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Charging the Mound: The Case For Fewer Strikes

Chris Liss

Chris Liss is RotoWire's Managing Editor and Host of RotoWIre Fantasy Sports Today on Sirius XM radio.

Jeff Erickson

Jeff Erickson is a co-founder of RotoWire and the only two-time winner of Baseball Writer of the Year from the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. He's also in the FSWA Hall of Fame. He roots for the Reds, Bengals, Red Wings, Pacers and Northwestern University (the real NU).

-----Original Message-----
From: "Christopher Liss"
Sent: Tuesday, June 21, 2011 4:43am
To: "Jeff Erickson"
Subject: Charging the Mound

Today on the radio, we talked to Brad Evans about Zack Greinke's bizarre season - 70:9 K:BB in 53.1 and a 5.23 ERA. There's plenty of bad luck - .a 383 BABIP and .593 strand rate don't happen even to the worst scrubs in the league - but at what point do we look at a line like this and conclude Greinke's not issuing enough walks? We see it with Ricky Nolasco, the king of "bad luck", every year, and pitchers like James Shields (but not this year), Kevin Slowey, Scott Baker and Aaron Harang have fit the profile in the past. They have great K:BB ratios, but give up too many hits and home runs. Do pitchers have a level of walks (say, 2.0 BB/9 for Greinke) below which he's ill-advised to go? In other words, if the hitter knows a strike is coming, doesn't that make his job a lot easier? Of course, Roy Halladay is probably the best pitcher of his generation, and he hardly walks anyone. But if you're not locating as well as Halladay, might you have to pitch out of the strike zone a certain amount to keep hitters honest, so to speak?

What do you make of Trevor Cahill walking seven and striking out none in his previous start, then dominating with seven Ks and one walk the next? Do pitchers need to hit rock bottom before they turn it around sometimes, or do they improve incrementally, start by start, gradually showing more command and dominance? What's more common? Is there any rhyme or reason to it? And how did I know to pick up Cahill and start him in YF&F yesterday?

If you're a Josh Beckett owner, would you rather him miss a month with an oblique injury or Monday's start against the Padres due to illness?

Did Tim Hudson (8 IP, 8K, 2 H, 1 BB, 0 ER, 2-run HR in a 2-0 win) play one of the best regular season games in modern major-league history? A shutout through eight plus a two-run homer against an ace who shut down the rest of your team has got to be worth more than a nine-inning shutout, right? They should add pitcher home runs to their game scores.

Are Chicago players like Adam Dunn, Gordon Beckham, Alex Rios and Juan Pierre for the White Sox and Aramis Ramirez and Geovany Soto for the Cubs going to be what most expected now that the weather's warmer? If so, why didn't the bad weather hurt Alfonso Soriano, Paul Konerko and Carlos Quentin? Or are those guys going to take it to another level, too?

Rank these middle-infield eligible players, all of whom I own in my 15-team mixed home league: Derek Jeter, Chone Figgins, J.J. Hardy, Ryan Raburn, Scott Sizemore, Dee Gordon, Ty Wigginton, And please tell me which three to start each week. Thanks.

-----Original Message-----
Sent: Wednesday, June 22, 2011 2:38pm
To: "Christopher Liss"
Subject: RE: Charging the Mound

David Sklansky writes in The Theory of Poker that a successful poker player needs to bluff a certain percentage of the time. If one only bets when they have it, they eventually won't get paid off on their big hands. If they bluff all the time, they'll get picked off enough by their opponents to become a losing player. The analogy here is that pitching out of the strike zone occasionally is like bluffing - you have to do it to keep hitters honest, but if you do it too much, hitters will just lay off. Sure, you can be that one player (Halladay) that really does have it (the winning hand, the unbeatable stuff within the strike zone) all the time, but most pitchers don't have that "always run good." Greinke might actually have the stuff to be in the strike zone all of the time like Halladay, but those other extreme strike throwers do not. So it's not necessarily a case of needing more walks, but yes, some pitchers do need to be out of the strike zone more often. Otherwise, their upside is that they are Bob Tewskbury or Rick Reed in their best years, with similar downsides.

Cahill had been good to start the season and of course was great last year, so that he bounced back after a couple of awful starts last weekend isn't that mind-bending. I don't know whether a pitcher has to hit rock bottom when he's going bad before bouncing back or not - I would guess that it's something you can't generalize, but rather something that varies from pitcher to pitcher. But I really have no way of knowing - you'd have to first know what rock bottom is if you were going to assert that theory.

How did you know to pick up Cahill in time for that start? Well, first, you've believed in him to begin with, so the barrier to believe is presumably lower for you than others. It also helps that you need innings in that league - lots of them. In a league with a 1250 innings cap, somehow you're projected to finish 71.1 innings short at your current pace. Finally, the Giants' lineup sucks. They've scored just 250 runs so far this season - last in the majors. So I'm not going to confer any sort of savant label for you picking Cahill up to start against them.

The Beckett missed start would be annoying if I had him anywhere, but I don't, so I'm pretty glad you missed out on that start in F&F. But if it were me, I'd still rather miss out on one truly excellent, near sure-thing start than miss a month with an oblique injury - if for no other reason than the strikeouts alone that you'd miss out on. I think that you'd need a more marginal pitcher for that equation to matter more - maybe someone like Ervin Santana.

Looking at the Chicago boys, it looks like Konerko somehow has managed to find that other level, now with five homers in as many days. I have to admit, I missed out on this one. I projected him to return to 2009 levels, rather than repeat last year, let alone outpace what he did last year. Was it really just health that kept him at the .840 OPS level from 2007 through 2009? How likely is it for a player to have his best years at 34 and 35 years old? If you were drafting today for the rest of this season, how early would he go? At the same level of Ryan Howard? How about vs. Kevin Youkilis, who you own in F&F? I get that Youkilis being at 3B now enhances his value, but Konerko clearly has the superior stats. Anyhow, the weather is indeed warmer in Chicago now after a miserable first couple of months, and so I tend to think that will help some of those slumpers, but you raised a good point - it's not as if the weather applied equally to all Chicago players. For what it's worth, I just turned down an offer for Beckham in one league.

I don't know what to make of Jeter's calf injury, but if I could know that he'd be close or fully healthy in 2-to-3 weeks, then I'd put him first still among those middle infielders, because of the runs that he'll score batting leadoff in front of that awesome lineup. Otherwise, I'd go with Wigginton, Hardy, Gordon, Sizemore, Figgins (seeing him get benched two of the last three games can't be good, with Ackley now up), then finally Raburn. I can't go higher on Gordon because I don't know what happens to him once Rafael Furcal next gets off the DL. He could even get sent back down to Triple-A, probably just for a short period of time, but maybe as long as until September. The Dodgers are in a pretty weird place right now - 6.5 games out, seven games under .500, with clearly no money to spend at the trade deadline. So they should be sellers - but what do they have to sell? Casey Blake? Furcal? Juan Uribe is stuck with them after his bad contract (three years, $21M) signed just this offseason. So I could see them being stuck with all these veteran infield options, squeezing out Gordon. It shouldn't be that way, but I don't see them just benching Blake or Uribe to make room.

-----Original Message-----
From: "Christopher Liss"
Sent: Wednesday, June 22, 2011 8:23pm
Subject: Re: Charging the Mound

That's alright, I'll confer the savant label on myself. Did you see how I picked up Andrew Miller and Rick Porcello this week, and both were just one or two outs away from getting a win? Seriously, is there anything more annoying than when your guy gets pulled mid-fourth inning with a lead, or even the middle of another inning when it's tied? Interleague play is great for spot starting in that league though, as I got a great one out of Cahill and a good one out of John Danks last week. Tomorrow, I'm rolling the dice on Chris Capuano at home against the A's. What could possibly go wrong?

The Beckett question was a joke, by the way. Of course, a month is worth more than a start against the Padres. That you answered it earnestly shows you're not all the way back from your golf trip to Oregon. Or maybe you ate some Liberty Caps, and you're still tripping.

Konerko is a strange one - sort of a poor man's Jose Bautista. I think I'd still take Howard, Prince Fielder, Joey Votto, Miguel Cabrera, Adrian Gonzalez and a healthy Pujols ahead of him, but Howard/Konerko would be close. I'd take Konerko over Youkilis probably if as you pointed out, Youkilis didn't also quality at third.

I actually put J.J. Hardy at the top of that list - he's healthy now, and he's hitting very well. And it's not unprecedented as he hit 50 homers over two seasons with the Brewers. After that, I'd probably go Wigginton who was a 20-HR player at sea level. Unless Ian Stewart takes his job, I think he's a good bet to hit 25 homers in that park. Next I'd go Jeter, too, but Gordon could steal 30 bases if he keeps the job and make a bigger impact. Sometimes injuries solve playing time problems in the long run, and what the team does with its veterans is moot.

-----Original Message-----
Sent: Thursday, June 23, 2011 2:18am
To: "Christopher Liss"
Subject: Re: Charging the Mound

It may take me more than a month to get all the way back from my golf trip. I'm not sure I want to be all the way back from Bandon Dunes. So, guilty as charged on that one. But that's your fault for not using the #sarcasm tag.

By the way, I tried the Porcello steal-a-win plan (home, against Seattle no less) with equally annoying results. I do agree with you about finding good spots in interleague play, though. It also works in finding possible extra at-bats, with the likes of Wily Mo Pena and Jason Giambi. But it's pretty sad that many NL teams can't find someone even of that level to give their DH bats to. Bringing back the Dodgers, who exactly is good enough to get those at-bats? You can do this exercise with a good percentage of the NL teams.

We're not that far off on the MI rankings of the guys you listed. It's hard to believe that the Twins basically gave away Hardy this offseason. I understand that the Twins lost relievers via the free agent market, but 28-year old relief prospects are not prospects. Giving up your starting shortstop for one is lunacy.