With rate stats like WHIP, the value in the category doesn’t help much unless it’s paired with a big enough exposure base to move the needle for your team. For hitters, that means at-bats for batting average and plate appearances for OBP. For pitchers, that means innings for ERA and WHIP. To keep my WHIP low in deep AL-only and NL-only leagues, I don’t just look for guys who are good bets to post shiny WHIPs. When it comes to starters, I value health and grip on a spot in the rotation as much as I value WHIP since a good WHIP doesn’t do much in the standings without a decent chunk of innings. When it comes to relief arms, I look to fill out the back end of my bullpen with guys who are likely to put up good WHIPs who will also throw 70 innings or more. Lastly, I look for pitchers whose success in WHIP is driven by a low walk rate rather than a low hit rate. Walks and hits count the same in WHIP, but hit rate is more variable from season to season while walk rate is more stable relatively, making walk rate the more predictive WHIP component.
Making the A’s major league bullpen on Opening Day was a minor upset, but Ryan Dull earned that spot with a strong showing in spring training. Oakland’s faith in him was well placed, as the 27-year-old ended up being the most reliable member of Oakland’s relief corps in 2016. His 0.87 WHIP catches the eye, but his 74.3 innings really make that WHIP sparkle. The righty doesn’t throw very hard, but his three-pitch mix and sharp control keep batters off balance and off base. According to my colleague Mike Gianella’s AL-only valuations, among pitchers who didn’t make a start in 2016, Dull finished second in earnings in the WHIP category to the best reliever on the planet, Andrew Miller. That’s pretty exciting stuff.
After a disastrous first half in 2015 in Arizona, Addison Reed lost the closer’s job, was optioned to Triple-A and ended up being traded to the Mets. His performance was significantly better in Queens, posting a 1.04 WHIP in 15.3 innings. The 27-year-old carried that success into 2016, throwing 77.7 innings in a setup role to the tune of a 0.94 WHIP, getting boatloads of leads to closer Jeurys Familia intact. That WHIP and that usage make him a valuable commodity in deep NL-only leagues. His 1.8 BB/9 suggests that his success is repeatable and the presence of Familia makes it likely that Reed will remain in the same role for the foreseeable future.
Relievers who throw 70+ innings with sub-1.00 WHIPs are few and far between. Dan Otero turned the trick in 2016 with 70.7 innings and a 0.91 WHIP pitching behind Andrew Miller, Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw for a pennant-wining team in Cleveland. The highest BB/9 that the 31-year-old has posted in his five-year major league career is 1.6, a level of control that makes him a better bet than most to have standout WHIPs going forward. He has only topped 50 innings twice in those five seasons. That stellar WHIP won’t do nearly as much for a roto team in 35-40 innings as it does in 70 innings.
The Interesting Cases
Prior to 2016, Nate Jones’ career best single season BB/9 was 2.8. Across 70.7 innings in 2016, he posted a 1.9 BB/9 that was the main driver behind his 0.89 WHIP, good for third-best in the AL among relievers. The 30-year-old has always thrown hard and struck out lots of batters. If he can sustain this step forward in walk rate without seeing deterioration elsewhere, he could be one of the more valuable setup men in AL-only leagues. If the White Sox end up moving David Robertson, Jones is the most likely replacement at closer. If the big righty inherits the closing gig, the saves would obviously enhance his overall value, but he would probably throw slightly fewer innings, dampening his impact in the WHIP category.
As a rookie in 2016, Jerad Eickhoff threw 197.3 innings with a 1.9 BB/9 that helped him register a 1.16 WHIP. That stellar walk rate was significantly better than the walk rates he racked up in the high minors, giving him wider error bars for BB/9 projections than most for 2017. If he can show that his newly developed feel for the strike zone is here to stay, he could help a lot of roto teams by doing what he did as a rookie, combining a good WHIP with a big chunk of innings. He doesn’t have much competition for a rotation spot in Philadelphia, so he’s as good a bet as any non-elite pitcher to throw around 200 innings next season, too, providing ballast for roto teams in WHIP.