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May 31, 2009

Prospectus Idol Entry

Fantasy Pitchers: Three Up, Three Down

by Tyler Hissey

The recent case of Justin Verlander exemplifies why focusing on the right statistics can pay dividends in Fantasy. Verlander posted an ERA closer to a touchdown than a field goal in April but produced solid peripherals and displayed impressive heat. He was the perfect buy-low candidate and has since rewarded owners with a dominant May performance.

With so much advice easily accessible, it's become increasingly difficult to buy low and sell high to such an extreme. But in case your league mates aren't paying attention, here are six more pitchers whose to-date performances aren't indicative of their true talent levels.

Three Up:

Jon Lester: Entering the season, many felt that Lester was approaching Fantasy stud territory. The Boston Red Sox southpaw went 16-6 with a 3.21 ERA and 1.274 WHIP in 210.1 innings pitched in 2008, his first full campaign. His 6.50 K/9 rate wasn't anything special, but he cut his BB/9 percentage to 2.82 and only allowed 14 home runs. Since he had control and command issues at times in the minors, it was encouraging to see him surrender just 55 unintentional walks. Continuing to build up arm strength after overcoming cancer, his average fastball velocity rose from 88.9 MPH in 2007 to 92.1. He generated more sink on his heater, inducing ground balls at a 47.5% clip, a 13.1 improvement from '07.

Lester ranked 22nd in the majors with a 3.64 Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP), which essentially measures what a pitcher can control, so his Fantasy success wasn't a mirage. Although his Expected FIP (xFIP) of 4.19 indicates that he had good luck on home runs and fly balls (7.0 HR/FB%), the improved velocity and ground ball rate made him an early pick in many drafts.

Lester hasn't given owners what they were hoping for yet. After surrendering five runs in six frames in a loss against the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday, he's now 3-5 with a 6.07 ERA and 1.601 WHIP in 10 starts.

But if there's an owner in your league losing patience, try to grab the 25-year-old Lester on the cheap. He's missing bats at the best rate of his young career, ranking third in the American League with a 9.40 K/9 rate. While the ERA and WHIP may look scary, each will almost certainly drop sharply. The 25-year-old hurler simply hasn't had luck on his side, as evidenced by his major-league-leading .374 batting average on balls in play (BABIP) and 17.5 HR/FB%; since the home run/fly ball mark is significantly greater than 11%, it's clear he's been unlucky in this regard. According to HitTrackerOnline.com, he's allowed six "just enough" homers, tied for tops in baseball. Lester's also had to face some dangerous lineups; among pitchers with 50.0-plus innings, he ranks 12th with a .769 Opponents' Quality OPS.

Boston's team defense has struggled (.678 DER, 23rd in majors), but as Lester's BABIP regresses closer to the staff total of .316, his Fantasy numbers should improve accordingly. His 4.66 FIP is nearly two full runs lower than his ERA, and his xFIP is even better at 3.87.

Lester's average fastball velocity is up slightly to 92.8 MPH, so his struggles appear to be due to a few rough innings and factors beyond his control. Plus, run support shouldn't be an issue for him; the Red Sox are fifth in the league with 5.39 RS/G. If he maintains the peripherals-and the defense improves, especially at shortstop-he could rack up wins in bunches going forward.

Carl Pavano: Out to prove that he's more than a punch line, Pavano latched on with the Cleveland Indians this winter. The veteran right-hander proceeded to get lit up in his first outing with the Indians, allowing nine of the 12 batters he faced to reach base and score. While it wasn't an ideal start to the next chapter in his career, he's rebounded nicely.

Pavano is 5-4 overall with a 5.50 ERA and 1.419 WHIP in 10 starts. Excluding the abominable debut, his statistics look respectable at first glance and even better up close. His rates of 7.44 K/9, 2.10 BB/9 and 3.54 K/BB are acceptable, and he's inducing ground balls at a 47.4% clip. Pavano has also been unlucky-his .351 BABIP ranks fifth in the majors, and his 65.2 LOB% falls below his career average of 69.9. His 3.78 FIP is 1.72 points lower than his ERA, the third-largest gap in baseball. He's also right behind Lester with a .766 Opponents' Quality OPS.

Pavano is always an injury risk, of course. If he can maintain his peripherals, though, there's no reason why he wouldn't be worth a flier in A.L.-only and deep mixed leagues. Despite the poor record, the Indians are scoring runs in bunches (5.7 RS/G), so he could get you some wins if his luck changes.

Jordan Zimmermann: Zimmermann made a quick ascension through the Washington Nationals' farm system after being selected in the '07 draft. Under two calendar years away from participating in the NCAA Division III College World Series, he's already established himself as a top pitcher on the Washington staff.

Zimmermann is 2-1 with a 5.71 ERA and 1.415 WHIP in seven starts. The ERA again doesn't tell the whole story; his Fantasy value has been affected by a .343 BABIP, 15.0 HR/FB% and 66.5 LOB%. And his rates of 8.56 K/9, 2.63 BB/9 and 1.77 K/BB are solid. The 23-year-old right-hander has also showcased impressive stuff; his arsenal features a fastball that sits in the low-to-mid-90s (93.3 MPH avg.), mid-80s slider, high-70s curve and change-up.

Pitching for an awful team, Zimmermann isn't going to deliver you wins. And he's made only nine starts above Double-A while never throwing more than 135.0 innings, so he could be at risk of tiring. But if available on the waiver wire, he's worth picking up.

Three Down

Matt Cain: Despite sub-4.00 ERAs in each of the last two seasons, Cain has never provided many wins for owners. He can thank the San Francisco Giants' poor offense for that, though, because he's pitched much better than his career record shows.

It's been a different story this spring. Cain currently sports a 5-1 record to along with a 2.40 ERA and 1.32 WHIP in nine starts. On the surface, it appears the long-awaited breakout has finally come. His value isn't going to remain this high, though, as a few of his peripherals have worsened. Most concerning, his K/9 rate is down to 6.15 from 7.69 in '08. Although his BB/9 rate is in line with his career norms, the decrease in strikeouts has led to a 1.64 K/BB ratio, 73rd in the majors. He's also been fortunate, aided by a career-low .272 BABIP and major-league-leading 89.2 LOB%; his previous best full-season strand rate is 75.3%.

The 1.96 difference between Cain's ERA and 4.36 FIP is the highest in the league. His xFIP is even higher, coming in at 4.88. He's also at risk of breaking down, having worked more than 190.0 innings in each of the past three years. If there's someone in your league willing to offer decent value in return, take advantage.

Jair Jurrjens: Jurrjens went 13-10 with a 3.68 ERA and 1.370 WHIP in 188.1 innings during a fine debut with the Atlanta Braves in '08. His 6.64 strikeout rate was only decent, but his effectiveness wasn't based on any unsustainable factors; his .311 BABIP and 71.0 LOB% weren't fluky. Relying on a heavy, low-90s sinker, he produced the eighth-best ground ball rate (51.5%) in the National League. He even out-pitched his ERA, posting a 3.59 FIP. Despite the success, most Fantasy analysts feel he reached his ceiling.

Jurrjens has gotten off to another strong start, going 4-2 with a 2.07 ERA in 10 outings. If you can deal him to someone in your league, though, look to sell high. His K/9 rate has fallen to 5.16, and his .255 BABIP and rates of 3.8 HR/FB% and 84.1 LOB% aren't sustainable. While his 39.3% ground ball rate should improve, it's unlikely he'll remain a top ERA pitcher when more balls begin to find holes. His 3.75 FIP is considerably higher than his ERA-only two other N.L. starters have a larger gap between the two stats-and a corresponding 5.00 xFIP is nearly three runs worse.

Jered Weaver: Weaver was more effective in real baseball than Fantasy in '08. He turned in the best performance since his Fantasy breakout (11-2, 2.56 ERA, 1.03 WHIP) for the Los Angeles Angels back in 2006. He matched his 3.90 '06 FIP, pitching better than his 11-10 record and 4.33 ERA suggest.

The opposite is true for Weaver right now. Although he's only 3-2, his 2.52 ERA and 1.07 WHIP rank among major league leaders. He's also near the top with an 85.4% strand rate, however, and has the fourth-lowest BABIP in the A.L. Plus, his K/9 rate is down to 6.68 from a full-season best of 7.74 in '08.

Weaver also has a noticeable difference in ERA and FIP (4.03); only five hurlers rate lower than his -1.51 ERA-FIP. When neutralizing homers, his xFIP is worse at 4.74.

Savvy owners shouldn't be fooled. If possible, try to exploit the laziness of your league mates who don't do their homework by making moves with the aforementioned pitchers.

(Stats through 5/27; courtesy of Baseball Prospectus, FanGraphs, the Hardball Times, HitTrackerOnline)

Related Content:  Fantasy Drafts,  Era,  Peripherals

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

BP Comment Quick Links

John Carter

Let’s be briefer. You didn’t have to use up all 1500 words. You could have cut that in half without losing anything critical about the players you were giving tips on. There is so much to read in order to maintain our fantasy teams competively, I appreciate brevity. In that sense, I guess I am disagreeing with Kevin. Unless you have some inside insight, just give us the numbers that show certain players may be over/under-rated.

May 31, 2009 12:25 PM
rating: 0
 
Justin

As a long time BP subscriber, I'd much rather have solid arguments with supportive data than some kind of unquantifiable "readability".

May 31, 2009 12:32 PM
rating: 9
 
JD Sussman

Agreed. I thought he made good arguments. FIP is a great indicator for breakouts or under/over valued in pitchers. It could be shorter and more "readable" but this was a decent piece with good statistical back up.

May 31, 2009 13:52 PM
rating: 1
 
Bob

Agreed. That's why I subscribe to BP. If I want literature, I read a good magazine or a novel.

May 31, 2009 16:37 PM
rating: 1
 
Matthew Avery

I agree. My comment is that while the format was pretty standard fair (the type you "might get at 100 other sites"), the analysis was far more in depth. Particularly in the discussion of Lester, the author really got deep into the statistics. I understand that some who aren't as familiar with stuff like xFIP and "just enough" homers might have trouble with this. But I feel that when I come to BP for fantasy analysis, these are the types of things I want to see.

Heck, if all I wanted was the type of statistics everyone knows about, there's about 100 other sites I could go to.

May 31, 2009 21:32 PM
rating: 1
 
evo34

Absolutely (from another long-time BP sub.). This will surely land me on the permanent BP hate list, but why are three (apparently) non-quantitative people acting as judges for a contest to gain employment writing for a site that was founded on innovative quantitative analyisis?

I'll be blunt: the comments from the judges have been almost uniformly disappointing -- not even as they pertain to this contest, but as they reflect the future direction of the company as a whole.

Jun 02, 2009 00:14 AM
rating: 5
 
PaulieNeu

Too many numbers. I like the quant analysis as much as anyone, but opening this it was really hard to hook onto something.

May 31, 2009 12:55 PM
rating: -1
 
prospero14

I must confess that I only skimmed this article, and I don't have any desire to read it more carefully. Unlike Mr. Cuddy, I really do like to read well written articles that are not just stats strung together. And as others have said, the concept isn't anything new; the web abounds with lists like these.

May 31, 2009 13:08 PM
rating: 1
 
JayhawkBill

I agree.

I caution, however, that some recent BP articles fit this format. It's not enough to change my vote, but it's enough that I wonder if Tyler was misled.

May 31, 2009 13:18 PM
rating: 0
 
roughcarrigan

I'm really not interested in fantasy baseball so it's a little hard for me to get into this topic but I thought this was pretty good.

May 31, 2009 13:27 PM
rating: 0
 
daiheide

I've read this article thirty times in the last two weeks. Three times I read it on Baseball Prospectus.

This is already being done ad nauseum.

May 31, 2009 13:31 PM
rating: 1
 
rjblakel

Agreed with daiheide and others...do a Google search on 'Pavano AND fantasy' and you'll get this same spewed analysis/outcome. Go ahead and plug in Lester, Zimmerman, or Jurrjens for the same effect.

I actually like this kind of analysis for fantasy, as anyone who plays can digest these kinds of stats and numbers second nature....what I don't like is reading about the same "breakout" or "risky" players on every site... Please dig a bit deeper for players not over-analysed.

May 31, 2009 15:11 PM
rating: 2
 
Richard Bergstrom

There is a basic problems here. The first is to put Cain and Weaver on a list of "Three Down". Even if you neglect Eric's treatment of Cain's performance, Cain is still awfully darn good and even if he regressed a bit would still be better than 90% of the pitchers in the game. Ditto for Weaver, who might not be as good as Cain, but still would have a solid K/9 rate and pitches for a winning team which is important in fantasy terms.

I do like Lester's analysis, but since he's a member of the Red Sox, it'd be hard to get him cheaply in a trade. As far as Pavano goes, I'd rather take a waiver wire flier then go out of my way to trade for him based on his track record.

Overall, I thought the article was solid, easy to read and had a decent mix of statistics and analysis. I'm not sure if anything was particularly insightful or amazing and it'd actually be an article I hope my competitors read so that they try to dump or undervalue Cain or Weaver in a trade.

On the fence, and definitely better than last week's article... but I don't know if this is his ceiling?

May 31, 2009 15:29 PM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

So far, each of Tyler's articles have been pretty easy to read and had some detail stats-wise but haven't been overly deep, original or they were topics covered elsewhere to an extent. That being said, there are other finalists who have not met even met that threshold these last three weeks.

I'm giving a thumbs up, but Tyler needs to add some new insight quick. This is Baseball Prospectus not Baseball Prospected-and-mined-for-all-its-worth.

May 31, 2009 17:02 PM
rating: -2
 
strupp

I disagree on Cain to a point... Tyler's point was to sell high on Cain and buy low on Lester, taking advantage of the fact other owners in your league might not be privy to the thought processes that we (as BP subscribers) are privy to.

May 31, 2009 19:19 PM
rating: 2
 
Richard Bergstrom

My point is you don't "sell" Cain period unless it's part of an upgrade package for an elite pitcher like Linecum or Santana or some elite hitter. The term "sell high" implies "sell now", and I'd be perfectly happy to keep Cain on my roster all year.

May 31, 2009 20:06 PM
rating: -1
 
Matt Hunter

Exactly.

May 31, 2009 21:29 PM
rating: -1
 
Bob

I commend Tyler for actively trying to provide the reader with something useful here, rather than just flexing his muscles to show that he *could* be useful. This isn't the best article of the week, but it is above average. Tyler gives us a sophisticated analysis with clear "take-home points."

May 31, 2009 16:43 PM
rating: 1
 
Eric1G
(459)

I liked this one. I'm not a fantasy player, so maybe I'm not the best judge, but I think Will's criticisms and those that echoed him in particular are a little unfair. It seems to me that your expectations are excessive. Look, I pay for this and have high standards too, but there are also countless really smart people writing about fantasy baseball, and have been for many years. To expect something wholly original and out of the box in 5 days or however long they had...it's not reasonable. This piece has a few interesting suggestions for fantasy pitching. Cain is something of a stretch, and there might be other guys I would have chosen to highlight, but reminding the fantasy player to take advantage of situations where the underlying numbers don't support the results (in either direction) seems a worthwhile enterprise.

May 31, 2009 17:59 PM
rating: 2
 
strupp

Solid.

The criticism you're getting is that I can read that article anywhere, but the value of a BP writer saying this is FAR greater than Blogger Joe saying this.

Gets a vote, but maybe next week it won't. Need to step up a bit.

May 31, 2009 19:24 PM
rating: -1
 
jtrichey

This is definitely geared to fantasy baseball, which I'm not sure that other articles this week can claim. All 3 articles by this author have been in my upper half of the rankings, but none would be in the top 3. Thumbs up this week, but it really is time for him to step up with something truly original soon.

May 31, 2009 21:20 PM
rating: 0
 
greensox

Just from a writing perspective, he used Verlander as the hook, but never explained why savvy players would expect a turnaround other than "solid peripherals."
Come back to him.
This seemed like pretty standard stuff to me. Nothing creative or imaganitive.

May 31, 2009 22:00 PM
rating: 0
 
TonyinAsia-Pacific

Remember, it's a total vote count as a go-forward. I vote thumbs up for my six best so that what I consider to be the 9th best artcle has a lesser chance of sneaking past the fourth... Decent read, thumbs up for TH this week...

Jun 01, 2009 02:00 AM
rating: -1
 
chunkstyle

What I'm reading in the comments here is that BP readers like the numbers backing up the analysis. I disagree - just as there is no BP groupthink, I also think there is no BP groupread.

I would rather have read 6-up and 6-down while condensing the statistical defense. I don't mind the analysis, but I'm subscribing for articles that are useful, entertaining or - at their best - both.

Jun 01, 2009 04:46 AM
rating: -1
 
Richard Bergstrom

You prefer articles where the numbers don't support the analysis? Prefer a groupcontradiction?

Jun 01, 2009 06:05 AM
rating: 2
 
Evan
(47)

I didn't really see this as a lot of analysis. It was just interpreting stats for me, and I can do that myself.

The upside of this article was it served as a sort of stat clearing house because it used so many non-BP stats, and that's something I really like to see. I applauded that when someone did it last week, and I'm doing it again.

Pretty good for a Fantasy article.

Jun 01, 2009 09:30 AM
rating: 0
 
rebsox

I am not a fantasy player, so I don't feel that qualified to comment on content this week. Still, since I am not a stathead either, I feel compelled to say that Will's been a bit harsh this week regarding the stats. I would imagine using all different kinds of statistical analysis is crucial to getting an edge in your fantasy league, so it just can't be avoided this week. This article was easy for me to understand, although I can see it lacking originality even without fantasy articles in my normal reading. I think Tyler needs to work on tying his articles together with stronger opening and concluding paragraphs.

Jun 01, 2009 10:08 AM
rating: 0
 
CRP13

This article directly helps me as one of my teams is all but dependent on Weaver after being destroyed by injuries....but....

Jun 01, 2009 10:23 AM
rating: 0
 
rubemode

I think what people are missing here in the critiques of this article (including our judges) is that the second round of this competition was geared towards giving people takeaways for their fantasy team. That box was solidly checked 6 times here, so it gets my vote.

Is this format being done elsewhere? Yes. His choices of players could be questioned and the analysis thin (for non-geak-speaking types) but I don't think the merits of this article rest on it being a format used by others. Short of developing some new way of fundamentally altering the way people look at fantasy teams as a whole, you're stuck developing context for players individually. There is only so many ways to do that. Everyone of these pieces is dead in the water if the standard is "be 100% original."

Jun 01, 2009 11:24 AM
rating: 1
 
rubemode

There *are* only so many ways to do that.

<--idiot

Jun 01, 2009 11:26 AM
rating: 0
 
Peter Benedict

I'd have liked to see some data about the defenses behind those pitchers, as a high BABIP in front of a bad defense has a different impact on fantasy value than a high BABIP in front of a good one.

I liked the format and the commentary. Thanks for your work.

Jun 01, 2009 14:27 PM
rating: 0
 
evo34

As people have noted, fairly boiler-plate analysis. But well-executed, and one of the few articles this week to offer direct usefulness to the fantasy player.

Jun 02, 2009 00:21 AM
rating: 0
 
graignettles

I think the article was very accessible - not overly geeky at all. All the numbers are familiar to the average BP reader. This may not seem like a compliment to some, but the article kinda USA Today'd the topic, and sometimes that is all I have time to read is a McNewspaper version.

One commenter above mentioned that the author used too much time to introduce the stats and concept (I'm paraphrasing as I am in a hurry and can't find the comment). I don't begrudge the author that. As a first column in a series I can see why he did it. He didn't assume that this was his fifth column of the season and the reader was familiar with the concept.

I'm not going to defend this writing as Sean McAdam-esque, but it will get a thumbs up from me as I think he deserves to continue and show his chops.

Jun 02, 2009 06:10 AM
rating: 0
 
eligieryna

While I agree with others that the format is something we've seen before, Tyler was one of the few writers this week that actually gave me something to take away for my own teams. I thought that was the point of this week's topic.

Overall, it was a useful article. Thumbs-up.

Jun 02, 2009 08:58 AM
rating: 0
 
R.A.Wagman

I've been trying not to comment on the BP Idol essays (time also being a factor) but this type of analysis kind of bothered me. Not so much just on Tyler's part, as in the trend as a whole. It is not too analytical to say that player X should be rated higher or lower due to various "hidden" stats - the insight and analysis I really want to see would place that in context - if Cain should be sold high - what would be considered too low? High enough? It's nice that you might recommend that I trade Cain, but what would you think would be a good haul for him? Or in other words, to illustrate how that may have changed due to his deceptive play, tell me that, while in the past, I may have considered myself lucky to get 1 package for Cain, ow I could reasonably shoot for another package, because if I wait, the package will drop back to the first, or should be expected to drop to a different third package. That would be insightful.

Jun 02, 2009 09:48 AM
rating: 0
 
Sky Kalkman

I agree. This is a common void of "will improve/will regress" articles aimed at fantasy player.

A great tool to use in these situations is something like CBS Sports' report of recent trades involving the player in question. Get enough of them together, and you you can see the public's perception of a player. Or go to a stock-trading site, like ProTrade, and see how players are trending, although a bit more context is needed there.

Jun 02, 2009 16:07 PM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

ProTrade's kind of dead these days though, which is a shame because I used to love it (and wrote there pretty often).

Jun 02, 2009 16:40 PM
rating: 0
 
frqtflyr

Oh the temptation to throw a "Hissey" fit about regurgitating #s and utilizing a now-cliche format. But Tyler does provide solid analysis (albeit nothing truly innovative), and I disagree that only stat-heads would appreciate it. But then I also disagree with fellow subscribers who just want the #s. I like a well-reasoned article. You can be both mathematician and writer :-)

Nonetheless, the article is middle of the pack this week. Not strong enough to merit a thumbs up, but not so awful that I'd vote Tyler off the island or out of the house, yada yada.

Jun 02, 2009 14:54 PM
rating: -1
 
John Collins
(110)

Huh? No thumbs up IS a vote off the island.

Jun 02, 2009 19:37 PM
rating: 0
 
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