I started writing for this fine site after drafting season had passed so I did not have an opportunity to share my philosophy when it comes to pitching. Hopefully we can broach it next spring. The Cliff Note’s version is I fall in the middle of the aces early proponents and the wait on pitching disciples. As an example, in the Fantasy Sports Trade Association draft back in January, the Mastersball squad took Adam Wainwright and Yu Darvish in the fifth and sixth rounds. In contrast, the Fantasy Alarm squad waited until round eighteen, making Jeremy Hellickson their first starting pitcher. To be fair, the Alarm did snag Craig Kimbrel and Kenley Jansen whose outstanding ratios and strong strikeouts have an overall impact more significant than most realize.
So how are these differing approaches faring? With the caveat that we’re only halfway through and I am tempting fate with this mini #humblebrag, Mastersball is in second, one point behind KFFL while the Fantasy Alarm is a mere half point further behind in third place. Mastersball has 49 pitching points as compared to 28 for Fantasy Alarm, but they’re dusting us in hitting. So we have two different approaches producing essentially the same end result.
That said, we all have something in common. Once the season begins, everyone is searching for that jewel to emerge, or wondering if their first half surprise will continue to succeed. Regardless of when you drafted pitching, we’re all in the same boat once the games begin. Today I’m going to take a look at a bunch of pitchers exceeding expectations and offer my prognosis for the second half.
Travis Wood, Chicago Cubs – I saw Wood live a couple weeks ago and was impressed by the manner he pounded the strike zone. When you don’t walk batters, you at least give yourself the opportunity to succeed. That said, Wood’s 6.3 K/9 strikeout rate is pedestrian which will come back to haunt him when his present .222 BABIP regresses towards the league norm. In addition, he’s been very fortunate with respect to homers. His HR/FB is 5.7 percent, about half of the league norm. That too should regress and when it does the impact will be amplified since Wood is a fly ball pitcher. Over the second half, I expect Wood to pitch to an ERA at least half a run higher than his present 2.92 mark. A 3.5 ERA guy is still mixed league worthy, just expect a couple of rough outings once the wind blows out at Wrigley Field.
Eric Stults, San Diego Padres – I have a motto when it comes to pitching: when in doubt draft a Padre. Thus, I own several shares of Stults stock. His K/9 is a mere 5.8 but his BB/9 is a miniscule 1.7. His BABIP is .269, a bit on the lucky side so we’re likely to see some correction. Stults is also enjoying a low 5.4 percent HR/FB though this is buoyed by PETCO Park. Still, a few more bombs should be expected. Stults current 3.20 ERA is probably going to edge up, with the homers determining the extent. I’m very comfortable using Stults at home but will be more careful where I deploy him on the road since a blow-up or two is likely in store.
Bartolo Colon, Oakland Athletics – Long story short is Colon profiles almost exactly like Stults. He doesn’t miss many bats but the free passes are few and far between. Predictably, his BABIP and HR/FB are both lucky, but not egregiously so. I figure I’m not going to have Colon for the entire second half, he’s an injury risk so I am playing him in every home game all but the most extreme road matchups. You know what? I was just about to offer some examples (Texas, New York, Boston) but none of those scare me anymore. I think the only AL squad that scares me is Detroit.
Jeff Locke, Pittsburgh Pirates – Like Stults, I am heavily invested in Locke. I threw him on almost every reserve roster I could back in the spring. PNC Park is quietly one of the most pitching-friendly venues in the league and I favor streaming NL pitchers at home. I keep waiting for Locke to implode but he keeps getting the job done. His 3.83 K/9 is much higher than the examples offered thus far and will be a problem when his .225 BABIP corrects. In addition, Locke is sporting an extremely lucky LOB% of 85.6.
We interrupt this analysis of overachieving pitchers to remind you what LOB% is since it is a little bit confusing and often misunderstood. In short, LOB% measures the percentage of allowed base runners that score. The timing of hits with runners in scoring position (RISP) is random (that is, contrary to what some believe, clutch hitting is a myth). If there are a cluster of hits with RISP, the LOB% will be low. If the hits with RISP are at a pace slower than normal, the LOB% will be high. The timing of homers also impacts LOB%. Again, when homers occur with respect to the number of men on base is random. If an abundance of homers happen with runners on, the LOB% will be low. And finally, some of a pitcher’s LOB% is in the hands of his bullpen. The confusing aspect is a high LOB% (suggesting a lower percentage of runners score than normal, i.e. good luck) will not always result in a low ERA. LOB% is independent of the NUMBER of base runners. A pitcher may be permitting a higher than average number of runners, but a high LOB% may keep his ERA in line. Conversely, a pitcher may be snake bitten and all his allowed homers come with ducks on the pond. This will result in a low or unlucky LOB%. But if he is sparse with the runners, it just so happens homers are hit with these infrequent runners on, his ERA could still be low. The take home lesson is a high LOB% does not always result in a low ERA and vice versa. While an outlying LOB% is bound to regress, the impact on ERA also involves the number of base runners. We now return you your regularly scheduled analysis of overachieving pitchers.
In Locke’s case, he is in store for a double whammy. He’s allowing a fortuitously low number of runners and on top of that, not many are scoring. When gravity prevails, he’ll surrender more runners and a higher percentage will score. I’m still OK with using Locke in mixed leagues at home since PNC Park will offer some protection, but if I own him in an NL only format, I’m looking to clear him off my roster before the damage is done.
Kyle Kendrick, Philadelphia Phillies – Kendrick is a little different than those discussed so far as his home digs are hitter friendly, this he loses that edge. He’s also sporting a lower K/9 than last season which worries me, checking in at 5.7. His 2.2 BB/9 is low which helps to partially mitigate the mediocre strikeout rate. Kendrick is a ground ball pitcher which helps compensate for Citizen’s Bank Park, but a few more homers are on the way. Kendrick owners should feel fortunate to have squeezed some nice numbers out of the righty to this point. It’s time to cash in.
Corey Kluber, Cleveland Indians – If you play the daily games and Kluber’s on the bump, especially at home, you have to look at him and if the site has not corrected his price, he’s your ticket to paradise. Kluber’s 8.8 K/9 and 1.7 BB/9 are impressive. His sole crutch is a high 15 percent HR/FB which artificially inflated his ERA for the early part of the season. Assuming that regresses down to league average, Kluber’s 3.68 ERA should continue to drop. If someone is looking to sell high on Kluber, I’m buying.
Aaron Harang, Seattle Mariners – Shockingly, Harang’s peripherals are almost the same as those of Kluber. The veteran is spinning a 8.2 K/9 and 1.5 BB/9. His HR/9 is high at 1.5 but this is supported by being a fly ball pitcher. That is, while Safeco Field should help drop his 11.7 percent HR/FB a little, Harang is still going to serve up gophers, especially on the road. I’ll continue to use Harang at home, but I’m looking to cut bait in AL only formats.
If there is another overachiever you’d like analyzed, please feel free to ask in the comments below and I’ll do my best to drop by over the course of the week and provide a thumbnail sketch.
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