Pitching and more pitching. Is it time to change the way we value pitchers in fantasy baseball, and which big name hurlers might see their innings curtailed as the season wears on?
WHAT ARE WE DOING?
If judging by the following numbers who would you rather have on your squad?
A. 3.17 ERA, 1.21 WHIP, 8.67 K/9 in 116.1 IP
B. 3.14 ERA, 0.95 WHIP, 10.26 K/9 in 137.2 IP
C. 2.52 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 4.98 K/9 in 135.2 IP
D. 2.81 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 9.98 K/9 in 135.2 IP
You can make the argument pretty easy for Pitcher B as the best of the lot. He leads the group in WHIP, K/9 and IP. Then it's tough, isn't it? Pitcher A has solid numbers across the board, but there's also the fact that his ratios are the worst of the group. Pitcher C has great ratios, but that K/9 mark is embarrassingly low. Pitcher D is the second best option in my option, just a notch below Pitcher B. However, in the fantasy game, that's not how the pitchers are looked at. Why is that? It's the dreaded win category. Let's add that to the mix.
A. 14 wins, 1.21 WHIP, 8.67 K/9 in 116.1 IP
B. 14 wins, 0.95 WHIP, 10.26 K/9 in 137.2 IP
C. 13 wins, 1.08 WHIP, 4.98 K/9 in 135.2 IP
D. 6 wins, 2.81 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 9.98 K/9 in 135.2 IP
Is pitcher D still the second best pitcher? Not according to the fantasy game he isn't since wins are one of the five main categories we look at. Oh, by the way, the pitchers are.
A. Matt Moore
B. Max Scherzer
C. Bartolo Colon
D. Chris Sale
So what's the point here? The point is that a guy like Colon, who literally has half as many strikeouts as Sale (75 to 142), who is allowing batters to hit .040 points higher, who has a barely better ERA an a worse WHIP than Sale, has been just as valuable if not more so in the fantasy game because he has 13 victories and Sale has six. Does that seem remotely right to you? It doesn't to me. Last year we had Cliff Lee pitch terrifically but win only six games, killing his fantasy value. This year guys like Sale, Jose Fernandez (2.75 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, 8.86 K/9 but five wins) and Stephen Strasburg (2.97 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, 9.00 K/9 but five wins) are all pitching exceedingly well, but their fantasy value is muted because they don't have big win totals. Is that right? Should a guy like Chris Tillman (12 wins) or Lance Lynn (11 wins) be in the same discussion as the others merely because of their win total? I certainly don't believe so.
I know folks are moving away from doing the traditional 5x5 thing more often now, and I'm glad there is growth in the fantasy game as we continue to push past our comfort zone. When it comes to pitching, I think it's high time we remove the antiquated thought that wins and saves should be standard categories. They just are too random to really represent anything of note. Don't you agree that we should do our best to remove as much “white noise” as we can from our pitching analysis and value based judgments with the hurlers? Back in the day when no one knew what a spreadsheet was, before Bill James and sabermetrics seeped into out collective consciousness, wins and saves as categories were fine. But in today's age of computers and free data everywhere you look it's time we move on to valuating pitchers in a manner that is more reflective of their skill set than judging them by their W-L marks. After all, is it Chris Sale's fault that he's receiving fewer runs of support than any pitcher in the American League (2.78)? Conversely, should we be lauding Scherzer for his win loss mark when he has the highest RS mark in baseball (5.95)? I'll let you be the judge of that one.
INNINGS PITCHED CONCERNS
Last year the Nationals, infamously, shut down Stephen Strasburg late in the year to protect his arm. Did it help? Well the team failed to win in the playoffs without their best arm, and Strasburg has spent time on the shelf again this season (folks, it's a mechanical thing with Strasburg. He just doesn't throw the ball properly, and clearly he isn't going to change that. Arm issues are likely to follow him no matter how many pitches he throws). Whatever you think about teams managing their young arms carefully, the fact is that there are pitchers this season that appear on their way to being shut down. This is yet another reason by the way why I dislike H2H setups so much. A guy like Jose Fernandez helps to get you to the playoffs but then once you're there he's sitting on the bench spitting sunflower seeds. That seem fair to you? Certainly doesn't to me. But I digress...
Here are some names you might want to keep an eye on as the innings mount.
Gerrit Cole threw 132 innings last season, and he's currently on pace for about 190 this season. Would the Pirates, surging to the playoffs, take the chance that adding so many innings to a young hurlers arm won't have a negative effect? Apparently the Pirates, unlike the Nationals, might be willing to let their young ace go. “Everything has been monitored and measured systematically,” Pirates' manager Clint Hurdle said. We’re going to be smart... But there’s not anything saying right now that he’s going to be cut off prematurely.” In seven starts with the Pirates Cole has a 3.89 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP, league average marks, while his 5.40 K/9 ratio is terrible for a supposed top of the rotation arm that literally averages 96 mph on his heater.
Jose Fernandez is going to be held to around 160 according to the Marlins. He's currently at 104.2 innings meaning he's likely to have about 8-10 more trips to the bump.
Matt Harvey will be allowed to throw 220 innings according to the Mets. Pure Balderdash. There's just no way they would actually let him do that, would they? If they did they would be the antithesis of every other club in the big leagues who seem to shelter their young arms. Harvey has had a special season with a 2.23 ERA, 0.89 WHIP and 10.31 K/9 mark, but he's already at 137 innings a year after he tossed 169.1 innings. The Mets would be foolish to let their future increase his innings pitched mark by 50 this season – they have nothing to play for.
Shelby Miller has thrown 104.2 innings of fantastic work this season for the Cardinals, a year after he tossed 150.1 innings in the minors. The Cardinals have plans to be a force in the post-season, and they would really love to have their young stud available to help out the cause. I've yet to see a definitive shutdown point for Miller, but the club has been careful to rest him when they can, and we've seen that the have also done the same thing with another young potential star on the hill in Michael Wacha (the club had him skip a couple of turns in the rotation to keep his arm fresh). It would be wise to avoid expecting Miller to make every start the rest of the season in his scheduled slot.
BY THE NUMBERS
0.56: The best WHIP in baseball the last month complied by Clayton Kershaw over 39 innings. How amazing is that number? He's not the only one with a shocking WHIP over the past month. Check out these guys numbers: Jarrod Parker (0.79), Madison Bumgarner (0.83), Matt Moore (0.84), David Price (0.84), Matt Harvey (0.85) and lookie here, Scott Kazmir (0.90).
.599: The OPS of Mike Moustakas over the last calendar year covering 562 plate appearances – the worst mark in baseball for someone with 500 plate appearances. Wasn't he supposed to be something of a hitter? Moose has a .329... SLG. Not his batting average or OBP but his slugging percentage is .329. Oh, he's also hit .212 with a .270 OBP with a mere 11 homers and 41 RBI. Why on earth do the Royals just keep running him out there?
1.123: I know it's insane to think, but that's the OPS of Raul Ibanez over his last 97 plate appearances. Not only is he hitting .326 but he has a .402 OBP and .721 SLG as he has lifted nine balls into the seats, leading to 17 RBI and 15 runs scored. On the year he's up to 24 homers, the most he's hit since 2009 as he averaged 18 homers a season the past three campaigns. Oh, and he's 41 years old.
2.88: The ERA of Jake Westbrook in 13 starts this season. It's actually one of the most remarkable numbers in baseball. Why? Check out the pathetic work he's tossed out there this season: 3.32 K/9, 3.65 BB/9 (yes he's walked more than he has struck out) and a 1.40 WHIP. He's also never finished a season with a HR/9 mark below 0.64 but right now that number is 0.33. If you're starting him you had better be desperate.
8: The number of RBI that Juan Pierre has in 268 at-bats. With the Marlins calling up Christian Yelich and Jake Marisneck on Tuesday, it's safe to speculate that Pierre may have seen the last everyday gig of his career. Speaking of the abject failure he has been as a run producer, there have only been seven seasons in baseball, since 1950, in which a player had 300 plate appearances and failed to record at least 10 RBI. It's only happened once since 1990 as Jarrod Dyson knocked in all of nine runners last season over 330 plate appearances. Hey, at least he stole 30 bases (Pierre currently has 18 thefts on his ledger).
Ray Flowers can be heard daily on Sirius/XM Radio on The Fantasy Drive on Sirius 210 and XM 87, Monday through Friday. Ray's analysis can be found at BaseballGuys.com and his minute to minute musings can be located at the BaseballGuys' Twitter account.