This article is part of our MLB Daily Games Strategy series.
It's human nature to look for patterns in everything. I wrote about this phenomenon a while back with respect to hitting streaks. Runs of games in which a player safely hits will happen randomly, just like runs of heads or tails will happen if you flip a coin 162 times in a row. They're both inherently unpredictable, though people have and will speculate that being in the midst of a hitting streak changes the hitter's confidence. But perhaps the stress of maintaining the streak is harmful to swing mechanics. I imagine those things would vary from player to player in-you guessed it, an unpredictable manner.
Even knowing all that, I couldn't help myself from wondering if there was any useful information to be gleaned from looking at past years' pitching trends. It's what we do, so I did it, and will share some of my observations from 2013. Here's what I was thinking. The last two months of the season sees some teams playoff bound, some teams on the bubble, and some teams done for this year. What happens with their pitching staffs over the end of the regular season? Are ace arms still going deep in games? Are new prospects getting some run in the majors successful? If we can answer some of these questions, we could use the information in our DFS SP decisions. Perhaps find some value and avoid some high priced busts.
Unfortunately, there really aren't exploitable patterns in SP performance for me to report to you.
- For the Tanner Roarks and Sonny Grays that emerged in the 2nd half of last season, there were also the Tom Koehlers and Brandon Mauers that generally disappointed.
- Ubaldo Jimenez, Kris Medlen, and Gerritt Cole came on strong in the final two months of the 2013 season, dramatically outperforming their season-long rank, but nothing differentiates them from the other average SP that didn't blow us away last August/September.
- Three of the top 10 ranked SP over the last two months of the 2013 season were top 10 season long, but six were top 20. This suggests that the ace pitchers are still behaving like aces in the final stretch of the season (Clayton Kershaw, David Price, Adam Wainwright), even when they're not on playoff bound teams (Jordan Zimmermann, Cliff Lee, C.J. Wilson).
- New prospects seem to rarely be worth targeting, especially for DFS. They are unlikely to pitch deep into games, are often called up on teams not in the playoffs with spotty run support (making it hard to get wins), and are facing higher caliber hitters than they're used to.
- Pitchers heralded for their deception, like Tony Cingrani last year, are good targets in their first few starts, but once teams can scout their stuff, their success tapers off.
It's safe to continue paying for pitching, particularly in good matchups. I know this past Sunday saw some high priced disappointments, even in pretty good situations (that means you, Stephen Strasburg), but otherwise, aces are aces for a reason. I personally don't think Strasburg fits that description this year and don't think I've used him since the ASB.
A few guys to keep an eye on for the rest of the 2014 DFS season are Michael Fiers, Carlos Carrasco, and Tsuyoshi Wada. Each has pitched well in the last month for near minimum salary. I've used Carrasco twice, and Fiers in his most recent start. They're great on two pitcher sites, where you can pair one with Chris Sale, Kershaw, etc. Jerome Williams is also an interesting case. He finished last season strong, but isn't regarded as a 'good' pitcher. So far as a starter in 2014 he's handled the A's, Mariners, and Cardinals with ease, but gotten shelled by the Rangers. He was just average vs. the Angels. That makes it hard to even give a match-up dependent recommendation. His three best games were at home, but so was his worst.
While we're aways looking for patterns and opportunities, I think that the point of this article is that you have to keep doing what you've been doing. Target heavily favored pitchers in low scoring games, which should encompass the park factors and opponent's strength. Most nights there are safer options than a rookie vs a good offense. It's hard to win without solid pitching, but solid pitching doesn't guarantee anything, as my lineup from last night clearly shows... two good SP in Peavy and Liriano, but not a single decent hitter amongst my SF, SEA, and BOS mini-stacks. Ah well. Today's a new day!