For almost 25 years, pitching guru Brad "Bogfella" Johnson has provided insightful evaluation and analysis of pitchers to a wide variety of fantasy baseball websites and publications while also appearing as a guest analyst on fantasy baseball webcasts and radio broadcasts. Over the years, "Bogfella" has become best known for leading the way in identifying pitchers who are poised to provide excellent value.
Let's jump right in ...
This Week's Scouting Tip: Go to the WHIP!
There is always a lot of discussion regarding the most important statistic for a fantasy pitcher. Don't pay a lot for saves. Don't chase wins. There are certainly good arguments for those strategies. So what stat is a good starting point when evaluating a pitcher before draft day? Perhaps it's a good idea to evaluate a stat that can impact more than one category. Therefore, this week, we will see if we can make a convincing case for looking at WHIP first. A pitcher capable of producing a solid WHIP is likely to make a positive contribution to most pitching categories.
More innings = more wins and more strikeouts ...
Pitchers who allow fewer hits and walk fewer batters typically throw fewer pitches per inning. Fewer pitches per inning results in longer starts, and pitching deeper into games gives your guy a higher likelihood of garnering a win, more opportunities for strikeouts, and softens the potential damage done to his ERA by a bad inning. There simply isn't anything bad that comes from a good WHIP, and you should evaluate pitchers based on a few basic principles that generate fewer baserunners.
How many times have you watched a pitcher struggle to get all of his pitches working? He allows a couple of runs early, then puts men on base via walks and hits every inning, and departs after four innings trailing 4-1. That's an ERA of 9.00, a horrible WHIP, he only recorded 12 outs which severely limited his strikeout potential, and he didn't last long enough to qualify for a win. Ouch! Hopefully you own the opposing closer, but even that relies on the starter's bullpen keeping the game close enough for a save chance.
The quality WHIP pitcher might also give up a couple of runs early, but by limiting the baserunners, he gets past the first inning or two, and has time to settle in. He lasts seven innings, and while he allowed the same four runs through the first four innings, he records 21 total outs, and while he is not a high strikeout pitcher, he does collect six punchouts just by hanging around longer ... and his team pulls out a 6-4 win. While an ERA of 5.14 for that start is not good, it certainly does far less damage to your overall stats.
Therefore, if a pitcher has a walk rate that is higher than your baseline expectations, he should allow correspondingly fewer hits. Conversely, if a pitcher allows more than a hit an inning, you will want him to keep the number of walks very low. There is a trade-off. Allowing a few extra hits or allowing a few more walks can be acceptable - allowing both is a recipe for unacceptable performance. If you cannot reasonably expect a WHIP below 1.30, there is a very good chance that pitcher's stats will do more harm than good.
Here are some basic indicators of a pitcher's ability to generate a good WHIP:
- First pitch strikes are a very good basic indicator. When a pitcher consistently throws a strike on the first pitch to each hitter, his BAA is generally lower, and he is less likely to walk that batter. It seems pretty simple, yet pitching coaches continually urge their charges to throw strikes, especially to start off a hitter, and they are often frustrated when the pitcher can't or won't follow this premise.
- You often hear comments like, "You have to get to him early." Did you ever notice that they never say that referring to a pitcher with a poor WHIP? Early and late are the same for that guy. He won't be around long enough to matter, even if he does live on the edge for a few innings without giving up too many runs. The pitchers with excellent WHIPs often settle in quickly and then don't allow the opponent very many chances to score runs with extra baserunners.
- Higher K/9 rates can lead to a better WHIP. While the higher strikeout rate typically requires higher pitch counts, strikeouts do not dribble through the infield or fall softly between 3 fielders in no man's land. These pitchers may include guys with slightly higher walk rates, but they also tend to have some of the lowest BAA numbers. Remember you can accept one fault, but not both.
- Extreme groundball pitchers can also generate a positive WHIP. They tend to keep the ball down and have to command the strikezone leading to fewer walks. They may allow a few extra hits on seeing-eye grounders, however they also erase many of those baserunners via the pitcher's best friend - a clean double play ball for two outs on one pitch. In this case, the higher BAA must be offset by a lower walk rate so the extra outs can help to avoid high pitch count innings.
Opening Day is almost here!!! So, let's check this week's Scouting Notebook
Move them up a notch:
Jordan Zimmermann (WAS)
- He was heavily hyped going into the 2009 season and he looked pretty good early on. His numbers were probably below the expectations that came with the hype, but he showed promise before blowing out his elbow. He returned from TJ surgery after just 11 months, shook off some of the rust late last year, and now he appears poised to fulfill that considerable promise. He offers a solid low-mid 90's fastball and an improving change, but his best pitches are a wicked curve and a nasty slider. As his command returns, his performance will only get better, as he sets himself up to be the Nat's #2 starter (behind Strasburg) for the next few years. Get him now.
Scott Baker (MIN)
- Fantasy owners have been waiting for a breakout season from Baker for the past few years, and their patience may be about to pay off. He has always had reasonable control and a solid strikeout rate, but he allowed a few too many base runners, and too many of those runners came across to score when the extreme flyball pitcher let one sail into the seats at the old homer-dome. A minor elbow injury delayed an anticipated drop in HRs in 2010, but minor surgery cleared up those problems. Look for Baker to provide a nice return on your fantasy investment this year as he posts a very useful WHIP and ERA with a better than average K-rate.
Gio Gonzalez (OAK)
- You could say Gonzalez had a breakout season in 2010, but there are reasons to believe the best is yet to come. He still walks too many but he is becoming less hittable while keeping more balls in the park. As his command improved and his BAA dropped, his WHIP settled in at about 1.3 last year - that's a major step in the right direction. However, the most encouraging part of his season came as a result of a couple more inches on his fastball, and more consistent breaking pitches. Lefties often develop a bit more slowly so we think he could step up to the next level in 2011.
Koji Uehara (BAL)
- It appears he may be healthy heading into the season, and when he's healthy, he generally performs very well in the endgame. Therefore, we will make Uehara our first "closer in waiting" as the clock starts ticking on Kevin Gregg
. Uehara is not your typical flame-throwing closer - he rarely gets much above 90 on the radar gun - but he has a very deceptive delivery, he hides the ball very well, he generates a lot of movement, and he consistently hits his spots. That all adds up to effective. Gregg is almost always on the edge of disaster so Uehara will probably get a shot. Be ready.
Move them down a notch:
Josh Beckett (BOS) -
The Red Sox say they aren't concerned with Beckett's less than impressive spring numbers, and in most cases, with a proven veteran pitcher that's understandable. However, while he was staying ahead of hitters most of the time, he wasn't finishing them off, and his pitches were not always in the best locations. Those are reasons for concern. Assuming the back woes are behind him, Beckett is likely to improve on last year's numbers, but expecting a return to him being a top tier pitcher is probably not going to happen, and his reputation could still drive his price too high.
Mat Latos (SD)
- The Padres would have preferred to limit his innings last season, however with the pennant race going down to the final days, Latos experienced a pretty heavy workload. He was noticeably running out of gas late in the year, and he has now been suffering from shoulder inflammation. Shoulder injuries are among the most unpredictable. They often result in changes to the pitcher's mechanics to compensate for pain and those adjustments frequently impact overall command. It's difficult to judge the long term effects, but it might be wise to bump Latos down a notch on draft day.
Armando Galarraga (ARZ)
- He pitched a near perfect game last season, but that is very likely to be his only few minutes in the major league spotlight. In something of a surprise, he has apparently won the fifth starter job in Arizona, but he remains way too hittable and the D'Backs probably won't supply him with near enough runs to generate many wins. He will always be associated with that "almost" perfect game, but he should not be associated with your fantasy team.
Brad Lidge (PHI)
- Lidge has always created stress for his fantasy owners whether it was performance or injury related - or both. At times, the plate moves around on him, late last season he had a hyper-extended elbow, this spring he has suffered from biceps tendinitis. The nagging injuries and general ineffectiveness this spring suggest he could experience further inconsistency. He'll close as long as he can, but if you are counting heavily on him this year, it might be wise to have a "Plan B" in mind.
That's a wrap for this week, but for some of the most in-depth coverage of all things pitching in fantasy baseball for 2011, visit www.bogfella.com.