Wins


How to Win 2014: Wins

Wins aren’t exactly the trendiest category since the sabermetric revolution. Apparently, they don't tell us much about a player's "true talent," and they aren't very "predictive" of future performance. Things have come a long ways since Buzzie Bavasi let Nolan Ryan go for being "a .500 pitcher."

But we still include wins in this, our enlightened, statistical game. And we have to. Wins are what keep us in touch with real baseball, what keep us interested in the outcome of the real games. Play in a couple fantasy leagues, and you'll be watching the scores in half the day's games every day. Wins are exhilarating.

 And a bit frustrating. My favorite example of this is 2004, the year I had poor Kelvim Escobar when he was pitching for the Angels. Now, you may not remember, but Escobar was really good for a couple years there, and so were the Angels. They had one of the top-scoring offenses, and Escobar was a distinctly above-average fantasy pitcher. And he ended up with a record of 11-12. He was much better than teammate Bartolo Colon and pitched the same number of innings. Colon's record: 18-12. With an ERA over 5.00. Life just ain't fair.

 Fortunately, as in Runs Scored, there are controllable luck components to getting Wins, and there are legitimate skill components too. You can chase both.

 Living with Luck Dragons: Run Support

 The Escobar/Colon example I gave was so frustrating because those guys pitched for the same team, with the same hitters supposedly trying to score some runs. Thankfully, this is an extreme example: as best as we can predict, pitchers on the same team ought to get pretty much the same run support. (Except when the team changes its defensive lineup to help the pitcher with speed and defense outfielders, or a personal catcher who can't hit.)

 Get a good pitcher on a good offensive team and you've put yourself in a decent position for some Wins. A great pitcher with a great offense is obviously even better, but don't think the results are linear: Wins should be treated as having a wide possible spread because there are so many uncontrollable factors going into every game.

 Here are the top AL teams by projected Runs Scored/Game going into next season:

Angels 4.55
Rangers 4.52
Red Sox 4.51
Blue Jays 4.49
Tigers 4.44

If you're noticing that these teams look really similar to the list I posted last week...well, they are. The same thing that scores runs for hitters scores it for pitchers. Players with good teammates tend to benefit from what we term luck.

For the same reasons as last time, I'll include the top few NL offenses too: 

Rockies 4.51
Diamondbacks 4.23
Giants 4.20 
Cardinals 4.19
Braves 4.14

Standards are lower in NL (thanks a lot, letting pitchers bat), but that doen't mean that these teams aren't going to beat their competition. It's probably worth noting that the Rockies get their high number from their park more than their hitters--the D-Backs too, to a lesser extent.

Here are some teams that don't look like they'll score many runs:

In the AL, the Twins and White Sox stand below the crowd with just 4.06 and 4.04 RS/9, respectively. The Rays, Yankees, Mariners, and Astros form the next tier up, with between 4.20 and 4.24 RS/G.

In the NL, the Marlins are alone for horrible-ness, with just 3.65 predicted RS/G. Ouch. The Cubs, Phillies, Mets, and Padres are all projected between 3.84 and 3.89 RS/G. 

Real Skills: IP/G

The deeper into games you pitch, the more you'll win. It's pretty simple, actually, but pitching deep into the game is a skill worth having. Here are the starters with the highest innings per start from 2011-2013:

Name            

Cliff Lee

Wins

37

GS

93

IP

666.1

IP/GS

7.16

James Shields

44

100

705.2

7.05

Hisashi Iwakuma

23

49

345

7.04

Clayton Kershaw

51

99

697

7.04

Justin Verlander

54

101

707.2

7.00

CC Sabathia

48

93

648.1

6.97

Felix Hernandez

39

97

670

6.91

Cole Hamels

39

95

651.1

6.85

David Price

42

92

622

6.76

R.A. Dickey

42

99

667

6.74

Adam Wainwright

33

66

440.1

6.67

Jered Weaver

49

87

578.2

6.65

Doug Fister

35

89

586.2

6.59

Matt Cain

36

95

625.1

6.58

Yu Darvish

29

61

401

6.57 

This isn't perfect, as you can see from the Wins column above, but these deep-pitching guys give their teams a chance to hit the ball and score runs.

If your league happens to count up losses...well, pitching deep means more decisions. In 5x5, you don't care about the difference between a loss and a no-decision, but if your format does give a penalty for a loss, straight-up IP/GS may get you in some trouble. Usually, though, a Win is more benefit than a Loss is a problem.

Luck and Skill: Together Again

Here are some pitchers who rack up innings and pitch for teams that score runs. It's the closest thing to a magic formula that I can think of for wins--aside from, you know, just being a good pitcher.

Darvish, Cain, Weaver, Wainwright, Dickey and Verlander are the standouts from the list above.

Dropping beyond the very best of innings eaters, here are some more pitchers that also fit pretty well into the formula:

Mark Buehrle, Tim Hudson, Madison Bumgarner, C.J. Wilson, Jon Lester, Anibal Sanchez, Max Scherzer, John Lackey, Tim Lincecum, and Mike Minor

All these guys averaged at least 6.0 IP/GS for the last three years, and play in one of the top five offenses in their league.

Are their wins a sure thing? Certainly not. But their skills combine well with those of their teammates to win ballgames for their teams and themselves.

Just in Case We Missed Something...

Like Runs Scored, Wins are an output stat. We've measured two of the biggest inputs for getting Wins, but there are more. We can't measure them all here, and most are only a tiny fraction of the Win anyway. So, for the sake of thoroughness, let's see the top winners from the last three years:

Name

Wins

Justin Verlander

54

Max Scherzer

52

Clayton Kershaw

51

Jered Weaver

49

CC Sabathia

48

Gio Gonzalez

48

Zack Greinke

46

C.J. Wilson

46

Yovani Gallardo

45

James Shields

44

Ian Kennedy

43

David Price

42

Madison Bumgarner

42

R.A. Dickey

42

Kyle Lohse

41

Hiroki Kuroda

40

Tim Hudson

40

There are a lot of repeat names here, which is probably a good sign: innings, teammates, and good luck seem to be the real keys of the Wins category. 

 Don't Forget the Bullpen

Nothing is worse than losing a lead because the relief blew it. Closers get all the fantasy press, but you can lose the Win any time after your starter gets the hook.

These are the bullpens that led baseball by WAR last year and didn’t face significant losses to their relief corps: Royals, Red Sox, Twins, A’s, Blue Jays, and Braves.

By ERA, they were: Braves, Royals, Pirates, Brewers, A’s, and Reds.

In addition, the Dodgers and Rays have added some impressive pieces. While the Rangers lost Joe Nathan (so I removed them from the above lists), they could have a seriously dominant ‘pen if Neftali Feliz and Joakim Soria are both back from their injuries.

Targeted Streaming

If you're in daily league, choosing the occasional streamer is a great way to enhance your Wins. What I don't mean is what often happens: streaming two or more pitchers a day, racking up a ton of wins, and losing out in ERA and WHIP. Not worth it. (Or maybe, I guess.)

Assuming you want to compete in ERA and WHIP, though, choosing a decent pitcher with a great matchup off the waiver wire ought to help you out a lot in the Wins category, not to mention strikeouts. When you find a fringy late-round/$1 flyer type of guy floating down the wire with a start against the Twins or White Sox, the Cubs or the Marlins--go for it. Over the course of the season, especially in a Roto style league.

Check us back out next week, as we return to hitters and RBI.



Stock Watch: Buy What You Need...Even If It's Not Very Good

By the time you read this, Matt Garza will already be a Ranger.

Or he'll be something else, I guess, maybe even a Cub. If Garza does get traded, his value will go up, because he'll be playing for a better team and likely to get wins at a higher rate. (Unless Houston pulls a fast one.) No! His value is sure to go down, since Texas is in the AL and in a hitter's park, as is Boston. Arizona may be in the NL, but it's not a good place to pitch either, so the Dodgers are the only team mentioned in talks that won't kill his ERA and WHIP--deal him while you can! Whether or not you want Garza depends on what you need, and the format of your league. So will it be for any other category.

Instead of the usual breakdown of Buy, Sell, and Pick Up, this week we'll examine some players you should think carefully about and either buy or sell depending upon your needs.

Homers

Chris Carter stands out big time here. He may have the highest K% in the Majors, but he's also got a .240 ISO and 18 HRs. Even better, he's only owned in 45% of CBS leagues and 26% of Yahoo! leagues. Pick him up or trade for him if you're on the cusp of grabbing another point to three in the HR standings. Stay far, far away if you're in the thick of the BA competition, as he could easily give away more from that category than he takes in longballs. He's best if you're at the top or bottom of your league in average, or if you've accumulated a ton of ABs.

Similar players include Matt Reynolds, Mike Napoli, Brandon Moss, and J.P. Arencibia.

Pedro Alvarez profiles similarly, but with higher highs and more complete playing time. He's got the most value of this group, and will probably be the most expensive. Keep that in mind if you need to help your BA category, as Alvarez could be a point of addition by subtraction.

Adam Dunn is probably the most extreme of this type of hitter, but also the most consistent. His homers and his terrible average are both pretty much assured. His name brand and history will probably raise his price, so consider some of the above hitters if you aren't getting a good deal for him.

Batting Average

When you aren't making deals for superstars, you're usually sacrificing power for average, or average for power. That's just how it goes. If you're in need in both categories...hopefully you have some spare pitching or an elite base stealer. Better yet, both. We're plenty far enough in the season to start looking at semi-high BABIPs as short-term trends instead of confusion. Feel free to trade for someone with a BABIP between .320 and .340 if you're hoping for some help in this category.

Austin Jackson has a .347 BABIP and a .280 average; normally that wouldn't be too exciting, but Jackson has a history of better BABIPs than that and could actually add to that number. Of course he (like teammate Torii Hunter) doesn't help you at all in homers. Thankfully, the strength of their lineup allows these Tigers to contribute at least some in Runs or RBIs.

If you like position flexibility, try Marco Scutaro. His .334 BABIP isn't unbelievable, but his .316 BA is great from your MI slot. Also up the middle, Jed Lowrie was supposed to be a power hitter, but he got just seven longballs. Luckily for you, if you need average, as his .330 BABIP has led him to a .295 BA.

Gerardo Parra and Daniel Nava are still getting things done in average, with .329 and .327 BABIPs, respectively, leading to BAs of .285 and .288.

James Loney is a Known Bum, but that will keep his value low as you try to sneak his .315 average onto your team. Even if his .338 BABIP comes down a tad, he's still useful for any team in need of points in this category.

Wins

Matt Garza and his soon-to-change value brought about this column idea, so I'll just quickly reaffirm that you should try to swing a deal for him if you need wins. If his current owner likes him for his ERA, he or she should be pleased to deal him now. There's no reason both teams can't win trades in this part of the season. (It's more valuable to rob your opponents early in April and May anyway.) Let's examine some other pitchers who might be able to help in wins. Unfortunately, there's nothing close to a sure thing in this category, and all the moreso over just a couple months. 

The best ways I've got to predict wins are to combine three things: high IP totals, high-scoring offenses, and being at least a decent pitcher. Since we aren't trying to find the best pitchers in fantasy baseball, let's try to keep that last one to not much more than "decent."

With the Red Sox scoring the most runs in baseball, pitchers like Felix Doubront and Ryan Dempster are good candidates for wins, though neither is among the IP leaders. Tigers pitchers Doug Fister and Rick Porcello profile similarly, as does anyone called up by the Rays.

Somewhat surprisingly, the Angels and Indians are among the leading teams in wRC+, so pitchers like Ubaldo Jimenez and C.J. Wilson might be expect to get some wins. Justin Masterson might be a bit high-end for this exercise, but he could be pried from owners hoping to improve their team ERA.

Bud Norris is expected to be traded, with the Red Sox the destination most often mentioned. If you need wins, trade for him or pick him up before that happens. Even if he's traded elsewhere, it will help his value in this category.

ERA

The formula for getting a better than expected ERA from you pitchers is similar to the one used to acquire a few extra wins, though it's rather more dependent on the pitcher actually being good. Team fielding and park factors take the place of pitching deep into games or getting run support. 

This year's All-Star venue, Citi Field in New York has been the strongest pitcher's park. Though this is probably accentuated by the fact that they have some good pitchers and a terrible offense, their staff is still a good place to start looking for ERA help. The Indians, Cardinals, Pirates, Padres, Giants, Dodgers, A's, and--shockingly--the Diamondbacks all play in parks with factors of 0.899 or less. (Maybe trading for Garza is an even better idea than we thought, especially when we note that Wrigley Field has been the worst place to pitch in 2013.)

With four of the five NL West teams showing pitcher-friendly park factors this season, pitchers from that division are even more attractive thanks to the unbalanced schedule.

Of the teams above, the D-Backs, Giants, Pirates, and A's have notably above-average UZRs.

We can see that there's some method to the madness of luck-leader Jeff Locke's success, but I still wouldn't count on someone whose ERA-FIP difference is that extreme. Patrick Corbin looks more reasonable though. Bartolo Colon and A.J. Burnett should be able to help as well. Strugglers like Matt Cain and Tim Lincecum have good environments for improvement, though I'm not prepared to guess what might happen with those guys. 

Worth noting is that the Royals have baseball's best defense by that measure (by a lot), so pitchers like Jeremy Guthrie and Ervin Santana might be more able to post good ERAs than you'd normally expect, not to mention ace James Shields.

With under three months left in the season, you don't have to have the best players on your team to win your league--you just have to have the ones in the best position to capitalize on this year's particularities. If a hitter is putting up a great BABIP in April, it's luck. In July, there might be a reason, and that reason could very well carry through September. If a pitcher is overperforming his peripherals, there's probably a reason for that--and it could continue too. Use the trends you see and offer trades accordingly.

 



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.



How to Win: Wins

Wins are as mercurial a category as any you'll find in fantasy baseball. According to ancient sabermetric tradition, it was Storm Davis and his 19-win season in 1989 that helped us to realize that last year's wins don't tell us much about what kind of pitcher someone is. After all, Davis had pitched quite poorly that year and went on to have a terrible rest of his career. The flip side of the coin happened this year, with Cliff Lee and his paltry six wins. The Phils weren't as good as they had been recently, but come on, six wins? For a pitcher with a 7.39 K/BB and a 3.16 ERA? Something here isn't fair.

You were perfectly aware of this unfairness, of course, and you've been hoping to exploit it successfully for quite some time. Unfortunately, that's a little easier said than done. Last year was a pretty good year for pitchers winning a lot of games, so we'll take a look at the leader list, not because it's likely to tell us next year's biggest winners, but because it might give us a hint as to what type of pitchers might be giving us value in the category.

2012's Top Winners:

21 Wins: Gio Gonzalez
20 Wins: R.A. Dickey, David Price, Jered Weaver
19 Wins: Johnny Cueto
18 Wins: Matt Harrison, Lance Lynn
17 Wins: Justin Verlander, Cole Hamels, Chris Sale
16 Wins: Matt Cain, Wade Miley, Hiroki Kuroda, Yu Darvish, A.J. Burnett, Madison Bumgarner, Kyle Lohse, Tim Hudson, Yovani Gallardo, Phil Hughes, Max Scherzer
15 Wins: CC Sabathia, James Shields, Ian Kennedy, Zack Greinke, Barry Zito, Stephen Strasburg
14 Wins: Clayton Kershaw, Clayton Richard, Jason Vargas, Mat Latos, Adam Wainwright, Ryan Vogelsong

As you can see, there are some wide disparities in skill, team quality, and pitcher type on this list, which is exactly what you would expect. The good news is that it can't be completely random; the majority of these names are guys you count on to be among the best pitchers in baseball.

Set those aces aside for a moment, along with guys like Sale and Miley who surprised us by pitching like them last year. What about the other guys, why are they here? Blind luck. Definitely some of it. But maybe a little more. Harrison, Lynn, Lohse, Kuroda, Hughes, Hudson, Zito, and Vogelsong all pitched for playoff teams last year. The three who didn't pitch for playoff teams all came from very pitcher-friendly parks: Burnett, Richard, and Vargas.

How much of this is signal and how much is noise? It's honestly hard to tell for sure. After all, Vargas was pitching for the same team as Felix Hernandez, and won one more game. We probably aren't going to be confused about which one is the better draft choice. All got several more wins than Edwin Jackson, even though he pitched for the best team in baseball. So it's definitely a noisy pattern, but it seems to make sense logically: great pitchers tend to get some of the higher win totals, and most of the other good win counts come from the ranks of the pretty good who play on good teams. Plus Barry Zito, for whom “pretty good” is a bit of a stretch.

Decent Pitcher, Good Offense

The goal here isn't to target the top aces out there, instead it's to find some mid-draft starters that might be extra helpful in wins. What they do in other categories is their business.

Jon Lester, Ryan Dempster (BOS); Jake Peavy, Gavin Floyd (CHW); Anibal Sanchez (DET); Jason Vargas, Joe Blanton (LAA); Andy Pettitte, Hiroki Kuroda, Phil Hughes (NYY); Matt Harrison, Derek Holland, Alexi Ogando (TEX); Mark Buehrle, Josh Johnson (TOR); Mike Minor, Paul Maholm (ATL); Bronson Arroyo, Homer Bailey (CIN); Marco Estrada, Mike Fiers (MIL); Jake Westbrook, Lance Lynn (STL); Dan Haren (WAS); whoever ends up filling out the Dodgers' rotation.

Obviously there are quite a few pitchers who make it into this category. Some are sleepers for other reasons, and others have touched ace status before and could do it again. There are a wide variety of price tags that count as “mid-range” and I recommend getting a couple of them. You never know who next year's Matt Harrison or Lance Lynn could be. They could even do it again.

I'd also consider paying a little extra for those with shutdown bullpens. In case of a tie, consider pitchers from Atlanta, Washington, St. Louis, and the Yankees a little more highly than others.

Turning Signal Into Strategy

Quantity is the name of the game in Wins, just as it is in Strikeouts. Getting good pitchers won't be enough to take this category—you need lots of pitchers, pitching lots of innings to come away with the lead at the end of the year, or just to win it week to week. There are two basic routes you can go for this category: streaming and non.

Streaming (In Full and in Part)
If you really want to win this one, stream. Rotate as many starters as you can on and off your roster and soak up the joys of wins and whiffs. Your ERA and WHIP won't like you, but maybe you weren't going to do well in those categories anyways.

There are problems with streaming of course: unhappy commissioners and leaguemates, weekly instead of daily changes, limited roster moves, and innings limits. There's also the fact that most streamed pitchers are sort of bad (or really bad in a deep league) and likely to hurt you in ERA and WHIP disproportionately to how much they help you in Wins and Strikeouts. Plus, the more of your league that streams, the worse the options are for everyone. Given all those drawbacks, I don't like this strategy much. (Also, I don't think it's terribly fun, but that's for you to decide, I guess.) The only time I'd stream would be in a shallow head-to-head matchups league, which is what a lot of the public leagues out there are.

If full streaming isn't right for your team or your league, a sort of measured streaming might be. Isolate next week's best two-start option off the waiver wire and snatch him up. Keep him for the week and drop him after his second start for next week's top candidate. In most leagues, chances are this will be a pitcher on the fringe of being worth hanging onto, so he's probably decent. You can try padding your win total this way without hurting your ERA and WHIP too badly, especially if you get to play specific matchups. You can do this with two pitchers a week, I suppose, but any more than that and you're just streaming and subject to its downsides. I think this one is best for a head-to-head league.

If you play in a league with weekly changes, then you're already all over those two-start guys, sometimes weeks ahead of time. Keep on keeping on.

What if you don't stream?
There are a few options open to those who cannot or should not stream. First of all, in a head-to-head league, expect to lose to the streamers when you play them. Even if it's not really a good idea, these leagues always have some streamers. Against the others, though, and in any roto league with an innings cap, you still want to get ahead of the competition.

One thing you can do is bulk up on mid-draft pitchers. Don't just take one or two from the back end, but take three or four across multiple strata. What I normally do, is  grab two aces and then sit on starters for a long time. This strategy seems to work well in a number of contexts (especially my offense), but it can be a detriment in the wins column. By filling out your starting rotation a little earlier you can bring a few more wins in without hurting your rate stats. This strategy could have netted you guys like Harrison, Lohse, Kuroda, and Hughes last year. If it did, then you were probably pretty happy. Of course, it might also have gotten you Josh Beckett, Ted Lilly, John Danks, and Shaun Marcum, so maybe you weren't too enthused. If you do go this route, expect to play with a short hitting bench (or none at all, in a shallower league).

Pay extra for pitching. This one is simple, and it's the opposite of a strategy I suggested when talking about Runs Scored. Whether you're in an auction or a draft, you can always unbalance your team. In select leagues it might even be a good idea. If you think you can get all the hitting bargains, maybe you can afford to pay a little extra for a truly great pitching staff.

If you play standard roto, I definitely believe you should max out your IP. If you can get good pitching, do it. If you can get lots of it, do it. Once you've built up a good Wins total, trade a couple good starters near your deadline—trade 'em cheap if you have to—preferably for closers. Then, as you near your IP limit, start dropping starters in favor of the best relievers on the waiver wire. It won't be a game changer in the rate stats, but it won't hurt and it will let you tack on some strikeouts too.

A Few Final Words
There are a lot of things that go into a successful year in the Wins category, and only some of them are under your control. Complicating matters further, is the fact that slight changes in your league rules can make big differences in how to win, Wins. The strategies of your opponents will come heavily into play too. The good news is this: with a decent starting staff, you can probably expect to be near the middle of the pack in wins. Normal variations of luck could be enough to vault you up to the league leaders in the category, while paying attention to the waiver wire and the play of your own pitchers should be enough to keep a decent staff from foundering on luck alone.

If there was a category that I would give up trying to win it would be this one. Not that I would punt it—not by a long shot. But playing to win in this one is likely to leave you shorted in another category or three. Instead, I recommend aiming for that mid-pack ranking, and hoping to land near the top.  At the end of the day, though, someone who spent too much on the quantity of their pitching is probably going to win this one. I should know—I did exactly that last year.




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