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If you’ve been following our Fantasy Categorical Breakdown series, you’re aware that the birth of the Rob Manfred era has catalyzed a high-octane offensive environment, and dramatically reshaped the fantasy landscape over just a two-year span. As league-wide home run totals continue to skyrocket, nearly a quarter of all plate appearances now end in a strikeout, and stolen bases have declined to their lowest level in decades. The primary aim of this series is to analyze the impact of these recent contextual trends and how fantasy owners should respond in 2017.

Antiquated metrics are so ingrained with the history of traditional rotisserie fantasy baseball that they remain prominent core statistics. WHIP is just the latest example of a notoriously flawed metric that fails to accurately reflect the quality of a pitcher’s overall performance. A by-product of just a pair of factors, WHIP is an exceptionally misleading indicator if used solely in isolation, without incorporating other elements of a pitchers profile into our analysis.

Despite it’s obvious shortcomings, WHIP isn’t something fantasy owners can simply overlook. From a valuation standpoint, it’s a huge driver of earnings for starters and remains a critical gauge to distinguish aces from the remainder of the talent pool in fantasy. Before diving into the individual standouts, we must examine the overall category landscape. The best place to begin is by taking a glance at the league-average WHIP in the major leagues over the past 15 seasons.

Major-league average WHIP (2002-2016)

WHIP has followed a remarkably similar track to league-wide offensive trends over the last decade. After an extended stretch of linear decline, the recent uptick directly corresponds with a shift in the run-scoring climate over the last two years. This development isn’t exclusive to starting pitchers. Relievers have been impacted just as much over the same period.

Starting pitcher and reliever WHIP (2002-2016)

The disparity between starters and relievers, which had grown larger in recent years, has leveled off as offense continues its current ascent. Meanwhile, league-wide BABIP has remained relatively constant (despite the proliferation of defensive shifts) fluctuating between .291 and .299 over the last decade. Pitchers walk rates (no matter their role) have not experienced similar stability in recent years.

Major-league average walks per nine innings (2002-2016)

Over a five-year period, league-wide walk rate fell from 3.46 per nine in 2009 to just 2.89 per nine in 2014, a season which ranks as one of the worst run-scoring campaigns in the modern era. Once again the impact of the Manfred-era spike is reflected in pitchers walk rates. While they haven’t returned to the levels we saw a decade ago (nor should fantasy owners expect that to happen) it’s worth noting the recent seismic changes. If anything, relievers appear to be the most adversely affected. After years of incremental progress, their walk rate ballooned to 3.45 per nine in 2016.

So where do we go from here? That’s the big question. Individual pitcher WHIP’s are on the rise as offense rebounds league-wide. However, as we discussed with our recent ERA and strikeout landscape pieces, the steady reduction in starting pitcher workloads has only increased the value of workhorse aces capable of proving a boost in WHIP over a massive quantity of innings. In order to identify those specific targets heading into 2017, here is a condensed look at the top 20 starting pitcher WHIP performers (minimum 100 innings pitched) last season.

2016

Player

WHIP

IP

1

Clayton Kershaw

0.73

149

2

Max Scherzer

0.97

228.1

3

Kyle Hendricks

0.98

190

4

Rich Hill

1.00

110.1

5

Justin Verlander

1.00

227.2

6

Rick Porcello

1.01

223

7

Jon Lester

1.02

202.2

8

Madison Bumgarner

1.02

226.2

9

Chris Sale

1.04

226.2

10

Julio Teheran

1.05

188

11

Corey Kluber

1.06

215

12

John Lackey

1.06

188.1

13

Masahiro Tanka

1.08

199.2

14

Jake Arrieta

1.08

197.1

15

Johnny Cueto

1.09

219.2

16

Stephen Strasburg

1.10

147.2

17

Jameson Taillon

1.12

104

18

Yu Darvish

1.12

100.1

19

Marco Estrada

1.12

176

20

Michael Fulmer

1.12

159

As you would expect, the names at the top of each list are a collection of premier fantasy stalwarts. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that Kershaw is a cut above the rest. Aside from Hendricks, whose NL-best 2.13 ERA and 0.98 WHIP drove the majority of his fantasy value last year, the name that immediately juts out is Hill. There are legitimate concerns about his durability, but the quality of the 100-plus innings he manages to accrue will be worth the investment on draft day.

The names towards the bottom of the list like Darvish, Taillon and Fulmer are perhaps the most tantalizing of the bunch, primarily because their stellar performance came in such relatively small samples. Whether it was injury related or the result of extended time in the minor leagues to begin the year that depressed their innings totals, if you project them over a full-season, they seem like the best bets provide a boost in WHIP, and return a profit based on average draft position in 2017.

Finally, to provide broader context and identify durable, consistent performers with a lengthier track record, here is a look at the starting pitchers with the lowest WHIP over the past three seasons combined (minimum 300 innings pitched).

2014-2016

Player

WHIP

IP

1

Clayton Kershaw

0.83

580

2

Jake Arrieta

0.97

583

3

Max Scherzer

1.02

677.1

4

Chris Sale

1.03

609.1

5

Madison Bumgarner

1.04

662.1

6

Masahiro Tanaka

1.05

490

7

Johnny Cueto

1.06

675.1

8

Zack Greinke

1.07

583.2

9

Corey Kluber

1.07

672.2

10

Kyle Hendricks

1.07

450.1

11

Carlos Carrasco

1.07

464

12

Jon Lester

1.08

627.1

13

Jacob deGrom

1.10

479.1

14

Noah Syndergaard

1.10

333.2

15

Stephen Strasburg

1.11

490

16

Felix Hernandez

1.11

591

17

Marco Estrada

1.12

507.2

18

David Price

1.12

698.2

19

Dallas Keuchel

1.15

600

20

Julio Teheran

1.15

609.2