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How to Win 2014: WHIP

Your success in WHIP hangs by a thread, stands on a razor’s edge, and a bunch of other violence-threatening metaphors for the imminent likelihood of disaster. 

You’ve noticed by now that baseball has changed in the last few years, and fantasy baseball with it. Pitchers are dominating like the 90’s never happened. The league average (min. 100 IP) starter WHIP was 1.29. For fantasy-viable starters (taking the top 100 SP by FIP as a proxy) it was 1.22. In one competitive roto-style league I played in last year, the WHIP winner had a team number of 1.12—last place was 1.28, or pretty much MLB average. I swear that number would have been competitive just five years ago. 

Expanding out of just my personal experience, let’s say the range of likely team WHIP scores (from last year) was 1.10-1.30. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for error. Hence the menacing metaphors of my intro. By the way, you’ve got the same WHIP-related stress whether you play the game week-by-week in head-to-head formats or all year long in a roto format. If it seems like one bad WHIP guy can kill you…well, he can. Thank you bargain-priced Tim Lincecum.

WHIP is a tricky category, composed in equal parts of two very different aspects of pitching: walk allowance and hitting allowance. The first variable, walks, is highly correlated from one year to the next—hits allowed are a different story. So, to try to catch a little more signal than noise, let’s examine the WHIP leaders over the course of the last three years. 

WHIP 2011-13 (min. 200 IP)

 

Name

WHIP

1

Clayton Kershaw

0.97

2

Jered Weaver

1.05

3

Cliff Lee

1.05

4

Stephen Strasburg

1.07

5

Hisashi Iwakuma

1.07

6

Justin Verlander

1.09

7

Cole Hamels

1.09

8

Matt Cain

1.09

9

Kris Medlen

1.09

10

Chris Sale

1.10

11

Brandon Beachy

1.11

12

Marco Estrada

1.11

13

David Price

1.11

14

Madison Bumgarner

1.12

15

Johnny Cueto

1.13

16

A.J. Griffin

1.13

17

Jordan Zimmermann

1.13

18

Kyle Lohse

1.14

19

James Shields

1.15

20

Adam Wainwright

1.15

21

Jake Peavy

1.16

Check out the analysis below the fold….

It’s interesting to note that the WHIP leaders don’t match up exactly with the top fantasy aces—I mean, did you really expect to see Marco Estrada and A.J. Griffin on this list? I sure didn’t. 

It just goes to show that you can’t just draft quality pitchers and expect WHIP to fall into place—like any other category, you have to seek out these points intentionally. 

To do that better, let’s check out the top pitchers of the last three years by WHIP’s components: walks and hits (min. 400 IP in the since 2011).

            Walk %                                                                                    BABIP

 

Name

BB%

WHIP

 

 

Name

BABIP

WHIP

1

Cliff Lee

3.9%

1.05

 

1

Jered Weaver

0.252

1.05

2

Brandon McCarthy

4.0%

1.23

 

2

Matt Cain

0.260

1.09

3

Dan Haren

4.2%

1.17

 

3

Clayton Kershaw

0.260

0.97

4

Bartolo Colon

4.3%

1.22

 

4

Ervin Santana

0.261

1.21

5

Bronson Arroyo

4.5%

1.24

 

5

Jeremy Hellickson

0.263

1.25

6

Kyle Lohse

4.7%

1.14

 

6

Travis Wood

0.266

1.25

7

Adam Wainwright

4.9%

1.15

 

7

Kyle Lohse

0.269

1.14

8

Doug Fister

4.9%

1.19

 

8

Johnny Cueto

0.271

1.13

9

Jordan Zimmermann

4.9%

1.13

 

9

R.A. Dickey

0.273

1.17

10

Mark Buehrle

5.3%

1.27

 

10

Tim Hudson

0.274

1.17

11

Ricky Nolasco

5.4%

1.33

 

11

Justin Verlander

0.275

1.09

12

Mike Leake

5.6%

1.26

 

12

Josh Beckett

0.276

1.20

13

Cole Hamels

5.6%

1.09

 

13

Ricky Romero

0.277

1.39

14

Hiroki Kuroda

5.6%

1.18

 

14

Bronson Arroyo

0.277

1.24

That walk rate is a lot more predictable than BABIP, so that’s always the best place to start when looking for good WHIP numbers…right? 

Maybe not. The three-year BABIP rates actually look like a better source for quality WHIP numbers. You might not be able to definitely can’t trust a single year of BABIP data, but the more you see something the more of a trend it becomes. It’s no surprise to see Jered Weaver and Matt Cain top the list above, and it doesn’t make sense not to predict that those guys will outperform their strikeout and walk numbers. They do this every year.           

I’d watch out for guys that manage to post elite BABIP’s but not elite WHIP’s. Ricky Romero is the extreme example, but Hellickson, Wood, Santana, and Beckett should all be approached with caution--though Santana's numbers are a bit skewed by his horrific 2012. 

The same can be said for pitchers with great walk rates and high WHIP’s. Nolasco, in particular, looks really hittable based on the numbers above. How Arroyo manages to have a WHIP that’s below average for a fantasy starter and yet make it to both top-14 lists is beyond me. (But see below that his WHIP was much better than this in 2013.) 

The lesson here is that both components of WHIP need to be examined, but getting someone on the extreme end of either hits or walks is no guarantee of excellence in WHIP.

How to Keep Your WHIP in Balance 

The first way to do this can come at the expense of your counting categories—just don’t get that many starters, and make sure the ones you do get are really good.

The second way comes at the expense of your hitting—expand your pitching budget and increase your chances of dominating those categories.

But you can get a great WHIP without sacrificing other categories too. (Though it may not be enough for you to win the category; someone in your league is probably going to try one or both of the strategies above.)

Rack Up Relief Innings 

This one comes pretty close to being the first sacrificial strategy above, but it doesn’t have to be. Nab, say, four quality starters in your draft, but stock up on relievers (closers and otherwise) with high K/BB ratios. They’ll add as many whiffs as relievers can and hold down your WHIP in a significant way.

Here are some non-closers who can help you out in this strategy: Mark Melancon, Casey Fien, Junichi Tazawa, and Luke Hochevar. Unsurprisingly, closers themselves comprise most of the best relievers with elite K/BB numbers and elite K/9 rates, so I recommend this strategy only when you’re already willing to draft a couple closers. If you do, your best target is Koji Uehara with his insanely good 11.22 K/BB to go with an elite 12.23 K/9. Kenley Jansen, Greg Holland, Trevor Rosenthal, Glen Perkins, and Craig Kimbrel will all help with this strategy as well.

Targeted Streaming

You can supplement your relief corps (or just your starters) with some targeted streaming—maybe one or two starts per week. Look for the best overall matchups on the waiver wire, paying particular attention to the opposing team’s walk and strikeout rates. In a shallow league, you’re likely to have several decent options if you make your pickups a few days early. In a deep league…well, at least you’ll have more roster slots for starters who can give you wins and whiffs. 

Without Relievers: Addition by Subtaction 

Maybe you don’t want to pay anything for saves, or maybe you’ve got weekly changes, or very limited RP slots, or whatever…can you get a good WHIP without relievers?

You bet. You can keep your WHIP under control not by who you draft, but by who you don’t draft. I mentioned at the beginning that MLB WHIP numbers have gotten better in recent years, and you’ve got to go with that flow. Sure, Tim Lincecum’s 1.32 WHIP doesn’t look that bad…but it is. In fact, it’s almost ten points worse than what ought to be (roughly) average for a fantasy starter. 

Guys like Lincecum, with lousy walk or hit rates and great strikeout rates, are cheap for a reason: they hurt your WHIP. Even a couple of these guys can drag you down a lot. Here are a few more pitchers who might be worth staying away from next year: Gio Gonzalez, Ivan Nova, Matt Moore, Lance Lynn, Ubaldo Jimenez, C.J. Wilson, Felix Doubront, Yovani Gallardo, Jeff Samardzija, Hector Santiago, and Edwin Jackson.

If this looks like the sort of guys I advocated in How to Win: Strikeouts, well, they are. After the best couple waves of pitchers are gone, you’ll mostly have to choose between the two categories. Pitchers who help in WHIP and strikeouts are expensive for a reason.

If you do choose WHIP, here are a few lower-end guys who could help in the category (at least, they did last year): Andrew Cashner, A.J. Griffin, Chris Archer, Alex Cobb, Bronson Arroyo, Ervin Santana, Hiroki Kuroda, Patrick Corbin, Bartolo Colon, Randall Delgado, and Tim Hudson.

All these pitchers had WHIP’s under 1.20 last season, and they all did it with low walk rates and low (but not unbelievably low) BABIP’s. Most of them pitched (and most will pitch next year) in favorable parks. 

Good luck with your WHIP next year, but be glad you won’t need it as much as you will in our next category: Runs Scored.


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