As the Baseball Prospectus Fantasy Team boldly pushes forward in our Fantasy Categorical Breakdowns series, be sure to catch up with previous installments over the past couple of weeks. I was tempted to just submit the shrugging emoji as my column here, but there probably is some value in looking back at how certain pitchers got to their Win totals in 2015. Before we do, please make sure to take a look at J.J. Jansons’ excellent intro piece that aired yesterday. And then be sure to tune in on Monday when J.P. Breen will take a look at some deep league options who may or may not generate outsized Win totals in 2016 depending on how much rum Jobu has in his cup come April.
Surprise, surprise, there’s a fairly direct relationship between innings-per-start, run support, and win totals! Overwhelmingly, the pitchers who struggled to log wins for the season did so either because they received little help from their own offense, they failed to work deep into games, or in the case of the biggest underachievers, both. Let’s take a look at a couple guys in each of those buckets.
The Bad Run-Support Guys
Andrew Cashner, RHP, Padres
I wrote a whole bunch of retrospective words about Cashner’s season here, but the elevator version looks like this: He managed to stay healthy (good!) but was one of the least efficient pitchers in baseball on a per-inning basis, saw his normally deflated BABIP reverse course, and ended up dramatically underperforming his draft slot on account of poor ERA and WHIP numbers and, yes, a terrible win total. Cashner wasn’t good last season—he finished 119th in DRA—but the baseball gods certainly had no trouble kicking the man when he was down. His average of 3.42 runs of support was the fourth-lowest of any starting pitcher, and while he didn’t work deep into games he was marginally above-average among qualified starters at logging innings per start (IP/GS). He probably should have cracked double-digit wins, which would have made him a nominal disaster instead of an outright tire fire.
Corey Kluber, RHP, Indians
Kluber was a beast again by just about any metric to which you choose to refer, except for the almighty Win. Despite working the fifth-best IP/GS rate of any starter and posting the 15th-lowest DRA Kluber’s nine puny Ws were the sole reason he finished on the outside looking in at the top five hurlers in AL-only value.
The Early Shower Guys
Mike Fiers, RHP, Astros
Fiers was a guy who lit up the cFIP leaderboards for the vast majority of last summer on account of his high whiff totals, and he’s proven capable of controlling BABIP with weak flyball contact. Alas, win karma eluded him in 2015, and it was partly his own damn fault. His 5.84 IP/GS checked in below average, and given normal run support he failed to stick around long enough to pick up a solid handful of would’ve-been-much-appreciated wins for his fantasy owners.
Hector Santiago, LHP, Angels
Santiago had himself a stellar season, all things considered, and provided his waiver-wire claimers in shallow leagues a nice little back-end return on FAAB investment thanks to solid ERA, WHIP, and K numbers. He also managed to win nine games, which isn’t bad, but it’s probably well below what he should have produced. Despite being the beneficiary of top-25 run support, Santiago only managed to defy the peripheral gods for 5.53 innings each start, a rate that ranked 113th out of 133.
Super Combo Guys
Shelby Miller, RHP, Braves
Every year there’s a poster child for why wins are a dumb statistical category for measuring pitcher performance, and this year the golden turd sandwich went to the young Braves hurler. Miller tallied a win in just 18 percent of his starts, the second-lowest percentage for any pitcher to log a 100 innings, despite the 12th-best DRA of any starter and the 36th-highest average innings-per-start. His worst-in-the-majors 2.64 runs of support on a per-start basis tanked his NL-only value to a paltry $13 despite a strong ERA and solid WHIP and K numbers.
Robbie Ray, LHP, Diamondbacks
Ray posted a nice whiff rate and a decent ERA across 23 starts to help him climb into shallower league relevance, but he ended up falling just shy of universal rosterability (that’s a word, right?) on account of a dodgy WHIP and a terrible Win total. Ray’s 5.53 IP/GS ranked 114th, while his run support was the eighth-worst in the league. That’s a nasty little tandem that goes a long way towards explaining his five wee little wins.
On the other end of the spectrum, there were plenty of guys who lucked their way into securing sweet endorsement deals and potential Hall of Fame votes down the line thanks to gaudy Win totals that really, probably weren’t all that deserved. Here are some of the most egregious beneficiaries of an antiquated scoring system that heaped ill-begotten value on their stat lines.
The Keno Junkies
Drew Hutchison, RHP, Blue Jays
The anti-Shelby Miller, Hutchison managed to weasel his way to 13 wins last season—that’s a Win in over 46 percent of his starts—despite being the sixth-least efficient starter and logging the fifth-worst DRA in baseball. His ERA was easily the worst of any pitcher to post double-digits victories, but he can thank the Blue Jay offense for dropping more than half a run more support for him than any other starting pitcher in baseball received last year.
Nathan Eovaldi, RHP, Yankees
Eovaldi’s season was a tale of two halves in terms of his own production, but luckily for him outsized run support remained a constant all year. His 5.93 runs of support was the third-highest total and helped more than make up for Eovaldi’s poor 5.71 IP/GS. He ended up a top-50 pitcher by DRA, but he probably didn’t quite deserve the lofty win total of 14 given his fairly extreme inability to work through a lineup a third time.
Run Support Darlings
Colby Lewis, RHP, Rangers
Lewis quietly evolved into a stone-faced assassin, hellbent on the destruction of all who dared stream him in shallow leagues in 2015. Despite several catastrophic meltdowns along the way he managed to work relatively deep into games, and his top-40 showing in IP/GS was plenty good enough to seize on the absurd 5.8 runs a game he received in support to drive his thoroughly offensive win total. Never again, Mr. Lewis.
Joe Kelly, RHP, Red Sox
One of the more… surprising hurlers to claw his way into shallow league relevance down the stretch, Kelly took full advantage of the sixth-best run support in the majors to crack double-digit wins despite some of the least-efficient work of any starting pitcher. Reigning in stuff that good is yeoman’s work and all, but Kelly’s below-average DRA and well below-average ERA do not belie a dude with a solid Win-Loss record.
Jeff Samardzija, RHP, White Sox
That the Shark somehow managed to cobble together 11 wins in spite of himself was solely the function of his ability to hang on much longer in a given game than his performance probably dictated. He managed to post the 12th-best IP/GS rate in the majors last season, overcoming a near-5.00 ERA, below-average DRA, and mediocre run support in the process. He’s actually remained quite consistent in his ability to eat innings, a trait which may bode well for him as a discount candidate in 2016.
The Odd Duck
Stephen Strasburg, RHP, Nationals
For all the hands wrung by Strasburg owners last season, it could’ve been worse. He’s an “overachiever” more due to odd statistical distribution of his innings than anything else, but he managed to convert starts to Wins at an elite 48% clip despite averaging a bottom-20 rate of 5.52 IP/GS. He earned six wins in his final 10 starts after returning from injury with the manner of sheer dominance that had been expected of him all season, though, so take his mention here with a grain of salt.