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June 19, 2013

Fantasy Freestyle

Time for a Change

by Jason Collette

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Earlier this season, Brian Kenny and Harold Reynolds infamously debated the value of pitcher wins.

If looks could kill, Kenny would have needed a good lawyer at the end of that segment to avoid life in prison. If you were to put two fantasy players on either side of the table, they would likely debate which one of them hated pitcher wins more. As I write this piece, I watched Felix Doubront throw eight shutout innings on just 93 pitches while retiring the final 17 hitters he faced. For his efforts, he was rewarded with a hook as Andrew Bailey came in for a three-out save and promptly allowed the game-tying home run to Kelly Johnson. Jonny Gomes hit the game-winning home run in the bottom of the frame, handing Bailey a win to go with his blown save.

Wins are negatively impacting the joy of playing fantasy baseball. Many are tired of seeing a fantastic outing labeled as a no-decision or watching the bullpen blow what was a quality start and thus rob the starter of the win. Nobody has suffered more injustice in 2013 than James Shields. A lack of run support has followed Shields around baseball like the dirt cloud around Pigpen in the Charlie Brown cartoons. This season, Shields has a 2.72 ERA, a 1.12 WHIP, 13 quality starts in 15 outings—and just two wins, both of which came in April.

He is not alone. He has A LOT of company.

I found 136 starting pitchers in the Player Forecast Manager and ran their current values in 12-team mixed leagues with standard 5x5 scoring. Of that group, 99 would have their value increase by at least $1 if quality starts were scored rather than wins.

Shields has been worth $10 in standard 5x5 scoring leagues, but would be worth $17 in leagues that used quality starts. It has been a rough season for Cole Hamels, as he too has just two wins, but his 4.40 ERA is much higher than we have become accustomed to in recent seasons. He is worth just $1 in standard leagues but sees his value increase six-fold in leagues that count quality starts.

They are just two of 24 pitchers whose value increases by at least $3 in quality start formats. The other pitchers include: Joe Blanton, A.J. Burnett, Felix Doubront, Jeff Samardzija, Travis Wood, Clayton Kershaw, Derek Holland, Kris Medlen, Wade Miley, Gio Gonzalez, Jeremy Hefner, Mark Buehrle, Homer Bailey, Jonathon Niese, Ricky Nolasco, Vance Worley, Matt Harvey, Edwin Jackson, David Price, Edinson Volquez, C.J. Wilson, and Phil Hughes.

Twenty-five pitchers did not see their values change in any way with the change in scoring format, including one of the most valuable pitchers these days, Hisashi Iwakuma. Yet, just 13 pitchers would have their values negatively affected by a change in scoring and none would suffer a big loss, as no starter would shed more than $2 of value.

I play in three different expert leagues in the industry: Tout Wars, LABR, and one as a member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association, Only the last league incorporates quality starts as a scoring category. LABR stays with the traditional 5x5 scoring rules as the industry’s first expert league, while Tout Wars has not adjusted the pitching categories and switched only to on-base percentage over batting average this season for hitters.

A shift to quality starts over wins would allow us to properly reward pitchers for their hard work while eliminating the randomness of relievers blowing wins or saves only to steal the glory all for their own. It eliminates any dependency on the offense to produce a result as well as eliminating the amazing run-support fortunes that some pitchers enjoy. In short, making the switch would level the fantasy playing field.

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

Related Content:  MLB,  Fantasy,  James Shields,  Cole Hamels

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