First things first, if you haven't read our very own Jason Collette's article titled "The Great Divide" please do so now. I'll wait. Good? Jason's a pretty smart guy, eh? I mean, he likes the Rays, but nobody is perfect.
Anyway, if you haven't been living under a rock then you've definitely heard Chris Liss talk on SiriusXM about the virtues of using a 50/50 split in auction dollars when it comes to pitchers and hitters. To be clear, Liss is suggesting a 50/50 split with the top end starters only. He's not (I repeat not) advocating spending $18 dollars on Rick Porcello; he's not that crazy.
However, I do find myself on the other side of his argument. Looking at last season's Tout Wars mixed league auction values from Collette's article, Max Scherzer was the only pitcher to go for at least $15 and return a profit greater than $2 (Scherzer returned a $7 profit). Clayton Kershaw, Adam Wainwright (coming off an injury), and Madison Bumgarner returned $1 in profit and Chris Sale returned $2. That leaves 18 other pitchers that went for at least $15 and failed to break even, 10 of which were double-digit losers. That doesn't exactly inspire me to go out and outbid everyone for multiple "aces" anytime soon.
Now, I'm not saying it's foolish to aggressively pursue the top pitchers just because the top guys weren't value plays last season. I did a mixed league mock draft back in February and took Jose Fernandez and Chris Sale in the third and fourth rounds. It was a 15-team mixed league, which is a little deeper than most, and I felt it was important to make sure I had two top pitchers. Many owners in a mixed league are likely to get at least one ace pitcher depending on the size of the league and depending on the number of pitchers that you consider to be true aces, the pool is just that much deeper. As I said in my write up of the mock at the time, in mixed leagues there is a great deal of importance placed on how good your second best pitcher is.
In an "only" league, the dynamic is very different. In AL-only this year, there are really only six pitchers that Liss will be using his strategy on (I assume): Yu Darvish, Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez, Chris Sale, and David Price. Price's velocity seems to have returned this spring, but even he's iffy despite the fact that he won the Cy Young in 2012. The scarcity of top pitchers is real, but the reliability of pitchers is always in question. You don't want to pay for Verlander if he has another 4.49 ERA from May through August and only wins 13 games. Sale's mechanics are the stuff of nightmares, Scherzer threw 200 innings and an ERA below 3.50 for the first time last year (he's 29), Felix had a 5.77 ERA over his last eight starts in 2013, and Darvish walked 9.5% of batters faced last year. These are the best pitchers in the league and I'm picking nits, but the point that even the top pitchers aren't without risk stands.
The fact that pitchers are inherently riskier than batters in a given year is a big part of the reasoning for the standard 65-70/35-30 split. There's also the fact that there are more strikeouts in the game than ever before (the strikeout rate has increased every year since 1993) and that pitchers can only contribute in four categories at best, which is why I cringe every time I hear Liss say that 50 percent of stats come from pitchers. I've yet to see a pitcher contribute both wins and saves.
I found this exchange between Liss and Mike Gianella, of Baseball Prospectus and Roto Think Tank, particularly insightful regarding both sides of this argument. Mike is a good source as he's probably more obsessed with auction values than anyone I know or will meet in the future.
Tweeting this again for article purposes pic.twitter.com/jI4SY8xwqj— Nick Shlain (@electricsnuff) March 20, 2014