keyboard_arrow_uptop

This is the final installment in a six-part series on player valuation. The first five parts of the series covered AL and NL-only league valuation for hitters and pitchers, and mixed-league valuation for hitters. This article concludes the series with a look back at pitchers.

As with the mixed league hitters, there are no plans to reinvent the wheel and run through the painstaking steps that got me to my mixed league valuations. There is a significant change on the pitching side of the ledger that will be addressed within the body of the article. A full look at the methodology behind the valuations can be found here.

For the last few years, the balance of power in Major League Baseball has gradually tipped toward pitching. In mixed leagues, this balance has led to some sturdy-looking numbers.

Table 1: NL-Only, AL-Only, and Mixed Pitcher Baselines by Player

Type

W

SV

IP

H

BB

ER

SO

ERA

WHIP

$

Mixed

8

7

125

116

37

47

117

3.38

1.198

$9.44

AL

7

4

110

105

33

45

97

3.70

1.252

$9.44

NL

6

5

108

100

32

42

96

3.49

1.226

$9.44

Mixed Best 108

10

8

144

124

36

47

135

2.95

1.115

$14.01

The pitchers who were drafted in mixed (top 108 pitchers in NFBC formats) look good enough, but when you dig deeper and look at the actual top 108 pitchers using retrospective values, you can see how ridiculously good the pitching was last year. In AL-only, a pitcher with that “mixed best 108” line would have been worth $20, good for 22nd-best in the circuit. In deeper leagues, these numbers make us stand up and take notice.

In some ways, we have adjusted to the new reality of an improved pitching climate. These ways include whining about low scoring games, whining about the increased size of the strike zone, and whining about the impact of defensive shifting (I kid because I love). A few have even wistfully longed for the return of performance-enhancing drugs (whether or not their tongues are firmly planted in their cheeks is an open question).

One area where it seems that even the smartest analysts haven’t adjusted to the new reality is on the fantasy side of the equation.

Table 2: Who Would You Rather?

W

SV

IP

H

BB

ER

SO

ERA

WHIP

Pitcher A

21

0

198.1

139

31

69

239

1.77

0.857

Pitchers B and C

14

1

294.2

222

83

70

333

2.14

1.035

The title of Table 2 is an homage to a segment on Chris McBrien’s “Dear Mr. Fantasy” podcast, although in his podcast segment it is typically an either/or proposition. Here, I have taken one pitcher and compared them with two. Pitcher A is Clayton Kershaw, which is obvious to anyone who even casually followed baseball in 2014. Pitchers B and C are Cole Hamels and Dellin Betances.

Kershaw beats the pair by seven wins and puts up a superior ERA and WHIP. However, Hamels and Betances get nearly 100 more strikeouts between them while their not-quite-as-great ERA/WHIP come much closer to Kershaw’s than you would expect because of the innings pitched; Kershaw out-earns them $14.62 to $13.77 in those categories.

The answer is Kershaw… by nine cents! Kershaw earned $34.01 to Hamels and Betances’ $33.92.

As you would expect, Kershaw is the champion on the raw, mixed-league pitcher valuation table.

Table 3: Top 10 Mixed-League Pitchers, 2014

#

Player

$ Raw

Only $

1

Clayton Kershaw

$34

$41

2

Johnny Cueto

$31

$38

3

Felix Hernandez

$31

$39

4

Corey Kluber

$26

$35

5

Adam Wainwright

$26

$31

6

Chris Sale

$23

$30

7

Jon Lester

$23

$30

8

David Price

$22

$30

9

Madison Bumgarner

$22

$27

10

Max Scherzer

$20

$27

Average

$26

$33

But contrary to popular belief, the gap between Kershaw and the next best pitcher was razor thin last year. It is impressive that he beat Cueto and Hernandez by $3 in 45 1/3 fewer innings than Cueto and 37 2/3 fewer innings than Hernandez, but the lack of those 40 innings or so is a big difference, particularly since you weren’t going to nab a free agent who was going to pitch as well as Cueto or Hernandez.

Ah, but since this is mixed league valuation, the pitcher who replaced Kershaw in April and early May was probably a positive earner. In reality, it was kind of a mixed bag, and this might be putting it kindly. Jesse Chavez and Tim Hudson were excellent replacements for Kershaw in standard mixed (particularly if you were smart enough to bail early), but many of the free agents selected in late March/early April to replace Kershaw were relief fliers like Daniel Webb, Jose Valverde, and Pedro Strop. Some of the other names that were commonly added in ESPN leagues in April included Martin Perez, Drew Hutchinson, Erasmo Ramirez, Wandy Rodriguez, and Nathan Eovaldi.

Paradoxically, the “free talent” argument works better in mixed formats the longer a player is sidelined. With slightly more than a month to plug in a replacement for Kershaw, there were not a great many opportunities to find someone who could offer stats as good as or close to Kershaw’s. If we are being honest, the pitchers who did wind up producing the most free agent value weren’t the first ones rescued from the unemployment line.

Table 4: Top 10 Mixed-League Free Agent Pitchers, 2014

#

Player

$ Raw

Rank

TW Activate

1

Garrett Richards

$19

15

4/7

2

Jake Arrieta

$18

16

5/5

3

Tanner Roark

$17

18

4/7

4

Collin McHugh

$17

20

6/2

5

Dellin Betances

$17

22

5/12

6

Wade Davis

$16

23

6/9

7

Phil Hughes

$16

26

5/12

8

Matt Shoemaker

$15

27

6/23

9

Carlos Carrasco

$15

32

8/18

10

Zach Britton

$15

33

5/19

Table 4 lists the Top 10 pitchers who weren’t drafted among the first 108 pitchers in NFBC leagues last fall. The final column shows when these pitchers were activated or picked up for the first time in the Tout Wars mixed auction league.

Most of these pitchers actually were on MLB active rosters on Opening Day, or at least at some point in April. However, only Richards and Roark were on a fantasy team’s roster for most or all of the season (and Richards was used as a streamer-only by MLB.com’s Fred Zinkie until early June). In only leagues, if you wanted McHugh or Hughes, you had to act quickly – assuming that Hughes was even available in the first place. In mixed formats, you had the luxury of waiting through a few starts to see if the pitcher was good and not merely the product of a lucky start or two.

The thing about waiting is that the full dollar impact of these pitchers wasn’t truly felt in mixed leagues. McHugh’s raw earnings in mixed leagues was $17; in Tout Wars mixed he “only” earned $11. That is a pretty terrific performance for the time frame that Scott Pianowski of Yahoo had McHugh on his active roster, but with few exceptions most non-drafted pitchers don’t provide the same kind of impact that they do in mono formats.

The other thing that jumps out in this chart is how much impact a stud reliever can make even in a mixed league. The valuation formulas don’t lie; Betances was the 22nd best pitcher in 5×5 leagues last year, while Davis was right on his heels at 23. Again, though, there is a reluctance to pick up high end relievers over middle-of-the-road starting pitchers. Davis had to put up a 1.27 ERA with 46 strikeouts in 28 1/3 innings before he was deemed worthy of a pickup in an expert, 15-team mixed league.

The improper valuation of pitching—particularly in mixed formats—could be the subject of its own article. The more important takeaway from a valuation perspective is that the 10 pitchers in Table 4 were among the top third of mixed-league pitchers in 2014.

There was a lot of debate and discussion this past winter regarding whether it was “correct” to take Kershaw with the fifth or sixth overall pick in standard mixed drafts. One of the arguments for taking Kershaw was that while we always talk about how hitters are extremely reliable compared to pitchers, the reality (so the argument went) was that this isn’t the case. Chris Davis, Carlos Gonzalez, Bryce Harper… every year the road to ninth place is paved with first-round hitters who turn into first-round busts.

However, while Kershaw has been terrific year in and year out, the reason that we take pitchers later is because—despite all of the anecdotal evidence to the contrary—the draft population is much stronger on the hitting side than it is on the pitching side.

Table 5: Top 168 Hitter/Top 108 Pitcher Mixed Value, 2014

Type

# Drafted

$ Drafted

# Free Agent

$ Free Agent

% $ Draft

% $ FA

Hitter

117

$1836

51

$654

73.7%

26.3%

Pitcher

59

$904

49

$612

59.6%

40.4%

Table 5 shows the top 168 hitters and the top 108 pitchers and where they “came” from: the draft or the free agent pool. The # drafted were hitters drafted in the Top 168 who actually finished in the top 168, or pitchers drafted in the Top 108 who finished in the Top 108. Logically, the number of free agents in the top 168 is 168 or 108 minus the # drafted. The earnings show how much these hitters earned, and the percentage columns show what percentage of earnings were from drafted hitters and what percentage were from free agents.

The key takeaway is in the percentage columns. A far more significant percentage of value came from the “%FA” column for pitchers than it did for hitters. Nearly half of the best 108 pitchers (45%) were not drafted before the season started. This offers fantasy owners a significant amount of variance.

The argument that “hitters are unpredictable too” is true on a case-by-case basis, but fails on a macro level. As much of a failure as Ryan Howard was, he was still one of the best 168 mixed-league hitters in 2014, believe it or not. The same cannot be said for Justin Verlander.

However, the argument for paying Kershaw the big bucks or drafting him with a high first round pick comes down to one simple thing: the top 14 pitchers in mixed leagues last year were acquired via draft and not via free agency.

If you wanted to get good value from a pitcher, it was fine to get a free agent. However, if you wanted top value, you had better have drafted wisely.

Table 6: Top 10 Mixed-League Free Agent Pitchers, 2014 with Adjusted Dollars

#

Player

$ Raw

Draft

$ Adjust

1

Clayton Kershaw

$34

1

$54

2

Johnny Cueto

$31

41

$49

3

Felix Hernandez

$31

9

$48

4

Corey Kluber

$26

60

$41

5

Adam Wainwright

$26

5

$39

6

Jon Lester

$23

39

$34

7

Chris Sale

$23

11

$34

8

David Price

$22

12

$32

9

Madison Bumgarner

$22

10

$32

10

Zack Greinke

$20

13

$30

I have been holding back on what the adjusted dollar valuations might look like; now you can see why. Shifting Jose Altuve from $34 to $47 seems somewhat reasonable. A $34 to $54 jump for Kershaw seems absurd. Shouldn’t pitchers earn less than hitters?

On the whole, the pitchers still do earn less than the hitters. But because so many drafted pitchers (see Table 5) fail, more money flows to the top of the pitching pyramid than to the top of the hitting pyramid after the prices are adjusted. The draft rosters still must earn $2100 on the hitting side and $1,020 on the pitching side for a 12-team league. When you factor in all of the negative values that occur on the pitching side, the money flows up. And up. And up.

This sort of jibes with what we know about pitching values in a mixed format. At the end of the season, the pitchers who performed best are worth their weight in gold. We have nine precious pitching slots in a standard fantasy league; if you knew for certain that Kershaw or Cueto were going to put up those numbers in 2014, wouldn’t you have taken them no. 1 overall over any hitter in baseball?

It is extremely likely. This is particularly true since it is not as if hitting dropped across the board but Mike Trout or Miguel Cabrera repeated his 2012 or 2013. There is less hitting, but everyone is hitting less. While this may sound like the worst Zen koan ever, it makes a difference in terms of how much hitters and pitchers earn.

The conundrum is that while the best pitchers are worth their weight in gold, this doesn’t mean that we know who the best pitchers are going to be at the beginning of the season. Kershaw and Wainwright were extremely predictable, but if you took Jose Fernandez early, I’m very sorry that you lost your league. On the other side of the coin, you can still grab a Kluber extremely late and still land an ace. It is possible to land a top hitter who isn’t drafted, but as Table 5 shows nearly three-quarters of your top hitters are coming out of your draft.

The adjusted pricing might reflect what the pitchers earned, but in terms of ranking pitchers for your draft, I would still remain faithful to prior models. Perhaps Kershaw is worth making an exception for and drafting no. 1 overall. However, the raw valuation difference between Kershaw and Cueto—compared to the ADP difference—suggests that Kershaw isn’t as rare as he seems at a glance. You want a top pitching performer, but you’re not as likely to get a pitcher who is so far ahead of the pack in 2015’s offensive context that it makes the high level risk that comes with any pitcher worth going past “slot.”