A few times this past off-season, I referred to James Shields, Scott Baker, and Ricky Nolasco as the unholy trinity based on how unlucky they were last season. The three of them were in the end-of-season top 25 for SIERA, but their ERA’s were 5.18, 4.51, and 4.63, respectively. Skills-wise, each had strong strikeout rates and low walk rates, but all three were victims of untimely home runs and, in Shields’s cases, just too many home runs. This season (until last night’s performance by Shields), all three were in the top 27 for this season with SIERA’s of 3.62 or lower.
Opposite of the unholy trinity is the holy trinity of skills. The membership of the group comes and goes, but the requirements for entry are the same: a high strikeout rate, a high groundball rate, and a low walk rate. Personally, I prefer a strikeout rate of at least 7.0, a groundball rate of at least 50 percent, and a strikeout to walk ratio of at least 2.2. Those are the conditions for membership because I want pitchers that minimize their own risks by striking people out, keeping balls on the ground (since they lead to the fewest extra base hits), and pitchers that command the strike zone.
Normally, that group has a decent-sized membership, but in 2011, qualifying members are very tough to come by, especially if you are in an AL-only league. Heading into Thursday’s games, the handy-dandy Baseball Prospectus reports tell me that there are just 15 pitchers in baseball that meet the membership requirements of the Holy Trinity this season, and all but four of them are National League pitchers. The membership roster is as follows:
· Roy Halladay: 9.0 K/9, 56 percent groundball rate, 7.0 K/BB
· Cole Hamels: 9.4 K/9, 57 percent groundball rate, 5.2 K/BB
· Jaime Garcia: 8.3 K/9, 53 percent groundball rate, 3.7 K/BB
· Tim Lincecum: 9.5 K/9, 52 percent groundball rate, 3.7 K/BB
· Matt Garza: 11.0 K/9, 50 percent groundball rate, 3.4 K/BB
· Bartolo Colon: 8.4 K/9, 50 percent groundball rate, 4.1 K/BB
· Tim Stauffer: 7.1 K/9, 54 percent groundball rate, 3.0 K/BB
· Josh Johnson: 8.4 K/9, 52 percent groundball rate, 2.8 K/BB
· CC Sabathia: 7.1 K/9, 50 percent groundball rate, 2.7 K/BB
· Ricky Romero: 8.3 K/9, 53 percent groundball rate, 2.6 K/BB
· Jhoulys Chacin: 7.8 K/9, 60 percent groundball rate, 2.4 K/BB
· Jon Lester: 8.8 K/9, 52 percent groundball rate, 2.4 K/BB
· Chad Billingsley: 8.5 K/9, 52 percent groundball rate, 2.4 K/BB
· Yovani Gallardo: 7.5 K/9, 50 percent groundball rate, 2.2 K/BB
· Derek Lowe: 7.8 K/9, 58 percent groundball rate, 2.2 K/BB
Just four of the eleven members of the group are in the American League and all three pitch most of their games in the American League East, with Colon being the most shocking member of the group. The ERA’s of that group range from 1.64 to 4.03 while their SIERA’s range from 2.62 to 3.95. Either way, nobody in that group is inflicting serious damage to your ERA because they minimize their own risks. WHIP, however, is another story.
Gallardo, Stauffer, Lowe, Garza, and Lester all have WHIP’s of 1.35 or higher this season. Even Garza and Lester, guys who are striking out nearly nine or more batters a game, are having a lot of balls falling safely into play when batters do manage to make contact. With the exception of Garza, these WHIPs cannot be heavily attributed on any BABIP issues. Garza’s is .362, but the rest of the group ranges from .299 to .328. With Garza being on the disabled list and currently having just two wins, a 1.37 WHIP, and a 3.72 ERA, he would be a prime target in trade negotiations for wise owners as the skills are there but the results are being masked by some unfortunate struggles with BABIP. In CBS leagues, Garza is already rostered in 92 percent of leagues, which means acquiring him is going to have to be done via trade, but there is another pitcher in the Holy Trinity who is owned in just over half of the leagues and could be out there on your waiver wire.
Tim Stauffer has just one win this season pitching for the Padres with a 3.99 ERA and a 1.39 WHIP. That said, he currently has a career high strikeout rate, a career low walk rate, and the 23rd best SIERA of all pitchers with at least 50 innings pitched at 3.55. Stauffer’s batting average on balls in play currently sits at .330, which is 30 points above his career average as he has seen his line drive rate spike to 23 percent after hovering around 19 percent heading into 2011. All season, he has had just two disaster starts in which he gave up five or more earned runs, and one of those came last night against the Astros (in Petco Park no less). He is also on a run in which he has given up more hits than innings pitched in four of his last five outings, which is something to bring up to his current owner if you want to make a trade for him. Stauffer is not a pitcher to acquire for wins since the Padres offer little run support most nights, but I believe he will be helpful in the other three starting pitching categories, and the fact that he is only rostered in 54 percent of leagues presents a solid opportunity to pick up some free help.
Who are some other pitchers who are applying for membership into the Holy Trinity? These are some of the guys that are one skill away from gaining membership:
· Brett Anderson: 60 percent groundball rate, 2.6 K/BB, and a strikeout rate of 6.8. Oh, so close.
· Anibal Sanchez: 9.0 K/9, 3.2 K/BB, 48 percent groundball rate.
· C.J. Wilson: 8.3 K/9, 2.7 K/BB, 48 percent groundball rate
· Chris Carpenter: 7.3 K/9, 3.2 K/BB, 49 percent groundball rate. Buy, buy, buy.
· Edwin Jackson: 7.8 K/9, 2.4 K/BB, 49 percent groundball rate. He currently has a 4.63 ERA and 1.53 WHIP but a better SIERA than CC Sabathia, Gio Gonzalez, and Gavin Floyd, to name a few pitchers. He has given up 11 earned runs in his last 18 innings pitched which should discount his asking price. The rotation situation in Chicago is a bit crazy right now and he might end up in the bullpen, but Jackson could also find himself dealt to a team that can give him a spot later on as well.
· Felix Hernandez: 8.6 K/9, 3.1 K/BB, 49 percent groundball rate. He’s almost home.
· Ryan Dempster: 8.1 K/9, 2.5 K/BB, 49 percent groundball rate. Dempster was victimized by a series of disastrous starts in late April but has quietly allowed two or fewer earned runs in five of his last six starts. His 6.00 ERA on the season still hides that, making him a good buy candidate. He has had some rough luck with batting average on balls in play and stranding runners, but he is now on a roll and presents an excellent buying opportunity despite the struggles. He gave up eight home runs in his first five starts but has allowed just three in his last seven.