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On Tuesday, I took a look back at American League hitters from a Rotisserie valuation standpoint. Today, I’ll tackle the pitchers in the junior circuit.

Before I dig in, here is a brief description of the charts below.

The $ value column is based on my Rotisserie-style, 5×5 formulas. It doesn’t exactly match anything in Baseball Prospectus’ PFM, but is derived using a SGP valuation model (something the PFM does offer). There are two important things to know about the values:

1) They are derived using the 168 best perceived hitters and the 108 best perceived pitchers (read most expensive or highest draft position) on Opening Day 2014, not the best 168 hitters and 108 pitchers at the end of the season.
2) The values of the 276 most expensive players add up to $3,120. This is important, and comes into play in the next two columns.

Sal is the average salary of the players. This column is derived from the prices in CBS, LABR, and Tout Wars, the three expert leagues that convene before the regular season starts and have three complete AL-only auctions with no frozen players from which to derive data. While I would love to use more leagues to derive each player’s average salary, most Rotisserie-style leagues are keeper oriented and average salary data is useless for the purposes of this exercise thanks to auction inflation.

The +/- column subtracts each player’s earnings from his salary and shows whether he gained or lost his fantasy owners play money. Decimals aren’t displayed in the $ and Sal columns, which is how Adam Jones can earn $29, get paid an average salary of $32 and lose $4.

MG is yours truly, your heroic pricer and proud prognosticator since 2013. Another good reason to look back is to see if the fantasy expert you are following is good at what he or she does. It is easy to make predictions in March and never revisit those predictions or (worse) cherry pick the ones you got right and take a hollow victory lap. But how good are we at what we do? The prices below are from my fifth and final installment of Rotisserie style bids from late March 2014. I have always taken others to task for their predictions; now it’s finally time for me to face the music.

PK is a new column for 2014. These are Peter Kreutzer’s bids for AL and NL-only leagues, published at pattonandco.com. It is useful to look back and see how you bid, but even more useful to compare your predictions to someone else’s.

2013 shows what the player earned in 2013.

A few years ago, the results below would have been surprising.

Table 1: 10 Most Expensive AL Pitchers

Rank

Player

$

Sal

+/-

CBS

LABR

Tout

MG

PK

2013

1

Yu Darvish

$16

30

-14

32

28

31

26

24

$30

2

Max Scherzer

$27

28

-1

29

27

29

30

29

$35

3

Chris Sale

$30

27

3

27

25

29

24

29

$26

4

Justin Verlander

$8

26

-19

26

26

27

28

30

$17

5

Felix Hernandez

$39

26

13

26

27

25

24

26

$24

6

David Price

$30

24

6

23

23

26

23

30

$19

7

Greg Holland

$25

22

2

19

24

24

21

23

$27

8

James Shields

$21

21

0

21

21

20

19

21

$20

9

Masahiro Tanaka

$21

20

1

21

19

19

18

19

Koji Uehara

$20

20

0

19

19

21

21

18

$26

Average

$24

24

-1

24

24

25

23

25

$22

However, there has been enough discussion over the past year about dropping ERAs and a superior pitching environment that this list probably isn’t as surprising as it would have been two or three years ago. The reality is that the most expensive pitchers typically do come close to earning what we pay for them on average.

Table 2: 10 Most Expensive AL Pitchers: 2009-2014

Year

$

Sal

+/-

ROI

2014

$24

24

-1

97%

2013

$21

24

-3

88%

2012

$24

24

0

100%

2011

$26

24

+2

108%

2010

$19

25

-6

76%

2009

$24

26

-2

92%

I trotted this table out last year, but it is worth showing again. There is a false meme floating around some fantasy circles that elite pitching is a better investment than it was a few years ago because the best pitchers are better than they were a few short years ago. While it is true that the raw numbers are lower, the predictability of the top pitchers has not changed very much. 2010 is the only bad year on Table 2; otherwise the top pitchers earn either what we pay them or very close to it.

2014 is only second year since 2009 where eight of the 10 most expensive pitchers earned $20 or more. Verlander was the only pitcher in the group who failed to earn at least $10 and in fact the 16 most expensive pitchers in the American League with the exception of Verlander all earned at least $11. These 16 pitchers cost $356 and earned $334. I’m not advocating taking any kind of loss, but a $1.38 loss per pitcher for the most significant investments is piddling.

2014 also saw the return of a couple of relievers to the most expensive table. The Great Reliever Immolation of 2012 (ask your older brother for the history lesson if you don’t remember) left fantasy owners reluctant to spend money on closers. This changed in 2014, and while pocketbooks weren’t fully opened, they were somewhat loosened. No reliever cost more than $18 in 2013; five cost $18 or more in 2014. Holland and Uehara’s solid performances are likely to leave 2012’s aberration in the rearview mirror (despite some significant reliever losses; see later in the article).

Getting back to the group on the whole, given what I know about the stability of the best pitchers, I feel like a bit of a stunad. I’m behind the expert leagues on these 10 pitchers by at least $1 and $2 per pitcher behind Kreutzer. I droned on and on about what those other guys did in my last post about the hitters, but who cares? I loathe the fact that my prices were conservative on guys I liked! I have insisted that Felix is a dominant ace despite his dip in velocity and was behind everyone on his price. I had nothing against Sale, so why I had such a conservative bid limit on him is beyond me. The prices are all pretty close to the experts’ prices—and I dig that I was more aggressive on Scherzer and Uehara than the rest of the market—but I need to start listening to my own arguments and applying them to my pricing. It’s better to pay one of these guys than it is to be left out in the cold.

Perhaps the reason I shied away is because while you could spend money and do well, it isn’t necessarily the only way to go.

Table 3: Top 10 AL Pitchers 2014

Rank

Player

$

Sal

+/-

CBS

LABR

Tout

MG

PK

2013

1

Felix Hernandez

$39

26

13

26

27

25

24

26

$24

2

Corey Kluber

$35

13

21

16

13

11

11

13

$12

3

Jon Lester

$30

15

15

16

16

14

14

15

$16

4

Chris Sale

$30

27

3

27

25

29

24

29

$26

5

David Price

$30

24

6

23

23

26

23

30

$19

6

Max Scherzer

$27

28

-1

29

27

29

30

29

$35

7

Garrett Richards

$25

5

20

4

7

4

4

3

$6

8

Greg Holland

$25

22

2

19

24

24

21

23

$27

9

Zach Britton

$23

1

-$2

10

Collin McHugh

$22

1

-$7

Average

$29

20

10

16

16

16

15

17

$16

Half of the best AL pitchers in 2014 cost $20 or more; the other half cost a combined average salary of $33. You could have theoretically put together a staff of Lester, Kluber, Richards, Britton, and McHugh for $3 more than the cost of Darvish, assuming you added Britton and McHugh on reserve.

Stable, neutral investments at the top of the pitching food chain are why many bid with confidence on the top pitchers, but pitchers like Kluber and Lester are why some prefer to stay out of the top echelon while pitchers like Richards, Britton, and McHugh are why some fantasy players simply go super cheap on their entire staff and hope for a miracle.

Table 4: AL Pitcher Performance in 2014 by Tier

Tier

Ranking

$

Salary

+/-

#1

1-10

$236

244

-8

#2

11-20

$109

177

-68

#3

21-30

$134

146

-12

#4

41-50

$84

123

-39

#5

51-60

$81

97

-16

#6

61-70

$128

60

68

#7

71-80

$44

42

2

#8

81-90

$42

29

13

#9

91-100

$47

20

27

#10

101-110

$82

13

70

#11

111-120

$50

9

41

#12

121-128

$43

4

39

Totals

$1106

967

139

Table 4 breaks out the 128 pitchers who were purchased in one or more of the CBS, LABR, and Tout Wars leagues in groups of 10. The first sort is by average salary, the second sort is alphabetical by first name.

The first thing you will notice is that these 128 pitchers appear to turn a profit of $139. This is theoretically incorrect. Earnings are derived from the average auction rosters, with my pricing model allocating 33 percent of the auction money to pitchers. This means that the auctioned pitchers should earn $1020, not $1106. However, there are 20 extra pitchers here since I take the 108 most expensive pitchers to use for the auction formulas. Joe Smith ($20), Dallas Keuchel ($19), and Danny Duffy ($18) aren’t included in the auction population because they are ranked #109 or lower but are included in Table 4.

Diving even deeper into the theoretical stew, since the average expert league salary is $967 and not $1020, I should be using a $967 baseline for these pitchers, not $1,020. However, adjusting the earnings down 5.2 percent from $1,020 to $967 does not strip away the impact of Table 4. The most expensive pitchers earn significantly more than the pitchers from any other group of 10 pitchers.

In fact, it is almost impossible to find two groups of pitchers that earn more combined than the top group. Tiers Three and Six combined earn $24 more than Tier One. The second best group of pitchers behind the most expensive pitchers earns 57 percent of what Tier One does while costing 60% of what Tier One costs.

Buyers of Kluber and Lester would argue that it was their fantasy baseball skill and acumen that led them to purchase these pitchers and that it wasn’t all a matter of chance. Fair enough, but the buyers of Matt Moore and Danny Salazar probably believed their purchases were equally savvy back in March. Individual cases like Kluber and Lester happen, but it is far more common that the most expensive pitchers are going to be the ones anchoring your staff.

A pitching-friendly environment leads to more stability at the top of the heap, but it does strip away the combination of top pitchers who also have the ability to appear on the next table.

Table 5: Top 10 AL Bargains 2014

Rank

Player

$

Sal

+/-

CBS

LABR

Tout

MG

PK

2013

1

Corey Kluber

$35

13

21

16

13

11

11

13

$12

2

Joe Smith

$20

0

20

1

1

1

$9

3

Garrett Richards

$25

5

20

4

7

4

4

3

$6

4

Carlos Carrasco

$20

1

19

1

1

1

1

1

-$5

5

Dallas Keuchel

$19

1

19

2

2

-$2

6

Jake McGee

$20

2

18

1

3

2

2

2

$7

7

Danny Duffy

$18

0

17

1

1

$3

8

Sean Doolittle

$18

2

16

4

1

2

4

$10

9

Phil Hughes

$22

6

16

6

7

4

6

1

-$1

10

Jon Lester

$30

15

15

16

16

14

14

15

$16

Average

$23

5

18

5

5

4

4

4

$6

Felix’s $39 season was the best in the American League, but he misses the bargain list by $2, ranking behind these 10 pitchers and Cody Allen.

One of the more significant impacts of the current pitching culture is that the odds of a pitcher earning $40 have diminished significantly.

Table 6: $40 AL Pitching Earners Since 2009

Year

Pitcher

IP

W

K

WHIP

ERA

$

2014 $

2011

Justin Verlander

251

24

250

0.920

2.40

$46

$44

2009

Zack Greinke

229.3

16

242

1.073

2.16

$44

$34

2009

Felix Hernandez

238.7

19

217

1.135

2.49

$40

$31

Table 6 lists the only three American League pitchers since 2009 to crack the $40 barrier. The last column—“2014 $”—lists what these stats would have been worth in 2014’s pitching environment.

For fantasy players who don’t pay much attention to prior seasons, the $10 difference between Greinke’s 2009 and his 2009 in 2014’s context is an eye opener. But it makes sense. The difference between a 4.41 league average ERA in 2009 and a 3.81 ERA in 2014 is statistically significant, as are the differences in the league average WHIP (1.403, 1.284) during that time frame. Remembering Greinke’s 2009 season, it seems unbelievable that those numbers would “only” be good for third best in 2014’s context, but the numbers don’t lie. Rather, the formulas don’t lie.

“Who cares about 2009?” you’re probably asking. What does this have to do with 2014 and—more importantly—2015?

Table 2 (reprinted): 10 Most Expensive AL Pitchers: 2009-2014

Year

$

Sal

+/-

ROI

2014

$24

24

-1

97%

2013

$21

24

-3

88%

2012

$24

24

0

100%

2011

$26

24

+2

108%

2010

$19

25

-6

76%

2009

$24

26

-2

92%

This is the same table from above with the average salary of the most expensive pitchers over the last six years. The earnings for the 10 best pitchers are mostly flat, but the opportunity for $40-plus earnings has diminished significantly since 2009 due to the improved pitching context. Despite this, the prices for the 10 best pitchers haven’t dropped since 2011. We are still paying what we were paying for the perceived best pitchers three years ago. While we are getting good stats, the odds of purchasing a stud anchor have all but disappeared.

And despite the reliability of the best pitchers, there is still a chance that one or two of them are going to wind up on this final group of 10.

Table 7: Top 10 AL Busts

Rank

Player

$

Sal

+/-

CBS

LABR

Tout

MG

PK

2013

1

Jim Johnson

-$5

16

-21

18

14

15

14

16

$19

2

Justin Verlander

$8

26

-19

26

26

27

28

30

$17

3

Justin Masterson

-$4

13

-16

12

13

13

13

13

$20

4

Matt Moore

$0

16

-16

17

15

16

16

13

$17

5

Nate Jones

-$2

12

-14

14

9

14

14

8

$6

6

Yu Darvish

$16

30

-14

32

28

31

26

24

$30

7

CC Sabathia

$0

14

-14

14

15

13

13

11

$8

8

Ernesto Frieri

$2

16

-14

16

14

17

14

18

$16

9

Ivan Nova

-$3

10

-13

11

11

8

11

10

$12

10

Grant Balfour

$3

16

-13

16

16

16

14

17

$17

Average

$2

17

-15

18

16

17

16

16

$16

Darvish and Verlander appear on both the 10 most expensive and the 10 biggest bust lists.

But for all of the misery that came with plunking down $25-plus on a pitcher and incurring double digit losses, look at price range that dominates this chart. Seven of the 10 biggest busts cost between $12-16. Corey Kluber wasn’t an advertisement for spending $13 on a pitcher as much as he was for spending $13 on Corey Kluber.

This trend is not a one-year phenomenon either. For whatever reason, the tier of pitchers behind the Cadillacs aren’t reliable.

Table 8: Second 10 Most Expensive AL Pitchers: 2010-2014

Year

$

SAL

+/-

2010

$127

$179

-52

2011

$136

$179

-43

2012

$98

$175

-77

2013

$146

$170

-24

2014

$109

$177

-68

Average

$123

$176

-53

You might look at this year’s list of disappointments and simply pin it on the relievers. Four of the 10 pitchers on Table 7 were relievers. Johnson was the biggest disaster, but Jones, Frieri, and Balfour also disappointed in 2014. Historically speaking, it isn’t even close. Eleven of the double-digit losers in Table 8 were starting pitchers, compared to only six relievers. The perception that relievers are useless does not hold up under serious scrutiny. You are less likely to lose big on a closer than you are on a starting pitcher in the $16-20 price range.

Something else missing from Table 7 is a pitcher who cost less than $10. Just as the improved pitching environment makes it more difficult for a pitcher to crack the $40 barrier, it also makes it difficult for even the worst pitchers to completely destroy your team. If there is another reason to start getting more conservative with starting pitching, it is because while your $1-3 throw might not reap significant rewards, it is also unlikely that your cheap pitcher will destroy your team.

Given that spending has remained fairly constant over the past five years, it is likely that spending trends won’t change again in 2015. The opportunity in the current fantasy landscape will come not by chasing aces whose earnings can only be so high despite sub-2.50 ERAs but by looking toward the bottom of the food chain for your bargains. If baseball does not make any significant changes to attempt to assist the beleaguered hitters, it is likely that the vast majority of big bargains will once again come from the $5-and-under bin.