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Collette Calls: The Great Divide

Jason Collette

Jason Collette

Jason has been helping fantasy owners since 1999 at RotoJunkie, Fanball, Baseball Prospectus and now here at RotoWire. He covers the Tampa Bay Rays at You can hear Jason weekly on many of the Sirius/XM Fantasy channel offerings throughout the season as well as on the Towers of Power Baseball Hour Podcast on iTunes. He was selected as the Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year by FSWA in 2013.

Yesterday, Chris Liss, Michael Salfino, Peter Kreutzer, Eno Sarris and Rudy Gamble got into a lengthy and very informative discussion on pitching values. The conversation was rooted in this initial tweet from Salfino:

The discussion was fascinating to follow and you could glean quite a bit from it if you go follow the entire thread on Twitter (you do not need an account to read it). Mixed in the entire exchange was this nugget from Liss:

In recent weeks, Liss has been very outspoken about his belief that pitchers are undervalued in drafts. He has brought it up several times on the SiriusXM radio show, and has written a few posts as well. There was even an earlier twitter exchange with some different players with a lot of the same information. It intrigues me because I've been executing pitching heavy strategies in mock drafts all winter, ending up with four starting pitchers and four bats at the end of the first third of the draft. AL Tout Wars should be interesting with Liss, Erickson, and I all at the same draft table...

One thing that is influencing the argument this spring is how quality starting pitchers are dropping like flies. Every day we boot up the computer or the television, we are greeted with news of another pitcher that is hurt. Here is the top-25 from the RotoWire magazine that was printed in late December:

1. Clayton Kershaw
2. Yu Darvish
3. Cliff Lee
4. Stephen Strasburg
5. Adam Wainwright
6. Felix Hernandez
7. Chris Sale
8. Max Scherzer
9. Jose Fernandez
10. Madison Bumgarner
11. Mike Minor*
12. Hisashi Iwakuma*
13. Zack Greinke*
14. Jordan Zimmermann
15. Masahiro Tanaka
16. James Shields
17. Kris Medlen*
18. Jered Weaver
19. Cole Hamels*
20. Gio Gonzalez
21. Justin Verlander*
22. Doug Fister*
23. Hyun-Jin Ryu
24. Gerrit Cole
25. Matt Cain

The top-10 pitchers on the list have all gotten through camp without injury, thus far. It's that second tier of pitchers that has taken a beating as seven of the next 12 pitchers have had one issue or another.

Minor: An issue that is too unpleasant to spell out
Iwakuma: Got his finger caught in the netting while trying to jump up to catch a baseball
Greinke: Groin
Medlen: Possible torn UCL
Hamels: Biceps tendonitis
Verlander: Core muscle surgery in offseason (hence low ranking)
Fister: Elbow inflammation

All but Verlander and Minor are strong candidates to open the season on the disabled list.
The reason most leagues go with something around a 70/30 split for hitters and pitchers is a mixture of the unpredictability of pitching stats as well as the increased injury risk.

Pitching is not a natural motion for the arm. Trevor Bauer recently posted an outstanding video that shows how he does what he does with a baseball. While his stats are all over the place, his understanding of pitching is very good. Note the slo-mo portions of the video below and the action the arm takes during pronation in order to save the long-term impacts on the shoulder.


We have become spoiled in recent years with the success rates of surgery. A guy needs Tommy John? No big deal – see him next year. Tell that to Cory Luebke, Daniel Hudson or Ryan Madson. Jeremy Hellickson had a minor elbow cleanup in January to remove a couple of chips; he has yet to throw off a mound as of mid-March and is not expected back on the active roster until after Memorial Day. The inherent risks of pitchers is simply greater than that of hitters because every pitch they throw is a potential incident. There is no way Kris Medlen woke up on Monday knowing that he might be throwing his last pitches of 2014. It just happens, and experienced fantasy baseball players have been burned more than once investing into pitchers. Jeff Ma of “21” fame pulled off what Liss discussed a few years back in Tout Wars when he spent 52% of his budget on pitching and was still in contention for first place heading into the final week of the season.

A look back to last year's results is another reminder of why owners are scared to invest in pitching each year.

These are the pitchers that owners spent at least $15 on during the 2013 Tout Wars auctions and their final dollar values for the season.

Verlander, Justin (DET)SP2911-18
Kershaw, Clayton (LA)SP28291
Strasburg, Stephen (WAS)SP2813-15
Price, David (TB)SP289-19
Hamels, Cole (PHI)SP2610-16
Darvish, Yu (TEX)SP2422-2
Hernandez, Felix (SEA)SP2416-8
Lee, Cliff (PHI)SP2321-2
Cain, Matt (SF)SP235-18
Wainwright, Adam (STL)SP21221
Weaver, Jered (ANA)SP206-14
Latos, Mat (CIN)SP1913-6
Scherzer, Max (DET)SP18257
Gonzalez, Gio (WAS)SP1810-8
Dickey, R.A. (TOR)SP187-11
Bumgarner, Madison (SF)SP17181
Sabathia, CC (NY-A)SP172-15
Moore, Matt (TB)SP168-8
Cueto, Johnny (CIN)SP16-3-19
Sale, Chris (CHI-A)SP15172
Shields, James (KC)SP1513-2
Medlen, Kris (ATL)SP1511-4
Gallardo, Yovani (MIL)SP152-13

That group cost owners $473 to roster and returned a loss of $186 as their cumulative final dollar value was just $287. 10 of the pitchers returned double-digit losses in value, bookended by the reigning Cy Young Award winners from each league. Just five of the 23 pitchers returned a profit for owners, led by the current reigning Cy Young Award winner in Scherzer.

Where were the pitching profits in 2013 for mixed league? Hanging around in the end game, of course.

Fernandez, Jose (MIA)SP01818
Iwakuma, Hisashi (SEA)SP31916
Masterson, Justin (CLE)SP01212
Colon, Bartolo (OAK)SP01212
Harvey, Matt (NY-N)SP71811
Corbin, Patrick (AZ)SP11211
Liriano, Francisco (PIT)SP01111
Ryu, Hyun-Jin (LA)SP01111
Tillman, Chris (BAL)SP01111
Sanchez, Anibal (DET)SP61610
Griffin, A.J. (OAK)SP01010
Jimenez, Ubaldo (CLE)SP01010

Eight of the top-12 starting pitching profits in 2013 went undrafted during the active phase of the 15-team mixed league auction.

78% of the top pitchers returned losses while 81% of the pitchers that were drafted for $3 or less returned profits including double-digit profits by eight undrafted pitchers.

In theory, putting more value on pitchers makes sense because 50% of fantasy stats are generated by pitchers, but you can't blame the marketplace for being resistant to change based on the performance indicators.