged a little bit. It isn’t until the fourth tier where pitchers start getting hit a little bit harder.

One of the reasons the pitchers in the Top 36 hold nearly all of their value is because aces typically gain ground in four categories in the mixed adjustment while losing $1.75 in saves. As a result, a pitcher who is an elite pitcher stands to gain a little bit of ground when the prices are adjusted. At the very least these pitchers stand still and don’t lose or gain much at all.

In some ways the pitching valuation for mixed is even simpler than it is for hitters, and mostly confirms a number of preconceived notions that many of us have regarding mixed league prices, including but not limited to the following:

1) Good starting pitching is king
In the American League, 26 out of the top 40 pitchers were starting pitchers. In the National League, there were 27 starting pitchers in the top 40. Mixed leagues had a total of 34 starting pitchers in the top 40. While there are more choices to be made in a mixed league, the gap at the end of the year makes picking the right pitchers even more imperative. Going with a 4.00 ERA, 1.350 WHIP pitcher for any amount of time is an awful proposition.

2) Closers are significantly devalued
When I only played in mono leagues, I never understood why mixed league players would wait so long in a snake draft before they grabbed a closer. Looking at what happens to their value in Table 7, now I completely understand why owners don’t pounce early or spend big bucks on closers.

Table 7: Mixed League Versus Only League Values, Top 10 Closers

#

Player

Mixed $

Mixed Rank

Only $

Only Rank

1

Craig Kimbrel

$19

13

$29

4

2

Koji Uehara

$19

14

$26

6

3

Greg Holland

$18

16

$27

4

4

Joe Nathan

$17

19

$26

5

5

Kenley Jansen

$16

22

$23

9

6

Aroldis Chapman

$13

34

$22

12

7

Mariano Rivera

$13

37

$23

11

8

Glen Perkins

$11

43

$20

14

9

Steve Cishek

$10

53

$19

20

10

Mark Melancon

$10

55

$17

30

Average

$15

$23

There’s a big difference in the market between closers in only leagues and closers in mixed. Kimbrel, Uehara, Holland, and Nathan all earned $25 or more in their respective only leagues; in mixed not a single stopper cracked the $20 barrier.

The more interesting thing about this chart though is that the strong ERA/WHIP guys like Melancon and Uehara shoot up quite a bit in the rankings. Uehara moves past Holland and Nathan in mixed, while Melancon is ahead of Sergio Romo, Edward Mujica and Rafael Soriano. Melancon was behind all three of these closers in NL only. The push for ERA/WHIP in mixed makes pitchers like Melancon more valuable, at least relative to other pitchers in the pool.

If there is a lone takeaway (for me at least) in mixed formats, it is that middle relievers provide more value than I would have expected. We are always pushing for starting pitching in mixed leagues, but the theory that applies in only leagues applies in mixed formats as well. A strong middle reliever is an incredible asset (I’d especially recommend riding a hot middle reliever in leagues with start limits as often as you can).

Can these valuations be applied to mixed leagues?
Perhaps, but I’m as skeptical about using these pitching valuations in mixed leagues as I was about using the hitting valuations. One obvious problem is that mixed leagues have a great deal of variance on prices, and it’s entirely possible that my $37 value on Kershaw is far higher than he would ever go for in a mixed format. Practicality and auction experience goes far further than a theoretical list of values.

Another problem with pitching values is that I used a 33 percent baseline for the pitching values. While some leagues might use this, mixed leagues tend to devalue pitching considerably. Some mixed leagues push pitching prices down to 30, 25, or even 20 percent of a league’s overall spending. If your league does this you will also have to change your mixed bid values accordingly.

Finally, the idea that strong middle relievers earn more than you might think doesn’t mean that you should push a good middle reliever up by more than a dollar or so. With even more middle relief options in a shallower auction, a strong middle reliever should be easy to find and you shouldn’t push anyone past a certain price, particularly if that reliever doesn’t have an obvious path to saves. This is the same principle that applies to only leagues but even more so. Middle relievers are useful, but don’t spend more than a dollar or two on them. They’re quite fungible, and you shouldn’t push them to par prices. Shift this money toward starting pitching or to hitting instead.

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

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