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May 16, 2006

Fantasy Focus

Well-Grounded

by Jeff Erickson

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When searching for potential starting pitching help, I try to avoid win-loss records, and I don't spend too much time looking at ERA as a predictive indicator. Instead, I'll devote more attention to strikeout rate (K/9) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (K/BB) as primary indicators. It's an approach that has served me well in the past, but unfortunately, it's hardly unique--many others do the same. The result becomes that the pitchers that grade out well there are usually fully priced, either at the draft or in free agent bidding.

Chien-Ming Wang's gem against the A's on Friday night made me look to see if I might be missing out on a cost-efficient way to land effective starting pitching in my leagues. Wang forced 20 groundballs, allowed four flyballs, struck out no one and walked two in eight shutout innings. This was not atypical for Wang, at least in terms of his component stats. He has a 3.13 G/F (groundball/flyball) ratio this year after posting a 2.96 ratio last year, among the top-10 for both years. Similarly, Wang has had low K/9 (3.31 in 2006, 3.64 in 2005) and K/BB (1.13 in 2006, 1.47 in 2005) numbers both years. His ERA has remained essentially the same the last two years, below the league average at 4.04 and 4.02 respectively.

Because of Wang's low strikeout rates, and probably because his risk of injury, he came cheaply in drafts this year, despite his low ERA, low homer rate and high likelihood of getting run support from the Yankee offense. I drafted in eight roto leagues and one Scoresheet League where Wang was part of the player pool, and he was kept in another. Yes, I'm in too many leagues--but it's all for you, the reader. Five of the eight leagues were mixed-league drafts--he went undrafted in three of those leagues (all three had an active player pool of 252 players), once he went 252/345, once he went 286/345. In one mixed league auction (299 active players) he went undrafted. In an 11-team AL-only auction and a 12-team AL-only auction he was a reserve pick and a $1 player respectively. He rated highest in the 12-team AL-only Scoresheet league, getting drafted 154th overall. It's only May, but he's only looking like a bargain so far.

How common is it for pitchers with Wang's component stats to meet with the same sort of roto success? I took a look at the last three completed seasons and looked at qualifying starting pitchers, as sort of a back of the envelope investigation. To qualify, the pitcher had to be among the top 30 in the majors in G/F, have a strikeout rate less than 6.0 K/9IP and a K/BB ratio less than 2/1.


YR        Player               G/F      K/9      K/BB      ERA      ERA+
------------------------------------------------------------------------
2003        Derek Lowe        3.92     4.87      1.53     4.47       105
2003        Mike Hampton      1.95     5.21      1.41     3.84       108
2003        Nate Cornejo      1.70     2.13      0.79     4.67        92
2003        Cory Lidle        1.68     5.23      1.87     5.75        82
2003        Elmer Dessens     1.60     5.79      1.98     5.07        92
2003        Horacio Ramirez   1.53     4.94      1.39     4.00       104
2003        Jason Jennings    1.51     5.91      1.35     5.11        93
2003        Mike Maroth       1.45     4.05      1.74     5.73        75
2003        Shane Reynolds    1.44     5.06      1.59     5.43        77

YR        Player               G/F      K/9      K/BB      ERA      ERA+
------------------------------------------------------------------------
2004        Derek Lowe        2.87     5.17      1.48     5.42        90
2004        Jake Westbrook    2.72     4.84      1.90     3.38       134
2004        Ryan Drese        2.20     4.25      1.69     4.20       120
2004        Mark Mulder       2.05     5.58      1.69     4.43       106
2004        Mike Hampton      2.01     4.54      1.34     4.28       101
2004        Miguel Batista    1.79     4.71      1.08     4.80       101
2004        Shawn Estes       1.73     5.21      1.11     5.84        86
2004        Tom Glavine       1.68     4.62      1.56     3.60       119
2004        Sidney Ponson     1.63     4.80      1.67     5.30        90
2004        Kirk Rueter       1.60     2.65      0.85     4.73        94
2004        Jeff Suppan       1.59     5.27      1.69     4.16       100
2004        Jason Jennings    1.54     5.96      1.32     5.51        92

YR        Player               G/F      K/9      K/BB      ERA      ERA+
------------------------------------------------------------------------
2005        Mark Mulder       2.74     4.87      1.59     3.64       117
2005        Tim Hudson        2.50     5.39      1.77     3.52       125
2005        Jamey Wright      2.06     5.31      1.25     5.46        87
2005        Jason Johnson     1.74     3.99      1.90     4.54        94
2005        Mark Redman       1.64     5.10      1.80     4.90        87
2005        Horacio Ramirez   1.60     3.56      1.19     4.63        95
2005        Nate Robertson    1.59     5.58      1.88     4.48        95
2005        Jason Marquis     1.59     4.35      1.45     4.13       103
2005        Tom Glavine       1.51     4.47      1.72     3.53       118
2005        Brian Lawrence    1.46     5.01      1.91     4.83        80
2005        Jeff Suppan       1.43     5.28      1.81     3.57       120
All G/F, K/9 and K/BB stats are from ESPN.com, and the ERA+ stats are from Baseball-Reference.com. ERA+ as computed by Baseball-Reference.com is park-adjusted.

When investigating this subset of pitchers, I was looking for:

  1. Repeatability--Are these pitchers likely to have similar component stats from year-to-year?
  2. Predictability--Can this combination of component stats allow for a reliable ERA projection, at least in comparison with the league average?

These sorts of pitchers tend to repeat their component stats. You'll see a lot of the same names making multiple appearances on the list, and many others who would show up multiple times among the top groundball pitchers. It's on the second point, however, where this study fails. Take a look at Derek Lowe, for example. For all three years, he was among the top 10 pitchers in G/F, but last year cut his walks down enough to avoid making this list. His ERA, both raw and relative to the league, fluctuated wildly. When I started this, I was hoping to find a way to sniff out bargains in the future. It looks like I'll need to keep sniffing.

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