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February 9, 1998

Rotisserie Turns: Would you keep Scott Erickson at $4? Not necessarily...

Even at a good price, you can't be sure what you'll get...

by Keith Law

Recently, someone asked the denizens of the fantasy baseball newsgroup to evaluate a list of probable keepers in an AL $260 4x4 league. The owner was limited to three freezes, and had two easy choices done. Among the possibilities for the third slot was Scott Erickson at the bargain price of $4. Several readers responded that Erickson at $4 was a bargain and therefore had to be the third freeze.

A $4 Scott Erickson was indeed a bargain in 1997, and he could slip quite a bit from his '97 numbers and still be a good freeze at $4. If you have plenty of room on your keeper list, Erickson's a sure keeper. But most roto owners have to make hard choices when devising their keeper lists, and that process involves evaluating the risks of keeping players at certain salaries.

Savvy fantasy players know the mantra "pitchers are unpredictable" better than they know the Pledge of Allegiance. But even the most predictable pitchers - the ones who haven't suffered major injuries in the last three years - can see huge variations in their year-to-year ERAs. Below, I've listed the 38 pitchers who pitched at least 150 innings in 1996 and 1997, and at least 133.1 innings in 1995, along with their ERAs in each year.

Player		Team	97ERA	96ERA	95ERA	StDev	Max-Min	
navarro,jaime	whit	5.79	3.92	3.28	1.308	2.52	
wakefield,tim	rsox	4.25	5.14	2.95	1.104	2.20	
castillo,frank	rock	5.37	5.28	3.21	1.224	2.16	
clemens,roger	blue	2.05	3.63	4.18	1.108	2.13	
trachsel,steve	cubs	4.51	3.03	5.15	1.090	2.12	
hentgen,pat	blue	3.68	3.22	5.11	0.988	1.89	
leiter,mark	phil	5.67	4.92	3.82	0.930	1.85	
gordon,tom	rsox	3.74	5.59	4.43	0.934	1.85	
smiley,john	indi	5.31	3.64	3.46	1.016	1.84	
martinez,pedro	expo	1.90	3.70	3.51	0.988	1.79	
nomo,hideo	dodg	4.25	3.20	2.49	0.886	1.76	
brown,kevin	marl	2.69	1.89	3.60	0.856	1.71	
mussina,mike	orio	3.20	4.81	3.29	0.903	1.60	
radke,brad	twin	3.87	4.46	5.32	0.730	1.45	
leiter,al	marl	4.34	2.93	3.64	0.708	1.42	
erickson,scott	orio	3.69	5.02	4.81	0.713	1.32	
pettitte,andy	yank	2.88	3.87	4.17	0.671	1.28	
ashby,andy	padr	4.13	3.23	2.94	0.618	1.18	
drabek,doug	whit	5.74	4.57	4.77	0.627	1.17	
hamilton,joey	padr	4.25	4.17	3.08	0.651	1.17	
nagy,charles	indi	4.28	3.41	4.55	0.599	1.15	
belcher,tim	roya	5.02	3.92	4.52	0.550	1.10	
maddux,greg	brav	2.20	2.72	1.63	0.544	1.09	
fassero,jeff	mari	3.61	3.30	4.33	0.529	1.03	
alvarez,wilson	gian	3.48	4.22	4.32	0.459	0.84	
jones,bobby	mets	3.63	4.42	4.19	0.403	0.78	
reynolds,shane	astr	4.23	3.65	3.47	0.395	0.76	
stottlemyre,tod	card	3.88	3.87	4.55	0.391	0.68	
valdes,ismael	dodg	2.65	3.32	3.05	0.335	0.67	
hershiser,orel	indi	4.47	4.24	3.87	0.301	0.60	
neagle,denny	brav	2.97	3.50	3.43	0.288	0.53	
appier,kevin	roya	3.40	3.62	3.89	0.245	0.49	
hampton,mike	astr	3.83	3.59	3.35	0.244	0.49	
fernandez,alex	marl	3.59	3.45	3.80	0.175	0.35	
burkett,john	rang	4.56	4.24	4.30	0.170	0.32	
smoltz,john	brav	3.02	2.94	3.18	0.118	0.23	
glavine,tom	brav	2.96	2.98	3.08	0.063	0.12	
finley,chuck	ange	4.23	4.16	4.21	0.035	0.07	
(Stats courtesy of Doug's MLB Stats Page.)

The last column, max-min, shows the difference between the pitcher's highest and lowest ERAs in the three-year period. Of the 38 pitchers who make the cut, 24 had at least a one-run difference between their best and worst ERAs. Granted, for some pitchers, that's not a big deal - Maddux was great in all three seasons - but for many, it's the difference between above and below average (Leiter, Nomo, Erickson), and for some, it's the difference between minor roto damage and all-out disaster (Belcher, Trachsel).

The moral of the short story isn't that Scott Erickson is a bad keeper at $4, but that keeping a starting pitcher who appears to be a bargain is a risky proposition. More often than not, you're better off keeping a hitter who seems like less of a bargain simply because he's more of a sure thing.

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