Strikeouts


Point/Counterpoint: Pay for Saves?

Fantasy baseball has changed so much over the past decade. When I started playing this game, I used to be adamantly against paying for saves. While others paid big bucks for Mariano Rivera and Billy Wagner, I always seemed to end up with the likes of Joe Borowski and Todd Jones. More often than not, however, I could still compete in the pitching categories by getting better results from my starting pitchers. DIPS theory was not quite mainstream at the time, so it was easier to fill out a staff with sabermetric darlings back then.

Andrew: Premium Closers Are Worth the Price

For a variety of reasons, I'm of the mindset that paying for saves is now the optimal strategy. For one, today's game is far different from the one we watched at the turn of the millennium. Last year's leaguewide .714 OPS was the lowest since 1992. To be more specific, though, the most glaring difference about today's game is the dramatic rise in strikeout rate. Seemingly every pitching prospect is able to throw in the high 90s, and power has dipped substantially with rules now in place to severely penalize for use of PEDs.

With a strikeout now taking place roughly once every five plate appearances, there have been several key fantasy ramifications. Power is scarce. A .260 AVG is actually good, not bad. More and more pristine results are required to compete in the pitching categories. Above all else, though, perhaps no category has been more impacted than strikeouts. In particular, the strikeout rates of closers have gone through the roof. A quick glance at the leaders in SIERA among relievers from last year reveals that 10 of the top 13 are current closers, all of whom had a K/9 over 10. It sounds weird to say, but in today's Roto game a closer who fails to strike out a batter per inning is actually damaging to a fantasy roster in that category.

To illustrate, let's take a look at the following scenarios:

Option A: Draft Craig Kimbrel (ADP 55) in Round 5 and then Danny Salazar (ADP 146) in Round 13

Composite Steamer Projections: 18 Wins / 28 SV / 285 K / 2.99 ERA / 1.13 WHIP in 238 innings

Option B: Draft Felix Hernandez (ADP 51) in Round 5 and then Jim Johnson (ADP 146) in Round 13

Composite Steamer Projections: 18 Wins / 28 SV / 236 K / 3.26 ERA / 1.18 WHIP in 257 innings

So yeah, I'm cherry-picking, but I think there's a point here. Wins and saves are rather whimsical while ERA and WHIP may not be all that different if other names are selected. Having said that, I'm a firm believer that a fantasy owner gains a significant edge in the strikeout category by drafting an elite closer like Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman, or Kenley Jansen. Particularly in leagues with innings caps, stellar innings from a lights-out closer are incredibly valuable.  

Luckey: Don't Pay for Saves

In theory, paying for saves can be a good bet when you know it will work. However, like most fantasy baseball projections, it’s hard to know when to draft a player for maximum value – and therein lies the rub. Before you draft your first closer this year, keep in mind three important things. First, closers have among the worst job security in baseball and can lose the ninth quickly. Second, the shelf life of a reliever is short and when they start to get worse – it happens in a hurry (see Trevor Hoffman in 2010 or Heath Bell in 2012). Third, closers become available throughout the season and are, therefore, much easier to find on the waiver wire than a top starting pitcher. So be sure to use that early draft pick on some consistent power or a sabermetric darling and minimize your risk.

1. Closers Have Poor Job Security – Sure drafting a Kimbrel or Chapman is sexy, but it probably isn’t the most efficient use of an early round pick. If you were to draft one of these closer studs, it’s going to cost you. Spend that pick on an ace or big-time offensive name and even with a week’s worth of poor games, you know they’ll still have their jobs. On the other hand, a closer that gives up a few blown saves in a week can easily be pulled for another reliever. If that new reliever pitches well, the job could soon be theirs and somebody else will certainly scoop them up at an amazing value. Last season, Mark Melancon stepped in for an injured Jason Grilli and pitched outstandingly (1.39 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, 16 saves). This season, skip the big closer name and go with a position that’s a little safer.

2. Closers Do Not Last Forever – Like centers in basketball or running backs in football, closers have a fairly limited shelf life when they’re at their peak. Due to the physical demands of the position, many closers have a few amazing years before disappearing into oblivion and it’s often hard to predict when the wheels will fall off. A quick look at Kimbrel’s K/9 shows that it may be on a downward trend (having dropped from 16.7 in 2012 to 13.2 last season), while Chapman’s average velocity on his fastball has gone down in three consecutive seasons. Even though these two still have mightily impressive strikeout rates, taking them in the early rounds is a leap of faith. If you’re depending on a top starting pitcher, especially someone who relies on control rather than power, the fall from grace will not be so drastic.

3. Closers Can Be Found Later – It is important to note that players at the top of their position rarely fall to their expected draft day value and one of your fellow drafters may strike early. While it’s nice to think that all readers will have a chance to draft Kimbrel, Chapman, or Jansen at their ADP, you will probably have to overpay by a round or two to guarantee that he’ll be on your roster. Why do this when you can pluck a few closers from the waiver wire throughout the season that will be, cumulatively, just as strong? Keep an eye on the early competition battles in spring training and you’ll have an inside track in April. Once the injury bug hits, or a player loses his job after back-to-back blown saves, head to the waiver wire and take your pick…

Trust me on this, I used to pay for saves. If you do elect to wait on closers draft day, be sure to follow @CloserNews on Twitter this season and we’ll keep you up-to-date on any breaking news in the closer world.



How to Win 2014: Strikeouts

The Award-Winning* How to Win series is back this year, and starting with Strikeouts. We’ll tour each of the ten 5x5 categories over the course of the preseason to examine data about the category’s leaders, identify surprise players, and discuss various strategies for winning the category.

*I literally just gave myself an award. It is scribbled on a napkin and stuffed into my pocket. Feel free to extend congratulations in the comments.

Strikeouts are an easy category to win. It’s simple. Stream pitchers like crazy and rack up 50% more innings than the next best team. You’ll win. Guaranteed. You’ll probably win Wins, too. If you follow this simple strategy and don’t win…stream more pitchers until you’ve got it.

Article done. 

Unless, of course, you want to win (or at least compete) in WHIP and ERA, play with a transaction limit (do you?), or an innings cap, or make your roster changes weekly. So I guess there’s more work to do than that. 

Winning any category (or getting points from the stat, if that’s how you roll) depends heavily on your format, and I’m not just talking about the big, obvious stuff like roto scoring vs. head-to-head, or categories vs. points, or daily vs. weekly roster moves. Are your innings capped at 1500 or 1400? Are your transactions limited by week or month, all year, or not at all? How many players can you keep on your bench? All these things and more will change your focus on how to win Strikeouts.

That’s why I’m including 2013’s top 12 Strikeout leaders by three separate measurements: raw whiff totals, K/9, and K%. Each measurement has its uses. Why the top 12? Think of it as—potentially—each team’s best contributor in the category.

Total Strikeouts (min. 130 IP—like it matters here)

 

Player

SO

1

Yu Darvish

277

2

Max Scherzer

240

3

Clayton Kershaw

232

4

Chris Sale

226

5

Cliff Lee

222

6

Adam Wainwright

219

7

Justin Verlander

217

8

Felix Hernandez

216

9

Jeff Samardzija

214

10

A.J. Burnett

209

11

Anibal Sanchez

202

12

Cole Hamels

202

 The first thing we notice about these names and numbers is that there’s a pretty big difference between Darvish and anyone else. In fact, he’s almost as far away from Scherzer at number two, as he is from Hamels and Sanchez. If you want elite in Strikeouts, he’s in a class of his own, and he’s the only pitcher in baseball who appears to have a credible chance of cracking 300 like Pedro Martinez or Randy Johnson.

Notice also that the difference between Darvish and the 12th spot on the list is roughly equivalent to the Strikeouts you’d get from a mid-level closer. That’s like getting a roster slot for free. 

Obviously, not everyone can draft Darvish, and there might be good reasons not to, (okay, probably not?) but the other guys on this list will provide some pretty serious value. While some are elite pitchers making more money per season than anyone else ever has, others are…well, maybe retiring. The point is that most elite Strikeout artists are simply amazing pitchers and come with similarly high draft or auction prices—but there are exceptions. 

Consider Burnett and Samardzija, as well as Hamels (whose stock may have fallen), and Sanchez (who might not be believed as an ace yet) from this list. Also consider some of these guys, all with 180 whiffs or more: Homer Bailey (if the hype isn’t too frenzied), Lance Lynn (if he keeps his job), Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez, Tim Lincecum, and C.J. Wilson. Note that this isn’t just a list of the next guys sorted by Strikeouts, but a handful of non-elite pitchers who miss bats.

K/9 (min. 130 IP)

 

Player

K/9

1

Yu Darvish

11.89

2

Max Scherzer

10.08

3

Anibal Sanchez

9.99

4

A.J. Burnett

9.85

5

Jose Fernandez

9.75

6

Ubaldo Jimenez

9.56

7

Felix Hernandez

9.51

8

Chris Sale

9.49

9

Stephen Strasburg

9.39

10

Scott Kazmir

9.23

11

Francisco Liriano

9.11

12

Justin Masterson

9.09

Obviously, there’s a lot of repetition between this list and the last…but there are some key differences, and this is the measurement you’ll want to focus on in a roto style league with an innings cap. The lower your cap or the deeper your league, the more you’ll want to focus on the Strikeout rate over the raw total.

It’s interesting to note that a few more aces fall out of elite status by this measure. You can get serious production from apparently fringy guys by concentrating on K/9—though pitchers like Jimenez and Masterson may will harm you in WHIP.

Here are some more pitchers with quality K/9 rates that won’t be priced like an ace: Matt Moore (8.56), Alex Cobb (8.41), Corey Kluber (8.31), Hector Santiago (8.28), Ryan Dempster (8.25), Julio Teheran (8.24), Ian Kennedy (8.09).

Tony Cingrani (104.2 IP, 10.32 K/9), Tyson Ross (94, 9.29), Marco Estrada (123, 8.20), Todd Redmond (69.2, 9.35), Josh Johnson (81.1, 9,18), and Sonny Gray (60, 9.15) all helped out in Strikeouts despite limited time. Of course, they didn’t all help out in the other categories….

K% (min. 130 IP)

 

Player

K%

1

Yu Darvish

32.90%

2

Max Scherzer

28.70%

3

Jose Fernandez

27.50%

4

Anibal Sanchez

27.10%

5

Felix Hernandez

26.30%

6

Stephen Strasburg

26.10%

7

Chris Sale

26.10%

8

A.J. Burnett

26.10%

9

Clayton Kershaw

25.60%

10

Cliff Lee

25.30%

11

Ubaldo Jimenez

25.00%

12

Madison Bumgarner

24.80%

Yu stands very tall here again, overshadowing the fact that the difference between Scherzer and Fernandez is also very large. It’s clear that these two guys are the top Strikeout pitchers no matter the format…but you already knew that.

 

Kershaw, Lee, and Bumgarner crack this list but not K/9, and that tells us a little bit about the nature of K%, and the difference between the two stats. It’s subtle, but the difference between Strikeouts as a percentage of total batters faced, and Strikeouts per inning is important: pitchers with a K% better than their K/9 are getting more batters out in other ways and facing fewer batters. It means they get fewer whiffs…but it also means they put fewer hitters on base.

Clay Buchholz (23.1 K%), Mike Minor (22.1%), Hisashi Iwakuma (21.4%), Gerrit Cole (21.3%), Mat Latos (21.2%), and Chris Tillman (21.2%) all whiffed over 21% of their batters but had K/9 rates under 8.00. Unsurprisingly, all turned out pretty good results.

 Don’t Forget Relievers 

Below are the top Strikeout relievers, with closers omitted. You and I both know you’ll be ranking your closers based on how many whiffs they generate, and that the best ones won’t come cheap. All I’ll say on the matter is this: don’t waste a roster slot on a closer who doesn’t strike people out. 

In a lot of formats, there’s no room for non-closing relievers, I know. But for the formats in which you can use them, they can make a difference. Check out some of the top relievers for raw strikeouts. If you want your relievers to make a difference (in any format), you need them to generate the counting stats—an elite K/9 and K% is a given; the trick is pitching enough innings to matter. 

 

Player

SO

1

Cody Allen

88

2

A.J. Ramos

86

3

Josh Collmenter

85

4

Luke Hochevar

82

5

Steve Delabar

82

6

Charlie Furbush

80

7

Craig Stammen

79

8

Adam Ottavino

78

9

Jake McGee

75

10

David Carpenter

74

11

Oliver Perez

74

12

Kelvin Herrera

74

The best Strikeout artists seem to end up in the ninth, but these guys can help out fantasy teams under the radar. A lot of them aren’t even typical closers-in-waiting, which means you can nab your favorite one(s) with the last pick(s) of the draft. Reliever usage and performance is, of course, hugely variable, so consider this a starting point for padding the category, not a true guide to the next year’s highest Strikeout totals.

Differentiated Strategies

I said before that different formats require different strategies. Check out a few of your options.

Yahoo! Head-to-Head Style

Daily changes, shallow rosters, and no innings cap. In leagues like this, I’d try to get bulk strikeouts from a couple studs, and then focus on quality K% from two to four mid-rotation types (depending on what kind of funds you want to allocate to pitching). I’d finish it up in one of three ways: grab a couple high-risk guys with good K/9’s, find some high-volume relievers, or stream away with a roster spot or two.

Standard Roto

Daily changes and an innings cap—usually about 1500 IP. Every inning, every out counts. Figure you’re splitting your innings between five to seven starters in order to hit your limit. Concentrate on K% for balance and add relievers to improve ERA and WHIP, or lower-level starters with good K/9 for Wins.

Weekly Changes or Limited Transactions 

These situations throw streaming out the window, and they aren’t great for relieves either. Usually such leagues let you have a deep bench, so my usual strategy in this format is to draft two aces and a bunch of high K/9 arms and play the matchups.

If you do have a short bench in this format—or league with more than 12 teams—I’d emphasize risk mitigation and look for K% above everything else.

Check us out again next week, for a look at our first hitting category: the enigmatic Stolen Base.



Stock Watch: More of What You Need

So, you're in the top three of your Roto-style league, but you just can't seem to crack the real money spots. Your pitching is pretty good, but nothing you do seems to help you climb up the standings in Runs. Time to make a trade.

You're in the lower half of your Head-to-Head league, with a couple good players on the DL. You know your team should be competitive in September...but getting there might be another story. Each week you seem to split, winning most of the hitting but always falling short in WHIP. Time to make a deal.

Last week on Stock Watch we checked out some players you should target if you're in need of Homers, Batting Average, Wins, or ERA. This week we check out Runs, RBIs, Strikeouts, and WHIP and highlight trade and pickup candidates that might fly just under the radar. 

Runs

Runs are a tough category to win--indeed, the best most common strategy is to draft good hitters and hope things work out. That's what I usually do, at least. So if you're stuck in a Runs rut, here are some hitters to target in trade. Unfortunately this category is unlike stolen bases (or even home runs) in that there are some pretty bad (and therefore cheap) players who can help you a lot; no, you'll have to target players who can actually hit a little.

When searching for potential high-scorers, I went looking for players who hit at or near the top of powerful lineups, like those of the Rays, Tigers, Red Sox, Cardinals, and Orioles. Also the Braves, somewhat, but they need better top-of-the-order hitters.

Austin Jackson has sort of become the Runs poster boy, and RA's Mark Polishuk has a great write-up on him, so I won't say any more. Fellow Tiger Torii Hunter might as well be Jackson's elder clone this season--something tells me that hitting in front of Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder is good for your runs total.

The Rays sit Desmond Jennings and Ben Zobrist on the top of their batting order most days, and while both have proved disappointing this year, both should keep scoring runs. Matt Joyce doesn't play every single day, but he tends to score when he does.

Shane Victorino and Daniel Nava benefit from hitting before David Ortiz. If Nava gets to keep hitting on top of the order, he'll have Runs value.

Matt Carpenter is one of the hottest names at second base for his batting average, but if you need to help yourself in two categories, he's your guy. Matt Holliday ought to be coming off the DL soon and he may come at a discount. 

Nate McLouth and Nick Markakis have been setting the table for the O's, while Chris Davis and Adam Jones have been among the best in clearing it. McLouth's steals will drive his price up, but, as with Carpenter, at least you get to help yourself in multiple categories.

In the last month, Chase Utley and Jason Werth have been high-scorers. In fact, Werth has been hitting the cover off the ball.

Alex Rios keeps hearing his name in trade rumors, and I'd bet that if he gets moved, it will be to a team that puts him at the top of the order, making him a good Runs candidate. Of course, this advice could backfire when he gets stuck hitting sixth and scoring RBI's...but maybe you need those too.

RBIs

Jay Bruce, Shin-Soo Choo, and Joey Votto are all among the league's top run scorers. Why do we care in the RBI section? Because you should pick up or trade for anyone who hits behind these guys. Brandon Phillips is having a perfectly pedestrian season--and yet he's among the league leaders in RBIs with over 80. Why? Just look at the names above.

You'll notice that a lot of top RBI guys come from the same lineups as the top run scorers. Take Jhonny Peralta. Between his crazy BABIP and the Biogenesis link, there's every reason to trade him away. And yet, he's hitting behind Prince and Miggy, so if you need RBIs and a shortstop upgrade, he could be your guy. Similarly, Mike Napoli and Jarrod Saltalamacchia are hitting behind Ortiz. 

Allen Craig and Freddie Freeman have disappointed in homers, keeping them from truly elite first base production, but don't make the mistake of thinking the RBIs aren't there. Dan Uggla joins Freeman in a Braves lineup that keeps generating runs.

With his trade to the Yankees (and batting cleanup in his first game), Alfonso Soriano just saw his RBI potential go way up. Now, these Yankees aren't exactly Murderers' Row, but they're better than the Cubs. Hitting behind Robinson Cano shouldn't bother anyone.

Strikeouts

You can get to the top of the standings in Strikeouts just by pitching the most games, but there are all kinds of obstacles to that: innings limits, anti-streaming rules, and the poor performance of volume-heavy pitching staffs. So here are some guys who can help you compete in K's. Many of them are widely available, so that's nice too.

Hector Santiago (13% owned in Yahoo! leagues), Corey Kluber (29%), and Tony Cingrani (49%) are all striking out more than a batter per inning without killing your ERA. (They aren't all great for your WHIP, I admit.) As you can see, there's a good chance that one of them is available on your league's waiver wire.

Francisco Liriano, Jeff Samardzija, and Justin Masterson are a step above Santiago and company, and they'll require a trade to go after.  They will probably be better for your rate stats. Ubaldo Jimenez, is a step below, but only owned in 17% of Yahoo! leagues. He will kill your WHIP, though.

In the last month, several pitchers have stepped up their strikeout game: Tim Lincecum and Mat Latos are striking out over 11 batters per nine IP. John Lackey and (to my great surprise) Jeremy Hellickson are whiffing more than a batter per inning. 

On the lower end of the scale, Jose Quintana (18% owned in Yahoo! leagues), Tom Gorzelanny (5%), Jonathan Pettibone (5%), and Erik Bedard (2%) are screamingly available and all generating strikeouts over the last month. If you're in position to play the hot hand in a deep league, these are the guys to look out for.

WHIP

I can't do much about the hits part of WHIP--it's notoriously luck-dependent, all the more so over as short a time span as what remains of the season. So, let's take a look at the BB/9 half instead.

Jordan Zimmermann hasn't pitched well in his last few starts, but he's still got a 1.34 BB/9 on the season. If you want to risk that his recent slump is temporary (I would), he could be a big help to anyone's WHIP category.

Hiroki Kuroda's 1.76 BB/9 looks good, but his ERA is already so lucky that you should be prepared for it to rise even if he helps your WHIP. 

With Tim Hudson's injury, the chatter about Julio Teheran getting dropped from the rotation with Brandon Beachy's return from the DL has ended, though his 1.89 BB/9 suggests that such talk might never have been serious.

Ervin Santana and A.J. Griffin share 1.95 BB/9 marks, though if Santana gets traded he'll lose the benefit of baseball's top defense.

Rick Porcello (1.86 BB/9) is only 14% owned in Yahoo! leagues, and Eric Stults (1.98 BB/9) is only 31% owned. 

Some pitchers who've been hot this month include Bronson Arroyo (49% owned), Bartolo Colon, Kyle Lohse, John Danks (3% ), and Scott Feldman (41%). All five have BB/9 rates of 1.10 or below in the last 30 days, though Colon comes with significant baggage.

Some Guys Worth Picking Up

Christian Yelich is owned in every daily and keeper league, I know. But don't give up on him in weekly formats.

David DeJesus is returning from the DL, as should be half the Yankees' infield. Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez aren't exactly who they used to be, but both could pay dividends for a waiver claim. Long-term, we can expect Biogenesis fallout for A-Rod, but don't be shocked if the appeals process lets him play most of the rest of the season. Whether or no he hits is another story. 

Warning: A previous version of this article contained an unintelligible section. It has been altered from that sorry condition. 



2013 Position Rankings: Starting Pitchers 1-40

You've waited a long time for these (two whole days!), so I'll keep the intro short. Starting pitching is deep again this year, so expect more from your staff. Don't go accepting WHIP's of 1.30, or K/9 rates of 6.8% if you don't have to. Whether you believe in piling on starters early, or waiting for the sake of your offense, there's plenty of good pitching to fill in mixed league staffs. It's getting great pitching that's the trick. The very best will give you all four categories in spades, all for a low level of risk. Yeah, not so many guys fit that bill.

Monday featured the pitchers ranked 41-80, not to mention a hoard of deep-league fill-ins. Before that, we ranked the Relievers and all the hitters ShortstopsThird BasemenSecond BasemenFirst BasemenCatchers, and  Outfielders. Today's rankings come from a team discussion, featuring Tim Dierkes and the entire RotoAuthority staff. As always, they're divided into groups of similar value, and tiered by where they deserve to be drafted in a standard league. If you're bidding in an auction, consider players in the same tier to be of similar price.

Different leagues will take starters at different paces, and slight variations in scoring systems can completely change the value of pitchers relative to position players. Because of this, the round labels on these tiers are a looser guideline than for other positions.

1st Round

1. Stephen Strasburg, WAS

I've said before that Strasburg is the top pitcher, and the only one to belong in the first round--I'm certainly not going back on it now. He gives you Wins, ERA, and WHIP to equal anyone else in baseball, and piles on the strikeouts. If I'm choosing between him and a broken down OF, I know who to take.

2nd Round

2. Justin Verlander, DET
3. Clayton Kershaw, LAD

Just as Strasburg is alone in the first, no one belongs with this pair in the second. Verlander's longer track record gives him the slightest of edges in my book. If you disagree, that's fine, because either is a great choice.

3rd-4th Rounds

4. Cole Hamels, PHI
5. Felix Hernandez, SEA
6. Cliff Lee, PHI
7. R.A. Dickey, TOR
8. David Price, TBR
9. CC Sabathia, NYY
10. Adam Wainwright, STL

Hamels does everything, just like the top three...but he does just a little less. Also, the Phillies don't have the offense they used to. With a better lineup, you could take Hernandez with Verlander and Kershaw, easily. Lee's age worries some, but I'm all about that 7.39 K/BB rate. Knuckleballers scare people, and so does anything they didn't see coming, so this ranking for Dickey is bold. I figure he can regress a lot and still be a top-flight pitcher, enjoying the run support in Toronto. Price is a great pitcher and a rising star, but he did overperform his FIP by almost half a run (0.49, actually); it's not that I'm down on him, just that my expectations are a little tempered. So far, Sabathia has been on schedule, which means he'll just keep dominating for a New York team that will find some way to get him run support. Keep an eye on his health, though. Speaking of health, Wainwright seems to have it back, which means he's one of baseball's best again.

Rounds 5-6

11. Gio Gonzalez, WAS
12. Madison Bumgarner, SFG
13. Max Scherzer, DET
14. Yu Darvish, TEX
15. Matt Cain, SFG
16. Mat Latos, CIN
17. Zack Greinke, LAD
18. Yovani Gallardo, MIL
19. James Shields

Gonzalez has a PED investigation hanging over his head, but the walks are a bigger cloud for me. Bumgarner fizzled a little at the end of the year, but his overall trend is still sky-high. Scherzer and Darvish are like Strasburg with the strikeouts, but like Monday's pitchers for WHIP. We all believe that Cain's actual performance beats his advanced metrics...but he still doesn't get enough strikeouts to be fully elite. Latos improved considerably after an abysmal start, and he gets to pitch in front of a great lineup. Health issues loom over Greinke's status, but his talent should flourish in his NL return and a pitcher's park. Gallardo more than makes up for his walks with all those strikeouts. Shields will miss the run and park support he had in Tampa Bay.

7th-8th Rounds

20. Chris Sale, CHW
21. Johnny Cueto, CIN
22. Jered Weaver, LAA
23. Roy Halladay, PHI
24. Kris Medlen, ATL
25. Ian Kennedy, ARI
26. Aroldis Chapman, CIN
27. Jordan Zimmermann, WAS
28. Jake Peavy, CHW
29. Jeff Samardzija, CHC
30. Matt Moore, TBR 

Sale slowed down over the course of the season, and will be expected to pitch even more innings next year--there is considerable downside here to go with his great potential. Cueto doesn't miss enough bats to be an ace, but he's a very good pitcher on a very good team. Though he has the reputation of being more, so is Weaver. That sub 7.00 K/9 doesn't hold up very well unless you win 20 games and outperform your FIP by nearly a run. I would have put Halladay up a lot higher, but his springtime troubles make me worry about lingering injury or imminent decline. Medlen's amazing third of a season has people excited for good reason. A little too excited, but still, he's very worth owning. Kennedy's ERA was higher than I'd like last year, but his peripherals still looked good; I anticipate a rebound. Chapman might be returning to the bullpen, but this is where I'd take the chance if he does start. Zimmermann is a quietly high-quality starter. Peavy proved his critics wrong (and had me kicking myself for not taking him when I had the chance) last year, but his fragility still hurts his value. Samardzija proved to be a strikeout wizard. Another season like that and he'll join the near-elite. Moore could make a big jump, and that potential is part of his price tag. Fortunately, he's already quite good.

Rounds 9-10

31. Josh Johnson, TOR
32. Jon Niese, NYM
33. Homer Bailey, CIN
34. A.J. Burnett, PIT
35. Tim Lincecum, SFG
36. Anibal Sanchez, DET
37. Marco Estrada, MIL
38. Doug Fister, DET
39. Brandon Morrow, TOR
40. Lance Lynn, STL

To me, there's a pretty big jump between the pitchers in Rounds 7-8, and those in 9-10. Johnson had an uncharacteristic 2012: he was healthy and non-elite. If he stays healthy, and returns to form, than he's a top ten pitcher in Toronto. If he stays healthy and stays the same, he's still a very good pitcher to have. If he stays healthy. Niese has gone two years in a row striking out over three times as many batters as he walks. Maybe it's time for him to go from "quietly good" to regular good. Bailey has been around forever, but he only just put together his first full season. It was really good though. Speaking of really good, Burnett was too, making him the Pirates' highest-ranked fantasy pitcher in...maybe ever. His K/9 was back where it belongs, and his K/BB was his highest since 2008. Lincecum was not good, but you can't write his whole career off. Even a partial return to form would mean big value here. Sanchez didn't adjust to the AL immediately, but a whole season pitching in front of the Detroit offense should agree with him. Estrada has become a trendy pick for good reason, but I have to remind myself that he doesn't exactly have much track record. Fister's strikeouts (or lack thereof) always made me wary of him, but he kept 'em up in Detroit. He'll have to with that infield. I'm not nearly as intrigued by Morrow's suddenly-great ERA as I am worried about his fallen strikeout rate. I had thought that Lynn was just a flash-in-the-pan, and his lousy August pretty much confirmed that...but then he was good again in September. I don't know exactly what he is, other than a guy who struck out more than a batter per inning last year.

You already know the end of this story, and you know how and when to draft pitchers in various types of leagues, so I'll finish off this series with a simple reminder: there are a lot of good pitchers out there. There aren't very many great ones. 


Full Story |  Comments (0) | Categories: ERA | Starters | Strikeouts | WHIP | Wins

2013 Position Rankings: Starting Pitchers 41-80

There are rules for drafting starters, or spending on them in an auction. They've accumulated over time, and they involve spending only so much, or only so many high picks on the position. Those are fine rules, and I'm not here to knock them over. Your leaguemates might, though, and if they do, you'll have to choose: go with the flow...or against it. I've had both strategies work out. And fail. It's for this reason that you should consider the recommended rounds to be much more fluid at this position than in others. Every draft will take its own course.

Pitchers are volatile commodities, and even the best ones can't be fully trusted. How many of us took Roy Halladay early last year and thought we couldn't be safer? New opportunities show up throughout the year, in the form of top prospects and out-of-nowhere surprises. Marco Estrada and Wade Miley probably helped a lot of us to championships. So, don't be afraid to wait a little on starters during the draft: the conventional wisdom is there for a reason. (Now, I know I must be getting old.)

Last week, we ranked the Relievers and finished all the hitters:  ShortstopsThird BasemenSecond BasemenFirst BasemenCatchers, and  Outfielders. Today's rankings come from a team discussion, featuring Tim Dierkes and the entire RotoAuthority staff. As always, they're divided into groups of similar value, and tiered by where they deserve to be drafted in a standard league. If you're bidding in an auction, consider players in the same tier to be of similar price.We start in the middle, with number 41, and continue to number 80. After that, you're drafting to fill various needs, so we highlight the strengths and potentials of unranked starters. 

What about the top 40 starters? You'll have to wait, but only two more days--the climax of our rankings series comes out on Wednesday. 

Rounds 11-12

41. Mike Minor, ATL
42. Andy Pettitte, NYY
43. Hiroki Kuroda, NYY
44. Dan Haren, WAS
45. Wade Miley, ARI
46. C.J. Wilson, LAA
47. Jon Lester, BOS
48. Ryan Vogelsong, SFG

It's mid-draft and you've probably got your top two starters, maybe your top three. The elite pitchers are gone and you're left to choose from a mix of good and steady ones, and ones with higher risk and reward. Minor fits in the second category, but given the way he improved over the course of last season, I'd say he's heavier on the "reward" side of things. Ditto for Pettitte, who just pitched his first spring outing and could be a high-quality pitcher with extra help in wins. Kuroda's strikeouts slipped a bit, but he's a low risk guy on what should still be a good Yankees team. Haren terrifies me, with spring velocity issues and heath concerns that led the Angels to practically throw him out of town. Miley would be a lot higher if he just struck anyone out. Wilson, Lester, and Vogelsong have all shown good and ugly sides in the last years. Expect a bit of both from them next year, but more of the good.

Rounds 13-14

49. Ryan Dempster, BOS
50. Phil Hughes, NYY
51. Edwin Jackson, CHC
52. Brett Anderson, OAK
53. Alexi Ogando, TEX
54. Matt Harvey, NYM
55. Hisashi Iwakuma, SEA
56. Tim Hudson, ATL
57. Tommy Milone, OAK

Dempster and Hughes might not be great for your rate stats, but they should be assets in K's and Wins. Jackson is as steady as they come, and he has an above-average strikeout rate. Anderson has tons of talent, but he's made of glass. Ogando is talented too, but he's still an unproven commodity as a starter. Harvey's K/9 rate alone makes him worth owning. Iwakuma, Hudson, and Milone are all relatively safe picks. Wins are a limitation for Iwakuma, strikeouts are for the other two.

Rounds 15-16

58. Jarrod Parker, OAK
59. Matt Harrison, TEX
60. Mike Fiers, MIL
61. Dillon Gee, NYM
62. Matt Garza, CHC
63. James McDonald, PIT
64. Jason Hammel, BAL
65. Wei-Yin Chen, BAL
66. Trevor Cahill, ARI

Parker and Harrison pitched to good seasons last year, and could be in line to improve, but I wouldn't expect another 18 wins from Harrison. Fiers and Gee both pitched very well in limited time last year, though Fiers flamed out in September. Both are high-risk, high-reward guys. Garza will be on the shelf until "possibly early May," but if you can wait, he's a fantasy asset when healthy. McDonald went all Jekyll and Hyde last year, with great and horrible parts to his season. On balance, he's still worth having. Hammel seems healthy so far; if durable he could be very high on this list. Chen and Cahill don't have huge upside, but they can capably round out a fantasy staff. 

Rounds 17-18

67. Joe Blanton, LAA
68. Shaun Marcum, NYM
69. Alex Cobb, TBR
70. Scott Baker, CHC
71. Trevor Bauer, CLE
72. A.J. Griffin, OAK
73. Josh Beckett, LAD
74. Chris Capuano, LAD
75. Derek Holland, TEX
76. Johan Santana, NYM

I know Blanton was awful last year, but his peripherals were just so good. I can't help taking a chance on a guy with a 4.88 K/BB. Marcum is a great pitcher when he's healthy, but the contract he got tells me that most teams in baseball didn't think he was worth taking a chance on. Of course, we aren't risking millions of dollars here. Maybe mock drafters don't know Baker isn't scheduled to be ready by Opening Day. He's a huge risk, but the upside could be 160 IP of nearly ace-level pitching. Like pretty much everyone else that pitches for Oakland, Griffin looked pretty good without very many strikeouts last year. Theoretically, Beckett could return to form in the NL. I'll believe it when I see it, probably on someone else's team. Capuano is easily one of the five best pitchers on the Dodgers, but he still might pitch in the bullpen. Sometimes life isn't fair. Holland took a bit of a backwards step last year, but he's still interesting. I had been excited about Santana, but the spring reports haven't been encouraging. His talent is still worth taking a chance on.

Rounds 19-20

77. Brandon McCarthy, ARI
78. Patrick Corbin, ARI
79. Bud Norris, HOU
80. Wandy Rodriguez, PIT

McCarthy was healthier than usual last year, but his strikeouts disappeared. If Corbin wins the fifth starter's job, he's got intriguing peripherals. Norris is a strikeout machine, but the Astros are just so bad. And his rate stats aren't great either. If the rumors of a trade to St. Louis come to fruition, though, bump him up ten or twenty spots as a wins and K's guy. "Magic" Wandy's strikeout numbers keep trending down, but he's still decent overall, and so are the Pirates. I suppose more pitchers can and should go in these rounds, but at some point the numbers lose their meaning, and all that matters is what kind of pitcher you need, and which kind of risks your team is ready to take. 

Deep League Options

Injury Returners: Cory Luebke, SDP (midseason), Colby Lewis, TEX (late May), Neftali Feliz, TEX (July), Brandon Beachy (June)

Wins: Bronson Arroyo, CIN, Mark Buehrle, TOR, Clay Buchholz, BOS, Ivan Nova, NYY, Paul Maholm, ATL

Strikeouts: Edinson Volquez, SDP, Felix Doubront, BOS, Chris Narveson, MIL

Prospects: Dylan Bundy, BAL, Shelby Miller, STL, Tyler Skaggs, ARI, Danny Hultzen, SEA, Julio Teheran, ATL, Gerrit Cole, PIT, Zack Wheeler, NYM, Dan Straily, OAK, Chris Archer, TBR

If I Only Had a Job: Kyle Lohse, FA, Hyun-Jin Ryu, LAD, Aaron Harang, LAD, Ted Lilly, LAD, Carlos Villanueva, CHC, Mark Rogers, MIL

High Risk (Moderate-High Reward): Chad Billingsley, LAD, Tommy Hanson, LAA, Ervin Santana, KCR, Chris Tillman, BAL, John Lackey, BOS, Ubaldo Jimenez, CLE, Scott Kazmir, CLE, Erik Bedard, HOU, Jorge De La Rosa, COL, Wily Peralta, MIL, Jaime Garcia, STL

Low Risk (Low-Moderate Reward): Lucas Harrell, HOU, Gavin Floyd, CHW, Jeff Karstens, PIT, Jason Vargas, LAA, Bartolo Colon, OAK,  Miguel Gonzalez, BAL, John Danks, CHW, Jose Quintana, CHW, Zach McAllister, CLE, Brett Myers, CLE, Rick Porcello, DET, Jeremy Guthrie, KCR, Wade Davis, KCR, Vance Worley, MIN, Joe Saunders, SEA, Jeff Niemann, TBR, Jeremy Hellickson, TBR, Ricky Nolasco, MIA, John Lannan, PHI, Clayton Richard, SDP, Freddy Garcia, SDP, Jake Westbrook, STL, Barry Zito, SFG, Ross Detwiler, WAS

No, the above isn't quite an exhaustive list of Major League starters, but it is pretty close. If your league goes deep, you might just need several of these guys. If it's shallow you can stick to the top 80, and don't forget to tune in on Wednesday to find who our top starters are.



2013 Position Rankings: Relief Pitchers

No position comes close to relievers when it comes to unpredictability. With their value tied so intrinsically to saves, and each pitcher throwing only a tiny sample of innings, it shouldn't really be a surprise to anyone when weird things happen: like Fernando Rodney being 2012's best reliever; like John Axford pitching badly enough to lose his job; like anything that happens when Carlos Marmol is on the mound. 

So how do you rank players that come with such an intense level of inherent variance? With caution. Waiting on closers and drafting multiple smei-competent back-enders has always been my plan at this position, and I see little reason to change. Great relievers fall suddenly, and nobodies rise to prominence just as quickly. The rounds into which the closers are tiered reflect my own closer-caution--unfortunately, some drafts won't let you play it so safe if you want to compete in saves, so consider the rounds looser guidelines than usual, even though the player groups stand just fine.

We're finished with the hitters; you can find ShortstopsThird BasemenSecond BasemenFirst BasemenCatchers, and  Outfielders at these links. Today's rankings come from a team discussion, featuring Tim Dierkes and the entire RotoAuthority staff and they cover all the closers, plus some of the most draftable setup guys. They're divided into groups of similar value, and tiered by where they deserve to be drafted in a standard league. If you're bidding in an auction, consider players in the same tier to be of similar price.

3rd Round

1. Craig Kimbrel, ATL

Kimbrel is so good that even I would consider taking him in the third, and I haven't taken a closer before the 10th in about five years. Those strikeouts pile on value; my only worry is that dominant relievers before him have fallen hard.

7th Round

2. Jonathan Papelbon, PHI

After Kimbrel, there is no one I would take over Papelbon, for the simple reason that he's been good for so long that his sample isn't all that small any more: we can safely conclude that he's a good pitcher. It doesn't hurt that the Phillies are paying him big stacks of cash and won't remove him from the job unless he turns into Heath Bell.

8th-9th Round

3. Mariano Rivera, NYY
4. Joe Nathan, TEX
5. Jason Motte, STL

Rivera's been so good for so long that only his injury keeps him this low on my list. It's not that I think he'll be the best closer out there, it's that I'm very confident that he'll be good--and keep his job. Nathan proved last year that his injuries are behind him; like Rivera, so is a long history of success. Motte is a lot lower on this list than most, but don't get me wrong: he has a higher fantasy ceiling than anyone above him (except Kimbrel), but his relative inexperience also tells me that he has a lower floor. Plus, his team isn't invested in him the way Nathan's, Rivera's, and Papelbon's are.

11th-12th Rounds

6. J.J. Putz, ARI
7. Rafael Soriano, WAS
8. John Axford, MIL
9. Fernando Rodney, TBR

Putz is rock solid--when healthy. Fortunately, David Hernandez is one likely backup, and he's worth rostering in a setup role. Unfortunately, Heath Bell is the other likely backup. Soriano should be great in saves and strikeouts, but his walks will keep his WHIP up and probably lead to the occasional blowup. Axford should rebound from a tough 2012 to be the high-K stopper we'd come to expect. Rodney's last season screams fluke...but what if it wasn't? I'm willing to take that chance, albeit not as early as mock drafters are.

13th-14th

10. Jason Grilli, PIT
11. Sergio Romo, SFG
12. Greg Holland, KCR
13. Tom Wilhelmsen, SEA
14. Rafael Betancourt, COL
15. Glen Perkins, MIN 

Grilli seems like he came out of nowhere, but he's put up two excellent seasons in a row, and has four straight years of increasing strikeout rates--a number that increased to 13.81 K/9 last year. Romo has serious questions about the health of his elbow, and the best-case scenario for him seems to be that other members of his bullpen vulture more saves than average. Holland and Williamsen rake in the strikeouts but play for mediocre teams. Also, their closing tenure has been short, so their leashes will be too. Betancourt would be a tier higher if he didn't play in Colorado. Perkins was excellent last year, but how many leads will the Twins' rotation be able to deliver?

15th-16th

16. Huston Street, SDP
17. Addison Reed, CHW
18. Jonathan Broxton, CIN
19. Jim Johnson, BAL
20. Grant Balfour, OAK
21. Chris Perez, CLE
22. Steve Cishek, MIA 

Street is a very good pitcher--when healthy, which isn't much of the time. Draft him expecting a DL stint. Reed flew under the radar a little, but was quite successful. Broxton didn't impress--especially with the strikeouts, but the Reds should hand him plenty of leads. Johnson was dynamite last year...but he doesn't get many strikeouts and this Orioles fan expects a bit of team regression. Balfour's overall numbers are pretty good, but he bounced in and out of the closer role. Oakland is an organization that isn't afraid to make changes or defy convention, which is great for them, but less than ideal for a fantasy closer. Perez was surprisingly competent last year, but his shaky history keeps our enthusiasm low. Cishek pitched well, but it probably wouldn't take much for the mercurial Marlins to make a change. Also, they might not be too good next year.

17th-18th

23. Joel Hanrahan, BOS
24. Bobby Parnell, NYM

Hanrahan's underlying numbers were pretty shaky last year, and I don't think Boston will hesitate to make a change if one is needed. They proved with Andrew Bailey that trading for someone doesn't mean he'll get a long leash. Parnell is looking more and more like the Mets' closer in camp. If he starts the season with the job, he'll have to really blow up to lose it to Frank Francisco.

19th-20th

25. Brandon League, LAD
26. Ernesto Frieri, LAA
27. Kenley Jansen, LAD
28. Jose Veras, HOU
29. Sergio Santos, TOR

League and Frieri are both slated to start the season closing for their Los Angeles teams. Both teams are expected to switch closers at some point in the year. For the Angels, that's the plan: switch to Ryan Madson. For the Dodgers, it's what you expect when Jansen is that much better than League. As far as what will really happen...I couldn't say at all. I can say, however, that I prefer to take the guy with the job in hand, because sometimes they don't let it go. Speaking of jobs in hand, that's what Veras has in Houston, and what Santos appears to be grabbing--to start the season--in Toronto.

Should any of these messy closer situations get fully straightened out by Opening Day, Frieri and Jansen would belong in the 13-14th tier, Santos and League in the 15th-16th tier.

21st-22nd

30. Casey Janssen, TOR
31. Ryan Madson, LAA
32. Carlos Marmol, CHC
33. Kyuji Fujikawa, CHC

Janssen and Madson haven't healed as expected and could be seeing their jobs slip away. Should they manage to gain a certain hold on their jobs before Opening Day, both would be worth taking among the 15th-16th tier.

Marmol will have the job as long as he's a Cub--how else to keep his trade value up? The bad news for anyone who drafts him is that the Cubbies might have him traded by Opening Day. If that happens, bump Fujikawa way up this list, as he won't have much competition for saves. I would take him around the 15th or 16th round.

23rd and Beyond

34. Joaquin Benoit, DET
35. Al Alburquerque, DET
36. Bruce Rondon, DET
37. Frank Francisco, NYM 

I don't know what will happen in Detroit's bullpen, but all three of these guys have a chance to close, and a chance to keep the job if they get it. Maybe Francisco will keep his job.

Quality Non-Closers 

38. Vinnie Pestano, CLE
39. David Hernandez, ARI
40. David Robertson, NYY
41. Luke Gregerson, SDP
42. Sean Marshall, CIN
43. Santiago Casilla, SFG
44. Ryan Cook, OAK
45. Andrew Bailey, BOS
46. Drew Storen, WAS
47. Johnny Venters, ATL
48. Mike Adams, PHI
49. Antonio Bastardo, PHI
50. Tyler Clippard, WAS
51. Jacob McGee, TBR
52. Trevor Rosenthal, STL
53. Koji Uehara, BOS 

Some of these guys have a decent shot to close, thanks to a shaky or injury-prone incumbent (Pestano, Hernandez, Robertson, Gregerson, Cook, Bailey, Uehara), while others might vulture some saves along the way (Casilla, Marshall). Some are just worth rostering on their skills alone (Bastardo, Storen). All of these guys are probably best left for deeper leagues.

This year's closer picture is murkier than it has usually been in the recent past. More teams have unresolved questions surrounding the back end of their bullpens: the Angels, Dodgers, Tigers, Mets, Blue Jays, and Cubs are all without a certain closer. Expect to get quite a few saves off the waiver wire, and in the meantime, draft a few backup closers. Your relievers don't have to be the best to get the most saves.



Go Bold or Go Home: Draft Marco Estrada--Or Else

A part of me didn't want to write this article. Not because I don't believe in Marco Estrada, just the opposite. It's because I play against my own father in two leagues, and I know he reads this site. So go ahead dad, steal him from me, for the good of the readers.

Why am I so excited about Estrada? Is it because I have an unnatural appreciation for Brewers pitchers who pitch less than a full season? To be fair, I do like his rotation-mates Mike Fiers and Mark Rogers--and I'm willing to think about Wily Peralta and Chris Narveson. But Estrada is better than those guys, and he's better than literally most of the pitchers getting drafted ahead of him. Check out his stats from last year (forgetting his meaningless W-L record): 

23 GS, 138.1 IP, 143 SO, 3.64 ERA, 3.35 FIP, 1.14 WHIP

All of that is nice stuff in low innings, especially those whiffs; they translate to a nifty 9.30 K/9. For all those strikeouts, the righty doesn't cook with as much gas as you might think; his fastball averages just over 90mph. It's hard to care so much, though, when you see his control: he posted a sterling 1.89 BB/9, or just 29 walks all season.

That brings us to his best attribute: that ratio of strikeouts to walks. Lots of strikeouts is a great recipe for success. Very few walks is too. Combining them makes you very hard to beat. Estrada does it with an eye-opening 4.93 K/BB rate. Take a second look: 4.93. For pitches with 100 IP or more, only Cliff Lee, Colby Lewis, and Kris Medlen were better--and Estrada gets the most strikeouts of the bunch. Actually, of all nine pitchers with at least 100 IP and a K/BB of 4.00 or better, only Stephen Strasburg had a higher K/9.

This is a very impressive stat, and all the more so since past K/BB is such a good predictor of future overall performance (except in the case of Joe Blanton, but they can't all be winners). A bit of anecdotal evidence: I remember in 2004 when this pitcher came out of a tortured injury history to post a 4.00 K/9 and a 1.88 BB/9. Those numbers popped out then as much as they do now, so I drafted him. He turned out to be Chris Carpenter, and the next year he made his place among baseball's top pitchers. I'm not saying I'm sure Estrada will do the same, but I am saying I wouldn't be surprised if he did.

Maybe he'll make the jump to ace next year and maybe he won't. He isn't terribly young (age 30 season coming up), but all he has to do is stay the same for 180 IP or so and he'll be extremely valuable. Especially at his current Average Draft Position.

Mock drafters are nabbing him in only 36.1% of drafts, at 226.4--that places him near the end of the 18th round. The highest he's been drafted at all is at 192--leading off the 16th. I'd happily grab him several rounds higher. Consider some of the pitchers being drafted ahead of him: A.J. Griffin, Ricky Romero, Phil Hughes, Trever Bauer, James McDonald, Jeremy Hellickson, Trevor Cahill, lesser-but-still-good-teammate Mike Fiers, maybe-relieving Alexi Ogando, probably-starting-in-the-minors Dylan Bundy, half a season of Brandon Beachy, and the duct-taped together Scott Baker. There are more, but you get the idea. A lot of those pitchers are higher risk or lower reward than Estrada. Actually, most are both and I'd happily take Estrada over any of them.

Estrada's ADP makes him the 71st pitcher taken and I have to scroll way up the list before I get to a place where I'd rather have most--still not all--of the pitchers being taken over him. It's probably somewhere around the 40th pitcher taken. There are still some before that point that I wouldn't draft, and a few behind it that I'd take over Estrada, but that's about where the quality starts going up. Pitcher number 40 happens to be Tim Lincecum at the moment, an enigma of his own. Overall, that gives him an ADP of 148.32--good for a spot in the 12th round. Adding a round to account for the fact that I think I can get a good deal, that means I'm targeting Marco Estrada in the 13th. And if his ADP goes up, I might be jumping on him even earlier.

There are reasons to doubt, I suppose. Most importantly, Estrada's low innings total was the highest of his career, so one worries how things will go when stretched over a full season. But if it weren't for those worries, you wouldn't be able to get Estrada in the 13th round, let alone the 18th. You'd be drafting him in the fourth of fifth.

There aren't many lists in fantasy baseball more different than the pitchers that show up around Estrada when you search him by K/BB--Lee, Medlen, CC Sabathia, R.A. Dickey, Cole Hamels--and those that you can find when searching him by ADP--Romero, Griffin, Jason Vargas, Tommy Hanson, Josh Beckett, and even Carpenter, in a cruel irony. His performance puts him with elite pitchers, his price tag with innings-eaters and retreads. That's what I call a bargain.

 I wanted to make a list of other targets similar to Estrada, but there really aren't any. His K/BB is far ahead of others who have good ones. His K/9 is far better than most other pitchers with his kind of control. So get him on your team. Whatever he costs, I'll bet you he's a bargain.



How to Win: Strikeouts

Last Week on How to Win, I discussed a category in which I did particularly well last year: Stolen Bases. We'll do the same this week, with Strikeouts, before we go on to the categories in which I need to improve as much as anyone else: all the others.

Quick Overview
I love me some strikeouts. Last year, my fifth place Silver League team ran away with this category (so yeah, my other categories had some rough times). Part of that might have been amassing enough innings to eclipse our 1500 max a little early (and that after dumping every starter but David Price at some point in September), but that wasn't the whole story. Volume is half the story, though, the rest comes in the rate. Below we'll examine both halves of a winning strategy--and how going overboard isn't necessarily great for your ERA and WHIP.

2012's Top 24

1. Justin Verlander               239
2. Max Scherzer                     231
3. R.A. Dickey                         230
4. Clayton Kershaw               229
5. Felix Hernandez                223
5. James Shields                     223 
7. Yu Darvish                           221
8. Cole Hamels                        216
9. Gio Gonzalez                        207 
9. Cliff Lee                                 207
11. David Price                         205
12. Yovani Gallardo                204
13. Zack Greinke                      200
14. CC Sabathia                        197
14. Stephen Strasburg            197
16. Jake Peavy                           194
17. Matt Cain                            193
18. Chris Sale                            192
19. Madison Bumgarner        191
20. Tim Lincecum                    190
21. Ian Kennedy                       187
22. Mat Latos                            185
23. Adam Wainwright            184
24. A.J. Burnett                        180
24. Lance Lynn                        180
24. Jeff Samardzija                 180 

Most of baseball's best pitchers show up on this list and it's easy to say that the best way to help yourself in strikeouts is to get at least two of these guys. That's what I was trying to do when I drafted Price and Dan Haren. The only reason it worked out, of course, is because I soon flipped Haren for Scherzer, among others. So there was a bit of good luck. None of the rest of these guys made it onto my team, though, leaving me with a need fore a little more creativity.

High K/9 Pitchers
Not every pitcher on the list above put up huge K/9 numbers, but all had good ones--in fact, only Peavy, Cain, and Latos were under 8 K/9 and all three sat in the 7.90's. Of course, not every pitcher with a high strikeout rate pitches enough to make it onto this leaderboard. Getting those guys (and hopefully for longer stints in 2013) is a great way to patch up a fantasy rotation with a bunch of strikeouts. The way I figure, is that if I have to have some non-aces on my team, they better be handy with the whiffs. Here are a few pitchers who missed the cut when it came to innings last year but might still pad your K's next year. Everyone below pitched at least 100 innings last year and struck out at least eight batters per nine IP.

Francisco Liriano        9.59
Mike Fiers                      9.52
Felix Doubront             9.34
Marco Estrada              9.30
J.A. Happ                       8.96
Matt Moore                    8.88
Bud Norris                      8.82
Carlos Villanueva         8.76
Jason Hammel             8.62
Edinson Volquez          8.57
Jake Arrieta                   8.56
Johan Santana             8.54
Erik Bedard                    8.45
Matt Garza                     8.33
Tommy Hanson           8.30
Ivan Nova                      8.08 

As you can see, results and potential fantasy value vary wildly on this list, from the misery that was Francisco Liriano, to the health-restricted performences of Santana, Hammel, and Garza, and to the late callups of Fiers and Estrada. There are a lot of ways to get a lot of strikeouts when you're pitching, without making it to the leaderboard. (To be fair, Moore and Volquez literally just missed the cut.) It might be worth noting that my own team featured Estrada, Doubront, and Villanueva from among this group.

Not only are these players interesting draft targets (from a strikeout perspective anyway, your ERA and WHIP stats certainly cringe at some of them), you can utilize 2013's versions of them, whoever they might end up being. Of course, several of these were mid-season surprises, so there's no real knowing which injury replacements might come up and help your fantasy team as much as their real team. Here's a couple fairly drowsy sleepers, though: Chris Narveson and Scott Baker. The Brewers and Cubs are both linked to more than one name on this list, which tells me how they feel about pitchers who can get strikeouts, and both Narveson and Baker have generated their share of whiffs during their oft-interrupted stays in the Majors. Don't forget about stashable pitchers coming back from injury part way through the season, like Brandon Beachy, Cory Luebke, and Danny Duffy.

High IP 
There's another route you can go, though, and this one's group of pitchers is somewhat less volatile than the group above. Finding pitchers who pitch a lot, whether they have high strikeout rates or not, can let you rack up strikeouts in bulk. This option is much better for those in head-to-head leagues, however, since heaping on the innings can hurt you badly when you start facing the IP cap. The nice thing, though, is that pitchers that teams entrust with tall innings counts year after year are usually a bit better than average, and (seemingly) much healthier--though obvious exceptions will apply. Here are the last three years' top innings eaters not found on the previous lists. All have pitched at least 600 innings since 2010.

Dan Haren                    650
Jared Weaver                648.2
Roy Halladay                640.2
C.J. Wilson                   629.2
Ervin Santana               629.1
Tim Hudson                  622.2
Hiroki Kuroda              618
Mark Buehrle                618
Bronson Arroyo            616.2
Ricky Romero               616
Jason Vargas               611
Jon Lester                     605
Trevor Cahill                604.1
Justin Masterson        602.1

Some of these guys fell off the list above--and out of fantasy's most valuable pitchers--last year through injuries, like Halladay, or a mysterious plunge in K/9 rate, like Weaver. Others, though, just don't generate that many strikeouts in a per inning basis. They can all be pencilled in for 200 IP, though, which means that they'll be of some help in those strikeouts.

It also seems worth noting that Edwin Jackson just missed being part of this group, with 598.2 IP, and he just missed the High K/9 group, with a 7.97 mark. To me, that makes him a really useful asset.

 
Relievers
Relief pitchers are a great way to pad your strikeout totals if you're worried about an innings limit. They get a lot more bang for their buck with their high rates than all but the best starters. Though they don't add a huge amount in raw total, using two or three in concert can be a sort of cobbled-together ace, Frankenstein-style. Of course, they eat up more roster spots than starters and tend to make small (or catastrophic) impacts on your rate stats without helping much at all in wins or, unless they're actual closers, saves. Since everybody's going to be snatching up closers, good or not, we'll only look at relievers not projected to close in 2013, regardless of what they used to do.

Antonio Bastardo        14.02
Ernesto Frieri               13.36 
Jim Henderson            13.21
David Hernandez        12.91
Steve Delabar                12.55
David Robertson          12.02
Tim Collins                    12.01
Jake McGee                   11.87
Jake Diekman              11.52
Jeremy Horst                11.49
Louis Coleman             11.47
Alex Hinshaw              11.44
Sean Doolittle               11.41
Andrew Miller              11.48
Joel Peralta                   11.38
Jesse Crain                    11.35
Alberto Cabrera            11.22
Wade Davis                   11.13

I made 11.13 the cutoff point, since that was Stephen Strasburg's mark last year--the best of any starter. The list goes on and on, though. Anyone on this list--or among the next large number of names with even a hint of the occasional save bears watching. Those at the very top of the list might deserve drafting even if they end up with no saves or wins at all.

(I don't know if Frieri or Ryan Madson will be closing for the Halos, so I'll include him here just in case.)

A Few Last Words
There are a lot of ways to go about succeeding in the strikeout category. One nice thing, is that, like steals, whiffs seem often to be available on the waiver wire. There are a number of less-than-excellent pitchers who rack up strikeouts and they can help your team if used right. Plus, real teams are always excited to call up a hard-throwing prospect and they can light up the real and fantasy baseball worlds long enough to help your team, even if they end up fizzling out. I do recommend a staff ace (actually, I try for two) who strikes people out in a big way. Think of Stephen Strasburg as a power/speed threat but for pitchers. If you play in a league with an IP cap, I'd avoid the innings-eaters altogether. If you don't, however--and especially if your league has barriers against streaming--I'd grab several. Strikeouts come from all kinds of places, and mixing several sources is always a good way to go. 



Go Bold or Go Home: Stephen Strasburg is the New Pedro Martinez

Stephen Strasburg is the new Pedro? What do I mean by that? Simply this: back in the day, Pedro was worth a first round pick, sometimes the first pick, and no other pitcher was all that close. I'm talking about Pedro before he threw Don Zimmer to the ground by the head, before he headhunted unsuspecting Devil Rays. I'm talking 1999-2001 Pedro, that's who Strasburg can be. Don't let him slip through your fingers in the first round, and whatever you do, don't waste a pick on some other pitcher instead.

As far as I can guess, there are three possible responses to this idea, and I'll deal with each one in turn.

1. Duh.
Fair enough, you're already on the Strasburg bandwagon. Go win your league. Better yet, finish reading this article just to be more sure.

2. But pitchers NEVER belong in the first round!
Never is such a scary word to throw around, but usually I agree with this idea. Whenever someone in my league nabs a starter in the first round, I always get excited, thinking they've wasted their pick. There are a couple reasons for this to usually be true, but they don't hold water this year.

The biggest reason is that pitchers are risky, moreso than position players and thus should not be given a first round pick. The problem with that this year is that there are an unusually rare amount of risky players on the first-rounder suspect list. Players like Matt Kemp (ADP 4.43) and Joey Votto (8.60) who missed significant portions of last season are there, not to mention garden variety injury risks like Carlos Gonzalez (9.75). On top of that, players like Justin Upton (15.07) and Adrian Gonzalez (32.16) who we counted on last year to provide big impacts failed to do so. Other first rounders that we've grown accustomed to seeing have dropped out of the top slots after injury marred (or ruined) seasons include Jose Bautista (14.11) , Troy Tulowitzki (16.15), and Evan Longoria (32.59). Someone has to take those spots over, but there's a lot more risk in the first round than there is in most years. So maybe taking a pitcher isn't so bad.

Along with the higher risk of some of the best potential first rounders this year, I think it's fair to say that, outside of the top four or five, the actual quality of this year's potential first rounders is lower than usual. A lot of those first round picks are providing the same (or nearly the same) value as players that can be found in the second round. Like Albert Pujols (7.18)? Try Prince Fielder (14.48). Like Carlos Gonzalez (9.75)? Try Adam Jones (25.41). Let's face it--a lot of first round picks are looking a lot like second round picks this year.

 The rule against taking a starter in the first round is a good one. This year just happens to be a great year to break it.

3. Strasburg isn't even the best pitcher in baseball, let alone as much better as Pedro Martinez was ten years ago! Give me Clayton Kershaw or Justin Verlander instead.

In all fairness, yes Strasburg is, for all it matters for your fantasy draft. In all but one respect, Strasburg is significantly better than Kershaw or Verlander than they are better than the others. That is to say, Kershaw and Verlander are great, but not very much greater than these pitchers: Cliff Lee, David Price, Cole Hamels, Roy Halladay, Zack Greinke, Jared Weaver, Felix Hernandez, CC Sabathia and others, in no particular order.

For the time being, I'm prepared to ignore any argument made that Kershaw will win more games in the shiny new Dodgers, or that Verlander will on the Tigers. Washington is a good team, and their offense will be good enough to keep Strasburg in plenty of games. With normal luck, he should be among the league's leaders in wins. Too bad you never know when someone will get normal luck with wins and when he won't. So call that one even, or insufficiently predictable.

The difference is in the strikeouts. Those of you who followed me in last year's Silver League Updates, will know that I love my strikeouts. So I'm admitting that bias. But they're a category, and they're decent at giving us information about two more categories (ERA and WHIP, obviously). We can learn even more when we add walks to the equation. Let's see how Strasburg (ADP 23.77) stacks up with the three pitchers being drafted before him: Kershaw (12.64), Verlander (15.56), and Price (23.59). Just for fun, let's check out the next three pitchers after him too: Lee (30.67), Hernandez (35.10), and Yu Darvish (36.95).

Here they are in K/9:

Strasburg    11.13
Darvish        10.40
Kershaw       9.05
Verlander    9.03
Lee                 8.83
Price              8.74
Hernandez  8.65

 All seven put up great numbers, but only Darvish came within two strikeouts per nine innings of Strasburg's total. And Darvish put up an ugly 4.19 BB/9 rate that didn't exactly help his ERA or WHIP.

Maybe you prefer K%, fair enough. How about this list:

Strasburg       30.2%
Darvish           27.1%
Kershaw         25.4%
Verlander      25.0%
Price                24.5%
Lee                   24.4%
Hernandez    23.8%

If anything, Strasburg looks even better here, blasting the competition out of the water. (In all fairness, Max Scherzer looks pretty good here too, at 29.4%.)

What about K/BB, then? That's the one that gives a really good indication of next year's ERA and (especially) WHIP. (Spoiler alert: Cliff Lee reigns supreme.)

Lee                   7.39
Strasburg      4.10
Verlander     3.98
Hernandez    3.98
Kershaw        3.63
Price               3.47
Darvish          2.48

Two names stand out here as outliers. In fact, Lee's rate is more than 2.5 BB/9 better than the second best pitcher by this measure, none other than Joe Blanton. Yeah, him. (Sleeper? Maybe...) The other outlier, of course, is Darvish. So here's more confirmation not to take him over Strasburg, or anywhere near the other six pitchers on this list, if you were thinking about it. 

That leaves us with five names, and, once again, Strasburg is on top. But maybe he's striking out so many batters that he can walk a few too many and still look good. Maybe a lousy walk rate could take his ERA and WHIP down like Darvish's did.

Or maybe not: his walk rate sat at 2.71 last year. Five of the other six pitchers we compared him too had better rates, but not by a huge amount. Discounting Lee's ridiculous number (1.10!), King Felix was the best, with a 2.17 BB/9 rate. Price, Verlander, and Kershaw all fell in between.

This has been a lot of stats, but it boils down to a pretty simple point: Strasburg's strikeouts are significantly better than his competition for the top pitcher in (fantasy) baseball. It isn't even close. His walk numbers are similar to the competition, and not different enough to give them significant value over him. Other factors, like his team, just aren't as big of a deal.

The only reason I can see to take Verlander or Kershaw or anyone else over Strasburg is their experience, which is really just cover for the fact that we're comfortable taking those guys off the board first. I don't think you'll find very many people willing to say inexperience is going to cause Stephen Strasburg any trouble in the near future. As a rookie, Strasburg wasn't a normal phenom. As fantasy's best pitcher, he isn't any more normal. The difference between him and the next best pitchers is noticeably bigger than the difference between them and all the other ace pitchers.

By the way, looking at last year's data is kind of like assuming that Strasburg has peaked in his age-24 season, and that he doesn't have room to improve for next year. How often do great 24-year-olds not become better 25-year-olds?

Between the higher risk and lower quality in this year's top position players and Strasburg's own dominance over his competition there is a lot of reason to reach for him. Like Pedro Martinez before him, Strasburg is worth a pick in the middle of the first round in a way that no pitcher has been in a long time. Next year, this idea won't make it into an article like Go Bold or Go Home because everyone will agree. Get ahead of the game.



What It Takes To Win: Strikeouts

Next up in our What It Takes To Win series, strikeouts.  The goal here is to determine the stats needed to achieve fourth place in each of the ten common roto categories.  The league type: 12-team mixed with 14 hitters, 9 pitchers, 3 bench spots, 2 DL spots.

In the first league I looked at, 1279 Ks was good for fourth place.  In the second, 1268 was enough.  Reader data sent in showed more variance, but typically showed a lower benchmark than my leagues.  We'll go with 1270 strikeouts this year to be safe.

Technically you are looking for 141 Ks from each of the nine pitching spots.  But your typical closer whiffs about 65, and you should have three of those.  So you're looking for about 179 Ks from each of your six starters.

In 2008, 20 pitchers reached 179 Ks. In '07 it was 17 and in '06 it was 14.  I'm only projecting 12 to pull it off in '09, but there are always surprises.  You really can't beat Javier Vazquez for 198 Ks in the 13th round.   You can also draft Rich Harden, Joba Chamberlain, Max Scherzer, Jonathan Sanchez, Erik Bedard, Chris Young, and John Smoltz based on their strong K/9s, combining them with replacement level pitchers to reach a strong strikeout total for the roster spot.

By the way, four closers are projected to top 80 Ks: Brad Lidge, Francisco Rodriguez, Carlos Marmol, and Jonathan Broxton.





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